This Saturday, Dec. 15, marks what would have been artist and designer Ray Eames' 100th birthday. Design is an important topic at The Henry Ford, so over the next few days we're pleased to share a few posts dedicated to Ray's spirit and contribution to the Eames design name.
I studied design and advertising at the College for Creative Studies. During an art history class, I was introduced to the work of Charles and Ray Eames and from that point on I never looked at art and design the same way again.
At the time I knew very little about the designers, so what I loved the most was what I saw in their work. I loved the clean lines, color choices and movement in their pieces. Their furniture was so different from the furniture I grew up with in my family's home.
From that point on I feel like my work has been influenced by the Eames aesthetics. It wasn't until years later when I decided to start focusing more on illustration, that I then remembered how inspired I was by the Eames duo and imagined others most likely were, too.
I have always been inspired by everyday things. I loved the notion that when the first Eames chair was in the production process, it was meant to be a mass-produced, affordable chair that anyone could own. I like to think of my artwork in the same manner. I feel that everyone should be able to afford art that they love for their home. Surely, I thought there were other people that felt the same way that I do, and still wanted a bit of Eames in their home, so I started painting a few of my favorite pieces of their furniture.
Besides being a painter, Ray was the woman behind the scenes who gave insightful input to her husband Charles, who appreciated her talents and held her opinions in high regard. Her input was almost unheard of for a woman of her time. She had an incredible sense of color and with Charles, they both led a colorful life in their amazing world of art and design.
One of the great pleasures of being archivist at The Henry Ford is the continuing ability to receive interesting collections and to meet the donors. One such person was Edward Gies, who called to ask if we would be interested in some photographs of presidential vehicles. Since we have a number of presidential vehicles in our collection, but not a large amount of support material, I said I certainly was. He said he and his wife were planning a trip to the museum and he would bring the material along. When Mr. Gies arrived, he brought a small but very rich collection not only of photographs but also of ceremonial flags that had flown on a number of our vehicles.
What made the experience even more exciting was to discover that the collection had been gathered by Mr. Gies’ father, Morgan Gies. Morgan Gies was a member of the United States Secret Service and the man in charge of the White House vehicles. He held that position for 27 years, serving five presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson. In addition to overseeing the White House fleet, he was often the driver of the presidential vehicle or the backup car.
The donation also contained three American flags and two ceremonial flags flown on the front of presidential vehicles: Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (1882-1945) Sunshine Special, Dwight David Eisenhower’s (1890-1969) Bubbletop, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s (1917-1963) 1961 Lincoln, all of which are in The Henry Ford’s collection. Other special flags include one for Princess Elizabeth (before she was Queen) flown on the Bubbletop and a special flag for Pakistan that was flown on the Bubbletop when President Eisenhower visited that country while on an eleven nation trip through Europe, Africa and Asia.
The Ferdinand Magellan rail car was named after the famous explorer. It was identified as U.S Car No.1 and was used by presidents from 1943 to 1958. A custom built wheel chair elevator was installed to lift President Roosevelt up onto the rear platform of the car. The elevator was removed after Roosevelt’s death in 1945.
Image ID THF208824
The Morgan L. Gies presidential vehicles photographs collection has been cataloged and most of it has been digitized, too. You can browse the collection online or come in to the Benson Ford Research Center reading room to look at it in person.
Terry Hoover is the Chief Archivist at The Henry Ford.
It seems like LEGO has been a part of my life since as far back as I can remember. What started as a few simple sets, like this basic building set from the collections of The Henry Ford, from friends and family has turned into hundreds of boxes sprawled over a customized workshop in my own house.
I was always good at entertaining myself as a child and took to LEGO early. The collection was initially stored in a small tub, but eventually graduated to a chest of drawers. I removed my clothes and found a less suitable storage solution for them. LEGO was far more important and this allowed me to hover over the drawers and build my creations on top of my dresser.
My parents somehow put up with this and continued to feed the obsession. Before I out grew my bunk beds, they were an ideal surface to create towns, space campus or medieval battlefields. I have a pretty strong imagination and LEGO helped grow and develop it.
To this day, when asked what I would like for Christmas, I always respond, "LEGO."
LEGO bricks are such a fascinating medium because you can visualize 3-D objects simply and effectively. It works best for creations that are angular with straight edges. It's also a great medium for prototyping simple machines and casting moulds.
So just how important are my LEGO sets? I designed and built a LEGO workshop in the basement of my house. Having a space like this has helped me tackle new projects, like picture mosaics and 3-D logos.
Were you at Maker Faire Detroit? If you were, than you might have seen me as Nick Brickly, host of my Brick Challenge game show. It's a LEGO-based game show similar to Double Dare. We ask questions and challenge contestants to mini games. Join the fun on stage Saturdays in January 2013 at Henry Ford Museum.
I can't wait to see LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition when it opens its doors tomorrow. Just like Brick Challenge, the LEGO Architecture series and the work of Adam Reed Tucker are great examples of how LEGO is more than a toy - it's a medium for creation and communication.
Nick Britsky is Royal Oak-based LEGO lover and maker. A participant of Maker Faire Detroit since 2010, you can catch him on stage at Anderson Theater this winter as part of LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition's Saturday programming.
We get questions from young and old alike regarding our national treasures. Everything from such topics as historic figures: Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and the Wright Brothers, to our historic objects: the Rosa Parks Bus, George Washington’s camping equipment, or the John F. Kennedy Limo, just to name a few. As Research Specialist in the Benson Ford Research Center, it's my job to respond to these requests.
Some of my favorite requests come from elementary students, kindergarten to sixth grade. I personally love working on these inquiries and absolutely love seeing how the information we have is used for so many different projects.
One of our library books is actually among these gems. It’s called Talleyrand Meets the Car Makers. In this circa-1960s book by Ford of Britain, Talleyrand (a very cute toy dog similar to today’s Flat Stanley) goes on tour of a Ford plant to entertain and educate.
As Research Specialist in the BFRC, Stephanie Lucas is responsible for the timely and efficient delivery of accurate responses to a broad range of remote reference requests; keeping track of numbers; participating in the creation of programs and tools to promote access and use of The Henry Ford collections; and going beyond the barrier when needed.
Some followers of The Henry Ford’s blog may remember that back in January we told you about our 2012 project to digitize the most “significant” artifacts in our collections. We have been working furiously on getting these artifacts identified and digitized, and while we’re not finished yet, we’ve gotten a lot done, and wanted to share some interesting tidbits about our work thus far.
The basic assignment we set ourselves was to divide the collection into categories, and ask our curators to select the 25 most significant items at The Henry Ford in each of the categories. Though there are many ways one can group items in our collections, for the purposes of this exercise, we chose these groupings:
Home and Community Life
Information Technology and Communications
American Democracy and Civil Rights
Agriculture and the Environment
America’s Industrial Revolution
Henry Ford (Since Henry Ford is such a significant personage around here, we decided he gets 50 objects instead of 25.)
The curators established lists for each grouping, which was no easy task. Criteria of national significance, uniqueness to our institution, and resonance to museum visitors helped guide selections, but there was still a laborious and sometimes painful process of culling to get down to 25 (or 26 or 27 — a few extras snuck through!) objects in each category.
We also considered the issue of overlap. In the end, less than 10 objects ended up on lists in multiple categories, and where they did, the rationale was very clear. These include the limousine in which John F. Kennedy was shot (which relates to both Transportation and American Democracy and Civil Rights), the Fordson tractor Henry Ford gave to Luther Burbank (which relates to both Henry Ford and Agriculture and the Environment), and a Westinghouse steam engine, pictured below (which relates to both Henry Ford and America’s Industrial Revolution). Most of the overlaps involve Henry Ford, which is not surprising when you consider the origins of this institution.
Another really interesting thing about the lists is that though these are some of our most significant artifacts, not all of the items are currently on public display. The majority of the objects the curators selected are indeed located in the Henry Ford Museum: from George Washington Carver’s microscope, located in our Agriculture exhibit; to the Noyes piano box buggy located in Driving America; to the Jazz Bowl, located in Your Place in Time. A few objects are located in Greenfield Village, including the Edison electric pen, which you can view in Menlo Park Laboratory; and Firestone Barn, which is a building, a working barn, and a significant artifact, all rolled into one!
A number of objects selected live in our archival collections, which may be viewed via a visit to the Benson Ford Research Center. These include two-dimensional objects such as a photograph of the first Highland Park Ford assembly line and Ford Motor Company’s first checkbook.
Other objects are just too fragile to be on permanent display or don’t have a spot in our current exhibits, so The Henry Ford’s collections site is the only place you’ll be able to view them. These include an embroidery sampler from 1799, a gold bugle, and a Moog synthesizer.
One object that made the list, the kinetoscope that Thomas Edison invented to play moving images, is not even in Dearborn at the moment—it is on display at the Epcot theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida. If you have upcoming travel plans that include Epcot, stop by the American Heritage Gallery and say hi to one of our most significant objects!
So what’s next for this project? Well, we still have about 20 percent of these significant objects left to digitize and make available online, and there are a number for which curators are still writing brief descriptions. Once all the objects are online and well-described, we’ll create sets for each category, so you can browse these gems from our collection by the topic they relate to. Watch for a future blog post when this is complete!
Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford, would definitely include on her personal list of significant collections objects everything from the Rosa Parks bus to the Monkey Bar.
By 1925, Americans could travel long distances by train or automobile. Rail lines and new numbered highways nearly spanned the country. Though air travel was an interesting suggestion, it seemed unreliable. Airplanes were incredible inventions that had crossed oceans and navigated the globe. But there had been accidents, and too many had been fatal. Americans thought it best to leave planes to the brave—soldiers who’d flown in World War I. Entrepreneurial barnstormers. A few intrepid airmail pilots.
This photo of Grimm Jewelry Store at 613 Michigan Avenue in Detroit was taken in 1926. Engelbert Grimm's store was moved to Greenfield Village in 1940.
There was a Grimm celebration at Greenfield Village today when descendants of jeweler Engelbert Grimm came from near and far to meet in front of his store to kick off their family reunion. The actual reunion is tomorrow, but many had the opportunity to meet today at the well-love artifact for a photo opportunity in front of "great-grandpa's" store. The charming little building, designed by architect Peter Dederichs, Jr., was built in the late 1880s and moved to the Greenfield Village in 1940.
Engelbert Grimm was a German immigrant who ran the store for 45 years. He offered mass-produced, inexpensive jewelry and watches to Detroit-area residents. He and his family resided on the second floor. Henry Ford enjoyed visiting the store and talking to the store owner about fixing watches and working with machinery.
The family members meeting today were related to Engelbert's daughter Marie. Marie had eight children, the seventh and only surviving is Josephine (née Lefevre) Smith, who will soon celebrate her 95th birthday.
It was fun watching some family members introduce themselves because they either hadn't yet met, or it had been years since they laid eyes on each other. As one told me with a wink, "After 50 years, some folks look a little different."
Some had photo albums in hand and were eager to show Josephine to share or learn more family history.
Family members came from California, Georgia, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey and Michigan.
Josephine's daughter Cheryl Koeh said at her mother's 90th birthday, the discussion came up that it would be nice for family to come together for an occasion other than just weddings and funerals. They began planning for the reunion far enough in advance to give time for out-of-state relatives to arrange to make the trip. This is their largest family gathering.
More than 60 relatives met for the fun and a the photo op. They even welcomed the knowledgeable presenter at the shop to be part of their family photo.
In addition to the big group photo, families captured their own mementos of the event.
Colette and Dick Sheridan had last visited Greenfield Village 55 and 60 years ago, respectively. They are both Michigan natives and used to come to the village quite frequently. Colette said when she was young, her mother always sent her for visits to the village when company came to town. The Sheridans said that the village had changed a lot since their last visits, but they also agreed there were so many parts that seemed the same. They've long been California residents and were happy to travel to Michigan for the reunion. Four of their eight children were able to make the trip, too.
Even the youngest of the family enjoyed a look through the store. The displays show items that would have been sold in the shop near the turn of the century.
This little guy, Jonathan, decided to see if he knew the combination to the safe.
The weather was just right, and the mood was festive. By the smiles and laughter I heard, I'm sure many of the family would agree, it was a great day to be a part of the Grimm family.
Now that school's out and summer is here, many of us turn our thoughts to vacation and travel. Camping has long been a way for Americans to spend time relaxing with their families and friends and experiencing the beauties and wonders of nature — and sometimes just being a kid again.
Between 1915 and 1924, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, tire magnate Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs (who took part 1916-1920), calling themselves "the Four Vagabonds," embarked on a series of summer camping trips. Others joined the group at various times, among them family, business associates and politicians, including U.S. presidents. (Photo found here.)
Over the years, the group crisscrossed the mountains, valleys and scenic countryside of Upstate New York, the New England states, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia,Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
The group traveled in style and their adventures were well-documented and publicized. Equipment used by the party included a folding circular camp table with lazy Susan seating twenty (pictured above), a twenty-square-foot dining tent, sleeping tents with mosquito netting, a gasoline stove and a refrigerated Lincoln camping truck. A professional chef prepared the group's meals and film crews and numerous outside journalists followed in their wake. Ford complained of the attention and its hampering effects on their trips, but there are strong indications that he nevertheless relished the publicity. (Photos found here and here.)
Yet Henry Ford's interest in nature was not new or merely a public relations gambit. Here he is with Clara at the Grand Canyon in 1906. They were avid birders and had over 500 birdhouses installed amid the naturalistic landscaping (designed by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen) of their Fair Lane Estate. John Burroughs helped them rehabilitate the adjoining land and reintroduce wildlife to the area.
In addition to the collectionsimagesonline, we've also digitized films of the Vagabonds. Here, John Burroughs plants a tree; the group walks, dines and relaxes at the campsite; and Henry Ford climbs a tree.
Even more still images from our photographic collections featuring the Vagabonds are available on our Flickr page. Here's Henry clowning around in a cowboy getup. (Below photo found here.)
Though executed on a grander scale than most camping trips, the Vagabonds' journeys spoke to a desire, shared by millions of Americans, to get back to the beauties of nature and, as Burroughs wrote, to "be not a spectator of, but a participator in, it all!"*
*(Burroughs, John. Our Vacation Days of 1918. Privately printed by Harvey Firestone, ca. 1918-1920s.)
Rebecca Bizonet is an archivist at the Benson Ford Research Center at The Henry Ford. When she's not helping preserve and provide access to her institution's vast and rich archival holdings, she enjoys exploring Michigan's scenic highways (and finds the many opportunities for great whitefish and pasties, not to mention the scenic historic and natural wonders, more than make up for not having a personal chef in tow!).
Summer is here, and many of us look forward to an escape from the daily grind with some relaxation and down time. Our thoughts turn to sandy beaches, summer cottages, picnics.
Today, Internet reservation systems and freeway exit signs make it easy to find lodging on route to our final destination. Except for the venerable old hotels in cities and resort areas, most roadside lodgings are pretty much the same: branded national chains that offer few surprises.
The rise: Motels spring up across America
There was once a time when every roadside lodging was unique. These were the “mom-and-pop” motels that dotted every highway across the country. They had their origins in the 1920s and 1930s with the primitive tourist cabins similar to the one from the photograph from our collections pictured above. These cabins offered the privacy and shelter lacking in the earlier auto camps.
Tourist cabins and cottages were increasingly clustered together into larger tourist courts such as the one depicted on this postcard. They featured enhanced amenities such as private showers, gas pumps and lunch rooms. When tourist court owners realized they could save money by stringing together rooms into single integrated units - the motel was born.
The golden age
After World War II, thousands of new motels beckoned motorists with their bold, colorful signs and unique versions of homey comfort.
Today, these postcards offer silent testimony to the many varieties in motel design.
On the backs of many of these postcards, we get an idea of the once-modern amenities proudly described by motel owners. Features such as tiled bathrooms and thermostatic controlled heat to carpeted floors and Sealy or Beauty-Rest mattresses, are just a few.
Artifacts of motels of the past
In addition to motel postcards from past vacations, what other material evidence survives today from this golden age? We asked this question when we installed a small display of motel items for our Driving America exhibition that opened in January. What items conveyed both the national popularity of motels and the unique attributes of each motel? Here are some of our finds:
Today, we are handed electronic key cards programmed to open the door to our room. Once returned, they can be re-programmed to open someone else’s room the very same day.
Although each motel room key was unique, this example from the Sea Breeze Motel depicts a popular example. If you forgot to return your key at check out, a message on the oversized key fob encouraged you to just drop it in the nearest mailbox with return postage guaranteed.
Ashtrays and matches
With the popularity of cigarette smoking, motel owners did their best to prevent cigarette burns on furniture, carpets and mattresses by providing ashtrays such as this one from the Westward Ho Motel. Savvy owners didn't miss the opportunity to throw in a little advertising as well.
Matchbooks like these three examples were ubiquitous at this time with the expectation that smokers would pocket them for later use.
Put out by match companies, these free throw-away souvenirs offered advertising for both the motel and the match producer.
Also realizing the lucrative benefits of advertising, soap companies produced pocket-sized versions of their soaps for motels, like these examples.
It wasn't uncommon at the time for the soap company’s name or logo to be larger than the name of the motel.
The fall: Inns are in
Motels thrived during the 1950s and 1960s, but by the end of that time, many had fallen on hard times. Ongoing maintenance was expensive and travelers had come to expect more. We can thank Kemmons Wilson for heightening travelers' expectations with the franchising of his Holiday Inn - a new lodging concept that began in 1957 - enticing customers with its flashy neon signs.
Every Holiday Inn promised the same deluxe amenities—free in-room TV and telephone, air conditioning, free ice, a family restaurant and swimming pool. Soon other chains followed suit. Privately owned motels run on modest budgets by hard-working families or couples just couldn’t compete. By the 1980s, the golden age of motels was pretty much a thing of the past.
Donna Braden enjoys sleuthing classic motels on Route 66, and has even stayed in a few!
Between 1960 and 1990, tracks, drivers and cars combined to create a memorable era in automobile racing, and one of the best-known photograph collections documenting this era is now accessible. Selected images from the Dave Friedman collection are now available for viewing at The Henry Ford’s Flickr page. More than 10,000 images have been uploaded since the beginning of 2012, with many more to come!
During the 1950s and 1960s, American auto racing underwent a radical transformation, evolving from a sport of weekend racers in their home-built hot rods and dragsters to professional teams driving powerful race cars in competitions all over the world. Photographer Dave Friedman had a front row seat for the action during this important transition, capturing the excitement, the grit and the glamour - and creating some of the most iconic images of American motor sports of that era.
In 1962 Friedman was hired as staff photographer for Shelby-American Inc., the racing design and construction shop owned by a former driver, the late Carroll Shelby. While with Shelby-American Inc., Friedman had the unique opportunity to document the development of one of racing’s iconic stable of cars, the Shelby Cobras. In 1965, Friedman continued to capture the dynamic innovations of Shelby and Ford Motor Company as he documented the development of the record-setting Ford Mark IV race car that was the first American-designed and built car to win the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1967 . Friedman continued to pursue his passion for motor sports into the 1990s, when he refocused his lens on a new art form – classical ballet.
In 2009, The Henry Ford acquired the unique collection of this internationally renowned photographer, author and motion picture still photographer. The Dave Friedman collection consists of over 200,000 unique images, including photographs, negatives, color slides and transparencies. The collection also includes programs, race results and notes from across the United States and around the world. Dating between 1949 and 2003, the images and programs illustrate the transition of auto racing from dirt tracks and abandoned airfields to super speedways.
The Dave Friedman collection is a unique resource that documents in subtle shades the art, power and passion of automobile racing in the second half of the 20th century.
What's your favorite moment in automotive racing history? Tell us in the comments below, or check out Racing In America for more details on these iconic races and more.