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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

The 1896 Duryea Runabout, America’s first series-produced automobile. THF.90213

It is difficult, and a bit foolhardy, to identify any one car as being the most significant in the history of the American automobile industry. That said, the 1896 Duryea Runabout has a better claim to that title than most. It is the first series-produced automobile made in the United States. While just 13 copies were built, they were just that—identical copies as opposed to singular prototypes or custom orders. Only one of these pioneering vehicles survives today—and it is part of The Henry Ford’s collections.

Brothers Charles E. and J. Frank Duryea typified the mechanically-minded experimenters who built the first American automobiles. Charles entered the bicycle business in 1888, initially in St. Louis before moving to Peoria, Illinois, and then Washington, DC. The younger Frank joined his brother not long after graduating high school in 1888. The brothers were bitten by the auto bug after reading an 1889 article inScientific American on the pioneering work done in Germany by Karl Benz. After relocating to Springfield, Massachusetts, the Duryea brothers set out to build their own automobile. Continue Reading

antique cars

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We continue to digitize materials documenting the histories of the many buildings in Greenfield Village. This week, it’s the turn of Rocks Village Toll House, previously known as East Haverhill Toll House. This building was originally located on the banks of the Merrimac River in Rocks Village, Massachusetts, connecting the towns of East Haverhill and West Newbury, and was acquired by Henry Ford because of his interest in American transportation history and related structures. The photograph shown here depicts the Toll House on its original site in 1928, the same year it was moved to Greenfield Village; the front of the Toll House is just barely visible beyond the building with three windows in the side. Visit our digital collections to view more materials related to the Rocks Village Toll House.

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

toll houses


The 1946 Lamy's diner, as it appears today in Henry Ford Museum. THF77241

Back before diners were considered revered icons of mid-20th-century American culture, Henry Ford Museum's acquisition of a dilapidated 1940s diner raised more than a few eyebrows. Was a diner, from such a recent era, significant enough to be in a museum?

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Happily, times have changed. Diners have gained newfound respect and appreciation, as innovative and uniquely American eating establishments. A closer look at Lamy's diner reveals much about the role and significance of diners in 20th-century America. Continue Reading

diners, food trucks, The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

1949 Mercury Customized Convertible

A museum presenting America’s ideas and innovations mourns the passing of George Barris, “The King of Kustomizers.”

George grew up building models of cars and then working on cars during his youth. He had a spark of ingenuity in the way he looked at the world as well as in the world that he built. In the mid 1960s Barris Kustom City acquired a Lincoln Futura prototype that was built for the Ford Motor Company in Turin, Italy in 1955. George had been given a contract in August of 1965 by television show producers to build a batmobile for their upcoming television show. As the legend has been told many times, he had only three weeks to build the “winged mammal” car before filming started. George had the winged-like Futura in his shop and saw the possibilities immediately, and of course the result was the most iconic movie car ever built, the Batmobile. George’s ingenious creation appeared on January 12, 1966 to millions of television viewers experiencing the spoof and kitsch of Batman. Continue Reading

Driver Graham Hill, Winner of the United States Grand Prix, October 3, 1965 THF116676

When you hear the phrase “Triple Crown,” the sport of horse racing generally comes to mind.  However, the world of motorsport also has its own, unofficial Triple Crown title. To achieve this feat, a driver must win three specific titles during their career. Some enthusiasts contend the three titles are the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Monaco Grand Prix, while others replace the race in Monaco with the Formula One World Championship.

The Triple Crown of Motorsport has been possible since 1929, when the last race, the Monaco Grand Prix, was first run through the streets of the principality. (If you are using the Formula One World Championship title instead, the Triple Crown became possible in 1950.) In the last 86 years, many drivers have won one or two components of the Triple Crown, but only one man, Graham Hill, completed either trifecta. This accomplishment attests to Hill’s immense skill on the track, as each race or title corresponds to a different discipline of the sport. Continue Reading

racers, racing

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In 2014, the Detroit News donated over 220 photographic negatives to The Henry Ford. They depict photos of and taken from various News aircraft between the mid-1920s and mid-1930s, including a Lockheed Orion and a Lockheed Vega.  A substantial number relate to the 1931 Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro, which has been in The Henry Ford’s collection for over 80 years and is currently on display within Henry Ford Museum in the Heroes of the Sky exhibit. The image shown here includes a hand-written note on the envelope: “Airplanes to ship newspapers.” We have just digitized the complete set of negatives, so you can now visit our online collections to browse the Autogiro-related images, or everything related to the Detroit News, including all of these images.

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

airplanes, negatives, vintage airplanes

Eva Tanguay in Vaudeville Costume, 1910-1919 THF82177

Eva Tanguay was a showstopper—one of vaudeville’s most charismatic stars. Long before performers like Madonna made their mark, Eva Tanguay was wowing ‘em on the vaudeville stage.

The flamboyant singing comedienne was the highest paid performer for over a decade during the heyday of American vaudeville in the early 1900s. Known as the “I Don’t Care Girl” after her most famous song, Eva’s bold, self-confident songs symbolized a new, emancipated American woman. Continue Reading

vaudeville, vaudeville stars

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For a few years starting at age seven, Henry Ford attended a one-room schoolhouse, the Scotch Settlement School, located on Warren Avenue in what was then Dearborn Township, Michigan.  When he was developing Greenfield Village, Henry Ford acquired the school, relocated it to the Village, and opened it as a multi-grade classroom for the Edison Institute Schools in fall 1929.  We’ve just digitized 75 images of the school on its original site, including this well-labeled image of the 1925 funeral of Mrs. Susie Chapman, wife of one of Henry Ford’s favorite teachers, John Chapman. (Chapman himself had died two decades earlier; his family home and another school at which he taught are also preserved in Greenfield Village.)  Henry and Clara Ford appear at the far left. Visit our digital collections to view more images and artifacts related to the school.

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

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Season two of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation is well under way, and we’re doing research within our collections and digitizing material related to some of the upcoming storylines. One we worked on this week involves the Loranger Gristmill and American inventor Oliver Evans. The Gristmill was built in 1832 in Monroe, Michigan, and ground wheat and corn for local farmers into the 20th century; it was moved to Greenfield Village in 1928. The conveyor system that moved grain around inside the building was developed by Evans in the 1700s—but this was not his only creation. In the early 1800s, he developed a dredging machine called the “Oructor Amphibolis,” shown here in an image from our collections, that was powered by a steam engine he also invented. Visit our collections website to browse more artifacts related to Evans and to Loranger Gristmill—and keep an eye out to see the gristmill in action on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation.

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

In addition to the 150th anniversary of Henry Ford’s birth, this year brings us another important milestone. It was 100 years ago that Ford Motor Company combined the standardization of interchangeable parts with the subdivision of labor and the fluid movement of work to workers to create the world’s most influential assembly line. We are unusually fortunate that two keen observers of industry, Horace Lucien Arnold and Fay Leone Faurote, were there to document it.

Arnold, a correspondent for The Engineering Magazine, grasped the significance in Ford’s work and began a series of articles on the company’s Highland Park factory. After Arnold’s untimely death, Faurote completed and compiled the articles in the 1915 study Ford Methods and the Ford Shops. The book’s detailed descriptions, numerous photographs and careful diagrams give us a vivid window into Highland Park at a seminal moment in technological history.

A century later, the most remarkable aspect of Ford Methods and the Ford Shops is the liberal level of access Ford gave to its authors. It is difficult to imagine Google or Apple opening their doors to today’s press and giving unfettered access to employees, workspaces and sensitive production figures. The company’s cooperation speaks volumes about Henry Ford’s confidence in Highland Park. He knew that his methods were far ahead of his competitors, and there was little fear of them catching up too quickly.

The assembly line came to Ford Motor Company in stages. Around April 1, 1913, flywheel magnetos were placed on moving lines. Instead of one worker completing one flywheel in some 20 minutes, a group of workers stood along a waist-high platform. Each worker assembled some small piece of the flywheel and then slid it along to the next person. One whole flywheel came off the line every 13 minutes. With further tweaking, the assembly line produced a finished flywheel magneto in just five minutes.

It was a genuine “eureka” moment. Ford soon adapted the assembly line to engines, and then transmissions, and, in August 1913, to complete chassis. The crude “slide” method was replaced with chain-driven delivery systems that not only reduced handling but also regulated work speed. By early 1914, the various separate production lines had fused into three continuous lines able to churn out a finished Model T every 93 minutes – an extraordinary improvement over the 12½ hours per car under the old stationary assembly methods.

The incredible time and cost savings realized through the assembly line allowed Henry Ford to lower the Model T’s price, which increased demand for the car, which prompted Ford to seek even greater manufacturing efficiencies. This feedback loop ultimately produced some 15 million Model Ts selling for as little as $260 each.

The peak annual Model T production of 1.8 million in 1923 was still years away when Arnold and Faurote made their study. They did not capture Ford’s assembly line in a fully realized form. In fact, the line never was finished. It existed in a state of flux, under constant review for any potential improvements. Adjusting the height of a work platform might save a few seconds here, while moving a drill press might shave some more seconds there. Several such small changes could yield large productivity gains.

Ford Methods and the Ford Shops captures a manufacturer that has just discovered the formula for previously unimagined production levels. The assembly line is groundbreaking, and Ford knows it. The company’s openness with its methods, and Arnold’s and Faurote’s efforts to document and publicize them, helped make the Model T assembly line the industrial milestone that we still celebrate a century later.