Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

In 2017, I had the opportunity to work with our curator of domestic life, Jeanine Head Miller, on a new Expert Set featuring alphabet blocks and spelling toys from our collections. We chose one example based on a nearly 20-year-old photograph from our collections database. It was dated between 1860 and 1880 and appeared to be a set of wooden alphabet blocks with images printed on the reverse that could be assembled to complete two puzzles. Notes in the database and an image on the box lid alluded to more, so we decided to re-photograph the blocks before adding them to our Digital Collections.

box, standing vertically with blocks with image on them in it; box lid lying in front with image on it
Image taken in 2000; touched up in 2017 by Jim Orr, image services specialist / THF133429

While conducting research for the Expert Set, I visited our photographic studio to see the blocks in person. They were in good condition, and I was able to carefully – with gloves and on a clean surface – assemble each of eight possible solutions, revealing not only the alphabet and two 12-block puzzles visible in our existing photograph (“The Farm” and “Anna’s Delight”), but two other pastoral scenes of the same size (“Grandfather’s Visit” and “My Country Residence”), two full-size, 24-block historical images (“William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians” and “Mount Vernon – Washington’s Residence”), and a map of the United States. The borders and place names on the map gave us hope that we might be able to narrow the date range for these blocks, but some text on the Mount Vernon puzzle gave us an even better clue – the lithographer’s name!

Corner of blocks with image and text at lower right corner
Reference image showing lithographer information [REG2017_1103]

A quick Internet search (an invaluable tool for modern museum research) revealed that Thomas S. Wagner worked as the sole proprietor of his Philadelphia lithography firm for a short time, between a dissolved partnership with fellow lithographer James McGuigan in 1858 and Wagner’s death in 1863. (Interestingly, according to the Library Company of Philadelphia, Wagner was “one of the few publishers of wooden lithographic puzzles” at that time.) Not only were we able to considerably narrow our date range from 1860–1880 to 1858–1863, we could now add creator information to our records!

We decided to have our photographer, Rudy Ruzicska, and digital imaging specialist, Jillian Ferraiuolo, create just a few official images of the picture puzzle – enough to document the box and individual blocks and to give online viewers a sense of the possible solutions. But I also captured reference photographs of each of the 8 completed puzzles for our collections database. These wouldn’t typically be available to the public, but to celebrate our recent digital collections milestone – 100,000 artifacts! – I’ve shared a few of them below.

Thanks for reading!

Set of blocks arranged together to display the alphabet in elaborate letters
Blocks arranged together to show several buildings and a yard with farm animals, along with text "My Country Residence"
Blocks arranged to show a line drawing of the United States, with states shaded in various colors

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toys, photography, by Saige Jedele, digitization, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K

My name is Jillian Ferraiuolo and I’m a Digital Imaging Specialist at The Henry Ford. In that role, I work with our institutional photographer in our Photo Studio, taking photographs of artifacts and preparing those for use in our Digital Collections.

Graphic with text
This graphic shows where photography fits into The Henry Ford's overall digitization process.

Every once in a while, our job requires us to step out of the studio, equipment and all, and photograph artifacts on location. Whether it’s taking photos of cars in one of our storage buildings or taking photos in (or of!) one of the buildings in Greenfield Village, if it can’t fit inside the studio, then we pack up and go to it. For example, the geodesic truss pictured below is in storage, but we needed to photograph it. You can see from the photo below how large it is, so instead of trying to find some way to get it to the Photo Studio in the museum, we went to it.

Camera on tripod in foreground pointing toward white paper with metal truss in front of it alongside a large red brick building
Photography staff and volunteers shooting the geodesic truss on location at a storage building.

Trapezoidal structure made of metal bars
The finished product: Geodesic Dome Test Module, Designed by R. Buckminster Fuller, 1953. / THF166740

One of the biggest challenges for us when we shoot outside the studio is making the most of our time. Given how large our campus is, we try to be as efficient as possible while still creating the same shooting environment on location as we would in the studio, especially when it comes to lighting and image quality. Another challenge of location shoots is that they allow less freedom than being in the studio—some objects are in a specific spot and can’t be moved or adjusted. When we’re in the studio we can change angles, move lights, and make adjustments easily, but if we’re out photographing a train car, and need to capture a different view, we have to move around it—there’s no way it’s moving!

Two people behind a camera on a tripod in a brick-walled room
Another example of getting creative to photograph a lathe used by Henry Ford out at the Bagley Avenue Workshop in Greenfield Village.

While shooting out on location can be a challenge, it is also a nice change of pace and a nice change of scenery. It forces us to think outside the box and get creative with taking photos—especially when the shoot involves something outside the norm. Take, for example, quilts—since they’re so large, we have to get up much higher than they are so we can get an accurate photo of the entire quilt. (You can read more about our quilt photography process here.)

Person with camera on landing at top of staircase, looking down over railing toward a large tilted board with a textile on it
Getting ready to photograph quilts from the Highland Park Engine catwalk in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

But whether we’re in the studio or not, we’re passionate about what we do, and we are ready to take on any challenge!

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by Jillian Ferraiuolo, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, digitization, photography

Dark background containing white line drawings, notations and text

By the early 1950s, Ford Motor Company’s engineers had made over one million technical drawings of the parts used to make Ford cars and trucks. In 1949 alone, they used 13 million square feet of blueprint paper!

Large room full of tables, some of which have men standing near, leaning on, or lying on them with pencils or pens in hand
Ford Motor Company engineers at work, circa 1952. / THF125069

The drawings were being stashed away wherever room could be found. Since many of the drawings were for parts that were still in production, there was concern that the company’s operations would come to a halt if drawings were lost to a fire, a flood, or worse. Plans were made to microfilm the drawings so they could be stored more securely.

Sheet with text that notes among other things “top security for its records in the event of a bombing attack”
Paragraph from a 1951 brochure detailing the microfilming project. Cold War tensions were running high. / detail from THF135511

Three women in room with small filing cabinets along the walls and desks in the center
Eleven fireproof storage safes, holding one million microfilmed drawings, 1951. / THF123713

To save space, most of the original paper blueprints were destroyed after the drawings were copied onto microfilm. But a few can still be found in our Miscellaneous Ford Motor Company Blueprint and Drawings Collection.

Blueprint with blue background containing line drawings with notations and text
Blueprint showing part TT-7851-R for a Ford Model TT Truck. / THF138486

Dark background containing white line drawings, notations and text
70 mm microfilm copy of the same drawing. / THF406917

The Ford Motor Company Part Drawing Collection consists of over one million Ford engineering drawings from 1903–1957, on 70 mm microfilm. Each piece of film measures approximately 2.625 x 3.5 inches, and is in a manila envelope that shows the part number and the drawing’s latest revision date.

Manila envelope with handwritten numbers and red check mark
Envelope for drawing TT-7851-R, dated August 25, 1926. / THF406916

As of this writing, about 3,000 Ford part drawings can be seen on our Digital Collections website. Only 997,000 to go!

So, why don’t we “just” digitize them all?

The first challenge is the size of the film. Most high-speed scanners on the market now are not equipped to hold 70 mm film. And because each frame of film was cut from its roll and placed in a separate envelope, the film cannot simply be run through a machine.

We image the film using an Epson Perfection V850 Scanner with built-in Transparency Unit (a light inside the lid that allows it to scan film). Each piece of film measures just under 3 x 4 inches, so a scanning resolution of 1200 dpi (3600 x 4800 pixels) will usually suffice … but we go higher if a drawing looks like it will be difficult to read.

Three sheets with intricate drawings, notations and text
Larger blueprints, like this one for a V-8 Cylinder Block, were microfilmed in segments. / THF401366

After the film has been scanned, the images are straightened and cropped, and adjustments may be made to the brightness and contrast. If the film is a negative, we also create an additional, positive version of the digital image.

Line drawings, notations and text on light background
This version of the digital image can be printed without using as much toner. / THF406918

However, the bigger challenge is the data entry. Even the best digital image is useless if nobody can find it. To that end, it is necessary to transcribe the part number, the date of the drawing, and the title of the drawing from each piece of film. And many of the drawings include more than one part number!

Handwritten text reading in part “A-18254-B” followed by “A-18255-B”
If parts are symmetrical opposites, there is only one drawing for the pair. / detail from THF400831

Handwritten text in tabular format with numbers, dates, and initials
The revision history appears in the upper right corner of each drawing. This drawing is dated December 3, 1930 … but earlier versions may also exist. / detail from THF400831

If you are interested in researching the Ford Motor Company Part Drawings Collection, our Popular Research Topics page includes an FAQ and information about how to get started. Inquiries can be sent to research.center@thehenryford.org.

The Henry Ford is facing unprecedented financial challenges due to the impact of our 16-week closure and reduced operations. We need your help in securing our future. Love the Henry Ford? Please support all that we treasure—including our digitization program. Longtime supporters of The Henry Ford will match your donation dollar for dollar, so your contribution will have double the impact.
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archives, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, digitization, drawings, by Jim Orr, cars, Ford Motor Company

Factory topped with several smokestacks and a water tower, with cars driving by in front

Exterior View, Ford Highland Park Plant, 30 March 1932; Object P.833.56894.1 / THF237509

When Ford Motor Company engineers developed the assembly line at the Highland Park Plant back in 1913, they were seeking to increase production volume in order to provide more automobiles to the general public at a reasonable cost, and in a reasonable time.

Move ahead more than 100 years to 2020, where the staff of The Henry Ford and the Benson Ford Research Center (BFRC) are operating a modern assembly line to digitize images and documents from our collections and make them available online.

By some estimates, The Henry Ford holds roughly 26 million 2D and 3D objects, with the majority of that total – some 25 million items – contained within the archival collections at the BFRC. Clearly, there’s a lot to move down our “assembly line”!

As is the case with auto assembly, there are a number of stations along our line, beginning with material selection, then material retrieval, cataloging, imaging, storage, import, export, and finally ending with online display. Improvements made to the speed and efficiency at each of these stations can lead to gains in the production rate of the entire line.

Graphic with text
This graphic shows where Rapid Capture imaging fits into The Henry Ford's overall digitization process.

To bring that speed and efficiency to archival imaging, the BFRC uses a process we refer to as Rapid Capture digitization. Developed by several institutions as an approach to increasing the scale of digitization, Rapid Capture is part technology, part process, and part philosophy.

Technically, Rapid Capture is rather simple. The equipment consists of a copy stand, lighting, a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera, and a computer equipped with photo editing software.

Photograph lying on black fabric with lights on either side and a camera pointed downward at it
Rapid Capture station.

The important feature of the camera is its full-frame sensor, which can create a 400-pixel-per-inch image of an item as large as 9 × 14 inches, allowing us to provide users with high-quality images for the majority of our archival materials, which can be easily viewed, downloaded, and used for presentations or reports.

At the click of the shutter button, the camera can record an entire image – perhaps an 8 × 10 photographic print – without the cycle time of a more traditional flatbed scanner. If you’ve used a digital camera or a camera phone to take personal photographs, then you know how quickly you can take tens or even hundreds of snapshots. The same holds true for Rapid Capture, with the limit on imaging rate being the safe and proper handling of the archival material, not the time spent waiting for the scanner to make a pass.

On certain projects, we are able to capture both sides of a photographic print in less than 60 seconds, translating to nearly 500 prints imaged in a single day. Our flatbed scanner can produce 10-12 images per hour, or both sides of just 48 prints per day. Starting with a single Rapid Capture workstation in February 2011 and now utilizing two workstations, we have produced nearly 100,000 production images since the launching the process.

Process, or efficiency in process, is also an important part of Rapid Capture. For example, since material handling is one of the keys to the speed of Rapid Capture, we work to select and schedule material in groups having similar sizes or formats and that are located together physically, such as the box of 8 × 10 photographic prints shown below.

box standing vertically; folder open in front of it with photo lying on top
8 x 10 photographs from our collection foldered within an archival box.

Another example occurs in the post-processing of images, which can also be done in a batch manner, including exposure correction, cropping, and derivative image creation. By using automated scripts, much of this work can be done unattended, and in the case of large batches, performed in the overnight hours.

Finally, Rapid Capture is in some ways a philosophy. Rapid Capture puts a premium on user access to large numbers of images, and in doing so forces trade-offs in areas such as perceived image quality and image resolution. An example of this trade-off can be seen in some of our Rapid Capture images, which appear slightly tilted, such as this image from the Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Photo of train with steam coming from it at tentpole-like station with a number of people standing around
Railway Station at Haines Corners, Catskill Mountains, New York, circa 1902; Object P.DPC.014510 / THF204908

Rather than spend additional time on each image to create a perfect alignment, we’ve chosen to spend that additional time producing more images, with the assumption that you, our users, would want to see more “stuff,” and can accept some imperfection.

A second compromise involves image resolution. While the camera can produce images sufficient for online viewing and use in presentations, the images may not be adequate for advertising or commercial publication. We’ve accepted that a certain number of items may need to be reimaged at some point for publication use, but that the potential rescanning effort is outweighed by the ability to both produce and store more lower-resolution images.

Our implementation of Rapid Capture has proven to be very successful. In nearly 10 years of operation, we’ve created a large number of images that meet our goals for quality, usefulness, production time, and cost. And, as we celebrate our #digitization100K milestone of 100,000 digitized objects on our Digital Collections, we can also point to the more than 38,500 objects that are illustrated using Rapid Capture images as another measure of that success.

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digital collections, by Brian Wilson, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, digitization, archives, photography, technology

Photographing Glass

November 20, 2020 Think THF

My name is Jillian Ferraiuolo and I’m a Digital Imaging Specialist at The Henry Ford. In that role, I work with our institutional photographer in our Photo Studio, taking photographs of artifacts and preparing those for use in our Digital Collections. Today I’m going to share a bit about the challenges of photographing glass artifacts.

Graphic with text
This graphic shows where photography fits into The Henry Ford's overall digitization process.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out our extensive studio and art glass collection (whether in person in the Museum or Village glass galleries, or online), I recommend you do so! We have pieces that range from teapots and cups to whimsical studio glass sculptures. Photographing these beautiful pieces of glass provides unique challenges.

The first task is to figure out the angles to shoot. Many of these are works of art, so figuring out the “front” and the “back” is difficult. Take the piece below, "Bubble Boy" by Richard Marquis, for example. It’s hard to tell what the best angle would be, so we take our best guess, and take more than one photo if we need to! Most of the time, we’ll look for a defining feature: say, a handle, or an area of the design that is most appealing, and start there.

Multicolored artwork with a base topped by three progressively narrower spheres/ovals with a protruding loop on each side, with a teapot-shaped crown on top
Multicolored artwork with a base topped by three progressively narrower spheres/ovals with a protruding loop on each side, with a teapot-shaped crown on top
Two views of “Bubble Boy” by Richard Marquis, 1988 / THF164207, THF164208

Often, the curator notes that one of these pieces is either historically significant or is important because of the artist that created it. In these cases, we take another step to capture more and create a rotating 360-degree image. We do this by (carefully!) placing the glass on a platform, rotating it by 20 degrees at a time, and taking 18 total photographs. This way we get a full picture of the piece from every possible angle! Take a look at an example below, or check out all the glass 360-degree views in our Digital Collections.

GIF of rotating glass artwork, red cuplike shapes on bottom and top, blue abstract shape in middle
Untitled from Relationship Series by Richard Royal, 1997 / 360-degree view

Another tricky part of photographing glass is dealing with its reflective qualities. As glass is usually shiny, creating an environment in the studio where we can control reflections can be tricky and time-consuming. Usually we create a fully white space around the object—if we don’t, every light and tripod and piece of furniture will be reflected on the object’s surface. We accomplish this very creatively with large boards or cloth, or if the object is small enough, we can put it into a tent that will allow us to fully control the space and light around it.

Photo studio with cart with laptop, many lights on stands, area blocked off with white paper
Aerial shot of space blocked off with white boards and paper; blue spittoon inside space; photography equipment outside
Examples of the Photo Studio set up to photograph a glass spittoon.

Then once we have everything set up, we take the photos, clean up the backgrounds with the magic of Photoshop, and enter the images and their metadata into our collections database—then voila, you get to see the finished photos in our Digital Collections!

Blue glass spittoon with vase- or urn-like shape
Spittoon, circa 1873 / THF168196

All that effort for a beautiful photo… of a spittoon.

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art, Decorative Arts, glass, digitization, #digitization100K, by Jillian Ferraiuolo, photography

Graphic with text
This graphic shows where photography fits into The Henry Ford's overall digitization process.

My name is Jillian Ferraiuolo and I’m a Digital Imaging Specialist at The Henry Ford. In that role, I work with our institutional photographer in our Photo Studio, taking photographs of artifacts and preparing those for use in our Digital Collections. As you might imagine, I get to work with many fascinating artifacts, and I’m going to share a couple of my favorites with you here.

Woman in foreground looks through camera as a second woman holds up part of a dress skirt
Conservator Fran Faile holds up a detail on the Cognitive Dress as I photograph it.

I think the most interesting artifact I’ve photographed is the “Cognitive Dress,” Designed by IBM and Marchesa, 2016. Besides being a beautiful gown, it is strung with lights throughout the skirt that change color based off technology developed by IBM using their Watson AI. Because of the innovative nature of this dress, and our partnership with IBM, it was important that we thoroughly document it.

Three people around a computer on a cart, with photography equipment and a woman adjusting a dress on a dress form in the background
The dress in the studio getting ready for its close-up with curator Kristen Gallerneaux and conservators Fran Faile and Cuong Nguyen assisting.

Normally we capture five standard angles when we photograph clothing, but this one was a special case because we had to account for the lights on the dress, and the changing colors. In total, we took 27 images of the dress, showing different angles, the shifting colored lights on the dress, and details of the skirt and lighting technology.

Dress on dress form with glowing blue lights integrated into bodice and skirt
THF167960

Back view of dress on dress form with glowing blue lights integrated into bodice and skirt
THF167966

Dress bodice on dress form with integrated glowing white-blue lights
THF167976

I enjoyed photographing this dress not only because it was a beautiful gown, but also because it was a challenge. To get the right exposure with the lights while keeping the dress lit up was tough, but that’s also where the handiness of Photoshop comes in. I was able to adjust after the fact and create a very nice finished product!

GIF running through various views and details of a dress on a dress form
Here’s a quick look at some of the shots we got!

Another fun project we had was imaging the Jens Jensen landscape drawings that show the plans for the grounds of Henry and Clara Ford’s estate, Fair Lane. These drawings were so interesting to look through—they lay out the gardens and surrounding areas of the estate in such detail, they’re works of art. Who would’ve thought that an estate would have so many blueprints? There are 29 in total, varying from gardens to orchards and even to plans for a bird pool.

Blueprint showing somewhat abstracted indications of trees, lawn, house
Landscape Architecture Drawing for Fair Lane, "A Planting Plan for section around service buildings," June 1920 / THF155896

Blueprint showing aerial view
Jens Jensen Landscape Architecture Drawing, "A General Plan of the Estate of Mr. Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan," 1915 / THF155910

One of the reasons why we had to photograph these prints in the Studio is because they are large, folded up into individual leather portfolios. Usually anything two-dimensional goes through our scanning or flat photography process in our Archives, but the nature of these prints did not allow for that. To get a good image of them they had to be unfolded, then carefully flattened with a large piece of glass while being imaged. The trickiest part is to make sure the print lays as flat as possible while ensuring there isn’t any glare off the glass from the lights in the studio.

At a glance, I’m sure you’d never guess that that’s how they were photographed!

GIF cycling through a number of blueprints
Here is a look at all the prints and the box they’re stored in.

What interesting artifact will we be photographing next? Peek through the Photo Studio’s glass doors at the back of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation on your next visit and find out!

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drawings, fashion, by Jillian Ferraiuolo, photography, digitization, #digitization100K, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

For over a decade, we’ve partnered with educators from across the country to pilot our curriculum resources, professional development opportunities, and experiential learning programs centered around the concept of innovation. Through these close collaborations with expert practitioners and students, we’ve observed a universal ability to innovate—but we’ve also observed some challenges.

Research being conducted by Raj Chetty from Harvard’s Opportunity Insights project has highlighted these challenges and found that, “There are great differences in innovation rates based on income, race, and gender. Those differences don’t seem to be due to innate ability to innovate.” How can we even begin to combat this innovation opportunity gap?

One simple way is to expose learners to innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs—early and often. Therefore, The Henry Ford has adopted an Innovation Learning strategy, an interdisciplinary approach designed to accelerate an innovative mindset in all learners. The approach is powered by the perspective of our collections, which feature 26 million primary and secondary source artifacts that act as coaches and mentors by providing insight into 300 years of American innovation, ingenuity, and resourcefulness.

Stories like…

  • A scientist who helped poor rural Southern African American farmers nurture depleted soil with nutritious crops that could also be sold for profit – George Washington Carver.
  • A soft-spoken African American seamstress who refused to give up her seat to a white man, an event that many believe sparked the Civil Rights movement – Rosa Parks.
  • A husband and wife duo considered by many as two of the world’s most prolific problem solvers and among the most important American designers of the 20th century – Charles and Ray Eames.
  • The writer of the first dictionary of the American English language – Noah Webster.
  • The iconic, quintessential inventor with 1,093 patents to his name – Thomas Edison.
  • An American industrialist with an entrepreneurial spirit who failed twice to establish an automobile company only to succeed on the third try – Henry Ford.


We connect these stories to core disciplines like STEM, Social Studies, Art & Design, English Language Arts, and combine them with emerging disciplines like Invention and Entrepreneurship.

Graphic with colorful diamonds with icons in them and text under them
Graphic with colorful octagons, each with an icon inside and text underneath

To make these interdisciplinary connections, we’ve developed a unique Innovation Learning Framework called Model i. Model i is a common language to talk across all disciplines. It is made up of two frames: (1) Habits of an Innovator and (2) Actions of Innovation, which can be used together to describe the innovation journeys within our collection, and activate learners of today through their own innovation journeys.

GIF that gradually draws a dotted-line path connecting images, icons, and text

This results in all learners seeing themselves as innovators, ready to tackle current or future challenges to help shape a better future.

Here’s some of the feedback from our pilot educators:

“The result of implementing and promoting Model i’s Habits and Actions has been amazing. Students have learned how to research topics, how to challenge a system, how to design then re-design, and most importantly how to fail in a safe environment to take a risk.” –Hollie Gumm, 2020 The Henry Ford Teacher Innovator Award Winner

“The power of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Learning approach is that it transcends age, gender, socio-economic status, and academic level. I was able to present their curriculum to a group of fourth grade students comprised of many numbers. 100% free and reduced lunch, 75% English Language Leaners, 25% Special Education, and 10% homeless. With this being said, every single one of the students understood and connected with the content. They loved seeing real-world examples of how innovation has progressed over time. I think more often than not, these students had considered the idea of invention as something that is only done by ‘geniuses.' After working through the curriculum every one of my students began to see themselves as innovators, creators, and inspired individuals.” –Rachel Lamb, 2020 Colorado State Teacher of the Year Finalist

If you’re looking to connect with a community of innovative educators like Hollie and Rachel, filled with Innovation Learning resources, then you’re in luck. Launching in 2021, The Henry Ford’s inHub is a community built by educators for educators to empower learners to activate their innovative mindset to help build a better future. Visit inHub.thehenryford.org to learn more!


Phil Grumm is Senior Manager, Learning Services and On-site Programs, at The Henry Ford.

education, by Phil Grumm, innovation learning, educational resources

Display case with dark base and clear cover, containing various items on lucite display stands and cards with text on them

Hanukkah case in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

Legends and stories surround the origin of Hanukkah, whose name means “dedication” in Hebrew. Hanukkah celebrates the 165 B.C.E. victory over the Jews’ Syrian-Greek oppressors, who had seized the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. According to Rabbinic tradition, the Jewish victors—a rebel army known as the Maccabees—set out to purify and rededicate the defiled temple but could only find one day’s worth of ritual oil. Miraculously, the small amount of purifying oil burned in the temple’s lamp stand, or menorah, for eight days.

For centuries, Hanukkah was a modest occasion, a minor holiday. Jewish law and custom only required the lighting of candles for eight nights, with one candle to be used as the shamash (“guard” or “servant” in Hebrew) to light the others. The lighted candles were to be kept by a window where they could be seen by passers-by. In Eastern Europe, the celebration included eating latkes (potato pancakes), distributing small amounts of Hanukkah gelt (coins) to children, playing games with a dreidel (a spinning top), and playing cards.

In America, Hanukkah continued to be celebrated in this modest way, if at all. After the Civil War—as the American Christmas began to transform itself into a holiday of decorations, parties, shopping, and gift-giving—American Jews were drawn to the bright lights and excitement of that holiday.

Leading rabbis worried that, compared to the increasingly popular celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah lacked “romance” and allure. The campaign to revive and enhance Hanukkah began in the 1880s. Families were encouraged to create a festive atmosphere at home, to have Hanukkah parties, and to exchange gifts. By the 1920s, Hanukkah had begun to assert itself as a major Jewish domestic holiday.

Hanukkah reached its full flowering in the child-centered culture of post-World War II America. Beginning in the 1950s, not only did more families celebrate the holiday, the celebrations themselves became more elaborate. Jewish organizations encouraged this with books and manuals to help families make the holiday more appealing (and discourage the celebration of Christmas). Families might exchange gifts for eight nights, light several menorahs, give parties, prepare special foods, and decorate their houses.

Today, the eight-night Hanukkah holiday still usually involves menorah-lighting, latke-eating, and dreidel-spinning, but Jewish celebrants can choose from a wide variety of items and ways to celebrate the traditions and rituals.

Items selected for this year’s Hanukkah display in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation:

Brass candlestand with 9 spots for candles and backing with lions and a crown
Nine sculpted cartoon characters, each holding a blue and white box with a hollow for a candle, on a base that looks like grass
One couple used both of these
menorahs to celebrate Hanukkah. The brass menorah was an heirloom, passed down through three generations. Its design incorporates traditional Jewish cultural symbols. The contemporary design of the other menorah, featuring popular cartoon characters, delighted the couple’s grandchildren. Traditional Hanukkah Menorah, 1900-1920 and Modern Hanukkah Menorah, 1998 / 2005.121.62 and 2005.121.61

Page with text and image of family around a menorah
Just after dark each night of Hanukkah, one additional candle is lit in the menorah until all eight candleholders are filled with light. A ninth shammas (also spelled shammash)—or “attendant”—candle is used to light these candles. Detail from 1953 book, We Celebrate the Jewish Holidays. / THF111666

Blue box with image of menorah and text that reads in part "Chanuka Candles Menorah"
The alternate and more traditional spelling of the holiday starts with the two letters “Ch,” which is an English transliteration of the eighth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The words “Chanuka candles” are written in both English and Hebrew on this box. Hanukkah Candles, 1946-1980 / 2010.2.178

Box with image of hand lighting candles on a menorah, plus text
Forty-four candles light the Hanukkah menorah—a shammas (also spelled shammash), or “attendant,” candle plus an additional candle (beginning with one) for each of the eight nights. The candles are inserted from right to left (the direction in which Hebrew is read) but kindled from left to right. Spinning the dreidel (pronounced “dray’-duhl”), a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side, is a traditional children’s game played during Hanukkah. A blue dreidel is depicted in the lower left corner of this box of menorah candles. Hanukkah Candles, 1990-2010 / 2010.2.176

Cover with text "Famous Recipes for Jewish Housewives" and crosshatch pattern
This recipe booklet suggests traditional dishes for the Hanukkah celebration, including mandelbrot (a crunchy almond bread also known as mandel bread) and latkes (potato pancakes fried in oil). Famous Recipes for Jewish Housewives, 1940 / 2005.29.79

Image labeled "Hanukkah Table" of decorated table with place settings, food, books
Ideas for this Hanukkah table arrangement from the 1955 book Jewish Home Beautiful include traditional dishes as well as gelt—chocolate coins often given to children during the festival—and small boxed gifts. Detail from 1955 book, Jewish Home Beautiful / THF111655

Also on exhibit, but not pictured here:

  • Fried potato pancakes, or latkes, are a Hanukkah staple. This packaged mix offered a convenient alternative to the traditional preparation—grating numerous potatoes by hand. Product Package for Kosher Potato Pancake Mix, 2000-2010 / 2010.2.100
  • In 2020, families celebrating Hanukkah can use everything from traditional spinning dreidels for playing the dreidel game to electric blinking menorahs to face masks for family get-togethers during the COVID-19 pandemic. These are part of a larger acquisition of contemporary items relating to the Chanukah celebration from the online store, www.TraditionsJewishGifts.com. This is an online extension of the Traditions Judaica Gifts retail store, located in South Florida’s Pompano Beach—a family-run business that is one of the largest purveyors of Judaica gifts in the world. Items were selected to represent the wide spectrum of ways in which people express their style, personality, and values in celebrating the holiday. Traditional wooden dreidels, ca. 2020 (2020.140.4-.7); “GO” Menorah (electric or battery-powered), 2018 (2020.104.1); Face Masks, “Happy Chanukah” and “Eight Crazy Nights” (referencing Adam Sandler’s 2002 animated musical), 2020 (2020.104.2, .3).



Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. She enjoys explaining the Hanukkah traditions that she grew up with to others.
Thanks to authors Saige Jedele and Judith Endelman for their previous blog posts about the history and traditions of Hanukkah, from which this blog post heavily draws, and to Saige for writing the initial exhibit labels for many of these objects.

home life, food, events, Henry Ford Museum, by Donna R. Braden, Hanukkah, holidays

Wooden box with lid flipped back, text and images inside lid, packets inside box and some outside box

Hiram Sibley & Co. Seed Box, Used in the C.W. Barnes Store, 1882-1888 / THF181542

Several million guests have seen a reproduction Sibley seed box, based on an original box in our collections, in the J.R. Jones General Store in Greenfield Village since 1994, when the box became part of the reinterpreted interior. Commercial seed sales of pre-packaged vegetable and flower seeds began in earnest during the 1860s, and by the mid-1880s, Hiram Sibley & Company advertised itself as the world’s largest seed company. That might be true. Sibley, who made his fortune as executive of the Western Union Telegraph Company, invested in farms and packing houses in several states and engaged in seed trade in several foreign countries. His entrepreneurial bent warranted more exploration, as did the details of the seed packets, all stowed carefully in the box in the General Store.

The reference photograph in our collections database for the original seed box showed a box with seed packets. The accession number, 29.1987.18.1, indicated that this was an early addition to The Henry Ford’s collections—the first number, 29, means that it was acquired in 1929. The second number indicates that it was in the 1,987th lot acquired that year, and the third number indicates that the box was the 18th item in the 29.1987 grouping. In fact, as research ultimately disclosed, our collections included the box, plus 108 original seed packets and a Sibley & Co. Seed catalog.

My need to know more started a chain reaction. First, this object had been in the collection for 90 years. It has known provenance: Accession records indicate that it was purchased with other items from a store in the tiny, rural, upstate New York community of Rock Stream. The Barnes family—Charles W. and then his son, Alonzo S.—operated the store. Alonzo died in 1929, which may have precipitated the sale. Our registrars researched and catalogued all parts of the set. We also acquired archival documents—a map of the town from the time the Barnes family operated the store and two postcards of the town—for our collections to add context around the seed box.

Black-and-white image of houses and trees along dirt road; printed and handwritten text
Main Street, Rock Stream, New York, 1908-1910 / THF146163

Filling in details about seed packets required further reconnaissance. This required removing the seed box from exhibit at the end of the 2019 Greenfield Village season. Our Exhibits team moved the reproduction box and the authentic seed packets it contained to our conservation labs. Conservation staff removed the packets, checked for damage, then cleaned and prepared the packets for digitization. In the meantime, Collections Management staff located the original box in collections storage and moved it to the conservation labs for cleaning.

Once the packets were cleaned, they were moved to our archives, where the packets were imaged. After the box was cleaned, Collections Management staff moved it to the photography studio. The individual seed packets, once imaged, also were moved to the photo studio. There, the packets rejoined the box, fitting into compartments spaced to accommodate “papers” as well as multiple-ounce “packets” of seeds. The final photograph above shows the rejoined box and original seeds – cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, eggplant, onion, pea, rutabaga, tomato, turnip, and other vegetables.

GIF rotating through a number of seed packets with images and text
Some of the individual seed packets that were digitized. See them all in our Digital Collections.

After the photo session, the seeds returned to the reproduction box, the box was sealed with its Plexiglas top to protect them, and Exhibits staff returned the box with its contents to the General Store in Greenfield Village.

It is important to note that the investigation, relocation, cleaning, digitizing, photography, and cataloging all occurred between January and March 2020, before COVID-19 closed the museum and delayed the opening of Greenfield Village. During that closure, between March 15 and July 9, the digitized records became part of numerous blogs written to meet the needs of patrons seeking information about food sources, vegetable gardening, food security—and about tomatoes!

It may seem difficult to justify the amount of time required from so many people to digitize one box and its many seed packets during the process. Each staff member involved in the process had to juggle numerous competing projects to make time to attend to the box and its packets. However, their work created invaluable digital resources that have already enhanced several of our blog posts. We may never know how many people were inspired to plant their own vegetable garden during a year of uncertainty partially, or wholly, because of “How Does Your Vegetable Garden Grow?,” or who just had to have a BLT after reading “Multiple Takes on Tomatoes.”

This is what digitization can do, and this is the effort that it takes. We all do it in the spirit of life-long learning.

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COVID 19 impact, photography, collections care, research, Greenfield Village buildings, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, by Debra A. Reid, digital collections, digitization

Close-up side view of man's head in crash helmet with a gloved hand to his mouth

Jochen Rindt at the 1969 Canadian Grand Prix / THF116686

November 18, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of Jochen Rindt winning his first and only Formula One Driver’s World Championship. The day also marks another 50th anniversary in Formula One—the first and only time a driver has posthumously won the Driver’s World Championship. In his too short career, Rindt made waves in the racing world, competing twice in the Indianapolis 500; enduring the 24 Hours of Le Mans four times and winning in 1965 with Masten Gregory; and spending six seasons in the world of Formula One. In his first five seasons, he took home one first place victory. But in the 1970 season, Rindt hit his stride, taking the podium in five of the eight races he completed. When he tragically died during practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Rindt had already earned 45 points towards the championship. Even with four races left in the season, second place finisher Jacky Ickx could only muster 40. Below is a selection of images of Jochen Rindt from the Dave Friedman Collection (2009.158) to honor the life and legacy of this racing legend. You can see even more images related to Rindt in our Digital Collections.

Two men talking; other people in foreground to right and in background are more people and a raceway
Jochen Rindt at the Grand Prix of the United States, Watkins Glen, October 1966 / THF146483

Race car with stripes and diagonal number 8 on hood, and person wearing helmet and goggles inside
Cooper T81 Driven by Jochen Rindt in the Grand Prix of the United States, Watkins Glen, October 1966 / THF146482

Partial side view of racecar with text "8" and "RINDT" on side; person inside in helmet, goggles, and mouth covering
Cooper T81 Driven by Jochen Rindt in the V Grand Premio de Mexico (5th Grand Prix of Mexico), October 1966 / THF146484

Man sitting in race car with several people gathered around it; additional people in the middle distance and grandstands full of people in the far background
Jochen Rindt in His Eagle/Ford Race Car at the Indianapolis 500, May 1967 / THF96147

Low race car with number "40" on side on race track
Jochen Rindt behind the Wheel of the Porsche 907 LH He Co-drove with Gerhard Mitter at the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans / lemans06-67_426

Woman sitting cross-legged smiling at man sitting on low wall with feet extended, also smiling
Jochen Rindt and Nina Rindt before the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans / lemans06-67_030


Janice Unger is Processing Archivist at The Henry Ford.

 

Le Mans, Indy 500, race car drivers, by Janice Unger, cars, racing