Before the Age of Steam, American farmers hand-threshed wheat or oats with a flail. Threshing machines powered by horses or portable steam engines increased daily production of threshing by a hundred times.
In the 1800s, the large number of horses required for farming consumed a lot of grain. Starting in the 1860s, farmers began threshing grain to feed those horses with a cousin of the "iron horse" - a steam traction engine like the Port Huron Thresher shown above.
As a Michigan farm boy, Henry Ford recorded his first sight of a traction engine: "I remember that engine as though I had seen it only yesterday, for it was the first vehicle other than horse drawn that I had ever seen. It was intended to drive threshing machines and power sawmills and was simply a portable engine and a boiler mounted on wheels." The steam traction engine inspired Ford to design and manufacture automobiles. To other rural people it represented a grand transition in American agriculture, and a new community activity.
Many people know that The Henry Ford has in its collection the rocking chair in which President Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated. This chair is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum.
But our Lincoln-related collections encompass much more than this rocker. They include materials that relate to such topics as his two presidential campaigns, life before his Presidency, his efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War, his assassination, the public mourning after his death, and the ways in which he has been remembered over time.
The 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination gave us the unique opportunity to assess, study and organize these collections into digital galleries we call “Expert Sets.” Links to these are included below, along with links to five essays written by curators that delve more deeply into some of these topics.
Rediscovery with Ryan: Letter and Drawing by George Washington Carver
Sent to Henry Ford, 1941
One of the themes discussed during #MuseumWeek was that of architecture, challenging participants to “explore the history, architectural heritage, gardens and surroundings of museums” you have visited. Here at the The Henry Ford, our venues provide nearly unlimited potential for you to creatively capture our stunning grounds and architecture. I believe that this potential highlights the inspirational aspect of human creativity. The same creativity that resulted in our beautiful architecture and grounds, now inspires your own personal creativity when you visit. Whether you are trying to get that perfect picture of the village or you are simply sitting back and admiring the grandeur of the museum, it’s hard to ignore the fact that creativity is a key component in what The Henry Ford represents.
As custodians of American innovation, we are guardians of creativity. Inventiveness and innovation would not exist if it wasn’t for the creative spirit. So for this theme, I chose to talk about someone who is represented in our archives, on our beautiful grounds, and is also an ideal example of using that creative spirit: George Washington Carver.
Although they are seldom seen in action, snowplows are an important part of the railroad scene.
This snowplow, operated in rural New England and Canada, is one of 36 built by Canadian Pacific's Angus shops in Montreal between 1920 and 1929. It is a 20-ton, wedge-type plow made for use on a single track - it throws snow on both sides of the unit. Built without a self-contained power source, the snowplow was pushed by one or two locomotives. Its ten-foot overall width can be increased to 16 feet by the extension of the large hinged wings on its sides. Moveable blades at the front, designed to clear the area between the rails, can be raised at crossings to avoid damage to equipment.
The snowplow's cab contains compressed air tanks that control the wings and blades, as well as providing air for a whistle used by the plow operator to signal the locomotive engineer. The cab also contains a heating stove. This plow was in service from 1923 until 1990.
Chrysler experimented with turbine engines for some 25 years. The Turbine could run on almost anything – gasoline, diesel, kerosene, even peanut oil (with exhaust that smelled like baking cookies)! While the fuel flexibility was terrific, the fuel economy was less than stellar. Chrysler ended the Turbine program in 1979. Note the huge air filter housing in front of the engine. The Turbine gulped about four times more air than a piston engine.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Chances are that, when you hear the phrase “steam locomotive,” you picture an engine like the 4-4-0 “Sam Hill.” No technology symbolized 19th century America’s industrial and geographical growth better than the railroad, and no locomotive was more common than the 4-4-0.
In the 70 years from 1830 to 1900, rail lines grew from separate local routes connecting port cities with the interior to a dense and interconnected network that linked cities and towns across the continent. Likewise, locomotives grew from diminutive four-wheelers capable of five miles per hour to eight and ten-wheeled engines able to reach 100 miles per hour. But the 4-4-0 offered a special blend of performance and ability that made it particularly popular on American rails.
The 4-4-0 takes its name from the arrangement of its wheels. The four small leading wheels, located in front under the cylinders, help guide the locomotive through curves. The four large driving wheels, connected by rods to the cylinders, move the engine along the track. There are no (or zero) trailing wheels on a 4-4-0, but on larger locomotives trailing wheels help support the weight of the firebox.
The John Clark Racing Photographs collection at The Henry Ford is made up of 35mm color slides taken by John Clark between 1994 and 2000, and covers a number of types of racing, including Indy cars, stock cars, off-road trucks, and motocross motorcycles. Digital Processing Archivist Janice Unger updated and published the finding aid for this archival collection last year, and as part of that effort, selected some representative images from the collection for digitization. One particularly dramatic example is this photo of Rod Millen driving a Toyota Tacoma during the 1998 Pikes Peak Hill Climb. To see some of the other highlights from the John Clark collection, visit our collection website.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Late last year, I was invited to present to students at Wayne State University in Detroit. Their seminar, “Women Who Motor,” examined the many connections between American women and the automobile industry, whether as the producers who design and build cars, or as the consumers who buy and drive them. The class also studied depictions of women and their autos in popular culture, from literature, to film, to music. That’s where I came in – with a look at the relationship between women and automobiles in popular song.
It’s no great revelation that the automobile is fertile inspiration for pop music. The car is a rolling metaphor for social status, wealth, style and any of a hundred other things. Sing about someone in a Cadillac, and you paint a picture of an affluent sophisticate; sing about someone in a Chevrolet, and you describe someone more down-to-earth or – if that Chevy is old and tired – someone down on her luck. In other words, the car is a spectacular lyrical shortcut. (And I’ve said nothing about the car as a metaphor for romantic activities… but I will.) In sharing some examples with the students, I broke female-focused car songs into three general groups: 1.) those about using the car to attract a mate, 2.) those about the car as a setting for romance, and 3.) those about women behind the wheel.
It’s the most enduring 8-cylinder American automobile engine. Chevrolet introduced its “small block” V-8 in 1955 – and kept on building it until 2003. Nearly every General Motors division used some variant, and total production is over 100 million, including later development generations. Not bad for an engine designed in 15 weeks. The compact unit is all but swallowed up by the Chevy’s engine bay. Note the relatively small-sized radiator, too. Efficient cooling was one of the small block’s many advantages.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.