Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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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.

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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.

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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The Shelby Mustang GT350R, distinguished by its fiberglass front apron, races in the Bahamas in December 1965. (Dave Friedman Collection)

We’ve said much on this blog about the Mustang, Ford vice-president Lee Iacocca’s sporty, affordable little pony car that targeted baby boomers and scored a direct hit. In the words of Ford’s memorable advertising campaign, the Mustang was “designed to be designed by you.” Depending on how you optioned it, your Mustang could be a cool-looking economy car, a Thunderbird-like personal luxury coupe, or a V-8 powered factory-built hot rod. It was a recipe for success, and customers bought more than 680,000 Mustangs in the initial 1965 model year.

With the Mustang racing up the sales chart, it was only natural that Lee Iacocca would want the Mustang literally racing. The car’s launch came in the midst of Ford’s “Total Performance” racing initiative, through which the company scored impressive victories in NASCAR, in endurance races, at drag strips, on rally courses, and even in the exalted Indianapolis 500. A few Mustang wins would add nicely to the publicity bonanza.

Iacocca turned to one of the foremost figures in American motorsport, Carroll Shelby, to make the Mustang into a credible race car. The good news was that Ford had a productive working relationship with Shelby already. His Shelby American shop was busy reworking Ford’s budding GT40 race car into a winning machine. The bad news was… that Shelby American was busy with the GT40. His hands already full with a prestige project, Carroll Shelby was reluctant to take on the Mustang. But Iacocca - ever the salesman - talked Shelby into the assignment.

At the time, in mid-1964, the most powerful engine available for the Mustang was Ford’s 289-cubic inch, 271-horsepower “Hi-Po” V-8 – known to fans as the “K-code” engine for its designation in the Mustang serial numbering scheme. These surely were impressive figures when compared to Mustang’s standard 170-cubic inch, 101-horsepower 6-cylinder engine – or even the basic 210-horsepower V-8 – but Shelby American did even better, modifying the “Hi-Po” engine to produce more than 300 horsepower. Having added power, Shelby’s team next subtracted weight by removing the Mustang’s rear seat and replacing the steel hood with a fiberglass unit. With the suspension suitably beefed up, the Shelby Mustang GT350 was born.

Even in its "street" configuration, the 306-horsepower Shelby GT350 was a formidable machine. (Dave Friedman Collection)

That name, incidentally, is a big part of the car’s lore. The “GT” came from “Grand Tourer” -- strictly speaking, a luxury performance car suitable for long-distance races, but simply associated with racing by the general public. The “350” was much more random. Apparently, Carroll Shelby grew tired of Ford’s long deliberations over his modified car’s name. He asked an associate to pace off the distance to a nearby building. It was about 350 steps, so a GT350 the car became!

Carroll Shelby had one more trick up his sleeve. If the Mustang was going to compete in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) races, it was going to have to hold its own against more powerful Corvettes and more agile Jaguars. Thirty-six GT350s were further modified exclusively for competition. The GT350R (“R” for racing) had window glass replaced with lighter plexiglass, carpet removed, steel door panels traded for aluminum, and the front bumper replaced with a distinctive fiberglass apron to improve airflow to the radiator and reduce weight. The already potent engine was further refined to churn out better than 360 horsepower.

The GT350R dominated its class in SCCA’s 1965 racing season, taking five of six divisional championships, as well as the national championship. With the mission accomplished, and Iacocca satisfied, Shelby pulled his team out of competition for 1966, but other teams continued to win with the GT350R.

Fifty years later, the Shelby GT350 remains, to many fans, the ultimate Mustang. Given their low production numbers (only 562 GT350s were built for 1965, and just 36 of those were R competition vehicles), the cars command premium prices on the auction block -- on the rare occasions when they even cross the block. But they make for a fascinating sidebar in the history of Ford’s premier pony car.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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Automobiles powered by electricity have been around almost as long as there have been automobiles. In fact, in 1900, battery-powered electric cars outsold cars with gasoline-fueled internal combustion engines. But there is far more energy in a pound of gasoline than in a pound of storage batteries, meaning that gasoline-powered cars could travel farther on a tank than electric cars could on a single charge. Largely because of this, electric cars had virtually disappeared from the market by the late 1920s. By the end of the 20th century concerns about air pollution and imported oil caused people to look once again at alternatives to the internal combustion engine.

In 1997 General Motors introduced the EV1, probably the best electric car ever produced. The car was in part a response to California laws requiring the sale of a certain percentage of vehicles that emitted no pollutants. General Motors went to great lengths to overcome the limited range offered by storage batteries. Continue Reading

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

Jim McCabe, Curator of Agriculture and The Environment

This year The Henry Ford has been very excited to be collaborating with the Detroit Institute of Arts, and other Detroit-area community organizations, to provide additional context for their current exhibit, "Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit." This year we've been digitizing parts of our collection that directly relate to Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, their relationship with Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company, and the creation of the well-known frescos found in the DIA's Rivera Court.

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Because of the close involvement of Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company in the project, our archives contain documents, photographs, and correspondence related to these subjects.

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Earlier this year a group of curators spent time in Rivera Court thinking about how their areas of expertise here at The Henry Ford connect in some way to Diego's murals. From agriculture to communications, each of our curators found an instant connection.

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Take a look at our curators' reflections in this series of videos shot on location at the DIA.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

The 1965 Lotus-Ford Type 38 established Formula One-style design at the Indianapolis 500.

Jim Clark changed the face of the Indianapolis 500 in 1965 when he won with a rear-engine car adapted from Formula One design. His lightweight Lotus-Ford race car broke dramatically from the heavy front-engine roadsters that dominated the race after World War II. Clark's victory capped a three-year effort by some of the biggest names in racing. Driver Dan Gurney realized the potential of F1 technology at Indy and set the project in motion. Designer Colin Chapman put his expertise and reputation behind the chassis. Ford Motor Company provided resources, support, and a superb racing engine. And Jimmy Clark endured two years of disappointment - losing through no fault of his own - before taking the checkered flag in 1965. So complete was their triumph that no front-engine car has won the Indianapolis 500 since.

The Henry Ford's Archive of American Innovation is proud to preserve significant artifacts, images, texts and interviews related to Clark's groundbreaking win. Below are links to key pieces in this collection. Continue Reading