Sunday November 22, 2020, is the 25th anniversary of Disney-Pixar’s first Toy Story movie, which came out in 1995. Learn about the real history of toys that inspired the characters in this hit animated film.
In 1995, Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story made history as the first feature-length computer-animated film. The movie was a surprise box-office hit, far exceeding estimates. In 1996, it won an Academy Award for Special Achievement and was the first animated film ever nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
In fact, Disney took a real chance on Pixar, a young unproven tech startup at the time. Indeed, the staff at Pixar knew computer technology but they had never created a full-length feature film. But, in the course of developing the film, they made a key decision that laid the foundation for Pixar’s success, both then and now. They decided to put the story first—to focus attention the characters, the plot, the action. So, sure, the computer animation of the first Toy Story movie looks really primitive today. But pretty soon, you forget about that because the story still grabs you. Even though the main characters are toys, it’s a universal human story, about who your friends are, or aren’t, or could be.
In addition to the very relatable human story, both children and adults embraced the film right from the beginning because of the choices of the toys themselves. Why are those the toys in Andy’s room? In fact, they primarily come from the filmmakers’ own memories playing with their childhood toys—leading to a motley assortment of toys from the mid-20th century to the 1990s that reflects the varied ages of the film’s creators. Some of these evoke a specific era; others have become classics, continually produced over decades for successive generations of kids. We dug into our own collections to find some of the real toys that appear in Toy Story and reveal their true stories.
Let’s start with the main character, Sheriff Woody. Woody wasn’t a real toy; instead, he represented a whole group of toys. During the 1950s, cowboy movies and TV shows were huge. This was an era during which the West was greatly romanticized, something Walt Disney was on to when he created Frontierland at Disneyland in 1955. Cowboys, in particular, were revered as rough and tough, independent, honest, and hardworking characters—at the time considered laudable traits for young boys (and girls) to emulate. In Toy Story 2, we find out that Woody indeed comes from a 1950s-era TV show entitled Woody’s Roundup. This game from our collection was named after a real TV show called Cheyenne that ran from 1955 to 1963.
Buzz Lightyear also represented an era and a larger group of toys and games. During the mid-20th century, outer space was considered really mysterious and it fascinated people. At first, it was depicted as pure science fiction, as represented by the aliens and Pizza Planet in Toy Story and shown on the cover of this Rocket Darts game from the 1940s. Increasingly, outer space became a real destination as part of the 1960s-era “Space Race”—leading to Americans actually landing a man on the moon in 1969. Buzz Lightyear is reminiscent of this era, equipped as he is with special features that seem more advanced and sophisticated than Woody’s primitive pull string.
Mr. (and Mrs.) Potato Head were and still are real toys. They were introduced in 1952 and 1953, respectively. Back in the 1950s, when this playset was produced, it included 28 different face pieces and accessories—like eyes, noses, mouths, and mustaches—that kids would stick on real potatoes! Hasbro began supplying a plastic potato with each kit in 1964.
Slinky Dog or, as Woody called him—“Slink”—was also a real toy, as show in this 1957 Christmas ad. He evolved from the invention of the Slinky, along with a host of other rather bizarre-looking Slinky-related toys shown in this ad. The original Slinky was introduced in 1946, when a marine engineer was trying to invent a spring for the motor of a naval battleship.
Real Toy: Toy Soldiers
Toy army men, mid- to late 20th century. THF 170098
The green army men from the “Bucket O Soldiers” referenced the long history of toy soldier playsets. Toy soldiers made of lead or tin date back to the 19th-century Europe. With advancements in plastics, green army men made of plastic like these became popular after World War II. Molding these figures in one piece with the base attached was less expensive to manufacture, leading to the stiff-legged maneuvers of the “troops”—as Woody called them—in the film.
Woody’s Doodle Pad may be a mashup between the Magic Slate and the Magna Doodle. The Magic Slate, marketed as the “erasable blackboard” is essentially a cardboard pad covered with a clear plastic sheet that “wrote” when a wood or plastic stylus was impressed on it and “erased” when the plastic was lifted up. It dates back to the 1920s, when it was offered as a free giveaway by a printing company. People finally realized that it would make a great plaything and it was heavily marketed to kids after World War II. The Magna Doodle, introduced in 1974 as a “dustless chalkboard,” can be considered a later magnetic version of the Magic Slate, with an erasable arm that swept the “board” clean.
The Etch A Sketch fell somewhere between the Magic Slate and the Magna Doodle. It was invented in 1958 by a French mechanic and tinkerer, who called it “L’Ecran Magique,” or “The Magic Screen.” It used a mixture of aluminum powder and plastic beads with a metal stylus guided by twin knobs and it erased when it was turned over and shaken. The rights to the toy were sold to Ohio Art in 1960, where it became the company’s biggest hit.
What better way to use the Barrel of Monkeys game than to make a chain of monkeys to try and save a toy that had fallen out of a second-story window? Unfortunately, the monkeys didn’t save Buzz Lightyear but, when this game was introduced in 1966, it was advertised as being—what else?—“more fun than a barrel of monkeys.”
Real Toy: TinkerToys
Junior TinkerToy for Beginners playset, 1937-46. THF 135602
Woody used the classic TinkerToy box as a lectern for his meeting with the other toys in Andy’s room. TinkerToys were the brainchild of a man who cut out tombstones for a living but saw how much fun kids were having sticking pencils into spools of thread. He came up with the idea of the TinkerToy playset in 1914, billing it as the “Thousand Wonder Builder.” Over the years, TinkerToys were produced in a huge array of colors, sizes, and variations including plastic sets for younger kids introduced in 1992.
Bonus “Toy:” Nursery Monitor
Playskool Portable Baby Monitor, circa 1990. THF170094
The Nursery Monitor is technically not a toy, but it played a key role in the “Toy Story” film for the troops’ reconnaissance mission to report out on Andy’s presents. So we’ll consider it an honorary toy. It is the only item here, and one of the very few in the film, that dates uniquely from the era of Andy’s own childhood. This device would have connected immediately with young viewers who were Andy’s age in 1995, and who would grow up with him in succeeding Toy Story films.
Donna R. Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford, enjoyed viewing Toy Story several times as “research” for this blog post.
Our 1967 Ford Mark IV at SEMA with the 2018 GT Heritage Edition it inspired.
It’s been a busy couple of years for our 1967 Ford Mark IV. In the last 24 months, the car traveled to England, France, California and, most recently, Nevada. Race fans have welcomed the car at each stop, excited to see it 50 years after its Le Mans win with Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt. The car’s trip to the Silver State coincided with this year’s SEMA Show, presented by the Specialty Equipment Market Association from October 31-November 3 in Las Vegas.
The SEMA Show is among the largest automotive trade shows on the calendar. It brings together original equipment manufacturers, aftermarket suppliers, dealers, restoration specialists and more. SEMA draws some 2,400 exhibitors and 160,000 people (all of them industry professionals – the show isn’t open to the public) to the Las Vegas Convention Center each year. You’ll find a bit of everything spread over the show’s one million square feet of exhibit space: speed shop equipment, specialty wheels and tires, seats and upholstery, car audio systems, paints and finishes, motor oils and additives – basically, anything that makes a car run, look, sound or feel better.
Ford provided (joyously tire-shredding) rides in Raptors, Focus RS hatches and Mustang GT350s.
Our Mark IV was given an honored place in Ford Motor Company’s main exhibit, where it was paired with the 2018 GT Heritage Edition that pays tribute to the Gurney/Foyt win. Ford’s exhibits continued outside the Convention Center in the “Ford Out Front” area. Jersey barriers formed an impromptu track in the parking lot, where attendees could ride with a professional driver in a Mustang GT350, a Focus RS, or an F-150 Raptor. Believe me, you haven’t seen drifting until you’ve seen it done with a pickup truck.
The American Southwest, native habitat of the Roadrunner – like this 1970 Superbird tribute car.
Of course, Ford wasn’t the only OEM in town. Chevrolet, FCA, Toyota, Audi, Honda and Hyundai all had a presence at the show. Chevy brought its new special edition Camaro, honoring the 50th anniversary of Hot Wheels diecast cars, while FCA celebrated all things Mopar. Toyota, marking the 60th anniversary of its U.S. sales arm, brought Camrys representing each of that venerable model’s eight styling generations.
PPG Paints displayed airbrushed portraits of this terrorsome trio: Edgar Allen Poe, Pennywise and Herman Munster.
PPG Paints gets my vote for most elaborate show booth. Embracing SEMA’s opening date of October 31, the company built a giant haunted house, complete with cars and parts strewn about the front lawn called – what else – “The Boneyard.” The surrounding fence was decorated with incredible airbrush art celebrating Halloween heroes like Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Munster.
Having a hard time finding new cassettes for your mid-1980s Buick Regal? Retro Manufacturing will sell you a perfect-match stereo with a USB port.
More than a few vendors drew crowds to their booths with the help of celebrity appearances. Walk around and you’d spot stars from every field of automotive endeavor. There were drivers (Emerson Fittipaldi, Ken Block), television hosts (Jessi Combs, Dennis Gage), custom builders (Gene Winfield, Chip Foose), rock stars (Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons), and all-around icons (Linda Vaughn, Richard Petty, Jay Leno, Mario Andretti).
Many SEMA booths hosted live demonstrations, like this pinstriper at work on a Ford Focus RS.
There were educational opportunities, too. Workshops and seminars throughout the week ranged from standard business conference fare (“Building a Sustainable Social Media Strategy”) to the decidedly SEMA-specific (“Building the Best Boosted Engines of Your Career”). If seminars aren’t your thing, you could learn by watching everything from welding to pinstriping taking place right at exhibitor booths.
When is a Mustang a Lincoln? When it’s this P-51 Mustang airplane-inspired hot rod by Chip Foose, powered by a Lincoln-Zephyr V-12.
Contests added to the fun, too. Hot Rodders of Tomorrow, a nonprofit that encourages young people to consider careers in the automotive aftermarket industry, sponsored a challenge in which high school teams competed against each other in timed engine rebuilds. The most celebrated contest was SEMA’s annual Battle of the Builders. Nearly 200 customizers brought vehicles to be judged in four categories: hot rods, trucks/off-road vehicles, sport compacts, and young guns (for builders age 27 and under). Three top finishes were selected from each category over the show’s run, and these top 12 vehicles led the post-show SEMA cruise. An overall winner was then selected from the 12. Troy Trepanier took this year’s top prize with his 1929 Ford Model A hot rod.
Tucker Tribute: A hand-built replica powered by a Cadillac Northstar V-8.
So ended another SEMA Show – and a successful golden anniversary tour for the Mark IV. And while it’s good to have the car back in the museum, we’re glad we could share it with so many people over the past two years. We’ll hope to see some of you again in 2067!
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Actually, the Tri-Motor of this story wasn't small at all. The all-metal airplane was rugged, dependable and equally adaptable to passenger and freight service. Built by Ford Motor Company from 1926 to 1933, the Ford Tri-Motor flew in many early American airline fleets and became the most popular airliner of the late 1920s and early 1930s.
In all, 199 Tri-Motors were built during its seven-year production run. Over the course of their lives, many of the planes found varying uses, including the 48th Tri-Motor built, purchased in 1928 by Reid, Murdoch & Company. The manager of the sales department for Ford's Lincoln division, Arthur Hatch, had completed the sale of the plane while traveling by train with the president of Reid, Murdoch, & Company. The Chicago-based company had big plans for their Tri-Motor and turned its interior into a showroom for their Monarch Foods brand. A few of the canned items stocked on the plane included sweet pickles, peanut butter, popcorn, toffees, sardines, peas, asparagus, lima beans and corn.
Ford Tri-Motor 4-AT-48 Used as a "Flying Grocery Store" for Reid, Murdoch and Company's Monarch Foods, 1928. THF94915
When it came time for the delivery of the Tri-Motor, the president of Reid, Murdouch & Co. insisted on coming to the Dearborn, Michigan plant to personally turn the check over to Arthur Hatch. Named "Independence," the modified plane began its life as a flying salesroom, carrying samples of over 200 different food products to airports throughout the country. Occasionally, Monarch's pint-sized advertising characters, "The Teenie Weenies," also accompanied the plane on its stops.
William B. Mayo, Head of Ford's Aircraft Division, Edsel B. Ford, president of Ford Motor Company, the president of Reid, Murdoch & Co. and Arthur Hatch, manager of the Lincoln sales department. THF285025
The Teenie Weenies, a popular comic strip created by cartoonist and author William Donahey, began appearing in the Chicago Tribune during 1914. The adventures of the 2-inch tall "Teenie Weenies" took place in a town made-up of buildings created from recycled household products like shoes or food containers. In 1924, the Chicago Tribune discontinued the comic series allowing Reid, Murdoch & Co. to take advantage of the characters for use in advertising their Monarch Foods brand. In the company's advertisements, the cartoon characters used Monarch food containers for their buildings. On occasion, real-life examples of the characters (child actors) made appearances with Monarch's Tri-Motor.
"The General" and "The Policeman" inspect the Ford Tri-Motor known as the Independence. THF94917
Besides the Ford Tri-Motor, the Teenie Weenies have another Michigan connection. On the shores of Lake Superior, east of Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore, sits a tiny town that goes by the name of Grand Marais. In the mid-1920s, Reid, Murdoch & Co. built William Donahey a summer cabin there. Inspiration for the building came right from Donahey's Teenie Weenies comic strip. The result – a building in the shape of a pickle barrel – today welcomes visitors as the Pickle Barrel House Museum.
Ryan Jelso is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
Henry Ford used wireless radio to communicate within Ford Motor Company (FMC) starting after October 1, 1919. This revolutionary new means of communication captured Ford’s interest because it allowed him to transmit messages within his vast operation. By August 1920, he could convey directions from his yacht to administrators in FMC offices and production facilities in Dearborn and Northville, Michigan. By February 1922, Ford’s railroad offices and the plant in Flat Rock, Michigan were connected, and by 1925, the radio transmission equipment was on Ford’s Great Lake bulk haulers and ocean-going vessels. Historian David L. Lewis claimed that “Ford led all others in the use of intracompany radio communications” (The Public Image of Henry Ford, 311).
Ford Motor Company also used radio transmissions to reach external audiences through promotional campaigns. During 1922, FMC sales branches delivered a series of expositions that featured Ford automobiles and Fordson tractors. An article in Motor Age (August 10, 1922) described highlights of the four-month tour of western Oregon:
“The days are given over to field demonstrations of tractors, plows and implements, while at night a radio outfit that brings in the concerts from the distant cities and motion pictures from the Ford plant, keep an intensely interested crowd on the grounds until the Delco Light shuts down for the night.”
The Ford Radio and Film crew that broadcast to the Oregon crowds traveled in a well-marked vehicle, taking every opportunity available to inform passers-by of Ford’s investment in the new technology – radio – and the utility of new FMC products. Ray Johnson, who participated in the tour, recalled that he drove a vehicle during the day and then played dance music in the evenings as a member of the three-piece orchestra, “Sam Ness and his Royal Ragadours.”
Ford and Fordson Power Exposition Caravan and Radio Truck, Seaside, Oregon, 1922 . THF134998
In 1922, Intra-Ford transmissions began making public broadcasts over the Dearborn’s KDEN station (call letters WWI) at 250-watts of power, which carried a range of approximately 360 meters. The radio station building and transmission towers were located behind the Ford Engineering Laboratory, completed in 1924 at the intersection of Beech Street and Oakwood Boulevard in Dearborn.
Ford Motor Company Radio Station WWI, Dearborn, Michigan, March 1925. THF134748
Staff at the station, conveying intracompany information and compiled content for the public show which aired on Wednesday evenings.
Ford Motor Company Radio Station WWI, Dearborn, Michigan, August 1924. THF134754
The station did not grow because Ford did not want to join new radio networks. He discontinued broadcasting on WWI in early February 1926 (The Public Image of Henry Ford, 179).
Ford did not discontinue his intracompany radio communications. FMC used radio-telegraph means to communicate between the head office in Dearborn and remote locations, including, Fordlandia, a 2.5-million-acre plantation that Ford purchased in 1927 and that he planned to turn into a source of raw rubber to ease dependency on British colonies regulated by British trade policy.
Brazil and other countries in the Amazon of South American provided natural rubber to the world until the early twentieth century. The demand for tires for automobiles increased so quickly that South American harvests could not satisfy demand. Industrialists sought new sources. During the 1870s, a British man smuggled seeds out of Brazil, and by the late 1880s, British colonies, especially Ceylon (today Sri Lanka) and Malaysia, began producing natural rubber. Inexpensive labor, plus a climate suitable for production, and a growing number of trees created a viable replacement source for Brazilian rubber.
British trade policies, however, angered American industrialists who sought to establish production in other places including Africa and the Philippines. Henry Ford turned to Brazil, because of the incentives that the Brazilian government offered him. His goals to produce inexpensive rubber faced several hurdles, not the least of which was overcoming the traditional labor practices that had suited those who harvested rubber in local forests, and the length of time it took to cultivate new plants (not relying on local resources).
Ford built a production facility on the Tapajós River in Brazil. This included a radio station. The papers of E. L. Leibold, in The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center, include a map with a key that indicated the “proposed method of communication between Home Office and Ford Motor Company property on Rio Tapajos River Brazil.” The system included Western Union (WU) land wire from Detroit to New York, WU land wire and cable from New York to Para, Amazon River Cable Company river cable between Para and Santarem, and Ford Motor Company radio stations at each point between Santarem and the Ford Motor Company on Rio Tapajós. Manual relays had to occur at New York, Para, and Santarem.
Map Showing Routes of Communication between Dearborn, Michigan and Fordlandia, Brazil, circa 1928. THF134693
Ford officials studied the federal laws in Brazil that regulated radio and telegraph to ensure compliance. Construction of the power house and processing structures took time. The community and corporate facilities at Boa Vista (later Fordlandia) grew. By 1931, the power house had a generator that provided power throughout the Fordlandia complex.
Generator in Power House at Fordlandia, Brazil, 1931. THF134711
Power House and Water Tower at Fordlandia, Brazil, 1931. THF134714
Lines from the power house stretching up the hill from the river to the hospital and other buildings, including the radio power station. The setting on a higher elevation helped ensure the best reception for radio transmissions.
Sawmill and Power House at Fordlandia, Brazil, 1931.
Workers built the radio power house, which held a Delco Plant and storage batteries, and the radio transmitter station with its transmission tower. The intracompany radio station operated by 1929.
Radio Power House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.THF134697
Radio Transmitter House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
Storage Batteries in Radio Power House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
Delco Battery Charger for Radio Power House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
Radio Power House Motor Generator Set, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
The radio power house is visible at the extreme left of a photograph showing the stone road leading to the hospital (on an even higher elevation) at Fordlandia.
Stone Road Leading to Hospital, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929. THF134709
Radio Transmitter Station, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929. THF134707
Back at FMC headquarters in Dearborn, Ford announced in late 1933 that he would sponsor a program on both NBC and CBS networks. The Waring show aired two times a week between 1934 and 1937, when Ford pulled funding. Ford also sponsored World Series broadcasts. The most important radio investment FMC made, however, was the Ford Sunday Evening Hour, launched in the fall of 1934. Eighty-six CBS stations broadcast the show. Programs included classical music and corporate messages delivered by William J. Cameron, and occasionally guest hosts. Ford Motor Company printed and sold transcripts of the weekly talks for a small fee.
On August 24, 1941 Linton Wells (1893-1976), a journalist and foreign correspondent, hosted the broadcast and presented a piece on Fordlandia.
Program, "Ford Summer Hour," Sunday, August 24, 1941. THF134690
Linton Wells was not a stranger to Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, he and his wife, Fay Gillis Wells, posed for a tintype in the village studio on 2 May 1940.
Tintype Portrait of Linton Wells and Fay Gillis Wells, Taken at the Greenfield Village Tintype Studio, circa 1940. THF134720
This radio broadcast informed American listeners of the Fordlandia project, in its 16th year in 1941. Wells summarized the products made from rubber (by way of an introduction to the importance of the subject). He described the approach Ford took to carve an American factory out of an Amazonian jungle, and the “never-say-quit” attitude that prompted Ford to re-evaluate Fordlandia, and to trade 1,375 square miles of Fordlandia for an equal amount of land on Rio Tapajós, closer to the Amazon port of Santarem. This new location became Belterra. Little did listeners know the challenges that arose as Brazilians tried to sustain their rubber production, and Ford sought to grow its own rubber supply.
By 1942, nearly 3.6 million trees were growing at Fordlandia, but the first harvest yielded only 750 tons of rubber. By 1945, FMC sold the holdings to the Brazilian government (The Public Image of Henry Ford, 165).
The Ford Evening Hour Radio broadcasts likewise ceased production in 1942 after eight years and 400 performances.
Is the saying, “dog days of summer,” about dogs? Not directly; at least, not about any farm dog (or city dog) we know. Instead, the “dog” is Sirius, the nose of the constellation, Canis Major, and the brightest star in the night sky. We get the best look at the constellation between November and April, but during late summer in the Northern hemisphere, Sirius appears in the eastern sky before dawn, and “rises” with the sun. Ancient Greeks considered Canis Major a homage to Orion’s greater hunting dog, Laelaps. Ancient Egyptians associated the rising of Sirius with the sun, and believed the “double sun” created the hottest season of the year. Today when we hear, “Sirius,” we might first think if Sirius Black, Harry Potter’s godfather, and not about the association between the star, Sirius, and summer heat. Let’s not forget the historic association between the hot “dog days of summer” and Sirius’ rising in tandem with the sun (July 22 through August 23).
During these “dog days,” let’s take a look at some of the photographs in The Henry Ford's collections, and think more about the dogs and the people that posed with them.
Woman Feeding Cats and Dog in a yard, circa 1900. THF211312
Can we tell whether Nellie consider her cats, or her dog as her “best friend”? It is difficult to tell because the image indicates that she paid attention to both the felines and the canine.A closer look indicates that the dog has a collar and that Nellie is either feeding him a treat or has a stick as a chew to distract him from the cats at the feed bowl.
Other photographs remind us that dogs lure us into a relaxed state. This carte-de-visite of a girl and her dog, taken in a photographer’s studio, shows a remarkably relaxed pose given the often formal and stiff portraits of the Civil War era. How many of us spend hours lounging with our own dogs?
John Burroughs with His Dog, “I Know,” 1885-1890. THF113982
Famous men struck poses with their favorite dogs, too. This photograph of internationally renowned naturalist, John Burroughs, shows him at eye level with his dog, “I Know,” sometime between 1885 and 1890. A closer look at “I Know” indicates that he has some border collie features, including his alert view and focus beyond the camera, the furry, light-colored ruff, and the white blaze on his face.
John Burroughs at his birthplace, Roxbury, New York, 1918. THF241519
A photograph taken thirty years later (1918) shows John Burroughs at his birthplace in Roxbury, New York, with another attentive border-collie-type dog. This photograph could be of anyone anywhere with a loyal canine pet.
Trade Card for Cultivating Tools, Syracuse Chilled Plow Co., circa 1880. THF225590
Do your hunting expeditions involve dogs? A trade card advertising Syracuse Chilled Plow Company cultivators, featured a colorful scene of a hunter with two bird dogs.
"Eager for Deer," Man and Dogs Ready for Hunting in the Woods, circa 1903 THF118863
Working dogs had jobs to do, but they also bonded with their handlers. A photograph of a man sitting on a felled tree has seven hunting dogs close in proximity, including one in his arms. At least one of the dogs is on a chain, and most have collars, tools which helped hunters controlled the pack of dogs that they used to flush out deer or other game from heavily wooded areas.
Edsel Ford with His Pet Dog at the Ford's Edison Avenue House, Detroit, Michigan, circa 1908. THF95291 Other dogs lived more of a life of leisure. A photograph of Edsel Ford taken around 1908, had the following inscription on the back: "Edsel & his dog, sitting on step that goes down into our garden. Garrage (sic) in rear.” Clara Bryant Ford likely took the photograph and wrote the description. It was taken at the Edison Avenue Home in Detroit.
Boy on a Bicycle Holding a Dog, circa 1950. THF201327
Compassion can make young men do some surprising things to protect their dogs. Some dogs romp in the snow, but this fellow seems to be sparing his little rat terrier the shock by giving him a ride on the back of his bicycle.
Numerous images of dogs and of objects featuring dogs exist in the collections of The Henry Ford. How many of our parents thought they could use a “Little Snoopy” pull toys to distract us from the craving for a real dog?
You can see more dog-related items in The Henry Ford collections here.
Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.
Bergmann & Company Edison Chemical Meter, Used at the City Hotel, Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1883. THF164679
As work progresses on the Electrical Collection thanks to an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant, the fascinating context in which these objects were used is discovered. This Edison chemical meter used at the City Hotel in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, the first hotel commercially wired for electricity, and was part of the first three-wire power system in the world.
Following the success of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York, the first central power station in the world, Thomas Edison sent his agent, P. B. Shaw, to find other ideal locations for more central power stations. The locations needed to have high gas prices to make the switch to electric lights appealing, and inexpensive fuel to help compete in the lighting business.
Shaw traveled the Coal Region of Pennsylvania to find a place that met the criteria, and organized multiple Edison Electric Illuminating Companies including Shamokin (1882), Sunbury (July 1883), and Mount Carmel (November 1883). The site selected in Sunbury backed up onto a stream flowing down from Shamokin, which would deposit coal on its banks after heavy rainfall or melting snow. Sunbury’s high cost of gas, free coal, and proximity to water meant that it was the perfect location for a power plant; however, the location was outside the town’s business center, which would add to the cost due to the length of wires needing to be strung from the power plant to potential customers.
To offset costs, Edison took a party of potential donors on his electric railway to demonstrate his innovative technology. After the demonstration, Edison was inspired to improve his two-wire system in use in New York by adding a third-wire to act as a neutral line, as well as using two dynamos to generate 220 volts while still allowing 110 volt lamp usage to ensure consistent distribution of power throughout the long wires. After a brief test, Edison applied for a patent and the three wires with conductors were strung to the City Hotel, thus making it the first building to be commercially wired for electricity and Sunbury the first city to have three wire commercial direct current incandescent lighting and overhead conductors.
On July 4, 1883, the City Hotel of Sunbury became the first building lit with incandescent carbon-filament light bulbs using the three wire system. To measure the electricity used by the hotel, an Edison Chemical Meter, one of the first electric wattmeters, was installed. These electrolytic meters measured electricity through electroplating, but needed to be removed and measured at the central station in order to bill customers. The meters were reliable, despite the cumbersome method for billing, but were phased out in the 1890s and replaced by mechanical meters, which were easier to read.
Laura Lipp is a Collections Specialist at The Henry Ford.
In 1902, nine regional automobile clubs joined together to create a national motoring organization called the American Automobile Association (AAA). Picking up where bicyclists had left off with their “Good Roads” movement in the 1890s, the earliest goal of AAA was to lobby for road improvements. Since then, AAA has devoted itself to all matters that concern American motorists—including driver safety, emergency services, and ensuring the best possible experiences for automobile travelers.
The Michigan chapter of the American Automobile Association formed in 1916 (see Curator Matt Anderson’s blog post celebrating its 100th anniversary last year). In the following blog post, we focus on the many unique and innovative contributions of AAA and AAA Michigan to improve the overall travel and vacation experience. Many of the items shown here are drawn from a rich collection of materials that was donated to The Henry Ford by AAA Michigan in 1987.
So, pack your bags, buckle your seat belts, and get ready for a road trip through time!
American Motorist magazine, August 1909. THF202277
In 1909, AAA began publishing this magazine for motorists—offering travel tips, club news, and road improvement updates. The inaugural issue was in February of that year.
When AAA first formed, the annual Glidden Tour was conceived as a way to raise public consciousness about the poor condition of America’s roads. These tours were grueling, several-hundred-mile tests of automobile reliability and endurance. Cars often got stuck in the mud, as in this ca. 1910 photograph of a “pathfinder” car—that is, one that traveled the roads before the official tour, measuring their distances and noting their condition and surface quality.
Postcard, Public Auto Camp in Yellowstone, ca. 1920. THF128250
By 1915, AAA’s advocacy of better roads could be seen in improvements along both extended stretches of cross-country roads and better road surfaces within national parks. By 1915, so many motorists stopped at Yellowstone National Park on their way to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, that automobiles were officially allowed entrance into the park for the first time. Motorists arrived at the park prepared to camp so public campgrounds were soon created to ensure safety, order, and control. (For more, see this post on automobiles and the national parks.)
Guidebook, Motoring in and Out of New York, 1934. THF209528
AAA has long been known for its road maps. Roads were so poorly marked in the early years of motoring that maps had to include detailed written instructions or photographs of landmarks with arrows superimposed on them. As roads improved—and with the addition of identifiable highway names and numbers—road maps became easier to follow. This detailed 1934 book of maps to and from New York City came from the Lansing Branch of AAA Michigan.
In 1915, the Automobile Club of Missouri offered the first emergency road service for its members. This idea caught on quickly, and it soon became a service offered by all AAA affiliates to its members. This toy tow truck, made by the Wyandotte (Michigan) Toy Company about 1940, proudly sports an American Automobile Association decal on its side. It may have been a promotional item for AAA.
As the number of Mom-and-Pop motels increased after World War II, competition provided the impetus for motel owners to offer free giveaways as both souvenirs and easy advertising. This book of matches, which was probably neatly set in an ashtray in the motel room when the guest arrived, proudly indicates that the Rest-Well Motel, in western Wisconsin, was AAA-approved.
An intriguing item in The Henry Ford’s AAA Michigan collection is this 1949 “Negro Motorist Green Book.” The brainchild of black postal carrier Victor H. Green, this book contained listings of safe places (in both the South and the North) for African American motorists to stay, eat, and fill up with gas during the era of segregation. Green was passionate about distributing copies of the Green Book to places where African Americans were likely to encounter them, including AAA offices. See this post for more on “The Negro Motorist Green Book.”
This delightful “Trip-Pak” was a free giveaway of AAA Michigan during the post-World War II era. Look more closely and you’ll see Optrex eye wash, Burma-Shave shaving cream, razor blades, NōDōz tablets, TUMS antacid, Bromo-Seltzer antacid/pain reliever, and Vaseline hair tonic. Clearly created with male travelers in mind, perhaps this kit was designed for the traveling businessman.
Those of us of a certain age fondly remember visiting the local AAA office before embarking on a long-distance vacation to pick up a TripTik. Before the days of MapQuest, GPS, and Google Maps, this was a collection of strip maps bound together in a spiral binding. Using a brightly colored marker, the knowledgeable AAA agent would map out the designated route—greatly alleviating our fears of getting lost in an unfamiliar setting. This TripTik, provided as a service to members of AAA Michigan, contains 14 separate strip map pages that mark out an early 1950s trip from Detroit to Lake Wales, Florida.
AAA’s active lobbying for better roads included the push for the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, authorizing 41,000 miles of interstate expressways. This 1956 booklet, available at AAA Michigan offices at the time, described for eager readers the “Exciting Story of the Nation’s 50 Billion Dollar Road Program.”
AAA began producing travel guides in the teens and 1920s, to help vacationers plan their trips. The first TourBook in its modern format appeared in 1959. By 1992, the date of this TourBook, these contained a sophisticated rating system as well as indications of accessible accommodations and non-smoking areas in restaurants. In the days before the Internet, having a TourBook in hand guaranteed a no-risk vacation.
Today, AAA Michigan is still continuing to create innovative solutions for their members to travel across the country. Their new AAA app pulls together many of their well-known member benefits into one convenient destination on your phone.
Donna Braden, Curator of Public Life, is looking forward to her vacation later this month, which includes a road trip along the historic Oregon Trail and a long anticipated return to Yellowstone National Park.
This alphabet quilt, likely made in Berks County, Pennsylvania, dates from about 1910. THF168579 (Purchased through the Eleanor B. Safford Memorial Textile Fund.)
“A, B, C, D, E, F, G— H, I, J, K, L-M-N-O-P—.… Now I know my ABCs”
The alphabet song gave us a fun way to learn our ABCs—and the order of the letters. (I don’t know about you, but I sometimes still find myself singing it as I alphabetize something.) Even before kids head off to school, we not only sing the alphabet song to them, but surround them with images of alphabet letters—on building blocks, children’s dishes, and even, wallpaper—to help them learn their ABCs.
Alphabet letters also appear on quilts. Quilt block patterns published in the 20th century made it easier to plan and create these quilts. In 1906, Ladies Art Company, a mail order business that published hundreds of quilt patterns, offered a series of alphabet block designs. The Henry Ford’s alphabet quilt was likely made using these patterns.
The letters on this alphabet quilt may look like they are curved—but they are actually made up of triangles, squares, rectangles and trapezoids. The letter blocks were designed to avoid curved seams, which are more difficult to execute than these other geometric shapes. Yet, even using these Ladies Art Company patterns offered challenges. Some letters, like the G and Q, required more intricate piecing. Some quiltmakers simply deviated a bit in piecing the blocks for these, and other letters. Our quiltmaker managed the Q, but made a few small changes in creating the G.
Though working from the same pattern, each individual quiltmaker created her own unique quilt through her choice of fabric, the exact arrangement of the letter blocks, the design of the sashing and borders, and the quilt patterns used in the decorative corner blocks that complete the quilt. Some quiltmakers arranged the letter blocks in rows of three and five. Others placed them in four rows of five letter blocks—and then figured out what to do with the leftover Z! Our quilt maker tucked the Z into one corner, creating a delightfully whimsical effect.
We don’t really know who made this quilt, or who they made it for. But it is easy to imagine a child cuddling with this charming alphabet quilt—and learning his or her letters at the same time.
iPod nano MP3 Player & Earbuds, circa 2008. THF150173
What does "portable music" mean to you? This group of artifacts challenges what that notion has meant, from the early 20th-century to present day. Some objects may seem familiar--some may seem laughably large to be considered "portable" today.
An evolution of listening styles is also present: from the open channels of radio for news and top-40 music--to formats like the LP and MP3 that allowed people to take control of their listening experience, minus the DJ.
Family Picnic, ca. 1935 THF101122 July. Mid-summer. Fresh mornings, hazy afternoons, balmy evenings. It’s a chance to get outdoors and appreciate all that summer has to offer. At a time like this, it’s easy for our thoughts to turn to picnics. In fact, July is National Picnic Month!
As you can see from the selections included here, picnics have long been packed for family reunions, for camping trips, for road trips. Despite the potential for invading ants, the need for some planning beforehand, and a bit of inconvenience at the picnic spot, the rewards are well worth the effort. Because picnics promise good company, a chance to escape from daily cares, and is it me or does food just taste better outdoors?
Trade card, ca. 1880; THF215172 This circa 1880 trade card, advertising Crown sewing machines and Florence oil stoves, suggests that a good time could be had by all if the picnic included food cooked on a Florence oil stove.
Photo, ca. 1900; THF284849 The people seated at the picnic table in this circa 1900 photograph are enjoying a clam steam, a particular favorite in New England. The meal often also included other shellfish and sweet corn.
Collapsible cup, ca. 1920; THF104640 These circa 1920 collapsible paper cups, distributed at Socony (Standard Oil Company of New York) service stations, made it easy for travelers to drink a cold beverage they might pack for their picnics.
Photo, Vagabonds, July 24, 1921; THF34544 Even the rich and famous could enjoy an outdoor picnic, especially if served at a large Lazy-Susan table under a shady canvas cover. This 1921 photograph, taken during a “Vagabonds” camping trip in Hagerstown, Maryland, includes: Henry Ford and his wife Clara, son Edsel, and Edsel’s wife Eleanor; Thomas Edison and his wife Mina; Harvey Firestone and his wife Elizabeth Parke; President Warren G. Harding; and several others.
Wash-up kit, ca. 1925; THF150975 Decades before pre-packaged moist towelettes came on the market, this circa 1925 Wash-Up Kit allowed picnickers to wash and dry their hands before eating—with a paper sheet that magically turned into soap when moistened and a set of paper towels.
Photo, ca. 1930; THF120736 The family in this circa 1930 photograph was undeterred by the lack of restaurants along the highway. Like other motorists, they stopped along the side of the road and ate a meal they had packed themselves.
Box of FMC Charcoal Briquets, 1935-7; THF6000 Ford Motor Company’s charcoal briquettes, produced in the 1930s from the wood wastes of its lumber operations in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, claimed to be safe, smokeless, and convenient—ideal for picnickers wanting to grill outdoors.
Photo, 1955; THF113925 The picnickers in this 1955 publicity photograph are enjoying campstove-cooked hot dogs in the remote Colorado Rockies.
Fisher-Price Picnic Basket, 1975; THF155302 Kids could enjoy their own “Teddy Bear picnic” with this 1975 Fisher-Price playset—complete with a plastic hinged-lid picnic basket, dishes, and a tablecloth.
Herman Miller Poster, 1985; THF154517 This striking 1985 poster is one of a series of 20 that graphic designer Stephen Frykholm created for the annual company picnics of Herman Miller, Inc.—a company renowned for its “modern” furniture.
Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life, has fond memories of picnics growing up and continues to be a picnic aficionado.