Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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In 2014, the Detroit News donated over 220 photographic negatives to The Henry Ford. They depict photos of and taken from various News aircraft between the mid-1920s and mid-1930s, including a Lockheed Orion and a Lockheed Vega.  A substantial number relate to the 1931 Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro, which has been in The Henry Ford’s collection for over 80 years and is currently on display within Henry Ford Museum in the Heroes of the Sky exhibit. The image shown here includes a hand-written note on the envelope: “Airplanes to ship newspapers.” We have just digitized the complete set of negatives, so you can now visit our online collections to browse the Autogiro-related images, or everything related to the Detroit News, including all of these images.

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

newspapers, Michigan, flying, digital collections, Detroit, by Ellice Engdahl, airplanes

Eva Tanguay in Vaudeville Costume, 1910-1919 THF82177

Eva Tanguay was a showstopper—one of vaudeville’s most charismatic stars. Long before performers like Madonna made their mark, Eva Tanguay was wowing ‘em on the vaudeville stage.

The flamboyant singing comedienne was the highest paid performer for over a decade during the heyday of American vaudeville in the early 1900s. Known as the “I Don’t Care Girl” after her most famous song, Eva’s bold, self-confident songs symbolized a new, emancipated American woman. Continue Reading

vaudeville, vaudeville stars

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For a few years starting at age seven, Henry Ford attended a one-room schoolhouse, the Scotch Settlement School, located on Warren Avenue in what was then Dearborn Township, Michigan.  When he was developing Greenfield Village, Henry Ford acquired the school, relocated it to the Village, and opened it as a multi-grade classroom for the Edison Institute Schools in fall 1929.  We’ve just digitized 75 images of the school on its original site, including this well-labeled image of the 1925 funeral of Mrs. Susie Chapman, wife of one of Henry Ford’s favorite teachers, John Chapman. (Chapman himself had died two decades earlier; his family home and another school at which he taught are also preserved in Greenfield Village.)  Henry and Clara Ford appear at the far left. Visit our digital collections to view more images and artifacts related to the school.

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

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Season two of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation is well under way, and we’re doing research within our collections and digitizing material related to some of the upcoming storylines. One we worked on this week involves the Loranger Gristmill and American inventor Oliver Evans. The Gristmill was built in 1832 in Monroe, Michigan, and ground wheat and corn for local farmers into the 20th century; it was moved to Greenfield Village in 1928. The conveyor system that moved grain around inside the building was developed by Evans in the 1700s—but this was not his only creation. In the early 1800s, he developed a dredging machine called the “Oructor Amphibolis,” shown here in an image from our collections, that was powered by a steam engine he also invented. Visit our collections website to browse more artifacts related to Evans and to Loranger Gristmill—and keep an eye out to see the gristmill in action on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation.

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

In addition to the 150th anniversary of Henry Ford’s birth, this year brings us another important milestone. It was 100 years ago that Ford Motor Company combined the standardization of interchangeable parts with the subdivision of labor and the fluid movement of work to workers to create the world’s most influential assembly line. We are unusually fortunate that two keen observers of industry, Horace Lucien Arnold and Fay Leone Faurote, were there to document it.

Arnold, a correspondent for The Engineering Magazine, grasped the significance in Ford’s work and began a series of articles on the company’s Highland Park factory. After Arnold’s untimely death, Faurote completed and compiled the articles in the 1915 study Ford Methods and the Ford Shops. The book’s detailed descriptions, numerous photographs and careful diagrams give us a vivid window into Highland Park at a seminal moment in technological history.

A century later, the most remarkable aspect of Ford Methods and the Ford Shops is the liberal level of access Ford gave to its authors. It is difficult to imagine Google or Apple opening their doors to today’s press and giving unfettered access to employees, workspaces and sensitive production figures. The company’s cooperation speaks volumes about Henry Ford’s confidence in Highland Park. He knew that his methods were far ahead of his competitors, and there was little fear of them catching up too quickly.

The assembly line came to Ford Motor Company in stages. Around April 1, 1913, flywheel magnetos were placed on moving lines. Instead of one worker completing one flywheel in some 20 minutes, a group of workers stood along a waist-high platform. Each worker assembled some small piece of the flywheel and then slid it along to the next person. One whole flywheel came off the line every 13 minutes. With further tweaking, the assembly line produced a finished flywheel magneto in just five minutes.

It was a genuine “eureka” moment. Ford soon adapted the assembly line to engines, and then transmissions, and, in August 1913, to complete chassis. The crude “slide” method was replaced with chain-driven delivery systems that not only reduced handling but also regulated work speed. By early 1914, the various separate production lines had fused into three continuous lines able to churn out a finished Model T every 93 minutes – an extraordinary improvement over the 12½ hours per car under the old stationary assembly methods.

The incredible time and cost savings realized through the assembly line allowed Henry Ford to lower the Model T’s price, which increased demand for the car, which prompted Ford to seek even greater manufacturing efficiencies. This feedback loop ultimately produced some 15 million Model Ts selling for as little as $260 each.

The peak annual Model T production of 1.8 million in 1923 was still years away when Arnold and Faurote made their study. They did not capture Ford’s assembly line in a fully realized form. In fact, the line never was finished. It existed in a state of flux, under constant review for any potential improvements. Adjusting the height of a work platform might save a few seconds here, while moving a drill press might shave some more seconds there. Several such small changes could yield large productivity gains.

Ford Methods and the Ford Shops captures a manufacturer that has just discovered the formula for previously unimagined production levels. The assembly line is groundbreaking, and Ford knows it. The company’s openness with its methods, and Arnold’s and Faurote’s efforts to document and publicize them, helped make the Model T assembly line the industrial milestone that we still celebrate a century later.

This early 20th-century amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio, was named after its grand namesake at Coney Island, New York. THF123540

Suwanee Park, a turn-of-the-century-style amusement area, opened in Greenfield Village in 1974—featuring an authentic, hand-carved wooden carousel made by the Herschell-Spillman Company. While this carousel may have seemed quaint and nostalgic in 1974, it harkened back to a time when amusement parks were new and novel, delighting young and old with their promise of escape, entertainment, and thrills.

Beginnings

American amusement parks had their roots in European pleasure gardens—large park-like settings in which people relaxed, strolled, and socialized. Over time, pleasure gardens—like Tivoli in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Vauxhall in London, England—added refreshment stands and sporting activities like tennis and shuffleboard, then noisier features like balloon ascensions, concerts, plays, and crude mechanical rides. Lights were installed to keep the parks open at night. Fireworks displays became eagerly anticipated nightly events.

The World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, was the first international fair in America to offer a distinctive amusement area in addition to the formal exhibits. This mile-long “Midway Plaisance” included an international village of restaurants and entertainment, along with a variety of concessions, side shows, and mechanical rides. The crowd-pleasing Midway inspired the creation of American amusement parks. Continue Reading

popular culture, Disney

bakelite-magnavox

imls_logo_2c Marketed as ‘the material of a thousand uses’, Bakelite was the first truly synthetic plastic, patented bythe American inventor Leo Hendrik Baekland in 1907. Very soon, dozens of household and technical uses were found for it from fountain pens and ashtrays to electrical and communications equipment, including radios and radio equipment. It’s no surprise that conservators working on the IMLS communications grant encounter it so often.

Leo Baekland had already achieved commercial success with the invention of Velox photographic paper, and was able to maintain a home laboratory in New York State. Continue Reading

Windmill Freeport Machine Company, Freeport, Ill., ca. 1883.

As the story goes, William Ford traveled to Philadelphia for the Centennial Exposition in 1876. William, a farmer from Springwells Township in Wayne County, Mich., took a keen interest in the agricultural displays. One device struck him as particularly useful, a Stover Windmill, or as the Stover Wind Engine Company's advertisement called it, "Stover's Automatic Wind Engine." Continue Reading

windmills

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Digitizing what one of our curators refers to as “the bottomless pit of wonderfulness” results in some strange, and often highly entertaining, adventures. One such recent project, undertaken to accompany an upcoming story in The Henry Ford Magazine, had us combing through our holdings for artifacts that some might consider trash. One item we heartily enjoyed working on was this collection of animal bones and teeth retrieved from the original site of Firestone Farm, and stored in our archives in a box labeled “loose items.” Other similar items we’ve just digitized include fragments found at Henry Ford’s birthplace, as well as some of the “mute relics” that Henry Ford had retrieved from the original site of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey, laboratory (and which were previously exhibited in Greenfield Village). Visit our digital collections to find more artifacts you might call trash—or treasures—and keep your eye out for our magazine to see which “trashy” artifacts made the cut.

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

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imls_logo_2cAlmost exactly two years ago, The Henry Ford embarked on a project to identify, conserve, photograph, catalog, rehouse, and make available online at least 1,000 items from our communications collections.  This project was made possible through a generous $150,000 Museums for America grant (MA-30-13-0568-13) from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, or IMLS. Though we will continue to work on some straggler artifacts that have not yet made it through the entire process, the grant officially ended on September 30, with a total of 1,261 artifacts available online. One of the very last artifacts to be added during the official grant period was this computer trainer, used in the metro Detroit area in the 1960s to teach students to operate computers, a skill increasingly needed in the American workforce.  You can see some of the other artifacts that worked their way through the IMLS grant process by browsing our digital collections for such communications-related artifacts as typewriters, radio receivers, phonographs, amplifiers, cameras, motion-picture cameras, mimeographs, and magic lanterns, among many others. We extend our thanks once again to IMLS for enabling us to make these significant collections accessible to everyone.

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