Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Nostalgia for those who experienced it—and a hip mid-century modern revival for others.

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The Visits with Santa experience in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation this year is a throwback to the 1960s. Kids can tell Santa their wishes as they sit next to him under a colorful kiosk made by Ray and Charles Eames for the IBM pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  Nearby is a cozy 1960s living room vignette—complete with a La-Z-Boy chair, television set, and an aluminum Christmas tree from the era.

This mid-century modern theme coincides with the opening of our newest permanent exhibit in the museum, Mathematica, also designed by Ray and Charles. Several components of Mathematica were featured inside that IBM Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, so we were excited to bring those two experiences together for this year’s holiday programming.

The scene provides a bit of nostalgia for those who experienced the 1960s—and a hip mid-century modern revival for others. Let’s look at some blasts from the 1960s Christmas past.

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Aluminum trees brought a modern look to a mid-1960s Christmas.  THF170112

The early 1960s brought a fresh, new look to Christmas tree aesthetics.  A completely modern look--the aluminum Christmas tree.   It made a shiny, metallic splash in living rooms all over America.  More than a million trees were sold during the decade.   A tree choice that eschewed the traditional pine- or fir-scented Christmas experience when it landed on the Christmas scene in the 1960s, now conjures up images of a retro Christmas past.

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Color wheel sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company, 1960-1965.  THF8379

A color wheel lit up the aluminum tree, with the tree changing from blue to red to green to gold as the wheel revolved.  The color wheel was there for a practical reason—you couldn’t put strings of lights on aluminum trees because of fire safety concerns.   But to those viewing the transformation, the color wheel seemed a no-brainer way to light these trees—so modern and so magical.  It was mesmerizing to watch—whether from a front row seat in your living room or the view through your neighbor’s window.

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The Smith family of Redford, Michigan purchased these ornaments in 1964 to hang on their aluminum Christmas tree.  THF309083

Aluminum trees called for minimalist look. The trees were often sparingly decked with ornaments all of one color. 

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The Wojewidka siblings pose for a Christmas photo in front of their live tree in 1960.  THF125145

Yet, “real” trees remained popular as well—fresh-cut trees chosen from one of the many temporary Christmas tree lots that popped up in cities and towns. (The cut-your-own trend was not yet widespread.)  Scotch pines were favored by many—though there were diehard balsam fans as well.  These trees were bedecked with a varied array of ornaments—glass ones by the Shiny Brite company were popular. And shiny “icicles”—made of lead before it was prohibited—hung from the branches to add to the sparkle.

Holiday Greetings in the Mail

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By the early 1960s, Christmas cards offered a greater variety of seasonal images beyond those traditionally found. This image shows a woman clothed in a pine tree decorated with 1960s trendy-colored ornaments.   THF287028  

By mid-December, mailboxes were filling with Christmas cards, sent by family and friends to let the recipient know that they were being specially thought of during the holiday season. It was exciting to pull out handfuls of cards from the mailbox—it may have been the only time during the year when a kid had much interest in what the postman delivered. And not necessarily because of the cards themselves—the cards were a tangible sign that Christmas was indeed on its way and that Santa would soon be making his deliveries!  

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Christmas card display clothesline and pins, about 1964. THF155082   

Where did people display all these Christmas cards? On a mantle, a table, or the top of the television. Or taped to a wall or a large mirror in the living room. Hanging them from a Christmas-themed clothesline was a more novel way to display them.

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This 1962 stamp carried traditional Christmas images of lighted candles and a wreath.  THF287036

In 1962, the United States Postal Service issued the first Christmas-themed postage stamps in America. (A few other countries had already beaten us to the punch on issuing Christmas-themed postage stamps.) But once begun, Christmas stamps graced more and more Christmas card envelopes to complete the annual presentation of holiday-themed greetings sent through the mail. 

Making a List

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Christmas catalogs like this 1964 Sears, Roebuck & Company got a workout in December. THF135874

Kids were busy deciding what to ask Santa for. Instead of perusing the web, kids looked forward to the arrival of Christmas season catalogs sent by stores like Sears, Roebuck and Company, J.C. Penney, and Montgomery Ward.  Kids (and adults) eagerly leafed through the pages of the toys, clothing, and other gifts offered within, making their wish list for Santa’s perusal before passing the catalog along to another family member.

Television offered additional gift ideas, playing out the merits of products before viewers’ eyes in commercials that one couldn’t speed past with a DVR.

Toys for Girls and Boys
Many 1960s toys that appeared on the Christmas lists of millions of kids during the 1960s—some in updated versions—are still classics.

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Silly Putty modeling compound, about 1962.  THF135811

Silly Putty was invented during World War II as General Electric researchers worked to develop a synthetic substitute for rubber.  While no practical purpose could be found for the stuff, it did turn out to be a great toy. Silly Putty bounced higher and stretched farther than rubber.  It even lifted images off the pages of color comics. (My sister took Silly Putty to bed with her, leaving a perfect egg-shaped stain on the sheets that never came out.)

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Eight-year-old Rachel Marone of New York received this Etch A Sketch as s Christmas gift in 1961.  THF93827

The 1960s saw an innovative new arts and crafts toy—the Etch A Sketch. Turning the knobs at the bottom of the screen (one to create horizontal lines, one for vertical) let the user “draw” on the screen with a mixture of aluminum powder and plastic beads. To erase, you just turned the screen over and shook it.  Incidentally, it was the first toy that Ohio Art, its manufacturer, ever advertised on television.  (Accomplished users could make great drawings on the Etch A Sketch—and some of us were just happy to produce decent-looking curved lines.)

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This 1962 Play-Doh Fun Factory was a childhood toy of Mary Sherman of Minnesota.  THF170363

Play-Doh introduced their Fun Factory in 1960. Now kids could go beyond free-form modeling with their red, yellow, blue and white Play-Doh. The Play-Doh Fun Factory provided instructions on how to create things like trains, planes, and boats—and an extruder with dies to easily make the components. 

Watching Christmas Specials on TV

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Album from A Charlie Brown Christmas television special, about 1965.  THF162745

Kids eagerly listened for announcements on television or leafed excitedly through TV Guide magazine to find out when the holiday specials would air.  You didn’t want to miss them—it was your only shot at watching!  There were no DVRs or DVDs back then. Two animated classics from the mid-1960s--A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas--are among the earliest and most enduring of the Christmas specials developed for television.  

Within their engaging storylines, these two shows carried a message about the growing commercialization of the holiday.  As kids watched the barrage of toy ads that appeared with regularity on their television screens and leafed through catalogs to make their Christmas lists, seeing these cartoons reminded them that Christmas was also about higher ideals—not just about getting presents.  These television shows—and the increasing number and variety of Christmas specials that have since joined them—remain a yearly reminder to temper one’s holiday-related commercialism and to think of the needs of others. 

Not only have Charlie Brown and the Grinch become perennial favorites enjoyed by children and adults alike, but the soundtracks of these shows have joined the pantheon of musical Christmas classics. 

Christmas Music

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The Ronettes’ version of Sleigh Ride, with its freshly melodic “Ring-a-ling-a-ling Ding-dong ding” background vocals on this 1963 Phil Spector-produced album, has become an iconic Christmas classic. THF135943

What would a 1960s Christmastime be without Christmas-themed music heard on the stereo at home and over speakers in stores? The 1960s saw a flood of Christmas albums and singles. Various singers—like Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Brenda Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, the Ronettes, the Crystals, and the Beach Boys—recorded their versions of old favorites and new tunes.   

The Annual Christmas Photo

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In 1963, the Truby brothers of Royal Oak, Michigan, posed in Santa pajamas given to them by their grandmother. THF287005

After the presents were opened and everyone was dressed in their Christmas finery, it was time to round up the kids for photos. Siblings (and, sometimes, their parents) might be posed together in front of a seasonal backdrop like the Christmas tree or a fireplace. Some families filmed home movies of their celebrations. These home movies often captured only strategic snippets of the Christmas celebration—movie film was expensive. And these home movies were without sound—which was probably sometimes a good thing!

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

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Sliding puzzles of “Toy Story” characters, 1996.
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In 1995, Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story” made history as the first feature-length computer-animated film. The movie was a surprise box-office hit, far exceeding estimates. In 1996, it won an Academy Award for Special Achievement and was the first animated film ever nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

In fact, Disney took a real chance on Pixar, a young unproven tech startup at the time. Indeed, the staff at Pixar knew computer technology but they had never created a full-length feature film. But, in the course of developing the film, they made a key decision that laid the foundation for Pixar’s success, both then and now. They decided to put the story first—to focus attention the characters, the plot, the action. So, sure, the computer animation of the first “Toy Story” movie looks really primitive today. But pretty soon, you forget about that because the story still grabs you. Even though the main characters are toys, it’s a universal human story, about who your friends are, or aren’t, or could be.

In addition to the very relatable human story, both children and adults embraced the film right from the beginning because of the choices of the toys themselves. Why are those the toys in Andy’s room? In fact, they primarily come from the filmmakers’ own memories playing with their childhood toys—leading to a motley assortment of toys from the mid-20th century to the 1990s that reflects the varied ages of the film’s creators. Some of these evoke a specific era; others have become classics, continually produced over decades for successive generations of kids. We dug into our own collections to find some of the real toys that appear in “Toy Story” and reveal their true stories.

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Cheyenne game, 1958-65. THF 91876

Let’s start with the main character, Sheriff Woody. Woody wasn’t a real toy; instead, he represented a whole group of toys. During the 1950s, cowboy movies and TV shows were huge. This was an era during which the West was greatly romanticized, something Walt Disney was on to when he created Frontierland at Disneyland in 1955. Cowboys, in particular, were revered as rough and tough, independent, honest, and hardworking characters—at the time considered laudable traits for young boys (and girls) to emulate. In “Toy Story 2,” we find out that Woody indeed comes from a 1950s-era TV show entitled “Woody’s Roundup.” This game from our collection was named after a real TV show called “Cheyenne” that ran from 1955 to 1963.

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Rocket Darts game, 1940s. THF 91902

Buzz Lightyear also represented an era and a larger group of toys and games. During the mid-20th century, outer space was considered really mysterious and it fascinated people. At first, it was depicted as pure science fiction, as represented by the aliens and Pizza Planet in “Toy Story” and shown on the cover of this Rocket Darts game from the 1940s. Increasingly, outer space became a real destination as part of the 1960s-era “Space Race”—leading to Americans actually landing a man on the moon in 1969. Buzz Lightyear is reminiscent of this era, equipped as he is with special features that seem more advanced and sophisticated than Woody’s primitive pull string.

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Mr. Potato Head playset, 1955-60. THF 47

Mr. (and Mrs.) Potato Head were and still are real toys. They were introduced in 1952 and 1953, respectively. Back in the 1950s, when this playset was produced, it included 28 different face pieces and accessories—like eyes, noses, mouths, and mustaches—that kids would stick on real potatoes! Hasbro began supplying a plastic potato with each kit in 1964.

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Life magazine ad, 1957. THF 109573

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Slinky in original box, 1970s. THF 309090

Slinky Dog or, as Woody called him—“Slink”—was also a real toy, as show in this 1957 Christmas ad. He evolved from the invention of the Slinky, along with a host of other rather bizarre-looking Slinky-related toys shown in this ad. The original Slinky was introduced in 1946, when a marine engineer was trying to invent a spring for the motor of a naval battleship.

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Toy army men, mid- to late 20th century. THF 170098

The green army men from the “Bucket O Soldiers” referenced the long history of toy soldier playsets. Toy soldiers made of lead or tin date back to the 19th-century Europe. With advancements in plastics, green army men made of plastic like these became popular after World War II. Molding these figures in one piece with the base attached was less expensive to manufacture, leading to the stiff-legged maneuvers of the “troops”—as Woody called them—in the film.

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Magic Slate, 1937-46. THF 135603

Woody’s Doodle Pad may be a mashup between the Magic Slate and the Magna Doodle. The Magic Slate, marketed as the “erasable blackboard” is essentially a cardboard pad covered with a clear plastic sheet that “wrote” when a wood or plastic stylus was impressed on it and “erased” when the plastic was lifted up. It dates back to the 1920s, when it was offered as a free giveaway by a printing company. People finally realized that it would make a great plaything and it was heavily marketed to kids after World War II. The Magna Doodle, introduced in 1974 as a “dustless chalkboard,” can be considered a later magnetic version of the Magic Slate, with an erasable arm that swept the “board” clean.

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Etch A Sketch, 1961. THF 93827

The Etch A Sketch fell somewhere between the Magic Slate and the Magna Doodle. It was invented in 1958 by a French mechanic and tinkerer, who called it “L’Ecran Magique,” or “The Magic Screen.” It used a mixture of aluminum powder and plastic beads with a metal stylus guided by twin knobs and it erased when it was turned over and shaken. The rights to the toy were sold to Ohio Art in 1960, where it became the company’s biggest hit.

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Barrel of Monkeys game, 1966-70. THF 91975

What better way to use the Barrel of Monkeys game than to make a chain of monkeys to try and save a toy that had fallen out of a second-story window? Unfortunately, the monkeys didn’t save Buzz Lightyear but, when this game was introduced in 1966, it was advertised as being—what else?—“more fun than a barrel of monkeys.”

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Junior TinkerToy for Beginners playset, 1937-46. THF 135602

Woody used the classic TinkerToy box as a lectern for his meeting with the other toys in Andy’s room. TinkerToys were the brainchild of a man who cut out tombstones for a living but saw how much fun kids were having sticking pencils into spools of thread. He came up with the idea of the TinkerToy playset in 1914, billing it as the “Thousand Wonder Builder.” Over the years, TinkerToys were produced in a huge array of colors, sizes, and variations including plastic sets for younger kids introduced in 1992.

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Playskool Portable Baby Monitor, circa 1990. THF170094

The Nursery Monitor is technically not a toy, but it played a key role in the “Toy Story” film for the troops’ reconnaissance mission to report out on Andy’s presents. So we’ll consider it an honorary toy. It is the only item here, and one of the very few in the film, that dates uniquely from the era of Andy’s own childhood. This device would have connected immediately with young viewers who were Andy’s age in 1995, and who would grow up with him in succeeding “Toy Story” films.

Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford, enjoyed viewing “Toy Story” several times as “research” for this blog post.

Inclusion Counts

November 22, 2017
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As part of The Henry Ford’s Community Outreach Program, VIP Mentoring mentor Patricia Shephard and her mentee Angel Lysher had the opportunity to hear Kimberly
Bryant share insights about the art of computer coding. The presentation by the founder of Black Girls CODE was part of the Innovator Speakers Series and took place in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.


When Patricia Shephard and 14-year-old Angel Lysher visited Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in March 2017, the two were on a mission to learn about the art of coding at a presentation by Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls CODE.

“I was interested in the Black Girls CODE presentation because it was about technology,” said Shephard, who has mentored Angel since 2016 through VIP Mentoring, a Detroit-based organization.“I feel it is important for Angel to experience as many presentations and outings that will give her hope and encourage her to break the ‘glass ceiling.’ It’s also important for her to learn about her culture and successful African- American people.”

After Bryant’s encouraging words, the two walked around the museum, discussing technology, programming and the importance of extracurricular activities.

“Not all girls want to play with Barbies,” said Angel, who added that she learned a great deal from Bryant’s presentation, including, “If you are a girl that likes technology, show it.”

A Privilege to Serve
Shephard and Angel attended the Bryant event as part of The Henry Ford’s Community Outreach Program, which works with direct social service providers to make The Henry Ford’s worldclass collections and educational experiences more accessible. VIP Mentoring, which fosters relationships between children in at-risk situations and caring adult volunteers, has been a Community Outreach Program partner since 2016.

Said Pamela Smith, a VIP Mentoring match specialist, “When The Henry Ford opens its doors to our families, it is creating a cultural and educational opportunity that most would never get to experience.”

The Henry Ford partners with more than 100 organizations in metro Detroit through its Community Outreach Program. Funded through the general operating budget, the 11 year-old program works through partner organizations to offer no-cost access to the museum, Greenfield Village and Ford Rouge Factory Tour to those in need, whether it’s resource-challenged families, at-risk youth, kids fighting cancer or young victims of violence. The intent is to offer inspiration from stories of American ingenuity, resourcefulness and innovation.

“We feel responsible for providing expanded community access to the unique learning
opportunities The Henry Ford provides,” said Stacey Simmons, Community Outreach Program manager. “We’re privileged to offer engaging and inspiring experiences that prompt new perspectives and reveal new opportunities. And we’re honored to work with other organizations committed to helping shape a better future.”

Did You Know?

You can support programs like the Community Outreach Program on #GivingTuesday by making a donation to The Henry Ford's Annual Fund. 
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Our 1967 Ford Mark IV at SEMA with the 2018 GT Heritage Edition it inspired.

It’s been a busy couple of years for our 1967 Ford Mark IV. In the last 24 months, the car traveled to England, France, California and, most recently, Nevada. Race fans have welcomed the car at each stop, excited to see it 50 years after its Le Mans win with Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt. The car’s trip to the Silver State coincided with this year’s SEMA Show, presented by the Specialty Equipment Market Association from October 31-November 3 in Las Vegas.

The SEMA Show is among the largest automotive trade shows on the calendar. It brings together original equipment manufacturers, aftermarket suppliers, dealers, restoration specialists and more. SEMA draws some 2,400 exhibitors and 160,000 people (all of them industry professionals – the show isn’t open to the public) to the Las Vegas Convention Center each year. You’ll find a bit of everything spread over the show’s one million square feet of exhibit space: speed shop equipment, specialty wheels and tires, seats and upholstery, car audio systems, paints and finishes, motor oils and additives – basically, anything that makes a car run, look, sound or feel better.

raptorsFord provided (joyously tire-shredding) rides in Raptors, Focus RS hatches and Mustang GT350s.

Our Mark IV was given an honored place in Ford Motor Company’s main exhibit, where it was paired with the 2018 GT Heritage Edition that pays tribute to the Gurney/Foyt win. Ford’s exhibits continued outside the Convention Center in the “Ford Out Front” area. Jersey barriers formed an impromptu track in the parking lot, where attendees could ride with a professional driver in a Mustang GT350, a Focus RS, or an F-150 Raptor. Believe me, you haven’t seen drifting until you’ve seen it done with a pickup truck.

roadrunnerThe American Southwest, native habitat of the Roadrunner – like this 1970 Superbird tribute car.

Of course, Ford wasn’t the only OEM in town. Chevrolet, FCA, Toyota, Audi, Honda and Hyundai all had a presence at the show. Chevy brought its new special edition Camaro, honoring the 50th anniversary of Hot Wheels diecast cars, while FCA celebrated all things Mopar. Toyota, marking the 60th anniversary of its U.S. sales arm, brought Camrys representing each of that venerable model’s eight styling generations.

ppgpaintsPPG Paints displayed airbrushed portraits of this terrorsome trio: Edgar Allen Poe, Pennywise and Herman Munster.

PPG Paints gets my vote for most elaborate show booth. Embracing SEMA’s opening date of October 31, the company built a giant haunted house, complete with cars and parts strewn about the front lawn called – what else – “The Boneyard.” The surrounding fence was decorated with incredible airbrush art celebrating Halloween heroes like Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Munster.

retromanufacturingHaving a hard time finding new cassettes for your mid-1980s Buick Regal? Retro Manufacturing will sell you a perfect-match stereo with a USB port.

More than a few vendors drew crowds to their booths with the help of celebrity appearances. Walk around and you’d spot stars from every field of automotive endeavor. There were drivers (Emerson Fittipaldi, Ken Block), television hosts (Jessi Combs, Dennis Gage), custom builders (Gene Winfield, Chip Foose), rock stars (Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons), and all-around icons (Linda Vaughn, Richard Petty, Jay Leno, Mario Andretti).

livedemoMany SEMA booths hosted live demonstrations, like this pinstriper at work on a Ford Focus RS.

There were educational opportunities, too. Workshops and seminars throughout the week ranged from standard business conference fare (“Building a Sustainable Social Media Strategy”) to the decidedly SEMA-specific (“Building the Best Boosted Engines of Your Career”). If seminars aren’t your thing, you could learn by watching everything from welding to pinstriping taking place right at exhibitor booths.

zephyrWhen is a Mustang a Lincoln? When it’s this P-51 Mustang airplane-inspired hot rod by Chip Foose, powered by a Lincoln-Zephyr V-12.

Contests added to the fun, too. Hot Rodders of Tomorrow, a nonprofit that encourages young people to consider careers in the automotive aftermarket industry, sponsored a challenge in which high school teams competed against each other in timed engine rebuilds. The most celebrated contest was SEMA’s annual Battle of the Builders. Nearly 200 customizers brought vehicles to be judged in four categories: hot rods, trucks/off-road vehicles, sport compacts, and young guns (for builders age 27 and under). Three top finishes were selected from each category over the show’s run, and these top 12 vehicles led the post-show SEMA cruise. An overall winner was then selected from the 12. Troy Trepanier took this year’s top prize with his 1929 Ford Model A hot rod.

tuckerTucker Tribute: A hand-built replica powered by a Cadillac Northstar V-8.

So ended another SEMA Show – and a successful golden anniversary tour for the Mark IV. And while it’s good to have the car back in the museum, we’re glad we could share it with so many people over the past two years. We’ll hope to see some of you again in 2067!

 Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Actually, the Tri-Motor of this story wasn't small at all. The all-metal airplane was rugged, dependable and equally adaptable to passenger and freight service. Built by Ford Motor Company from 1926 to 1933, the Ford Tri-Motor flew in many early American airline fleets and became the most popular airliner of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

In all, 199 Tri-Motors were built during its seven-year production run. Over the course of their lives, many of the planes found varying uses, including the 48th Tri-Motor built, purchased in 1928 by Reid, Murdoch & Company. The manager of the sales department for Ford's Lincoln division, Arthur Hatch, had completed the sale of the plane while traveling by train with the president of Reid, Murdoch, & Company. The Chicago-based company had big plans for their Tri-Motor and turned its interior into a showroom for their Monarch Foods brand. A few of the canned items stocked on the plane included sweet pickles, peanut butter, popcorn, toffees, sardines, peas, asparagus, lima beans and corn.

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Ford Tri-Motor 4-AT-48 Used as a "Flying Grocery Store" for Reid, Murdoch and Company's Monarch Foods, 1928. THF94915

When it came time for the delivery of the Tri-Motor, the president of Reid, Murdouch & Co. insisted on coming to the Dearborn, Michigan plant to personally turn the check over to Arthur Hatch. Named "Independence," the modified plane began its life as a flying salesroom, carrying samples of over 200 different food products to airports throughout the country. Occasionally, Monarch's pint-sized advertising characters, "The Teenie Weenies," also accompanied the plane on its stops.

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William B. Mayo, Head of Ford's Aircraft Division, Edsel B. Ford, president of Ford Motor Company, the president of Reid, Murdoch & Co. and Arthur Hatch, manager of the Lincoln sales department. THF285025

The Teenie Weenies
, a popular comic strip created by cartoonist and author William Donahey, began appearing in the Chicago Tribune during 1914. The adventures of the 2-inch tall "Teenie Weenies" took place in a town made-up of buildings created from recycled household products like shoes or food containers. In 1924, the Chicago Tribune discontinued the comic series allowing Reid, Murdoch & Co. to take advantage of the characters for use in advertising their Monarch Foods brand. In the company's advertisements, the cartoon characters used Monarch food containers for their buildings. On occasion, real-life examples of the characters (child actors) made appearances with Monarch's Tri-Motor.

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"The General" and "The Policeman" inspect the Ford Tri-Motor known as the Independence. THF94917

Besides the Ford Tri-Motor, the Teenie Weenies have another Michigan connection. On the shores of Lake Superior, east of Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore, sits a tiny town that goes by the name of Grand Marais. In the mid-1920s, Reid, Murdoch & Co. built William Donahey a summer cabin there. Inspiration for the building came right from Donahey's Teenie Weenies comic strip. The result – a building in the shape of a pickle barrel – today welcomes visitors as the Pickle Barrel House Museum.

Ryan Jelso is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

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When Thomas Edison decided to develop a commercial lighting system he had to do far more than design a light bulb and generator: he and his collaborators had to devise the entire system -- right down to the wire insulation and fuses. Even the electrical measuring instruments that were needed to chart the progress of experiments had to be sought from other fields such as telegraphy.

Edison demonstrated his lighting system to the public for the first time in December 1879, but the system was hardly a workable commercial product. Many refinements -- to increase durability, reliability, and cost-effectiveness -- would be needed before his lighting system could be described as a competitive product. One of the most important missing elements was a meter for keeping track of customers' electricity usage. The electrical meter that Edison and his collaborators devised was an ingenious device -- an arrangement that allowed the amount of electricity a customer used to be weighed.

The meter, known as the Edison Chemical or Electrolytic Meter, was in essence a laboratory apparatus installed in the basements of customers' buildings. It consisted of two glass jars filled with a zinc sulphate solution; immersed in each jar were a pair of electrodes -- matched pairs of zinc plates. The operation was deceptively simple. A portion of the current flowing into the customer's electrical system passed through the plates, causing an electrolytic reaction. The more electricity a customer used, the more zinc would be transferred from one plate to the other. It was this difference in weight that allowed the electrical bill to be determined. Usage was calculated on a monthly basis: an Edison employee would replace the previous month's plates with a new set whose weight had already been carefully recorded. The old plates were taken away to have their weight checked and a bill calculated. The body of the meter had to be tough and tamper-proof -- hence the term "ironclad" that was used to describe this all-metal meter. Later units were wooden boxes with a metal door. In either case, the enclosure was secured with the kind of lead seal that is still used to guard modern electric or gas meter mechanisms.

Meters like this remained in service in some installations well into the 1890s. Many customers were distrustful of this metering method, asserting that the plate removal and remote calculations allowed them no way of checking whether the company was padding their bills. Modern numerical meters allow consumers to see a read-out of their electricity, gas, or water usage. However, the meters' settings -- and indeed the consistency of different meters -- is still something we trust to the utility company.


Marc Greuther is Chief Curator and Senior Director, Historical Resources, at The Henry Ford. This post originally ran as part of our Pic of the Month series.

THF135495Front cover of original edition of book, 1900. THF135495

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a story so familiar to us that it seems to have always been around, like an old folktale passed down from generation to generation. But, in fact, it does have an author—an American one at that—and it isn’t even that old. 

In 1900, L. Frank Baum drew upon real-life experiences to write this strange but compelling fantasy tale for children. Incredibly popular even in its time, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz became known as America’s first fairy tale.

Baum himself admitted that he didn’t know where the story came from. But Wizard of Oz enthusiasts (and there are many of them) have spent a great deal of time tracing the influences in Baum’s life that they claim led to the creation of his endearing characters and fantastic settings.

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Print featuring “The Original General Tom Thumb,” 1860. 
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The story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz starts way back when L. Frank Baum was a child. Baum grew up enchanted by the fantastic and sometimes scary fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. So when the diminutive Tom Thumb came to town as part of P. T. Barnum’s traveling circus, Baum was astounded.  Not only did Thumb seem to come right out of these fairy tales but he made children like Baum feel less small and somehow more important. Thumb may also have provided the inspiration for the Munchkins. 

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Trade card for artificial limbs, 1893-1917. 
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When Baum was just 12 years old, he witnessed Civil War veterans returning home with missing or prosthetic (artificial) limbs. These wizened vets—with their misshapen or missing limbs—also connected to fairy tales Baum had read and are believed to have provided the inspiration for the Tin Man.

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Hallowe’en postcard, 1917. THF56474

Baum had long complained of scarecrows haunting his dreams, coming alive and chasing him. The Scarecrow in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is thought to be related to this ongoing nightmare, as well as a reference to the farmsteads he observed while living out in Dakota Territory as a young newlywed. (This experience, of course, also provided the inspiration for the Gales’ farmstead in Kansas.)

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Hot-air balloon featured on cover of card game box, 1880-1910. THF91796

Hot-air balloons, which existed earlier, had greatly advanced by the time of the Civil War, as a way for the military to observe enemy battle positions. During the 1870s, aeronautical showmen demonstrated their skills with death-defying stunts before crowds of awestruck onlookers. Witnessing these demonstrations inspired Baum to give the Wizard a hot-air balloon in which to help Dorothy return to Kansas.  

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Souvenir Book, Chicago World’s Fair, 1893. THF123529

After trying (and failing) to make a living in Dakota Territory, Baum and his young wife moved to Chicago, just in time for the city’s first great World’s Fair in 1893. This so-called “White City” boasted 200 gleaming white “palaces,” which encircled a series of manicured waterways. Over a period of six months, an astounding 27 million visitors witnessed the fair—nearly 1/4 of the entire American population! Visitors to the fair described it in fantastic terms, like wonderland, dreamscape, and mind-boggling spectacle. Occurring at the same time as one of America’s worst economic depressions, the Chicago World’s Fair was an escape from reality and has been identified as the inspiration for Baum’s Emerald City.

Trade card for Dolly Madison Bread featuring Mother Goose nursery rhyme, 1922. THF286364

While attempting to make a living selling household goods for a department store in Chicago, Baum spent many hours on the road—staring out of railroad cars and staying overnight in nameless hotels.  To pass the time, he started writing stories, drawing from those he recounted to his sons back home.  Among these was a series of stories based upon old Mother Goose nursery rhymes, which was ultimately published.

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Inside cover of original 1900 edition.

While moving in new social circles with other published authors and with artists, Baum met talented illustrator William Wallace Denslow. Denslow, who had also attended the Chicago World’s Fair, created a series of vibrant, wildly imaginative illustrations for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that helped readers visualize Baum’s fantastic descriptions. When Baum attempted to turn his book into a theatrical production soon after its publication, Denslow was again brought in to consult on sets and costumes.

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Theatre program, 1903. 
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A one-time actor himself, Baum could both work within the confines and see the imaginative possibilities of the theater. So, it didn’t take much to convince him to attempt to turn his book into a staged musical extravaganza.  His many ideas for special effects and illusions dazzled crowds (and some were later used in the movie). But he was inevitably unhappy with his choice to hand over the script to an independent theater producer, who changed many parts of the story.

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Record album and cover for original movie, 1961-2. 
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In 1938, MGM, a major film studio, decided to turn The Wonderful Wizard of Oz into a blockbuster musical film. Baum’s story of hard times—based upon the hardscrabble lives of prairie homesteaders in the late 19th century—lent itself perfectly to the hard times that had returned during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Denslow’s drawings again served as the model for the costumes, and many parts of the story and production stuck to the original. But the filmmakers decided to revise a few things—including changing out Dorothy’s silver slippers for ruby red slippers to take advantage of the new technology of Technicolor. 

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Collectible TV Guides, July 2000. THF286370

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The 1939 film was groundbreaking but it was the TV showing of the film that truly catapulted it into Americans’ lives and hearts. In 1956, the uncut Hollywood film was first shown in one evening on commercial TV. Only audiences with color TV’s at the time could witness the drastic transformation from the dreary black-and-white Kansas settings to the full-color spectacle of the Land of Oz. Beginning in 1959, “The Wizard of Oz” film was shown annually on TV and watching it became a beloved family tradition.

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Party centerpiece, 1970-5. THF157517

Today, the continued publication of Baum’s original book, the annual featuring of the film on TV, film festival showings of the classic film on the big screen, several animated versions of the story that were produced later, and scores of related merchandise have kept The Wonderful Wizard of Oz at the forefront of American popular culture. Successive generations of new fans have embraced its fantastic, yet somehow familiar, themes and characters with unabated enthusiasm.

 Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life, is still astounded to see the Land of Oz in all its colorful splendor, as she grew up watching the movie on her family’s black-and-white TV. 

She acknowledges the book, The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum, by Rebecca Loncraine (New York: Gotham Books, 2009), as inspiration for this blog post.

0479_171320170910_KMSPhotography

The Canadian Model T Assembly Team wowed Old Car Festival crowds by putting together a working chassis in less than 10 minutes.

Our 67th annual Old Car Festival is in the books – and it was one for the books this year. Postcard-perfect weather, a host of new activities and hundreds of vintage automobiles from motoring’s first decades made this one of the most exciting Greenfield Village car shows in recent memory.

0118_023420170909_KMSPhotographyThis yellow 1921 Lincoln, from the Cleveland History Center, is believed to be the earliest surviving Lincoln motor car.

Lincoln took center stage as our featured marque. It was 100 years ago that Henry Leland left Cadillac to form what would become his second automobile company, named for the first president for whom he voted. We had a number of important Lincolns on hand. From The Henry Ford’s own collection was the circa 1917 Liberty V-12 aircraft engine (Lincoln’s first product) and the 1929 Dietrich-bodied convertible. Our friends at the Cleveland History Center’s Crawford Auto-Aviation Collection brought something very special: a 1921 Model 101 believed to be the oldest surviving Lincoln automobile.

0039_070920170909_KMSPhotographyThe earliest cars, like this red 1903 Ford Model A runabout, line up for their turn at Pass-in-Review.

Automotive enthusiasts had their pick of activities. There were the cars, of course, spread chronologically throughout the village. There were the Pass-in-Review parades, in which our expert narrators commented on participating vehicles as they drove past the Main Street grandstand. There were the car games, and continuing demonstrations by the Canadian Model T Assembly Team, in Walnut Grove. There were bicycle games near (appropriately enough) Wright Cycle Company. And there were presentations on various auto-related topics in Martha Mary Chapel and the Village Pavilion. Old Car Festival welcomed a few genuinely rare cars in addition to the wonderfully ubiquitous (Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge Brothers) and downright obscure (Crow, Liberty, Norwalk). Rarities this year included a 1913 Bugatti Type 22 race car (said to be the oldest Bugatti in North America) and a 1914 American Underslung touring car (purportedly the last vehicle produced by the company).

0027_068520170909_KMSPhotographyStaff presenters and show participants alike dressed in period clothing, adding to the show’s atmosphere.

But this year, the cars were only the beginning. Greenfield Village hosted activities and historical “vignettes” keyed to each decade represented in the show. Aging Civil War veterans reminisced about Shiloh and Gettysburg at the Grand Army of the Republic encampment. Farther into the village, doughboys and nurses commemorated the centennial of America’s entry into the Great War. Sheiks and Shebas danced the Charleston at the bandstand near Ackley Covered Bridge. Southern blues resonated through the Mattox Home, evocative of the Great Depression’s bleakest years. Perhaps the most popular vignette, though, was the 1910s Ragtime Street Fair occupying the southern end of Washington Boulevard. Great food, games and dancing filled the street, all set to music provided by some of the most talented piano syncopators this side of Scott Joplin.

0263_099820170909_KMSPhotography - CroppedIt’s magical when the sun sets and the headlamps turn on, like those on this 1925 Buick Master 6 Touring.

Longtime show participants and visitors will tell you that the highlight comes on Saturday evening. As the sun sets in the late-summer sky, drivers switch on (or fire up) their acetylene, kerosene and electric headlamps for the Gaslight Tour through Greenfield Village. Watching the parade, it’s hard to tell who enjoys it more – the drivers and passengers, or the visitors lined up along the route. This year’s tour was capped by a fireworks display at the end of the night.

It was a special weekend with beautiful automobiles, wonderful entertainment and – most of all – fellowship and fun for those of us who love old cars. Congratulations to the 2017 Old Car Festival Award Winners.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Henry Ford used wireless radio to communicate within Ford Motor Company (FMC) starting after October 1, 1919. This revolutionary new means of communication captured Ford’s interest because it allowed him to transmit messages within his vast operation. By August 1920, he could convey directions from his yacht to administrators in FMC offices and production facilities in Dearborn and Northville, Michigan. By February 1922, Ford’s railroad offices and the plant in Flat Rock, Michigan were connected, and by 1925, the radio transmission equipment was on Ford’s Great Lake bulk haulers and ocean-going vessels. Historian David L. Lewis claimed that “Ford led all others in the use of intracompany radio communications” (The Public Image of Henry Ford, 311).

Ford Motor Company also used radio transmissions to reach external audiences through promotional campaigns. During 1922, FMC sales branches delivered a series of expositions that featured Ford automobiles and Fordson tractors. An article in Motor Age (August 10, 1922) described highlights of the four-month tour of western Oregon:

“The days are given over to field demonstrations of tractors, plows and implements, while at night a radio outfit that brings in the concerts from the distant cities and motion pictures from the Ford plant, keep an intensely interested crowd on the grounds until the Delco Light shuts down for the night.”

The Ford Radio and Film crew that broadcast to the Oregon crowds traveled in a well-marked vehicle, taking every opportunity available to inform passers-by of Ford’s investment in the new technology – radio – and the utility of new FMC products. Ray Johnson, who participated in the tour, recalled that he drove a vehicle during the day and then played dance music in the evenings as a member of the three-piece orchestra, “Sam Ness and his Royal Ragadours.”

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Ford and Fordson Power Exposition Caravan and Radio Truck, Seaside, Oregon, 1922 . THF134998

In 1922, Intra-Ford transmissions began making public broadcasts over the Dearborn’s KDEN station (call letters WWI) at 250-watts of power, which carried a range of approximately 360 meters. The radio station building and transmission towers were located behind the Ford Engineering Laboratory, completed in 1924 at the intersection of Beech Street and Oakwood Boulevard in Dearborn.

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Ford Motor Company Radio Station WWI, Dearborn, Michigan, March 1925. THF134748

Staff at the station, conveying intracompany information and compiled content for the public show which aired on Wednesday evenings.

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Ford Motor Company Radio Station WWI, Dearborn, Michigan, August 1924. THF134754

The station did not grow because Ford did not want to join new radio networks. He discontinued broadcasting on WWI in early February 1926 (The Public Image of Henry Ford, 179).

Ford did not discontinue his intracompany radio communications. FMC used radio-telegraph means to communicate between the head office in Dearborn and remote locations, including, Fordlandia, a 2.5-million-acre plantation that Ford purchased in 1927 and that he planned to turn into a source of raw rubber to ease dependency on British colonies regulated by British trade policy.

Brazil and other countries in the Amazon of South American provided natural rubber to the world until the early twentieth century. The demand for tires for automobiles increased so quickly that South American harvests could not satisfy demand. Industrialists sought new sources. During the 1870s, a British man smuggled seeds out of Brazil, and by the late 1880s, British colonies, especially Ceylon (today Sri Lanka) and Malaysia, began producing natural rubber. Inexpensive labor, plus a climate suitable for production, and a growing number of trees created a viable replacement source for Brazilian rubber.

British trade policies, however, angered American industrialists who sought to establish production in other places including Africa and the Philippines. Henry Ford turned to Brazil, because of the incentives that the Brazilian government offered him. His goals to produce inexpensive rubber faced several hurdles, not the least of which was overcoming the traditional labor practices that had suited those who harvested rubber in local forests, and the length of time it took to cultivate new plants (not relying on local resources).

Ford built a production facility on the Tapajós River in Brazil. This included a radio station. The papers of E. L. Leibold, in The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center, include a map with a key that indicated the “proposed method of communication between Home Office and Ford Motor Company property on Rio Tapajos River Brazil.” The system included Western Union (WU) land wire from Detroit to New York, WU land wire and cable from New York to Para, Amazon River Cable Company river cable between Para and Santarem, and Ford Motor Company radio stations at each point between Santarem and the Ford Motor Company on Rio Tapajós. Manual relays had to occur at New York, Para, and Santarem.

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Map Showing Routes of Communication between Dearborn, Michigan and Fordlandia, Brazil, circa 1928. THF134693

Ford officials studied the federal laws in Brazil that regulated radio and telegraph to ensure compliance. Construction of the power house and processing structures took time. The community and corporate facilities at Boa Vista (later Fordlandia) grew. By 1931, the power house had a generator that provided power throughout the Fordlandia complex.

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Generator in Power House at Fordlandia, Brazil, 1931. THF134711

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Power House and Water Tower at Fordlandia, Brazil, 1931. THF134714 

Lines from the power house stretching up the hill from the river to the hospital and other buildings, including the radio power station. The setting on a higher elevation helped ensure the best reception for radio transmissions.

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Sawmill and Power House at Fordlandia, Brazil, 1931. THF134717
 

Workers built the radio power house, which held a Delco Plant and storage batteries, and the radio transmitter station with its transmission tower. The intracompany radio station operated by 1929.

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Radio Power House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
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Radio Transmitter House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929. THF134699

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Storage Batteries in Radio Power House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
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Delco Battery Charger for Radio Power House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929. THF134703 

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Radio Power House Motor Generator Set, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
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The radio power house is visible at the extreme left of a photograph showing the stone road leading to the hospital (on an even higher elevation) at Fordlandia.

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Stone Road Leading to Hospital, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929. THF134709

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Radio Transmitter Station, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929. THF134707

Back at FMC headquarters in Dearborn, Ford announced in late 1933 that he would sponsor a program on both NBC and CBS networks. The Waring show aired two times a week between 1934 and 1937, when Ford pulled funding. Ford also sponsored World Series broadcasts. The most important radio investment FMC made, however, was the Ford Sunday Evening Hour, launched in the fall of 1934. Eighty-six CBS stations broadcast the show. Programs included classical music and corporate messages delivered by William J. Cameron, and occasionally guest hosts. Ford Motor Company printed and sold transcripts of the weekly talks for a small fee.

On August 24, 1941 Linton Wells (1893-1976), a journalist and foreign correspondent, hosted the broadcast and presented a piece on Fordlandia.

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Program, "Ford Summer Hour," Sunday, August 24, 1941. THF134690

Linton Wells was not a stranger to Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, he and his wife, Fay Gillis Wells, posed for a tintype in the village studio on 2 May 1940.

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Tintype Portrait of Linton Wells and Fay Gillis Wells, Taken at the Greenfield Village Tintype Studio, circa 1940. THF134720

This radio broadcast informed American listeners of the Fordlandia project, in its 16th year in 1941. Wells summarized the products made from rubber (by way of an introduction to the importance of the subject). He described the approach Ford took to carve an American factory out of an Amazonian jungle, and the “never-say-quit” attitude that prompted Ford to re-evaluate Fordlandia, and to trade 1,375 square miles of Fordlandia for an equal amount of land on Rio Tapajós, closer to the Amazon port of Santarem. This new location became Belterra. Little did listeners know the challenges that arose as Brazilians tried to sustain their rubber production, and Ford sought to grow its own rubber supply.

By 1942, nearly 3.6 million trees were growing at Fordlandia, but the first harvest yielded only 750 tons of rubber. By 1945, FMC sold the holdings to the Brazilian government (The Public Image of Henry Ford, 165).

The Ford Evening Hour Radio broadcasts likewise ceased production in 1942 after eight years and 400 performances.

Learn more about Fordlandia in our Digital Collections.

Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment; Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication and Information Technology; and Jim Orr is Image Services Specialist at The Henry Ford.

Sources

  • Relevant collections in the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan.
  • Grandin, Greg. Fordlandia: The Rise and  Fall of Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City. Picador. 2010.
  • Lewis, David L. The Public Image of Henry Ford: An American Folk Hero and His Company. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 1976.
  • Frank, Zephyr and Aldo Musacchio. “The International Natural Rubber Market, 1870-1930.″ EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. March 16, 2008.

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Tucked away among the rolling stock and locomotives on display in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is an unassuming piece of railroad equipment, modest and apparently devoid of style or character. This little locomotive is one of the most significant items in the collection. It is one of the first locomotives to successfully use internal combustion instead of steam as its power source.

The decline of steam
By the mid-1920s the design and development of steam locomotives had become rigorous and scientific. The dominance of steam, however, was being challenged. Could the internal combustion engine with its higher efficiency, ease of operation, and reliance on cheap fuel become an alternative power source for railroad operations? Smoke abatement rulings in Chicago and New York City provided a further incentive for researching alternatives to steam power.

Success with internal combustion
General Electric's internal combustion engine/railroad interests dated back to 1904. However, by 1920 they had not developed a suitable engine. In late 1923, the Ingersoll-Rand Company successfully developed a locomotive to General Electric's specifications. Over the next 13 months it was tested on 10 different railroad systems. Its success led to a production run of variant engines that ended in 1937 when Ingersoll-Rand withdrew from the locomotive-building field.

Cheaper than steam
The American Locomotive Company supplied the car bodies for these early locomotives. Assembly took place at the General Electric plant in Erie, Pennsylvania. Ingersoll-Rand supplied the engines, building their sales pitch around low operating cost. Number 90, the sixteenth unit built, was delivered in December 1926 and used as a promotional demonstrator, switching in Ingersoll-Rand's Phillipsburg, New Jersey, plant rail yards. 

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Ingersoll-Rand's Number 90 Diesel-Electric Locomotive, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, probably 1926. THF271020

Efficient design
Number 90's blunt appearance hardly suggests speed or glamour, but compared to steam locomotive switchers its angular outline appears neat and businesslike. The operator's positions -- located at either end -- are clean and tidy, partitioned from the heat of the engine, located in the center of the car. The locomotive's operation is streamlined even if its style is minimal. Subsequent collaborations between industrial designers and railroad companies produced locomotive designs that would further emphasize Number 90's utilitarian appearance.

The job of the switcher
Switchers worked out their years in dirty yards assembling the freight trains that were as much a part of the railroad experience as the fastest overnight express. Number 90 continued in use as a switcher in the Ingersoll-Rand plant until the late 1960s by which time the diesel revolution that it had helped begin had swept steam power aside in the United States.


Maker:
General Electric/Ingersoll-Rand/American Locomotive Company
Engine: 6-cylinder diesel
Horsepower: 300 @ 550 rpm.
Displacement: 5655 cu. in.
Generator: 200 kilowatts, 600 volts
Traction motors: 4 @ 95 horsepower each
Weight:  60 tons
Tractive effort: 36,000 lbs.
Speed: 30 mph.
Gift of Ingersoll-Rand Company

Marc Greuther is Chief Curator and Senior Director of Historical Resources at The Henry Ford.