Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Records don’t survive to tell us whether our 1965 Ford Mustang was actually the first off of the assembly line, but there’s no question that its VIN ends with “00001.”

Museums have a habit of collecting “first, last and only” artifacts. Think of things like the ceremonial “First Stone” of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad at the B&O Railroad Museum. Or the 1966 Cruiser, the last Studebaker automobile ever built, at the Studebaker National Museum. Or the singular airplane Spirit of St. Louis at the National Air & Space Museum. Generally, The Henry Ford’s collection is not marked by “firsts, lasts and onlys.” Don’t get me wrong, we have many unique items (there’s only one Wright Cycle Shop, after all), but Henry Ford concentrated on collecting objects of everyday life. It’s a trait that carries over into our automobile collection. Yes, there are things like the “Sunshine Special” presidential limousine, but ordinary cars like the 1984 Plymouth Voyager or the 1986 Ford Taurus are more typical in the museum – because they were more typical on the road. Continue Reading

serial numbers

The world’s first xerographic image made by Chester Carlson and Otto Kornei (Image courtesy of Xerox Corporation, Xerox Images Library).

imls_logo_2cA date, and a place, written by hand: 10.-22.-38. Centered underneath: Astoria. The letters are composed of bold strokes, defined at the edges and flaking towards the center. The whole arrangement seems to be crumbling towards the bottom of the page, like it is made of dust that could be wiped away by the backstroke brush of a hand. Its purpose uncertain, this is not a “note to self” to be in a place, on a certain date—this is the first successful Xerox copy ever made.

The inventor of the modern photocopier, Chester Carlson, began thinking about mechanical reproduction and the graphic arts at a young age. His first publishing effort was a newspaper called This and That, circulated among family members when he was ten years old. The first edition was handwritten, with later issues composed on a Simplex typewriter given to him as a Christmas present in 1916. In high school, Carlson was forced to work multiple jobs in order to support his impoverished and ill family; one of these jobs found him sweeping floors at a printing shop. Working around printing machinery inspired him to publish a science journal, but the tedium of setting type by hand, line by line, led him to give up on this idea quickly. The machines did not support the quickness of his mind. It was in these frustrations with printing equipment—the fussiness of equipment that reproduced documents during his youth—that motivated Carlson to create the instantaneous printing process that would eventually be central to the creation of the Xerox photocopier. Continue Reading

photocopiers, IMLS grant

Exploded Model T

September 10, 2015 Archive Insight

Mo Rocca, host of "The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation," poses with the exploded Model T in Henry Ford Museum during filming. (Event Photography by KMS Photography)

One of the most dramatic displays in Henry Ford Museum is the “exploded” Model T—a 1924 Model T touring car with its constituent parts suspended by wires. Located at the entrance to the Made in America exhibition, it invites visitors to take a different look at an iconic American product.

Henry Ford’s Model T automobile is one of the most significant technological devices of the 20th century. Its clever engineering and low price allowed it to do what could only be done once—make the automobile widely popular. The Model T spawned mass automobility, altering our living patterns, our leisure activities, our landscape, even our atmosphere. The Model T’s influence is so pervasive and lasting that even people who know little about old cars or automotive history know the name “Model T.”

But the way the Model T was produced is as iconic as the car itself. When Ford Motor Company introduced the Model T in October 1908, firearms, watches, and sewing machines were already being assembled from interchangeable parts made on specialized machines. Ford successfully adapted these techniques to the much more complex automobile, and then crowned this achievement with the development of the moving assembly line in late 1913. Continue Reading

Henry Ford Museum, Ford Motor Company, cars, model ts

This full-page advertisement announcing the introduction of the Ford Model T is rich with text and technical detail—a rational approach to selling the product. The text reinforces the theme of "Ford: High Priced Quality in a Low Priced Car" throughout the ad. This advertisement appeared in Life and Saturday Evening Post magazines on October 1, 1908. THF122987

"If you really have a good thing, it will advertise itself." - Henry Ford

Introduced in the fall of 1908, Ford Motor Company's Model T was the right car for a newly developing market. It was affordable, efficient and reliable. Almost immediately the Ford Model T became the standard by which other reasonably priced cars were judged. By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. By the time that the company finally ended the model's production in 1927, more than 15 million Model Ts had been produced.

The very endurance of this single model offers an intriguing look at how the Model T was advertised over the nearly 20 years it was in production. Model T advertisements show the changes in print ads in general and the Ford Company's marketing policies in particular. These advertisements also reflect the company's response to changing market conditions.  Continue Reading

This mid-20th century phonograph by Zany Toys, Inc., was one of the artifacts treated by Conservation for cadmium corrosion.

Many reading this post will remember that in 2013, The Henry Ford was awarded a two-year, $150,000 Museums for America: Collections Stewardship grant by the United States Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  In this grant, The Henry Ford set out to identify, clean, treat, rehouse, and create digital catalog records for more than 1,000 communications-related artifacts related to photography, data processing, printing, telecommunications, sound communication, and visual communication.  We’re pleased to announce that with about a month left to go in the grant period, we have put more than 1,000 objects through almost every step of the process, and expect to finish up a number of additional objects before we run out of time.

Given how close we are to the end of this project, I asked a few of the staff who’ve spent time working with these objects to weigh in with their thoughts on what was interesting, what was challenging, or what they’ve learned through this process. Continue Reading

communication, conservation, collections care, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, by Ellice Engdahl, IMLS grant, digitization

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Though the Wright Brothers first successfully flew their heavier-than-air flyer in 1903, it wasn’t until August 8, 1908, that Wilbur Wright offered the first official public demonstration of their creation. In a series of flights between August and the end of the year, Wright quashed many skeptics by showing the flyer’s maneuverability. Images of those flights remain today in the archives of The Henry Ford in a series of glass plate negatives in the Bollée Collection, named after Leon Bollée, a French automaker and aviation enthusiast. We’ve just digitized all of these glass plate negatives, including documentary images of the flyer before, during, and after these flights, as well as many images covering the personal and business interests of Leon Bollée.  The fascinating image shown here depicts the Wright Flyer being transported along a narrow road in France—an endeavor that must have had its challenges. View over 150 more newly-digitized Bollée images by visiting our Digital Collections.

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

airplanes, Wright Brothers, inventors, flying, digital collections, by Ellice Engdahl, Aviators

pier-table

The Background

The decorative arts collections at The Henry Ford are unique for their breadth and depth. These vast resources span more than 300 years of American history, allowing us to explore developments in the design and use of items as people’s lives, values, and tastes changed over time. The Henry Ford Museum’s furniture collection is particularly evocative of historic changes, and these objects are central to discussions of design innovations, new manufacturing methods and materials, new ways of buying and selling, and new ways of living. Consisting of more than 6,000 pieces, the furniture collection is acknowledged as one of the best in the nation.

In the late 1990s our staff reinterpreted the furniture exhibit into themes such as Showing Off, Storage, His and Hers and others that we felt would prove relevant to our audience. Studies with visitors in the years since show that although they liked the thematic approach, our visitors also wanted to see a chronological development of American furniture. In 2010 we refined the installation, now called Fully Furnished, including a timeline of American furniture, arranged through broad thematic sweeps. Called In the Latest Fashion— the chronology is divided into loose historical periods, such as Fashion for a New Nation, for the early nineteenth century or Embracing Gentility for the mid-eighteenth century—the display takes visitors on a journey through the entire span of American furniture history.  Should a visitor wish to delve into a particular history or style, information is available on the text panels. Because it provides a panorama of American furniture, we selected many stellar examples from the collection to share with the public. Continue Reading

Friedman_2009.158.317.10710

One of the gems to be found in The Henry Ford’s archives is the Dave Friedman auto racing collection, particularly covering racing from the 1960s through 1990s. The collection came to us with about 100,000 images in already-digital format, and we’ve been adding these to our digital collections over time. We’ve just added 600 images documenting the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race, including the one seen here, showing not only the racecars in motion, but also the more general racetrack environment of fans in the stands and corporate logos/mascots in the background. With the addition of this latest race, 11,518 items from the Friedman collection are now available on our collections website. Browse just the latest set added, or peruse all the Dave Friedman imagery, by visiting our digital collections.

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

photographs, by Ellice Engdahl, racing

Exhibit Fabricators Rob Brown and Kent Ehrle carefully removed the chandelier arms after Electrician Paul Desana disconnected electrical power to the arms. The center portion of the chandelier was then lowered into the lift and handed to a group of waiting staff who moved it to the conservation labs on a custom-made cart.

In 2014 conservation, facilities and exhibit staff members removed two English crystal chandeliers from the museum shop in Henry Ford Museum in preparation for the upcoming renovation. The chandeliers, which were made in Birmingham, England between 1860 and 1880, had been in the shop for many years and were showing signs of age. The silver portions were heavily tarnished and the metal wires that held the crystals were corroded and brittle. We decided to conserve them prior to their move to a new home in a rather dark lounge just outside of the Lovett Hall Ballroom, where their glittering, cut-glass elegance would be appreciated. Continue Reading

chandeliers

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We do a lot of preparatory research in our collections for each episode of our television series, The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.  Sometimes, we find things that we weren’t expecting. That happened recently, when in investigating material related to food wagons, our registrar Lisa Korzetz recalled an image in our collection of a chuck wagon.  Accompanying the chuck wagon photo, we found about a dozen more photographs of the American West in the 19th century, many in the Wyoming Territory, taken by the Dalgliesh Photo Studio and given to The Henry Ford in 1930 by George Dalgliesh, one of the photographers.  The photos are an amazing record of everyday cowboy and ranch life in the West, so we’ve digitized all of them, including this image of the romantically named “Robbers Roost Road Ranch.” View all these newly digitized Western images by visiting our collections website.

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