Housed at The Henry Ford amidst many large and significant acquisitions is a small collection of quirky and one-of-a-kind items. Located mostly in storage, this group of artifacts is unofficially known as the Henry Ford Tributes. The objects range in size, materials and creation methods, but all have one thing in common – they were gifts given as tokens of gratitude and appreciation to a single man whose innovative ideas changed the lives of so many. Corporations, farm wives, Ford dealers, immigrants and civic institutions were all contributors to this eclectic group of gifts and commendations.
This collection has never been considered for a museum exhibit, but thanks to The Henry Ford’s digitization initiative, we were given the opportunity to highlight just a few in this unusual collection. For members of the Historical Resources team, this was a long-sought-after opportunity; many of us have our ‘favorites’, and as the project began in earnest, the suggestions came in at a rapid rate. It was hard to keep the online exhibit to just 76 objects!
When I joined the staff of The Henry Ford, if someone had offered me a glimpse into the future—a bird’s eye view of the events that one short year would bring—it would have taken some time for me to suspend my disbelief. I would have been skeptical if anyone told me I’d play a part in bidding on and acquiring a rare, key, artifact in the history of computing. And if someone told me that this auction would break world records? This is information that I’m still trying to reconcile. Nothing could have prepared me for the anticipation I felt while sitting next to Marilyn Zoidis, former Director of Historical Resources, at Bonhams auctions in just a few short weeks ago. I’ll always remember the excitement in the room as we waited for Lot 285 to end—and for Lot 286 to arrive: the 1976 Apple 1 Computer.
On Wednesday, October 22, 2014 The Henry Ford achieved a major acquisition goal. Perhaps you’ve noticed the recent flurry of press: “The Henry Ford Acquires a 1976 Apple-1 Computer at Bonhams History of Science Auction.” Variations on this headline reveal a record-breaking bid amount of $905,000 – but they also hint at the importance, rarity, originality and provenance of this incredible piece of computing history. At the time of this writing, over 1200 news mentions of the Apple 1 have appeared in print, television, radio, and social media outlets.
When Ford Motor Company introduced its new Model T automobile on October 1, 1908, the car was the culmination of Henry Ford’s quest to develop an inexpensive, efficient and reliable vehicle that would put automobile ownership within the reach of far more people.
Yet even an inveterate optimist like Henry Ford could not predict the vast success and the far-reaching changes that this rather homely new vehicle would produce.
One of the biggest misconceptions people have about The Henry Ford is that we are “a car museum.” Certainly, automobiles and related material form one of our core strengths, but our collections also cover the entire breadth of American history. Our ongoing project to digitize our collection and make it available online really demonstrates both sides of this coin: our vast and deep collections covering autos and auto racing, and then the wide breadth of other material documenting the American experience.
In that vein, instead of doing a typical “year in review” post for our digitization efforts in 2014, I played around with our collections database and came up with some interesting facts and figures about the portions of our collection that we digitized over the last year. I hope you’ll agree that the details below reveal the deep strengths of our collections, as well as their breadth—and that they encourage you to spend some time browsing our digital collections as well!
Many of us know that Noah Webster was the creator of An American Dictionary of the English Language, first published in 1828. But did you know that Mr. Webster was a teacher as well, and the author of the American Spelling Book? The early version was first published in 1783 and our copy is a 1845 edition called the Elementary Spelling Book, being an improvement on the American Spelling Book.
During this time, the English language was changing fast, and many new words were being added that were uniquely American. Mr. Webster wanted to create a spelling book that could help people understand and spell words that were actively used by the American public. Always published with a blue cover, the “Blue BackedSpeller,” as it came to be known, was popular across the nation.Continue Reading
In 1932 and 1933, Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo lived in Detroit, while Rivera was painting the Detroit Industry frescoes at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). The frescoes, commissioned by the city Arts Commission led by Edsel Ford, celebrate Detroit’s industrial manufacturing power. They lie at the heart of the DIA, and also at the heart of Detroit.
From March 15 to July 12, 2015, the DIA will display nearly 70 works of art in an exhibit called Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit. The Henry Ford is pleased to be collaborating with the DIA and other Detroit-area community organizations to provide additional context for the exhibit. Over upcoming months, we will be digitizing parts of our collection that directly relate to Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, their relationship with Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company, and the creation of the frescos themselves. Because of the close involvement of Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company in the project, our archives contain documents, photographs, and correspondence related to these subjects.
We've created a special page on the blog to house the items from our collections that relate to the exhibit, It will grow and expand over the period of the exhibit, providing pointers to these collections, so visitors to the exhibit, as well as those who may not have a chance to attend, can dig deeper.
If you’d like to dig in and start exploring right away, we’d suggest a visit to our collections website, where we’ve started to digitize our collections related to Diego Rivera, including the photograph below of the Detroit Industry frescos in progress.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
At the time of his assassination in April 1865, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was considered by a majority of northerners as a competent president. Yet, this was not always the case. Lincoln was elected president at a critical time when the nation was at a breaking point over issues of states’ rights and slavery. As a direct result of his election, eleven states left the Union before his inauguration in 1861, touching off the Civil War.
During much of his first term of office, Lincoln was viewed by many as lacking the skills necessary for the role of President of the United States. He was lampooned as unsophisticated and criticized for tolerating ineffective generals. Lincoln, however, was a skilled politician—wise, tenacious, and perceptive—and learned from his mistakes.
Abraham Lincoln was committed to preserving the Union. He believed that the United States was more than an ordinary nation—it was the testing ground for a unique form of democracy. Many, including Lincoln himself, described one of his greatest achievements as the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which shifted the goal of the war from a fight to preserve the Union to one of freeing the enslaved. With Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Lincoln’s vision of an indivisible Union—and a more perfect one—was fulfilled.
Take a look at images from The Henry Ford’s wonderful, eclectic collection of Lincoln-related photographs. These images span the years from Lincoln’s career as an Illinois legislator during the 1840s to his tragic death in 1865.
The original daguerreotype of this image of Abraham Lincoln was taken by Nicholas H. Shepherd in Springfield, Illinois, shortly after Lincoln’s election in 1846 to the U.S. House of Representatives. It is believed by many to be the earliest known image of Lincoln, who was 37 or 38 years old when it was taken. At this time, Lincoln was a husband and father of two small boys, had a successful law practice in Springfield, and had just become a junior member of Congress.
Daguerreotypes like this one are one-of-a-kind photographs made on silver-coated copper plates. In order to make photographic prints, copy negatives had to be made from the original daguerreotypes. This photographic print was made in the early 20th century from a 19th-century copy negative. In 1902, Frederick Hill Meserve, an early collector of photography, found glass negatives from Mathew Brady’s Washington, D.C., studio in a Hoboken, New Jersey warehouse. Meserve carefully preserved the negatives and made the later photographic prints of the earlier images--including this photographic print in our collection.