Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

thf163072
Microscope Used by George Washington Carver, circa 1900 / THF163072

This microscope, reputedly used by agricultural scientist George Washington Carver during his tenure at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, offers us a closer look at Black empowerment through Black education.

It took training to run educational laboratories, and administrators at Black schools sought qualified faculty to do the job. Booker T. Washington, principal at the private, historically Black Tuskegee Institute, recruited Carver as the one person who could build an agricultural research program comparable to the ones available to whites through other public land-grant institutions. Carver was qualified, having earned a master’s degree in agricultural science in 1896, the first Black American to do so.

Austin W. Curtis, Jr., who assisted Carver in his laboratory between 1935 and Carver’s death in 1943, donated and affirmed Carver's use of this microscope. Through it (and other scientific instruments), Carver documented the molecular structure of organic matter—the plants, fungi, bacteria, soils, and sedimentary material of Alabama and beyond. He translated his findings into how-to pamphlets, sharing strategies that Black families in the South could use to improve their own health and the health of their soils. Carver’s pamphlets also introduced hundreds of new uses for plant-based materials, ranging from livestock feed and medicines to pigments and synthetic polymers.

The highest level of learning requires analysis of original research. This microscope supported that cause while in use at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, and it continues to help us focus on Black history.

You can see Carver's microscope for yourself in the Agriculture: Innovations in Farming exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.


This post was adapted from a stop on our forthcoming “Stories of Black Empowerment” tour of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in the THF Connect app, written by Debra A. Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford. To learn more about or download the THF Connect app, click here.

by Debra A. Reid, education, agriculture, George Washington Carver, African American history, THF Connect app

Winter weather means winter sports and activities: skiing, ice racing, ice boating, sledding, ice hockey, and even snowball fights. Throughout the archival collections in The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center, images, brochures, pamphlets, and books shed light on the various activities people participate in during the cold months of the year. Below are some of the highlights from January’s virtual History Outside the Box, which was featured on The Henry Ford’s Instagram and Facebook Stories.

Street scene looking down sidewalk lined with a row of delicate snow-covered trees on either side; houses in a row down one side
Winter morning at the corner of Canfield Avenue and Second Avenue in Detroit, Michigan, circa 1905 / THF110432

Grayling, Michigan, became a winter sports destination in the 1920s and 1930s, with toboggan runs, a hockey rink, and a ski jump dotting the landscape. A yearly carnival was held, with the crowning of a winter Sports Queen. This image shows the 1939 Winter Sports Queen, holding snowshoes, standing next to a Mercury V-8.

Woman, holding two snowshoes, stands next to a car with a snowy hill (perhaps a ski slope) in the background and a long low wooden building to one side
Grayling Winter Sports Queen with Mercury V-8, January 1939 / THF271673

Skiing, and ski jumping, have been popular in Iron Mountain, Michigan, for over 100 years.

People on steep, snow-covered ski slope, with crowds on either side and more crowds and a car in the foreground
8th Annual Kiwanis Ski Club Tournament, Iron Mountain, Michigan, February 1941 / THF272300

Ice skating has been a popular wintertime activity for over 150 years. And yes, even Henry Ford would get in on the fun.

Man in cardigan with collar turned up, hat, knickers, and ice skates, on ice with trees and buildings in background
Henry Ford ice skating, 1918 / THF97906

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Michigan, History Outside the Box, photographs, archives, sports, winter, by Janice Unger

Three women of color standing and sitting around a table containing canned, boxed, and bagged food items
June Sears, Rosemary Dishman, and Dorothy Ford Discussing Women's Nutrition, May 1970 / THF620081

A food soldier is a person who fights for something many of us take for granted: widespread, consistent access to good nutrition. George Washington Carver can be described in this way and is familiar to us at The Henry Ford for his work with the peanut—and his friendship with our founder. Carver’s impact went deeper, including dozens of agricultural pamphlets designed to convey scientific farming methods to rural Black Americans. Food Soldiers: Nutrition and Race Activism, a new pop-up exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, looks at these pamphlets as a starting point for a topic with a consequential history in the 20th and 21st centuries. From our partners at Focus:HOPE to our Entrepreneur in Residence, Melvin Parson, this exhibit celebrates those who have made it their life’s work to ensure that everyone has the ability to meet this most basic of necessities.

Food Soldiers connects with Black History Month (February) as well as Women’s History Month and Nutrition Month (March). The exhibit is an on-site component to a larger initiative that includes digital and virtual elements. Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment, will build upon the themes in her blog post Healthy Food to Build Healthy Communities with one on Food Soldiers in coming weeks. You can also look forward to a live Twitter chat on the topic this month.

Food Soldiers is located near the 1930s kitchen in the museum and will be on view through March 31.

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agriculture, George Washington Carver, events, Henry Ford Museum, by Kate Morland, food, women's history, African American history

Man standing at what appears to be a white wooden beehives, with other similar beehives around him and a building in the background
Detail,
THF278671

An Introduction


Bees—one short name for about 20,000 species of flying insects classified into seven families. All live within social communities that depend on strict work routines; all seek the same food sources (pollen and nectar); and all process their harvest and preserve it in hives built in the ground, in hollow trees, or in human-designed apiaries.

Bees help plants reproduce by facilitating pollination as they search for pollen and nectar to feed themselves and their young. This relationship has long served plants well—DNA research confirms that bees coexisted with flowering plants from their beginning 130 million years ago.

Bees and humans have a much shorter, but more emotional, relationship. As pollinators, bees provide a critical link between humans and their food source: plants. Over millennia, humans domesticated one species of bee, native to Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa, to satisfy their needs—Apis mellifera, the Western or European honeybee. As Europeans colonized North America, they imported honeybees and the crops that honeybees pollinated from the bees’ native ecosystems.

Page with illustrations of bees and text
Illustrations of Apis mellifera, the Western or European honeybee / THF621311

Humans clustered hives of honeybees around orchards, grape arbors, and other areas of intense flowering-plant cultivation to ensure pollination. From the hives, they harvested honey—a natural sweetener that required little processing. The hives also produced honey, pollen, and bee venom, which had medicinal value. Beeswax was used to seal containers, produce candles, and create art. And queens from the hives propagated even more honeybees.

Illustration of small building with five-sided fence around yard and multiple structures holding vines in yard
Group of beehives (apiary) designed for pollinating a grape arbor / THF621283

The Honeybee Hunt


Historically, honey-seeking humans learned to identify the location of an existing hive, usually in a hollow tree trunk. Some “baited” bees by setting out a little honey to attract a bee and following it back to its hive. This involved “lining” a bee—watching until it flew out of sight, moving closer to that location, waiting to see another bee in flight, and repeating the process. In short increments, this led honey-seekers to hives.

To secure their “own” honey supply and facilitate pollination of crops, humans sometimes moved existing hives closer to their gardens, orchards, and clover fields. They also hunted bee swarms. When a colony becomes too large, a queen will “hive off,” leaving with a portion of the hive’s population. (In the meantime, the remaining bees create a new queen to lead the original hive.) The departing bees swarm together near their former home, lingering only temporarily as scout bees search for a new nesting site. The reward for aspiring beekeepers who successfully encourage a swarm to take up residence in a hive of their own choosing is sweet.

Drawing of man with saw on pole sawing a tree limb with a beehive hanging from it
Aspiring beekeepers lured swarms or moved existing hives closer to their crops and kitchens. / THF621285

Housing Honeybees


Beekeepers first mimicked nature, luring swarms of bees into hollow logs much like the tree trunks they’d abandoned. Before long, humans devised prefabricated housing to keep pollinators close to gardens, orchards, and clover fields, and to keep honey close to the kitchen table. These hives, often grouped together in apiaries, took many forms, from simple boxes to highly decorated contrivances.

Wooden stump with rough wooden lid on top
Roughly rectangular wooden box with wooden lid on top
Yellow, drum-shaped form painted with text and decorations, on wooden stool with three legs
Manmade beehives ranged from hollow logs to simple boxes to complex, highly decorated inventions. /
THF177143, THF172336, and THF172095

Some beekeepers made bee “skeps,” hives made of coiled rye straw held in place with a wooden splint, to house bees and protect honey stores. Skeps held real meaning for those who relied on them to house bees and protect honey stores. But bee skeps also took on symbolic meaning rooted in religious associations with worker bees and the biblical beekeeper, Deborah. Over time, skeps came to represent the industry of a productive household and the dependability of workers. Utah, known as “The Beehive State,” even adopted the coiled beehive as its official state symbol.

Woven structure with cylindrical bottom topped with a dome
Some farm families made inexpensive skeps to house bees and protect honey stores. / THF177141

Gold coin with text and illustration of two women in classical robes with other items around them
Medals awarded at the 1882 Cincinnati Industrial Exposition featured a bee skep (at bottom), symbolizing industry. / THF154061

During the mid-19th century, the U.S. Patent Office issued numerous patents for improved beehives. Arguably the most important went to Philadelphia pastor Lorenzo L. Langstroth in 1852 for his “Improved Mode of Constructing Beehives.” Langstroth's enduring contribution to beekeeping came through careful observation. He determined that bees naturally left a space of 3/8” between honeycombs (constructed within the hive to house larvae, honey, and pollen). Langstroth designed a beehive with 3/8” spacing (later coined the “bee space”) between the frames, sides, and bottom. This improved access, allowing beekeepers to remove and replace frames of honeycomb without harming bees, and more easily inspect for bee moth infestation, which could seriously damage a hive. The hive Langstroth devised, along with the guide he first published in 1853, revolutionized beekeeping, and Langstroth-style beehives remain standard today.

Portrait of man wearing glasses, suit, and clerical collar
Lorenzo L. Langstroth’s careful observation of honeybees led to a revolutionary beehive design. / detail, THF621310

Birdhouse-shaped box made out of wooden planks
Careful spacing within Langstroth-style hives improved access for beekeepers and helped protect the bees. / THF172338

In Defense of Native Bees


Because they did not evolve in tandem with native plants, honeybees are not the best pollinators for all crops grown in North America. They seek nectar more than pollen to produce honey, and many plant blossoms do not produce enough nectar to mobilize honeybees. Native bees and other flying insects find blossoms of native plants—including tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, avocadoes, and cranberries—more appealing than do honeybees, and they do a better job of moving pollen from blossom to blossom, ensuring fertilization. As a consequence, many market-garden and truck-farm crops (cabbage, carrots, squash, and melons), berries (strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries), and orchard crops (apples, pears, peaches, and plums) depend on native bees and other pollinators, even as honeybees play their role. All also pollinate crops that livestock eat (buckwheat and clover) and crops that produce fibers we use to make cloth (cotton and flax).

Colorful illustration of yellow pears and rows of trees with mountains in the background, also contains text
Native bees pollinate many food crops, including orchard fruits like pears. / THF293065

Vegetables, fruits, and other agricultural products result from the intimate relationships, millions of years in the making, between bees and the plants they pollinate. When colonists imported honeybees to North America, they introduced direct competition to different genera and species like squash bees, bumblebees, and solitary bees. Even today, humans’ special treatment of honeybees puts native bees at a disadvantage. As the disrupters of natural relationships, humans bear responsibility for creating a balance between honeybees and native species that are too often neglected in popular conversations. While we depend on honeybees for our honey supply, we depend on all pollinators to sustain our food system. To learn more, explore the U.S. Geological Survey’s documentation of native bees at the Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab, check out this excerpt from Dave Goulson’s “A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees,” or browse beekeeping-related artifacts in The Henry Ford’s Digital Collections.


This post was adapted by Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content, from several write-ups on bees and beekeeping by Debra A. Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.

agriculture, nature, by Saige Jedele, by Debra A. Reid

The Henry Ford acquires a poster portfolio as a way to document one of the largest protest movements in U.S. history

GIF with multiple images of posters with a few large bold words each
About half of the Signal-Return solidarity posters acquired by The Henry Ford.

Justice Can’t Wait,” “Make Good Trouble,” “No Justice No Peace.” These are just a few of the messages that appear in a collection of letterpress posters recently acquired from Signal-Return printshop by The Henry Ford. In the history of well-designed posters, brevity of words and a strong visual impact work together to communicate messages at a glance. Boldly capitalized, imprinted in flat black ink on brown or white chipboard by the embossing strike of a printing press—these posters are meant to generate a feeling of urgency.

In early June 2020, Detroit’s nonprofit letterpress organization Signal-Return responded to the civil unrest sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others by producing free protest posters. The project was undertaken in solidarity with the principles behind the Black Lives Matter movement, with the intent that the posters would be carried by supporters in protests.

GIF with multiple images of posters with a few large bold words each
The remainder of the Signal-Return solidarity posters acquired by The Henry Ford.

Using social media to spread the word about their project, Signal-Return offered to create small batches of custom posters for the metro Detroit community, free of charge. As stated in their announcement, “The printing press has been, since its invention, a powerful tool of protest and an agent of change. Let us provide posters to aid in this effort.” Each recipient was asked to submit a concise five-word message through an online form. A few days later, the posters were ready for pickup “social distance style” across the roped-off front entry of the printshop. Many of these posters were visible throughout Detroit in the summer of 2020 at protests and taped to store windows, streetlight poles and freeway overpasses.

Storefront in brick building with posters hanging in windows and a table with bins of posters in front
Signal-Return Letterpress Shop, Detroit, Michigan, June 2020 / THF610910

By September 2020, Signal-Return’s director, Lynne Avadenka, counted a total of 168 individual requests. Some requests repeated popular protest language of the day, while others were entirely unique and personal. Thanks to Signal-Return’s donation, The Henry Ford has acquired a portfolio of 44 examples as a way to document one of the largest protest movements in the history of the United States. The method by which they were acquired—called “rapid response collecting” by museum professionals—allows museums to collect stories of current events and major moments in history as they unfold.


Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology at The Henry Ford. This story was originally published in the January–May 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine, available on Issuu.

The Henry Ford Magazine, Michigan, Detroit, communication, posters, by Kristen Gallerneaux, African American history, printing

thf185489

Stone Cold Systems Ice-Less Vaccine Refrigerator, 2018 / THF185488

People might think that curators look at objects in the same way. In fact, every curator at The Henry Ford has a different background and range of expertise, and we interpret things through a varied set of lenses.

Take, for example, an artifact in The Henry Ford’s collection that is related to a top-of-mind subject right now—vaccines. We were asked to offer two interpretations of the Stone Cold Systems Ice-less Vaccine Refrigerator, a 2018 IDSA (Industrial Design Society of America) winner (you can find out more about The Henry Ford’s relationship with IDSA here). Here are our thoughts.

Katherine White, Associate Curator, Digital Content:

At its best, design solves problems. Good designers are problem solvers, creatively working through a problem’s constraints towards a competent solution. When I first became familiar with this artifact, the Stone Cold Systems Ice-Less Vaccine Refrigerator, I was taken with its functionality and potential for social impact, all wrapped in a sleek case. This vaccine refrigerator, built within a siren-red carrying cage, aims to improve vaccine distribution to hard-to-reach locations.

The invention of vaccines has had an incredibly positive impact on global health. The World Health Organization estimates that 2–3 million deaths globally are avoided due to immunizations each year. But, perhaps surprisingly, vaccines can be fragile. They often need to be kept at a stable temperature (usually cold) without exposure to light or significant environmental fluctuation. The efficacy of the vaccine could be compromised should these factors not be met. The journey from the scientist’s laboratory to the arm of someone in New York City is a long one—and an even longer journey should that someone live in a rural area or developing country.

Page with illustrations and text
Stone Cold Systems Ice-Less Vaccine Refrigerator Quick Start Guide / THF621440

This vaccine refrigerator aims to increase access to immunizations, regardless of where one calls home. It utilizes a more reliable iceless thermoelectric cooling technology and is rechargeable by multiple methods, including solar energy, so can be used anywhere. Although developed prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic, its future in fighting the pandemic is clear.

The late design critic Ralph Caplan is noted as saying that “design is a process of making things right.” Creation of a product which facilitates access to effective immunizations for all people—even far from a modern hospital building—is certainly one way to make things right.

Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life:

This vaccine refrigerator immediately brought to mind the recent research I’ve been doing on Dr. Alonson Bingley Howard, a 19th-century country doctor whose office is now located in Greenfield Village. At the time Dr. Howard was practicing medicine (1855–83), people didn’t understand the nature of germs and contagion, or that diseases were transmitted this way. As a result, infectious diseases—like cholera, tetanus, yellow fever (or malaria), measles, dysentery, scrofula, and typhoid—were the leading causes of death at the time. These often reached epidemic proportions and people constantly feared that they, or members of their families, might contract them. But, without knowledge of what caused and spread disease, or modern pharmaceuticals (including vaccines), safe drinking water, and improved sanitation facilities, 19th-century country doctors constantly fought an uphill battle.

How relevant this is, I thought, to our lives today—to the COVID-19 pandemic; to people fearing they or members of their family might contract the virus; to our current knowledge of germs and our understanding that washing our hands, cleaning surfaces, and wearing masks reduces their spread; and to our hopes for combatting this disease through the application of successful vaccines.

White cooler with red x-shaped frame, open door, and accessories packed inside
Stone Cold Systems Ice-Less Vaccine Refrigerator, alternate view / THF185489

What about those deadly infectious diseases of the 19th century that Dr. Howard was attempting to treat, like cholera, yellow fever, and typhoid? One might assume they have disappeared—but they haven’t. Many of them still exist, especially in developing countries that have limited-to-no access to modern medical treatments, sanitation facilities, and vaccines. This refrigerator was, in fact, designed to hold vaccines where there is no electricity—in these very countries.


Katherine White is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. Donna Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

design, COVID 19 impact, by Donna R. Braden, by Katherine White, healthcare

If we were taking a vote on the most overused word of 2020, my ballot would go to “unprecedented.” And yet it was indeed an unprecedented year, bringing us widespread social justice protests, an especially contentious presidential election, and, of course, a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

For the past several years (2017, 2018, and 2019), we’ve compiled lists of the most-viewed artifacts in our Digital Collections. Every year, there are differences between the lists, but there’s also always a lot of overlap. Given the extraordinary nature of this year, I was especially curious about what the 2020 list would look like.

Metal collar with three tall prongs extending upward and outward; lock nearby
Slave Collar, circa 1860 / THF13425

About two-thirds of the list matches the top artifacts of 2019, but 17 artifacts are new to this year’s list. Two of those—a slave collar and a “whites only” drinking fountain—made it into the top ten. We know the slave collar was linked to from an online article earlier this year related to George Floyd’s death, and suspect people are interested in the segregated fountain (and the Mattox Home, also new to the list) for a similar reason—to increase their understanding of the history of race in America. (If you are interested in exploring this topic further, I’d recommend a visit to an African American history museum—for example, Detroit’s own Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History or the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture—and to With Liberty and Justice for All in Henry Ford Museum, where you can see both the collar and the fountain, along with the Rosa Parks Bus.)

Shiny red shoes with a strap that would fall just in front of the ankle; blue shoebox next to them
Red Mary Janes, 1960-1970 / THF65272

On a very different note, several pairs of shoes and a number of cars (including presidential vehicles used by Dwight D. Eisenhower and Franklin D. Roosevelt) were new to this year’s list. If you visited us during 2020, you might have encountered COVID-19 precautionary “social distancing” floor markers in the Museum where lines were likely to form. These markers contained shoes, cars, or other highlights from our collections, along with QR codes, so that visitors could learn more about our artifacts while they waited. We were pleased to see that thousands of you did indeed use the QR codes to check these out!

If you’d like to explore the other top artifacts of 2020—or to find out what the most popular object of the year was—check out the full list in this Expert Set.


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

by Ellice Engdahl, COVID 19 impact, African American history, digital collections

Tintypes

January 5, 2021 Archive Insight

Nowadays, we take photos what seems like, well—constantly. Let’s head back to an era when photographs were rare, and an affordable form of photography first made Its debut. Tintypes, the popular “instant photographs” of the 19th century, could be produced in a matter of minutes at a price most people could afford.

Man holding child wrapped in plaid shawl or blanket
Silas McConnell, a Cortland County, New York, general storekeeper, with his daughter Louise, about 1875. / THF278362

Beginning in the mid-1850s, tintypes gave more people than ever before the chance to have a real likeness of themselves—capturing unique glimpses of how everyday Americans looked and lived. Tintypes democratized photography.

Group of people sitting and standing, posed for a portrait
Koohns family of Perry County, Indiana, about 1890. / THF289961

There is no tin in a tintype. A tintype is a photograph made on a thin, black-painted sheet of iron. The thin metal of the iron plate probably reminded people of tin, leading to the popular name tintype.

Sitting child in plaid dress
Young boy, 1860 - 1870. / THF126296

A tintype is a reverse image of the person or scene that was taken directly from the camera. (Notice the reversed lettering on the bakery wagon below.) It looks like a positive print because of the dark color of the metal plate it is on.

White mat with oval image of man with horse and wagon
L. Hamberger's Bakery Wagon, about 1880. / THF278482

Having your photograph taken was considered an event. People got dressed up and went to the tintype studio in their city or town to have their portrait made.

Seated woman and standing little girl, both in elaborate dresses, in front of a painted backdrop with logs as props
Mother and daughter in front of a painted backdrop, about 1885. / THF278436

What was a tintype photo studio like? Greenfield Village’s will give you an idea. Built in 1929, it’s designed to look like a small tintype photographic studio from the 1870s and 1880s. A tintype studio had many windows to provide maximum light for the photographer. A studio was equipped with cameras, equipment to develop the photographs, backdrops, and posing chairs.

Small wood building with doors in front and side, one window in the front, and a chimney
Room with photographer at camera pointed at four women posing; woodstove in foreground and images on walls
Tintype studio in Greenfield Village. / THF151617, THF122780

Most tintypes were studio portraits of one or two people. Photographers often posed couples with the husband seated and the wife standing by his side.

Black woman standing by a chair in front of a backdrop, wearing an elaborate dress and holding a parasol
Woman holding a parasol, about 1878. / THF327828

Woman with bangs wearing elaborate ensemble, standing with hand on shoulder of seated man wearing a suit
Husband and wife, about 1885. / THF278380

People didn’t smile in early photographs—their expressions were more serious and formal. Early photography was heavily influenced by pre-photographic portraiture—people hadn’t grinned when having their likenesses drawn or painted, either. Having one’s image made was important occasion—it called for a more timeless expression.

Torso and head of a man with a beard wearing a suit, in an oval frame
Unidentified man, 1870-1880. / THF277876

As direct images, tintypes did not produce photographic negatives from which multiple copies of an image could be made. But tintype cameras could be fitted with multiple lenses, allowing several copies of the same tintype image to be produced at one time on a single sheet of iron. When multiple copies were made on a single sheet of iron, the images could be separated with a pair of tin snips and given to family and friends.

Large wood box camera, with accordion-folds in center
Tintype camera, used in Harry Patmore's Photographic Studio in Wyandotte, Michigan about 1882. / THF161617

Two images of seated boy wearing white shirt and plaid bow at neck
Multiple images of a young boy probably taken in A.G. Metzger's photographic studio in Harleysville, Pennsylvania about 1895. / THF278490

In the early days of photography, the sitter needed to remain motionless. Any movement would result in a blurred area and an unusable image. A headrest cradled the head and kept it still during the exposure (probably about 10 seconds). As photographic equipment and processes improved, less exposure time was needed and headrests became obsolete. Photo studios also had special chairs with head braces to keep the head from moving.

Green and gold metal stand with rounded gold metal piece at top
Photographer’s headrest, used in Harry Patmore's Photographic Studio in Wyandotte, Michigan about 1882. / THF161050

Photographing infants and toddlers could be challenging. Some images show the mother’s hand, covered by a shawl, helping to steady and soothe the infant “off camera”—her arm would be covered by a decorative mat. If a child moved during the exposure, the image would turn out blurry. The tintype for the baby below turned out nicely—nestled into a chair, it was not in danger of tumbling over!

Image of baby in long gown
Photograph of an infant, probably taken in Indiana about 1865. / THF243420

The child in the tintype image below has been dressed in her best, bedecked with a necklace, and had her hair curled. Like this young girl, children were often photographed with toys—their own or perhaps studio props. Unlike today, having your child’s photograph taken was not a frequent event. For kids from families of modest means, just one photograph might be taken during childhood.

Girl in necklace and dress sitting by a table covered with a tablecloth with toys on top
Girl seated at a table with her toys, about 1870. / THF278444

Some tintype customers—like this family—wanted their images enhanced with color. For an additional charge, red might be applied to give cheeks a rosy hue. Gold paint emphasized jewelry, buttons, or buckles.

Two women sitting on either side of a seated man
Portrait of a family, with accessories accented with gold paint, 1860-1870. / THF277866

Tintypes—inexpensive and durable—proved to be of special value in the 1860 presidential campaign, when small tintype images of Abraham Lincoln (Republican candidate) and Stephen Douglas (Democrat candidate) decorated tokens, medals, and campaign pins. The use of photography in political campaigns was still unusual at the time—most campaign buttons did not yet include photographic images of the candidates.

Round gold token with image of man’s shoulders and head in the middle and text “Abraham Lincoln 1860” around edge
Round gold token with image of man’s shoulders and head in the middle and text “Stephen Douglas 1860” around edge
Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas presidential campaign tokens, 1860. / THF101182, THF128085

During the Civil War, many soldiers had their photographs taken in uniform—either at a studio before leaving home or in the field by photographers who followed the army. Quickly made, inexpensive and sturdy, tintypes could be left with loved ones or slipped inside a letter and sent through the mail. These images often captured a soldier’s pride in serving his country—and helped preserve his memory if he did not return home from battle.

Man in uniform and cap holding rifle and standing at attention
17-year-old Civil War soldier Frank Stough of Elyria, Ohio, a member of the 128th Ohio Infantry, about 1865. / THF277880

Photograph albums—introduced in the very early 1860s—provided a way to organize, preserve, and conveniently view photographs of friends and relatives. The album below holds “gem” photographs, the smallest tintype at ¾ to 1 inch in size.

Embossed brown leather album cover with brass hasp at right
Page containing four oval head-and-shoulder portraits with decorative borders around each portrait
Photograph album containing gem tintypes, about 1865. / THF278461, THF278566

Outdoor tintypes were quite rare until the 1880s, when a new, more convenient dry-plate process replaced the earlier wet-plate process. Even with the challenges that outdoor photography presented (taking tintype equipment out of the studio and lack of ready access to a dark room to develop the image), photographs of outdoor scenes became more common.

Landscape with wooden buildings, stacks and piles of lumber, horses and wagons, and people
Workers and horse-drawn wagons at a sawmill, 1880-1900. / THF278450

Tintypists sometimes traveled with their equipment from farm to farm, offering their services to rural customers, who assembled their family—dressed in their best clothing—and proudly posed in front of their homes. In the early 1880s tintype below, the Webster family is shown in front of their farmhouse in rural Delaware County, Ohio.

People standing behind fence and at gate in front of wooden house
William and Corilla Webster, their daughters Lucy and Clarabel, and son William in front of their Delaware County, Ohio farmhouse about 1881. / THF97629

Work gave meaning to people’s lives—it was part of one’s personal identity. Many people sat for the photographer in the clothing they wore while working, holding objects that represented their occupation. In the first tintype below, the men worked as plasterers. The three men in the tintype below that also hold the tools of their trades—typesetter, butcher, and blacksmith. The blacksmith had the most challenging “prop” to bring to the tintype studio—a 200-pound anvil on a wood block!

Two men in caps, one holding a long tool, standing next to a pillar
Plasterers, about 1881. / THF306586

Three men in vests and shirtsleeves standing behind an anvil on a wooden block, holding tools
Typesetter, butcher, and blacksmith, about 1880. / THF278446

Most occupational tintypes were of men rather than women—it was a male-dominated workforce during this time. But tintypes did capture images of those who worked for pay outside the home—women like factory workers, milliners, or domestic servants. The young women below worked in a textile mill, tending power looms.

Two women with short hair wearing dresses and aprons holding spindles
Two textile workers holding spindles of thread, about 1870. / THF278406

For his portrait, the drygoods salesman below not only brought along “props”—thread, buttons, and fabric—from his retail establishment, but a “customer” as well.

Man behind table containing products while woman looks at them
Salesman displaying his wares, about 1860. / THF278414

People not only had tintypes taken of themselves at “work,” but also at “play.” This young man, dressed in his baseball uniform and holding a bat, headed to the tintype studio for a portrait. By the 1880s, when this tintype was taken, playing baseball was a popular sport in many American communities.

Man in baseball clothes holding bat, standing next to small table
Baseball player with bat, about 1880. / THF94413

Group portraits were more complicated to capture than photographs of individuals. The photographer had more people to pose artfully—and then had to keep everyone’s attention during the several-second exposure. Images of outdoor leisure activities like the picnic below became more common in the late 1800s.

Women of various ages posed on a lawn, each holding tableware items
Group of women at a picnic, about 1895. / THF278356

Tintypes became less popular as new and better forms of photography replaced them. But traveling tintypists still found work at country fairs, summer resorts, and other vacation spots during the late 19th century—and well into the 1930s.

Man leaning in doorway of small wooden building in wooded location; chairs and portraits outside
Photographer outside his studio, likely at a vacation spot or resort, about 1890. / THF146156

In 1901, Henry Ford’s family—wife Clara, son Edsel, and mother-in-law Martha Bryant—had their tintype taken during a trip to Niagara Falls, though the image itself was made in a nearby tintype studio in front of a painted backdrop.

Two seated women in dresses and hats with small boy standing between them, all in front of a painted backdrop of a waterfall
Clara Ford and family “playing tourist” at Niagara Falls, 1901. / THF96764

Hope you enjoyed this look at tintypes. Don’t forget to strike a properly timeless expression should you meet up with this photographer!

Man in smock and cap standing behind camera on tripod
Studio portrait of a photographer with his camera, about 1870. / THF122762


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

by Jeanine Head Miller, photographs, photography, #THFCuratorChat

Boxy black car

THF85791

Cyclecars – slim, cheap cars with motorcycle engines – took the United States by storm starting around 1912. But most were poorly built and rattled to pieces on America’s rough, unpaved roads.

Illustration of car next to horse and carriage with light red background and text
The cyclecar’s reputation was so bad by 1917 that Woods Mobilette carefully described this two-passenger Model 5A as a “light car” rather than a cyclecar. / THF84558

Page with images of cars and text
The Woods was, in fact, better built than its competitors. The 3-speed transmission surpassed the 2-speed units in most cyclecars, and the Inline-4 was bigger than the 2-cylinder motorcycle engines in competing vehicles. Woods promised that its gearbox caused “no clashing, no grating, no slipping or grabbing.” / THF84560

Drawing of man and woman in narrow car with no top
The company also offered a third seat – in reality, a folding chair – to turn the 5A into a 3-passenger car. But the base price for the little Woods was $20 more than a full-size Ford Model T. Small wonder that 1917 marked the final year for Mobilette production. / THF101167


This post was adapted from an exhibit label in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

cars

We all know that 2020 was quite the year—there was a worldwide pandemic, protests across the United States, and a contentious presidential election. It’s understandable that during the year, we all had a lot on our minds.

That said, we shared more than 160 new posts on our blog during 2020. Most of these were eagerly found and devoured by our readers. But a few really great stories from our collections might have gotten lost in the shuffle—and we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss them. Here are ten of those hidden gems to help you start off 2021 right.

Happy New Year!

Explore Art and Design


Bowl in two shades of blue depicting a champagne bottle and ship, among other decorative elements
Jazz Bowl, circa 1931 / THF88364

The Jazz Bowl: Emblem of a City, Icon of an Age. Discover how a 24-year-old ceramic artist, Viktor Schreckengost, designed a bowl that both captured the essence of New York City in the early 20th century and became an icon of America’s “Jazz Age.”

Mid-century modern plywood chair
Molded Plywood Lounge Chair, 1942-1962 / THF16299

Charles and Ray Eames: Masters of Collaboration. Learn how husband-and-wife design duo Charles and Ray Eames collaborated on an early plywood leg splint, the iconic chairs they are known for, and on Mathematica, now in Henry Ford Museum!

Dive into Computers—and Computing


Photo of woman sitting among a variety of office equipment, with text and line drawings of equipment to the right side
Burroughs E8000, circa 1965 / THF298298

“Wherever There’s Business There’s Burroughs.” In this post from the William Davidson Initiative for Entrepreneurship, explore the history of the Burroughs Corporation and their entrepreneurial journey from perfecting mathematical calculating machines, through work on wartime bomb sights, to the early computer market.

Blue console with many buttons and switches
A LINC console built by Jerry Cox at the Central Institute for the Deaf, 1964.

New Acquisition: LINC Computer Console. The LINC computer may not be as familiar to you as the Apple 1, but it is in contention for the much-debated title of “the first personal computer.” Learn more about its history and the people involved in its creation.

Immerse Yourself in Pop Culture


Gold bracelet with six charms of dogs attached
Lady and the Tramp Charm Bracelet, circa 1955 / THF8604

Lady and the Tramp Celebrates 65 Years. Take a new look at an old classic—Disney’s 1955 movie Lady and the Tramp. Learn how it came to be and share in some personal memories from one of our curators.

Comic book featuring Wonder Woman lassoing two other figures, under clear plastic in a mat
Display for Sensation Comics #82

Comic Book Preservation: Tips from Our Conservators. Go behind-the-scenes in our conservation lab to learn how we take care of the comic books in our collections—and how you can take care of your own.

Examine Radio Innovations


Black rectangle with text and several dials and knobs; two batteries next to it
Pocket Radio, circa 1925 / THF156309

A “Pocket-Sized” Possibility for the Future. Our idea of what constitutes “portable” has changed over time. Learn how the “pocket radio” allowed people to take their music with them during the 1920s.

Wooden box with machinery visible inside; two rolls in foreground of picture and strip with images of several faces on left side of image
Crosley Reado Radio Printer, 1938-1940 / THF160315

Experiments with Radio Facsimile at W8XWJ. Learn about the “Press-Radio War” of the 1930s, and a revolutionary, but ultimately short-lived, experiment by Detroit News radio station W8XWJ to deliver print-at-home news.

Uncover the Stories Behind Fashion Fabrics


Page with handwritten text on left side and textile sample swatches on right side
Washington Anderton's Textile Samples Notebook, Cocheco Mfg. Co., 1876-1877 / THF670787

"Sampling" the Past: Fabrics from America's Textile Mills. Learn what textile sample books are, and take a visual tour through example pages from the extensive collection of sample books The Henry Ford received from the American Textile History Museum in 2017.

Purple glass bottle sitting next to box with images and text
Wells, Richardson & Company "Leamon's Genuine Aniline Dyes: Purple," 1873-1880 / THF170208

A More Colorful World. Discover how a chemistry student, seeking to create a synthetic cure for malaria, inadvertently created the first synthetic dye, aniline purple—and then created more, transforming the world’s access to color.


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

COVID 19 impact, radio, popular culture, fashion, computers, design, by Ellice Engdahl