Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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Starting a drag race at the first NHRA national championship meet, Great Bend, Kansas, 1955. (THF122645)

If you’ve visited Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in the past several months, then you’ve undoubtedly noticed the large construction walls in the museum’s northeast corner, just behind Driving America. That 24,000 square-foot space will soon be home to our newest exhibit, Driven to Win: Racing in America presented by General Motors.

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Racing gloves worn by Danica Patrick while competing in NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series, 2016-2017. (THF176306)

Driven to Win will be among the most comprehensive looks at automobile racing in the United States. We’ll cover every major American racing type, and we’ll do it from 1895 – when the Chicago Times-Herald sponsored the country’s first formal auto race – right up to the present day. We’re featuring 26 vehicles in the show, including some old favorites and a few new surprises. We’ll also have more than 225 artifacts from the museum’s collection – many of them newly acquired for this exhibit.

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George Heath driving his winning Panhard #7 at the first Vanderbilt Cup race, 1904. (THF277321)

Guests entering Driven to Win will first encounter what we call the “Dawn of Racing” where they’ll learn about American racing’s earliest days, whether on repurposed horse tracks or requisitioned public streets. Fittingly, the first vehicle they’ll see in this section is a successful little racer built and driven by a certain Henry Ford, the 1901 Ford Sweepstakes.

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Dan Gurney signing autographs for young fans at the Indianapolis 500, 1966. (THF110522)


Just behind this introductory zone, we talk about “Igniting the Passion.” We’ll see some of the ways in which young people are introduced to motorsport through toys and games. Some of them will go on to become lifelong fans. Others might take up racing-inspired hobbies like tether cars. A few may go on to careers in the sport, whether behind the wheel, behind the pit wall, or behind the scenes. This area also serves as the entrance to our film experience, which forms the literal and figurative center of the exhibit. Inside, audiences will enjoy the sights, sounds, and spectacle of race day, and be inspired by young people pursuing dreams at legendary locations like Daytona, Indianapolis, and Bonneville.

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One of the 3.2 million bricks used to resurface Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909. (THF152054)


Outside the film theater, visitors can step into The Henry Ford’s own Winner’s Circle presented by Rolex. Here they’ll see the innovative and influential cars that changed the game. They’ll find the 1956 Chrysler 300-B from Carl Kiekhaefer’s phenomenal Mercury Marine team, which dominated NASCAR in the mid-1950s. Nearby is the Penske PC-17 that Rick Mears drove to victory in the 1988 Indianapolis 500, giving him the third of his record-tying four Indy wins – and Team Penske the seventh of its astounding 18 Indy victories. (The Chevrolet-powered Penske chassis is loaned to us courtesy General Motors, the exhibit’s presenting sponsor.)

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Bobby Unser charging up Pikes Peak on his way to victory, 1962. (THF218104)


Moving around the exhibit’s perimeter, visitors will encounter the major forms of racing popular in the U.S. They’ll learn about land speed racing at Bonneville, where Goldenrod topped 409 mph in November 1965; they’ll see hill climbing at Pikes Peak, where Bobby Unser and his legendary family reigned supreme; they’ll visit the ceremonial heart of American racing at Indianapolis, where Harry Miller designed some of early racing’s most beautiful (if not always successful) open-wheel racing cars; they’ll travel overseas to Le Mans, where Ford Motor Company raced American sports cars in the 1960s and the 2010s; they’ll visit Daytona, birthplace of NASCAR and home to one of the country’s greatest stock car tracks; and they’ll see an homage to the vanished Detroit Dragway, where gassers and rail jobs once battled for the title of Top Eliminator.

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Lyn St. James instructing young students at her Complete Driving Academy, 2008 (THF58563)

But racing isn’t just about the cars, it’s about the people behind them. Driven to Win visitors will have the chance to train using some of the same methods as today’s top drivers. There’s strength training with special machines that mimic muscle motions in a race. There’s neurocognitive training with interactive stations that test vision, memory, and reaction time. We’ll also have a pit crew activity where visitors can try their hand changing tires and refueling cars – though probably not in the 15 seconds it takes a top NASCAR crew. And for those eager to get behind the wheel, we’ll have a set of sophisticated simulators that are about as close to driving a hot lap as you can get without wearing a helmet.

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Running the measured mile at Bonneville, circa 1950. (THF238926)


It’s been a long time coming, but Driven to Win: Racing in America promises to be worth the wait. Its blend of exciting immersive experiences will be unlike anything else in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation – or in any other automotive museum, for that matter. We couldn’t be prouder of the work we’ve put into it, and we look forward to sharing the results with everyone this summer.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. See more racing artifacts in our collection in this expert set.

As Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, I research objects within The Henry Ford’s collections that tell entrepreneurial stories. Most recently, I delved into the Label Collection’s food labels – a collection of beautiful labels from canned food and West Coast fruit crates. This post will highlight the story of “Fruit King,” Joseph Di Giorgio.

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Crate Label, “Oh Yes! We Grow the Best California Fruits,” 1930-1940, used by the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation THF293029

Giuseppe “Joseph” Di Giorgio (1874-1951) was introduced to the fruit business at a young age. His father grew lemons and grapes, among other seasonal crops, in Sicily. In 1888, at the age of 14, Di Giorgio immigrated to the United States. When he arrived in New York, speaking little-to-no English, he found work as a fruit jobber, a middleman who would buy large quantities of goods from fruit packers and sell those goods to retailers or merchants.

After a short time of learning the business, Di Giorgio moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he set up his own store selling lemons. By the age of 16, he had become one of the most successful fruit receivers and distributors in Baltimore. But lemons were a seasonal crop. To supplement his income in the off-season, he began importing bananas from the West Indies – a prosperous endeavor that eventually became a year-round business.

His good fortune allowed him to invest in other business ventures, including partnerships with investors to open auction houses for fresh produce in various cities across the United States. Shipments of produce were brought into the auction houses and sold quickly at fair prices to merchants who would gather daily for their pick of the products. It was a profitable business. Owners of the auction house received money from packing and shipping companies for hosting the sale, and received commission on the sold goods. By 1904, Di Giorgio owned auction houses in New York and Baltimore, and had partial interests in others along the East Coast and throughout the Midwest. 

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1924 Railroad Refrigerator Car, Used by Fruit Growers Express THF68309

Refrigerated rail cars, like this one, allowed meats and produce to be shipped for long distances without spoiling. This innovation allowed farmers to reach new and distant markets, and it provided tastier, healthier foods to consumers.

Joseph Di Giorgio recognized that a direct influence in the growing and packing business would allow him to control every aspect of the fresh produce business – the orchards where the fruit was grown, the harvesting and packing of the produce, shipment to the auction houses he already owned, and the final sale to merchants. In 1911, Di Giorgio seized the opportunity to make his vision a reality by purchasing Earl Fruit Company, the dominant packing company in California.

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Men Loading Fruit Boxes onto Horse-Drawn Wagons, circa 1905 THF205612

By the time Joseph Di Giorgio purchased the Earl Fruit Company in 1911, it had packing houses in every important fruit center across the state of California. The company shipped its produce across the country to eastern markets by rail and to local markets by horse-drawn wagon. In this photograph, taken in 1905 before Di Giorgio purchased the company, men load crates of oranges bearing the name “Earl Fruit Company” onto wagons heading for market. 

With the profits he made through this lucrative acquisition, Di Giorgio was able to expand even further. His first land acquisition came in 1918 when he purchased citrus groves in Florida. The following year, he developed open desert land in California’s San Joaquin Valley, turning it into a thriving oasis for various fruits. By 1920, Joseph Di Giorgio was the leading supplier of California’s deciduous fruit (that is, fruit that grows on vines, trees, and bushes, excluding citrus fruits.) He also owned apple orchards in Oregon and Washington, plum orchards in Idaho which produced prunes, and citrus orchards in Florida that yielded oranges and grapefruit. At this time, Di Giorgio still owned an operation in the banana industry as well, but he abandoned this venture in the 1930s as he turned his focus to his domestic interests.

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Crate Label for Blue Flag Brand Pears, 1920-1994 THF293053

Upon arrival at an auction house, merchants were given a catalogue of the produce available. With so many companies and brands to choose from, it was important for fruit packers to make their products stand out. Companies often adopted a signature image or brand to help loyal customers recognize their products. One of Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation’s widely used brands was Blue Flag Brand, which featured a flag within its label design.

In December 1920, Di Giorgio established the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation, combining all of his holdings – close to 50 by one estimate – into one company. Throughout the next several decades, the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation would venture into the vegetable and canning industries. In the 1930s, the company entered the wine business and by mid-century had the largest winery in the state of California.

At the time of his death in 1951, Joseph Di Giorgio was at the peak of his career as a grower, and his company was the largest fruit-packing enterprise in the country. The success of his company can be attributed to Di Giorgio’s leadership. His experience in all aspects of the fruit industry allowed him to recognize potential problems and adapt appropriately. A brilliant and personable man, Di Giorgio earned respect and loyalty from employees and clients alike – an aspect of the business Di Giorgio was proud of. But above all, he was confident and dedicated to seeing his vision through, propelling the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation to national recognition and appropriately earning himself the media-given nickname, the “Fruit King.”

Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford.

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This full-color, large-format book is a compilation of Buster Brown comic strips that originally ran in the
New York Herald in 1903 and 1904. THF297428

You may not know his name, but you’re likely familiar his work. Richard Outcault, a talented comic illustrator with a keen eye for marketing, found his ultimate success with the character Buster Brown in the early 1900s.

Born in Lancaster, Ohio, in 1863, Richard Felton Outcault showed an early interest in art. As a teenager, he attended the McMicken School of Design (now the Art Academy of Cincinnati) and found work painting decorative scenes for a Cincinnati safe manufacturer. By 1889, Outcault had taken a position as an artist at Thomas Edison’s West Orange, New Jersey, laboratory, working primarily on corporate exhibitions.

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Richard Outcault created this illustration for Edison’s exhibit at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. It depicts the Menlo Park laboratory complex in 1879, when Edison first demonstrated his experimental lighting system. THF236600

Around 1890, Outcault left West Orange for New York City, where he began contributing mechanical drawings to technical publications like Electrical World and Street Railway Journal. He also submitted comic illustrations to some of the popular weekly humor magazines that had emerged in the 1880s, including Judge, Life, and Puck.

As public interest in comic publications grew, new advances in color printing technology became available, and newspaper publishers saw an opportunity to cash in. In 1893, the New York World introduced a weekly color comic supplement that, at first, reprinted illustrations from the humor magazines it mimicked. Richard Outcault joined the staff of the World as a cartoonist and published his first original comic for the paper in September 1894.

The Yellow Kid
By 1896, one of the recurring characters in Outcault’s comics – a little baldheaded boy wearing a bright yellow nightshirt – had become a sensation. World readers began buying the paper every Sunday to check in on the adventures of the “Yellow Kid,” who the paper also licensed for merchandising. The Yellow Kid became the face of a wide range of products, from cigarettes and packaged foods to fashion accessories and household appliances.

The Yellow Kid’s popularity demonstrated the commercial value of comics and helped establish the medium as a newspaper fixture. Richard Outcault likely never benefitted directly from the licensing of the Yellow Kid – at that time, newspapers owned the rights to the images published in them, and copyright law didn’t protect characters – but he noted the marketing potential of a popular comic character.

Buster Brown
With the success of the Yellow Kid, Outcault himself became something of a commodity. Demand for his comics kept him busy, and Outcault continued illustrating for several newspapers and magazines through the turn of the century. In 1902, he introduced Buster Brown, a mischievous 12-year-old boy from a well-heeled Manhattan family. Readers went crazy for Buster Brown’s shenanigans (and for his pet dog, Tige). Outcault had another hit on his hands.

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Richard Outcault was a pioneer in the strip style of comic illustration, with sequential image panels and accompanying text (often in speech bubbles) that contributed to the narrative. By about 1900, this format had become standard for comics. THF297493

This time, he managed to profit from it. Though he never owned the legal rights to Buster Brown, Outcault licensed the character’s name and face to hundreds of companies. Buster Brown promoted everything from bread and cigars to toys and – perhaps most famously – shoes.

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This bank is just one example of the hundreds of products manufactured during the first quarter of the twentieth century that bore Buster Brown’s likeness. Buster’s canine companion, Tige, sits at the horse’s feet. THF304975

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The St. Louis-based Brown Shoe Company (now Caleres) is probably the best-known Buster Brown licensee. Buster and Tige promoted the Brown company’s shoes – commonly called “Buster Browns” – into the 1990s.
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Americans purchased these branded products for decades after Outcault introduced Buster Brown. The character became a household name that outlived its comic strip, which was last published in 1921. By then, Richard Outcault was focusing less on illustrating and more on marketing. Eventually, he stepped away from comics altogether, returning to painting before his death in 1928. Eighty years later, the comic industry formally recognized Outcault’s important career, inducting him into its hall of fame at the 2008 San Diego Comic Convention.

Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content at The Henry Ford

Comic Books Under Attack

January 2, 2020

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One of the comic book titles that came under attack in the 1950s
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The popularity of comic books has always ebbed and flowed.  But there was a time when their very survival was at stake.  Back in the 1950s, Cold War hysteria and the fear of Communist infiltration into American society led to a deep concern about, and intense scrutiny of, comic books.  This was the one medium at the time that went directly from manufacturer to child, bypassing adult supervision. 

An American psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham fanned the flames of adult concern at the time.  Dr. Wertham worked with juvenile delinquents and found that the one thing they all seemed to have in common was their devotion to comic books.  Beginning in 1948, he went on an anti-comic book crusade, writing and speaking out against the detrimental effects that he claimed comic book reading had on young people.  

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Dr. Wertham’s
Seduction of the Innocent book, 1954 THF277193

Dr. Wertham summed up his arguments in his 1954 opus, Seduction of the Innocent.  This 400-page indictment of the comic book industry warned parents and educators that comic books were not only a harmful form of popular literature but also a serious cause of juvenile delinquency.  In the book, as in his lectures, he cited examples of violence, sexual themes, drug use, and other adult fare that he had found within the pages of actual comic books—asserting that reading this material encouraged similar behavior.  According to Dr. Wertham, these examples were especially evidenced in the extremely popular crime and horror titles published by the EC comic book company at the time. 

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Comic books with covers like this one, showing violence and scantily clad women, were among those that Dr. Wertham denounced. THF141552

Seduction of the Innocent created a sensation, as Dr. Wertham put forth a potent combination of professional expertise and moral outrage.  It confirmed the growing fear by many parents that their children’s attachment to comic books was permanently harming their willingness to conform to societal rules and hindering their ability to become law-abiding citizens in America’s democratic society.

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1951 Superman comic book predating the Comics Code Authority’s stamp of approval THF141569

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1965 Superman comic book with its Comics Code Authority stamp of approval in the upper right corner THF305329

The national attention focused upon the comic book industry led to a simultaneous U.S. Congressional inquiry in 1954.  As things were looking bleak for the comic book industry, the publishers decided to band together and self-censor their own titles by adopting a new Comics Code Authority (or CCA).  According to CCA regulations, each company was required to include a Stamp of Approval on the cover of every one of its issues as a sign that it had met compliance with the Code.

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December 1954 issue of Mad when it was a comic book, just before it was converted into a magazine THF141567

As a result, EC titles were soon taken off the shelves.  In fact, this company would have been completely wiped out except for its popular Mad magazine, which became highly successful in its own right.  Even though the other comic book companies honed their stories closely to the guidelines of the Code, the damage had been done.  Comic books were held in disdain for years to the point that, by the early 1960s, their very survival was at risk.  We can thank, in large part, Marvel Comics’ new approach to stories and superheroes for their remarkable comeback.    

Dr. Wertham was later discredited for “manipulating, overstating, compromising, and fabricating” evidence.  And, before long, parents found that comic books were minor in their concern about harmful influences on America’s youth, as they seemed like nothing compared to the new Hollywood teenage films, paperback novels, and rock ‘n’ roll music!  Only later did people better understand that teenage angst and rebellion were very normal parts of growing up.

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Teenage movies like the one shown in this 1959 poster made comic books seem tame by comparison. THF109455

Through the ensuing decades, few comic books dared veer from the Code’s regulations that forbade depictions of graphic violence, advocated alignment with societal norms, and dictated that all comic book stories end on an upbeat note.  But by the late 20th century, these norms had changed enough that the earlier regulations had lost much of their relevance.  The two major comic book companies—Marvel and DC—finally dropped the CCA in favor of their own rating systems—in 2001 and 2011, respectively.

For a time, comic books went on trial.  But they managed to survive and adapt.  Ironically, later studies revealed that comic books actually played a positive role in enhancing literacy, inspiring imagination, providing new career outlets, and leading to lifetime hobbies.

Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.  See her other blog posts, Hooked on Comic Books and Battle of the Superheroes: DC vs. Marvel.

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DC’s superhero stories, like this 1961 issue of
The Flash, invariably ended happily—with problems resolved and loose ends neatly tied up. THF305327

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Marvel superheroes often questioned both their superpowers and their general existence, as suggested on this dramatic cover of issue#50 of The Amazing Spider-Man.*

The Flash, the Hulk, the Thing; Batman, Ironman, Spider-Man; the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy.  On and on it goes.  The list of comic book superheroes can seem almost endless.  How do you tell them apart?  To get you started, it helps to know their origin—their company of origin, that is.  With a few exceptions, all comic book superheroes trace their origins back to the talented writers and artists who created them at only two companies—DC and Marvel.  From their beginnings, these companies differed radically in their approach to superheroes, and these differences can still be discerned today. 

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Superman comic book, 1951 THF141569

DC Comics

Comic book superheroes originated back in the 1930s with Superman.  This superpowered alien was the brainchild of two shy but talented teenage boys from Cleveland, Ohio—Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  Pooling their drawing and writing talents, they devised the story of a he-man they simply called “The Superman,” who crash-landed on earth from another planet.  To keep his true identity safe, Superman needed to adopt a secret identity.  Enter Clark Kent, a meek, mild-mannered reporter with a personality remarkably similar to the two boys who had created him. 

Siegel and Shuster originally thought their character would lend itself to a great newspaper comic strip.  But they had no luck selling the idea to newspaper publishers, so they reluctantly agreed to sell their story in 1937 to the just-formed Detective Comics, Inc. (later shortened to DC).  Comic books—especially those featuring single characters rather than simply being collections of comic strips—were as yet an untested medium and both the young creators and the publisher took a risk.  Superman first appeared in Action comics (published by National Allied Publications, another corporate predecessor to DC) in June 1938.  Surprising everyone involved, he was immediately so popular that the publishers decided to feature him in his own comic book the very next year.  This marked the first time a comic book was devoted to a single superhero character. 

During the hard times of the Great Depression, Superman’s unprecedented popularity can be attributed to both his secret and his super identities.  Clark Kent represented the regular, unassuming common man that people could relate to, while they could happily dream and fantasize about being as infallible and invincible as the larger-than-life Superman.

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Wonder Woman comic book, 1948 THF141561

The formula was potent and durable.  Superman established the essential vocabulary for all DC comic book superheroes to come.  He, like superheroes who came after him, represented courage, humility, steadfastness, and a natural sense of responsibility to serving others in need.  He placed lofty principles above personal advantage, seeking nothing for himself.  As the Great Depression shifted to the patriotic World War II era, new DC superheroes like The Flash and Wonder Woman similarly placed the greater good above their own personal needs.  They never questioned their role in defending American democracy.  And, following the DC formula, they always triumphed in the end.

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During the late 1940s and 1950s, young readers were more likely to purchase a comic book about the humorous adventures of teenager Archie Andrews than one about a superhero. THF141542

During the 1950s, sales of comic books declined, especially those about superheroes.  Not only were adults concerned about the harmful effects of comic books on children, but superheroes seemed to lose their sense of purpose.  During the war years, it had been easy to know which side they were on.  What were they fighting for now?  Who exactly was the enemy?  Only Superman’s popularity continued apace, due to the popular TV series, The Adventures of Superman, which aired from 1951 to 1957.  It was through this series that the American public came to know Superman as championing “truth, justice, and the American Way.” 

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The Legion of Super-Heroes, a group of super-powered teenagers who join together to fight villains in the 30th century, have been popular DC superheroes since 1958. THF305330

By the late 1950s, DC superheroes were making a comeback, with both new and revived characters and a host of new supervillains for them to face.  New stories were created to fit the times, usually focusing either on scientific advancements (always seen as a positive force) or science fiction.  DC superheroes were competent, in control, and single-minded in their devotion to simply being heroic.  They solved any problem they encountered in a well-ordered world—a world that, for each character, had to be internally consistent.  Stories were comforting, positive, optimistic, reassuring, rational, and moral.  Superheroes used their powers responsibly, inevitably siding with established authority.

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This DC series, which started way back in 1941, featured Superman and Batman teaming up to battle villains. THF305328

The popularity of DC superheroes continued through the 1960s, spiking again with the trend-setting Batman TV show (which aired 1966-68), as well as their being featured on Saturday morning cartoons, in Broadway productions, and through related merchandise.  By this time, DC had settled on a standard and successful formula for its superhero stories: colorful and dramatic covers that grabbed kids’ attention, then a focus on plot development that would inevitably lead to a happy ending.  Little room was left for developing individual characters.  The editors at DC felt that this formula appealed to kids and young teenagers—their core market.  Why mess with success?

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Tales to Astonish #60, from 1964, featured two stories of classic Marvel superheroes: Giant-Man (introduced in 1962 as Ant-Man) with his female partner the Wasp, and The Incredible Hulk, re-introduced after his own series had been cancelled the previous year. *

Marvel Comics

In the late 1930s, following quickly upon the success of Superman over at DC, Timely Comics (later to become Marvel) introduced The Human Torch and Sub-Mariner.  The ultra-patriotic Captain America followed them during the World War II era.  But Marvel superheroes truly came into their own in the early 1960s. 

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The Comics Code Authority stamp of approval
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The public attack on comic books in the 1950s had put a damper on the comic book industry, forcing several companies to go out of business.  It was risky even being in the business at the time.  But partly because he figured he had nothing to lose at that point, talented Marvel writer (and later visionary editor) Stan Lee tried a new approach to superheroes that would change the course of comic books forever.  He decided he could work within the constraints of the industry’s new self-censorship board, the Comics Code Authority, while at the same time dealing with more serious topics and stories. 

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This Marvel Collectors’ Item Classics from 1965 marked the first time that early classic Marvel stories were reprinted—in this issue, Fantastic Four #2 (January 1962); The Amazing Spider-Man #3 (July 1963); the Ant-Man story from Tales to Astonish #36 (October 1962); and Journey to Mystery featuring The Mighty Thor #97 (October 1963). *

The new superheroes that Lee created had relatable personalities, human flaws, and real-life problems.  Their stories were purposely aimed at a new audience of older teenagers, who were wrestling with their own insecurities and feelings of alienation.  These stories also questioned the scientific advancements of the Atomic Age that DC had embraced as positive forces in people’s lives.  What if science ran amok?  What if things went horribly wrong? What if there were dire consequences?  Many Marvel superheroes, in fact, gained their superpowers because of horrific scientific accidents. 

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Even though the Human Torch and the Thing were both members of the Fantastic Four, in this issue of Strange Tales from 1964, a villain named the Puppet Master manipulated them into fighting each other. *

It started with the Fantastic Four in 1961—Lee’s answer to an assignment to come up with a team like DC’s recently created and very popular Justice League of America.  Lee had long thought that typical superheroes were too perfect, that “the best stories of all…are the stories in which the characters seem to be real.  You feel you know them, you understand them, you can relate to them.”  This “Fantastic” superhero family had four distinctive personalities.  Furthermore, they did not act like the polished, restrained, polite superheroes with which comic book readers had long been familiar.  They argued, mistrusted each other, had tempers, expressed opinions, led complicated lives.  Rather than the public cheering them on in the stories, people feared and were suspicious of them. 

The Fantastic Four were a revelation—like no other superheroes that had come before.  Older teenagers—for whom DC superheroes had come to seem shallow and one-dimensional—found them original, realistic, exciting.  One fan remarked that turning from the Justice League and Superman to the Fantastic Four was like “stepping through a gateway into another dimension.” 

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The Green Goblin, one of The Amazing Spider-Man’s most hated enemies, planned to reveal Spider-Man’s secret identity to the world in issue #39 from August 1966, but in the process, he dramatically revealed his own true identity. *

Marvel quickly followed the popularity of the Fantastic Four with The Incredible Hulk (1962), who not only turned into a brutish monster as the result of a nuclear accident but didn’t even look, act, or sound like a superhero.  In 1963, Marvel introduced its most quintessential superhero—The Amazing Spider-Man, an ordinary teenager beset by ordinary teenage problems who, having acquired super-powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider, only reluctantly sets out to fight crime and villains.

Dr. Strange
Dr. Strange, introduced in Strange Tales in 1963, gained his own title in 1968 and made regular appearances across the Marvel universe. *

A quick succession of superheroes followed, each character with his or her own manner of speech, personality, values, and quirks.  By the late 1960s, Marvel had woven together an integrated mythology of all its superheroes, in which stories continued, superheroes made guest appearances in others’ stories, and characters could be heroes one day and become villains the next (and vice versa). 

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Marvel’s The Silver Surfer was introduced as a tortured soul, permanently exiled to Earth on a surfboard-like craft as punishment for betraying the evil Galactus on his home planet. *

The Marvel formula, as laid out with Fantastic Four in 1961, became the standard.  Stories and characters often focused on alienated and even neurotic individuals with character flaws, inner struggles, and personal grudges.  Endings weren’t always happy or satisfying.  Superheroes didn’t always get along or leverage their powers to help others.  In Marvel superheroes, readers recognized their own failings, struggles, and anxieties.  As opposed to DC’s black-and-white world, the Marvel world was gray—more like the real world.

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This DC comic book series, about a group of misfit and alienated superheroes, was conceived in the Marvel mode but was never as popular as Marvel’s stories of similar outcast groups of superheroes like The X-Men. THF141602

Since the 1960s, most superhero stories in comic books have become darker, more complex, and more serious—often tackling social issues with a gritty realism.  This trend has brought DC and Marvel stories, characters, and mythologies closer together in content and tone, though the differences between them are still definable because these are so deeply embedded in their DNA.

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The King Kon Comic & Fantasy Convention, which ran from 1984 to 1986, was the first regular comic book convention in the Detroit area after the demise of the multi-genre Detroit Triple Fan Fair (that had run from 1965 to 1977).  King Kon was a predecessor to the current annual extravaganza, Motor City Comic Con, which began in 1989. *

Superheroes can now be found pretty much everywhere, from Comic Cons to an expanding array of movies, TV shows, mobile games, action figures, and other merchandise.  Their worlds are constantly growing, expanding, and changing.  It’s easy to get confused.  But don’t worry. If you’re trying to make sense of it all, start with the superheroes’ origins.  Are they DC or Marvel?  Knowing that will set you off on the right track.

Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.  See her other blog posts, Hooked on Comic Books and Comic Books Under Attack.  Items marked with an asterisk (*) are from the author’s collection.

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A Half Century in the Making, the Journey from Yuletides to Holiday Nights

What we know and love today as Holiday Nights did not spontaneously appear in 2000 when we first opened Greenfield Village on December evenings for an immersive holiday experience. Holiday Nights has evolved and grown based on many experiences and inspirations from decades of village “Christmases past.” and the work of many talented people.

The ability to transport our guests to a different time and place is most powerful after dark as the modern world that constantly pushes closer to our borders can be temporarily pushed away. When all is said and done, Greenfield Village provides the most perfect “set” in which to bring the past alive. With over 300 years of history represented, the possibilities are endless; a world where Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, and It’s a Wonderful Life can seamlessly collide. A place where a small town from the distant past comes to life for several hours on December evenings, bringing forth the magic of the holiday season.

Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village is a classic example of “if you build it, they will come.” What began with conservative hopes for several hundred people in attendance has continually grown year after year.

thf112439Information Booklet, "Christmas at Greenfield Village 1964." THF112439

The holiday experience in Greenfield Village has a long history. As early as the mid-1960s, Village buildings were decorated both inside and out for the holiday season. Historic Christmas recipes were prepared in the village kitchens in fireplaces and wood burning stoves. Early on, all the guest experiences were limited to daytime and varied from guided tours, to full access, to tour on your own. Decorations were very elaborate, and included many collection items, but were not always based on sound historical research. Every building got a bit of Christmas, whether it would have been celebrated or not. During this period, attendance was vigorous, especially on December weekends.

THF144738Guests at Clinton Inn (Eagle Tavern) During "Yuletide Evening in the Village," 1975. THF144738

By the mid-1970s, new evening holiday experiences, called Yuletide Evenings, were introduced. Guests had the choice of a formal dinner in either the newly constructed Heritage Hall (now the Michigan Café) or the Clinton Inn (now the Eagle Tavern).The experience included horse drawn wagon, or if conditions allowed, sleigh rides into the Village, and depending on which package was purchased, a tour of 4 different decorated historic buildings, either before or after dinner. By the early 1980s, the Clinton Inn became Eagle Tavern, and the evening program changed to become an immersive 1850 dining experience much like the program offered today. Eventually, the Village tour portion of the evening was discontinued, offering a dinner only experience.  

In the early 1990s, a concerted effort had been made for some years to reinvigorate the daytime program. By paying attention to historical accuracy, but at the same time, broadening the scope and allowing for a wider interpretation of how Americans began to celebrate Christmas in the 19th century, more engaging programs were offered.  Hundreds of artifacts were chosen to fit out the dining rooms, parlors, and where appropriate, Christmas trees. Additional research was also done to lift-up the historic cooking programs and infuse a “living history” approach to the historic structures with the addition of period clothing. All this further supported the stories of the diversity of the American Christmas celebration. This work laid the foundation for the core content of Holiday Nights that we rely on today.

By the late 1990s, for a variety of reasons, the daytime visitation  to the Greenfield Village Holiday Program had begun to decline while the evening program attendance remained strong. Based on the inspiration and fond memories of the wonderful candle and lantern lit buildings decorated for the holidays, a new program was proposed to re-create that opportunity through the Educational Programs class offerings. Though on a very small scale that served less than 100 people, this program reminded us of what could be possible and got the creative process rolling.

THF144736Brochure, "Twelve Nights of Christmas" in Greenfield Village, 2003. THF144736

The Twelve Nights of Christmas, what would later be called Holiday Nights, debuted for the Christmas season of 2000. The daytime “Holiday” program remained in place, and the evening program was basically an evening version. This early version was very quiet, and very dark, as none of the village restoration had taken place yet. Most of the activities were based inside the buildings. Despite the slow start, the potential was fully realized, and creative and physical growth began. With the village closed for the holiday season of 2002  for the renovation, there was time to regroup, brainstorm, and make plans. The new and improved version for the “new” village in 2003 saw expanded outdoor activities, more music, and an ice rink that featured an artificial ice surface. Even with enhanced programming elements, the program was still not really filling the space as it could.

THF133593Musicians Performing at "Twelve Nights of Christmas" in Greenfield Village, 2003. THF133593

During these early years, it was apparent to the village programs team that to achieve the level of experience we were aspiring to, the event would need to be broken down into production areas, and each would need its own level of care and attention to detail. Decorating the village, designing and deploying the lighting, planning the historic food demonstrations, food sales and retail, staffing and training, musical and dramatic program casting and rehearsing, dressing an army of staff, firewood, lanterns, and communicating the entire thing, all was captured and pulled together with the Holiday Nights manual. This work became the go-to document for what needed to be done when and where, once preparation for the evening program began. This tool also became invaluable in planning and producing subsequent years of the program. So, as ideas came forth as to how to expand and improve the Holiday Nights guest experience, the program manual format made it possible to incorporate the new elements and move the experience forward.

A very memorable off site staff mini-retreat to a local book store cafe in 2004 laid the foundation for the program we know today. Building on the sound historical content of our village holiday celebration, our success with Holiday Nights thus far, along with a commitment from the institution, we created and refined the combination of guest experiences that today, makes Holiday Nights truly one of the nation’s greatest holiday experiences. The fireworks finale, the end of the evening procession and sing-a-long, a visit from Santa, a real ice skating rink, immersive food and drink stalls in the center of the Village, a greens market, storytellers, over 100 staff in period dress as well as a wide variety of additional dining experiences and top quality live music, has put Holiday Nights on the map over 20 seasons.


The program continues to grow and evolve. For my part, it’s been a privilege and source of pride to see how far we have come and how we have come together to achieve such greatness. I look forward to the road ahead and what the next 20 years may bring.

Inspired by the evolution of Holiday Nights? See it for yourself - limited tickets for 2019 remain.


Jim Johnson is Curator of Historic Structures and Landscapes at The Henry Ford and Director of Greenfield Village.

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Recently, I stopped by the building block “wonderland” that is Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO® Bricks, a temporary exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

I watched children (and also adults) busily absorbed in designing their own Lego creation - choosing from 200,000 Lego bricks placed within the exhibit as a hands-on activity for visitors. Some kids were likely inspired by the impressive Lego models of famous skyscrapers and other buildings displayed there. Many kids immediately dove into the “bottomless pit” of Lego bricks, jazzed by the opportunity to build something wonderful from their own imaginations.

And children DO love to build things--whether they create imaginary worlds or smaller versions of the real one. Construction toys are quite literally and figuratively “the building blocks of childhood.” Playing with them builds physical and intellectual skills--and encourages creativity. Toy bricks, logs and girders are the stuff of playtime joy!

Over the last 150 years, entrepreneurs have introduced innovative construction toys that have delighted generations of children. Which is your favorite?

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District School Building Block Set, 1876-1886. THF300131. (Gift of Mrs. Clemens August Haass)

After the Civil War, the Charles M. Crandall Company’s building blocks were all the rage. Like Lego bricks, they could be easily and securely linked together in a “thousand and one” ways. By 1879, Crandall offered 28 sets of interlocking blocks and jointed figures.

This “District School” set was a miniature version of a common childhood experience of the era: the one-room rural school. Crandall advertised that children would “laugh over this group of teachers and scholars” as they built the school and arranged the figures. The “District School” had playful appeal, combining entertainment with education--children could learn their alphabet while having fun.

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Tinkertoys, 1914-1925. THF97403

Tombstone cutter Charles Pajeau noticed how much fun his children had sticking pencils into empty thread spools and assembling them into imaginative forms. So, he designed a shorter wooden spool with one hole drilled in the center and a series of holes along the edge. Kids could now build at angles and connect multiple dowels at once. Tinkertoys were born! In 1914, Pajeau started a company to produce and market the toy.

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Erector Set, 1915. THF95319

As toy marketer A.C. Gilbert rode the train from New Haven to New York on business, he watched as workers erected an electrical system along the railroad line using steel girders that had been riveted together. This inspired Gilbert to design a construction set for older boys with metal girders, panels, wheels, gears, and pulleys. His marketing spoke directly to boys, encouraging them to build.

Boys used their Erector sets to build small versions of steam engines, Ferris wheels, zeppelins, bridges, elevators, trucks, cranes, and other devices. The toy not only delighted boys--it also appealed to their parents, who appreciated the way Erector sets could introduce their kids to careers in engineering. The company even offered “degrees” from its “Engineering Institute.”

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Lincoln Logs, about 1960. THF6627 (Gift of Steven K. Hamp)

John Lloyd Wright, son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, invented Lincoln Logs. Introduced in 1916, these sturdy, miniature logs had interlocking notches. Lincoln Logs were named after Abraham Lincoln, who was born in a log cabin.

After World War II, Lincoln Logs got another boost as they became an iconic Baby Boomer toy. In the 1950s, nostalgia for the American West and the frontier had kids crafting log buildings with their Lincoln Log sets. With their nostalgic connection to America’s past, Lincoln Logs were marketed as “America’s national toy.”

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Lego Building Set, 1976-1983. THF59

Legos, developed in Denmark during the 1950s, first appeared in the United States in 1962. With their small interlocking studs and tubes, Lego plastic bricks held together well - yet could easily be pulled apart. Lego bricks offered “no limits on what you can build.” Two Lego blocks could be joined in 24 different ways. Six blocks--over 100 million ways.

Lego bricks can be assembled and connected to create buildings, vehicles, and even human figures. Though the design and purposes of individual pieces have evolved over the years, each Lego brick--whether made in the 1950s or the present--remains compatible in some way with existing pieces.

Duplo bricks - larger sized versions made for preschoolers - debuted in 1969. They were easier for tiny hands to maneuver.

Over the years, Lego has created Lego sets with a variety of themes, including space, pirates, castles, robots, and the Wild West. They have licensed themes from popular cartoons, films, and video games--like Batman, Harry Potter, and Star Wars.

With their endless creative possibilities, Lego bricks have staying power--and fans worldwide. In 2000, Legos were named “Toy of the Century” by Fortune magazine and the British Association of Toy Retailers.

As a kid, I loved to design and build houses. Growing up, my siblings and I had Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and an Erector set. I rather envied my friend--she had Block City, pre-Lego plastic bricks with architectural details like doors and windows (which Lincoln Logs lacked). My grandmother (who sewed a lot) kept a box full of empty spools and some wood scraps for us to build with--we created imaginary “towns” all over her living room floor. She never seemed to mind.

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

1967 Ford Mark IV Race Car
The Mark IV gave Ford the second of four consecutive Le Mans victories, starting in 1966. Ferrari had dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans, winning 8 of 12 races from 1954 through 1965. THF90733

The film Ford v. Ferrari, staring Matt Damon and Christian Bale, reignited interest in Ford Motor Company’s racing efforts at Le Mans in the 1960s. While the movie focuses on Ford’s 1966 victory, the automaker returned to Le Mans in 1967 with the Mark IV.

This was the first all-American car and team to win the Le Mans 24-hour race. For decades, Europeans had dominated sports-car racing in cars with small, fast-turning, highly efficient engines. Americans typically used big, slower-turning, less-efficient V-8 engines. This car’s sophisticated chassis used aerospace techniques, and its shape was refined in a wind tunnel. But its big engine was based on Ford’s V-8 used for stock-car racing.

Close-up View of the Ford Mark IV Le Mans Engine
Close-up View of the Ford Mark IV Le Mans Engine, June 1967. THF119457

The second-place Ferrari was more complicated and temperamental than the first-place Ford. It had a V-12 engine with fuel injection and twin distributors. The Ford (pictured above) had a V-8 engine with two four-barrel carburetors.

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Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt Popping Cork of Victory Champagne at the 24 Heures du Mans (24 Hours of Le Mans) Race, June 1967. THF127985

Two of America’s great race drivers, A.J. Foyt, right, and Dan Gurney, teamed up to win the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans in this car. Gurney’s post-race celebration included racing’s first-ever champagne spray.

Close-up View of the Ford Mark IV Le Mans Race Car Hull Honeycomb Construction
Close-up View of the Ford Mark IV Le Mans Race Car Hull Honeycomb Construction, 1967 / detail. THF87021

Holes cut in the chassis show its aircraft-style construction of aluminum honeycomb. The concept was to make it strong and lightweight.

Want to learn even more? See the Mark IV for yourself in Driving America inside Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. 

This fall we welcomed Rich Sheridan, CEO (and Chief Storyteller) of Menlo Innovations, to The Henry Ford as an Entrepreneur in Residence. Rich is our second EIR to join us in 2019, following Melvin Parsons, founder of We The People Growers Association in Ypsilanti. Hear more about Melvin's story below.


Thanks to a grant, the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship has allowed The Henry Ford to provide the next generation of entrepreneurs with hands-on learning opportunities. This initiative includes the Entrepreneur-in-Residence program, a public speaker series featuring influencers in entrepreneurship, workshops and the expansion of youth programming that leverages the institution’s Archive of American Innovation to create a deep and engaging understanding of invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship from a young age. 

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Photo courtesy of Menlo Innovations.

Learn more about Rich, his background, and his passion for cultivating joy.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company, Menlo Innovations.
I am a #PureMichigan kid. I grew up in Mount Clemens, Mich., just north of Detroit and attended Chippewa Valley High School where I started learning to program computers on a teletype in 1971.  I then went to Ann Arbor and received a bachelor of science in computer science and a master of science in computer engineering from the University of Michigan. After graduation in 1982, I decided I loved Ann Arbor too much to leave and have been there ever since. I married my high school sweetheart, Carol, and we raised our three daughters (Megan, Lauren and Sarah) in a house we’ve been working on since we bought it in 1983. We have two granddaughters now and two more (twins!) on the way.

I co-founded Menlo Innovations in 2001 with James Goebel. We are a contract software design and development firm in downtown Ann Arbor with a mission to “end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology.” Our goal since our founding is to return joy to technology … for the people who use the software our team creates, for the people who pay us to design and build it, and for the people who do the work.

Our team has done lots of work in the automotive industry, the healthcare industry, logistics, retail, in just about every technology and platform available.

Do you have a specific memory about your first visit to The Henry Ford?
Growing up in Clinton Township (near Mount Clemens), there was a program offered every summer that I believe they called Summer Recreation. Most of the activities were at the elementary school I attended. They also offered field trips and once a summer they took us to Greenfield Village. I loved it every time I went. My specific memories include rock candy (!), the steam engine train, the Wright Brothers bicycle shop, the horse-drawn carriages, the Model-T fleet, the blacksmith shop, the glassblowing, and of course, the Menlo Park lab of Thomas Edison.

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Inside Menlo Laboratory.

What inspires your most about Thomas Edison and his Menlo Laboratory?

As a kid, I got goosebumps whenever I entered that lab. I’m not even sure if I knew what had actually happened there. I could sense the human energy that existed there, the camaraderie, the inventiveness, and the excitement of creating things that had a chance to change the world. I loved the fact that there was a “lab” that was wide open and filled with such fascinating equipment, above a machine shop. My favorites toys as a kid were Erector sets, electrical experimentation kits, LEGO blocks, chemistry sets, and a microscope. In my mind’s eye, I saw all of this at work in this lab and this was a place that adults worked! I wanted that in my own work life.

What have you been working on with The Henry Ford as our EIR? What excites you most about your time here?
The Henry Ford wants to ensure they offer practical relevance to the problems we face in our world today. Businesses and engineers at those businesses have the opportunity to create great impact. The adults running those firms and working there need inspiration (just like we kids did). Businesses today need creativity, imagination, invention and innovation more now than ever. What better place to inspire and begin such a journey than The Henry Ford.

My project is to help the amazing team at The Henry Ford imagine an innovation space that businesses can use to bring their teams, their ideas, and perhaps even their customers to play, explore, invent and ideate. The space itself will be right in the middle of the museum. Thus, teams who use that space will be able to use the museum as a sort of lab for creating, drawing important lessons from the past and they ideate about the future. As William Pretzer said in his book Working at Inventing, “Henry Ford’s goal was to create a museum that would not only record the past but would shape the future as well. It would use the past to encourage visitors, especially the young, to aspire great achievements of their own.” It certainly worked for me!

Why is it important to put joy into your work every day?
I have to admit, my desire to create Menlo Innovations was a selfish one. I wanted to create a workplace I wanted to come to every day, with energy, enthusiasm and inspiration. The beautiful thing is that this kind of environment is contagious. We actually get over 3,000 visitors every year who come from all over the world just to see how we do what we do. They can feel the energy of the place and we end up talking about the “business value of joy.” The visitors often ask, “Why is joy so important?” I present them with a rhetorical question: “Imagine half of my team had joy and the other half didn’t? Which half would you want working on your project?” Everyone chooses the joyful half (of course!). I then ask them why?

“They’d be more productive.”

“They’d care more about the outcome.”

“They’d produce higher quality.”

“They’d be easier to work with.”

There is, in fact, tangible business value to joy. We know this. Thomas Edison knew this. Henry Ford knew this. Now it’s time for the rest of the world to get on board.

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“Classic American Cars Series: 1966 Mustang” ornament, 1992.
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“Holiday Barbie” ornament, 1993.
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In 1973, Hallmark Cards, Inc. decided to venture into the world of producing Christmas ornaments. That year, the company introduced a small line of “Keepsake Ornaments,” consisting of six rather traditional glass ball ornaments and 12 handcrafted yarn figures.

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“Star Wars: Yoda” ornament, 1997.
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Since then, the company has kept its finger on the pulse of popular tastes, interests, and values. Whether you’re a devoted Hallmark ornament fan or you’re not quite sure why others are, you have to admit that this entrepreneurial company has revolutionized Christmas decorating.

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“Spotlight on SNOOPY Series: Joe Cool” ornament, 1998.
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The Henry Ford recently acquired a collection of thousands of Hallmark ornaments from Indiana Hallmark retailer, The Party Shop, spanning the years 1973 to 2009. Besides being fun, artistic, and just plain charming, there are several other reasons we are excited about the addition of these ornaments to our collection.

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“Here Comes Santa Series: Santa’s Motorcar” ornament, 1979.
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J. C. Hall, a Visionary Founder

Founded in 1910 by Joyce Clyde (J. C.) Hall, Hallmark did not start with ornaments, but with cards. J. C. Hall (born 8/29/1891) grew up in small-town David City and Norfolk, Nebraska, where at a young age he sold perfume to neighbors and clerked in his older brothers’ bookstore. When he was 16, the three brothers pooled their money and opened the Norfolk Post Card Company. But the market for postcards in Norfolk was limited.

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“Yesteryears: Train” ornament, 1976.
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As story has it, in 1910, J. C. dropped out of high school, crammed two shoeboxes full of postcards, and boarded a train for Kansas City, Missouri. He called on drugstores, bookstores, and gift shop owners, wholesaling products that were created and manufactured by others. As business picked up, he ventured to outlying railroad towns. He and his brother Rollie were soon able to open a specialty store in downtown Kansas City, selling postcards, gifts, books, and stationery. Unfortunately, their inventory was wiped out by a fire in 1915. But they were able to float a loan and bought an engraving firm, which set the stage for the creation of their first original Hallmark card designs. In 1921, brother William joined them and in 1923 the three brothers formed Hall Brothers.

Building a Brand

To establish Hallmark as a recognizable brand, it was J.C. Hall’s idea to begin placing ads in women’s magazines. In 1928, J. C. Hall came up with the brand name “Hallmark” because it both incorporated the family name and was an allusion to goldsmiths’ “hallmark,” a mark of quality. The company began to sell its greeting cards nationally. In 1944, Hallmark’s sales and marketing executive Ed Goodman came up with the tag line, “When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best” (using three important company values: caring, quality, and “the best”). In 1954, the company changed its name to Hallmark Cards, Inc.

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Traditional glass ball ornament, “Charmers,” 1974.
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J. C. Hall stepped down as president in 1966, and his son Donald J. Hall became the new president and CEO. Under Donald, Hallmark grew and expanded its quality products to a global market. Ornaments were introduced in 1973. The Hallmark Gold Crown Store program was formalized in 1986, with a network of independently owned and operated retailers to build on the strength of the Hallmark brand and its products. The company acquired complementary companies during the 1980s and 1990s, beginning with Crayola in 1984.

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“Bright Christmas Dreams” ornament, 1987.
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Taking Risks and Embracing Innovation

Since its beginnings, Hallmark has been known for taking risks and being innovative. In 1917, Hallmark “invented” modern gift wrap by printing its own wrapping paper. The company also patented the “Eye-Vision” greeting card display racks, beginning the idea of displaying greeting cards on public view rather than hiding them in drawers.

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“Muhammad Ali” ornament, 1999.
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“Rockin’ With Santa” ornament (mechanical)

Hallmark has continually embraced innovation in the design, technology, and marketing of its ornaments. These include: the use of artists to create original designs; unique translations of cultural celebrities, phenomena, and design trends; groundbreaking experiments in applying sound, light, and other special effects; and sparking the phenomenon of ornament collecting through the creation of a collectors’ club and development of several-year-long ornament series.

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“Baby’s First Christmas” ornament, 1990.
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A Mission-Driven Company

Hallmark Cards, Inc. has built an extremely successful business around the core mission of reinforcing stability and connectedness within a rapidly changing world. The company believes that their products and services must enrich people’s lives; that creativity and quality—in their products, services and all that they do—are essential to their success; and that innovation in all areas of their business is essential to attaining and sustaining leadership.

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“Gifts for the Grinch” ornament, 2000.
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“See ‘n Say” ornament, 2007 (mechanical).
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Being Customer-Focused

There is a reason why the most popular ornaments over time have moved from traditional glass balls to “figural ornaments”—that is, ornaments designed to represent something, from Christmas motifs to popular toys to characters in movies, TV shows, and children’s books. Many consumers tell Hallmark that they view the company’s Keepsake Ornaments as more than just holiday decorations. They help them relive special memories, remember special people and events, and express their own unique interests and personalities.

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“Dad” with video camera ornament, 1996. THF177014

Connected to an Entrepreneurial Family

One of the company’s greatest innovations was establishing an international chain of independent Hallmark stores to encourage sales, customer loyalty, and reinforce their brand. The Henry Ford’s collection of ornaments was once displayed at one of these stores—The Party Shop, a 12,000 square foot Hallmark store in Warsaw, Indiana. The family who owned and operated the Party Shop and the Hallmark Ornament Museum displayed within it epitomizes an entrepreneurial family who embraced Hallmark’s mission.

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Dorothy Snyder and her son David in front of the Hallmark Ornament Museum inside their Hallmark Store

Norman and Dorothy Snyder bought The Party Shop in Warsaw, Indiana in 1978. They were looking for a career change and thought that owning a Hallmark store would both be enjoyable and align with their own values. During the 1980s, the Snyders bought or added several stores, both locally and in surrounding small communities. They and their two children, David and Dana, managed these stores.

In 1989, the family moved The Party Shop from downtown Warsaw out to a 4,400 square foot store in a shopping center on the outskirts of town. They kept outgrowing their space until, in 1996, they moved into their final location—a 12,000 square foot store in that shopping center, about three times the size of most Hallmark stores! It was then that they opened the Hallmark Ornament Museum, aided by the donation of an earlier collection amassed by a friend of their son David. They stopped adding to the collection in 2009, because they just couldn’t justify adding more cases—the space was needed for the retail operation.

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“Cell-ebrate” ornament, 2007.
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A visionary founder; a successful brand; risk-taking and innovation; a mission-driven company; customer focus; and connections with an entrepreneurial family—these are the qualities that mark our new Hallmark ornament collection. So, they may be cute; they may be funny; they may seem overly sentimental at times. They also make a perfect acquisition for The Henry Ford.

Watch for a growing number of these ornaments to appear in Digital Collections on our website and be sure to check them out in person at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation during the holiday season.

Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator & Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. She was aided in this blog post by Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life and fellow collaborator on “all things Hallmark.”