Prominent architect Andrew Jackson Downing—a big fan of the Gothic Revival—offered house designs in this picturesque style for middle-class Americans in his 1842 book, Cottage Residences. This illustration has the most self-conscious gothic elements—in the chimneys, windows, and the “gingerbread” detail in the central gable. (THF.110992)
Today when we think of gothic, we picture people dressed in dark clothing sporting dyed jet-black hair and best-selling vampire-themed novels like the Twilight series. America has had an on-and-off love affair with this offbeat, alternate style for the past two hundred years. Yet, what began as deliciously gloomy in 18th-century England took hold in Victorian America as romantic and picturesque.
Gothic as Mystery and Delicious Gloom
The idea of the gothic began with 18th-century Englishman Horace Walpole, who created the concept of the romantic-gothic in his fantasy castle, Strawberry Hill, located just outside of London. Walpole’s medievally-inspired “little gothic castle” included battlements, pinnacles, a round tower, fan vaulted ceilings, and pointed gothic arches. Like today’s Goths, Walpole saw mystery in the “dark.” In designing Strawberry Hill, Walpole looked to create an otherworldly—and rather theatrical—environment through the use of mysterious shadows of dark and light. Word spread as others learned of Walpole’s unique creation and gothic elements began to find their way into stylish design—not quite medieval, but not of its time, either.
Gothic as Romantic and Picturesque
By the mid 19th century, a popular trend that came to be known as Gothic Revival emerged from Walpole’s vision. For Walpole, the gothic was a personal fantasy world. For those who embraced it decades later, it was an emotionally–infused alternative to the rational Classical design so in vogue in the early decades of the 19th century. The Classical taste was about symmetry and order. The Gothic taste was about emotion, whimsy, and the spiritual. Many Americans thought the Gothic style pretty and charming—so picturesque—and by the mid-19th century, popular American taste was all about the “picturesque.”
What constituted the Gothic Revival? The kinds of decorative elements one would find on a medieval cathedral like tall spires, pointed arches and trefoils (a stylized three-part leaf design). Where did these design elements appear? On newly-built churches, houses, stoves, furniture, glassware, silver—and even industrial machinery.
This elegant sofa is covered with quatrefoil carvings (a stylized four-part leaf design) derived from medieval stained glass windows. This massive, imposing piece was intended to make a fashion statement in a Victorian parlor.
These tall cast iron andirons—with their double “stack” of church spires—are the very definition of the Gothic Revival. They appear to be lifted from a medieval cathedral—although nothing like them ever existed in the Middle Ages.
This jewelry box—made of mold-pressed, shimmering, “lacy” glass— features rows of cathedral-inspired, stained glass windows. It was made in the 1830s by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company in Sandwich, Massachusetts.
New York City furniture maker Joseph Meeks added pointed arches and trefoils (three-part) cutouts to form the back of this simple, yet elegant, side chair in the Gothic style. Made between 1835 and 1860, this chair is perfect for a picturesque cottage.
This mass-produced “cottage” clock, made by Brewster & Ingraham of Bristol, Conn., between 1844 and 1852, merely hints at the Gothic style with its pointed top and simple spires. Thousands of clocks like this one found a place in American homes during the mid-19th century.
Even simple washstands could be adorned with gothic arches. This 1840-1860 washstand was purchased by Mary Todd Lincoln for her Springfield, Illinois home.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.
Last week the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong announced the 12 finalists for this year’s class of inductees. Just two lucky toys will make the cut on Nov. 7 to join the ranks of other beloved honorees, such as LEGO toys, Barbie, Lincoln Logs and Hot Wheels. It’s a tough call: is My Little Pony more worthy than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?! This year’s finalists are:
My Little Pony
Toy Army Men
Magic 8 Ball
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Fischer-Price Little People
Which two toys would you nominate for the Toy Hall of Fame? Is there a toy you’re hoping someday will make the list?
We have a variety of toys in our collection here at The Henry Ford, spanning current-day favorites to primitive playthings, including several of this year’s finalists.
From our collection, here are some of this year’s finalists.
Hasbro introduced its My Little Pony line of toys in 1983. It was a big seller. The Ponies were not dolls but they did feature two long-important aspects of doll appeal: hair care and fashion. The ponies' hair was a silky mane that could be twisted, braided, and styled. A matching ribbon and comb came with each pony. These toys combined "friendship" and grooming play. In 1986, My Little Pony got her own cartoon series, My Little Pony 'n Friends. In the series, the Ponies, together with the wise little Moochick, the Bushwoolies, and human friends Megan, Molly, Danny, and Spike, kept Ponyland safe from witches, trolls, and the like.
Magic 8 Ball
This is novelty version of a crystal ball was introduced in 1946, at a time when forecasting the future was a popular pastime. How it worked: The ball is actually two separate halves glued together (then polished to help make the seam disappear). Inside is a plastic vial, affixed to one end and standing upright. About the size of a juice glass, the vial is filled with a blue liquid, which is made up of a combination of water, blue coloring, and propylene glycol, an antifreeze to keep the solution from turning solid during shipping. Floating in the liquid is a polyhedron, whose 20 sides bear 20 different answers in raised letters. The clear plastic cap that seals the cylinder not only assures that the blue solution won't leak out, but doubles as the little window through which you view your answers.
Toy Army Men
In the 1950s, toy makers began producing military toys that celebrated World War II as a historical event. Along with Civil War and Robin Hood playsets, catalogs featured playsets that allowed children to reenact World War II battles. Ship models were advertised as a way for boys to relate to their veteran fathers. Bags of cheap hard plastic army men, two or three inches tall, were a common toy to 1950s boys, allowing them to restage World War II battles. This type of war play continued into the 1960s and culminated with the introduction of Hasbro's GI Joe doll in 1964. While initially inspired by a television show, GI Joe came to represent the average soldier, evoking memories of fathers' experience in World War II and the Korean War. The point was to imitate the real world of adults in the military and connect fathers with sons.
Chess is one of the oldest and most popular board games. It is played by two opponents on a checkered board with specially designed pieces of contrasting colors, commonly white and black.
Fisher-Price Little People
Often play sets were miniaturized sets of household items, like dishes and kitchen appliances, or real-life settings like farms or circuses. The "Play Family Farm" (Fisher-Price #915) has been produced continually since 1968. When the barn door is open, a mooing sound can be heard. The silo is designed for storing accessories.
Lish Dorset is the social media manager for The Henry Ford. She’s pulling for My Little Pony and Fischer-Price Little People to take the National Toy Hall of Fame honors this year.
One of the most distinctive features of Greenfield Village is the period-authentic clothing worn by the presenters, all created on site by our Clothing Studio. Many of the designs they create are based on objects from our own costume collection, including clothing, shoes, hats, and other accessories. We’ve just digitized a selection of bonnets, including this delicate 19th century example. See detail shots of two dozen bonnets, ranging from the very simple to the very ornate, on our collections website.
Back in May, we received a visit to our reading room by a team of engineering students from Penn State, who were touring Greenfield Village. They had been out in the Village helping to install a working replica (but more on that later) of Henry Ford's first experimental engine, the Kitchen Sink Engine. (The original engine, made in 1893, is in our collections storage.) Now they wanted to see what is near and dear to any engineer's heart: the blueprints. We located and pulled the engine's technical drawings, which had been created by Ford Motor Company staff circa 1944 and form part of our Ford Blueprint Drawings collection (just one small part of which is the "Miscellaneous Ford Motor Company Blueprints and Drawings Collection," where these drawings reside.
The engineering students were a rapt audience, and they stayed in the reading room for a while, poring over the drawings, talking to each other about them, and taking pictures. Later, an order was put in for high-resolution scans of the drawings. It turns out that a previous group of students from their course had already created their own replica of the engine, back in 2012 as part of a class project. The Henry Ford has had a replica of the Kitchen Sink Engine on display, but ours is not a working replica. Theirs is -- and that's the really cool thing. We are always pleased when our collections are used in exciting ways that bring the past forward. Icing on the cake for this particular case (maybe the Fates were smiling on us for the 150th anniversary of Henry Ford's birth?), was that with one of the Kitchen Sink Engine drawings, we hit a milestone number for our image scanning: THF100000! (All of the collections images we scan are assigned a unique identification number, in order to make tracking and retrieval possible.) A nice round—and large—number to commemorate an important first in Henry Ford's career! Now we're going to be wondering what THF200000 will be.
See the Penn State Beaver students' working replica of the Kitchen Sink Engine on display at this weekend's Old Car Festival.
At this year's Old Car Festival (our 63rd offering), we'll continue to celebrate Henry Ford's 150th birthday by bringing together examples of all of the pre-Model T Fords, known as the letter cars. From the Model A to the Model T, these cars helped revolutionize the car industry. Which cars can you expect to see in Greenfield Village this weekend?
The rarest of these cars is the Model B. It was Ford’s first front-engine car and first four-cylinder model. It was also quite expensive ($2000) and sold poorly. Consequently, only seven complete examples are known to survive today. The Model B at Old Car Festival will be the museum’s own, coming off of the floor to make this special gathering complete.
Also of note is the Ford Model K. It has its place in the Ford story as the expensive ($2500) six-cylinder car that Henry Ford didn’t like. He was thinking seriously of his “car for the masses” when the K was introduced, and the Model K led directly to a split with his original backer Alexander Malcomson. Malcomson wanted to build big, expensive cars which generated big profits per unit sold, while Ford wanted to build inexpensive cars and make the profit up in volume. Interestingly, Ford Motor Company would not produce another six-cylinder car until 1941.
Finally, the Model N deserves some attention. Many people don’t realize that Ford Motor Company was a great success even before the Model T. The N, introduced in 1906, was the best-selling car in the United States with more than 7000 produced. Reliable and inexpensive ($500), it was very much a proto-Model T.
In addition to showcasing the letter cars this year, we'll also be running four additional historically significant vehicles, with replicas of two (the Quadricycle and Sweepstakes) built by Henry himself.
We'll be open late Saturday night for car enthusiasts to enjoy exploring Greenfield Village looking for some of their favorite classic cars in the gaslight parade as they enjoy the sounds of The Hotel Savarine Society Orchestra. Which car will you be looking for? Share your favorites online us by tagging your content with #GVOldCarFest.
Of all the events that occurred that day 50 years ago, it is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech that is most often remembered today. That speech—which went far beyond what King had initially planned—has been considered one of the most inspiring and powerful speeches of all time.
But what else happened that day?
Take a closer look at the March on Washington through these five artifacts from the collections of The Henry Ford.
As this pennant shows, the March on Washington was not solely a Civil Rights demonstration. It actually started as a march for jobs. This march was the brainchild of A. Philip Randolph, 73-year-old founder of the famous black union for Pullman porters, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. He had talked of staging a march similar to this one back in 1941, to protest the lack of military defense jobs for African Americans. Now, 22 years later, African Americans had still not made much progress, in either employment opportunities or equitable wages. When Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders decided to combine forces with Randolph, the march took on the broader meaning that we associate with it today.
Once they decided to join forces, several black Civil Rights organizations came together to plan the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington. Each group had different outlooks, agendas, and reasons for being there. But, working together, they created the list of demands on this handbill. While all the leaders could rally around the new Civil Rights bill that President Kennedy had just introduced to Congress, most of them wanted more—more assurance of jobs, reasonable wages, and an end to segregation and discrimination. Handbills like this one were posted in local communities to inspire people to attend the March.
The organizers of the March had hoped for 100,000 marchers to show up. But, by 11:00 the morning of Aug. 28, some 250,000 marchers had arrived in Washington, D.C., having come by bus, train, foot, bicycle, and even on roller skates. Many had traveled hundreds, even thousands, of miles to get there. Most had paid their own way. The March was held on a Wednesday, so many people had to miss a day or more of work. While most in attendance were African American, there was a strong contingent of white marchers as well. The photograph that appears on the front of this record album depicts just a small segment of the hundreds of thousands of marchers that attended that day. Leaders of the event can be seen spanning the row in the foreground.
This program is a fascinating document of the day’s events. Speakers from each of the Civil Rights organizations who had helped plan the March offered remarks, as did labor leader Walter Reuther and members of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish organizations. A “Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” included Rosa Parks. After about two hours of speeches, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech ignited the hot, tired crowd. Then, A. Philip Randolph—the original instigator of the March—read the words of a pledge that the marchers were to agree to, raising their voices in the affirmative. The words of this pledge still ring with the hope and determination that defined that day 50 years ago. The following is an excerpt:
I pledge to carry the message of the March to my friends and neighbors back home and arouse them to an equal commitment and equal effort. I will march and I will write letters. I will demonstrate and I will vote. I will work to make sure that my voice and those of my brothers ring clear and determined from every corner of our land.
I pledge my heart and my mind and my body unequivocally and without regard to personal sacrifice to the achievement of social peace through social justice.
In acknowledgement of the 50th anniversary of the March, a 20-minute film produced by the National Archives featuring historic footage will run on a loop throughout the day by "Your Place in Time" in Henry Ford Museum. From the U.S. Information Agency:
Experience the American Journey through our country's visual heritage in this historical recording provided by the National Archives of the United States. Scenes from the Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C., August 1963 includes footage featuring people walking up sidewalk; gathering on Mall, standing, and singing. It also includes people marching with signs, people at the speaker's podium, men with guitars, and crowds outside of the White House. A number of speakers are featured, including Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Also included are women at the podium singing "We Shall Overcome."
Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.
This is the inaugural post of a new regular feature on The Henry Ford’s blog showcasing an item from the physical collections of The Henry Ford that has been recently added to our digital collections. In addition to an image, we’ll provide a brief bit of background information and links or hints for searching. A lot of the objects we’re digitizing are not currently on display, so in many cases the digital collections are the only way to see them. Please enjoy, and let us know if you have any questions about our digitization efforts.
This week we’ve just added an object that may look familiar to our visitors—this eighteenth-century daybed is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum in the “Fully Furnished” exhibit. View the daybed and over 270 pieces of furniture and related items by visiting our collections website. Let us know if your favorite piece from “Fully Furnished” has been added yet!
This year’s show field focuses on one-off custom-bodied Lincolns. After Ford Motor Company purchased Lincoln in 1922, Edsel Ford further defined it with superior styling and elegant custom coachwork. Long one of America’s elite luxury cars, Lincoln served as the official vehicle for presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy and George H.W. Bush.
I began my internship with Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts, in September of 2011. My assignment: to educate myself on the history of American lighting, research the lighting collection at The Henry Ford, and help to prepare for a visit of four antique lighting clubs that was scheduled for October of 2012.
I was excited for this opportunity; I enjoy research and was curious to see what was in the collection. As I began to learn the history of lighting and understand fuel sources and mechanics, I quickly found the breadth of the project was far greater than I had initially imagined! My preliminary research took about four months; I then began combing through some 7,000 lighting-related objects in the collection to select appropriate examples to present to the lighting collectors. This was done by searching the Henry Ford Museum’s collections management system.
To better understand the lighting collection at The Henry Ford, it's important to know its history, which can be traced back nearly 100 years, when Henry Ford first began collecting in the 1920s. During Ford’s creation of a museum that would “reproduce American life as lived,” (Simands, William A. & Stokes, Frederick A. Henry Ford and Greenfield Village. New York, p. 117) his agents scanned the country for objects that represented the development of the American experience. He was passionate about technological innovations of all kinds, with an interest in the evolution of lighting and the development of electricity, influenced by his close friendship with and admiration for Thomas Edison. This led him to acquire a substantial collection of lighting objects. Though some examples were peculiar and unique, many were rather conventional. These objects represent the technologies of their time period, as Americans searched for the most efficient lighting options.
The origin of much of the collection is difficult to pinpoint. Many objects were acquired before 1940 and were not documented the way objects are today. Luckily, Henry Ford kept the receipts for many of his purchases. These records provide clues that indicate Ford initially began collecting chronologically. He started with the oldest forms of lighting, such as candlesticks and rushlights, and by the 1930s was collecting gasoline-fueled lighting. The initiative to collect lighting ebbed after Ford’s death in 1947, but picked back up again in the 1960s and 1970s under the curatorship of Carleton Brown.
Though the collection was acquired in many stages, its significance is clear: it represents the evolution of lighting, and the search for a fuel that would burn brightly, was safe to use, easily accessible, and affordable.
Working chronologically, as Henry Ford did when assembling the collection, I sorted the objects into categories. The process of selecting those that would be shown to the visiting collectors then began. Working with two representatives from the groups, Charles and I spent several days going through the collection determining which objects would make the cut. The collectors were interested in unique examples, patent models, and rare pieces. After careful consideration, 25 objects were selected, and we ended up with some very interesting and unique picks!
During the weekend of Oct. 12, 2012, the four organizations (the Rushlight Club, The Historical Lighting Society of Canada, The Night Light Club, and the Fairy Lamp Club) visited The Henry Ford. They toured Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village to see the lighting on display, and were able to examine the 25 objects we selected. It was certainly a rewarding experience for everyone involved!
Though much of the lighting collection is not currently on display, visitors to the museum can see lighting examples in the "Made in America" and "Fully Furnished" exhibits, as well as inside many of the homes in Greenfield Village. All the objects chosen to show the collectors have been digitized for public viewing; for the remaining objects not shown here, take a look at our online collections site. You can see the artifacts listed here and more!