Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Photo: P.833.72372 Mr. Price Inspecting Emery Wheels at the Motor Building, Ford Motor Company, September 12, 1939

No single reason can sufficiently explain why in a brief period between 1910 and 1920, nearly half a million Southern blacks moved from farms, villages, towns and cities to the North, starting what would ultimately be a 50-year migration of millions. What would be known as the Great Migration was the result of a combination of fundamental social, political and economic structural problems in the South and an exploding Northern economy. Southern blacks streamed in the thousands and hundreds of thousands throughout the industrial cities of the north to fill the work rolls of factories desperate for cheap labor. Better wages, however, were not the only pull that lured migrants from the South. Crushing social and political oppression and economic peonage in the South provided major impetus to blacks throughout the South seeking a better life. Detroit, with its automotive and war industries, was one of the main destinations for thousands of Southern black migrants.

In 1910 Detroit’s population was 465,766, with a small but steadily growing black population of 5,741. By 1920 post-war economic growth and a large migration of Southerners to the industrialized North had nearly doubled the city’s population to 993,678, an overall increase of 113% from 1910. Most startling, at least for white Detroiters, was the growth of the city’s black population to 40,838, with most of that growth occurring between 1915 and 1920.

The Fordson tractor was produced in the Fordson tractor plant, from 1917 to 1920. In 1920, production of the tractor was switched to the Rouge Plant.

Photo: P.833.34535 Fordson Tractor Assembly Line at the Ford Rouge Plant, 1923

Before the war, Detroit’s small black community was barely represented in the city’s industrial workforce. World War I production created the demand for larger numbers of workers and served as an entry point for black workers into the industrial economy. Growing numbers of Southern migrants made their way to Detroit and specifically to Ford Motor Company to meet increased production for military and consumer demands.

By the end of World War I over 8,000 black workers were employed in the city’s auto industry, with 1,675 working at Ford, primarily as janitors and cleaners or in the dirty and dangerous bowels of the River Rouge Plant’s massive blast furnaces and foundries. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Ford Motor Company was the largest employer of black workers in the city, due in part to Henry Ford’s personal relationships with leading black ministers. The work of church leaders in the black community helped secure employment for hundreds and possibly thousands, but more importantly, they also helped to mediate conflicts between white and black workers.

Ford Plant

Photo: P.833.55880 African American workers at Ford Motor Company’s Rouge River Plant Cyanide Foundry, 1931

Ford Plant

Photo: P.833.57788 Foundry Workers at Ford Rouge Plant, 1933

Ford Plant

Photo: P.833.59567 Pouring Hot Metal into Molds at Ford Rouge Plant Foundry, Dearborn, Michigan, 1934

In addition to jobs, Ford Motor Company also provided additional social welfare services to predominantly black suburban communities in Inkster and Garden City during the depths of the Great Depression. Ford Motor Company provided housing and fuel allowances as well as low-interest, short-term loans to Ford employees living in those communities. Additionally, Ford built community centers, refurbished several schools and ran company commissaries that provided inexpensive retail goods and groceries.

You can learn more by visiting the Benson Ford Research Center and our online catalog.

Peter Kalinski is Racing Collections Archivist at The Henry Ford.

Ford workers

Mechanical ValentineThis time of year I feel so nostalgic about activities surrounding Valentine's Day! I fondly recall making cards for my mother on construction paper by coloring with crayons. Many looked a lot like this one in the museum's collections.

I also have many happy memories of exchanging cards with my classmates in elementary school, especially cutouts featuring kids or animals.

Take a look at this Cutout Valentine, "The Flags Spell 'Come Back to Me' Because I'm Lonely as You Can See," 1945. A mechanical card with two pieces hinged together so that the boat can rock from side to side. It was a gift to the museum from Mrs. Harvey Firestone, Jr. (Elizabeth Parke Firestone) and came in with the archival collection, Firestone Family Papers.

Valentine, "Bank of True Love," circa 1852. Richard Marsh of 374 Pearl St., New York City printed this Valentine in the form of a promissory note. It shows a view of lovers seated in a garden at the top and Cupid on the right with the text, "State of Matrimony." ID THF99107 / 89.0.540.683.

Cutout Valentine, "Radio Me and I'll Radio You," circa 1920. A mechanical card with moving arms and heads shows a girl and a boy with radio sets sending messages to each other. It is signed on the back, "Llewellynne From Aunt Ida." ID THF99109 / 89.72.1

Three-Dimensional Valentine, "To Greet My Love," circa 1910. Card opens out completely to form a tissue bell. It is signed on the back, "From Dufur to Eva Lena." ID THF99115 / 90.234.19.

This year I searched our collections for more selections of valentines and found some surprises. I happened to find several which struck me as a quite unique. One is designed to look like a promissory note, picture above, from a bank in the 1850s. Another is a cutout card featuring kids playing with radio equipment in the 1920s - then the latest technology! The third example is a card that folds out to form an elaborate 3D tissue bell.

Photographic print, Girls' Club Valentine Dance and Ford Plant Engineering Party, Dearborn, Michigan, February 14, 1947. Joseph Farkas was the Ford Motor Company photographer. ID THF99127 / P.833.83934.2.

Cabinet photograph, Cyclist Eugene Valentine with Bicycle and Medals, 1887. It was photographed by J. Wood of 208 Bowery, New York City. Signed on the back "Yours truly, Eugene Valentine, Dec 29, 1887." ID THF206673 /

Then I came across this photo of a Valentine's Day Party. It is identified as a Girls' Club Valentine Dance, but they look like ladies and a gentleman to me. The room is decorated with crepe paper streamers and a large heart-shaped doorway. The sign above the doorway reads, "Kiss Me!"

My searches also came up with a man named Eugene Valentine. Once I saw this I realized that Valentine is indeed a last name, not just a romantic holiday. The name is from the Latin "Valentinus" based on "valere," meaning to be strong. In the British Isles, it has been recorded from medieval times as a first and then a last name with many different spellings, including Valentyn, Vallentine, and Valentine.

I also found a business named Valentine-Souvenir Company of New York City. There are several dozen postcards made by this company in our collections, but not one is a Valentine card. It turns out this company was formed from several later mergers of the founding company started by John Valentine of Dundee, Scotland, in 1825. The original Valentine Company made lithograph prints before starting to produce postcards in 1896. From 1914 to 1923 the Valentine-Souvenir Company of New York City printed postcards using the letterpress halftone color printing process.

Postcard - "Band Stand over Lagoon, Belle Isle, Detroit, Mich.," circa 1915, Valentine-Souvenir Co. ID THF99105 /

I think that any search for Valentine's Day cards needs to include heart shapes as a design motif. In addition to the cards, I expected to find jewelry, dishes and quilts to have heart motifs, but here's something unexpected: a forerunner of the bicycle made with heart shapes cut out of the wooden wheels.

Velocipede, Draisine, attributed to a German maker, circa 1818. German Baron Karl von Drais invented the Draisine in 1817. Operators of this human-powered vehicle sat astride the wooden rail and pushed off with their feet. This early velocipede or hobby horse can be said to be the first bicycle. THF108100 / 32.161.1

What would Valentine's Day be without a box of chocolates? This 1950s magazine advertisement says it all. Happy Valentine's Day!

Whitman's Chocolates Advertisement, "Who Says Men Don't Understand Women?" It was published February 9, 1957, probably in Saturday Evening Post. ID THF99119 / 2008.61.4.

Cynthia Read Miller, Curator of Photographs and Prints, is continually fascinated with the museum’s over one million historical graphics.

valentine cards, valentines

The Henry Ford, like many cultural institutions, has been working on digitizing its collections—i.e., photographing and describing them, and making this information available online. While what we have completed is only a drop in the bucket given the vastness of our collections (25 million archival documents and photographs, and 1 million objects), we have made a lot of progress this year and wanted to share what we’ve accomplished.

There are two big projects we took on this year (in addition to many smaller ones). The first was digitization of 250 objects in support of the mobile version of our website. This included adding photographs and descriptions for the many Greenfield Village buildings—for example, check out the Menlo Park Laboratory, the Daggett Farmhouse, the Armington & Sims Machine Shop, and even the Firestone Farm Chicken Shed.

In Henry Ford Museum, we photographed and described objects from each of the permanent exhibits that we considered “can’t miss” artifacts. You’ll see some things you might expect, like the Wienermobile, the Dymaxion House, and the Rosa Parks bus, but have you ever gotten to see some of our lesser-known treasures, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt’s rocking chair, a Brownie camera, flintlock pistols, and a Paul Revere coffeepot?.

Evening Dress Made by Peggy Hoyt for Elizabeth Parke Firestone, 1928

The second big project for 2012 was creation of our Curators’ Choice lists. We asked our curators to select the 25 most important objects in our collections in each of 7 categories. (Henry Ford got 50, because, well, his name is on our door—and because 2013 will mark his 150th birthday.) There were three criteria the curators used for their selections: national significance, uniqueness to our institution, and resonance to museum visitors. It tells you a bit about the scope and import of our collections that many of these significant items are not on display—but you can now view them all online. They range from a massive cable strander to a tiny scrap of a poem, from a 17th century horse racing trophy to a 1990s cell phone, from an elegant evening dress

Lincoln Logs, circa 1960 (Object ID 90.365.13)

In addition to these two major projects, we also spent 2012 digitizing selections from throughout our collections, many with ties to current exhibits and events. Have you seen our visiting LEGO® exhibit and want more? Check out our digital collection of building toys. Did you make it out to Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village or Holiday Nights? Take a look at some of the vintage greeting cards that help inspire our décor for these events. Were you able to participate in some of our special weekend muster events? Learn more about our collections relating to the War of 1812 or the American Civil War—you may have seen some of these objects on display during your visit!

In addition to the above, we have digitized selections from the following areas of our collections for your immediate browsing pleasure.

From our transportation collections, you can review the Morgan Gies collection, wonderful lantern slides from the early 20th century New York to Paris and New York to Seattle races, and classic design drawings from Bill Mitchell and Virgil Exner.

Circus Trapeze Artist, circa 1890 (Object ID

If you prefer paper-based artifacts, you might take a look at our digital cabinet cards, cartes-de-visite, and trade cards. These provide a glimpse of many aspects of 19th century life.

Henry Ford as a Small Child Being Shown a Bird's Nest by his Family, Painted by Irving Bacon, 1936 (Object ID 00.28.17)

If you are interested in the historical figures who helped shape American history, try our digital collections relating to designer Don Chadwick, racecar driver Lyn St. James, agricultural pioneer George Washington Carver, and a vastly expanded selection of artifacts related to Henry Ford. We also have a variety of personal documents from notables including Abraham Lincoln, Aaron Burr, George Washington, Mark Twain, and Alexander Graham Bell. Read their own words in their own hand from the comfort of your home!

Hammond Typewriter, Model No. 2, 1895-1900 (Object ID 37.154.2)

But wait, there’s more! Check out quilts, coverlets, stoves, telephones, lunchboxes, patent models, steam engines, toys, typewriters, and violins, as well as many objects from our World’s Fair and agricultural collections.


In total, with all of the above objects digitized (and, believe it or not, many more I did not mention), we added about 8,000 new objects to our collections site in 2012! Still, we have much, much more to do. We are still in the process of putting our 2013 list together, but we know we will be tackling areas of our collections related to agricultural, industrial, and technological innovations, as well as automobile racing. In addition, we’ll continue digitizing collections objects to bring some context to several 2013 milestones: the 150th birthday of Henry Ford, the 100th birthday of Rosa Parks, and the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death.

The single biggest reason we have embarked on this massive digitization project is to provide easy public access to our collections, the vast majority of which are not on display. As we reflect on our efforts last year, I and everyone on our digitization team hope that you are finding our digital collections as fascinating, enjoyable, and informative as we are. If there are areas of our collection you would like to see us digitize in 2013, please let us know in the comments below or via our Facebook page.

Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford, is very excited by the digitization promise of 2013.

archives, artifacts, digital artifacts

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.

Posting with us today is Cheryl Oz of Cheryl Oz Designs, a metro Detroit illustrator and designer. Cheryl is a past Maker Faire Detroit participant and recipient of an Editor's Choice Award. - Lish Dorset

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.

Happy 100th birthday, Ray!


Image ID THF208776

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.

Morgan Gies designed the special ramps that allowed presidential vehicles to be transported quickly and efficiently by air to distant locations.

ID THF208770

The 1950 Lincoln Bubbletop when then Princess Elizabeth visited the United States in 1951. She is seated next to President Truman and Morgan Gies is the driver. Elizabeth was crowned Queen two years later in 1953.

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.

Presidential Limo

Image ID THF208758

Presidential Limo

Image ID THF208764

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.

The two queens mentioned above are not individuals but the two backup cars used in parades. They were named after the two luxurious ocean liners of the era. At that time the President’s car was the Sunshine Special, named so because the top folded down to allow the President to enjoy the sun and open air.

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.

limousines, presidential limousines

Growing Up LEGO

November 2, 2012 Archive Insight

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.

"Nick Brickly" on the set of Brick Challenge

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.

LEGO, lego bricks, toys

I have a long-standing fascination with large advertising posters. The collections of The Henry Ford include hundreds of these colorful graphics. As I study them I always wonder about their original purpose.

It starts in the nineteenth century when printers developed a lithograph method that produced brightly colored posters. Lithography, invented around 1798, is a process of printing from a flat surface with a greasy image holding the ink and a wet blank area resisting the ink. It originally produced a monochrome print of a dark image on light paper. In the 1840s printers experimented with using different ink colors and multiple printing surfaces to make chromatic images on one sheet of paper.

Manufacturers and companies quickly adopted the colorful new poster style to promote their goods and services. The posters were glued to building walls and fences, and hung in store displays where they readily attracted the attention of passersby. Companies hired printers who worked with artists to create designs to advertise the products.

This early poster's design, above, is in the style of American romantic landscape paintings of the time. Advertising the Buckeye brand of agricultural equipment manufactured by Aultman, Miller & Company of Akron, Ohio, it exemplifies an American ideal of the machine in the garden. The artist, F. Crow, made this image for the printer, White & Brayley of Buffalo, New York, about 1875. It probably hung in the office of a local equipment distributor where it offered visitors the pleasure of an appealing rural scene.

(THF96683 / 92.157.1) Color Lithograph Poster of Dauntless Sewing Machine, about 1885

This next poster promotes sewing machines made by the Dauntless Manufacturing Company of Norwalk, Ohio, about 1885. The figure is Columbia, a feminine personification of the United States. A complex and detailed image, it surely captured observers' attention and deserved a pause for a long look.

(THF96678 / Color Lithograph Poster of D.M. Ferry & Co.’s Standard Seeds, 1898

This delightful image of four boys eating watermelon epitomizes a summer’s harvest. The attention-grabbing subject matter likely helped to sell the seeds grown by D.M. Ferry & Company of Detroit, Mich. Distributed nationally, the J. Ottmann Lithographing Company of New York, NY, printed the poster in 1898.

(THF96676 / 33.388.34) Color Lithograph Poster for Dr. Price’s Food, about 1910

A complex scene including a seemingly ordinary dining table includes symbolic personalities to gain attention for this unusual food combination of wheat and celery. Columbia, appearing again, serves Uncle Sam and a robust young woman in this poster for Dr. Price’s healthy food products. The U.S. Lithograph Company of Cincinnati, Ohio and New York, NY, made this “Russell-Morgan Print” about 1900-1905.

Over a century ago, changes were taking place in America that made national selling of products advantageous, and manufacturers sought to capture attention with catchy brands and appealing images. Changes in milling of grain lengthened the shelf life so storekeepers far from the original mill were sure to have a good product to sell, and the extensive railroad system allowed rapid and consistent delivery.

(THF96675 / 33.388.5) Color Lithograph Poster for Ben-Hur Flour, about 1900-1905

The team of racing horses coming toward the viewer in the Ben-Hur poster certainly gives a sense of drama. It may be hard to connect the image to the wheat flour product, but the arresting image was meant to attract the attention of potential buyers walking along a town’s street. The Royal Milling Company of Minneapolis, Minn., and Great Falls, Mont., had this colorful poster printed in the early 1900s. At this time, Ben-Hur was a popular motif because the theatrical producers Klaw & Erlanger had made a play in 1899 based on the best-selling American novel written by Lew Wallace in 1880.

(THF96677 / 33.388.54) Color Lithograph Poster for Scotch Oats, 1899.

Like the Ben-Hur poster of the same era, this view of a Scotsman in his Highland kilt gives a sense of adventure and surely attracted the attention of potential buyers on foot. This colorful poster was printed in 1899 with the catchy slogan "Scotch Oats for Brain and Brawn." At this time, stories about the medieval Scottish fight for independence, like Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter, were popular in the United States.

(THF96681 / 89.0.542.5) Color Lithograph Poster for Patterson Aviator of Detroit, about 1911-1916.

This poster of the Wright brothers' Model B biplane has instant appeal. It happens to advertise the aerial entertainment services of the Patterson Aviators of Detroit in the 1910s. I am particularly struck by the fact that in less than ten years, entrepreneurs were using the fruit of Wilbur and Orville Wright's invention begun with their first successful flight in 1903. It grew from an impossible dream to a part of our everyday life. Daredevil fliers in the 1910s and 1920s, also called barnstormers, showed people the possibility of flight by creating high-risk, exciting spectacles soaring through the sky. Crowds flocked to numerous public events like circuses, county fairs, and air shows, eagerly shelling out their hard-earned money simply for the privilege of watching these high-flying acrobatics.

(THF96682 / Color Lithograph Poster for The Spirit of ’18, 1918.

During the First World War, artists widely used an innovative advertising technique for posters that moved away from a factual depiction of a product’s material or event’s subject to an emphasis on appealing to the viewer’s emotions. On the surface, this poster promotes American citizens growing food in their home garden so the farmers’ produce could feed U.S. soldiers training and fighting the war in Europe. The emotional appeal is connecting the effort of home food gardening to patriotic sacrifices akin to those of the American Revolutionary War soldiers. The artist, William McKee, used the familiar motif from the painting The Spirit of ’76, made in 1876 by Archibald M. Willard for the Centennial of the American Revolution. The poster’s title, The Spirit of ’18, reinforced this popular patriotic theme. This poster was made for the U.S. Food Administration in 1918.

(THF96680 / Color Lithograph Poster for Have Fun with a Ford, about 1925

This poster advertises the R& L Time Payment Plan to buy a Ford Model T Tudor Coupe. The National Bond & Investment Company probably offered this payment plan, still a novel concept, through independent Ford dealerships. This double-sided poster was designed to hang in a window and be seen from indoors and outside. Although we do not know the printer for this poster created about 1925, the artist's signature prominently appears in the lower right corner: J.W. Pondelicek.

(THF96679 / Color Lithograph of For Your Summer Vacation, New York World’s Fair, 1939

The artist of this poster, Bob Smith, combined modern and patriotic themes of this world’s fair held near the end of the Great Depression and at the beginning of the Second World War. Promoting the New York World’s Fair theme, "The World of Tomorrow," the Grand Opening on April 30, 1939, harkened back to the country’s beginnings by celebrating the 150th anniversary of George Washington's first presidential inauguration held in New York City in 1789. The beautiful young woman portrayed in front of the world fair’s modern Trylon and Perisphere buildings wears fashionable clothes in the American patriotic colors of red, white and blue.

These posters and many more are part of our museum's online collections. We also offer quality reproductions for a selection of posters on The Henry Ford ArteHouse and The Henry Ford SM/ART Editions. These posters, eye-catching time capsules of popular design, delight and instruct us today. What are your favorites?

Cynthia Read Miller, Curator of Photographs and Prints, is continually fascinated with the museum’s more than 1 million historical graphics.

advertising, antique posters, posters

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.

Student Exhibit

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.

George Washington Camp bed and gear

Typically museums can display only a small portion of their collections at a given time, so I am grateful for these amazing questions that lead me to explore objects I have never seen, such as the "Monkey Bar" Diorama (Object ID 15.1.1/THF49084) or Circus Poster, Barnum and Bailey Present "Marvelous Performances of the Troupe of Trained Cats and Pigs," (Object ID 35.784.119/THF81700).

"Monkey Bar" Diorama (Object ID 15.1.1/THF49084)

Circus Poster, Barnum and Bailey Present "Marvelous Performances of the Troupe of Trained Cats and Pigs," (Object ID 35.784.119/THF81700)

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.

Talleyrand meets the car makers

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.

customer service, research center

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
  • Transportation
  • 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.

    Westinghouse Portable Steam Engine No. 345, made circa 1881, used by Henry Ford

    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!

    Firestone Barn. Photograph by Michelle Andonian

    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.

    Ford Motor Company Checkbook, 1903

    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.

    Moog Synthesizer, 1964-1965

    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!

    Edison Kinetoscope with Kinetophone, 1912-1913

    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.

    artifacts, digital artifacts

    National Air Tours helped familiarize Americans with aircraft as commercial vehicles. Before the 1930s, planes in the United States rarely carried travelers. They served the military, provided entertainment, or carried mail.
    An advertisement for a famous aerial show

    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. Continue Reading

    flying, planes