While researching the many electrical objects being digitized as part of the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences grant, a few stories have stood out to me. These stories sometimes involve the people behind the scenes: manufacturers, inventors, etc., and other times are about how the object was used. Below are four such objects and their stories.
This Jenney Electric Motor Company rheostat has uncovered an interesting story about the company’s namesake. It was designed by Charles G. Jenney who was awarded a patent for it in 1892. Jenney, originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana with his father to design and produce electrical equipment for the Fort Wayne Jenney Electric Light Company. On February 27, 1885, Jenney, who had been contracted to the Fort Wayne Jenney Electric Light Company by his father while still a minor, successfully petitioned to be removed from the company, and, a month later, he founded the Jenney Electric Light Company later the Jenney Electric Company. The Jenney Electric Company was demonstrating Jenney’s dynamos, arc lamps, and incandescent lamps by August that same year. This company was bought out and Jenney started again, this time with the Jenney Electric Motor Company in 1889 for which he produced electrical equipment like this rheostat, filed for more patents, and wired and lit the streets of Indianapolis.
With the Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery opening in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation last fall, Greenfield Village is the site for the next chapter in this exhibit's story.
The Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery is in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. It opened in October 2016. The Davidson Gerson Gallery of Glass is in Greenfield Village’s Liberty Craftworks District. Its grand opening is set for spring 2017.
Both galleries provide an in-depth look at the American glass story. The museum gallery focuses specifically on the studio glass movement of the 1960s, while the village gallery, supported by the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, surveys the history of American glass, ranging from 18th-century colonial glass through 20th-century mainstream glass as well as studio glass.
Charles Sable, curator of decorative arts, was tasked with updating and reinterpreting The Henry Ford’s American glass collection. He envisioned creating an all-new gallery adjacent to the museum’s Glass Shop in the Liberty Craftworks District of Greenfield Village — a place to exhibit portions of the institution’s 10,000 glass artifacts currently in storage. His vision intersected with that of collectors Bruce and Ann Bachmann, who were seeking to donate their 300-piece studio glass collection.
According to Sable, the studio glass movement, which began in the early 1960s, is recognized as a turning point in the history of glass, as artists explored the qualities of the medium in a studio environment. Their goal was to create fine art. Evolving over a 20-year period, the movement matured in the 1980s with artists producing a myriad of unique works.
While other museums were interested in the Bachmann collection, it was The Henry Ford that garnered the collectors’ full attention and eventually their generous donation. “The Bachmanns had very specific criteria for their collection,” said Sable. “They were looking for an institution that was in an urban area, preferably in the Midwest where they live, had a large visitation, and was capable of exhibiting and maintaining the collection.
“As Bruce told me, it was a good marriage. He felt his collection would live here in perpetuity,” added Sable.
The story of the studio glass movement is now on permanent exhibition in the DavidsonGerson Modern Glass Gallery, which is located in the museum space that once showcased The Henry Ford’s silver and pewter collections. “Our exhibit is a deep dive into how studio glass unfolded,” said Sable. “It’s the story of the combination of science and art that created a new and innovative chapter in the history of glass.”
The exhibition also looks at the impact of studio glass on everyday life and includes a section on mass-produced glass influenced by studio glass and sold today by retailers such as Crate and Barrel, Pier 1 Imports and others.
Once the new Davidson-Gerson Gallery of Glass in Greenfield Village opens this spring, thousands of visitors will have an added opportunity to see larger-scale studio glass pieces from the Bachmann collection as well as the evolution of American glass.
DID YOU KNOW? The Bachmann studio glass collection includes representation of every artist of importance in the movement, including Harvey Littleton, Dominick Labino, Dale Chihuly, Lino Tagliapietra, Laura Donefer and Toots Zynsky.
The gallery is a careful redesign of the McDonald & Sons Machine Shop in the Liberty Craftworks District. BY THE NUMBERS 180: The number of glass artifacts on display in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation’s Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery. 155: The number of artists represented in the Bachmann studio glass collection. 300: The number of studio glass pieces in the Bachmann collection
Kathryn Emerson and Dr. James Buntin were interested and active in social causes such as welfare rights, Civil Rights, and education, among others, during the 1960s and 1970s, and the collection contains dozens of buttons that we’ve just digitized, including this one proudly declaring “Be Black Baby.” We’ve also recently digitized some of the couple’s clothing, books, and other materials.
Inexpensive cyclecars, as the name suggests, often used motorcycle engines like the V-2 in this Scripps-Booth prototype. The air-cooled motor meant there was no need for water or a radiator, while the splash lubrication system eliminated the necessity for an oil pump. The prototype’s engine is mounted with its crankshaft parallel to the rear axle, simplifying the belt connections between transmission and wheels.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
One of the challenges of digitizing our collection is that we can’t just work on brand-new artifacts—we’re also always updating our records for already-digitized items. A change might be as “simple” as refining a date based on new research, or adding a description of the artifact for context. For imagery, we have to account for the fact that camera technology advances at an astounding rate. Photos that we considered top of the line 10 or 15 years ago now may not meet today’s baseline standards.
An artifact we’ve just rephotographed, in honor of Black History Month, is the Rosa Parks Bus. Using the latest lighting, photography equipment, hardware, and software, Photographer Rudy Ruzicska and Digital Imaging Specialist Jillian Ferraiuolo recently took new images of the bus, including this shot, which features Rosa’s seat right in the middle of the picture.
Rolls-Royce’s New Phantom engine, introduced in 1925, featured twin ignition with two spark plugs in each of its six cylinders. Those cylinders were cast in two sets of three, coupled by a one-piece cylinder head. Great Britain taxed automobiles based on cylinder bore. To reduce its tax penalty, the New Phantom engine was “undersquare” with its 4¼ -inch bore smaller than its 5½-inch stroke.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
The Duesenberg is a beautiful automobile, and under the hood there’s plenty of go to match the show. The straight-8’s four valves per cylinder and duplex carburetor helped it pump out an enormous amount of horsepower for the time. (Later supercharged versions produced an astounding 320 horsepower!) The Model J could break 100 miles per hour without breaking a sweat.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Last summer, our 2016 Edsel B. Ford Design History Fellow, Meredith Pollock, investigated materials in our collection related to Edsel and Eleanor Ford’s philanthropy, including a thread concerning the NAACP. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded February 12, 1909, on the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The goal at the time, as the NAACP’s website notes, was to “secure for all people the rights guaranteed in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution, which promised an end to slavery, the equal protection of the law and universal adult male suffrage, respectively.”
Judge Ira W. Jayne of the third judicial circuit of Michigan reached out to Eleanor Ford for a donation to the Detroit branch of the NAACP in 1922. In a letter we’ve just digitized, Jayne calls the organization “the most intelligent and wholesome effort for and in behalf of the betterment of race conditions in the country today” and notes that his “knowledge of [Eleanor’s] interest in fair play for the under man has prompted this letter.” Jayne did succeed in his goal—a reply two weeks later from Edsel Ford calls the NAACP’s goals “commendable” and includes a donation for $100.
“Where Will You Stay Tonight?” Freedom. Independence. Hitting the open road without a care in the world. After years of being tied down to railroad schedules, motorists in the early 20th century used words like these to describe the joys of cross-country travel by automobile.
African Americans were as eager to purchase automobiles as anyone, to escape the indignities of “Jim Crow” laws that dictated segregated waiting rooms and railroad cars in the South, and to avoid more subtle—yet equally humiliating—forms of discrimination elsewhere. But the joys of motoring without care did not apply to them.
Sign from segregated railroad station, 1921. THF93445
For, once they stopped along the road—anywhere along the road in virtually any part of the country—segregation, discrimination, and humiliation returned in force. It was at hotels and tourist cabins that denied them lodging for the night; at restaurants, where they were turned away for meals or a cup of coffee; and at service stations, where requests to fill up with gasoline, repair a vehicle, or use the restroom were denied. According to Civil Rights leader Julian Bond, “It didn’t matter where you went—Jim Crow was everywhere.” Constantly alert to situations that might be humiliating, African-American motorists took to packing food, blankets, pillows, portable containers with gasoline, and old coffee cans or buckets to use as toilets. They made prior plans to stop overnight with relatives or friends, sometimes driving miles out of their way.
Even worse than segregation laws and customs, Black travelers had to constantly navigate a minefield of uncertainty and risk on the road. Would this place be safe to stop? Could my children use the bathroom here? African-American motorists faced the potential of physical violence, racial profiling by police (targeting individuals for crimes based upon their race), or forcible expulsion from whites-only “sundown towns” in both the North and South, with their laws insisting that non-whites leave city limits by dusk or face the consequences. Some African-American travelers did not make it to their destinations, they just disappeared. It is no wonder that the question, “Where Will You Stay Tonight?” was always top of mind.
Victor Green Addresses a Need “The Negro Motorist Green Book” was the brainchild of Victor H. Green, a black postal carrier in Hackensack, New Jersey, who later moved to Harlem in New York City. As Green tells it, the idea for this guidebook came to him in 1932, when he decided to do something about his own frustrating travel experiences as well as the constant complaints he heard from friends and neighbors about difficult and painfully embarrassing experiences they had while traveling by automobile. Green modeled the guide after those created for Jewish travelers, a group that had long experienced discrimination at vacation spots. The first edition of The Green Book, produced in 1936, was limited to listings in New York City. But the demand for the guide was so great that, by the following year, it became national in both scope and distribution.
Although often including longer editorial features, at its heart The Green Book was a directory of safe places for African-American travelers, including hotels, motels, tourist homes (the homes of private individuals who were willing to offer a room for the night), restaurants, beauty and barber shops, service stations, garages, road houses, taverns, and nightclubs. The most prolific listings were in metropolises with large populations of black Americans, like New York, Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Perhaps more valuable to travelers were the listings in smaller towns far removed from these cities.
The Los Angeles listings in the 1949 Green Book were quite extensive compared to other California towns and cities.THF77190
Green collected the listings through his contacts in the postal workers’ union, as well as by asking Green Book users to submit suggestions. As the book became more popular, Green commissioned agents to solicit new business listings as well as to verify the accuracy of existing ones.
From his small-scale publishing house in Harlem, Green distributed the books by mail order, to black-owned businesses, and at Esso (Standard Oil) service stations—a rare gasoline distributor that franchised to African Americans. He sold copies at black churches, the Negro Urban League, virtually anywhere that African Americans were bound to encounter them.
The Michigan listings in the 1949 Green Book were most extensive in Detroit and the black resort of Idlewild. THF77203
Rise and Decline Publication of The Green Book was suspended between 1942 and 1946, because of World War II, but it started up again in earnest with the postwar travel boom in 1947. Ever the entrepreneur looking for ways to aid African American travelers, Green branched out that year to create a Vacation Reservation Service, a travel agency that booked reservations at any hotel or resort listed in the book. That same year, he also issued a supplementary directory of summer resorts that welcomed black vacationers, called the Green Book Vacation Guide.
Left: An ad for The Green Book Vacation Guide in the 1949 Green Book. THF 77185
In 1952, Green retired from the postal service and became a full-time publisher. He renamed the guidebook “The Negro Travelers’ Green Book” to reflect the increasing popularity of international travel by ship and airplane. By 1955, the book was endorsed and in use by the American Automobile Association and its hundreds of affiliated clubs throughout the country, as well as travel bureaus, bus lines, airlines, travelers’ aid societies, libraries, and thousands of subscribers.
The market for The Green Book began eroding in the 1960s, especially after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that legally prohibited racial segregation. Increasing numbers of middle-class African Americans began to question whether the book was actually doing more harm than good because it continued to encourage Jim Crow practices by steering black travelers to segregated businesses rather than encouraging integration. New, interstate-highway hotels, which were integrated, became preferable to detouring to black-owned lodgings in remote locations. The Green Book continued until 1966, published by Victor Green’s family after his death in 1960. Until the last year of publication, the book maintained that listing black-friendly businesses guaranteed hassle-free vacations for African-American families.
For 30 years, The Green Book protected African Americans from difficulties, indignities, and humiliation during their travels. Green charged only enough to make a modest profit. He never became rich; it was really all about helping out. In publishing this book, Green not only helped thousands of African Americans take more enjoyable vacations but also gave a tremendous boost to black-owned businesses across the country during the challenging Jim Crow era.
Peruse the entire 1949 “Negro Motorist Green Book” in our digital collections.
We bring hundreds to thousands of new artifacts into our collection every year, and many of those enter our digitization stream so visitors can access them online. We’ve just digitized a series of posters that came into the collection in September 2016.
Created around 1960 by the Ford Motor Company Research and Information Department, the educational works depict a number of ways humans have measured length, including the fathom, and how these measurements have increased in precision over time.