Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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1943 Willys-Overland Jeep
Inline 4-cylinder engine, L-head valves, 134 cubic inches displacement, 54 horsepower

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Simplicity and ease of maintenance were important requirements when the Army put out the request to manufacturers that ultimately produced the Jeep. Willys-Overland’s 4-cylinder engine – nicknamed “Go Devil” – offered sufficient horsepower and an impressive 104 pound-feet of torque in a compact, reliable package. It was easy to service, too. The fuel filter, carburetor and air cleaner are all within easy reach under the hood.

Matt Anderson is the Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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As you might expect, a car company with as long a life and as many different vehicles in production at various times as Ford Motor Company needed to document down to individual nuts and bolts each part of each vehicle. Over the 50 years between 1903 and 1957, Ford produced more than one million parts drawings, a comprehensive microfiche set of which now reside in The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center. We’ve just digitized several hundred of these parts drawings, including a couple dozen, like this one, that cover Model T ambulances built by Ford to be used during World War I. 

Go online to learn more about our parts drawings holdings, or browse all the digitized Ford parts drawings in our Digital Collections.

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

digital collections

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We continue to digitize one of the highlights of our vast auto racing collections, the Dave Friedman collection of photos. Over the course of 2016, we added 2,330 new items from this collection to our online holdings, bringing the total digitized from the Friedman collection to almost 21,000 images.

While these images capture the drama and the spectacle of car racing in the 1960s, nearly nine out of ten of those we’ve digitized thus far are black-and-white photos. However, we’ve just digitized a set of several dozen color images from the 1960 United States Grand Prix at Riverside, including this shot where you can enjoy the vivid red noses of the cars.

See more pics from the same race, or browse all our digitized color images from the Dave Friedman collection in our Digital Collections.

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

digital collections

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One of the key aspects of the Dymaxion House in Henry Ford Museum is its central mast, which supports the entire structure. Buckminster Fuller, who created Dymaxion, had a lifelong interest in creating maximal structural strength with minimal materials and weight, most famously seen in his work with geodesic domes. When Fuller won his first commission for a geodesic structure, the Ford Rotunda, he worked with the Aerospace Engineering Lab at the University of Michigan to create a truss for load testing. Saved twice from being discarded by university staff, this test module was donated to The Henry Ford in 1993. 

It’s newly digitized and available for viewing in our Digital Collections, along with many other artifacts related to geodesic domes, Buckminster Fuller, and the Dymaxion House.

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

digital collections

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If you’ve been watching Season Three of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, you’ve already gotten to learn about artifacts from our collection that include the quilts of Susana Allen Hunter, the Herschell-Spillman carousel, and the 1957 Cornell-Liberty Safety Car.  We’re always working far ahead on these stories, though, so we’re currently digitizing artifacts for upcoming stories.

One segment will feature Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson explaining the origins of air mail. While sending a letter or package overnight may seem mundane today, it was once new and exotic. Daring pilots captured public attention, as demonstrated by the 1930 publication Couriers of the Clouds: The Romance of the Air Mail.

See more artifacts related to air mail by visiting our Digital Collections—and keep watching The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation to learn more!

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

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation, digital collections

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Santa Claus is a fan of The Henry Ford. Every year, he visits Henry Ford Museum and spends time with guests of all ages. This year, you’ll find him at the North Pole—in the Heroes of the Sky exhibit, right next to the Fokker Tri-Motor flown over the pole by Richard Byrd

Behind Santa is an enticing display of toys—but what you might not know about these is that all of them are artifacts in our collections, including this “Designed by You” Faber-Castell Fashion Studio set.

To learn more about the other toys in Santa’s Arctic Landing, or to put together a last-minute Christmas list for yourself, visit our Digital Collections to see more toys on display throughout Henry Ford Museum. 

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

digital collections

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We are a little over halfway through our project to digitize artifacts from our electrical distribution collections, generously funded through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). As of the end of November, 357 of these artifacts were available in our Digital Collections, and of those, nearly half were meters of some variety—ammeters, voltmeters, wattmeters, etc.

While the project team is suffering from a bit of meter overload (no pun intended), every once in a while one catches our eye for some reason or other. One recent example is this Fort Wayne Prepayment Meter, which allowed energy customers to insert coins to start electricity flowing, rather than being billed for usage after the fact. 

If you’d like to learn more about our work on this grant, visit our Digital Collections to browse electricity-related artifacts, or like us on Facebook to see live behind-the-scenes updates from the Conservation Labs (previous updates can be viewed on our Facebook video page).

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

digital collections

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If you’ve walked through “With Liberty and Justice for All” in Henry Ford Museum, you’re familiar with the long and complicated history of social transformation, including civil rights and race relations, in America. Some artifacts, like the Rosa Parks Bus, are primary sources in this story, but we also hold collections that offer a more oblique take, such as about 100 photo negatives we’ve just digitized relating to five days of civil unrest in Detroit in July 1967.

The images come from Detroit Edison, which was charged with the very normal work of restoring electricity under very abnormal conditions. While the photos primarily document the power company’s work in the wake of the unrest, the events of the preceding days and their aftermath are omnipresent, as you can see in this image. We undertook this digitization project as part of our participation in “Detroit 67: Looking Back to Move Forward,” “a multi-year community engagement project of the Detroit Historical Society that brings together diverse voices and communities around the effects of an historic crisis to find their place in the present and inspire the future.”

Early next year, we’ll be sharing more collections-based stories related to the complex roots of, and reactions to, Detroit 67, in keeping with our mission to inspire people to help shape a better future. For now, visit our Digital Collections to browse all of the July 1967 Detroit Edison images.

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

digital collections

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No, this little number isn’t a masterpiece from Mr. Warhol, but the iconic artist was surely the inspiration for its recognizable print.

Back in the mid to late ‘60s, disposable apparel made of paper was all the rage, and everyone was doing it, from paper towel producers and pie makers to Hallmark and the Campbell Soup Company. For a couple of Campbell’s veggie soup labels and one buck, you could mail order the Souper Dress.

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Too long? Just get your scissors and cut. Needs mending? Just grab the transparent tape, and pull, tear and repair. Stubborn stain? Just throw the dress away, tuck another dollar in an envelope and mail away for your next fashion fix. Most paper dresses made in the ’60s were actually 93 percent cellulose and 7 percent nylon.

By 1968, the paper fashion fad had fizzled, and the polyester leisure suit was next in line to pop.

For a modern-day, homespun take on the paper dress, check out Fashion by Mayhem.


Looking for more paper dresses? Take a look at this Yellow Pages dress from 1967.

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The Henry Ford is a very active collecting institution, which results in hundreds to thousands of new artifacts of all types and sizes added to our collections every year.  From among these, our curators select a subset for near-term digitization, while the rest go into the queue to be digitized as the need arises.

One just-digitized item collected by Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson is the glove worn by Janet Guthrie when she became the first woman to race in the Indianapolis 500 in 1977. Visit our Digital Collections to see more artifacts either acquired or “discovered in collections” in the last year—or explore tens of thousands of racing-related artifacts.

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

digital collections