Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

As Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, part of my job is to select items related to entrepreneurs within our collection to be digitized. Sometimes this calls for additional research to provide context and significance. Searching for the significance of an object or photograph can often feel like detective work. Sometimes we are able to do some sleuthing and find what we are looking for and other times we run out of leads. Recently, while working with the H. J. Heinz Company Records – the first archival collection selected for this project – we had the opportunity to dig deeper into the significance of a notebook and learn more about its owner.

This notebook containing hand-written recipes from the H. J. Heinz company has been on display at the Heinz House in Greenfield Village for the past several years. Upon getting a closer look, we discovered that there was a name written on the outside: Jn Koehrer.

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The cover of the notebook states that it belongs to Jn Koehrer.

Who was this Jn (John) Koehrer? Unaware of any immediate connections to H. J. Heinz, we turned to Ancestry.com, where we discovered that John Koehrer (1871-1945) was listed as a foster son of Heinz’s cousin, Frederick Heinz. Census records noted that he worked for a “Pick Co.” – which we assumed was supposed to say “Pickle Co.” – and that his occupation was that of a “pickler” or a “foreman.” So now we have a connection to H. J. Heinz, but what does his notebook have to do with the company history?

A Google search for “‘John Koehrer’ Heinz” led us to our answer. An Architectural and Historical Survey of Muscatine, Iowa, noted that, “On January 29, 1893, the Muscatine Improvement and Manufacturing Company closed the contract with Heinz to build its first plant outside of Pittsburgh… The three-story brick building… Opened in 1894 under the management of John Koehrer.” There it was! – the reason he had a notebook of recipes, and why it was significant to company history, was because he was to manage the new Heinz factory and needed to make sure he could replicate the products.

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Handwritten recipe from the notebook for “Chilli Sauce.” Half-way down the page you’ll notice that the recipe calls for “1/2 pound of xxx.” The three x’s can be found in other recipes too and represent a secret ingredient.

Additional research from online newspaper articles allowed us to discover what was primarily produced at the plant – sauerkraut, horseradish, pickles, ketchup, and other tomato products – and we inferred that the recipes within the notebook would have been fairly simple to produce at the factory. From previous conservation and cataloguing reports, we had dated the notebook to around 1890, which fit perfectly into the timeline for John to have used these recipes in Iowa.

With this new information we are now able to more accurately describe the notebook on display and the research we uncovered can be added to our records for future use. When it comes to historical research, you never truly know what you’re going to find. In this digital age, and with more resources at our fingertips than ever before, more hidden gems like this one can be uncovered – a joy to behold in the history field.

Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford. Special thanks to Aimee Burpee, Associate Registrar – Special Projects, for helping us uncover the mystery behind this notebook!

research, by Samantha Johnson, recipes, heinz, food, entrepreneurship, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

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As we were excited to announce last December, What We Wore offers us the opportunity to continually display objects from The Henry Ford’s rich collection of clothing and accessories. What’s on exhibit currently in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation? Wedding dresses, highlighting the fact that the “traditional” white wedding dress wasn’t always traditional...

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For much of American history, brides simply wore the best dress they had. Most wedding celebrations were at-home, informal events. The formal white wedding dress—and the more elaborate celebration to go along with it—is a relatively new concept.

Queen Victoria’s choice of a white dress for her 1840 wedding to Prince Albert inspired the fashion. Over the next century, the custom would gradually spread from the very wealthy to those of more modest means. By the 1950s, the formal white wedding with all the trimmings had become a widespread tradition.

Whether simple or elaborate, classic or trendy—for most brides, the white wedding gown has staying power. Some brides prefer a practical choice for their bridal attire—others search for the perfect, “fairy princess” dress.

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Whatever the choice of wedding apparel, it reflects the bride’s values and taste.

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Mollie Herrington – Married July 1, 1886

Mollie Herrington wed Reverend William Canfield on a summer evening in the mid-1880s. Like most brides, this 26-year-old schoolteacher was married at her family’s home in a dress that was not white. Brides wore their best dress—whether newly made or already owned—and continued to wear it after the wedding. Few could afford to invest in a white dress meant to be worn only once. Mollie’s stylish dress was probably made for her wedding by a local dressmaker.

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Gift of American Textile History Museum, donated to ATHM by Shirley Parish.

Shirley Powell – Married Oct. 18, 1969

Shirley Powell was married in her great-aunt Mollie’s wedding dress—a choice both practical and sentimental. This 23-year-old bride loved the cherished family heirloom—and didn’t think she would find anything more finely made or beautiful at a price she was willing to pay. Having a traditional wedding wasn’t all that important to Shirley and David, but they realized the celebration would be as much about family bonds as about them.

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Wedding Party at the Marriage of Cecelia Wall and Anthony Denisevich, 1935. THF274683

Cecilia Wall – Married Oct. 26, 1935

For her morning wedding, 22-year-old Cecelia Wall walked down the aisle in an ivory silk velvet dress. Afterwards, the bridal party and immediate family enjoyed a wedding breakfast at her parents’ home and, in the evening, a reception at the home of the groom’s parents. The Great Depression required some brides to plan simpler weddings than they might have wished. Cecelia was among the fortunate brides who could afford a formal wedding gown.

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Rose Pecchia at Her Wedding in 1968. THF274680

Rose Pecchia – Married March 29, 1968

Rose Pecchia was a practical woman who wanted a simple wedding. She and her husband-to-be chose a wedding date—just two weeks away. A secretary at a downtown Detroit television station, 28-year-old Rose ran out on her lunch hour to nearby Hudson’s department store. She then headed for the racks of cocktail dresses. Rose knew it as soon as she saw it—the perfect dress! It was minimal and stylish—in the 1960s, shorter skirts were “in.” A friend’s mother made the simple headpiece.

Recently, Rose had the chance to see her wedding dress on exhibit. Take a look at her reaction below.

Continue Reading

What We Wore, fashion

Many experts describe entrepreneurship as the act of launching and managing a business venture. Those who establish these businesses are called entrepreneurs – but what does it really mean to be an entrepreneur?

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The Parker Brothers honed their own entrepreneurship skills as they became a household name in the board game industry. Their “Make-a-Million” was a card game from the 1930s in which teams competed to win “tricks,” vying to become the first to reach one million dollars. THF91890


With the recent launch of the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, The Henry Ford hopes to become a recognized resource for the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators. Through a $1.5 million grant, the institution-wide initiative will support the creation of a Speaker Series, youth programming, workshops, and Innovation Labs, which focus on cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit for the entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow. Additionally, four Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs) – beginning with local urban farmer Melvin Parson – will foster entrepreneurial learning for both youth and adults by engaging the EIR’s expertise in a project that connects The Henry Ford and the broader entrepreneurial community. Lastly, as a part of its commitment to connecting to and inspiring future entrepreneurs, the Initiative for Entrepreneurship will highlight the entrepreneurial stories within our collections. As Project Curator, I will work with Project Collections Specialist-Cataloger Katrina Wioncek and Project Imaging Technician Cory Taylor, as well as other staff from The Henry Ford, to identify and provide access to these stories through our Digital Collections and related content, including blog posts like this one.

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The Henry Ford’s founder and namesake is one of the best-known American entrepreneurs. Persisting through multiple failures, Ford revolutionized the automotive industry and built a lasting enterprise in the Ford Motor Company. This 1924 photograph shows Ford posing in front of his first automobile – the 1896 Quadricycle – and the ten-millionth Model T to roll off the assembly line. THF113389

When I joined the project in January, my first task was to define “entrepreneur.” This proved to be challenging, as a simple Internet search produced dozens of definitions and interpretations. I soon discovered that the reason for the discrepancy is that there are several different categories of entrepreneurship, but the many sources I referenced agree on two points: all entrepreneurs launch and manage their own business and take on financial risks in creating that business.

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Harvey Firestone was an entrepreneur in the tire making business, building the global brand Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. Here Henry Ford and Firestone observe an experimental watering system at Firestone Farm in Columbiana, Ohio in 1936. THF242526

Entrepreneurs can range from small business owners hoping to provide for their families to industry millionaires who head up large companies. There are also social entrepreneurs who seek to solve a local problem or large social enterprises hoping to save the world. The differences lie within their motivations and how they measure success. While most entrepreneurs are in the business to make a profit, social entrepreneurs have the goal of generating funds to contribute to a particular cause or solving a social problem. For-profit entrepreneurs measure success based on revenue or stock increases, while social entrepreneurs can be a blend of for-profit and non-profit agendas, assessing their impact on society while still generating revenue.

Lauren Bush Lauren Entreprenuership Speaker Series February 21 2019-25
Social entrepreneur Lauren Bush Lauren was the first speaker in the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship Speaker Series. Lauren spoke about her business, FEED Projects, which seeks to tackle world hunger. Proceeds from her line of handbags and accessories provide meals to schoolchildren around the globe.

Throughout the two-year initiative we will highlight stories from our rich and varied collections that demonstrate the characteristics that entrepreneurs share. To name a few, entrepreneurs are creative thinkers, resourceful, passionate, highly motivated, willing to take risks, and able to persevere through hardship.

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The Wright Brothers were fantastic inventors – their greatest invention being the first powered, controlled airplane. But the Wrights were better inventors than entrepreneurs as they never found great success in the manufacture or sale of their airplanes. An entrepreneur is tenacious and will do whatever it takes to see their plan through, regardless of setbacks and barriers. THF112405

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Henry J. Heinz transformed the eating habits of late 19th– and early 20th—century America. He was passionate about providing a quality product and supported a strong working relationship with his employees. Here Heinz is in a cucumber field encouraging and motivating his workers. THF275188

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The first six months of the initiative will focus on Social Transformation within Agriculture and the Environment – two of our collecting areas that encompass transformative social change in the history of how we grow and experience food. In addition to digital content and other programs created by the grant, local urban farmer and social justice activist Melvin Parson will serve as our first Entrepreneur in Residence, allowing us to connect these ideas to our community. Stay tuned over the next several months as we digitize related archival material and publish new entrepreneurial digital content!

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

entrepreneurship

thf137271Portraits of Robert Propst. THF137271

PROFESSION: Designer (Although he preferred to be called "searcher")

INNOVATION: The Action Office II System (1968) and the movable "coherent structures” of the Co/Struc System designed for hospitals (1971)

ATTRIBUTES: Empathetic observer, serial problem solver, unorthodox thinker

You could be forgiven if you aren’t familiar with the work of Robert Propst. After all, if his designs were working as he intended, they simply disappeared.

Propst became director of the Herman Miller Research Division (HMRD) in 1960, setting up shop in a small concrete building in Ann Arbor, Mich. The founder of Herman Miller, D.J. DePree, saw potential in Propst’s ambitious thinking and hired him to broaden the company’s product range. Very few guidelines were in place at HMRD: Nothing should be connected to military use, no furniture designs — and whatever was designed should simply “be useful.”

thf137214Robert Propst Outside Herman Miller Research Division Office, Ann Arbor, Michigan, July 1964. THF137214

Deliberately choosing a building more than 150 miles away from Herman Miller’s headquarters in Zeeland, Mich., Propst exercised his freedom to research without the distraction of corporate meetings. For every idea he had that went into production, hundreds more were filed away.

Two of Propst’s most impactful projects were holistic environments designed for high-impact workplaces: the improved Action Office II system (1968) and the movable “coherent structures” of the Co/Struc system designed for hospitals (1971).

In Propst’s mind, offices had become chaotic wastelands. Cobbled together furniture, nonergonomic chairs and an invasion of technology onto ad hoc surfaces. Action Office — a modular system of free standing panel walls — could be fluidly arranged into nooks for working, conference areas and other purpose-driven needs. An idealistic vision for the birth of the modern office cubicle.

Propst wasn’t always a designer of “things” but of situations. He attacked issues from the reverse, finding clues in the algorithms of human behavior working in high-stakes spaces. How did people move while working? Where was time being spent? Wasted? How can we support safety? Privacy? Collaboration? The physical solutions he engineered encouraged ideas of access, mobility and efficiency. His modular approach to office landscapes was intended to have a 1+1=3 effect. Which is to say that by implementing physical change, “knowledge” workers could then springboard off an improved relationship with their workspaces, which were suddenly more hospitable to launching new ideas, productive workflows and transformative projects.

thf241708Action Office Project Drawing by Robert Propst, April 6, 1964. THF241708

Did You Know
- The proliferation of the office cubicle is almost single-handedly due to the introduction of the Action Office II system in 1968. Unfortunately, the mobile aspect of Action Office became rooted to the floor, quite literally. Large businesses filled their buildings with Action Office (or its various knock-offs) to create Dilbertesque “cubicle farms.”

- The first version of Action Office was conceived by Robert Propst and designed by George Nelson in 1964, but sales were lackluster. Corporate managers worried about the porous borders being offered to their staff, now called “knowledge workers,” and the cost was simply too high. Propst returned to the drawing board alone for AO2.

- Robert Propst did not like to be referred to as a designer. He also didn’t like the term “researcher,” because it implied looking backward. His ideal description for his activities was “searcher.”

Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.  

furnishings, design, Robert Propst, Innovation Nation

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Naugahyde Advertisement in Life Magazine, October-December 1967. This image is not an original photograph and is a combination of two images created for illustrative proposes.

The Nauga, a colorful, horned, happy-looking creature native to the island of Sumatra, was once hunted to near-extinction. They were hunted for sport, but more often for their smooth and durable leather-like hide – Naugahyde, as it’s generally known. However, hunting a Nauga for its hide is quite unnecessary -- they painlessly shed their hide at least once each year for use in furniture, clothing, and more.

Wait a minute.

You’ve never heard of the Nauga?

All right, you’ve got me. The Nauga is a fictional creature. It was an advertising gimmick created to help Uniroyal Engineered Products promote their soft vinyl-coated fabric that feels like leather but is more durable.  The product, Naugahyde, was used primarily as upholstery in the furniture industry, but also was used for clothing, shoes, accessories and other home goods. Its success spawned many imitators.  In the mid-1960s, Uniroyal hired legendary ad-man George Lois and designer Kurt Weihs to craft an advertising campaign to differentiate their product from the competition. And what did Lois and Weihs create? The Nauga.

A humorous ad campaign featured the Nauga engaged with the world – as the life of the party, as a child’s play companion, adorned in splattered paint from a craft went awry, even as a vacationer readying for travel with golf clubs in hand. These advertisements emphasized the suitability of Naugahyde upholstery for all areas of life, claiming it could be indistinguishable from other fabrics like leather, tweed, or silk -- but “last about ten times as long.” An image of the Nauga found its way onto hang-tags that accompanied all genuine Naugahyde products. Many of the ad campaigns ended with this directive: “If you can’t find the Nauga, find another store.”

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Naugahyde advertisement in Life Magazine, July-September 1967.

The advertising worked – at least in that it caused excitement over the mysterious Nauga creature.  Allegedly, some people even believed Naugas were real creatures and became concerned about inhumane treatment as the use of Naugahyde boomed in the late 1960s. A New York comic, Al Rosenberg, invented a fictional character named Earl C. Watkins who spearheaded the “Save the Nauga” project to protect the species from extinction, adding that a “herd of Naugas is often mistaken for a roomful of furniture.'' The Nauga even made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Nauga dolls, like this one in The Henry Ford’s collection, were also produced to promote the brand. In fact, if you visit the Naugahyde website today, you can still “Adopt a Nauga,” which, according to the company’s webpage, are bred on a ranch outside Uniroyal’s headquarters in Stoughton, Wisconsin.

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Uniroyal "Nauga" Toy, 1955-1975

It isn’t unusual for companies to go to great lengths to endear a product to the public. These efforts have often yielded highly creative and memorable results, like Oscar Mayer’s Wienermobile, the Heinz pickle charms and pins, or the Pets.com Sock Puppet, to name a few. While the Nauga creature has faded nearly into obscurity, the leather-like product it represents lives on…perhaps even as the upholstery of the chair you’re currently sitting on.

Katherine White, Associate Curator at The Henry Ford, recently adopted a Nauga doll of her very own.

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Many of us celebrate Easter with a number of traditions: dyed eggs, baskets full of candy, or decorations inspired by spring, just to name a few. Many of these traditions go back in history more than 100 years. 

At Edison Homestead in Greenfield Village, we showcase a variety of activities during the Easter weekend that would have been enjoyed around 1915. Where do we find our inspiration? Much of the instructional information used to plan these activities come from promotional booklets from companies like Dennison Manufacturing Co. and their Dennison’s Party Book, or from magazine publications like the Ladies Home Journal, both available to families at the time.

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In 1915, Easter crafts ranged from decorative pieces for the table to edible delights.  Dennison Manufacturing Co., which today is now known as Avery Products Corporation, was a large supplier of inexpensive paper products that encouraged decorations for any number of parties, including an Easter celebration. Listings in the Dennison’s Party Book contain a rabbit with basket of eggs decoration, decorated crepe paper, bon bon boxes, and purple and white festoons, all of which were priced at 25 cents or less. They also suggest how a table might be decorated using the items they have listed for sale as well as homemade items (made of paper, of course). 

Easter cards are one of the projects suggested in The Ladies Home Journal, 1912 April edition, and would have been an inexpensive craft to make as a gift. In fact, the journal states that, “[Easter] gifts should always be simple and inexpensive; if they are made rather than bought, so much the better.” Using images from flower catalogues, garden and agricultural magazines, the picture is traced on a folded edge of thick paper to create the body of the card. Once cut out, the image is then colored in and an insert is created to write an Easter note to the recipient.

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Like our own Easter traditions today, the journal included many references to sweet treats that could be given as gifts. Chocolate eggs could be made by carefully removing the raw egg from the shell, washing the shell, then filling it with melted chocolate. Once cooled, the egg shell could be colored and decorated with crayons and colored pencils, with a scrapbook pictured glued over the opening. Not only were sweets made, but so were displays to put them in. Moss glued onto a half egg shell provided a holding space for small candy eggs or jelly beans.

Feeling inspired and ready to try creating your own archive-inspired holiday decorations? Stop by the Benson Ford Research Center to see a copy of the Dennison's Party Book for yourself.

Emily Sovey is Supervisor of Inspiring and Living History at The Henry Ford.

Edison Homestead, Dennison's, Easter

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With mail order catalogs, rural Americans could choose from among a much wider variety of goods than at their local general store. THF119939 and THF115221

Today, shopping opportunities are everywhere—as a way to purchase things we need, as well as leisure time entertainment. We cruise the mall, trod the aisles of big-box stores, browse the shelves of trendy boutiques, roll our carts down the grocery store aisle, stop off at the convenience store, flip through store catalogs delivered to our door, and shop online. We can even shop from the convenience of our smartphone or tablet. Shopping is now a 24-7 opportunity filled with endless choices of goods made all over the world.

During the late 19th century, things were quite different. Most Americans lived on farms or in small villages--shopping choices were limited. Yet, the advent of mail order shopping was opening up a world of new possibilities.

Shopping Locally
Where did most rural people shop during the late 19th century? Usually the small stores located at a nearby village or town or perhaps a general store located at a country crossroads.  These stores provided a narrow selection of items that served the needs of the locals, yet offered shoppers the tactile experience of handling the goods before deciding to purchase. Factories were turning out consumer goods of all kinds, advertising trumpeted the merits of the products to potential customers, and railroads made it easier to get those goods to rural stores as well urban ones—so rural shoppers in America’s hinterland could obtain some of the same or similar items found in the city. 

Still—small town shopkeepers couldn’t afford to stock an endless variety of merchandise to broaden their customers’ choices. So, instead of selecting from dozens of shoe styles or tableware patterns, or printed fabric designs, rural customers often made their choices from whatever goods were at hand in the local merchant’s store.

Mail Order Shopping Debuts
During the final decades of the 19th century, America’s farmers developed a growing discontent towards institutions they felt were stealing too large a share of their hard-earned profits: “middlemen” like the grain elevator operators who they felt were paying too low a price for their crops and the storekeepers who they felt charged them too high a price for the goods they bought at retail. Farmers organized themselves into “the Patrons of Husbandry,” also known as the Grange, to protest these inequities as well as seek opportunities to form cooperatives through which they could purchase goods at wholesale prices.

Aaron Montgomery Ward of Chicago recognized that his innovative idea for direct-mail marketing meshed well with this growing discontent on the part of farmers. In 1872, Montgomery Ward & Company launched what would become the first general mail order company in American history.  Advertising his company as “The Original Wholesale Grange Supply House,” Ward stated that the firm sold its goods to “Patrons of Husbandry, Farmers and Mechanics at Wholesale Prices.” His recipe for success—high volume, a wide selection of goods, ease of handling, and low prices—enabled Ward to extend the advantages found in urban marketplace directly to rural customers.

As Montgomery Ward & Company’s mail order business quickly grew, other companies joined in. The other mail order giant, Sears, Roebuck and Company, also located in Chicago, began offering mail order in 1888.  By 1900, these two mail order houses were the two greatest merchandisers in the world. Countless other firms offered a variety of goods from ready-made clothing to hardware and farm equipment, using the direct-marketing of mail order to extend their reach to customers all over the nation.

Mail order catalogs brought city and country together. The enticing products shown on their pages represented the new and modern to their rural readers, promising higher standards of living and material progress through the attractive goods and labor-saving devices displayed there. Mail order catalogs offered rural residents a “taste” of the urban experience, offering goods found in the shops and department stores that blossomed in the commercial districts of America’s burgeoning cities. Catalogs, of course, broadened the merchandise selection for some city people as well.

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Montgomery Ward & Company launched America’s first general mail order company.  Over 22 years later, their 1894-1895 catalog still proudly trumpeted this fact:  “Originators of the Mail Order Business.”
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A Cornucopia of Material Delights
Flipping through these mail order catalogs brought a visual feast of tens of thousands of products—some satisfying needs and some gratifying wants.  For a farm family whose lives and daily activities brought little variety, these catalogs opened a world of new material possibilities:  fashionable ready-made clothing, hats and hat trimmings, jewelry of all kinds, sewing machines, cook stoves, and hardware for use on the farm or stylish hinges to update farmhouse doors. Even carriages and automobiles could be shopped for by mail.  

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The northern Indiana family shown in this circa 1900 parlor photograph could have obtained many of the goods by mail order—even the piano. 
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The photograph above depicts a middle-class family from a farm or small town surrounded by the mass-produced goods that provided an attractive, comfortable lifestyle.  Many of the items could have been purchased from a mail order catalog. (Keep in mind that, while rural residents might have access to many of the same goods, they often had far less spending power than urban America.)

Delivering the Catalogs—and the Goods

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From placing the order to delivery of the goods, the image on the cover of this 1880s Jordan Marsh catalog suggests the ease of “successful” shopping by mail—allaying any concerns for those new to the process.  THF119786

Mail order catalogs came to farmers—not surprisingly--through the mail. Yet, for many years, that did not mean convenient delivery to their doorstep. Though city dwellers had enjoyed free home delivery of mail since 1863, rural residents still had to pick up their own mail at the nearest post office—even though they paid the same postage as the rest of the nation. Bad roads and distance often meant that farmers rarely picked up their mail more than once a week. So placing a catalog order could take longer for farm folk than city dwellers.  A farm family might pick up a catalog on a trip to town one week, then place the order the next time someone went to town. Payment for mail orders was made by money order, purchased through the post office.
In 1896, the success of mail order retailing helped encourage the introduction of rural free delivery, which began as an experiment with mail being delivered at no charge to customers on a few rural routes.  Delivering mail throughout the countryside soon proved successful and sustainable, and additional routes continued to be added.  In July 1902, rural free delivery became a permanent service. Now all rural Americans enjoyed mail delivery to their homes, opening their mailboxes to find not only letters from family and friends, but a growing number of mail order catalogs presenting enticing goods for their consideration.

In 1896, the success of mail order retailing helped encourage the introduction of rural free delivery, which began as an experiment with mail being delivered at no charge to customers on a few rural routes.  Delivering mail throughout the countryside soon proved successful and sustainable, and additional routes continued to be added.  In July 1902, rural free delivery became a permanent service. Now all rural Americans enjoyed mail delivery to their homes, opening their mailboxes to find not only letters from family and friends, but a growing number of mail order catalogs presenting enticing goods for their consideration.

In 1896, the success of mail order retailing helped encourage the introduction of rural free delivery, which began as an experiment with mail being delivered at no charge to customers on a few rural routes.  Delivering mail throughout the countryside soon proved successful and sustainable, and additional routes continued to be added. In July 1902, rural free delivery became a permanent service. Now all rural Americans enjoyed mail delivery to their homes, opening their mailboxes to find not only letters from family and friends, but a growing number of mail order catalogs presenting enticing goods for their consideration.

How did merchandise ordered get to the person who ordered it? Before the advent of rural free delivery, people could pick up small packages at the post office. Private express companies delivered larger packages shipped to the nearest railroad station, transporting them to the customer’s home. Farmers might use their own wagons to transport goods shipped by rail to them. 

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Heavy or large packages sent by mail were shipped to the local railroad station.  An express company would then deliver them to the customer.  If the customer owned a horse-drawn wagon, they might pick up the package at the railroad station themselves.
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After the beginning of rural free delivery, mail carriers delivered packages weighing up to four pounds to their customers’ mailboxes. By law, heavier packages had to be delivered by private express companies.  

In January 1913, the U.S. Postal Service established parcel post—now goods could be delivered directly to homes. It was an instant success, boosting mail-order businesses enormously. During the first five days of parcel post service nearly 1,600 post offices handled over 4 million parcel post packages. Within the first six months, 300 million parcels had been delivered. Weight and size limits were gradually expanded. By 1931, parcel post deliveries included packages weighing up to 70 pounds and measuring up to 100 inches.

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In the early years of rural mail delivery, farmers could use whatever was at hand as a mailbox—pails, cans or wooden crates. When rural free delivery became permanent and universal in 1902, the United States Post Office required rural customers to have regulation mailboxes in order to receive their mail.
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Something Gained, Something Lost
While catalog shopping brought variety and convenience to rural Americans during the late 19th and early 20th century, there was an important trade-off. The face-to-face communication and personal relationship that had existed between a local storekeeper and his customers was eroding, helped along by national advertising which told potential customers what to buy—rather than customers seeking the advice of the storekeeper. Too, stores became increasingly self-serve. This trend toward less personal, “non-local” shopping continued to grow throughout the 20th century for rural and urban people alike, involving not only orders by mail, but by phone and, eventually, the internet.  In the 21st century, sales of consumer goods increasingly take place online. 

Yet, more recently, people have come to value the attentive personal service offered and unique goods stocked by many local retailers. Many shoppers combine the advantages of shopping online for the wide variety goods available there, with the personal touch and service-oriented experience of shopping locally. Encouraging this shop-local trend are national campaigns like Small Business Saturday, which takes place Thanksgiving weekend, encouraging shoppers to patronize small retailers.

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

shopping, mail order, by Jeanine Head Miller

Microwave ovens gained popularity in the 1970s, becoming all but standard in American kitchens by the mid-1980s. These new appliances cooked food differently than conventional stovetop or oven methods, which worked by surrounding food with heat. In a microwave oven, electromagnetic waves caused food molecules to vibrate, creating heat that transferred from the outside to the center of the food.

Foods cooked much faster in microwave ovens than in conventional ones. For example, microwaving reduced the cooking time for a baked potato from 75 minutes to just four. And frozen meat pies, which could take 45 minutes to bake, would be ready after nine minutes in the microwave.

This time-saving cooking method promised convenience, but it took some getting used to, requiring adjustments to cookware and cooking techniques. Glass and plastic transmitted electromagnetic waves in microwave ovens, but metal reflected them, causing sparks that could damage the appliance or even cause a fire. Manufacturers had to develop heat-resistant cookware and cooking utensils safe for use in the microwave.

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With specialized cookware and new cooking techniques, Americans could microwave a variety of foods (including fish) quickly, with familiar results.
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In addition to purchasing microwave-safe cookware, Americans needed to learn new cooking techniques. Familiar foods required different preparation -- eggs had to be removed from shells and stirred to break the yolks, and potatoes needed to be pierced before cooking. People also had to change their expectations, as microwave cooking didn’t brown or crisp many foods the way conventional methods did. Meat could be cooked in the microwave -- with varying results. Specialized browning skillets provided some familiar texture and flavor to meats that would otherwise seem limp and unappetizing.

Microwave manufacturers included instruction manuals and recipe suggestions with the ovens they sold. Cookbooks also helped home cooks adjust. Some offered information on how to convert conventional recipes for microwave cooking, while others focused solely on recipes created specifically for the microwave. Two booklets from the collections of The Henry Ford offer a look at the early decades of microwave cooking in America.

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Some manufacturers published microwave cookbooks to promote their products. 
From Freezer to Microwave to Table (1978) encouraged people to use Amana microwaves and freezers and cover foods with Saran Wrap. Recipes in Campbell's Microwave Cooking (1987) called for ingredients made by the Campbell Soup Company.THF275056 and THF275081

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Microwave cooking required people to arrange, stir or turn, and cover food differently than with conventional methods. Cookbooks describing these techniques helped Americans adjust
THF275059 and THF275060

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This brownie recipe reminded cooks to use heat-resistant glass dishes and included instructions for melting, baking, defrosting, and reheating in the microwave. THF27506

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This omelet recipe with an Italian twist emphasized convenience and efficiency. It called for store-bought spaghetti sauce and required only two dishes for cooking--one of which, according to the suggestion highlighted in yellow, could be reused to sauce and serve pasta. THF275089

View these and other cookbooks at the Reading Room in the Benson Ford Research Center, and browse objects related to microwave ovens in our Digital Collections.

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

Since the dawn of motorized transportation at the turn of the 20th century, buses have been part of America's transportation network. Bus routes have crisscrossed the nation, providing affordable connections to thousands of American cities and small towns. Buses have carried workers to their places of employment, shoppers to downtown stores or suburban malls, and children to school. They’ve shuttled people from the airport to the rental car agency or parking lot. And leisure travelers have boarded buses to explore the wonders of nature or enjoy the adventures offered in urban environments.

In 2009, The Henry Ford acquired the unique collection of internationally-renowned author and photographer Bill Luke, for whom buses were a personal passion as well as a career.

Bill Luke became a devotee of buses and bus travel at a very early age. He was born in Duluth, Minnesota, an area noted for several early bus companies, including Greyhound and National City Lines. As a kid, Luke became fascinated with the history and activities of these major lines. He started collecting bus memorabilia and then began a career in the bus industry, working for the Jefferson Transportation Company in Minneapolis and, later, for the Empire Lines in Spokane. Until 1996, Luke also published a well-known bus and motor coach trade publication, Bus Ride, which covered the people, products, and services in this ever-evolving industry.

Luke's collection is filled with photographs, periodicals, and ephemeral material such as uniform patches, tickets, company publications, timetables, and route maps for bus lines operating throughout the United States. “Hop aboard” and explore some selections from the William Luke Bus Collection (all items gifts of William Luke):

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Greyhound held the transportation contract for the 1933-1934 Chicago World's Fair. Sixty futuristic “trailer coaches” transported fairgoers to displays and attractions during the fair. THF108449

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In this late-1920s photograph, Greyhound bus drivers pose in new uniforms. Uniform jackets, pants, caps and boots gave drivers a professional appearance, implying that -- with these experts at the wheel -- Greyhound riders would enjoy a safe and comfortable trip. THF108451

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Helen M. Schultz started the Red Ball Transportation Company in 1922. Her bus route ran from Waterloo to Des Moines, Iowa. Schultz met many challenges while establishing her business, including competition from rival bus lines and the railroad, government regulations, and poor highway conditions. She sold Red Ball to the Jefferson Highway Transportation Company in 1930. THF108453

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Bus terminals of the 1920s and 1930s were often located in hotels. The Pickwick organization, which owned the Pickwick bus line, commonly built terminals adjacent to or inside its hotels, like this one in Kansas City. The bus terminal located on the first floor featured a turntable that rotated buses 180 degrees within a narrow space -- allowing buses to exit the same way they entered. THF108455

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Bus stations were often attractive as well as practical. Many terminals of the 1930s and 1940s sported streamlined facades -- the height of modernity during this time. These images of a Detroit terminal appeared in the 1941 book "Modern Bus Terminals and Post Houses," which featured photographs and floor plans of 45 recently-built bus stations. THF108459 and THF108460

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Bus Transportation
magazine sponsored a yearly contest for bus terminal window displays promoting the industry. This entry, a 1940 winner, enticed viewers to dream of a Michigan vacation enjoyed while traveling on the Blue Goose line. The judging staff called it "a highly original design with 'stop and look' appeal." THF108462

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Many long-distance bus companies operated special restaurants to service their travelers. This 1955 menu explains that Greyhound established its Post House restaurants -- named after stops along stagecoach routes where travelers could rest, eat, and possibly even secure lodgings -- to guarantee quality food and sanitary conditions. THF108464

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This 1980 photograph shows rapid transit buses -- part of an order for 940 vehicles bound for the Southern California Rapid Transit District in Los Angeles, California -- on the assembly line at General Motors’ Truck & Bus Division in Pontiac, Michigan. THF108469

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Bus Ride magazine kept readers apprised of developments in the bus industry, including new technologies, changing regulations, and the evolving travel market. The William Luke Bus Collection includes a complete run of Bus Ride from 1967 to 2012, providing a glimpse into decades of opportunities and challenges in the bus industry and historical information about individual bus lines. THF108470

For more information about the William Luke Bus Collection, please contact The Henry Ford's Benson Ford Research Center. A version of this post originally ran in 2013 as part of our Pic of the Month series

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"Monkees" Lunchbox and Thermos, 1967 (THF92313)

Beaver Cleaver may have carried a plain metal lunch box to school, but lunch boxes with pictures on them have been big business since the days of the Leave It to Beaver television show. Since the 1950s, children have been persuading their parents that they absolutely must have a school lunch box sporting their favorite character. For, to show off a Davy Crockett or a Beatles or a Star Wars lunch box to the world (or to your friends, which meant basically the same thing) when these were popular was simply the essence of cool. And, for young children, this is still true today -- only the characters and the lunch box materials have changed.


The first true pictorial lunch box was created in 1950, when a painted image of Hopalong Cassidy was applied to a steel lunch box and matching thermos bottle. In the first year of its production, Nashville, Tennessee manufacturer Aladdin Industries sold an unprecedented 600,000 of these, at a (not inexpensive) retail cost of $2.39.

Three years later, American Thermos introduced a fully lithographed steel lunch box depicting Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Sales of these reached an astonishing 2 1/2 million the first year, and these types of lunch boxes -- with pictures covering all sides -- immediately became the industry standard. The pictorial lunch box industry was off and running, and competition between companies became fierce. Over the next three decades, steel lunch boxes featured dozens of television shows, movies, popular musicians, sports stars, special events, fads, and famous places.

Pictorial lunch boxes made of waterproof vinyl wrapped around cardboard first came on the market in 1959. Their shiny, purse-like qualities lent themselves to pictorial themes marketed to girls, like the highly popular Barbie lunch boxes, introduced in 1961. Unfortunately, these could not stand up to heavy use -- their seams split and their corners crushed easily.

During the 1970s, vocal parents and school administrators began to complain that metal lunch boxes were to blame for students' injuries-enough so that, by 1987, lunch box manufacturers were forced to cease using steel in favor of safer (and cheaper) plastic.

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Hopalong Cassidy, 1950
(THF92292)
William (Bill) Boyd brought this fictional character to life, first at the movies then on television in 1950. "Hoppy" became the first television hero for many American children. This show precedes the major era of television westerns ushered in by Gunsmoke in 1955, when the huge popularity of westerns signaled Americans' nostalgia for a simpler past and their need for clear-cut heroes and villains during an uncertain time.

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Tom Corbett: Space Cadet, 1954
(THF92296)
On television from 1950 to 1955, this early science fiction show was a spin-off of a comic book and teen adventure novel series. The show, which took place in a futuristic world of scientific marvels, was made somewhat believable by the technical expertise of Willy Ley, an associate of Werner von Brau.

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Rocky and Bullwinkle, 1962
(THF92316)
Like The SimpsonsRocky and His Friends disguised adult entertainment in the form of a cartoon. The show aired from 1957 to 1963 during prime time, and with its clever, tongue-in-cheek scripts, it could well be considered the most subversive show about the Cold War of its time. From 1964 to 1973, the show continued under the new name The Bullwinkle Show, and it has since been entertaining children and adults alike through reruns and videos.

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"Sock It To Me," 1968
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Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In
 was a mid-season replacement in 1968, and no one expected it to be very popular. That's probably why its producers were able to experiment with virtually a new format-a rapid-fire pace using video editing and no narrative structure-and a new kind of hip topicality couched in one-liner jokes. Although its novelty is lost to us today -- the one-liners seem hopelessly outdated, even old-fashioned -- catch-phrases like "Sock It to Me" have become instantly recognizable cultural icons, while the show's short skits, slapstick humor, and use of topical material helped to revolutionize television.

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Happy Days,
1976 (THF92322)
A mid-season replacement in 1974, this show had its origins in a 1972 Love, American Style episode and took great advantage of the popularity of the film American Graffiti. The first television show to take place in an era where television had already been invented, this version of the 1950s was embraced especially by young people who had not known the real decade first-hand. The show's true star was "The Fonz," who may have seemed like an unlikely role model but became television's biggest star for several years.

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Sesame Street, 1983 (THF92308)
From the time this show premiered on PBS in 1969, it quickly established itself as the most significant educational program in television history. Envisioned as an entertaining show for preschoolers-especially those from underprivileged backgrounds-to help prepare for school, Sesame Street incorporated the rapid-fire style of both television commercials and television programs like Laugh-In. With its consistently high quality and humor geared toward both children and their parents, this show continues to be extremely popular today.

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