Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Clara Ford took her model of a roadside market to major garden and flower events across the country. Here she poses with it at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City (THF117982).

Buying fresh produce direct from local farmers is a key to our efforts today to “eat local.” Nearly 90 years ago, Clara Ford was advocating the same thing, to improve on diets that were undermined by too much processed food and--more importantly to her--to improve the situations of rural farm women. Continue Reading

A Gothic Novelty

September 5, 2014 Archive Insight

Steam engine with Gothic ornamentation by Novelty Works of New York, New York manufactured about 1855. (Object ID: 30.489.1).

The great Novelty Works steam engine in the Henry Ford Museum is arguably the finest surviving example of mid-19th century ornamented American machinery. Built in about 1855, the 30 foot tall, 50 ton gothic-style engine is a true visual emblem of the collision between traditional society and the modern industrial world taking place in this country just prior to the Civil War. Victorian engineers oftentimes covered their creations with ornament in a vain effort to harmonize these alien objects with the world about them. In the process, they unconsciously left a record of their own inner struggle to adapt to a new and alien world. Continue Reading

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison at Dedication of Menlo Park Glass House in Greenfield Village, 1929.

Later this month the first episode of our new television series, The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation, will debut on CBS as part of the Saturday morning Dream Team programming block. Members and visitors to The Henry Ford will recognize a familiar building in the first episode: Thomas Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory.

We've collected a handful of our digital resources for you to immerse yourself in. Make sure to check the blog every week this fall for more episode resource posts.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford. Continue Reading

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

corliss

Corliss engines were renowned for their superior economy but it was their smooth running speed and swift response to changes in load that ensured their great success. These engines were particularly attractive to the textile industry. The energy needed to drive the vast numbers of machines used in textile mills was considerable but the delicacy of the threads and fabrics produced by textile machinery demanded that the power source be very responsive. The patented Corliss valve gear allowed the engine to maintain the precise speed needed to avoid thread breakage while simultaneously responding to varying loads as different machines were brought in or out of operation. Continue Reading

Barn at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, September 8, 1991.

Barns are one of the best ways to tell where you are when you are traveling—especially if you happened to be traveling through the United States 150 years ago.

Barns are generally the largest man-made feature of the rural landscape. They can tell you a lot about the type of farming that is going on, as well as the cultural background of the family that built them. Unlike houses or commercial buildings, barns generally lack stylistic adornment. Since building a barn was often a community undertaking, the general form and the details of barn construction often changed slowly—barn-builders were limited to construction techniques that everyone in the community knew how to do. As a result, until the late 1800s, barns tended to differ more from place-to-place, than they did over time.

The barn at the Firestone Farm tells us that the Firestone family was of German ancestry, that people from the Germanic sections of Pennsylvania settled the community where the family lived in Ohio, and that their farm was the typical mix of livestock and grain crops found in the northeast and upper Midwestern United States.

What physical clues tell us this?

This photograph (left) of the Firestone Barn on its original site in Columbiana County , Ohio , shows the earthen bank built up as a ramp to the upper level. On the right, the projecting forebay is visible in this photograph of the Firestone Barn taken in 1898. (Photos courtesy of the Firestone Archives)

The Firestone barn is of a type known as a Pennsylvania-German bank barn, or “Sweitzer” barn, one of the primary barn types found in the United States before 1880. Bank barns are large, multi-purpose structures that combined several farm functions under a single roof. Two-story and rectangular in form, they have a gable roof with a ridgeline running the length of the building. They are called bank barns because one side of the barn is built into the bank of a hill, allowing wagons to be driven into the upper floor of the barn. The opposite side of the barn has an overhang, known as a projecting forebay. Livestock were kept in the lower story of the barn. Continue Reading

chandler_32.351.105

Jenny Young Chandler (1865–1922) was a 25-year-old widow in 1890, when she began to support herself and her infant son by working as a photojournalist for the New York Herald. Her images were captured on glass plate negatives via a heavy camera, and intimately depict everyday life on the streets of Brooklyn, New York. We’ve just digitized over 200 images from the collection, including this one of marionette-makers at work. Other noteworthy subjects for Chandler include children at play and work, ethnic minorities (such as gypsies), and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum (which still exists today, though undoubtedly in much different form). See all the Chandler images digitized thus far on our collections website, and check back in as we add more over upcoming months.

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

The Henry Ford's 1929 Packard 626 Speedster at the Concours d'Elegance of America.

The Henry Ford is privileged to participate in a number of concours auto shows each year, but I have a particular soft spot for our “hometown” event: the Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John's, held each July in Plymouth, Michigan. This past Sunday marked the show’s 36th year. With more than 250 cars in attendance, it’s clearly as strong as ever.

Among the featured automobiles this year was a class entitled, “The Evolution of the Sports Car, 1900-1975.” Our 1929 Packard 626 Speedster, a trim eight-cylinder roadster capable of 100 miles per hour, fit quite nicely alongside racy models from Alpha Romeo, Ferrari, Jaguar and Porsche, together with less exotic – but no less exciting – cars from Chevrolet, Ford, Nash and Studebaker. Continue Reading

Rosa_Parks_Bus_EI.1929.118

You might have heard that we are partnering with Litton Entertainment to create a brand-new TV show, The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, premiering on CBS later this year. As we worked with Litton to develop story ideas that might be featured on the show, we also wanted to make sure we digitized a variety of artifacts from our collections related to those stories.  To that end, we’ve just digitized a couple dozen photos of the Rosa Parks Bus before and during its 2002 restoration. As former curator Bill Pretzer relates online, the bus had been left in a field and used as a storehouse for decades, leading to the significant condition issues that you can see in this photo of the driver’s seat. See more newly digitized photos of the restoration process by visiting our collections website, and learn more on Innovation Nation this fall!

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

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

ice-cream-tray

This 1920s ice cream parlor tray says it all: ice cream was not just a passing fad—it was here to stay!(Object ID: 83.21.250)

“America is the only country in the world where ice cream is a staple article of food.” - New-York Daily Tribune, July 1902

Ice cream may have originated elsewhere, but Americans embraced it as their own with a passion akin to baseball games, outdoor picnics, and July 4th parades. The story of ice cream in America is actually comprised of multiple stories—stories of individual enterprise, invention and accidental discovery, short-lived novelties and industry-wide changes—all leading to the plethora of ice cream choices we indulge in today. Continue Reading