Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

quadricycle-engine

When we look at an automobile, we are moved by what we see on the outside – its styling. But what moves the car is on the inside – its engine. Please join us for a rare look under the hoods of some of the finest automobiles at Henry Ford Museum. More than 40 cars have their engines exposed for you.

Here, Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford, describes some of his favorites.

1896FordQuadricycleRunabout-2

Engines Exposed: 1896 Ford Quadricycle

Inline 2-cylinder engine, F-head valves, 59 cubic inches displacement, 4 horsepower (estimate)

Henry Ford based the Quadricycle’s engine on the Kane-Pennington motor he saw in American Machinist magazine. Ford brazed water jackets around each of the two horizontal cylinders and mounted wooden water tanks on either side of his engine. The tanks ultimately were replaced with a smaller under-seat reservoir.

engines, quadricycle

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In the 1920s, the African American population in Detroit tripled as the automobile industry drew workers from southern states.  Housing options in a segregated city were limited, however, and many African Americans found themselves living in the poor and crowded neighborhood of Black Bottom.  In the adjacent Paradise Valley area, some residents of Black Bottom were able to make a living working in the many nightclubs and theaters providing entertainment options for audiences of multiple races.  Urban renewal projects and freeway construction in the 1960s almost completely razed both neighborhoods. Archivist Brian Wilson, intrigued by this story as one factor setting the scene for later race riots in Detroit, discovered some related photos in The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation, which we’ve just digitized. They depict various performers at Club Harlem in Paradise Valley in the 1930s, such as this group of finely costumed dancers.

Revisit this lost neighborhood by browsing the rest of these images on our collections website.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

Michigan, Detroit, African American history, by Ellice Engdahl, digital collections

Aluminum Christmas Tree, 1960-1965 THF162729

It was eye-catching, lightweight, and easy to care for. There was none of the fuss and muss of a real tree because the needles were attached. You could store it compactly in a box and reuse it year after year. It was completely safe unless you foolishly strung it with electric lights—potentially causing a fire hazard.

Photo of tree in living room, December 1962 THF126330

No, to make your aluminum Christmas tree shine with a dazzling brilliance, you didn’t use strings of electric lights. You turned a four-color, revolving color wheel onto it. And maybe added a few shiny blue or red balls to heighten the silvery aluminum effect. Any way you looked at it, the aluminum Christmas tree was a perfect symbol of the modern Jet-Age lifestyle people were dreaming about in the early 1960s. Continue Reading

by Donna R. Braden, holidays, Christmas

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Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford contains many homes associated with famous people: the Wright family home, the Robert Frost home, the Noah Webster home—and the Edison homestead, the Canadian farmhouse owned by Thomas Edison’s grandparents.  Henry Ford wanted his historical village to feature not only Menlo Park Lab, the fabled workplace of his friend and hero, but also to trace his upbringing with this home that young Thomas visited as child, where his parents had been married.  We have just digitized over 50 images related to the Edison homestead on its original site, including this photo of Edison family gravestones taken in 1933.

Trace the lineage of an innovator for yourself by visiting our digital collections to browse all of the Edison homestead images.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

digital collections

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Dressing Goodfellows dolls has been a Christmas tradition in Detroit since 1924, and the Ford Motor Company Girls’ Club was a major participant in dressing Goodfellows dolls for underprivileged children in Detroit for many years. Starting in 1946 by dressing 65 dolls, the club’s peak donation was 3,000 dresses in 1967, 1969, and 1970, and they averaged between 1,500 to 3,000 dolls most years.

The Ford Girls’ Club was started in 1946 under the Recreation Section of Ford Motor Company. Every female employee – salaried, or hourly – was automatically a member (though active membership did cost $1.00 per year). Any immediate female family member of a club member could join, as could the wives of Ford male employees. The club was primarily social, meeting once a month in addition to dinners, picnics, dances, lectures, and workshops. Members were also service oriented - they held dances for returning veterans, gave gifts and visited veterans in hospitals, and each Christmas they participated in clothing dolls for the Goodfellows to distribute, making thousands and thousands of handmade dresses over the years.

Dolls were usually handed out at the annual November service meeting. The club’s first foray into dress making was in 1946, when women of the club made 65 handmade dresses for dolls. The next year they jumped up to 290, with the dresses being displayed in the Administration Building cafeteria before being sent to the Goodfellows. As more women joined the club, interest grew in this Christmas service project and the club dressed more and more dolls each year, with their finished projects being displayed in various Ford Motor Company buildings’ lobbies, and offices, as well as the Dearborn Virginia Dare storefront window in 1949. The number of dresses made continued to climb each year reaching to almost one thousand in 1954, and the dolls were displayed for the first time at the Rotunda Christmas Fantasy. The next few years were dress-making bonanzas, and in 1957 2,500 dolls were dressed and displayed at the Rotunda for visitors to view before they were distributed to girls in the Detroit area on Christmas Eve. The Girl’s Club maintained a high production rate in the years to come - between 1,750 and 2,000 dresses were made annually and displayed at the Rotunda or Ford Motor Company buildings. In 1966 production saw another jump when the club made almost 3,000, a number they reached the next year and continued to reach or come close to for the next four years.

Viewing the Doll Dressing Display at the Ford Rotunda, Dearborn, Michigan, 1958. THF111275

The handmade dresses were made of all kinds of fabric, from cotton to organdy, satin and lace. Women also knit and crocheted dresses, from wool to angora. Dolls dressed as nurses, astronauts, drum majorettes, hula dancers, Girl Scouts, flying nuns, ballerinas, and ice skaters complete with skates, graced the displays, as did brides, baby dolls, and all kinds of different ethnic dresses. Women could make any type of dress they wanted, but prizes were given by the Goodfellows, and later Ford, in specific categories:

  • Bride
  • Fancy dress
  • Baby doll
  • Character doll
  • Sensible doll
  • Costume
  • Tailored
  • Knit and crocheted
  •  

Goodfellows prizes ranged from $1 for a dress placing in a particular division to a grand prize of $10. Ford soon began judging the Girls’ Club’s work and awarding prizes as well, with the dresses usually judged by the wives of the Goodfellows’ president and executive officers. Early on prizes were cash, but when the displays headed to the Rotunda the stakes were raised. Grand prize in the 1950s and early 1960s was a sewing machine and console, second prize being a portable sewing machine, and third prize was a sewing cabinet.

The prizes, of course, were always of secondary importance in the Girls’ Club work with the Goodfellows' goal of “no child without a Christmas.” Over a 27-year period, 1946-1972, the Ford Girls’ Club donated over 45,000 hand-made dresses to the Detroit Goodfellows' organization to distribute to area children. The Ford employee newsletter The Rouge News and later Ford World carried stories and photos of the club’s donations every year, urging members of the club and others in the Ford organization to participate. We lose track of the Ford Girls’ Club here in the archive at about 1973, when Ford World ceased publishing stories on the yearly donation of dolls. However, judging from the 1972 output of 2,000 dolls, it seems likely the club continued the annual service drive for some years after.

The Goodfellows still distribute dolls and people in the metro Detroit area continue to provide dresses each year.

Kathy Makas is Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford.

philanthropy, women's history, toys, Michigan, making, holidays, Ford workers, Ford Motor Company, Detroit, Christmas, by Kathy Makas

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The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation contains such a breadth and depth of artifacts that rediscovering and sharing its treasures often involves a number of our staff working together.  Assistant Curator Saige Jedele was recently investigating our collections in support of Curator Kristen Gallerneaux’s story on the Jacquard loom featured on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, and turned up a woven silk image of a baseball game.  Conservator Fran Faile noted we had a number of similar artifacts in the collection, which our digitization team then imaged and cataloged.  These pieces, like this bookmark featuring George Washington, are known as “Stevengraphs,” after the man who built on the punchcard technology of the Jacquard loom to create the intricate fabric pictures.

Visit our online collections to view all of the rare and delicate Stevengraphs that have just been digitized.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

digital collections

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May 29, 2016, will mark the 100th running of the iconic Indianapolis 500 auto race. The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation contains many objects and archival materials related to the race over its long history, and we’ve just digitized more than 1,600 images from the 1964 race, as well as 500 images of the 1961 race. Both sets of images come from the extensive Dave Friedman collection, and join previously digitized sets of Indy images from 1962, 1963, 1968, and 1969. Each set of images covers both vivid racetrack action and behind-the-scenes shots, like this relatively serene 1964 shot taken from above.

If you’re a racing fan, visit our digital collections to peruse more than 7400 photos, documents, and objects related to the Indy 500.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

digital collections, race cars, racing

Cover of a 1977 Early Reader THF 126319

It would not be a proper Christmas season without at least one viewing of the TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Every year, we can enjoy the antics of Lucy, Schroeder, and the rest of the “Peanuts” gang as they get ready (or not) for the Christmas play; sympathize with Charlie Brown as he passes up all those bright shiny aluminum trees and picks the sorriest tree on the Christmas tree lot; and cheer when the gang transforms Charlie Brown’s sad little tree into one of beauty and elegance at the end. Today, we can watch the special any time we want. But, back when it first aired on TV in 1965, we could only watch it once—Thursday, December 9, at 7:30 p.m., on CBS. And it was a revelation! Continue Reading

TV, holidays, Christmas, popular culture, by Donna R. Braden

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White Castle System eating house operators Abie Best and Don Dunivent pose for their photograph outside -THF98358 - and at the counter - THF98355 - in Kansas City, Missouri, probably 1927.

Alvin Alonzo Dunivent, nicknamed "Don" by his coworkers, began working in a Kansas City, Missouri, White Castle restaurant in July 1927. He flipped burgers and worked the counter of this small fast food restaurant. The White Castle System of Eating Houses, Corporation called his position an operator for the Kansas City Plant. Employment included corporate training in customer service and pride of a job well done in this emerging industry. It was a good career move for Don.

Hamburgers were considered an inferior “poor man’s food” until fry cook Walter Anderson improved their reputation by coming up with a secret new cooking method. In 1921, he and partner Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram opened a chain of hamburger eating houses—compact, castle-like structures they called “White Castles.” From the architecture to the menu to the workers’ appearances, White Castle set a new standard for cleanliness and uniformity. Continue Reading

home life, archives, popular culture, by Cynthia Read Miller, food, restaurants

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The Richart Wagon Shop is another example of Henry Ford’s interest in American transportation history. It was built in 1847 by Israel Biddle Richart in Macon, Michigan, and operated for over 50 years in the business of building, repairing, and painting wagons. In fall 1941, it was acquired for and moved to Greenfield Village.

We’ve just digitized a number of photographs of the building on its original site, including this image showing the distinctive lower and upper double doors still visible today—though notably missing a ramp to allow carriages access to the second floor.

To see all these digitized images of Richart Wagon Shop taken between 1931 and 1941, visit our collections website.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

digital collections, Greenfield Village buildings