Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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In 1902, the U. S. adopted Rural Free Delivery. Americans in the countryside would no longer need to go to town to get their mail -- the mail would be brought to them. Rural letter carrier, Orville J. Murphy, pictured here circa 1905, used a bike to deliver mail to outlying households around New London, Iowa. THF 201311

Since 1956, May has held the honor of being designated as National Bike Month. The holiday celebrates cyclists of all kinds across the United States and encourages everyone to get outside and hit the road on two wheels. Within the month of May one week is all about biking to work. This year National Bike to Work Week is May 16-20 and today, May 20, is Bike to Work Day.

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Here at The Henry Ford, bicycles are a big part of our staff members' work day, from our employees arriving by bike to our campus in the morning to using antique bikes to travel around Greenfield Village during the day as part of their daily routines. Online, our digital collections offer hundreds of artifacts all related to bicycles, from photos of bicycle races to a shot of  Walt Disney trying out a high-wheel safety bicycle inside Henry Ford Museum in the 1940s, shown above, to this 1869 miniature bicycle used by Tom Thumb. 
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by Lish Dorset, bicycles

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One of the many challenges curators face is collecting our contemporary history—they have to make difficult calls on what objects, clearly important today, will still have an important story to tell future generations. Last fall, Curator of Communication & Information Technology Kristen Gallerneaux accepted a donation of two body cameras designed to be worn by police officers. These cameras as artifacts represent increasing public call in the 2010s for police transparency and accountability, encouraged in part by the Black Lives Matter movement. They also demonstrate the ways in which technology can be used by law enforcement to gather information. We’ve just digitized both of these
Taser Axon cameras, including this 2013 model, making them available via our Digital Collections.

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

recording devices, cameras

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1949 Mercury Convertible, “kustomized” by George and Sam Barris.

Few names loom as large in the world of custom cars as that of George Barris. Mr. Barris, who passed away
last November, will forever be associated with the many television and movie cars built by his Los Angeles shop – none more famous than the 1966 Batmobile, adapted from the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car. But these high-profile cars were just one part of his work. Before Hollywood came knocking, George and his brother Sam had already built a reputation for their imaginative work with other cars, particularly the 1949-1951 Mercury models so loved by first-generation customizers. Indeed, just months before George Barris’s death, several Barris Mercurys were featured at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

We are fortunate to have a Barris Mercury custom – or “kustom,” as Barris invariably spelled it – in the collections of The Henry Ford. Our 1949 Mercury features a chopped windshield; a padded, removable Carson top; frenched headlights and taillights; dechromed surfaces; and prominent “Barris” crests on the front fenders. For a Barris job of the 1950s, the modifications are mild, but sometimes less is more. The color is a deep metalflake purple, with lavender scallops. The scheme continues in the interior, upholstered in purple and white. In the “anything goes” spirit of the custom car hobby, there’s even a little Chevrolet in our Merc – the grille is out of a 1957 Corvette.

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Our Barris ’49 Mercury isn’t all Blue Oval. There’s a bit of Bow Tie in that grille.

The 1949-1951 Mercurys, in stock form, were styled a bit behind the times. Their fenders and small windows looked dated next to other postwar cars – especially alongside their sister
1949 Fords. But those old lines appealed to southern California customizers. Lower the roof and suspension, and you turned a staid sedan into a head-turning – almost intimidating – street machine. Mercury customizers were also fond of removing chrome (famously excessive on production cars of that era), substituting parts from other cars, and applying deep, dark paints to the dramatic bodies. Radical or outlandish modifications hadn’t yet caught on in the field. Customizers essentially tweaked their cars to bring out a natural beauty that they already saw.

Our Mercury, then, is a classic example of these influential custom cars. It’s the perfect symbol for the customizer’s craft in Driving America, and a fitting tribute to one of the best-known “kustomizers” in the business.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

customized cars

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Cyrus Field wanted to wire the world. A successful paper merchant turned telecommunications pioneer, Field established the American Telegraphy Company in 1856 and set to work raising the funds and gathering the minds needed to bridge the oceanic divide between Europe and America.

In 1858, after several failed attempts, an underwater cable—capable of transmitting telegraph signals across the Atlantic Ocean—was laid from Valentia, Ireland, to Heart’s Content, Newfoundland. In August the first messages were sent, including an exchange between Queen Victoria and President Buchanan. It took 17 hours to transmit Queen Victoria’s 98 words. The triumph of the 1858 cable was short-lived; a month later, it failed, a victim of excess voltage in an attempt to increase the speed of messages.

This cable machine, built by Glass, Eliot & Co., was used to prepare telecommunications cable at Enderby’s Wharf in Greenwich, England, for the second transatlantic cable. Machines like these were used to create the core of submarine cable from iron and conductive copper—and then moved aboard a ship, where they applied a protective sheath made of galvanized steel, an insulating layer of gutta-percha and a final layer of jute to protect against abrasion. One mile of finished cable weighed almost a ton, but it was as flexible as a rope, built to withstand the pull of the ship laying it and hazards on the ocean floor.

In 1865, 2,300 nautical miles of cable were carried aboard the leviathan iron steamship, the SS Great Eastern. The ship left in July but was forced to return to port when the cable snapped and the end was lost at sea. A second cable excursion began a year later and was successful. This was the first truly sustainable and durable telegraph cable, continuing to carry the Morse code “text messages” of telegraph operators across continents—at a rate 80 times faster than the first cable. It remained in operation until the mid-1870s, by which time four additional cables had been laid.

This machine was essential to the “wiring of the world,” reorganizing basic materials into the spine of the first permanent transcontinental telecommunications network. These submarine cables—like the modern-day fiber-optic cables that carry the signals of Internet traffic—connected cultures and communities. Continue Reading

technology, telegraphy, communication

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Go to the back of the museum, over in the area filled with hulking power-generating machinery, next to the grey mass of the Spokane water turbine, and you’ll find something new.  Or rather something almost a century old that’s new to the area.  Actually, you’ll find twelve things.  Or rather 795.  Okay, let me explain…

What you’ll find is a group of 12 display panels created in the mid-1920s for the L. Miller and Son lumber and hardware store of 1815 W. Division Street, Chicago, Illinois.  The installation consists of six panels of hand tools and six of hardware, all logically, carefully, and gracefully arrayed on green felt backing, mounted in glass-fronted doors.  Now they are arranged gallery-like on the wall, but originally they hinged out of a floor-to-ceiling cabinet system of shelves, bins, and drawers custom-fitted into the store’s long narrow retail space.  

The original business was founded by Louis Miller, a Russian immigrant who had arrived in the United States in 1894.  Miller and his family served a neighborhood made up of immigrants from Poland, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine (the second and third floors of part of the store property housed Russian and Polish social clubs).   The clear visibility of the store’s stock of tools and hardware made it easier for customers with a language barrier to find what they needed.  The display’s elegant arrangement was great salesmanship but could also serve a problem solving function: viewing tools and components is rather like scanning a menu of possible solutions. 

The neighborhood underwent several transformations over the years.  The final wave of European immigrants, primarily from Poland, arrived in the 1940s and 50s as refugees; Kennedy Expressway construction cut a wide swath through the area, and once completed in 1960 served to cut it off from neighborhoods to the east; by the 1970s many residents were fleeing to the suburbs and the area was becoming rife with gang activity.  The store, in its original location on Division (the “Polish Broadway” that served as the dividing line between the Wicker Park and East Village neighborhoods), endured through all these changes except for the most recent: gentrification.  The subsequent rise in property taxes finally prompted the need for the company to move to a new location. 

How Did the Exhibit Make Its Way to The Henry Ford?
During the 1950s the owners had already phased out the hardware side of the business in order to concentrate on lumber and construction materials.  The display remained in place, fondly remembered—and occasionally visited—by a dwindling number of locals.  In early 2011, with the business’s move looming, owner Bob Margolin (grandson of the founder) and I began to discuss The Henry Ford’s potential interest in acquiring the display.  In April Bob indicated that he would be travelling to Michigan on business and we agreed that bringing a sampling of the display—a panel or two to look at more closely—would be a good idea.  On the sunny afternoon of Friday April 29 I went out to meet him in our employee parking lot adjacent to Lovett Hall: he hadn’t brought a sampling, he’d brought the entire display, and had already started carefully propping the panels adjacent to one another against the side of his van—much to the fascination and enthrallment of numerous staff leaving for the day.  An amazing sight, it was as if the display had lurched out of the shadows to literally claim a day in the sun—and offer a kind of final proof of its sales power, even though there was no longer any stock of tools for it to sell.

The acquisition went ahead.  Now, precisely five years later, the display is on exhibit.  It is a museum of tools within a larger museum.  It is an artifact in its own right but it is made up of artifacts.  It is made up of stunningly ordinary stuff—the workaday items ordinarily built into homes or hidden in toolboxes—but it celebrates everyday practicality and resourcefulness.  Like a great many museum artifacts it is a paradox: in a state of rest, set sparkling in Made in America—but also active, continuing to work its magic, prompting an urge to build, fix, construct—making you want to somehow do something…

Marc Greuther is Chief Curator and Senior Director, Historical Resources at The Henry Ford.

Learn more about the L. Miller and Son Hardware and Tool Display in this collection of artifact cards.

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making, communication, by Marc Greuther, shopping, immigrants, Made in America, Henry Ford Museum

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If you visit the
Wright Home in Greenfield Village, the presenter in the house will probably draw your attention to the bookcase in the living room.  Many of these books, along with more housed in the Benson Ford Research Center, did indeed belong to the Wrights, and were used by Orville and Wilbur Wright, their sister Katharine, or their father Milton.  We’ve just digitized over 50 Wright family books, including this 1892 copy of Medea used by Katharine Wright.  Other examples include The Principal Works of Charles Darwin, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and A Manual of Instruction in Latin.  Browse the list of titles to see what other bookish ideas may have influenced the young Wright Brothers by visiting our Digital Collections.

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

digital collections, by Ellice Engdahl, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, books, Wright Brothers

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Postcard, Old Faithful Geyser, 1934

Yellowstone National Park, the first national park established in 1872, was a uniquely American innovation.  Like the Declaration of Independence, it embodied America’s democratic ideals—in this case, the groundbreaking idea that our magnificent natural wonders should be enjoyed not by a privileged few but by everyone.  The inscription over Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to the park, "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People," symbolizes the ideals that established Yellowstone and defined the vision for all national parks to come.

Come now on a virtual tour through The Henry Ford’s collection to view the wonders of Yellowstone National Park.

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Postcard, Entrance Gateway, 1903-4

Imagine it is the early 1900s, and you’ve chosen to take the four-day guided tour through the park by horse-drawn carriage.  From the north entrance, you travel through towering canyons to your first stop, Mammoth Hot Springs.  

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Postcard, Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, 1935

The hot springs there, heavily charged with lime, have built up tier upon tier of remarkable terraces.  The springs are constantly changing, presenting what one guidebook calls “an astonishing spectacle of indescribable beauty.”  After viewing the hot springs and walking among its many terraces, you spend your first night at the humble but serviceable Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.

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Postcard, Park Stage at Mammoth Hot Springs, 1904-5

The next day, anticipation builds as you head south into the area with all the geyser activity.  You pass Roaring Mountain, so named for the sound of steam fumaroles that became very active and noisy there in 1902.

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Postcard, The Constant and the Black Growler, Norris Geyser Basin, 1908-9

Before long, you reach the first great geyser basin: Norris Geyser Basin. At the intersection of three major earthquake fault zones, Norris is the hottest, most active geyser basin in the park. Underground water temperatures of 706 degrees Fahrenheit have been measured.  Norris has it all: hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, and bubbling mud pots. 

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Postcard, Geysers in Eruption, Upper Geyser Basin, 1908-9

From Norris, you proceed to Lower and Middle Geyser Basins until you finally reach Upper Geyser Basin—the place you’ve heard so much about. Approximately two square miles in area, Upper Geyser Basin contains the largest concentration of geysers in the park—in fact, nearly one-quarter of all of the geysers in the world!  A variety of other thermal features also exist here, including colorful hot springs and steaming fumaroles.

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Postcard, Old Faithful Inn and Geyser, 1935

Upper Geyser Basin is home to Old Faithful, the most famous and celebrated geyser in the world. The 1870 Washburn Expedition camped near this geyser. They were the ones who named it Old Faithful, because they discovered it had frequent and regular eruptions. It can last from 2-5 minutes, reach a height of 90 to 184 feet, and emit 10,000 to 12,000 gallons of water at a time.  

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The Lobby, Old Faithful Inn, 1904-5

You stop for the night here at Old Faithful Inn, a grand hotel built in 1903. Most resort hotels at the time were intended to serve as civilized oases from the wilderness.  However, Old Faithful Inn, the first true rustic-style resort, was designed by young, self-taught architect Robert Reamer to fit in with nature rather than to escape from it.  The inside of the hotel continues the rustic look, with a spectacular seven-story log-framed lobby containing a massive stone fireplace.  

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Postcard, Paint Pots, Yellowstone Lake, 1905-6

Heading down the road, West Thumb Geyser Basin is one of the smaller geyser basins in Yellowstone. Located along the edge of Yellowstone Lake, it consists of a stone mantle riddled with hot springs. These resemble vast boiling pots of paint with a continuous bubbling-up of mud.

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Postcard, Fish Pot Hot Spring, 1901

About 30 miles from Upper Geyser Basin is Yellowstone Lake—one of the coldest, largest, and highest lakes in North America. The lake includes 110 miles of shoreline and reaches depths of up to 390 feet. The bottom of the lake remains a constant 42 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.  

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Postcard, Lake Hotel, 1904-5

Here you rest for the night at the charming Yellowstone Lake Hotel, the oldest surviving hotel in the park, built in 1891. Robert Reamer added the colonial-style columns to this quintessential Eastern-styled hotel in 1903. 

Heading back north along the park’s Grand Loop Road, Hayden Valley is filled with large, open meadows on either side of the Yellowstone River—the remains of an ancient lakebed. The valley is the year-round home to bison, elk, and grizzly bear.

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Postcard in souvenir viewbook, Great Falls, 1934

As the Yellowstone River flows north from Yellowstone Lake, it leaves the Hayden Valley and takes two great plunges: first over the Upper Falls and then, a quarter mile downstream, over the Lower Falls—at which point it enters the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  In places, the canyon walls drop some 1,000 feet to the river below. You spend the night at the last of the four great Yellowstone resorts, Grand Canyon Hotel, before returning to Mammoth Hot Springs and the end of your tour. 

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Postcard, A Wylie Single Tent Interior, about 1910

Those who can’t afford the type of tour you’ve just taken can choose the less expensive “Wylie Way,” which involves seeing the sites from a Wylie stagecoach and lodging in a canvas tent overnight.  

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Postcard, Public Automobile Camp in Yellowstone Park, about 1920

It is inevitable, of course, that more and more motorists are arriving at Yellowstone every day. The use of automobiles in the park are bringing paved roads, parking areas, service stations, and improved public campgrounds. Most early motorists are used to roughing it and come prepared to camp.  

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Photo, Tourist with bear, about 1917

Yellowstone will set the tone for all the other national parks to come. When the National Park Service is formally established in 1916, it incorporates many of the management principles that the U.S. Army brought to Yellowstone when its soldiers first arrived to establish order there back in 1886. Old Faithful Inn will help define the style of Western resorts and park architecture for the next several decades. Finally, as some early tourist behaviors—like feeding bears, peering into geysers, and fishing in hot springs (as shown in the postcard of Fish Pot Hot Springs)—are found to be harmful to Yellowstone’s fragile ecosystems, the park will become a testing ground for exploring and defining what it means to be a national park—serving the dual mission of preserving natural wonders while, at the same time, letting the public enjoy them. 

Donna R. Braden is the Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

postcards, national parks, auto touring, camping

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If you live in the United States, you’ve probably noticed it is (and has been) presidential campaign season. Candidates go to great lengths to make themselves into household names, with the hope that when November rolls around, you will cast your vote in their favor. The Henry Ford holds a variety of material related to American presidential campaigns from the very beginning of our country through the last election cycle.  We’ve recently digitized a number of artifacts demonstrating the unexpected places you might find political promotions, such as
this package of “I Like Ike” cigarettes from the 1950s.  Browse more items related to presidential campaigns by visiting our Digital Collections—don’t miss the William McKinley soap doll and the Richard Nixon gumball.

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

by Ellice Engdahl, voting, digital collections

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On April 11th, 1976—40 years ago—the first Apple product made its public debut. The origins of this device began the previous year, on a rainy day in March of 1975, when a group of enthusiastic computer hobbyists met in a garage in Menlo Park, California. Steve Wozniak attended this inaugural meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club, and walked away with the inspiration to create a new breed of computer. This was the beginning of the Apple 1 computer.

Today, thanks to the combined technical knowledge and passion of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, we can celebrate the anniversary of a milestone. For a limited time, The Henry Ford’s Apple 1 computer will be on display in the museum’s William Clay Ford Plaza of Innovation, April 11-30, 2016. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating the legacy of this key artifact of the digital age.

A few facts and numbers to consider:

  • Apple Computer, Inc. was founded on April Fool’s Day: April 1, 1976.
  • On naming the business, Steve Jobs said: “Apple took the edge off the word ‘computer.’ Plus, it would get us ahead of Atari in the phone book.”
  • This Apple 1 is one of the first 50 ever made, sold directly through the early computer retailer, The Byte Shop.  
  •  Paul Terrell, owner of The Byte Shop, saw Wozniak’s demonstration of the Apple 1 at a Homebrew Club meeting, and placed the first wholesale order.

  • When you purchased an Apple 1, you were purchasing the motherboard.

  • Peripherals like a keyboard, monitor, power supply, tape drive were bought separately.

  • Approximately 200 Apple 1’s were sold in total; the location of approximately 46 of these original units is known today.

  • Only 9 of the original batch of 50 Apple 1’s are documented as being in working condition.

  • The Henry Ford’s Apple 1 is completely unmodified, with all of its original chips. It is fully operational. 

Do you want to know more about the Apple 1? We at The Henry Ford have been happy to show off this incredible artifact at every given opportunity. You can read the original blog post announcing its acquisition, or an in-depth article that asks the question: “What if everyone could have a personal computer?” You can see detailed photographs or watch a video describing the experience of winning the computer at auction, or witness a very happy gathering of staff members unpacking it upon its arrival. You can also watch a video of Mo Rocca and our Curator of Communications and Information Technology, Kristen Gallerneaux, talk about the power (and limitations) of early computers in an Innovation Nation episode. And if you need more yet, you could watch a new Connect3 video about the surprising connections that exist between the Apple 1 and other artifacts in our collection, or even still, dive deep into the mind of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak in an extensive OnInnovation oral history.

Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

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Clara Ford reminiscing over her first cookbook, the Buckeye Cookbook, at the Women’s City Club, 1949

“I don’t think Mrs. Ford had any outstanding hobby outside her gardening, except possibly recipes” – Rosa Buhler, maid at Fair Lane.

Clara certainly seemed to enjoy her recipes, from Sweet Potato Pudding to Corned Tongue, Clara collected hundreds of recipes. Some were in the form of cookbooks, some typed up, others cut out of magazines or newspapers, but the majority of them were handwritten, either by Clara or the many friends she gathered recipes from.

By the time the Fords moved to Fair Lane, Clara probably wasn’t cooking much from the Buckeye Cookbook her mother gave her when she married as the household staff now included a cook, but Clara never stopped searching out new recipes to try. According to Buhler, “Mrs. Ford would come down every day to talk over the day’s menu. She always saved recipes from cookbooks or the newspaper.” Clara was also very particular about her food, which led to a high turnover in cooks, so when there wasn’t a cook the other servants had to prepare the meals. John Williams, the Fair Lane houseman (and occasional cook) remarked that “Mrs. Ford had a lot of good cookbooks. Sometimes when I was in the kitchen, she would come out and say, ‘John, I found a good recipe. Sometime we’ll try it.’” Everywhere she went, Clara would pay close attention to the food and would frequently ask hostesses for their recipes. Buhler remembered when the Fords would visit Georgia, “every once in a while they’d spring something new on her in the way of Southern cooking. That intrigued her, and she’d ask about it. She’d probably get the recipe from the lady who served it, and she’d want her cook to try it.” There’s plenty of correspondence between Clara and her friends and acquaintances swapping recipes and menu ideas. Clara responded to one such letter from Charlotte Copeland which included a recipe for “Tongue en Casserole” saying, “thank you so much. I do love recipes from friends that have tried them,” and reciprocated with a recipe of her own. In her collection are recipes from Mrs. Ernest Liebold (wife of Henry Ford’s secretary), Mrs. Gaston Plantiff (wife of another Ford associate), and there’s even a recipe for “Mr. Burroughs’ Brigand Stake” (possibly from the famous Vagabond naturalist himself).

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THF127734While Henry preferred very plain foods, Clara liked richer fare; cream sauces, butter, and lots of spices. She also preferred the traditional English cuisine and style of cooking of her mother’s family.  Not a few of the servants questioned the wisdom of the English methods, and as noted above many cooks came and went at Fair Lane. Buhler said that, “Mrs. Ford stuck to the old-fashioned ways, for instance, plum pudding for Christmas. We always had to have it cooked in a cloth and though it always turned out to be a failure, the very next Christmas we had to do the very same thing over.” Not all the traditional recipes resulted in less than satisfactory results however, John Williams spoke of one particular recipe he became expert at, “Mrs. Ford had a favorite recipe that she taught me how to make. It was her mother’s recipe. The crust was made with sour cream, salt and soda, and the apples were sliced and put in a pie plate. This crust was spread over the top very thinly which made it very light….After it was baked, you would turn it on a platter that it was to be served on, and then you would add your sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg after it was cooked. It made a very delicious pie. Any time any cook was hired, I would have to show them that recipe,” though he did say “In my way of thinking, you could make a two-crust pie much quicker than you could make this.”

  • Clara appears to have had a sweet tooth, the majority of the recipes fall into the dessert category. A variety of cakes, cookies, puddings, and pies appear in her collection with flavors from chocolate and butterscotch to blackberry. Many of the entrees and sides were vegetarian, reflecting on Henry’s preferences for lighter fare and Clara’s love of gardening, there were even recipes for alcoholic beverages (something Henry hardly ever consumed). In all there are recipes ranging from Green Mango Pie and Blueberry Dumplings, to Suet Pudding and Frizzled Oysters. If you’re looking to “Coddle an Egg” or find a recipe “For Crusty Top to Soufflé” Clara Ford has a recipe in her collection for you. The only ingredient that seems to be notable for its lack of representation in the collection is the soybean, only one recipe “25% Soybean Bread” features Henry’s favorite legume. John Thompson, butler at Fair Lane noted “Mr. Ford tried to convince Mrs. Ford she should have an interest in soybean products, but she never did. She never thought much of them...Mr. Ford used to eat soybean soup every day during the period he was interested in those experiments…Mrs. Ford didn’t go for this soup.” Though they could both agree on wheat germ, one of their favorite cookies being Model T’s, and according to Ford employee A.G. Wolfe, “You haven’t had anything until you have had a Model T cookie!”

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    Learn more:

Kathy Makas is Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford.

archives, by Kathy Makas, women's history, making, recipes, food, Clara Ford