Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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Naugahyde Advertisement in Life Magazine, October-December 1967. This image is not an original photograph and is a combination of two images created for illustrative proposes.

The Nauga, a colorful, horned, happy-looking creature native to the island of Sumatra, was once hunted to near-extinction. They were hunted for sport, but more often for their smooth and durable leather-like hide – Naugahyde, as it’s generally known. However, hunting a Nauga for its hide is quite unnecessary -- they painlessly shed their hide at least once each year for use in furniture, clothing, and more.

Wait a minute.

You’ve never heard of the Nauga?

All right, you’ve got me. The Nauga is a fictional creature. It was an advertising gimmick created to help Uniroyal Engineered Products promote their soft vinyl-coated fabric that feels like leather but is more durable.  The product, Naugahyde, was used primarily as upholstery in the furniture industry, but also was used for clothing, shoes, accessories and other home goods. Its success spawned many imitators.  In the mid-1960s, Uniroyal hired legendary ad-man George Lois and designer Kurt Weihs to craft an advertising campaign to differentiate their product from the competition. And what did Lois and Weihs create? The Nauga.

A humorous ad campaign featured the Nauga engaged with the world – as the life of the party, as a child’s play companion, adorned in splattered paint from a craft went awry, even as a vacationer readying for travel with golf clubs in hand. These advertisements emphasized the suitability of Naugahyde upholstery for all areas of life, claiming it could be indistinguishable from other fabrics like leather, tweed, or silk -- but “last about ten times as long.” An image of the Nauga found its way onto hang-tags that accompanied all genuine Naugahyde products. Many of the ad campaigns ended with this directive: “If you can’t find the Nauga, find another store.”

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Naugahyde advertisement in Life Magazine, July-September 1967.

The advertising worked – at least in that it caused excitement over the mysterious Nauga creature.  Allegedly, some people even believed Naugas were real creatures and became concerned about inhumane treatment as the use of Naugahyde boomed in the late 1960s. A New York comic, Al Rosenberg, invented a fictional character named Earl C. Watkins who spearheaded the “Save the Nauga” project to protect the species from extinction, adding that a “herd of Naugas is often mistaken for a roomful of furniture.'' The Nauga even made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Nauga dolls, like this one in The Henry Ford’s collection, were also produced to promote the brand. In fact, if you visit the Naugahyde website today, you can still “Adopt a Nauga,” which, according to the company’s webpage, are bred on a ranch outside Uniroyal’s headquarters in Stoughton, Wisconsin.

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Uniroyal "Nauga" Toy, 1955-1975

It isn’t unusual for companies to go to great lengths to endear a product to the public. These efforts have often yielded highly creative and memorable results, like Oscar Mayer’s Wienermobile, the Heinz pickle charms and pins, or the Pets.com Sock Puppet, to name a few. While the Nauga creature has faded nearly into obscurity, the leather-like product it represents lives on…perhaps even as the upholstery of the chair you’re currently sitting on.

Katherine White, Associate Curator at The Henry Ford, recently adopted a Nauga doll of her very own.

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Many of us celebrate Easter with a number of traditions: dyed eggs, baskets full of candy, or decorations inspired by spring, just to name a few. Many of these traditions go back in history more than 100 years. 

At Edison Homestead in Greenfield Village, we showcase a variety of activities during the Easter weekend that would have been enjoyed around 1915. Where do we find our inspiration? Much of the instructional information used to plan these activities come from promotional booklets from companies like Dennison Manufacturing Co. and their Dennison’s Party Book, or from magazine publications like the Ladies Home Journal, both available to families at the time.

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In 1915, Easter crafts ranged from decorative pieces for the table to edible delights.  Dennison Manufacturing Co., which today is now known as Avery Products Corporation, was a large supplier of inexpensive paper products that encouraged decorations for any number of parties, including an Easter celebration. Listings in the Dennison’s Party Book contain a rabbit with basket of eggs decoration, decorated crepe paper, bon bon boxes, and purple and white festoons, all of which were priced at 25 cents or less. They also suggest how a table might be decorated using the items they have listed for sale as well as homemade items (made of paper, of course). 

Easter cards are one of the projects suggested in The Ladies Home Journal, 1912 April edition, and would have been an inexpensive craft to make as a gift. In fact, the journal states that, “[Easter] gifts should always be simple and inexpensive; if they are made rather than bought, so much the better.” Using images from flower catalogues, garden and agricultural magazines, the picture is traced on a folded edge of thick paper to create the body of the card. Once cut out, the image is then colored in and an insert is created to write an Easter note to the recipient.

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Like our own Easter traditions today, the journal included many references to sweet treats that could be given as gifts. Chocolate eggs could be made by carefully removing the raw egg from the shell, washing the shell, then filling it with melted chocolate. Once cooled, the egg shell could be colored and decorated with crayons and colored pencils, with a scrapbook pictured glued over the opening. Not only were sweets made, but so were displays to put them in. Moss glued onto a half egg shell provided a holding space for small candy eggs or jelly beans.

Feeling inspired and ready to try creating your own archive-inspired holiday decorations? Stop by the Benson Ford Research Center to see a copy of the Dennison's Party Book for yourself.

Emily Sovey is Supervisor of Inspiring and Living History at The Henry Ford.

Edison Homestead, Dennison's, Easter

Microwave ovens gained popularity in the 1970s, becoming all but standard in American kitchens by the mid-1980s. These new appliances cooked food differently than conventional stovetop or oven methods, which worked by surrounding food with heat. In a microwave oven, electromagnetic waves caused food molecules to vibrate, creating heat that transferred from the outside to the center of the food.

Foods cooked much faster in microwave ovens than in conventional ones. For example, microwaving reduced the cooking time for a baked potato from 75 minutes to just four. And frozen meat pies, which could take 45 minutes to bake, would be ready after nine minutes in the microwave.

This time-saving cooking method promised convenience, but it took some getting used to, requiring adjustments to cookware and cooking techniques. Glass and plastic transmitted electromagnetic waves in microwave ovens, but metal reflected them, causing sparks that could damage the appliance or even cause a fire. Manufacturers had to develop heat-resistant cookware and cooking utensils safe for use in the microwave.

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With specialized cookware and new cooking techniques, Americans could microwave a variety of foods (including fish) quickly, with familiar results.
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In addition to purchasing microwave-safe cookware, Americans needed to learn new cooking techniques. Familiar foods required different preparation -- eggs had to be removed from shells and stirred to break the yolks, and potatoes needed to be pierced before cooking. People also had to change their expectations, as microwave cooking didn’t brown or crisp many foods the way conventional methods did. Meat could be cooked in the microwave -- with varying results. Specialized browning skillets provided some familiar texture and flavor to meats that would otherwise seem limp and unappetizing.

Microwave manufacturers included instruction manuals and recipe suggestions with the ovens they sold. Cookbooks also helped home cooks adjust. Some offered information on how to convert conventional recipes for microwave cooking, while others focused solely on recipes created specifically for the microwave. Two booklets from the collections of The Henry Ford offer a look at the early decades of microwave cooking in America.

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Some manufacturers published microwave cookbooks to promote their products. 
From Freezer to Microwave to Table (1978) encouraged people to use Amana microwaves and freezers and cover foods with Saran Wrap. Recipes in Campbell's Microwave Cooking (1987) called for ingredients made by the Campbell Soup Company.THF275056 and THF275081

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Microwave cooking required people to arrange, stir or turn, and cover food differently than with conventional methods. Cookbooks describing these techniques helped Americans adjust
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This brownie recipe reminded cooks to use heat-resistant glass dishes and included instructions for melting, baking, defrosting, and reheating in the microwave. THF27506

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This omelet recipe with an Italian twist emphasized convenience and efficiency. It called for store-bought spaghetti sauce and required only two dishes for cooking--one of which, according to the suggestion highlighted in yellow, could be reused to sauce and serve pasta. THF275089

View these and other cookbooks at the Reading Room in the Benson Ford Research Center, and browse objects related to microwave ovens in our Digital Collections.

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

Since the dawn of motorized transportation at the turn of the 20th century, buses have been part of America's transportation network. Bus routes have crisscrossed the nation, providing affordable connections to thousands of American cities and small towns. Buses have carried workers to their places of employment, shoppers to downtown stores or suburban malls, and children to school. They’ve shuttled people from the airport to the rental car agency or parking lot. And leisure travelers have boarded buses to explore the wonders of nature or enjoy the adventures offered in urban environments.

In 2009, The Henry Ford acquired the unique collection of internationally-renowned author and photographer Bill Luke, for whom buses were a personal passion as well as a career.

Bill Luke became a devotee of buses and bus travel at a very early age. He was born in Duluth, Minnesota, an area noted for several early bus companies, including Greyhound and National City Lines. As a kid, Luke became fascinated with the history and activities of these major lines. He started collecting bus memorabilia and then began a career in the bus industry, working for the Jefferson Transportation Company in Minneapolis and, later, for the Empire Lines in Spokane. Until 1996, Luke also published a well-known bus and motor coach trade publication, Bus Ride, which covered the people, products, and services in this ever-evolving industry.

Luke's collection is filled with photographs, periodicals, and ephemeral material such as uniform patches, tickets, company publications, timetables, and route maps for bus lines operating throughout the United States. “Hop aboard” and explore some selections from the William Luke Bus Collection (all items gifts of William Luke):

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Greyhound held the transportation contract for the 1933-1934 Chicago World's Fair. Sixty futuristic “trailer coaches” transported fairgoers to displays and attractions during the fair. THF108449

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In this late-1920s photograph, Greyhound bus drivers pose in new uniforms. Uniform jackets, pants, caps and boots gave drivers a professional appearance, implying that -- with these experts at the wheel -- Greyhound riders would enjoy a safe and comfortable trip. THF108451

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Helen M. Schultz started the Red Ball Transportation Company in 1922. Her bus route ran from Waterloo to Des Moines, Iowa. Schultz met many challenges while establishing her business, including competition from rival bus lines and the railroad, government regulations, and poor highway conditions. She sold Red Ball to the Jefferson Highway Transportation Company in 1930. THF108453

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Bus terminals of the 1920s and 1930s were often located in hotels. The Pickwick organization, which owned the Pickwick bus line, commonly built terminals adjacent to or inside its hotels, like this one in Kansas City. The bus terminal located on the first floor featured a turntable that rotated buses 180 degrees within a narrow space -- allowing buses to exit the same way they entered. THF108455

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Bus stations were often attractive as well as practical. Many terminals of the 1930s and 1940s sported streamlined facades -- the height of modernity during this time. These images of a Detroit terminal appeared in the 1941 book "Modern Bus Terminals and Post Houses," which featured photographs and floor plans of 45 recently-built bus stations. THF108459 and THF108460

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Bus Transportation
magazine sponsored a yearly contest for bus terminal window displays promoting the industry. This entry, a 1940 winner, enticed viewers to dream of a Michigan vacation enjoyed while traveling on the Blue Goose line. The judging staff called it "a highly original design with 'stop and look' appeal." THF108462

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Many long-distance bus companies operated special restaurants to service their travelers. This 1955 menu explains that Greyhound established its Post House restaurants -- named after stops along stagecoach routes where travelers could rest, eat, and possibly even secure lodgings -- to guarantee quality food and sanitary conditions. THF108464

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This 1980 photograph shows rapid transit buses -- part of an order for 940 vehicles bound for the Southern California Rapid Transit District in Los Angeles, California -- on the assembly line at General Motors’ Truck & Bus Division in Pontiac, Michigan. THF108469

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Bus Ride magazine kept readers apprised of developments in the bus industry, including new technologies, changing regulations, and the evolving travel market. The William Luke Bus Collection includes a complete run of Bus Ride from 1967 to 2012, providing a glimpse into decades of opportunities and challenges in the bus industry and historical information about individual bus lines. THF108470

For more information about the William Luke Bus Collection, please contact The Henry Ford's Benson Ford Research Center. A version of this post originally ran in 2013 as part of our Pic of the Month series

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"Monkees" Lunchbox and Thermos, 1967 (THF92313)

Beaver Cleaver may have carried a plain metal lunch box to school, but lunch boxes with pictures on them have been big business since the days of the Leave It to Beaver television show. Since the 1950s, children have been persuading their parents that they absolutely must have a school lunch box sporting their favorite character. For, to show off a Davy Crockett or a Beatles or a Star Wars lunch box to the world (or to your friends, which meant basically the same thing) when these were popular was simply the essence of cool. And, for young children, this is still true today -- only the characters and the lunch box materials have changed.


The first true pictorial lunch box was created in 1950, when a painted image of Hopalong Cassidy was applied to a steel lunch box and matching thermos bottle. In the first year of its production, Nashville, Tennessee manufacturer Aladdin Industries sold an unprecedented 600,000 of these, at a (not inexpensive) retail cost of $2.39.

Three years later, American Thermos introduced a fully lithographed steel lunch box depicting Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Sales of these reached an astonishing 2 1/2 million the first year, and these types of lunch boxes -- with pictures covering all sides -- immediately became the industry standard. The pictorial lunch box industry was off and running, and competition between companies became fierce. Over the next three decades, steel lunch boxes featured dozens of television shows, movies, popular musicians, sports stars, special events, fads, and famous places.

Pictorial lunch boxes made of waterproof vinyl wrapped around cardboard first came on the market in 1959. Their shiny, purse-like qualities lent themselves to pictorial themes marketed to girls, like the highly popular Barbie lunch boxes, introduced in 1961. Unfortunately, these could not stand up to heavy use -- their seams split and their corners crushed easily.

During the 1970s, vocal parents and school administrators began to complain that metal lunch boxes were to blame for students' injuries-enough so that, by 1987, lunch box manufacturers were forced to cease using steel in favor of safer (and cheaper) plastic.

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Hopalong Cassidy, 1950
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William (Bill) Boyd brought this fictional character to life, first at the movies then on television in 1950. "Hoppy" became the first television hero for many American children. This show precedes the major era of television westerns ushered in by Gunsmoke in 1955, when the huge popularity of westerns signaled Americans' nostalgia for a simpler past and their need for clear-cut heroes and villains during an uncertain time.

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Tom Corbett: Space Cadet, 1954
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On television from 1950 to 1955, this early science fiction show was a spin-off of a comic book and teen adventure novel series. The show, which took place in a futuristic world of scientific marvels, was made somewhat believable by the technical expertise of Willy Ley, an associate of Werner von Brau.

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Rocky and Bullwinkle, 1962
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Like The SimpsonsRocky and His Friends disguised adult entertainment in the form of a cartoon. The show aired from 1957 to 1963 during prime time, and with its clever, tongue-in-cheek scripts, it could well be considered the most subversive show about the Cold War of its time. From 1964 to 1973, the show continued under the new name The Bullwinkle Show, and it has since been entertaining children and adults alike through reruns and videos.

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"Sock It To Me," 1968
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Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In
 was a mid-season replacement in 1968, and no one expected it to be very popular. That's probably why its producers were able to experiment with virtually a new format-a rapid-fire pace using video editing and no narrative structure-and a new kind of hip topicality couched in one-liner jokes. Although its novelty is lost to us today -- the one-liners seem hopelessly outdated, even old-fashioned -- catch-phrases like "Sock It to Me" have become instantly recognizable cultural icons, while the show's short skits, slapstick humor, and use of topical material helped to revolutionize television.

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Happy Days,
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A mid-season replacement in 1974, this show had its origins in a 1972 Love, American Style episode and took great advantage of the popularity of the film American Graffiti. The first television show to take place in an era where television had already been invented, this version of the 1950s was embraced especially by young people who had not known the real decade first-hand. The show's true star was "The Fonz," who may have seemed like an unlikely role model but became television's biggest star for several years.

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Sesame Street, 1983 (THF92308)
From the time this show premiered on PBS in 1969, it quickly established itself as the most significant educational program in television history. Envisioned as an entertaining show for preschoolers-especially those from underprivileged backgrounds-to help prepare for school, Sesame Street incorporated the rapid-fire style of both television commercials and television programs like Laugh-In. With its consistently high quality and humor geared toward both children and their parents, this show continues to be extremely popular today.

Donna Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. 

imls-logo-newTimber Scribe: A small tool, a timber scribe, helps inform us about resourcefulness and entrepreneurship.

The Oxford English Dictionary confirms use of the term “timber scribe” by 1858 as “a metal tool or pointed instrument for marking logs and casks.” Another tool, a “race-knife” (also spelled rase knife) performed a similar function, “marking timber,” but the tools differed in detail.

The race knife had a “bent-over, sharp lip for scribing,” according to Edward H. Knight who compiled the Practical Dictionary of Mechanics, a nearly 8,000-page behemoth containing 20,000 subjects and around 6,000 illustrations, published in 1877. The timber scribe included two pieces with bent-over sharp lips as well as a point. The combination made it possible to scribe Arabic numbers, not just gouge Roman numerals, into logs and casks and timber, as shown below.

IMLS-toolThis tool has a wooden handle, a brass band that helped stabilize the wooden end where the forged steel was inset into the wooden handle, and the steel point with a cutter/gouge and separate “bent-over sharp lip”/gouge Dimensions: Length 7.25 inches; Height 2 inches; Width 1 inch. Object ID: 2017.0.34.625

Simply stated, a timber scribe included the components of the race knife. Lumbermen, shipbuilders, house wrights and carpenters, coopers, and surveyors, all used the timber scribe to make uniform marks on wood, but they could also use the elongated cutter/gouge to make free-hand marks. They used the race knife to make free-hand marks.

Appearances mattered. The timber scribe at The Henry Ford combines three natural materials – iron/steel, brass, and wood – all processed and refined in ways that make the tool pleasing to the eye, and useful to the woodsman or craftsman. The maker chamfered the edges of the wooden handle and scribed the brass collar.

An 1897 catalog from a Detroit hardware distributor, the Charles A. Strelinger Company, advertised a “rase knife or timber scribe.” The company sold three variations: a large size (though the catalog provided no dimensions), a small size, and a pocket rase knife. The large timber scribe included all three steel components (point with cutter gouge and “bent-over sharp lip” gouge) while the small version included just two of the three (point and gouge). The pocket rase knife likely consisted of just the gouge, which folded into the wooden handle of the knife, as seen below.

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Rase Knife or Timber Scribe. Detail from Wood Workers’ Tools: Being a Catalogue of Tools, Supplies, Machinery, and Similar Goods used by Carpenters, Builders, Cabinet Makers, Pattern Makers, Millwrights, Carvers, Ship Carpenters, Inventors, Draughtsmen, and [also] all “Wood Butchers” not included in Foregoing Classification and in Manufactories, Mills, Mines, etc., etc. Detroit Michigan: Charles A. Strelinger & Company, 1897, page 662. In the collection of the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan. 

The tool in The Henry Ford's collection compares to the large timber scribe illustrated in Strelinger & Company’s 1897 catalog. The tool’s dimensions (7.25 inches long) inform us about the size of a “large” scribe.

Charles A. Strelinger was born in Detroit in 1856. The 1897 catalog Charles A. Strelinger Company indicated that the company had 30 years of experience in manufacturing and selling tools, supplies and machinery. Strelinger’s approach to advertising his wares through print media indicated how little change occurred in the tool business. The front page of the catalog had a blank space to write in the date, and, as he explained in “This Year’s Catalogue”: “our 1895 catalogue is also our 1896-’97-’98, and perhaps, 1899 catalogue. If we were selling Seeds and Plants, Ladies’ Hats and Bonnets, Patent Medicines, etc., we would, doubtless, find it necessary to issue a new catalogue every year, but our goods are of a stable nature, changes are comparatively few, and we are not warranted to going to the expense of printing a new book every year.”

The timber scribe and the Strelinger Company catalog confirm the need for specialized tools that serve many in various wood-working trades. The Company was resourceful in advertising, because the hand tools in woodworking were remarkably standardized by the late-nineteenth century and remained useful despite industrialization.

Debra A. Reid is Curator, Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.

The Henry Ford received funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in 2017 to support a three-year project to conserve, rehouse, and digitize thousands of objects. This is work, supported through IMLS’s Museums for America Collections Stewardship project, will continue over three years as The Henry Ford consolidates offsite collections into a new location on campus. The work “will improve the physical condition of the project artifacts through conservation treatment, rehousing, and removal to improved environments.” Finally, IMLS funding “will facilitate collections access through the creation of catalog records and digital images, available to all via THF's Digital Collections.”

A series of blogs shares the stories of small items that tell big stories of innovation, ingenuity, and resourcefulness, and that relate to other collections and interpretation at The Henry Ford.

Have you ever wondered how we photograph quilts at The Henry Ford? While the answer is probably no, you might be surprised to find out that it is quite a process. Most quilts are quite large, ranging from 7ft x 4ft to even 9ft x 5ft. With that being said, our photo studio in the museum only has a ceiling that is 10ft tall, but to get an accurate picture of the quilt we would need the camera to be pointing at the quilt at a 90-degree angle. How do we accomplish that in a room that’s only 10 ft tall? We find higher ground!

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Since our studio is on the back wall of the museum, we need to be somewhere elevated, but relatively nearby so we aren’t hauling our equipment all over the place. So, the Highland Park Engine is our answer. We mount the camera on the top railing of the stairs closest to the entrance to Conservation.


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Then, with the help of 2-3 people, we lay the quilts on a large 10 x 10 wooden board that has a layer of muslin cloth on it (to protect the quilts and stop them from sliding down the board), We hoist the quilt board up onto stands to hold it in place at about a 60-degree angle which allows us to angle the camera to shoot straight at the quilt, giving us the correct perspective as if it were lying flat.

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Here are a few examples of the finished images that go online on our Digital Collections website.

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Looking at them, you wouldn’t think that they were photographed any other way than lying down, right? That’s the magic of photography - with a little bit of resourcefulness and ingenuity added in.

You can view all the quilts from our collection that we’ve photographed on our Digital Collections here.

Jillian Ferraiuolo is a Digital Imaging Specialist at The Henry Ford.

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Members of Detroit’s Houghton School safety patrol listen attentively to traffic safety officer Anthony Hosang in 1950. (64.167.536.16)


Like clockwork, fall’s arrival brings with it a return to school for children throughout the United States. Whether they walk, ride a bike, take a bus, or get dropped off by an adult, the students’ daily trips to and from class will be safer thanks to the dedicated efforts of the AAA School Safety Patrol. Established by the American Automobile Association in 1920, the program’s core mission – to encourage safety awareness among young people – remains unchanged.

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Automobile Club of Michigan Safety Patrol Armband, 1950-1960. THF153486

AAA School Safety Patrol members generally are chosen by their teachers or principals and, with their parents’ permission, given training in traffic safety – typically over the summer, so they’re ready to go as soon as the school year starts. These young patrollers are then stationed near the school at crosswalks, bus unloading areas and carpool drop-off locations to ensure that their fellow students remain cautious near motorized traffic.

More experienced patrollers may be promoted to officer positions like captain, lieutenant or sergeant. These ranks bring with them additional responsibilities like keeping daily records, writing regular reports, or assigning other patrol members to specific duties or stations.

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AAA School Safety Patrol Lieutenant Badge, 1950-1965. THF151056

It’s important to note that safety patrol members work together with – not in place of – adult crossing guards and traffic officers. Nevertheless, the patrollers play an important role in keeping students safe. And they learn early and important lessons about responsibility, too. Not surprisingly, many safety patrol alumni go on to careers characterized by public service or proven leadership. Former patrollers include Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and notable Michiganders like Governor William Milliken, Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, and Detroit Tiger Al Kaline.

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The Official Song of the Safety Patrol, 1937. (87.135.1661)

The Henry Ford’s artifact collection includes armbands and badges worn by AAA School Safety Patrol members over the years. Our archival collection includes a copy of the sheet music for “Song of the Safety Patrol,” written by Lucille Oldham in 1937.

We salute these conscientious students working tirelessly throughout the school year to keep their classmates safe. Today, there are more than 654,000 children serving as patrollers in schools across the United States. Thanks to the program these students are empowered with a sense of responsibility and leadership as they protect their classmates going to and from school each day. 


To learn more about what AAA’s Safety Patrol offers to students today and how to get your child involved, take a look at their website.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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"Partio" Cart Used by Dwight Eisenhower, circa 1960. THF151438

This upscale Partio outdoor kitchen is an eye-catching icon of America’s postwar prosperity during the Eisenhower era (1953-1961)—and was owned by none other than President Dwight D. Eisenhower himself. America enjoyed unprecedented prosperity as the economy soared to record heights. As people moved to the suburbs, they rediscovered the pleasures of outdoor cooking and eating. 

In the 1950s--after the material deprivations of a decade and a half of economic depression, and then war--Americans were ready to buy. The number of homeowners increased by 50 percent between 1945 and 1960. Americans filled their homes with consumer goods that poured out of America’s factories—including televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, electric mixers, and outdoor grills. 

Advertising fueled their desire for materials things; credit cards made buying easier.  Newsweek magazine commented in 1953 that, “Time has swept away the Puritan conception of immorality in debt and godliness in thrift.” Even President Eisenhower suggested that the American public “Buy anything,” during a slight business dip.

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President Eisenhower used this Partio portable kitchen cart at his Palm Springs, California home. The Partio performed surface cooking (burners and griddle), oven cooking (roasting and broiling), and charcoal cooking (grilling and rotisserie).  As mentioned in the article, “The Cottage the Eisenhowers Called Home,” published in the February 1962 issue of Palm Springs Life Magazine, the Partio appears pictured with the following caption: “Chef Eisenhower shows Mamie and Mary Jean the patio barbecue cart—‘It’s the most fantastic things you ever saw.’”

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THF112534GE Partio Cart User's Manual, circa 1960. THF112534

Designed and built by General Electric, the Partio offers both a seductive glimpse of mid-century southern California outdoor living and hints at trends that become pronounced five decades later. This unit, essentially a cart-mounted range, married with a charcoal grill and rotisserie, combines a vivid 1950s turquoise palette with that decade's angular "sheer" look, forecasting styling trends of the early 1960s. The high-end Partio prefigures the lavish outdoor kitchen barbeque/range units that became popular at the end of the 20th century.  At the same time, along with the more familiar Weber charcoal grills, it speaks to an increased leisure and love of outdoor entertaining. 

Hales Photo-AHC BBQ Exhibit-1010

The Henry Ford acquired the Partio in 2012; currently the artifact is out on loan to the Atlanta History Center as part of its current exhibit, "Barbecue Nation," an exploration of the history behind one of America's greatest folk foods.

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. Marc Greuther is Chief Curator and Senior Director, Historical Resources, at The Henry Ford.

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By the 1930s, many motorists had grown weary of camping out.  Turned out it wasn’t much fun cooking meals, sleeping in crude tents, and roughing it with primitive equipment and few amenities.  Homey little cabins like this one, which were increasing in number at the time, seemed much more appealing.  Often home-built by the property owners with a little elbow grease and a can-do attitude, these offered privacy, a modicum of comfort, and a needed respite on the journey from home to one’s final destination. 

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This tourist cabin, now in the “Driving America” exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, was once part of a group of cabins clustered together along U.S. Route 12 in Michigan’s picturesque Irish Hills region.  Originally called the Lore Mac Cabins, this modest cabin complex was built between 1935 and 1938.  Today this cabin looks much as it did back then, with many of its original fixtures and furnishings.

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Come now on a tour of the Lore Mac Cabins, as a series of snapshots and personal reminiscences give us a glimpse of what the place was like back in the 1940s.   


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The cabins were arranged in a semi-circle along a dirt road.  Common bathroom facilities were located behind the main office and the owner’s residence (visible in the foreground of this snapshot).  Men’s and women’s shower facilities were located here as well.


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The owner of the Lore Mac Cabins was also an approved Gulf gasoline dealer.  Two gasoline pumps out in front beckoned both overnight guests and other motorists needing to fill up while driving along busy Route 12 between Detroit and Chicago.

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The cabin proprietors lived behind the office in which lodgers registered for their nightly stay. Here the daughter of the owner (and donor of the snapshot) poses self-consciously on the back porch of their residence.

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The heat for the “heated cabins”--as advertised in large letters emblazoned across the main building--was provided by small, pot-bellied stoves in each cabin, fueled with wood or coal.  The Gulf gasoline sign is visible out front.


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In the early 1940s, the owner charged around $2.50 for a single cabin and four to five dollars for a double cabin. The interior walls of the cabins were lined with an inexpensive beaver board material while linoleum covered the floor. Throw rugs alongside the metal-frame beds added a touch of hominess. Guests not wanting to trek all the way to the central sanitation facility could use a white enamelware commode discreetly placed under the bed. 

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The chairs scattered about the property became a perfect place to pose for snapshots.  Taking pictures provided a concrete reminder of a trip and might serve as free advertising for the proprietor when guests shared their adventures with family and friends back home. 

Alas, competition eventually made it impossible for small Mom-and-Pop operations like the Lore Mac Cabins to survive. Travelers began to bypass tourist cabins like these for the improved amenities of motels, motor inns and, by the 1950s, standardized chains like Holiday Inn.

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Cabins like those at the Lore Mac were certainly preferable to camping.  But, despite the attempts by tourist cabin proprietors to offer “homes away from home” at a modest price and in an informal atmosphere, the days of these early bare-bones roadside lodgings were numbered.

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Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.