Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

bakelite-magnavox

imls_logo_2c Marketed as ‘the material of a thousand uses’, Bakelite was the first truly synthetic plastic, patented bythe American inventor Leo Hendrik Baekland in 1907. Very soon, dozens of household and technical uses were found for it from fountain pens and ashtrays to electrical and communications equipment, including radios and radio equipment. It’s no surprise that conservators working on the IMLS communications grant encounter it so often.

Leo Baekland had already achieved commercial success with the invention of Velox photographic paper, and was able to maintain a home laboratory in New York State. Continue Reading

Windmill Freeport Machine Company, Freeport, Ill., ca. 1883.

As the story goes, William Ford traveled to Philadelphia for the Centennial Exposition in 1876. William, a farmer from Springwells Township in Wayne County, Mich., took a keen interest in the agricultural displays. One device struck him as particularly useful, a Stover Windmill, or as the Stover Wind Engine Company's advertisement called it, "Stover's Automatic Wind Engine." Continue Reading

windmills

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Digitizing what one of our curators refers to as “the bottomless pit of wonderfulness” results in some strange, and often highly entertaining, adventures. One such recent project, undertaken to accompany an upcoming story in The Henry Ford Magazine, had us combing through our holdings for artifacts that some might consider trash. One item we heartily enjoyed working on was this collection of animal bones and teeth retrieved from the original site of Firestone Farm, and stored in our archives in a box labeled “loose items.” Other similar items we’ve just digitized include fragments found at Henry Ford’s birthplace, as well as some of the “mute relics” that Henry Ford had retrieved from the original site of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey, laboratory (and which were previously exhibited in Greenfield Village). Visit our digital collections to find more artifacts you might call trash—or treasures—and keep your eye out for our magazine to see which “trashy” artifacts made the cut.

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

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imls_logo_2cAlmost exactly two years ago, The Henry Ford embarked on a project to identify, conserve, photograph, catalog, rehouse, and make available online at least 1,000 items from our communications collections.  This project was made possible through a generous $150,000 Museums for America grant (MA-30-13-0568-13) from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, or IMLS. Though we will continue to work on some straggler artifacts that have not yet made it through the entire process, the grant officially ended on September 30, with a total of 1,261 artifacts available online. One of the very last artifacts to be added during the official grant period was this computer trainer, used in the metro Detroit area in the 1960s to teach students to operate computers, a skill increasingly needed in the American workforce.  You can see some of the other artifacts that worked their way through the IMLS grant process by browsing our digital collections for such communications-related artifacts as typewriters, radio receivers, phonographs, amplifiers, cameras, motion-picture cameras, mimeographs, and magic lanterns, among many others. We extend our thanks once again to IMLS for enabling us to make these significant collections accessible to everyone.

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

1939 Douglas DC-3 after Move from Ford Proving Ground to Henry Ford Museum, June 2, 1975. THF124077

The Douglas DC-3 ranks with the Model T Ford and the Volkswagen Beetle as one of the great engineering designs of the twentieth century. The aircraft was safe, reliable, economical, and did more than any other single airplane to make commercial aviation a viable industry.

Ironically, the story of the DC-3 began with a famous airline crash. In 1931, a Fokker tri-motor operated by Transcontinental & Western Air (TWA) went down, killing all seven people on board, including famed University of Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne. When an investigation of the crash revealed that the wood wing of the Fokker was weakened by rot, airlines began scrambling to replace wood-framed planes with all-metal ones. TWA asked several manufacturers for proposals for a new, all metal airplane, with two or three engines, weighing no more than 14,200 pounds, able to carry at least 12 passengers at 150 miles per hour, with a range of 1,080 miles. Douglas Aircraft, which had previously concentrated on military planes, proposed a twin-engine aircraft that they called the Douglas Commercial Number 1, or simply DC-1. TWA chose the Douglas design, but before it went into production an improved version was developed, called the DC-2. Continue Reading

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Though The Henry Ford has had a dedicated digitization program for about the last five years, we have been doing a lot of the same work (e.g. conservation, cataloging, and imaging) for much longer. We often mine our archive of existing collections images to add interesting groupings to our digital collections. One group of artifacts Registar Lisa Korzetz recently ran across was about ten bootleg liquor bottles. According to the donor, this Canadian alcohol was likely smuggled into Detroit during Prohibition (1920–33) to be served in a family member’s speakeasy, also known as a blind pig.  The geography of the Detroit River lent itself so well to smuggling alcohol from Canada, and was used so frequently for this purpose, that national Prohibition director Roy A. Haynes said of it: “The Lord probably could have built a river better suited for rum-smuggling, but the Lord probably never did.” View the collection of bootleg booze, including this paper-wrapped “Coon Hollow Bourbon Whiskey” bottle from Amherstburg, Ontario, in our digital collections.

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

liquor bottles, prohibition

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Yesterday Atlas Obscura shared a post about the Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) and it caught Brian Wilson's, our Digital Access & Preservation Archivist, eye. Brian took a look at our archives and found slides from our Sundberg-Ferar Collection. (You might remember this collection from a post Brian wrote about sketches for a manned space station in the 1980s.) Sundberg-Ferar worked on a number of public transit and rapid transit projects, and our collection contains material dating from the 1960s into the 1980s. Among those projects are the BART system in San Francisco, and the Morgantown, West Virginia, transit system which is illustrated by these four images. Different exterior and interior design concepts are shown, along with a scale model of a vehicle between two station platforms. You can see a portion of those concept drawings there in the background of the scale model photo.

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This isn’t Brian’s first detective-like hunt through our archives. Last fall he found out why Edsel Ford’s 1934 Detroit Lions season pass was cancelled after a questions was asked about it on Twitter.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

Records don’t survive to tell us whether our 1965 Ford Mustang was actually the first off of the assembly line, but there’s no question that its VIN ends with “00001.”

Museums have a habit of collecting “first, last and only” artifacts. Think of things like the ceremonial “First Stone” of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad at the B&O Railroad Museum. Or the 1966 Cruiser, the last Studebaker automobile ever built, at the Studebaker National Museum. Or the singular airplane Spirit of St. Louis at the National Air & Space Museum. Generally, The Henry Ford’s collection is not marked by “firsts, lasts and onlys.” Don’t get me wrong, we have many unique items (there’s only one Wright Cycle Shop, after all), but Henry Ford concentrated on collecting objects of everyday life. It’s a trait that carries over into our automobile collection. Yes, there are things like the “Sunshine Special” presidential limousine, but ordinary cars like the 1984 Plymouth Voyager or the 1986 Ford Taurus are more typical in the museum – because they were more typical on the road. Continue Reading

serial numbers

The world’s first xerographic image made by Chester Carlson and Otto Kornei (Image courtesy of Xerox Corporation, Xerox Images Library).

imls_logo_2cA date, and a place, written by hand: 10.-22.-38. Centered underneath: Astoria. The letters are composed of bold strokes, defined at the edges and flaking towards the center. The whole arrangement seems to be crumbling towards the bottom of the page, like it is made of dust that could be wiped away by the backstroke brush of a hand. Its purpose uncertain, this is not a “note to self” to be in a place, on a certain date—this is the first successful Xerox copy ever made.

The inventor of the modern photocopier, Chester Carlson, began thinking about mechanical reproduction and the graphic arts at a young age. His first publishing effort was a newspaper called This and That, circulated among family members when he was ten years old. The first edition was handwritten, with later issues composed on a Simplex typewriter given to him as a Christmas present in 1916. In high school, Carlson was forced to work multiple jobs in order to support his impoverished and ill family; one of these jobs found him sweeping floors at a printing shop. Working around printing machinery inspired him to publish a science journal, but the tedium of setting type by hand, line by line, led him to give up on this idea quickly. The machines did not support the quickness of his mind. It was in these frustrations with printing equipment—the fussiness of equipment that reproduced documents during his youth—that motivated Carlson to create the instantaneous printing process that would eventually be central to the creation of the Xerox photocopier. Continue Reading

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This full-page advertisement announcing the introduction of the Ford Model T is rich with text and technical detail—a rational approach to selling the product. The text reinforces the theme of "Ford: High Priced Quality in a Low Priced Car" throughout the ad. This advertisement appeared in Life and Saturday Evening Post magazines on October 1, 1908. THF122987

"If you really have a good thing, it will advertise itself." - Henry Ford

Introduced in the fall of 1908, Ford Motor Company's Model T was the right car for a newly developing market. It was affordable, efficient and reliable. Almost immediately the Ford Model T became the standard by which other reasonably priced cars were judged. By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. By the time that the company finally ended the model's production in 1927, more than 15 million Model Ts had been produced.

The very endurance of this single model offers an intriguing look at how the Model T was advertised over the nearly 20 years it was in production. Model T advertisements show the changes in print ads in general and the Ford Company's marketing policies in particular. These advertisements also reflect the company's response to changing market conditions.  Continue Reading