Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Boy stands next to car in field

Basil "Jug" Menard Posing with a Modified Ford Coupe Race Car. Taunton, Massachusetts, circa 1946 / THF140176

Igniting a Lifelong Passion


Most of us are enchanted with competition. For those with gasoline in their veins, there’s only one way to scratch the itch—become a racer.

Things we do when we’re young often inspire a lifelong passion. Many adults involved in auto racing—as well as adult fans of auto racing—ignited their interest through early experiences. There are many avenues for kids to explore race cars and racing that can arouse a passion for the sport, and you can learn about some of them in the “Igniting the Passion” section of our new racing exhibit, Driven to Win: Racing in America presented by General Motors. There is an actual Quarter Midget race car, and kids can sit in the driver’s seat. You can see and hear stories from the people with a passion for racing about how they got started. And there are the toys (including slot cars), and a place where kids can build their own wooden kit car then race it against others on a sloped track.

Quarter Midget Racer


Small boxy blue vehicle

The Quarter Midget race car is one-quarter the size of an adult racer’s Midget Sprint Car and has much lower power output. Still, these are serious race cars, with protective systems designed to keep their young drivers as safe as possible. A Quarter Midget is powered by a single-cylinder, 7-cubic-inch engine, and they race on oval tracks that are one-twentieth of a mile around—264 feet. Speeds reach the 45-mph range, and kids learn the skills of car control, race tactics, and race strategy that are essential foundations for aspiring drivers. Many racing stars, past and present, began their careers in Quarter Midgets, including A.J. Foyt, Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Sarah Fisher, Jimmy Vasser, and many more.

Soap Box Derby Car


Teardrop-shaped black-and-orange wheeled vehicle with text along side
THF69252

The Soap Box Derby car, powered only by gravity, is home-built and raced by kids in downhill competitions that can be intense. Mason Colbert placed third with this car in the 1939 All-American Soap Box Derby national championship in Akron, Ohio.

Tether Cars, or Spindizzies


Small blue, yellow, and chrome toy car
THF162895

A large display in Driven to Win features more than 50 gas-powered, scale-model tether cars (along with tools and parts), which were popular from the 1930s to the 1950s. Check out all of the spindizzies you’ll see on display here.

Additional Artifacts


Box, cartridge, and booklet for "Pole Position" video game, with text and image of race cars on all
THF176901

Beyond the vehicles highlighted above, you can see these artifacts related to igniting a love of racing in Driven to Win.


Dig Deeper


Magazine cover containing text and aerial photo of boys wearing helmets sitting in small open cockpit cars
THF277921_redacted

Learn more about igniting the passion with these additional resources from The Henry Ford.

  • Take a peek into the exciting hobby of tether car racing in our expert set.
  • Watch the tether cars being installed into Driven to Win on our Facebook page.
  • Visit our blog to learn more about the woman who co-designed Atari’s video game “Indy 500.”
  • Discover how a student-built concept car got more than 3,400 MPG on the streets of downtown Detroit in this Maker Faire Detroit presentation.
  • Go behind the scenes with the Power Racing Series at Maker Faire Detroit.
  • Hear racing legend Mario Andretti explain how his love for the sport started in this clip from our 2017 interview.

childhood, toys and games, racing, race cars, Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win, cars

The Arts and Crafts Movement was a reaction against ornate and what it considered “overwrought” decoration. Led by the British designer, philosopher, and social reformer William Morris (1838–1896), the movement sought to redirect public taste toward simpler esthetics. He also sought to reform industry and politics. Members of the movement used the term “arts and crafts” because they worked to reunify the fine arts (painting, sculpture, and architecture) with the crafts (such as metalwork, ceramics, and textiles) that had been demoted to second-class status with the coming of the Industrial Revolution.

Morris created the first interior design firm, Morris and Company, in London in the 1860s. His idea was to reform society through the home. The ideas of the Arts and Crafts Movement were widely disseminated, and its influence began to be felt in the United States by the 1880s and 1890s. By the turn of the 20th century, America had its own Arts and Crafts tastemaker, Gustav Stickley, who echoed many of the arguments put forth by William Morris. Stickley produced furniture and published an influential magazine called The Craftsman.

Upholstered yellow chair with multiple types of fabric, decorated with many large tassels
Armchair from "Turkish" Parlor Set, 1885-1895 / THF154405

Armchair with wooden, slatted slides and brown leather upholstered seat and back
Morris Chair, 1912-1916, Made by Gustav Stickley / THF159902

Comparing Stickley’s “Morris” armchair with a “Turkish” style late Victorian armchair clearly shows the distinction between the two. The Stickley chair is very rectilinear, with the solid oak structure exposed, where the “Turkish” style armchair is covered with lavish upholstery and highly decorative tassels and swags. Both are intended to be comfortable seating, but the Stickley chair has a mission—to reform taste. In fact, much American Arts and Crafts furniture is described as “Mission” furniture.

Grand Rapids, Michigan, began to emerge as a furniture-making center long before the Arts and Crafts Movement evolved in America. Beginning in the 1870s, and certainly by the 1880s, Grand Rapids became the center of furniture-making in America. There were an estimated 40 different companies producing furniture in the city by 1900. Two of the most interesting were the Stickley Brothers Company and the Charles Limbert Company.

Wooden furniture on casters with drawers topped by a slanted flat surface (that presumably folds down to form a desk)
Slant-Front Desk, 1910-1920, Made by Stickley Brothers Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan / THF160413

The Stickley Brothers Company, headquartered in Grand Rapids, was one of three Stickley family furniture firms. The others were headed by older brother Gustav, called “Craftsman Furniture,” and located in Eastwood, New York, now part of Syracuse. Gustav was the most famous of the Stickley brothers because of his Craftsman magazine. Two younger brothers formed the L. and J.G. (Leopold and John George) Stickley Furniture Company in Fayetteville, New York. This firm also produced important Arts and Crafts Furniture. Ironically, the Grand Rapids enterprise was the first chronologically, with Gustav, Leopold, and John George departing over time to create their own companies.

Page with text and small image of furniture craftsman at top left
Page with text and image of multistory square building
Page with text and image of building within oval shape
Pages from Limbert Trade Catalogue, about 1910 / THF610595, THF610593, and THF610594

Charles Limbert’s company began in 1889 as a typical Victorian furniture maker. With the rise of the Stickley Brothers firm in the 1890s, Limbert began to hire designers knowledgeable in the most current trends in order to compete. From 1900 to 1910, Limbert became one of the most varied in production of any of the Arts and Crafts furniture makers. Their sales dramatically increased, and in 1910 they added a second factory in Holland, Michigan. The Henry Ford is fortunate to have a broad range of Limbert furniture in our collection, as well as a detailed trade catalogue dating to the height of the firm’s production, around 1910.

Wooden dresser topped with large mirror
Limbert Dresser with Mirror, 1905-1915 / THF159601

This dresser with mirror is typical of the standard types of Limbert’s production, a well-made and well-proportioned chest of drawers. It is typically Arts and Crafts, made of oak and expressing its method of construction via visible structural elements, like the stretchers or struts holding the legs together.

Simple wooden table
Limbert Library Table, 1905-1915 / THF159607

This library table, which could also be used in a parlor or living room, is a quintessential form in Arts and Crafts furniture making. Limbert, however, provides several unique features for how this table may be used.

Wooden table with piece extended to form writing surface
Where other furniture makers would place a drawer along the long side of the table, Limbert’s designers added an ingenious pull-out writing surface, transforming it into a desk. / THF159606

Wooden table with top extended and hinged open to reveal storage space inside
The designers also hinged the writing surface, allowing for storage space in what otherwise would have been a simple drawer. / THF159605

Page with text and shadow of windmill in the background
Page with text and two small images of windmills
Pages from Limbert Trade Catalogue, about 1910 / THF610527, THF610536

One of the interesting things about Limbert’s marketing strategy was their interest in linking themselves with the Dutch origins of many in western Michigan, as seen in these pages from their 1910 catalogue.

Small wooden table or stool with four wide, uniquely shaped legs and octagonal top
Tabouret, 1905-1915 / THF185486

With the benefit of historical perspective, we can see that Limbert’s designers were looking at a variety of sources, some highly original. This small table, or tabouret, is an example of a design unique to the Limbert shop, as it lacks the angular forms typical in most Arts and Crafts furniture.

Page with text and images of chairs, rocking chairs, tables, and a bench
Page from Limbert 1910 Catalogue Showing Tabourets / THF610591

Looking at the catalogue, we can see that the tabouret was sold in a variety of sizes.

Color illustration of dining room very full of furniture and decorative accessories
Dining Room from Limbert 1910 Catalogue / THF610531

This elaborate illustration from the 1910 catalogue shows the ideal dining room with an adjacent breakfast nook. While many of the furnishings are standard Arts and Crafts designs that could have been made by many American makers, the unconvential dining room chairs are unique to Limbert. Specifically, the chair backs show a solid central splat vertical element and feature open squares along the top. This may derive from contemporary English or German sources, which were available to Limbert’s staff through design magazines.

Bedroom very full of furniture and other decorative accessories
Bedroom and Sleeping Porch from Limbert 1910 Catalogue / THF610535

A bedroom with an adjacent sleeping porch was very popular in the era before air conditioning. It was considered healthy to sleep surrounded by fresh air when diseases like tuberculosis were common. The furniture is typical for Arts and Crafts, but the bright blue walls are a departure from the earth tones which were promoted by tastemakers like Gustav Stickley and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Room with sloped wooden ceiling very full of furniture and other decorative accessories
Attic Bedroom from Limbert 1910 Catalogue / THF610534

The room shown above was probably intended for an older child about ready to head off to college—note the Michigan pennant hanging above the bed. The use of an attic space as a bedroom was unusual. The library table mentioned earlier is pushed up against the back wall.

The Arts and Crafts period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was one of the most inventive in the history of American decorative arts. Within that period, one of the most creative of American firms was the Charles Limbert Company, as these image and objects demonstrate. At The Henry Ford, we are fortunate to hold these collections and pleased to be able to share them.


Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Sophia Kloc, Office Administrator for Historical Resources at The Henry Ford, for editorial preparation assistance with this post.

design, Michigan, home life, furnishings, decorative arts, by Charles Sable

Several people look at a museum exhibit, standing among display cases and cars

Since the opening on March 27, 2021, of The Henry Ford's newest permanent exhibition, Driven to Win: Racing in America presented by General Motors­, hundreds of guests have experienced the enthusiasm and excitement it creates in all who walk through its 24,000 square feet. Patricia Mooradian, president and CEO of The Henry Ford, explains that "motorsports and the Driven to Win exhibit fit precisely within the vision of The Henry Ford because the spirit of racing is indelibly intertwined with a singular focus on innovation and is rife with concrete examples of that can-do spirit, that attitude that's at the heart of America."

Driven to Win has been in the works for more than a decade. Many creative and innovative minds came together to make it a reality. When the idea of a permanent racing exhibit arose, it presented an opportunity to take the idea to those on a national platform. The Henry Ford sought advice and assistance from leaders in the world of motorsports, including Edsel B. Ford II, Jack Roush, and Roger Penske.

For Spence Medford, vice president and chief advancement officer at The Henry Ford, "It was more than just raising money for an exhibit; it was the opportunity to take the good word and message of The Henry Ford on the road. We were able to take our mission all over to different races and race tracks and introduce it to those who otherwise would never have heard of our mission had we not put this exhibit into motion." The national platform gave The Henry Ford a chance to also share our mission internationally and reach racing enthusiasts all over the world.

Two people look at a low race car in a museum exhibit space that looks like a garage

Driven to Win highlights the stories, artifacts, and people who were the driving forces and true champions of racing. By telling these stories, we hope to inspire the next generation of racers, engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and racing fans. Everyone who comes to see the exhibition will be able to unlock their own potential in the stories of failures, successes, and the spirit of never giving up, told through the lives of the people who are highlighted.

Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports for General Motors, agrees: "Driven to Win: Racing in America is inspiring because it tells the story of the people that were integral to the sport. The exhibit tells the story through actual race cars, artifacts, engines, and transmissions. We need to inspire more people to discover opportunities within racing, and this exhibit will do just that."

Lyn St. James, racing legend and official adviser to the exhibition, was excited to learn that we would be showcasing the vast history of all automotive racing groups within the United States. "I was so taken with the fact that this would be an opportunity to not just tell the history of Ford racing but the history of racing in America and how competition and innovation impact society. This exhibit will bring it to life in a quality way. It is an influencer of how people are going to perceive our sport."

A person sits in a car simulator in front of three large screens displaying a race track

Beth Paretta, CEO and team principal of Paretta Autosport, concurs: "I think taking time to go through a place like The Henry Ford that is rich in content allows you to take a pause. It gives you that moment to look at the past and hopefully see it in the context of when those events happened. We can learn lessons from winning and losing and what that turns into. The Henry Ford is such a great place to get ideas and spark imagination."

Everyone who comes to see Driven to Win will find something that inspires them. After walking through the exhibition, Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, said, "I think that a lot of people who go through this display, even if they are not hard-core motorsports fans, a lot of the history is going to resonate with them. The things they didn't completely understand about the history of racing before will make sense when it is right in front of them. They will be able to connect to it, and that's not going to change."

The Henry Ford would like to extend our sincere gratitude and thanks to all those who helped make this exhibition a dream come true. To our sponsors—General Motors, Rolex, Brembo, and Multimatic—none of this would have been possible without your collaboration and efforts. We are very grateful for your partnerships. To all of our supporters and friends that have we gained along the way, you have truly helped to bring Driven to Win: Racing in America to life. Thank you for helping to fuel our passion and that of all those who will experience racing in America for generations to come.


Caroline Heise is Annual Fund Specialist at The Henry Ford.

philanthropy, The Henry Ford Effect, by Caroline Heise, Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win, racing

Weathervanes have helped humans for millennia. In ancient cities, streamers or pennants mounted at high points communicated wind patterns to watchers below. In more recent centuries, weathervanes in the form we might recognize today perched atop high structures, pointing into the wind to reveal its precise direction. These devices heralded weather changes by indicating shifts in prevailing winds—essential information for farmers or mariners whose businesses depended entirely on the weather.

Weathervanes of this type rotated freely, in perfect balance, with weight distributed across a longer “tail” end that was pushed by the wind, and a shorter “arrow” end that pointed in the direction from which it blew. Starting with this basic form, tradesmen and commercial manufacturers created a vast array of weathervane ornaments by the late nineteenth century. These could communicate more than practical information about the wind. A weathervane might represent regional identity or personal interests, convey religious or political symbolism, or advertise goods or services.

Drawings of weathervanes in the shape of animals and ornamental patterns
Commercial manufacturers produced a vast array of weathervane ornaments by the late nineteenth century. / THF622046 (detail)

Several drawings of weathervanes featuring different sheep varieties; also contains text
Several drawings of weathervanes featuring different roosters; also contains text
Farm animals were a popular choice for rural weathervane customers. Roosters, with their biblical associations, also conveyed religious symbolism and often served as visible moral reminders atop church spires. /
THF622073 and THF622074

Drawing of weathervane featuring shovel and barrel along with arrows labeled E, W, S, N; also contains text
Specialty weathervanes, like this one depicting a malt shovel and beer barrel, doubled as trade advertisements. / THF622201 (detail)

The United States Weather Bureau began generating weather reports based on data collected from across the country in the late 1800s, precipitating the decline of traditional weathervanes. When radio stations began broadcasting national weather reports in 1921, weathervanes became functionally obsolete for most Americans. Nevertheless, weathervanes remained popular. Collectors celebrated them as remarkable examples of American folk art, and twentieth-century manufacturers continued to produce them as nostalgic ornaments for suburban homeowners.

GIF cycling through several images of weathervanes
Supplanted by national weather reporting in the early twentieth century, weathervanes like these became the special interest of folk art collectors. / THF186724, THF186720, THF145466, and THF186729

Catalog cover featuring drawing of house with lamppost and mailbox out front; also contains text
Catalog page with three illustrations of weathervanes featuring a duck, a rooster, and an eagle; also contains text
By the mid-twentieth century, most weathervanes were strictly ornamental, as illustrated by this 1959 catalog. /
THF622033 and THF622034

In updated forms, weathervanes remain important weathercasting tools. As instant indicators of prevailing winds, they are particularly useful at airports, marinas, and sporting events. And meteorologists still rely on weathervanes—often in combination with anemometers, which measure the speed of the wind, as “aerovanes”—to gather data that documents and helps predict weather patterns.

Weathervanes provide evidence of age-old efforts to identify patterns in natural phenomena and predict changes that might affect human survival. These utilitarian artifacts are mostly understood today as whimsical adornments (Hallmark has even released weathervane Christmas ornaments!) only because most Americans have little to no training in meteorology. Yet, weathervanes remain essential weathercasting devices. They can also aid citizen scientists intent on recording climate change locally and globally.

The next time you visit The Henry Ford, look up as you walk around the museum and village to spot weathervanes atop spires and towers. Note how they point into the wind and shift as the breezes blow. In the meantime, you can browse a selection of weathervanes and trade catalogs from weathervane manufacturers in our Digital Collections.


Debra Reid is Curator of Agriculture & the Environment and Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

decorative arts, home life, by Saige Jedele, by Debra A. Reid

Young man wearing jumpsuit looks at camera as he sits in open race car cockpit
Bobby Unser, 1963. / THF218272


The Henry Ford mourns the loss of Bobby Unser, who passed away on May 2, 2021. He was a good friend to our organization and, of course, one of America’s most accomplished racing drivers.

Bobby Unser was born into automobile racing. His father and uncles grew up in the shadow of Pikes Peak and competed in the legendary Pikes Peak Hill Climb race. Bobby’s uncle, Louie, earned nine victories in the contest from 1934 to 1953. Bobby’s father, Jerry, finished third as his personal best, but his sons would go on to dominate at Pikes Peak—and Indianapolis.

Bobby Unser was just one year old when his parents, Jerry and Mary, relocated the family from Colorado Springs, Colorado, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jerry opened a service station on Route 66—wisely locating it on the west side of town, so his station was the first one motorists saw after traveling across the New Mexico desert. Bobby and his brothers, Jerry Jr., Louis, and Al, grew up working in the station, living and breathing cars. Not surprisingly, they all caught the racing bug. Jerry Jr. and Louis each competed at Pikes Peak for the first time in 1955. Jerry Jr. won his class twice, in 1956 and 1957. He went on to compete in the 1958 Indianapolis 500, but died in a crash during qualifying for Indy the next year. Louis won his class at Pikes Peak in 1960 and 1961, but retired from competitive driving in 1964, when he developed multiple sclerosis. Al earned back-to-back Pikes Peak overall victories in 1964 and 1965. He made his Indy 500 debut in 1965 and went on to become only the second person to win the race four times, taking the checkered flag in 1970, 1971, 1978, and 1987.

Person wearing face mask, helmet, and jumpsuit drives race car on dirt road with rocky slopes on either side
Bobby Unser racing up Pikes Peak, 1960. / THF217906

Even in a family of racing legends, Bobby Unser stood out. Following service in the Air Force, he made his own debut at Pikes Peak in 1955. He earned the overall victory there the following year, kicking off an incredible run of nine overall wins in 13 years. Altogether, Bobby Unser claimed 10 overall victories and 13 class wins at Pikes Peak between 1956 and 1986. It’s no wonder they called him “King of the Mountain.”

Bobby followed his older brothers to Indianapolis in 1963. His first years at the Brickyard weren’t promising—crashes took him out early in the 1963 and 1964 races, and during qualifying in 1965—but he earned a top-ten finish in 1966. Two years later, Unser won his first victory at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Despite a challenge from Andy Granatelli’s turbine cars, and his own car getting stuck in high gear, Bobby finished nearly a lap ahead of second place finisher Dan Gurney.

Man drinks from glass milk bottle in the midst of a crowd with a large trophy and men in beefeater hats nearby
Bobby Unser drinks the traditional bottle of milk following his first Indy 500 win, 1968. / THF140423

Unser and Gurney went from competitors to collaborators. Bobby joined Gurney’s All American Racers (AAR) as a driver and competed at Indy under the AAR banner through most of the 1970s. The capstone of their partnership came in 1975 when Unser once again became a reigning Indy 500 champion—or, more properly, a “raining” champion. Mother Nature put on the biggest show at the 1975 race. With 174 of the 200 laps down, the skies let loose with a torrential downpour. Visibility fell to nil, the track flooded, and cars spun left and right. Officials called the race early with Unser in the lead. The race may have been abbreviated, but it was enough to give Bobby his second win.

If Unser’s 1975 win was his most dramatic, then his third Indy 500 win, in 1981, was his most controversial. The final lap saw Bobby cross the finish line five seconds ahead of Mario Andretti. But Andretti and his teammates protested that Unser had passed cars illegally while under a caution flag earlier in the race. After a night of review and deliberation, race officials ruled in Andretti’s favor, penalizing Unser one position and giving Andretti the victory. Unser’s team appealed the ruling and, after months of further investigation, officials reinstated Bobby Unser’s win. The whole affair soured Unser’s love for racing, and he retired from IndyCar competition in 1983.

Man in suit and tie with NBC peacock logo on pocket looks at camera
Bobby Unser in his sportscasting days, 1985. / THF222929

Thirteen wins at Pikes Peak, or three wins at the Indianapolis 500, would be enough to put any driver on a list of all-time greats, but Bobby Unser had more achievements still. He earned USAC national championships in 1968 and 1974, and an IROC championship in 1975. Following his retirement, Bobby worked in broadcasting, providing commentary on auto races for ABC, NBC and ESPN.

From the 1990s on, Bobby Unser was lauded by almost every imaginable racing heritage organization and hall of fame. In 2008, he gifted his personal papers to The Henry Ford, giving us a rich record of his career and accomplishments. He also kindly loaned us the family’s 1956 Ford F-100 pickup and the 1958 Moore/Unser car in which he won Pikes Peak seven times. Both vehicles debuted in our new exhibit, Driven to Win: Racing in America, presented by General Motors, just weeks ago.

We share the grief of racing fans everywhere at the loss of a true giant. At the same time, we celebrate Bobby Unser’s many achievements on and off the track, and we feel honored to have a role in preserving a significant part of his legacy.

 

  • Hear Bobby Unser describe his career and accomplishments in his own words on our “Visionaries on Innovation” page here.
  • Explore the Bobby Unser Papers, in the Benson Ford Research Center, through the finding aid here, and browse digitized photographs and other artifacts from the collection here.
  • See highlights from The Henry Ford’s Bobby Unser Collection here.


Close-up of man's head and shoulders, wearing black shirt and smiling at camera
Bobby Unser, 2009. /
THF62889


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

in memoriam, by Matt Anderson, Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win, race car drivers, racing

Two-story brick building with sign on top

This photograph was taken some time between 1905 and 1911. Why? The sign in the front window of the storefront adjacent to the Wright Cycle Shop shows an undertaker’s business run by L.G. Keller. City of Dayton business directories of this period show Mr. Keller in business at 1127 West Third Street during this span of time. Clearly shown is the C .Webbert Block sign on top of the building and the Wright Cycle sign as well. Bicycle production and sales had ceased by 1905, but until 1909, airplanes and airplane engines were being built and partially assembled here. / THF236870

In 1903, the building that houses the Wright Cycle Shop and the undertakers’ establishment of Fetters & Shank was collectively known as the C. Webbert Block. The building was moved to and restored in Greenfield Village in 1937. It’s a very faithful representation of the two-story, two-storefront building that stood at 1125-1127 West Third Street in Dayton, Ohio, restored to appear as it did at the time of the Wright Brothers' first flight. There was one exception, though—the decoratively lettered sign that graced the top of the bracketed cornice spanning the front façade of the building was missing for over 100 years.

Charles Webbert, a relative by marriage to Charles Taylor, the Wright Brothers' mechanic, purchased the building in 1896. Mr. Webbert did an extensive addition to the front that created the double storefront we see in historic photographs. The Wright Brothers were his first tenants. Mr. Webbert was a plumbing supplier, a bicycle enthusiast, and, later, a great supporter of the brothers’ flying efforts. He was friends with Orville and Wilbur, and purchased and bartered both bicycles and bicycle repairs. Rent payments were dependent on what bicycle services were provided.

Between 1897 and 1916, the building saw a variety of uses by the Wright Brothers. Initially, the focus was on bicycles, including two lines of hand-built enameled finished bicycles, the Saint Clair and the Van Cleve. In the late 1890s, bicycles were a lucrative business and the proceeds from the Wrights' successful business became the funding source for everything that would eventually allow the Wright Brothers to fly.

Back view of man working at a table in what appears to be a workshop
Man Working at a Lathe in the Wright Cycle Shop, Dayton, Ohio, 1897 / THF236804

From 1899 until 1909, the building served as the brothers' first experimental laboratory and design studio, dedicated to creating that first flying machine. The first gliders, as well as the first Wright Flyer, were built in sections in the back machine shop, along with the gasoline engines that powered the first flight. For a time, the Wright Cycle Shop was one of the world’s first airplane factories. Following the sale of their first airplane to the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1908, Orville and Wilbur attracted the attention of New York investors and the Wright Company was formed in 1909. The airplane business quickly outgrew the space, and the assembly of airplanes consequently took place in a rented space in the Speedwell Motor Car Company while awaiting completion of a new factory building. The Wrights broke ground on this new facility on Home Road in Dayton in 1910.

After 1909, though manufacturing and final assembly moved elsewhere, the gasoline-powered engines continued to be machined and assembled in the Wright Cycle Shop. Both brothers also kept offices on the second floor, along with their company files and archives.

Following Wilbur’s death from typhoid fever in May of 1912, Orville took over as president of the company and ran the business alone. In 1915, he sold his interests and retired from the Wright Company. He continued to work on aviation design with his own firm but gave up the lease at the Cycle Shop in November of 1916, permanently moving to 15 North Broadway, a few blocks away.

Based on photographic evidence, the C. Webbert sign remained in place from 1897 until 1919, when significant structural changes took place. These included the addition of another bay and a third storefront, later to become 1123 West Third Street. Historic images show the building in its final iteration, as Henry Ford would have first seen it. By the time of the 1919 renovations, the building needed significant repairs, in part due to a huge flood that ravaged downtown Dayton and its neighborhoods in the spring of 1913. Water levels reached nearly to the second floor of the building. By this time, it’s very likely that the sign had deteriorated to the point where it was not practical to redesign it to fit with the new façade, and so it was likely removed.

Facade of two-story brick building with storefronts on ground floor and windows on second floor
This photograph of the vacant building taken in October of 1936 is part of a series taken after Henry Ford purchased the building from Charles Webber, in preparation for dismantling the building and shipping it to Dearborn, Michigan. Its reconstruction in Greenfield Village, without the C. Webbert sign, was completed in the Spring of 1938 with the dedication taking place on April 16, which would have been Wilbur Wright’s 71st birthday. / THF236872

Henry Ford purchased the building from Charles Webbert in 1936 with the understanding that it would be dismantled and moved to Dearborn, where it would be reconstructed in Greenfield Village. For reasons unknown, the sign was never added to the Wright Cycle Shop when it was restored in Greenfield Village in 1937. This is surprising, as it is such a significant architectural element. In 1991, another major restoration of the building took place in the Village, and again, the sign was not included in the project.

As they say, the third time’s the charm.

In 2018, research work began, focused on recreating the sign to more accurately represent the building’s appearance in 1903. In 2019, Mose Nowland, one of our talented conservation department volunteers, created detailed construction drawings based on high resolution scans of original photographs showing the sign still in place. Mose had only a few photographs, taken several years apart, to work with. True to form with his decades of experience, his finished drawings were works of art themselves, and brought to life the exquisite details included in what was the finial crest for the newly-designed façade of the building.

Man wearing plaid shirt holds drawing in front of large sign in workshop space
Mose Nowland poses with one of his detailed architectural drawings, which allowed the C. Webbert sign to come to life again after being missing for 100 years. / Photo by Jim Johnson

Using these wonderful drawings, combined with Mose’s sound advice and suggestions, Mike Zemney, one of our talented carpentry staff, began the construction of the sign. The sign was built in sections, with each decorative element individually hand-crafted, just as it would have been in 1897. Mike used a wide range of techniques and materials, with the ultimate goal of making the sign as weather-proof as possible, with a minimal amount of maintenance required. The sign is a combination of several kinds of water-resistant wood species, copper flashing, and cladding, all carefully sealed. The decorative elements are all three-dimensional, and the sign reaches nearly four feet high and over seven feet long, in perfect proportion to the height and width of the building.

Man in knit hat, khakis, and plaid shirt stands next to large sign in workshop space
Carpenter Mike Zemney with the nearly completed sign he built. In this photograph, the sign has been painted and dry fitted together, with final assembly, sealing, and final painting to take place once it was lifted up onto the building.

Using high-resolution versions of historic photographs, we carefully studied and analyzed these images to determine the color combination to use in painting the sign, along with the rest of the building. What appear to be different colors in some of the photos are actually shadows, as the photographs were taken a few years apart, at different times of the year, and at different times of the day. Based on our analysis, it appears that the building and the entire sign were monochromatic, painted all one color. This was not an uncommon practice for commercial and industrial buildings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The sign, therefore, was completely covered in many coats of a high-quality paint by Jeff Serwa, one of our dedicated painters.

There were great hopes of completing this project and having everything installed for the opening of Greenfield Village in April of 2020. As we all know, 2020 took a very different direction, and the actual installation of the sign was delayed.

However, I am very happy to announce that over 100 years later, the Wright Cycle Shop is now complete once again, proudly claiming its rightful place as part of the C. Webbert Block.

GIF cycling through several images of a forklift lifting a sign onto a building roof
The sign is lifted onto the top of the building.

GIF cycling through several images of people working with a sign on a rooftop
The sign is carefully installed and secured.

Building roof with large sign with decorative elements and text reading "BLOCK C. Webbert"
The C. Webbert Block sign atop Wright Cycle Shop in Greenfield Village.


Jim Johnson is Director of Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford. Special thanks to the staff and volunteers of The Henry Ford that made this project possible: Mose Nowland, Mary Fahey, Ben Kiehl, Dennis Morrison, Robert Smythe, Mike Zemney, and Jeff Serwa.

by Jim Johnson, research, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, making, Wright Brothers, Greenfield Village history, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, collections care

Car approaching banner marked "Finish Line" on dirt road with rocks on either side and steep dropoff on one side, mountains visible in background

Bobby Unser Crossing the Finish Line, Winner of the 1956 Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb Race / THF140569

King of the Mountain


What does it take to “race to the clouds”? Power, handling, endurance—and a spirit to conquer the summits of nature. Hill climbs were one of the very earliest forms of automobile competition. They test a car’s power and handling capabilities, and the car-control skills, focus, and endurance of the driver.

Today, there are many local amateur hill climbs, but the most famous one is the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado, which has been running since 1916. Its tortuous 12.42-mile course has 156 turns and rises from an elevation of 9,390 feet at the start to 14,115 feet at the finish. For good reason, it’s known as the race to the clouds. Bobby Unser is probably the best-known racer to conquer Pikes Peak. He won the overall event a record ten times—in 1956, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1968, and 1986—which earned him the title “King of the Mountain.”

1958 Moore/Unser Pikes Peak Hill Climb Car


Side view of red, blue, and white open cockpit race car with large "92" and other text on side
1958 Moore/Unser Pikes Peak Hill Climb Racing Car. On Loan from Bobby and Lisa Unser. / THF91311

Bobby Unser won seven of his ten Pikes Peak overall victories in this car, including five straight (1959–63), along with 1966 and 1968. In this section of our new racing exhibit, Driven to Win: Racing in America, presented by General Motors, you can "meet" Unser while he tells you what it took to win all those Pikes Peak races. Learn how he continually improved the car, making it lighter by modifying the frame and suspension and switching to an aluminum radiator, transmission case, and fuel tank.

Additional Artifacts


Silver vase-shaped trophy with text and pattern of grapes, and handles made out of antlers
THF104667

Beyond the Moore/Unser car, you can see these artifacts related to hill climb racing in Driven to Win.


Dig Deeper


Car rounding an uphill hairpin curve in a cloud of dust on a dirt road with mountains in the background
Frank Sanborn Driving Chevrolet Stock Car at Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb, Colorado Springs, Colorado, July 4, 1962 / THF246832

Learn more about hill climb racing with these additional resources from The Henry Ford.

cars, race cars, race car drivers, racing, Driven to Win, Henry Ford Museum

Detroit native Frederick Birkhill can recount numerous memories of his time at The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village as a child. He can remember riding his bike through the village, taking in all that its history and grounds offered. Truly enamored with Liberty Craftworks, he spent most of his time there, observing the artisans perfecting their crafts.

During one school field trip, his class observed employee Neils Carlson giving a glassblowing demonstration. From five feet away, the students watched Carlson pull and shape a hot, glowing blob into a graceful swan. This was the exact moment that Birkhill fell in love with glassmaking and knew he wanted to learn everything about it. After the demonstration, he bought one of the glass swans for his mother and studied it whenever he could.

Black and white image of young boy sitting on chair looking at camera on a strap around his neck
Frederick as a child with a camera, circa 1959. / Photo by Dr. F. Ross Birkhill, courtesy Frederick Birkhill

Few people can pinpoint the place where they found their passion. Frederick Birkhill can. Anyone who comes to The Henry Ford can find something that excites them and sparks their future passions. That single experience in the Glass Shop stuck with Birkhill and led him on a path to a very successful career as an artist. Because of Neils Carlson, Birkhill's thirst for knowledge took off, leading him to study in England, elsewhere in Europe, and at what is now the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

In the early years of his career, Birkhill was an employee of Greenfield Village and worked in the Tintype Studio. During his tenure, he was able to study and learn about glassblowing, stained glass, photography, daguerreotypes, and tintypes from various artisans around Liberty Craftworks and metro Detroit. At the time, The Henry Ford was one of the only places in the United States where one could learn about tintype photography and other specialized crafts. Birkhill created some of his first daguerreotype photos of scenes at The Henry Ford. One of those early daguerreotypes of Greenfield Village's Farris Windmill was later acquired by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Black-and-white image of windmill in frame"The Windmill at Greenfield Village, 1972,” daguerreotype created by Frederick Birkhill, in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History / Photo courtesy Frederick Birkhill  

In addition to learning about different media during his time working in the village, Birkhill was able to use his skills and artistry to teach an array of subjects at The Henry Ford, including classes he developed on the history of glass and stained glass.

Birkhill also collaborated with David Grant Maul, another former employee. Birkhill acquired a special tool from Maul that allowed him to hold hot glass so he could effectively complete flame-worked glass objects. This tool was the catalyst for a successful career in flame-worked glass and furnace glass. Our Glass Shop includes a furnace that allowed Birkhill to learn both specialties.

Frederick Birkhill is a renowned artist, inventor, educator, and historian whose international career continues to this day. His work can be seen at the Corning Museum of Glass, Museum of Arts and Design, Detroit Institute of Arts, the Mint Museum, the Smithsonian, and the Stamelos Gallery Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, as well as in private collections around the world. Never once has Birkhill forgotten the place that sparked his curiosity and put his ideas into motion—The Henry Ford.

Man in workshop holds glass in a flame, seen in a reflection in a mirror on the wallFrederick Birkhill flameworking in his studio. / Photo by Henry Leutwyler, courtesy Frederick Birkhill

Now, after several decades as a glass artist, an artist's monograph, Glassworks: The Art of Frederick Birkhill, has been published by The Artist Book Foundation. An extensive colorplate section includes the lavish photography of Henry Leutwyler, showcasing Birkhill's work in complex detail as well as his artistic mastery of glass. A copy now resides in The Henry Ford's Benson Ford Research Center. We are honored to have Frederick and his wife, Jeannie, as friends of The Henry Ford.


Caroline Heise is Annual Fund Specialist at The Henry Ford.

Greenfield Village buildings, The Henry Ford Effect, photography, Michigan, making, Greenfield Village, glass, education, Detroit, by Caroline Heise, books, art

Silver dish with handles, containing green sauce, sitting on butcher block

A Taste of History in Greenfield Village offers our visitors seasonal, locally sourced and historically minded recipes. Over the past year, our chefs have been developing some new recipes, directly drawn from the recipes of George Washington Carver and the ingredients that he used. You can learn more about the inspiration behind the new options both in A Taste of History and in Plum Market Kitchen in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in our blog post here, or try out some of the recipes for yourself—like this Tomato Chili Sauce.

Chef’s Notes


There are many other sauces that Carver has recipes for in his published papers, but we chose the green Tomato Chili Sauce because it uniquely balances the sweet maple flavor of the Brined and Roasted Chicken (link below) with just enough spice to make it dance on your palette. You can make the sauce ahead of time and reheat when you are ready to eat.

Recipe: Tomato Chili Sauce


Makes 8 Portions


Ingredients

1 lb Fresh Green Tomatoes

3 oz Jalapeno Peppers

3 oz White Onion

1 oz Granulated Sugar

½ C Vinegar

1 Tbs Salt

¼ tsp Pepper  


Procedure

  1. Peel tomatoes by placing in boiling water for 1 minute, shock by placing in ice water, and then peel skins.
  2. Slice jalapenos in half lengthwise and remove seeds and piths. Reserve seeds for later.
  3. Dice tomatoes, jalapenos, and onions and combine in small saucepan with all ingredients.
  4. Bring to a simmer, allow to simmer for 1-2 hours, and then puree.
  5. Adjust seasoning as necessary with salt, pepper, sugar, and jalapeno seeds. The spice level should be a medium, balanced heat.
  6. Serve with Brined and Roasted Chicken.



Whether you make it for yourself at home, or pay a visit to A Taste of History in Greenfield Village to let us make it for you, let us know what you think!


Eric Schilbe is Executive Sous Chef at The Henry Ford.

George Washington Carver, restaurants, recipes, making, Greenfield Village, food, by Eric Schilbe

Large glass case with large label "Sports," other smaller labels, and four mannequins wearing various clothing

A new group of garments from The Henry Ford’s rich collection of clothing and accessories has made its debut in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in our What We Wore exhibit. With spring here and summer on the horizon, this time it’s a look at garments Americans wore as they delighted in the “sporting life” in their leisure time.

By the 20th century, recreational sports were an increasingly popular way to get exercise while having fun. Most Americans lived in cities rather than on farms—and lifestyles had become less physically active. Many people viewed sports as a necessity—an outlet from the pressures of modern life in an urban society.

Bicycling


The easy-to-ride safety bicycle turned cycling into a national obsession in the 1890s. At the peak in 1896, four million people cycled for exercise and pleasure. Most importantly, a bicycle meant the freedom to go where you pleased—around town or in the countryside.

Women found bicycling especially liberating—it offered far greater independence than they had previously experienced. Clothing for women became less restrictive while still offering modesty. Cycling apparel might include a tailored jacket, very wide trousers gathered above the ankles, stockings, and boots. Specially designed cycling suits with divided skirts also became popular.

Mannequin wearing blue outfit with puffy bloomers, jacket with four button placket, large gloves, and a straw hat
Women's cycling suit, 1895-1900 / THF133355

Black bicycle
Columbia Model 60 Women's Safety Bicycle, 1898. Gift of Mr. & Mrs. H. Benjamin Robison. / THF108117

Page with drawing of three people on bicycles, map, text
This 1895 poster for bicycle road maps offered a pleasant route for cyclists north of New York City. / THF207603

Two women in dresses and two men in suits, each standing next to a bicycle
Young men and women enjoy cycling and socializing in Waterville, Ohio about 1895. Gift of Thomas Russell. / THF201329

Baseball


Baseball has long been a popular pastime—countless teams sprang up in communities all over America after the Civil War. During the early 20th century, as cities expanded, workplace teams also increased in popularity. Companies sponsored these teams to promote fitness and encourage “team spirit” among their employees. Company teams were also good “advertising.”

Harry B. Mosley of Detroit wore this uniform when he played for a team sponsored by the Lincoln Motor Company about 1920. Of course, uniforms weren’t essential—many players enjoyed the sport while dressed in their everyday clothing.

Mannequin wearing striped baseball uniform (shirt, pants, stockings, cleats, and cap)
Baseball uniform (shirt, pants, stockings, cleats, and cap), about 1920, worn by Harry B. Mosley of Detroit, Michigan. / THF186743

Black-and-white image of baseball glove
Black-and-white image of wooden baseball bat
Baseball glove and bat, about 1920, used by Harry B. Mosley of Detroit, Michigan. /
THF121995 and THF131216

Group of nine men wearing baseball uniforms, some sitting and some standing, some with bats
The H.J. Heinz Company baseball team about 1907. Gift of H.J. Heinz Company. / THF292401

People, many or all African American, play baseball on a field while others look on
Residents of Inkster, Michigan, enjoy a game of baseball at a July 4th community celebration in 1940. Gift of Ford Motor Company. / THF147620  

Golf


The game of golf boomed in the United States during the 1920s, flourishing on the outskirts of towns at hundreds of country clubs and public golf courses. By 1939, an estimated 8 million people—mostly the wealthy—played golf. It provided exercise—and for some, an opportunity to build professional or business networks.

When women golfed during the 1940s, they did not wear a specific kind of outfit. Often, women golfers would wear a skirt designed for active endeavors, paired with a blouse and pullover sweater. Catherine Roddis of Marshfield, Wisconsin, likely wore this sporty dress for golf, along with the stylish cape, donned once she had finished her game.

White dress with hip-length green-and-pink checked cape over it
Dress and cape, 1940–1945, worn by Catherine Prindle Roddis, Marshfield, Wisconsin. Gift in Memory of Augusta Denton Roddis. / THF162615

Golf clubs lying next to red plaid golf bag and brown leather bag cover
Golf Clubs, about 1955. Gift of David & Barbara Shafer. / THF186328

Woman in skirt and jacket bends over to putt a golf ball with hole marked with flag nearby
Woman putts on a golf course near San Antonio, Texas, 1947. / THF621989

Postcard of open wooden building with green roof, with people sitting and standing on porch; also contains text
Clubhouse at the public Waukesha Golf Club on Moor Bath Links, Waukesha, Wisconsin, 1948–1956. Gift of Charles H. Brown and Patrick Pehoski. / THF622612

Swimming


Swimming had become a popular sport by the 1920s—swimmers could be found at public beaches, public swimming pools, and resorts. In the 1950s, postwar economic prosperity brought even more opportunities for swimming. Americans could enjoy a dip in the growing number of pools found at public parks, motels, and in suburban backyards. Pool parties were popular—casual entertaining was in.

For men, cabana sets with matching swim trunks and sports shirts—for “pool, patio, or beach”—were stylish. The 1950s were a conservative era. The cover-up shirt maintained a modest appearance—while bright colors and patterns let men express their individuality.

Red shirt and shorts featuring blue and green squares filled with various patterns
Cabana set with short-sleeved shirt and swim trunks, 1955. Gift of American Textile History Museum. / THF186127

Advertisement with text and image of woman in blue swimsuit with her arms around man in matching shirt and trunks
Advertisement for Catalina’s swimsuits—including cabana sets for men, 1955. / THF623631

Advertisement with illustration of people in and by swimming pool; also contains text
In the years following World War II, the number of public and private swimming pools increased dramatically. Shown here in this June 1946 Life magazine advertisement, pool parties were popular. / THF622575

L-shaped low brick building bordering grassy area containing swimming pool with people in and around it
Swimming pool at Holiday Inn of Daytona Beach, Florida, 1961. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Moores. / THF104037


Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Sophia Kloc, Office Administrator for Historical Resources at The Henry Ford, for editorial preparation assistance with this post.

home life, by Jeanine Head Miller, popular culture, bicycles, baseball, What We Wore, sports, Henry Ford Museum, fashion