Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation contains such a breadth and depth of artifacts that rediscovering and sharing its treasures often involves a number of our staff working together.  Assistant Curator Saige Jedele was recently investigating our collections in support of Curator Kristen Gallerneaux’s story on the Jacquard loom featured on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, and turned up a woven silk image of a baseball game.  Conservator Fran Faile noted we had a number of similar artifacts in the collection, which our digitization team then imaged and cataloged.  These pieces, like this bookmark featuring George Washington, are known as “Stevengraphs,” after the man who built on the punchcard technology of the Jacquard loom to create the intricate fabric pictures.

Visit our online collections to view all of the rare and delicate Stevengraphs that have just been digitized.

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

digital collections

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May 29, 2016, will mark the 100th running of the iconic Indianapolis 500 auto race. The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation contains many objects and archival materials related to the race over its long history, and we’ve just digitized more than 1,600 images from the 1964 race, as well as 500 images of the 1961 race. Both sets of images come from the extensive Dave Friedman collection, and join previously digitized sets of Indy images from 1962, 1963, 1968, and 1969. Each set of images covers both vivid racetrack action and behind-the-scenes shots, like this relatively serene 1964 shot taken from above.

If you’re a racing fan, visit our digital collections to peruse more than 7400 photos, documents, and objects related to the Indy 500.

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

digital collections, race cars, racing

Cover of a 1977 Early Reader THF 126319

It would not be a proper Christmas season without at least one viewing of the TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Every year, we can enjoy the antics of Lucy, Schroeder, and the rest of the “Peanuts” gang as they get ready (or not) for the Christmas play; sympathize with Charlie Brown as he passes up all those bright shiny aluminum trees and picks the sorriest tree on the Christmas tree lot; and cheer when the gang transforms Charlie Brown’s sad little tree into one of beauty and elegance at the end. Today, we can watch the special any time we want. But, back when it first aired on TV in 1965, we could only watch it once—Thursday, December 9, at 7:30 p.m., on CBS. And it was a revelation! Continue Reading

charlie brown, peanuts, snoopy

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White Castle System eating house operators Abie Best and Don Dunivent pose for their photograph outside -THF98358 - and at the counter - THF98355 - in Kansas City, Missouri, probably 1927.

Alvin Alonzo Dunivent, nicknamed "Don" by his coworkers, began working in a Kansas City, Missouri White Castle restaurant in July 1927. He flipped burgers and worked the counter of this small fast food restaurant. The White Castle System of Eating Houses, Corporation called his position an operator for the Kansas City Plant. Employment included corporate training in customer service and pride of a job well done in this emerging industry. It was a good career move for Don.

Hamburgers were considered an inferior “poor man’s food” until fry cook Walter Anderson improved their reputation by coming up with a secret new cooking method. In 1921, he and partner Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram opened a chain of hamburger eating houses—compact, castle-like structures they called “White Castles.” From the architecture to the menu to the workers’ appearances, White Castle set a new standard for cleanliness and uniformity. Continue Reading

fast food restaurants, white castle

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The Richart Wagon Shop is another example of Henry Ford’s interest in American transportation history. It was built in 1847 by Israel Biddle Richart in Macon, Michigan, and operated for over 50 years in the business of building, repairing, and painting wagons. In fall 1941, it was acquired for and moved to Greenfield Village.

We’ve just digitized a number of photographs of the building on its original site, including this image showing the distinctive lower and upper double doors still visible today—though notably missing a ramp to allow carriages access to the second floor.

To see all these digitized images of Richart Wagon Shop taken between 1931 and 1941, visit our collections website.

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

digital collections, Greenfield Village buildings

The Kennedy Presidential Limousine as it currently looks, including modifications completed during the Johnson and Nixon administrations. THF91101

If you were born before the mid-1950s, you probably remember with stunning clarity the exact moment you heard that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. You might recall where you were, the time of day, and perhaps even the clothes you were wearing. Psychologists call these exceptionally vivid memories “flashbulb memories,” as if the shocking nature of the event and the extreme emotions elicited by it set off a brain mechanism that “froze” that moment in time like a camera flashbulb illuminating a photographic image.

Today, an assortment of images and first-hand accounts help us recall that singular event on November 22, 1963. But perhaps nothing is as powerful or visceral as encountering the actual car in which President Kennedy was riding that day.

This vehicle began as an idea back in 1957, when the bulbous styling of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1950 “Bubbletop” Lincoln was looking decidedly old-fashioned. President Eisenhower’s “Bubbletop” had also seen hard use, logging over 100,000 miles in its seven-year existence. For the third time (beginning with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1939 “Sunshine Special”), Ford Motor Company was asked to design an up-to-date Lincoln Continental fit for the President. By 1961, when Kennedy’s presidential limousine was finally built, the company had both adopted new razor-edged, slab-sided styling and had just introduced the only four-door convertibles on the market. These sleek, modern features seemed perfectly suited to the ceremonial car for a young, forward-thinking President who had just taken office. Continue Reading

kennedy limo, presidential limousines

The Massey-Harris Combine displayed in Henry Ford Museum. THF6425

Combines loom large on the museum floor—but they loom even larger on the physical and historical landscape of America’s agricultural heartland. Standing high on the horizon, combines both symbolize and represent the reality of the mechanization of modern agriculture. The 1938 Massey-Harris Model 20 self-propelled combine, a designated landmark of American agricultural engineering, was the first commercially successful, self-propelled combine to make its way through an American harvest.

The harvest was, and still is, the defining event of a farm community. It was the most complicated, time-critical, labor-intensive activity of the farmer’s year, and everyone—men and women, young and old, rich and poor—participated. Through much of history, the success of the harvest could make or break a farming community.

Throughout most of our nation’s history, the amount of acreage that could be successfully harvested before the crop was damaged by weather, insects, or rot determined how much land would be planted. Not surprisingly, over the last several hundred years, tremendous time and effort has been put toward improving the speed and efficiency of the harvest. Continue Reading

farming equipment

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Henry Ford greatly admired his friend Luther Burbank for his work as a naturalist and botanist—it’s no coincidence that the shovel buried in The Henry Ford’s cornerstone belonged to Burbank.  Greenfield Village also holds a strong Burbank presence—his garden office was moved to the Village in 1928, and eight years later, his birthplace was added. As part of our ongoing project documenting the histories of Greenfield Village buildings, we’ve just digitized a number of images showing Luther Burbank’s birthplace on its original site in Lancaster, Massachusetts, including this photograph labeled “south end.”

To see more artifacts related to the famed developer of the Russet Burbank potato, still one of the world’s most popular varieties, visit our digital collections.

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

digital collections

Manure spreader made by International Harvester, about 1905

The act of farming draws nutrients from the soil. If the nutrients are not returned, the soil will become depleted and lose productivity. One of the best ways to restore the soil is to recycle what was removed from it by spreading manure on it. This International Harvester Manure Spreader made a dirty job not-so-dirty.

Caring for the Land: Forgotten – Then Re-discovered

To the Europeans who settled colonial America, the availability of land seemed limitless.  Farmers paid little attention to caring for the soil, quickly abandoning the fertilizing activities they had practiced in Europe. These farmers felt it more cost effective to simply move on to new land when the soil lost productivity, rather than put in the effort to restore its fertility. Continue Reading

farm tools, farming equipment

Goldenrod averaged 409.277 miles per hour at Bonneville on November 12, 1965 -- a record for a wheel-driven car. (THF90968)

Fifty years ago today, brothers Bob and Bill Summers of Ontario, California, earned their place in the record books when Goldenrod, their four-engine streamlined über hot rod, averaged 409.277 miles per hour on the Bonneville Salt Flats. It would take 45 years for another non-supercharged, wheel-driven car to best their mark. Not bad for a couple of California dreamers working out of a vegetable stand.

Well, that’s not quite true. Oh, it’s true that their shop was in a converted vegetable stand, but the implication – that they were kids who got lucky – isn’t fair at all. The Summers brothers were Bonneville veterans, having built and raced a series of imaginative cars on the salt since 1954. And, while the brothers themselves were not wealthy, they had well-heeled corporate sponsors supporting Goldenrod. So no, this was no fly-by-night operation.

The early 1960s saw a revolution at Bonneville unlike anything since serious land speed racing started at the western Utah ancient lake bed in the 1930s. Drivers like Craig Breedlove in his celebrated Spirit of America hit 400, 500 and 600 miles per hour using jet power. These cars were more like airplanes without wings. There was no mechanical connection between the engine and the wheels – jet thrust literally pushed the car across the salt. Continue Reading