Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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1949 Mercury Convertible, “kustomized” by George and Sam Barris.

Few names loom as large in the world of custom cars as that of George Barris. Mr. Barris, who passed away
last November, will forever be associated with the many television and movie cars built by his Los Angeles shop – none more famous than the 1966 Batmobile, adapted from the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car. But these high-profile cars were just one part of his work. Before Hollywood came knocking, George and his brother Sam had already built a reputation for their imaginative work with other cars, particularly the 1949-1951 Mercury models so loved by first-generation customizers. Indeed, just months before George Barris’s death, several Barris Mercurys were featured at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

We are fortunate to have a Barris Mercury custom – or “kustom,” as Barris invariably spelled it – in the collections of The Henry Ford. Our 1949 Mercury features a chopped windshield; a padded, removable Carson top; frenched headlights and taillights; dechromed surfaces; and prominent “Barris” crests on the front fenders. For a Barris job of the 1950s, the modifications are mild, but sometimes less is more. The color is a deep metalflake purple, with lavender scallops. The scheme continues in the interior, upholstered in purple and white. In the “anything goes” spirit of the custom car hobby, there’s even a little Chevrolet in our Merc – the grille is out of a 1957 Corvette.

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Our Barris ’49 Mercury isn’t all Blue Oval. There’s a bit of Bow Tie in that grille.

The 1949-1951 Mercurys, in stock form, were styled a bit behind the times. Their fenders and small windows looked dated next to other postwar cars – especially alongside their sister
1949 Fords. But those old lines appealed to southern California customizers. Lower the roof and suspension, and you turned a staid sedan into a head-turning – almost intimidating – street machine. Mercury customizers were also fond of removing chrome (famously excessive on production cars of that era), substituting parts from other cars, and applying deep, dark paints to the dramatic bodies. Radical or outlandish modifications hadn’t yet caught on in the field. Customizers essentially tweaked their cars to bring out a natural beauty that they already saw.

Our Mercury, then, is a classic example of these influential custom cars. It’s the perfect symbol for the customizer’s craft in Driving America, and a fitting tribute to one of the best-known “kustomizers” in the business.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

customized cars

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Cyrus Field wanted to wire the world. A successful paper merchant turned telecommunications pioneer, Field established the American Telegraphy Company in 1856 and set to work raising the funds and gathering the minds needed to bridge the oceanic divide between Europe and America.

In 1858, after several failed attempts, an underwater cable—capable of transmitting telegraph signals across the Atlantic Ocean—was laid from Valentia, Ireland, to Heart’s Content, Newfoundland. In August the first messages were sent, including an exchange between Queen Victoria and President Buchanan. It took 17 hours to transmit Queen Victoria’s 98 words. The triumph of the 1858 cable was short-lived; a month later, it failed, a victim of excess voltage in an attempt to increase the speed of messages.

This cable machine, built by Glass, Eliot & Co., was used to prepare telecommunications cable at Enderby’s Wharf in Greenwich, England, for the second transatlantic cable. Machines like these were used to create the core of submarine cable from iron and conductive copper—and then moved aboard a ship, where they applied a protective sheath made of galvanized steel, an insulating layer of gutta-percha and a final layer of jute to protect against abrasion. One mile of finished cable weighed almost a ton, but it was as flexible as a rope, built to withstand the pull of the ship laying it and hazards on the ocean floor.

In 1865, 2,300 nautical miles of cable were carried aboard the leviathan iron steamship, the SS Great Eastern. The ship left in July but was forced to return to port when the cable snapped and the end was lost at sea. A second cable excursion began a year later and was successful. This was the first truly sustainable and durable telegraph cable, continuing to carry the Morse code “text messages” of telegraph operators across continents—at a rate 80 times faster than the first cable. It remained in operation until the mid-1870s, by which time four additional cables had been laid.

This machine was essential to the “wiring of the world,” reorganizing basic materials into the spine of the first permanent transcontinental telecommunications network. These submarine cables—like the modern-day fiber-optic cables that carry the signals of Internet traffic—connected cultures and communities.


Learn more about how you can support artifacts like this in The Henry Ford's Archive of American Innovation by helping us spark innovation.

 

communication

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If you visit the
Wright Home in Greenfield Village, the presenter in the house will probably draw your attention to the bookcase in the living room.  Many of these books, along with more housed in the Benson Ford Research Center, did indeed belong to the Wrights, and were used by Orville and Wilbur Wright, their sister Katharine, or their father Milton.  We’ve just digitized over 50 Wright family books, including this 1892 copy of Medea used by Katharine Wright.  Other examples include The Principal Works of Charles Darwin, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and A Manual of Instruction in Latin.  Browse the list of titles to see what other bookish ideas may have influenced the young Wright Brothers by visiting our Digital Collections.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

antique books, Wright Brothers

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Postcard, Old Faithful Geyser, 1934

Yellowstone National Park, the first national park established in 1872, was a uniquely American innovation.  Like the Declaration of Independence, it embodied America’s democratic ideals—in this case, the groundbreaking idea that our magnificent natural wonders should be enjoyed not by a privileged few but by everyone.  The inscription over Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to the park, "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People," symbolizes the ideals that established Yellowstone and defined the vision for all national parks to come.

Come now on a virtual tour through The Henry Ford’s collection to view the wonders of Yellowstone National Park.

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Postcard, Entrance Gateway, 1903-4

Imagine it is the early 1900s, and you’ve chosen to take the four-day guided tour through the park by horse-drawn carriage.  From the north entrance, you travel through towering canyons to your first stop, Mammoth Hot Springs.  

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Postcard, Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, 1935

The hot springs there, heavily charged with lime, have built up tier upon tier of remarkable terraces.  The springs are constantly changing, presenting what one guidebook calls “an astonishing spectacle of indescribable beauty.”  After viewing the hot springs and walking among its many terraces, you spend your first night at the humble but serviceable Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.

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Postcard, Park Stage at Mammoth Hot Springs, 1904-5

The next day, anticipation builds as you head south into the area with all the geyser activity.  You pass Roaring Mountain, so named for the sound of steam fumaroles that became very active and noisy there in 1902.

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Postcard, The Constant and the Black Growler, Norris Geyser Basin, 1908-9

Before long, you reach the first great geyser basin: Norris Geyser Basin. At the intersection of three major earthquake fault zones, Norris is the hottest, most active geyser basin in the park. Underground water temperatures of 706 degrees Fahrenheit have been measured.  Norris has it all: hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, and bubbling mud pots. 

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Postcard, Geysers in Eruption, Upper Geyser Basin, 1908-9

From Norris, you proceed to Lower and Middle Geyser Basins until you finally reach Upper Geyser Basin—the place you’ve heard so much about. Approximately two square miles in area, Upper Geyser Basin contains the largest concentration of geysers in the park—in fact, nearly one-quarter of all of the geysers in the world!  A variety of other thermal features also exist here, including colorful hot springs and steaming fumaroles.

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Postcard, Old Faithful Inn and Geyser, 1935

Upper Geyser Basin is home to Old Faithful, the most famous and celebrated geyser in the world. The 1870 Washburn Expedition camped near this geyser. They were the ones who named it Old Faithful, because they discovered it had frequent and regular eruptions. It can last from 2-5 minutes, reach a height of 90 to 184 feet, and emit 10,000 to 12,000 gallons of water at a time.  

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The Lobby, Old Faithful Inn, 1904-5

You stop for the night here at Old Faithful Inn, a grand hotel built in 1903. Most resort hotels at the time were intended to serve as civilized oases from the wilderness.  However, Old Faithful Inn, the first true rustic-style resort, was designed by young, self-taught architect Robert Reamer to fit in with nature rather than to escape from it.  The inside of the hotel continues the rustic look, with a spectacular seven-story log-framed lobby containing a massive stone fireplace.  

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Postcard, Paint Pots, Yellowstone Lake, 1905-6

Heading down the road, West Thumb Geyser Basin is one of the smaller geyser basins in Yellowstone. Located along the edge of Yellowstone Lake, it consists of a stone mantle riddled with hot springs. These resemble vast boiling pots of paint with a continuous bubbling-up of mud.

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Postcard, Fish Pot Hot Spring, 1901

About 30 miles from Upper Geyser Basin is Yellowstone Lake—one of the coldest, largest, and highest lakes in North America. The lake includes 110 miles of shoreline and reaches depths of up to 390 feet. The bottom of the lake remains a constant 42 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.  

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Postcard, Lake Hotel, 1904-5

Here you rest for the night at the charming Yellowstone Lake Hotel, the oldest surviving hotel in the park, built in 1891. Robert Reamer added the colonial-style columns to this quintessential Eastern-styled hotel in 1903. 

Heading back north along the park’s Grand Loop Road, Hayden Valley is filled with large, open meadows on either side of the Yellowstone River—the remains of an ancient lakebed. The valley is the year-round home to bison, elk, and grizzly bear.

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Postcard in souvenir viewbook, Great Falls, 1934

As the Yellowstone River flows north from Yellowstone Lake, it leaves the Hayden Valley and takes two great plunges: first over the Upper Falls and then, a quarter mile downstream, over the Lower Falls—at which point it enters the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  In places, the canyon walls drop some 1,000 feet to the river below. You spend the night at the last of the four great Yellowstone resorts, Grand Canyon Hotel, before returning to Mammoth Hot Springs and the end of your tour. 

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Postcard, A Wylie Single Tent Interior, about 1910

Those who can’t afford the type of tour you’ve just taken can choose the less expensive “Wylie Way,” which involves seeing the sites from a Wylie stagecoach and lodging in a canvas tent overnight.  

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Postcard, Public Automobile Camp in Yellowstone Park, about 1920

It is inevitable, of course, that more and more motorists are arriving at Yellowstone every day. The use of automobiles in the park are bringing paved roads, parking areas, service stations, and improved public campgrounds. Most early motorists are used to roughing it and come prepared to camp.  

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Photo, Tourist with bear, about 1917

Yellowstone will set the tone for all the other national parks to come. When the National Park Service is formally established in 1916, it incorporates many of the management principles that the U.S. Army brought to Yellowstone when its soldiers first arrived to establish order there back in 1886. Old Faithful Inn will help define the style of Western resorts and park architecture for the next several decades. Finally, as some early tourist behaviors—like feeding bears, peering into geysers, and fishing in hot springs (as shown in the postcard of Fish Pot Hot Springs)—are found to be harmful to Yellowstone’s fragile ecosystems, the park will become a testing ground for exploring and defining what it means to be a national park—serving the dual mission of preserving natural wonders while, at the same time, letting the public enjoy them. 

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

postcards, national parks, auto touring, camping

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On April 11th, 1976—40 years ago—the first Apple product made its public debut. The origins of this device began the previous year, on a rainy day in March of 1975, when a group of enthusiastic computer hobbyists met in a garage in Menlo Park, California. Steve Wozniak attended this inaugural meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club, and walked away with the inspiration to create a new breed of computer. This was the beginning of the Apple 1 computer.

Today, thanks to the combined technical knowledge and passion of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, we can celebrate the anniversary of a milestone. For a limited time, The Henry Ford’s Apple 1 computer will be on display in the museum’s William Clay Ford Plaza of Innovation, April 11-30, 2016. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating the legacy of this key artifact of the digital age.

A few facts and numbers to consider:

  • Apple Computer, Inc. was founded on April Fool’s Day: April 1, 1976.
  • On naming the business, Steve Jobs said: “Apple took the edge off the word ‘computer.’ Plus, it would get us ahead of Atari in the phone book.”
  • This Apple 1 is one of the first 50 ever made, sold directly through the early computer retailer, The Byte Shop.  
  •  Paul Terrell, owner of The Byte Shop, saw Wozniak’s demonstration of the Apple 1 at a Homebrew Club meeting, and placed the first wholesale order.

  • When you purchased an Apple 1, you were purchasing the motherboard.

  • Peripherals like a keyboard, monitor, power supply, tape drive were bought separately.

  • Approximately 200 Apple 1’s were sold in total; the location of approximately 46 of these original units is known today.

  • Only 9 of the original batch of 50 Apple 1’s are documented as being in working condition.

  • The Henry Ford’s Apple 1 is completely unmodified, with all of its original chips. It is fully operational. 

Do you want to know more about the Apple 1? We at The Henry Ford have been happy to show off this incredible artifact at every given opportunity. You can read the original blog post announcing its acquisition, or an in-depth article that asks the question: “What if everyone could have a personal computer?” You can see detailed photographs or watch a video describing the experience of winning the computer at auction, or witness a very happy gathering of staff members unpacking it upon its arrival. You can also watch a video of Mo Rocca and our Curator of Communications and Information Technology, Kristen Gallerneaux, talk about the power (and limitations) of early computers in an Innovation Nation episode. And if you need more yet, you could watch a new Connect3 video about the surprising connections that exist between the Apple 1 and other artifacts in our collection, or even still, dive deep into the mind of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in an extensive OnInnovation oral history.

Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

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Clara Ford reminiscing over her first cookbook, the Buckeye Cookbook, at the Women’s City Club, 1949

“I don’t think Mrs. Ford had any outstanding hobby outside her gardening, except possibly recipes” – Rosa Buhler, maid at Fair Lane.

Clara certainly seemed to enjoy her recipes, from Sweet Potato Pudding to Corned Tongue, Clara collected hundreds of recipes. Some were in the form of cookbooks, some typed up, others cut out of magazines or newspapers, but the majority of them were handwritten, either by Clara or the many friends she gathered recipes from.

By the time the Fords moved to Fair Lane, Clara probably wasn’t cooking much from the Buckeye Cookbook her mother gave her when she married as the household staff now included a cook, but Clara never stopped searching out new recipes to try. According to Buhler, “Mrs. Ford would come down every day to talk over the day’s menu. She always saved recipes from cookbooks or the newspaper.” Clara was also very particular about her food, which led to a high turnover in cooks, so when there wasn’t a cook the other servants had to prepare the meals. John Williams, the Fair Lane houseman (and occasional cook) remarked that “Mrs. Ford had a lot of good cookbooks. Sometimes when I was in the kitchen, she would come out and say, ‘John, I found a good recipe. Sometime we’ll try it.’” Everywhere she went, Clara would pay close attention to the food and would frequently ask hostesses for their recipes. Buhler remembered when the Fords would visit Georgia, “every once in a while they’d spring something new on her in the way of Southern cooking. That intrigued her, and she’d ask about it. She’d probably get the recipe from the lady who served it, and she’d want her cook to try it.” There’s plenty of correspondence between Clara and her friends and acquaintances swapping recipes and menu ideas. Clara responded to one such letter from Charlotte Copeland which included a recipe for “Tongue en Casserole” saying, “thank you so much. I do love recipes from friends that have tried them,” and reciprocated with a recipe of her own. In her collection are recipes from Mrs. Ernest Liebold (wife of Henry Ford’s secretary), Mrs. Gaston Plantiff (wife of another Ford associate), and there’s even a recipe for “Mr. Burroughs’ Brigand Stake” (possibly from the famous Vagabond naturalist himself).

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THF127734While Henry preferred very plain foods, Clara liked richer fare; cream sauces, butter, and lots of spices. She also preferred the traditional English cuisine and style of cooking of her mother’s family.  Not a few of the servants questioned the wisdom of the English methods, and as noted above many cooks came and went at Fair Lane. Buhler said that, “Mrs. Ford stuck to the old-fashioned ways, for instance, plum pudding for Christmas. We always had to have it cooked in a cloth and though it always turned out to be a failure, the very next Christmas we had to do the very same thing over.” Not all the traditional recipes resulted in less than satisfactory results however, John Williams spoke of one particular recipe he became expert at, “Mrs. Ford had a favorite recipe that she taught me how to make. It was her mother’s recipe. The crust was made with sour cream, salt and soda, and the apples were sliced and put in a pie plate. This crust was spread over the top very thinly which made it very light….After it was baked, you would turn it on a platter that it was to be served on, and then you would add your sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg after it was cooked. It made a very delicious pie. Any time any cook was hired, I would have to show them that recipe,” though he did say “In my way of thinking, you could make a two-crust pie much quicker than you could make this.”

  • Clara appears to have had a sweet tooth, the majority of the recipes fall into the dessert category. A variety of cakes, cookies, puddings, and pies appear in her collection with flavors from chocolate and butterscotch to blackberry. Many of the entrees and sides were vegetarian, reflecting on Henry’s preferences for lighter fare and Clara’s love of gardening, there were even recipes for alcoholic beverages (something Henry hardly ever consumed). In all there are recipes ranging from Green Mango Pie and Blueberry Dumplings, to Suet Pudding and Frizzled Oysters. If you’re looking to “Coddle an Egg” or find a recipe “For Crusty Top to Soufflé” Clara Ford has a recipe in her collection for you. The only ingredient that seems to be notable for its lack of representation in the collection is the soybean, only one recipe “25% Soybean Bread” features Henry’s favorite legume. John Thompson, butler at Fair Lane noted “Mr. Ford tried to convince Mrs. Ford she should have an interest in soybean products, but she never did. She never thought much of them...Mr. Ford used to eat soybean soup every day during the period he was interested in those experiments…Mrs. Ford didn’t go for this soup.” Though they could both agree on wheat germ, one of their favorite cookies being Model T’s, and according to Ford employee A.G. Wolfe, “You haven’t had anything until you have had a Model T cookie!”

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    Learn more:

Kathy Makas is Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford.

Clara Ford, cooking

Henry Ford 11x17 (1 of 1)


When should protecting something’s authenticity outweigh our entertainment?

Malcolm Collum has a dream job. He’s the chief conservator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. That means he gets to play (in the serious sense) with historic aircraft and spacecraft every day.

Before that, he was a senior conservator at The Henry Ford, where he was the last lucky person to drive Old 16 — the first American car to win America’s first great international auto race in 1908. 

But long before Collum put on his official conservator’s hat, he was a collector. The proud owner of a 1967 MG MGB GT since 1984 — that still resides in his garage — he happily remembers taking it to car shows, often one among many polished and preserved beauties waiting to be admired. Collum’s car, however, was different. 

“In high school and college, I always saw the value of the authentic, even if it meant showing a little age,” said Collum. As a result of that conservator- style mindset, Collum never restored his MG to a state of imperfect perfection, as he sees it, preferring to appreciate and preserve the car’s patina and slight blemishes.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, other people were drawn to the car’s authenticity, too. “In these car shows, you would have a line of MGs beautifully restored. They all looked the same,” he said. “People would just seem to gravitate toward me and my MG. They appreciated the subtle details that are often lost when you start replacing parts.”

The phenomenon witnessed by Collum at car shows with his MG isn’t necessarily new news. This trend toward seeing greater value in dings and dents versus shiny and new has been growing exponentially in car collector clubs and car show circuits over the past decade or so. The Concours d’Elegance shows, for example, have long had a Preservation Class as part of their awards, honoring unrestored, historically significant entries with intriguing stories attached to them. At Pebble Beach last year, it was a rare 1961 Ferrari 400 Superamerica Coupe that made one of the biggest splashes among the judges, car aficionados and media. Unrestored and as original as the day it left an Italian dealership, the car is one of the only untouched and remaining such Ferraris built with an aluminum-alloy body.

This public pull toward the rare object that shows its age with grace is trickling over to other collectible communities, too, from toys and watches to antique tower clocks. “It’s
the beauty of the survivor,” explained Collum. “It gets people’s attention and opens up discussion of their story.”

ANTIQUES ROADSHOW EFFECT
Collum’s recollections of his MG allude to bigger questions that fall far outside the realm of collectibles. Questions that conservators such as Mary Fahey, chief conservator at The Henry Ford, and Clara Deck, senior conservator, think about every day. Is it better to restore or conserve? Just because we can fix something — or make it look better — does that mean we should?

Watch Antiques Roadshow on PBS, noted Deck, and you’ll quickly understand the heated debate and the marked difference between the two methodologies and mindsets. So often on the show, appraisers tell hopeful object owners that if only they hadn’t refurbished that chair or made that repair it would be worth thousands more.

“It’s called the Antiques Roadshow Effect,” said Deck. “People are starting to rethink notions about historic objects. Yes, anything can be restored if you throw enough money at it, but do you really want to?

Not to say that the conservator doesn’t appreciate the art or skill behind restoration or understand its place. At The Henry Ford, restoration is a daily practice in Greenfield
Village’s T Shed and roundhouse, where talented machinists, mechanics, engineers and expert hobbyists do whatever it takes to maintain the historical integrity of the institution’s Ford Model T’s and steam locomotives, while keeping them operational so they can provide a moving visitor experience. If a part breaks or fails, it must be repaired or replaced so the machine can run. Sometimes historical methods of repair and replacement such as pouring castings make sense, sometimes they don’t.

Where things can get gray between restoration and conservation, said Collum, is when you’re dealing with that rare, special item and what you should do with it. “I understand the innate joy people get in restoring things. When you take something tattered and worn and make it look new again. But what if you took an artifact like Old 16 — original paint, glorious varnish on the wheels — and restored it? It would ruin it. Make it a bad replica of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

clara working on paint


BEHIND THE SCENES

The Henry Ford recently faced its own conservation conundrum when one of its prized artifacts, a 1967 Ford GT40 Mark IV, was damaged in transit for an event in England. This was the U.S.-built race car/engine driven by American auto racing legends Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt that won the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans. An all-American feat yet to be repeated.

While The Henry Ford does most of its conservation, restoration and repair work in-house in its Conservation Lab, a team of curators and conservators decided to send the vehicle to Dan Gurney’s All American Racers in Santa Ana, California, for careful inspection and treatment. “The project was the perfect merging of car restoration and conservator ethics,” said Fahey.

The ‘67 Ford GT40 was in Gurney’s shop for nine months. The directive was not to repaint or replace, only to disassemble and catalog damage, and make approved repairs where absolutely necessary.

“If this would have been a restoration, we would have taken parts off the car, replated, repolished, replaced. Made it look better than new,” said Justin Gurney, All American Racers’ CEO and racing icon Dan Gurney’s son. “Conservation is way different. We needed to leave the car just as it was when it came off the track.”

That meant green potted-plantlike foam found under the lower rocker panels was left as is because it was related to modifications made on the fly by the Ford team for better aerodynamics. Panels that had notes on the back — written in black marker by Ford team member Phil Remington — also remain. Cracks in the windshield, fiberglass and paint weren’t repaired either because they occurred during the historic race.

“One specialist at the 1967 Le Mans race had told us they remembered the crack in the windshield,” said Fahey. “It was important to us to keep it as part of the car’s race story.” According to Le Mans racing lore, the crack most likely occurred as the crew jumped on and rode atop the car in celebration after the big win.

Fahey said Gurney’s team went so far as to send her bags of paint chips, which popped off as the team disassembled and repaired the car. In-painting to repair damage to the car’s surface was later painstakingly completed in The Henry Ford’s Conservation Lab by senior conservator Deck.

The one thing Justin Gurney would have loved to do that certainly didn’t fall into the conservation column: Start the engine. He didn’t, of course. “We really wanted to get the motor running. Would have loved to hear that thing fire up,” he said. That would have required extensive restoration and replacement of parts that weren’t part of The Henry Ford’s conservation plan for the car.

“I see both sides of the story now,” said Gurney, who had never participated in a conservation effort of this scale before. “A lot of cars that sit in our museum are better than new. Sometimes it’s better to leave things alone. You can over-restore something.”

RESPONSIBLE UTILIZATION
Gurney’s revelation speaks to every museum’s ethical responsibility to its collections and its visitors, and how it determines when an artifact should be preserved and when it should be utilized in some state to entertain or educate.

Conservators would cringe at the idea of restoring the engine of the ‘67 GT40, turning the ignition key and taking it for a 200-mile-per-hour spin on a racetrack purely to entertain a crowd. Then the car quickly becomes more of a replica than an authentic
artifact with a compelling history of use worth preserving. “As tempting as it might be to put the pedal to the metal and show off, an artifact is not there for our personal gratification or to massage our egos,” said Collum.

“I call it consumptive adoration. There is lots of pressure to operate mechanical artifacts in the museum communities, but it comes to a point where we can love something to death, where we consume it by using it and the artifact deteriorates and is lost.”

Circling back to Collum’s story of his unrestored MG or the rare Ferrari, it seems that more people might be joining this conservator’s camp. That there is this societal shift happening, where both collectors and observers are beginning to see the value in
leaving things alone, keeping them in an original state rather than making them appear better than new.

And, as Collum explained, you know an idea is starting to go mainstream when a rogue group bubbles to the surface and tries to take advantage of what’s popular without actually understanding why it’s popular. “You’ve got people at car shows now that are trying to fake it up or Disney it up,” he said. “They are ‘unrestoring’ what they have already restored because they think it’s more glamorous and likely to win — latching on to an idea without fully understanding its meaning.”

By Jennifer LaForce





SAVING A SURFACE
Envision a car fender, bumped and bruised, with deep scratches in its paint. Most collision and body shops wouldn’t even bother trying to patch or cover, opting instead to just strip the paint, repair the damage and repaint the entire panel with sophisticated power spray guns for the best results.

Now, imagine those bumps, tears and missing areas of paint on a historic race car that belongs to The Henry Ford. While Dan Gurney’s All American Racers made careful repairs to the body of the 1967 Ford GT40 Mark IV after it was damaged in transit, the painting was left to Clara Deck, senior conservator at The Henry Ford. Using a
technique called in-painting, which is the same technique art conservators would use to repair a famous painting or print, Deck spent hours color-matching pigments, creating her own custom blend of wax/resin paste. She then applied it over repaired tears, in between cracks, around rivets and in areas missing paint — all by hand with small
brushes, heated spatulas, irons and a hot-air tool.

All the work done by Deck is reversible and can be easily removed if required — a statement to the conservator’s pledge to maintain an artifact’s authenticity. Maybe even more interesting, Deck only filled in the cracks and blemishes caused by the transit damage. Cracks known to exist on the car’s surface as collateral damage from its hard-fought win were left as is, each representing its own small chapter in the story of the all-American win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

 

classic cars, conservation

leap year

Leap year--when an extra day is added to the calendar as February 29--offered a special "opportunity" for women. In folk tradition, it was only then that women could propose marriage. Nowadays, marriage proposals are fair game for either gender. In the early 1900s, postcards like this one were an inexpensive and novel way to send colorful greetings to family and friends.

Dated 1908, this leap year postcard was sent in April of that year and created by the Paul C. Koeber company.

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Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life.

 

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When Henry Ford acquired a small house located just a few miles from his winter residence at Richmond Hill, Georgia, he believed it was either a tenant farmer’s house or the house of a plantation overseer. Later research revealed it was in fact the home of the African American Mattox family, built in 1879 on their own land. Visit Mattox Family Home in Greenfield Village today, and you’ll learn about Amos and Grace Mattox and the children they raised in the house during the 1930s. We’ve just digitized some images related to the house, such as this contact sheet from the opening celebration held on August 8, 1991. View more Mattox-related images by visiting our digital collections.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

The Noah Webster Home in Greenfield Village. THF 1882

Many of the homes of Greenfield Village are often admired for their architectural design and the historic furnishings displayed within them, but the really true connections are made when all of this can be combined with the stories of the people who actually lived there. The Noah Webster House, originally from New Haven, Connecticut, is no exception.

Portrait of Noah Webster, painted by Samuel Morse in 1823, and Rebecca Greenleaf Webster, painted by Jared Bradley Flagg, c. 1835.

This was home to Noah Webster’s family, and their descendants for nearly 100 years. It was purchased by Henry Ford in 1936, dismantled and shipped to Dearborn to become part of his collection of historic buildings. Greenfield Village combines the homes and workplaces of both notable Americans and those that lead everyday lives. Most show life as it was before fame. In the case of the Webster House, the opposite is true.

By the time Noah had the house built in 1822, the American Revolution was nearly 50 years past and he was among the last of the old patriots. He was viewed as one of the great American scholars and intellectuals, and a true celebrity. The Websters' New Haven home, through the 1820s and well into the 1830s, was essentially an American salon, welcoming notables in the worlds of politics, art, education, and literature. According to recent biographer Harlow Giles Unger, during the early 1830s “the Webster home was a center of social activity-for the Yale faculty, for visiting clergymen, the old Federalists, and for noted figures.” In a letter written by Rebecca Webster to her daughter she states, “I have had a large party with as many of the faculty as we could cram in. The party went off well, for all seemed happy.” In addition to notable guests, a growing brood of Webster grandchildren (20 by 1836) came for frequent and extended visits. When the oldest grandsons attended Yale starting in the early 1830s, Rebecca entertained them and their friends with musical parties, “old-time frolics”, and at least one costume ball. Continue Reading