Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

As Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, I research objects within The Henry Ford’s collections that tell entrepreneurial stories. Most recently, I delved into the Label Collection’s food labels – a collection of beautiful labels from canned food and West Coast fruit crates. This post will highlight the story of “Fruit King,” Joseph Di Giorgio.

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Crate Label, “Oh Yes! We Grow the Best California Fruits,” 1930-1940, used by the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation THF293029

Giuseppe “Joseph” Di Giorgio (1874-1951) was introduced to the fruit business at a young age. His father grew lemons and grapes, among other seasonal crops, in Sicily. In 1888, at the age of 14, Di Giorgio immigrated to the United States. When he arrived in New York, speaking little-to-no English, he found work as a fruit jobber, a middleman who would buy large quantities of goods from fruit packers and sell those goods to retailers or merchants.

After a short time of learning the business, Di Giorgio moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he set up his own store selling lemons. By the age of 16, he had become one of the most successful fruit receivers and distributors in Baltimore. But lemons were a seasonal crop. To supplement his income in the off-season, he began importing bananas from the West Indies – a prosperous endeavor that eventually became a year-round business.

His good fortune allowed him to invest in other business ventures, including partnerships with investors to open auction houses for fresh produce in various cities across the United States. Shipments of produce were brought into the auction houses and sold quickly at fair prices to merchants who would gather daily for their pick of the products. It was a profitable business. Owners of the auction house received money from packing and shipping companies for hosting the sale, and received commission on the sold goods. By 1904, Di Giorgio owned auction houses in New York and Baltimore, and had partial interests in others along the East Coast and throughout the Midwest. 

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1924 Railroad Refrigerator Car, Used by Fruit Growers Express THF68309

Refrigerated rail cars, like this one, allowed meats and produce to be shipped for long distances without spoiling. This innovation allowed farmers to reach new and distant markets, and it provided tastier, healthier foods to consumers.

Joseph Di Giorgio recognized that a direct influence in the growing and packing business would allow him to control every aspect of the fresh produce business – the orchards where the fruit was grown, the harvesting and packing of the produce, shipment to the auction houses he already owned, and the final sale to merchants. In 1911, Di Giorgio seized the opportunity to make his vision a reality by purchasing Earl Fruit Company, the dominant packing company in California.

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Men Loading Fruit Boxes onto Horse-Drawn Wagons, circa 1905 THF205612

By the time Joseph Di Giorgio purchased the Earl Fruit Company in 1911, it had packing houses in every important fruit center across the state of California. The company shipped its produce across the country to eastern markets by rail and to local markets by horse-drawn wagon. In this photograph, taken in 1905 before Di Giorgio purchased the company, men load crates of oranges bearing the name “Earl Fruit Company” onto wagons heading for market. 

With the profits he made through this lucrative acquisition, Di Giorgio was able to expand even further. His first land acquisition came in 1918 when he purchased citrus groves in Florida. The following year, he developed open desert land in California’s San Joaquin Valley, turning it into a thriving oasis for various fruits. By 1920, Joseph Di Giorgio was the leading supplier of California’s deciduous fruit (that is, fruit that grows on vines, trees, and bushes, excluding citrus fruits.) He also owned apple orchards in Oregon and Washington, plum orchards in Idaho which produced prunes, and citrus orchards in Florida that yielded oranges and grapefruit. At this time, Di Giorgio still owned an operation in the banana industry as well, but he abandoned this venture in the 1930s as he turned his focus to his domestic interests.

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Crate Label for Blue Flag Brand Pears, 1920-1994 THF293053

Upon arrival at an auction house, merchants were given a catalogue of the produce available. With so many companies and brands to choose from, it was important for fruit packers to make their products stand out. Companies often adopted a signature image or brand to help loyal customers recognize their products. One of Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation’s widely used brands was Blue Flag Brand, which featured a flag within its label design.

In December 1920, Di Giorgio established the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation, combining all of his holdings – close to 50 by one estimate – into one company. Throughout the next several decades, the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation would venture into the vegetable and canning industries. In the 1930s, the company entered the wine business and by mid-century had the largest winery in the state of California.

At the time of his death in 1951, Joseph Di Giorgio was at the peak of his career as a grower, and his company was the largest fruit-packing enterprise in the country. The success of his company can be attributed to Di Giorgio’s leadership. His experience in all aspects of the fruit industry allowed him to recognize potential problems and adapt appropriately. A brilliant and personable man, Di Giorgio earned respect and loyalty from employees and clients alike – an aspect of the business Di Giorgio was proud of. But above all, he was confident and dedicated to seeing his vision through, propelling the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation to national recognition and appropriately earning himself the media-given nickname, the “Fruit King.”

Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford.

food, immigrants, entrepreneurship

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This full-color, large-format book is a compilation of Buster Brown comic strips that originally ran in the
New York Herald in 1903 and 1904. THF297428

You may not know his name, but you’re likely familiar his work. Richard Outcault, a talented comic illustrator with a keen eye for marketing, found his ultimate success with the character Buster Brown in the early 1900s.

Born in Lancaster, Ohio, in 1863, Richard Felton Outcault showed an early interest in art. As a teenager, he attended the McMicken School of Design (now the Art Academy of Cincinnati) and found work painting decorative scenes for a Cincinnati safe manufacturer. By 1889, Outcault had taken a position as an artist at Thomas Edison’s West Orange, New Jersey, laboratory, working primarily on corporate exhibitions.

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Richard Outcault created this illustration for Edison’s exhibit at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. It depicts the Menlo Park laboratory complex in 1879, when Edison first demonstrated his experimental lighting system. THF236600

Around 1890, Outcault left West Orange for New York City, where he began contributing mechanical drawings to technical publications like Electrical World and Street Railway Journal. He also submitted comic illustrations to some of the popular weekly humor magazines that had emerged in the 1880s, including Judge, Life, and Puck.

As public interest in comic publications grew, new advances in color printing technology became available, and newspaper publishers saw an opportunity to cash in. In 1893, the New York World introduced a weekly color comic supplement that, at first, reprinted illustrations from the humor magazines it mimicked. Richard Outcault joined the staff of the World as a cartoonist and published his first original comic for the paper in September 1894.

The Yellow Kid
By 1896, one of the recurring characters in Outcault’s comics – a little baldheaded boy wearing a bright yellow nightshirt – had become a sensation. World readers began buying the paper every Sunday to check in on the adventures of the “Yellow Kid,” who the paper also licensed for merchandising. The Yellow Kid became the face of a wide range of products, from cigarettes and packaged foods to fashion accessories and household appliances.

The Yellow Kid’s popularity demonstrated the commercial value of comics and helped establish the medium as a newspaper fixture. Richard Outcault likely never benefitted directly from the licensing of the Yellow Kid – at that time, newspapers owned the rights to the images published in them, and copyright law didn’t protect characters – but he noted the marketing potential of a popular comic character.

Buster Brown
With the success of the Yellow Kid, Outcault himself became something of a commodity. Demand for his comics kept him busy, and Outcault continued illustrating for several newspapers and magazines through the turn of the century. In 1902, he introduced Buster Brown, a mischievous 12-year-old boy from a well-heeled Manhattan family. Readers went crazy for Buster Brown’s shenanigans (and for his pet dog, Tige). Outcault had another hit on his hands.

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Richard Outcault was a pioneer in the strip style of comic illustration, with sequential image panels and accompanying text (often in speech bubbles) that contributed to the narrative. By about 1900, this format had become standard for comics. THF297493

This time, he managed to profit from it. Though he never owned the legal rights to Buster Brown, Outcault licensed the character’s name and face to hundreds of companies. Buster Brown promoted everything from bread and cigars to toys and – perhaps most famously – shoes.

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This bank is just one example of the hundreds of products manufactured during the first quarter of the twentieth century that bore Buster Brown’s likeness. Buster’s canine companion, Tige, sits at the horse’s feet. THF304975

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The St. Louis-based Brown Shoe Company (now Caleres) is probably the best-known Buster Brown licensee. Buster and Tige promoted the Brown company’s shoes – commonly called “Buster Browns” – into the 1990s.
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Americans purchased these branded products for decades after Outcault introduced Buster Brown. The character became a household name that outlived its comic strip, which was last published in 1921. By then, Richard Outcault was focusing less on illustrating and more on marketing. Eventually, he stepped away from comics altogether, returning to painting before his death in 1928. Eighty years later, the comic industry formally recognized Outcault’s important career, inducting him into its hall of fame at the 2008 San Diego Comic Convention.

Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content at The Henry Ford

popular culture, newspapers, drawings, communication, by Saige Jedele

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One of the comic book titles that came under attack in the 1950s
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The popularity of comic books has always ebbed and flowed.  But there was a time when their very survival was at stake.  Back in the 1950s, Cold War hysteria and the fear of Communist infiltration into American society led to a deep concern about, and intense scrutiny of, comic books.  This was the one medium at the time that went directly from manufacturer to child, bypassing adult supervision. 

An American psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham fanned the flames of adult concern at the time.  Dr. Wertham worked with juvenile delinquents and found that the one thing they all seemed to have in common was their devotion to comic books.  Beginning in 1948, he went on an anti-comic book crusade, writing and speaking out against the detrimental effects that he claimed comic book reading had on young people.  

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Dr. Wertham’s
Seduction of the Innocent book, 1954 THF277193

Dr. Wertham summed up his arguments in his 1954 opus, Seduction of the Innocent.  This 400-page indictment of the comic book industry warned parents and educators that comic books were not only a harmful form of popular literature but also a serious cause of juvenile delinquency.  In the book, as in his lectures, he cited examples of violence, sexual themes, drug use, and other adult fare that he had found within the pages of actual comic books—asserting that reading this material encouraged similar behavior.  According to Dr. Wertham, these examples were especially evidenced in the extremely popular crime and horror titles published by the EC comic book company at the time. 

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Comic books with covers like this one, showing violence and scantily clad women, were among those that Dr. Wertham denounced. THF141552

Seduction of the Innocent created a sensation, as Dr. Wertham put forth a potent combination of professional expertise and moral outrage.  It confirmed the growing fear by many parents that their children’s attachment to comic books was permanently harming their willingness to conform to societal rules and hindering their ability to become law-abiding citizens in America’s democratic society.

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1951 Superman comic book predating the Comics Code Authority’s stamp of approval THF141569

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1965 Superman comic book with its Comics Code Authority stamp of approval in the upper right corner THF305329

The national attention focused upon the comic book industry led to a simultaneous U.S. Congressional inquiry in 1954.  As things were looking bleak for the comic book industry, the publishers decided to band together and self-censor their own titles by adopting a new Comics Code Authority (or CCA).  According to CCA regulations, each company was required to include a Stamp of Approval on the cover of every one of its issues as a sign that it had met compliance with the Code.

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December 1954 issue of Mad when it was a comic book, just before it was converted into a magazine THF141567

As a result, EC titles were soon taken off the shelves.  In fact, this company would have been completely wiped out except for its popular Mad magazine, which became highly successful in its own right.  Even though the other comic book companies honed their stories closely to the guidelines of the Code, the damage had been done.  Comic books were held in disdain for years to the point that, by the early 1960s, their very survival was at risk.  We can thank, in large part, Marvel Comics’ new approach to stories and superheroes for their remarkable comeback.    

Dr. Wertham was later discredited for “manipulating, overstating, compromising, and fabricating” evidence.  And, before long, parents found that comic books were minor in their concern about harmful influences on America’s youth, as they seemed like nothing compared to the new Hollywood teenage films, paperback novels, and rock ‘n’ roll music!  Only later did people better understand that teenage angst and rebellion were very normal parts of growing up.

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Teenage movies like the one shown in this 1959 poster made comic books seem tame by comparison. THF109455

Through the ensuing decades, few comic books dared veer from the Code’s regulations that forbade depictions of graphic violence, advocated alignment with societal norms, and dictated that all comic book stories end on an upbeat note.  But by the late 20th century, these norms had changed enough that the earlier regulations had lost much of their relevance.  The two major comic book companies—Marvel and DC—finally dropped the CCA in favor of their own rating systems—in 2001 and 2011, respectively.

For a time, comic books went on trial.  But they managed to survive and adapt.  Ironically, later studies revealed that comic books actually played a positive role in enhancing literacy, inspiring imagination, providing new career outlets, and leading to lifetime hobbies.

Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.  See her other blog posts, Hooked on Comic Books and Battle of the Superheroes: DC vs. Marvel.

books, popular culture, by Donna R. Braden, comic books

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DC’s superhero stories, like this 1961 issue of
The Flash, invariably ended happily—with problems resolved and loose ends neatly tied up. THF305327

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Marvel superheroes often questioned both their superpowers and their general existence, as suggested on this dramatic cover of issue#50 of The Amazing Spider-Man.*

The Flash, the Hulk, the Thing; Batman, Ironman, Spider-Man; the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy.  On and on it goes.  The list of comic book superheroes can seem almost endless.  How do you tell them apart?  To get you started, it helps to know their origin—their company of origin, that is.  With a few exceptions, all comic book superheroes trace their origins back to the talented writers and artists who created them at only two companies—DC and Marvel.  From their beginnings, these companies differed radically in their approach to superheroes, and these differences can still be discerned today. 

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Superman comic book, 1951 THF141569

DC Comics

Comic book superheroes originated back in the 1930s with Superman.  This superpowered alien was the brainchild of two shy but talented teenage boys from Cleveland, Ohio—Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  Pooling their drawing and writing talents, they devised the story of a he-man they simply called “The Superman,” who crash-landed on earth from another planet.  To keep his true identity safe, Superman needed to adopt a secret identity.  Enter Clark Kent, a meek, mild-mannered reporter with a personality remarkably similar to the two boys who had created him. 

Siegel and Shuster originally thought their character would lend itself to a great newspaper comic strip.  But they had no luck selling the idea to newspaper publishers, so they reluctantly agreed to sell their story in 1937 to the just-formed Detective Comics, Inc. (later shortened to DC).  Comic books—especially those featuring single characters rather than simply being collections of comic strips—were as yet an untested medium and both the young creators and the publisher took a risk.  Superman first appeared in Action comics (published by National Allied Publications, another corporate predecessor to DC) in June 1938.  Surprising everyone involved, he was immediately so popular that the publishers decided to feature him in his own comic book the very next year.  This marked the first time a comic book was devoted to a single superhero character. 

During the hard times of the Great Depression, Superman’s unprecedented popularity can be attributed to both his secret and his super identities.  Clark Kent represented the regular, unassuming common man that people could relate to, while they could happily dream and fantasize about being as infallible and invincible as the larger-than-life Superman.

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Wonder Woman comic book, 1948 THF141561

The formula was potent and durable.  Superman established the essential vocabulary for all DC comic book superheroes to come.  He, like superheroes who came after him, represented courage, humility, steadfastness, and a natural sense of responsibility to serving others in need.  He placed lofty principles above personal advantage, seeking nothing for himself.  As the Great Depression shifted to the patriotic World War II era, new DC superheroes like The Flash and Wonder Woman similarly placed the greater good above their own personal needs.  They never questioned their role in defending American democracy.  And, following the DC formula, they always triumphed in the end.

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During the late 1940s and 1950s, young readers were more likely to purchase a comic book about the humorous adventures of teenager Archie Andrews than one about a superhero. THF141542

During the 1950s, sales of comic books declined, especially those about superheroes.  Not only were adults concerned about the harmful effects of comic books on children, but superheroes seemed to lose their sense of purpose.  During the war years, it had been easy to know which side they were on.  What were they fighting for now?  Who exactly was the enemy?  Only Superman’s popularity continued apace, due to the popular TV series, The Adventures of Superman, which aired from 1951 to 1957.  It was through this series that the American public came to know Superman as championing “truth, justice, and the American Way.” 

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The Legion of Super-Heroes, a group of super-powered teenagers who join together to fight villains in the 30th century, have been popular DC superheroes since 1958. THF305330

By the late 1950s, DC superheroes were making a comeback, with both new and revived characters and a host of new supervillains for them to face.  New stories were created to fit the times, usually focusing either on scientific advancements (always seen as a positive force) or science fiction.  DC superheroes were competent, in control, and single-minded in their devotion to simply being heroic.  They solved any problem they encountered in a well-ordered world—a world that, for each character, had to be internally consistent.  Stories were comforting, positive, optimistic, reassuring, rational, and moral.  Superheroes used their powers responsibly, inevitably siding with established authority.

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This DC series, which started way back in 1941, featured Superman and Batman teaming up to battle villains. THF305328

The popularity of DC superheroes continued through the 1960s, spiking again with the trend-setting Batman TV show (which aired 1966-68), as well as their being featured on Saturday morning cartoons, in Broadway productions, and through related merchandise.  By this time, DC had settled on a standard and successful formula for its superhero stories: colorful and dramatic covers that grabbed kids’ attention, then a focus on plot development that would inevitably lead to a happy ending.  Little room was left for developing individual characters.  The editors at DC felt that this formula appealed to kids and young teenagers—their core market.  Why mess with success?

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Tales to Astonish #60, from 1964, featured two stories of classic Marvel superheroes: Giant-Man (introduced in 1962 as Ant-Man) with his female partner the Wasp, and The Incredible Hulk, re-introduced after his own series had been cancelled the previous year. *

Marvel Comics

In the late 1930s, following quickly upon the success of Superman over at DC, Timely Comics (later to become Marvel) introduced The Human Torch and Sub-Mariner.  The ultra-patriotic Captain America followed them during the World War II era.  But Marvel superheroes truly came into their own in the early 1960s. 

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The Comics Code Authority stamp of approval
THF141590 (detail)

The public attack on comic books in the 1950s had put a damper on the comic book industry, forcing several companies to go out of business.  It was risky even being in the business at the time.  But partly because he figured he had nothing to lose at that point, talented Marvel writer (and later visionary editor) Stan Lee tried a new approach to superheroes that would change the course of comic books forever.  He decided he could work within the constraints of the industry’s new self-censorship board, the Comics Code Authority, while at the same time dealing with more serious topics and stories. 

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This Marvel Collectors’ Item Classics from 1965 marked the first time that early classic Marvel stories were reprinted—in this issue, Fantastic Four #2 (January 1962); The Amazing Spider-Man #3 (July 1963); the Ant-Man story from Tales to Astonish #36 (October 1962); and Journey to Mystery featuring The Mighty Thor #97 (October 1963). *

The new superheroes that Lee created had relatable personalities, human flaws, and real-life problems.  Their stories were purposely aimed at a new audience of older teenagers, who were wrestling with their own insecurities and feelings of alienation.  These stories also questioned the scientific advancements of the Atomic Age that DC had embraced as positive forces in people’s lives.  What if science ran amok?  What if things went horribly wrong? What if there were dire consequences?  Many Marvel superheroes, in fact, gained their superpowers because of horrific scientific accidents. 

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Even though the Human Torch and the Thing were both members of the Fantastic Four, in this issue of Strange Tales from 1964, a villain named the Puppet Master manipulated them into fighting each other. *

It started with the Fantastic Four in 1961—Lee’s answer to an assignment to come up with a team like DC’s recently created and very popular Justice League of America.  Lee had long thought that typical superheroes were too perfect, that “the best stories of all…are the stories in which the characters seem to be real.  You feel you know them, you understand them, you can relate to them.”  This “Fantastic” superhero family had four distinctive personalities.  Furthermore, they did not act like the polished, restrained, polite superheroes with which comic book readers had long been familiar.  They argued, mistrusted each other, had tempers, expressed opinions, led complicated lives.  Rather than the public cheering them on in the stories, people feared and were suspicious of them. 

The Fantastic Four were a revelation—like no other superheroes that had come before.  Older teenagers—for whom DC superheroes had come to seem shallow and one-dimensional—found them original, realistic, exciting.  One fan remarked that turning from the Justice League and Superman to the Fantastic Four was like “stepping through a gateway into another dimension.” 

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The Green Goblin, one of The Amazing Spider-Man’s most hated enemies, planned to reveal Spider-Man’s secret identity to the world in issue #39 from August 1966, but in the process, he dramatically revealed his own true identity. *

Marvel quickly followed the popularity of the Fantastic Four with The Incredible Hulk (1962), who not only turned into a brutish monster as the result of a nuclear accident but didn’t even look, act, or sound like a superhero.  In 1963, Marvel introduced its most quintessential superhero—The Amazing Spider-Man, an ordinary teenager beset by ordinary teenage problems who, having acquired super-powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider, only reluctantly sets out to fight crime and villains.

Dr. Strange
Dr. Strange, introduced in Strange Tales in 1963, gained his own title in 1968 and made regular appearances across the Marvel universe. *

A quick succession of superheroes followed, each character with his or her own manner of speech, personality, values, and quirks.  By the late 1960s, Marvel had woven together an integrated mythology of all its superheroes, in which stories continued, superheroes made guest appearances in others’ stories, and characters could be heroes one day and become villains the next (and vice versa). 

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Marvel’s The Silver Surfer was introduced as a tortured soul, permanently exiled to Earth on a surfboard-like craft as punishment for betraying the evil Galactus on his home planet. *

The Marvel formula, as laid out with Fantastic Four in 1961, became the standard.  Stories and characters often focused on alienated and even neurotic individuals with character flaws, inner struggles, and personal grudges.  Endings weren’t always happy or satisfying.  Superheroes didn’t always get along or leverage their powers to help others.  In Marvel superheroes, readers recognized their own failings, struggles, and anxieties.  As opposed to DC’s black-and-white world, the Marvel world was gray—more like the real world.

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This DC comic book series, about a group of misfit and alienated superheroes, was conceived in the Marvel mode but was never as popular as Marvel’s stories of similar outcast groups of superheroes like The X-Men. THF141602

Since the 1960s, most superhero stories in comic books have become darker, more complex, and more serious—often tackling social issues with a gritty realism.  This trend has brought DC and Marvel stories, characters, and mythologies closer together in content and tone, though the differences between them are still definable because these are so deeply embedded in their DNA.

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The King Kon Comic & Fantasy Convention, which ran from 1984 to 1986, was the first regular comic book convention in the Detroit area after the demise of the multi-genre Detroit Triple Fan Fair (that had run from 1965 to 1977).  King Kon was a predecessor to the current annual extravaganza, Motor City Comic Con, which began in 1989. *

Superheroes can now be found pretty much everywhere, from Comic Cons to an expanding array of movies, TV shows, mobile games, action figures, and other merchandise.  Their worlds are constantly growing, expanding, and changing.  It’s easy to get confused.  But don’t worry. If you’re trying to make sense of it all, start with the superheroes’ origins.  Are they DC or Marvel?  Knowing that will set you off on the right track.

Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.  See her other blog posts, Hooked on Comic Books and Comic Books Under Attack.  Items marked with an asterisk (*) are from the author’s collection.

TV, popular culture, by Donna R. Braden, comic books

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Recently, I stopped by the building block “wonderland” that is Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO® Bricks, a temporary exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

I watched children (and also adults) busily absorbed in designing their own Lego creation - choosing from 200,000 Lego bricks placed within the exhibit as a hands-on activity for visitors. Some kids were likely inspired by the impressive Lego models of famous skyscrapers and other buildings displayed there. Many kids immediately dove into the “bottomless pit” of Lego bricks, jazzed by the opportunity to build something wonderful from their own imaginations.

And children DO love to build things--whether they create imaginary worlds or smaller versions of the real one. Construction toys are quite literally and figuratively “the building blocks of childhood.” Playing with them builds physical and intellectual skills--and encourages creativity. Toy bricks, logs and girders are the stuff of playtime joy!

Over the last 150 years, entrepreneurs have introduced innovative construction toys that have delighted generations of children. Which is your favorite?

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District School Building Block Set, 1876-1886. THF300131. (Gift of Mrs. Clemens August Haass)

After the Civil War, the Charles M. Crandall Company’s building blocks were all the rage. Like Lego bricks, they could be easily and securely linked together in a “thousand and one” ways. By 1879, Crandall offered 28 sets of interlocking blocks and jointed figures.

This “District School” set was a miniature version of a common childhood experience of the era: the one-room rural school. Crandall advertised that children would “laugh over this group of teachers and scholars” as they built the school and arranged the figures. The “District School” had playful appeal, combining entertainment with education--children could learn their alphabet while having fun.

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Tinkertoys, 1914-1925. THF97403

Tombstone cutter Charles Pajeau noticed how much fun his children had sticking pencils into empty thread spools and assembling them into imaginative forms. So, he designed a shorter wooden spool with one hole drilled in the center and a series of holes along the edge. Kids could now build at angles and connect multiple dowels at once. Tinkertoys were born! In 1914, Pajeau started a company to produce and market the toy.

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Erector Set, 1915. THF95319

As toy marketer A.C. Gilbert rode the train from New Haven to New York on business, he watched as workers erected an electrical system along the railroad line using steel girders that had been riveted together. This inspired Gilbert to design a construction set for older boys with metal girders, panels, wheels, gears, and pulleys. His marketing spoke directly to boys, encouraging them to build.

Boys used their Erector sets to build small versions of steam engines, Ferris wheels, zeppelins, bridges, elevators, trucks, cranes, and other devices. The toy not only delighted boys--it also appealed to their parents, who appreciated the way Erector sets could introduce their kids to careers in engineering. The company even offered “degrees” from its “Engineering Institute.”

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Lincoln Logs, about 1960. THF6627 (Gift of Steven K. Hamp)

John Lloyd Wright, son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, invented Lincoln Logs. Introduced in 1916, these sturdy, miniature logs had interlocking notches. Lincoln Logs were named after Abraham Lincoln, who was born in a log cabin.

After World War II, Lincoln Logs got another boost as they became an iconic Baby Boomer toy. In the 1950s, nostalgia for the American West and the frontier had kids crafting log buildings with their Lincoln Log sets. With their nostalgic connection to America’s past, Lincoln Logs were marketed as “America’s national toy.”

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Lego Building Set, 1976-1983. THF59

Legos, developed in Denmark during the 1950s, first appeared in the United States in 1962. With their small interlocking studs and tubes, Lego plastic bricks held together well - yet could easily be pulled apart. Lego bricks offered “no limits on what you can build.” Two Lego blocks could be joined in 24 different ways. Six blocks--over 100 million ways.

Lego bricks can be assembled and connected to create buildings, vehicles, and even human figures. Though the design and purposes of individual pieces have evolved over the years, each Lego brick--whether made in the 1950s or the present--remains compatible in some way with existing pieces.

Duplo bricks - larger sized versions made for preschoolers - debuted in 1969. They were easier for tiny hands to maneuver.

Over the years, Lego has created Lego sets with a variety of themes, including space, pirates, castles, robots, and the Wild West. They have licensed themes from popular cartoons, films, and video games--like Batman, Harry Potter, and Star Wars.

With their endless creative possibilities, Lego bricks have staying power--and fans worldwide. In 2000, Legos were named “Toy of the Century” by Fortune magazine and the British Association of Toy Retailers.

As a kid, I loved to design and build houses. Growing up, my siblings and I had Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and an Erector set. I rather envied my friend--she had Block City, pre-Lego plastic bricks with architectural details like doors and windows (which Lincoln Logs lacked). My grandmother (who sewed a lot) kept a box full of empty spools and some wood scraps for us to build with--we created imaginary “towns” all over her living room floor. She never seemed to mind.

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

Henry Ford Museum, making, LEGO, childhood, by Jeanine Head Miller, toys and games

1967 Ford Mark IV Race Car
The Mark IV gave Ford the second of four consecutive Le Mans victories, starting in 1966. Ferrari had dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans, winning 8 of 12 races from 1954 through 1965. THF90733

The film Ford v. Ferrari, staring Matt Damon and Christian Bale, reignited interest in Ford Motor Company’s racing efforts at Le Mans in the 1960s. While the movie focuses on Ford’s 1966 victory, the automaker returned to Le Mans in 1967 with the Mark IV.

This was the first all-American car and team to win the Le Mans 24-hour race. For decades, Europeans had dominated sports-car racing in cars with small, fast-turning, highly efficient engines. Americans typically used big, slower-turning, less-efficient V-8 engines. This car’s sophisticated chassis used aerospace techniques, and its shape was refined in a wind tunnel. But its big engine was based on Ford’s V-8 used for stock-car racing.

Close-up View of the Ford Mark IV Le Mans Engine
Close-up View of the Ford Mark IV Le Mans Engine, June 1967. THF119457

The second-place Ferrari was more complicated and temperamental than the first-place Ford. It had a V-12 engine with fuel injection and twin distributors. The Ford (pictured above) had a V-8 engine with two four-barrel carburetors.

Dan
Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt Popping Cork of Victory Champagne at the 24 Heures du Mans (24 Hours of Le Mans) Race, June 1967. THF127985

Two of America’s great race drivers, A.J. Foyt, right, and Dan Gurney, teamed up to win the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans in this car. Gurney’s post-race celebration included racing’s first-ever champagne spray.

Close-up View of the Ford Mark IV Le Mans Race Car Hull Honeycomb Construction
Close-up View of the Ford Mark IV Le Mans Race Car Hull Honeycomb Construction, 1967 / detail. THF87021

Holes cut in the chassis show its aircraft-style construction of aluminum honeycomb. The concept was to make it strong and lightweight.

Want to learn even more? See the Mark IV for yourself in Driving America inside Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. 

cars, racing

The Henry Ford acquired the Vegetable Building from Detroit's Central Farmers Market in 2003, saving it from demolition. Like the farmers markets of today, the Detroit Central Farmers Market was a gathering place – a commercial center, a hub of entrepreneurship and a community space where family, friends, and neighbors congregated and socialized. 

This farmers market can become a destination again, a resource for exploring America's agricultural past, present, and future. We need your help to make this happen. #PledgeYourPassion by making a gift this Giving Tuesday

Vegetable Building at Detroit Central Farmers Market, circa 1888.
Vegetable Building at Detroit Central Farmers Market, circa 1888. THF200604 

Learn more about the remarkable history of this important structure.  

The City of Detroit invested in a new permanent market building - this expansive vegetable hall - in 1860. Located at the east end of Michigan Avenue, just east of Woodward at Campus Martius, it was roughly four blocks square, extending from Woodward to Randolph. The major building in the market was the expansive vegetable building. Market gardeners, florists, orchardists, and nurserymen sold their produce from rented stalls between 1861 and 1893.  

The growth of Central Market reflects Detroit’s growth as a city. Much of Detroit’s early history revolved around its importance as a port and strategic location in the Great Lakes. During the 19th century, Detroit’s manufacturing base and its population grew rapidly, more than doubling every 10 years from just 2,222 people in 1830 to 45,619 in 1860. The Central Market was the first Detroit market not located by the docks, reflecting the city’s transition from a port town to a city. Farmers were now coming to Detroit to sell to city residents, rather than to ship produce to eastern cities.

1884 Sanborn insurance map of Central Market
This certified 1884 Sanborn insurance map shows the Central Market area, including the Vegetable Building and other shops. 

The Central Farmers Market began in 1843 as a simple shed built off the rear of the old City Hall building. Problems with traffic congestion caused by the market, along with the desire to make the prominent square more presentable, led newly elected Mayor Christian H. Buhl to pledge to build a new covered market building. The city hired local architect John Schaffer to develop plans. Schaffer’s design called for a “structure to be comprised of forty-eight iron columns supporting a wooden roof, [measuring] 70 by 242 feet from outside to outside.” The construction contract was awarded in June to Joel Gray at a cost of $5,312. In late September of 1860, the Detroit Free Press wrote: 

“The new market building in the rear of the City Hall is nearly competed and promises to be a fine structure. It covers the whole of the space occupied as a vegetable market, and consists of an open shed, the roof of which is supported on iron columns and a well-finished framework. The roof is of slate and cost about $1,500. It is designed in time to make a tile floor and erect fountains. The building will accommodate all the business of the market and will constitute an ornament as well as a great convenience to that important branch of city commerce.”

Carved wooden ornamentation on the Detroit Central Farmers Market building
Carved wooden ornamentation enhanced the appearance of the market building. THF113542 

In its first year, the market earned the city $1,127 in rent, covering 20% of the construction costs in one year. The building thrived as the vegetable market through the 1880s. The emergence of the Eastern Market, and the continuing desire to open the street to traffic, led the Common Council to decide to close the Central Market in 1892. In 1893 the Parks and Boulevards Commission, which operated Belle Isle, received approval to move the building to Belle Isle for use as a horse and vehicle shelter. The building was re-erected on Belle Isle in 1894. 

In later years it was converted to a riding stable – the sides were bricked in, the roof was altered to add clerestory windows to let in light, and an office and wash area was constructed in the south end. After the riding stable closed in 1963, the building was used to keep the horses of the Detroit Mounted Police, and then later used for storage. It was considered for demolition since the early 1970s. Over the summer of 2003, the building was dismantled and the parts from the original market building were preserved for re-erection in Greenfield Village.

Detroit Central Market building converted to a riding stable and moved to Belle Isle
After the market building was moved to Belle Isle, it was converted to a riding stable. It had been vacant for more than 20 years at the time of this photo. THF113549 

The Detroit Central Farmers Market vegetable building is a rare and important building. Because of fires and development pressures, wooden commercial buildings, particularly timber-framed buildings, rarely survive to the present in urban settings. This may be the only 19th century timber-frame market building surviving in the United States. Its move to Belle Isle saved it from demolition.

Historic view of the Detroit Central Farmers Market, taken in the late 1880s.
Historic view of the Detroit Central Farmers Market, taken in the late 1880s. THF96803 

The building is architecturally significant. It is an excellent expression of prevailing architectural tastes, as demonstrated by the Free Press review. It captures the rapidly changing world of building construction of the mid-19th century. The building represents the pinnacle of the timber framer’s craft; it is elegantly shaped and ornamented in a way that makes the frame itself the visual keystone of the design. It was built shortly before timber frame construction was eclipsed by the new balloon frame construction, which used dimensional lumber and nailed joints. The cast iron columns that support the timber-framed roof represent the newest in manufactured construction materials. Cast iron was the favorite material of the modern builder in the mid-19th century. It was easy to form into a variety of shapes, and ideal for adding ornamentation to buildings at a moderate cost. The columns in the market building have been formed to represent two different materials – the lower section resembles an elaborately carved stone column, while the upper section looks like the timber frame structure that it supports.

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Elegant joinery, supplemented by elaborated carvings, enhances the appearance of the timber frame. THF113530

Cast-iron columns on the Detroit Central Farmers Market building made to resemble stone below the capital and wood above the capital.
The cast-iron columns were made to resemble stone below the capital and wood above the capital. THF113505


The building captures the exuberance and optimism of the city of Detroit as it grew in its first wave from a frontier fort and outpost, to an important city. A “useful and beautiful” market building in the city’s central square was important to this image of this growing city – as evidenced by the fact that it took only nine months from Mayor Buhl’s inaugural address of January 11, 1860 promising a new market building, to its substantial completion. Few buildings survive from this first era of growth in the city of Detroit.  

For 30 years customers engaged with vendors at the Vegetable Building in Detroit's Central Market. For 110 years the building served the public in a variety of ways on Belle Isle. Your donation will help The Henry Ford rebuild this structure in the heart of Greenfield Village. There it will inspire future generations to learn about their food sources. Make history and #PledgeYourPassion this Giving Tuesday

Jim McCabe is former Collections Manager at The Henry Ford.

 

Detroit Central Market, shopping, philanthropy, Michigan, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, farming, Detroit, by Jim McCabe, agriculture

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Big and Little Bird reinforce the concept of contrasting sizes in this 1973 Playskool puzzle. THF97463

No television show has influenced how we think about children’s learning and thought processes as much as Sesame Street. For 50 years, this innovative TV show has continually broken barriers in its portrayal of diverse human interactions and relationships, its clever integration of Jim Henson’s wildly creative Muppets, and its rapid-fire approach to teaching basic educational concepts.

The idea for Sesame Street began back in 1966 at a dinner party hosted by Joan Ganz Cooney, a TV publicist turned documentary producer, and her husband Tim. In attendance was Lloyd Morrisett, who was both Vice President of the philanthropic Carnegie Corporation and an experimental psychologist interested in children’s education. At the dinner, Morrisett described his three-year-old daughter’s fascination with television—which included not only tuning in to Saturday morning cartoons, but also watching the pre-programming test patterns on the screen and reciting every commercial jingle by heart. Talk turned to the potential of television as a medium for educating young children. Could the seemingly addictive quality of TV be harnessed to both entertain and instruct?

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This monster with the insatiable appetite—especially for cookies—has, under adult pressure, increasingly shown an awareness for healthy eating habits. THF97460

Cooney quickly developed a proposal entitled, “The Potential Use of Television in Preschool Education.” Her goal was groundbreaking at the time—to test the premise that TV could help level the playing field in education, preparing less advantaged three- to five-year-olds for school by teaching basic academic skills, self-esteem, and positive socialization. In March 1968, Cooney and Morrisett announced the formation of the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) and set out to create an educational TV show that would both appeal to young children and help them get a jump on learning. With an eight-million-dollar startup grant from private foundations and government agencies (including the rather skeptical Department of Education), Cooney was able to test ideas for the type of show she had in mind.

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The colorful, fast-paced Batman TV show, which premiered in January 1966, provided one of many inspirations for Joan Ganz Cooney in creating
Sesame Street. THF6651

Cooney’s reference points included the rapid-fire pacing of the hip new adult-oriented TV show, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. The campy breakout TV show Batman also provided a model, with its fast-paced action as well as its bright, bold colors and even its use of cartoon balloons. Cooney drew additional inspiration from short TV commercials, with their simple melodies in bright major keys. She did not get inspiration from most children’s TV shows, which she thought were dull, slow-paced, and seemed more oriented to adults than kids—with the possible exception of the kid-friendly Captain Kangaroo.

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This 1970s Fisher-Price music box plays the song, “The People in Your Neighborhood,” while the
Sesame Street scene moves horizontally across the “TV screen.” THF135804

Cooney soon realized that, while she had plenty of vision, she needed help in writing, directing, and producing the show. For this, she called on several veterans from Captain Kangaroo—most significantly Jon Stone, who played such a significant leadership role in shaping Sesame Street that he took over as executive producer for the next 20-odd years. Other talented and dedicated scriptwriters, composers, and directors also joined the team, while psychologists and educators lent their support from the beginning.

Cooney and her collaborators initially created a show that included brief skits, musical numbers, cartoons, and live-action video footage—all basically teaching school-readiness concepts. The idea of portraying a diverse group of people living and working together in a community was intentional, providing a hopeful real-life model for an integrated society, which encouraged respect, mutual tolerance, and cross-cultural friendship. The live action scenes were interspersed with pre-taped “commercials”—that is, short “bits” about letters and numbers presented either as animated segments or featuring Jim Henson’s Muppets. The live-action segments were purposely kept separate from the pre-taped “commercials,” as researchers felt that combining these “reality” and “fantasy” elements would confuse children.

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Having the sweetly quizzical Big Bird live in a nest near, and interact with, the live actors on
Sesame Street became a key to the show’s success. THF97451

Initial testing, however, revealed that children thought the live-action scenes were boring, the dialog tedious and lengthy. On the other hand, they found the short “commercials” to be catchy and memorable. Pushing back on the researchers’ advice, Cooney and Stone brought in Jim Henson as a full-time producer, while his Muppet creations Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch joined the live-action human cast. The resulting interaction between humans and Muppets—seamless and convincing—provided the missing alchemy. The foundation was laid for Sesame Street as we know it today.

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Ongoing episodes about ultra-serious Bert and fun-loving Ernie reinforce to children that vastly different personalities can still be good friends. THF92308

The first episode of Sesame Street premiered on November 10, 1969 and the show aired weekdays on the new Public Broadcasting System (PBS) network. It was immediately hailed as a groundbreaking blend of learning and fun, despite some criticism about its high entertainment quotient, its threat to teachers for undermining early school lessons, and—in Mississippi—its initial banning because of its integrated cast. Time magazine featured popular Sesame Street character Big Bird on its November 23, 1970 cover, next to the headline, “Sesame Street: TV’s Gift to Children.” This issue devoted nine pages to the show’s impact and importance, calling it “the best children’s show in TV history.”

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Puppeteer Kevin Clash breathed new energy and vitality into Elmo in the 1980s, but this furry red Muppet became a breakout star in 1996, when comedienne Rosie O’Donnell featured both Clash and this doll on her TV show. THF176791

As Sesame Street has continually changed and grown with the times, its popularity and impact have endured. Comedienne Rosie O’Donnell, whose remarks on her own TV show helped transform Elmo from a minor character to a superstar, described the show’s unique contributions this way:

"From the beginning Sesame Street encouraged imagination and playfulness. It always felt like a show to me about freedom, and it has always spoken to children in a pure and truthful way. Children are children, rich or poor, and there is a language of truth that is innate to these tiny, undeveloped beings that they can hear. Sesame Street had respect for its audience and respect for itself. They never cut any corners and they stuck to their democratic ideals."

Innovative, groundbreaking, and radical when it was introduced, Sesame Street has become nothing short of an American institution.

Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

childhood, TV, popular culture, Jim Henson, education, by Donna R. Braden

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Portrait of J.R. Jones taken about 1890 (
THF277166)

It took only a little bit of capital but a lot of business ingenuity and risk-taking to run a general store in the late 19th century. Because of the great financial risks involved, many storekeepers went out of business and stores changed hands often. The general store in Greenfield Village was one such store, changing hands at least nine times before being purchased by Henry Ford in 1927. J.R. Jones, the store’s proprietor between 1882 and 1888, was like many other storekeepers of his time—low on funds but high on ambition and filled with the dream of prosperity just around the corner.

James R. Jones was the youngest of seven children born to James, a stonemason, and Eliza Webb Jones. James, Sr. and Eliza, both originally from England, had moved to New York State, then to Stillwater, Minnesota (where James R. was born on January 5, 1858), before finally settling in Holly, Michigan, about 1865.

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Recreated interior of the general store in Greenfield Village, showing bolts of fabric, clothing, hats, and clothing accessories (THF53760)

Jimmie (as James R. was called well into adulthood) must have fancied himself quite a salesman when he clerked at his brother’s store while still in his teens. By the time he was twenty, he was already in charge of operating T. G. Richardson’s store in Waterford. And he must have been pretty good at that. A newspaper account of the time reported that, “Mr. James Jones, the accomplished ‘how many yards ma’am,’ from Holly has charge of Richardson’s store here and is well liked.” A few years later, in 1882, he decided to venture out on his own and he took over the proprietorship of the store that would eventually move to Greenfield Village.

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Front window of J.R. Jones store with display of sporting goods (THF176664)

The ingenuity that Jones demonstrated in attracting customers is evident in newspaper accounts of the time. For example, in 1884, “with the enterprise characteristic of the man,” Jones opened up a trade in sporting goods, in which he bought and sold second-hand guns (for the sport of hunting). That same year, as an added incentive for customers, Jones offered a free “chromo” (or colored lithograph) with every large bill of goods.

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Jones’s desk and office area recreated at the back of the general store in Greenfield Village, with an 1880s-era telephone on the wall (THF53764)

Jones was also resourceful in running his business, drawing customers by having his store serve as the site of the local post office from 1882 to 1885, during the presidency of Republican James A. Garfield, as well as having what was the first—and for a time the only—telephone in town installed in his store (probably in 1882). By 1887, the local business directory referred to Jones not only as a general store merchant but also as manager of the Michigan Bell Telephone Company in Waterford. To remain frugal, he and his wife lived upstairs from the store from about 1883 on, partitioning the space into several small rooms.

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J.R. Jones (right) with his brother-in-law, John Maybee, outside the Jones and Maybee General Store in Holly, Michigan, about 1890 (THF277163)

Around 1887, Jones must have decided that he could not make a profitable go of running the Waterford store. By 1890, he had returned to Holly where he ran a general store with his brother-in-law John Maybee, then he went on to stints as a salesman for the Cyclone Wire Fence Company and as a boot and shoe dealer.

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Portrait of J.R. Jones and his wife, Alice Isabelle Maybee Jones, about 1920 (THF277164)

Probably the high point of Jones’s later life came a few years before his death in 1933, when Henry Ford invited him to Greenfield Village to get his reactions to the historic installation he had just completed of the very general store that Jones had operated in Waterford back in the 1880s!

We would like to acknowledge the generosity of J.R. Jones’s great-nieces—Marion H. Roush, Isabel Maybee Stark, and Charlotte Maybee—for providing access to family photos in order to help us document J.R. Jones’s life.

Donna Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

J.R. Jones General Store, shopping, Michigan, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, by Donna R. Braden

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J.R. Jones General Store in Greenfield Village, 2001 (
THF138628)

The Waterford Country Store—as it was initially called in Greenfield Village—was the first building to arrive in the Village. Re-erected on the Village Green in 1927-28, it was soon joined by other buildings—a schoolhouse, courthouse, tavern, town hall, and chapel—that to Henry Ford all symbolized America’s spirit of community. New research in the 1990s revealed that, between the time the store was built in 1856-57 and the time Henry Ford brought it to Greenfield Village in the 1920s, nine different storekeepers had operated a general store out of this building. A reinstallation of the building in the 1990s refocused the store’s furnishings and interpretation on the era of 1882 to 1888—when J.R. Jones ran the store in Waterford, Michigan.

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Store Interior, 1925 (THF69132)

This is an interior view of the stocked, fully functional store in 1925, when the August Jacober family operated it in Waterford, Michigan. The Jacobers were the last family of proprietors to run this store before it was brought to Greenfield Village.

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Store exterior, 1926 (THF126117)

This photograph depicts the general store in Waterford, Michigan, just before it was removed to Greenfield Village in 1926.  According to Jacober family descendants, this store was raised on skids in the street because the family was building a new brick store on its original site. Ford likely saw the old store, had his agents arrange to purchase it around August 1927, and then had it moved to Greenfield Village.

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Store exterior in Greenfield Village, 1958 (THF138605)

When Henry Ford first envisioned a Village Green as the centerpiece of his recreated village in Dearborn, the general store was situated and reconstructed on what would become its permanent location. The Elias Brown sign that hangs out front in this 1958 image came from upstate New York. During this time, the store was known as the Elias Brown General Store.

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Store interior in Greenfield Village, 1965 (THF126771)

To furnish the building with authentic general store artifacts from the past, Ford sent agents in search of unsold stock that might still remain in old general stores. Their finds primarily came from stores in upstate New York and New Hampshire. By the 1960s, as seen in this image, the interior was furnished not only with old store stock but also with penny candy that visitors could purchase.

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Store exterior, 1994, with vintage Lah-de-Dahs baseball team posing in front (THF136301)

Research in the 1990s led to a new, more accurate historical interpretation of this store as it existed in Waterford, Michigan, during the 1880s. This era was chosen to represent a transition in stores—from old-fashioned displays of pickle barrels and flour bins to shelves stocked with more modern products like canned goods and brand-name items.  A new sign with the name of the proprietor of this store in Waterford during the 1880s—J.R. Jones—replaced the old Elias Brown sign over the front entrance.

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Store interior, 2008, with historically-dressed presenter (THF53771)

Use of period photographs, account books, and inventories led to the choices of stock for the store.  Presenters in this building—dressed in accurately-researched historic clothing—tell the stories of J.R. Jones, the customers who shopped here in the 1880s, and the products they might have purchased.

Donna Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

#Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, entrepreneurship, Greenfield Village history, Michigan, by Donna R. Braden, J.R. Jones General Store, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village