Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

The Couture Life

September 26, 2016 Archive Insight

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Elizabeth Parke Firestone (1897–1990) was the wife of Harvey S. Firestone, Jr., son of the founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. As a well-heeled and fashion-conscious woman, she both traveled to and corresponded with many famous couture houses in Paris, including the
House of Dior

An inquiry from Dior
last year led to our digitization of many of the articles of Christian Dior clothing in our collection that belonged to Mrs. Firestone, but when we dug even further, we turned up over 370 Dior design drawings, mostly dating from the 1950s.  Many, like the 1955 “Fête a Trianon,” are intricately colored, and include handwritten notes and fabric swatches, giving potential customers a taste of their glamour. Visit our Digital Collections to peruse all of these Dior design drawings.

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

Dior, digital collections

imls-logoOne of the main components of The Henry Ford’s IMLS-funded grant is the treatment of electrical objects coming out of storage. This largely involves cleaning the objects to remove dust, dirt, and corrosion products. Even though this may sound mundane, we come across drastic visual changes as well as some really interesting types of corrosion and deterioration, both of which we find really exciting.

imls-draftingboardAn electrical drafting board during treatment (2016.0.1.28)

Conservation specialist Mallory Bower had a great object recently which demonstrates how much dust we are seeing settled on some of the objects. We’re lucky that most of the dust is not terribly greasy, and thus comes off of things like paper with relative ease. That said, it’s still eye-opening how much can accumulate, and it definitely shows how much better off these objects will be in enclosed storage.

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Before and after treatment images of a recording & alarm gauge (2016.0.1.46)

The recording and alarm gauge pictured above underwent a great visual transformation after cleaning, which you can see in its before-and-after-treatment photos. As a bonus, we also have an image of the material that likely caused the fogging of the glass in the first place! There are several hard rubber components within this object, which give off sulfurous corrosion products over time. We can see evidence of these in the reaction between the copper alloys nearby the rubber as well as in the fogging of the glass. The picture below shows where a copper screw was corroding within a  rubber block – but that cylinder sticking up (see arrow) is all corrosion product, the metal was actually flush with the rubber surface. I saved this little cylinder of corrosion, in case we have the chance to do some testing in the future to determine its precise chemical composition.

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Hard rubber in contact with copper alloys, causing corrosion which also fogged the glass (also 2016.0.1.46).

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Hard rubber corrosion on part of an object – note the screw heads and the base of the post.

This is another example of an object with hard rubber corrosion. In the photo, you can see it ‘growing’ up from the metal of the screws and the post – look carefully for the screw heads on the inside edges of the circular indentation. We’re encountering quite a lot of this in our day to day work, and though it’s satisfying to remove, but definitely an interesting problem to think about as well.

There are absolutely more types of dirt and corrosion that we remove, these are just two of the most drastic in terms of appearance and the visual changes that happen to the object when it comes through conservation.

We will be back with further updates on the status of our project, so stay tuned.

Louise Stewart Beck is the IMLS Project Conservator at The Henry Ford.

IMLS

1968RiversideARRC_190

If you know a bit about The Henry Ford, you probably know that one of our areas of expertise is automobile racing. Along with many artifacts, we hold vast amounts of archival materials on the topic, including the Dave Friedman Collection of hundreds of thousands of racing images, among other materials. We’ve just digitized a grouping of nearly 500 images from the 1968 American Road Race of Champions (ARRC) held at Riverside, California—bringing the total number of images we’ve digitized from this collection to over 20,000. 

Visit our Digital Collections to see this dramatic 1968 ARRC shot—or browse all the digitized images from the Dave Friedman Collection.

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

Digital Collectiosn

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Hanks Silk Mill was acquired by Henry Ford in 1929, moved to Greenfield Village in 1931, and reconstructed in 1932, with a grove of mulberry trees (the standard diet of silkworms) planted nearby in 1935. The mulberry grove still stands, but the mill is a fairly small, unassuming-looking building, which belies the “firsts” in its history.  Established in 1810, it is believed to be the first water-powered silk mill in the United States, and perhaps also to have produced the first machine-made silk. 

As part of our ongoing effort to digitize photos of the buildings of Greenfield Village, we’ve just digitized over a dozen images of the Hanks Silk Mill, including this 1931
photo of the mill on its original site, with a sign proudly proclaiming its heritage. Visit our Digital Collections to view all the newly digitized images.

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

Greenfield Village, digital collections

Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah

During his 1927 summer retreat to Seal Harbor, Maine, Edsel Ford spent time having discussions with his neighbor John D. Rockefeller Jr. on the importance of the national parks to the American public. One year before, in 1926, Arno B. Cammerer, then Associate Director of the National Park Service, had initiated his career-defining project of establishing numerous national parks in the Eastern United States when Congress authorized the National Park Service's Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah park proposals. At the time, Lafayette National Park, now Acadia National Park, was the only park east of the Mississippi and despite growing travel to western parks, Cammerer was concerned that only a very small portion of those living east of the Mississippi would ever have the time or the money to visit them.

Realizing that there were millions of people in "the congested areas of the East who never will see the western parks," Cammerer helped the National Park Service establish an unofficial commission composed of park experts to ascertain whether there were lands in the East that would meet the National Park Service standards. The commission, partly funded by John D. Rockefeller Jr., focused on the Southern Appalachian Mountain region, concluding that the lands that would eventually make up the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park should be set aside for the American public. West of the Mississippi, parks could be easily carved out of large public land holdings. In the East, however, a majority of land was privately held which meant that although these Eastern park projects had been authorized in 1926, they could not be fully established until a majority of the land in the planned areas had been bought by the state and deeded to the U.S. government. Cammerer soon realized that land purchasing financed by state funding and small public donations would not be enough to make the Eastern park project a reality.

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Several popular tourist stops in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park appear on this pennant. THF238700

To remedy the funding problem, Cammerer again turned to one of the wealthiest men in America and the largest benefactor of the East's first national park, John D. Rockefeller Jr. After helping to fund the commission, Rockefeller Jr. had previously mentioned to Cammerer that he was very much interested in continuing his support of the Eastern national parks project. This prompted Cammerer to write him in the beginning of August 1927 at Rockefeller Jr.'s Seal Harbor home, "The Eyrie". Cammerer's letter explained that while he had intended for public donations to be split fifty-fifty between the Great Smoky Mountain project and the Shenandoah project, the Great Smoky Mountains project was further along and more time-sensitive, as some of the lands set aside for the project were being clear-cut of their primitive forests before being sold. Securing the land for the Great Smoky Mountains project had become the utmost priority.

Expressing that the potential Great Smoky Mountains park “appeals to him more than any national park," Cammerer also enclosed photographs in his letter that he thought illustrated the “wonderful scenic character of the country proposed for inclusion in the park.” In Seal Harbor, Rockefeller Jr. brought the issue to the attention of his philanthropic partner, neighbor, and avid photographer, Edsel Ford. Sparking an interest with Edsel to contribute to the project, Rockefeller Jr. relayed to Cammerer that Edsel would possibly be willing to donate, spurring Cammerer to contact Edsel in the beginning of September 1927. In his letter to Edsel, Cammerer added, “I am taking the liberty to enclose a considerable number of photographs showing the superb scenic qualities of the region, which Mr. Rockefeller also has seen, which I believe Mrs. Ford and you will enjoy looking over."

Over the course of September 1927, Cammerer kept sending Edsel information on the Eastern parks project, reiterating that the Great Smoky Mountains park in Tennessee and North Carolina continued to be the top priority. He also explained that the land required for the Shenandoah park consisted of mostly Virginian farmland and would take much longer to acquire. Luckily, the proposed Shenandoah park would include part of the Shenandoah Valley, which happened to be the birthplace of Harry F. Byrd, the Governor of Virginia at the time. The son of a wealthy apple grower from the Shenandoah Valley, Governor Byrd supported the idea of establishing a national park in his state and worked to make it a reality. Governor Byrd's brother, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, also happened to be a world-renowned explorer, pioneering aviator, and friend of Edsel Ford. Edsel would be responsible for helping to fund Richard Byrd's expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, including convincing Rockefeller Jr. to aid in funding the latter.

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Running the entire length of Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive offers 105 miles of scenic views along the Shenandoah Blue Ridge. This souvenir pennant depicts the 670-foot-long Mary's Rock Tunnel -- the only tunnel on the drive. THF239213

Rockefeller Jr. wrote Edsel from Seal Harbor at the end of September looking for a decision, noting that the Great Smoky Mountains project still needed money to purchase land and that Edsel had “expressed an interest in this project" when Rockefeller Jr. saw him in Seal Harbor a few weeks ago. Rockefeller sent him a copy of his pledge hoping that his letter of gift might be suggestive to the amount of money Edsel would donate. Edsel responded the same day saying, "I feel like I would like to help in this great undertaking," but financial obligations like a new home and other philanthropic efforts required him to donate "less than I would like to do if the circumstances were otherwise." Nonetheless, Edsel was "very glad to contribute $50,000 dollars" to the Great Smoky Mountains project and also would "be very glad to consider increasing" the pledge the next year if additional funds were needed.

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In this letter from Edsel Ford to Rockefeller Jr., Edsel mentions his various other philanthropic activities, including an explanation on how important Richard Byrd's South Pole expedition will be. Due to Edsel's convincing justification above, Rockefeller Jr. would later help fund Byrd's expedition. THF255218

On October 6th, referring to their new partnership in funding the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Rockefeller Jr. wrote Edsel saying, “It is particularly gratifying to me that we are to be associated together with it." By November of 1927, Edsel had contacted Cammerer to declare that he intended to subscribe $50,000 to help establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which Cammerer graciously accepted. In February 1928 though, the Great Smoky Mountains project hit delays. Lagging fundraising meant that the lands designated for the park, which had yet to be acquired, were still under constant threat of being logged and needed to be procured immediately. The only public pledges to the park had been the ones made by Edsel and Rockefeller Jr. For the park to go forward, five million dollars would need to be raised in order to match the five million dollars in state funds already set aside to buy land for the park. With Edsel's pledge of $50,000 and Rockefeller Jr.'s pledge of $1,000,000, they had fallen well short of that goal.

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Edsel Ford's signed letter to Arno B. Cammerer, stating that he is interested in contributing to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park project that Rockefeller Jr. had brought to his attention. THF255210

With time being of the essence, Rockefeller Jr. wrote Edsel with his proposed solution to the problem. The trustees of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, a fund established by Rockefeller Jr.'s father in memory of his mother and headed by Rockefeller Jr., decided that an enterprise of this kind would have made a "very strong appeal" to Mrs. Rockefeller. The foundation would cover the entire five million dollars needed to match the state funds, helping to acquire all of the land needed to establish the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With the total cost covered for the first park, Rockefeller Jr. suggested that Edsel transfer his donation over to the Shenandoah project, to which Edsel obliged.

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While Edsel admitted that he had not taken a deeper look into the Shenandoah National Park project, he did accompany his family on a 1921 camping trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Maryland, a location less than hundred miles north of Shenandoah and geographically similar. Possible memories from this trip could have also played a role in Edsel's decision to donate to Shenandoah. THF255214

On February 28th, 1928, Edsel withdrew his pledge to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and promptly informed Cammerer that he would be transferring the same pledge over to the Shenandoah National Park fund. Rockefeller Jr. sent a letter thanking Edsel for his understanding and the transfer, ending the note with, “Looking forward to the reunion of our summer colony at Seal Harbor.” Cammerer also sent a letter thanking Edsel for his cooperation, noting, "There is nothing finer available in the East than these two areas selected for national park establishment and this is the psychological time, as the history of our country goes, to still procure these outstanding scenic beauty spots for the millions who will not have a chance to see the western wonderlands reserved in the national park system." Rockefeller Jr. would also contribute to the Shenandoah National Park fund as well.

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This letter illustrates the pivotal role that Seal Harbor, Maine played in the friendship of Rockefeller Jr. and Edsel Ford. THF255212

In 1932, the state of Virginia began to collect the pledges that had been made to the Shenandoah National Park fund. Edsel reaffirmed his interest in this philanthropic endeavor with a letter to the Governor of Virginia saying, "It has been a great pleasure to contribute" to the fund. By 1935, Shenandoah had officially been established as a national park and, in 1936, they held a dedication ceremony to which Edsel was invited. Unfortunately, Edsel was leaving for Europe soon, which he explained to Cammerer, but his good friend Rockefeller Jr. was able to send a transcript of the dedication speech given by Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. Part of the speech thanked Edsel for his contribution.

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A page from Harold L. Ickes' Shenandoah National Park dedication speech. Named Secretary of the Interior by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ickes held the position for thirteen years from 1933 to 1946. Known for being brutally honest, tough, and sharp-tongued, Ickes worked with Arno B. Cammerer to dramatically increase national park land even though the two constantly quarreled. THF255228

Ryan Jelso is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. 

national parks

Part 2: Mount Desert Island, Maine
Located off the coast of Maine, Mount Desert Island is one of the largest islands in the United States and home to Acadia National Park. Long known for its rocky coast, mountainous terrain, and dense wilderness, Mount Desert Island was popularized in the mid-19th century by the Hudson River School. The painters from this art movement focused on scenic landscape paintings, creating works of art that inspired many prominent citizens from the East Coast to build their summer homes on the island. By the late 19th century a resort tradition that became locally known as "rusticating" had taken root on Mount Desert. Wealthy East Coast families known as "rusticators" would spend their summers relaxing in their island mansions, taking in the scenery, and socializing with other prosperous families doing the same. In the early 20th century, the "rusticators" on Mount Desert Island also began to include affluent Detroit families as well.

Eleanor Lowthian Clay, Edsel Ford's future wife, was accustomed to affluence and spent her summers vacationing on Mount Desert Island as a child. Eleanor's wealthy uncle, Joseph Lowthian Hudson, was successful in the Detroit department store scene. As patriarch of the family, the childless J.L. Hudson cared for his other family members and allowed Eleanor's family, as well as some of his other nieces and nephews, to live with him. Hudson employed most of them in his business and groomed his four Webber nephews, Eleanor's cousins, to take over the family trade. Their sister, Louise Webber, married Roscoe B. Jackson, a business partner of J.L. Hudson. In 1909, Jackson helped formed the Hudson Motor Car Company with backing from Hudson. Jackson had found early success with the Hudson Motor Car Company and after inheriting the department store company, the Webber brothers were able to continue its success as well. The wealth and status that these families enjoyed allowed them to later choose Mount Desert Island as the location for their summer retreats and influenced Edsel to do the same.

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Eleanor, right, and her sister Josephine, left, vacationing in Maine with their family. THF130536

The wealth of J.L. Hudson had helped establish Eleanor's cousins and acquaint Eleanor with the son of another wealthy Detroiter in Edsel Ford. While Edsel courted Eleanor, her sister Josephine was simultaneously being courted by up-and-coming lawyer Ernest Kanzler. Edsel became close friends with Kanzler, his future brother-in-law, who eventually was hired by Henry Ford to help manage the Fordson tractor company. By the early 1920's, Edsel and Eleanor along with the Kanzlers, Webbers and Jacksons were all vacationing on Mount Desert Island. Edsel began his Mount Desert residency by renting summer homes there, occasionally inviting his parents to vacation with him. During the late summer or early fall of 1922, Edsel purchased property in the area known as Seal Harbor. Sitting 350 feet above sea level on what is known as Ox Hill, Edsel's property had a panoramic view of the surrounding sea and sky. Also within walking distance of Acadia, then Lafayette National Park, Edsel soon found that his property adjoined the property of the neighborhood national park's biggest benefactor, John D. Rockefeller Jr.

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Edsel with his sons Henry II and Benson spending time at the beach in Seal Harbor. THF95355 

Rockefeller Jr. first visited Mount Desert Island in 1908 and immediately became enamored with the area. He built a large estate in Seal Harbor and by the time he became neighbors with Edsel in 1922, Rockefeller Jr. had already used his wealth to donate large tracts of land to his local national park. During this time he was also in the process of building a network of carriage roads that allowed the beautiful vistas of Acadia to be accessed by the public. Preferring the quiet serenity of horse-drawn carriages over the noisy automobiles, Rockefeller Jr. worked personally with the engineers to ensure that the carriage roads captured the tranquil scenery the park had to offer. The beautiful landscapes of the area would become the topic that Rockefeller Jr. used to initiate his friendship with Edsel Ford.

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Panoramic view of Seal Harbor located on Mount Desert Island, Maine. THF255236
 

Initially writing in December of 1922, Rockefeller Jr. didn't hide his feelings when congratulating Edsel on the purchase of his Seal Harbor property. He had visited Edsel's property at the top of Ox Hill during sunset one night and stated in his letter, "I do not know when I have seen a more magnificent and stunning view than that which met my eye on every side. You have certainly made no mistake in selecting a site for your home.” He concluded the letter by expressing how happy he and his family were at the thought of having Edsel as a permanent summer neighbor. In Edsel's gracious response to Rockefeller Jr., he mentioned that he would be using architect Duncan Candler to design his Seal Harbor home. Candler had previously designed the neighboring Rockefeller home, as well as other note-worthy properties on the island.

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John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s initial letter to Edsel congratulating him on the purchase of Edsel's Seal Harbor property. This letter lead to a life-long friendship that would be fueled by the spirit of philanthropy. THF255332

Christened with the name "Skylands" due to the unbroken views of the Maine horizon line that the property provided, Edsel's summer retreat was built between 1923 and 1925. In 1924, familiar with his new summer neighbor's philanthropic efforts and swayed by his past experiences, Edsel began donating yearly to the National Parks Association, known today as the National Parks Conservation Association. Created by industrialist Stephen Mather in 1919, the organization's mission was to protect the fledgling National Park Service, of which Mather was the director. For eight years Edsel would donate $500 annually to the National Parks Association, until the Depression years of 1932 and 1933 when other business and philanthropic demands restrained his monetary donations.

By the time Edsel's summer home was done in 1925, he and Rockefeller Jr. had become good friends and philanthropic partners. They shared a love for the arts, beautiful scenery, social justice, and civic responsibility. Although twenty years his senior, Rockefeller Jr. found Edsel's situation relatable. Both men were the only sons of immensely wealthy industrialist fathers and both had inherited the responsibility of their massive family fortunes. Each looked to use those fortunes to serve humanity and steer society towards a positive future. Rockefeller Jr. cherished the trait of modesty, a trait that he saw Edsel strongly demonstrate throughout his life. For that reason, Rockefeller Jr. held Edsel, "in the highest regard and esteem," describing him as, "so modest and so simple in his own living and in his association with his fellow men." Their summers spent together at Seal Harbor would undoubtedly include conversations about where they could best direct their philanthropic efforts.

Ryan Jelso is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. 

national parks

On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday, a celebration that encouraged us to seek connections within our collections. This blog post is the first part of four that will trace Edsel Ford’s relationship to the national parks.

The landscapes preserved by the national parks are a source of inspiration. Not only do they document the natural history of America, but they are also integral in telling the story of humanity on the continent. They remain powerful educational tools, allowing citizens to reflect on their collective history and where they want society to go in the future. Responsible for protecting these historical, cultural, and scenic landscapes, the National Park Service owes much of its existence to the forward-thinking industrialists who supported the early environmental movements in America.

The National Park Service's birth can largely be attributed to the efforts of millionaire industrialist Stephen Mather. Using his wealth and political connections, Mather secured the job of Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior and went to Washington. Once there, he worked to lobby, fundraise, and promote an agency that could manage America's national parks and monuments. Finding success, Mather became the first director of the newly-formed National Park Service in 1916. At times, he even funded the agency's administration and bought land out of his own pocket. Mather was not the only affluent American to donate his time and wealth to the National Park Service.

The Rockefellers and Mellons, two of America's wealthiest families in the early 20th century, also became champions of the national parks. Specifically during this time period, the biggest player in national park philanthropic efforts was John D. Rockefeller Jr., the only son of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. Among his many other National Park Service donations, Rockefeller Jr. was noteworthy for purchasing the land or donating the money that helped create the national parks of Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, and Shenandoah, including the expansion of Grand Teton and Yosemite National Parks. Rockefeller dominated this philanthropic scene and ultimately influenced the only son of another wealthy industrialist to join him in his cause.

Edsel Ford, born to Henry and Clara Ford in 1893, was not born into wealth, but the success of Ford Motor Company in the early years of the 20th century led his father to become one of the richest men in America. This set Edsel down a path to inherit the responsibility of that wealth, a position in which he would thrive. Remarking that wealth "must be put to work helping people to help themselves," Edsel understood the elite position he was in and acted with grace throughout his life. Often described as altruistic, sensible, reserved and most importantly modest, Edsel would go on to channel his family's money into countless philanthropies including medical research, scientific exploration, the creative arts and America's national parks.

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While this photograph was taken during the Fords' 1909 trip to Niagara Falls, they posed for the shot in a studio and were later edited into a photo of the falls. THF98007

At a young age, Edsel experienced some of the monuments and landscapes that make up our current national park system, creating memories that surely influenced him later in life. Family trips in 1907 and 1909 took Edsel to Niagara Falls, today a National Heritage Area in the park system. For the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909, Edsel accompanied his father by train to Denver and from there they took a scenic drive to Seattle where the exposition was being held. In 1914, he joined Thomas Edison, John Burroughs and his family as they spent time camping in the Florida Everglades. He also had the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon at least four times in his life, with his first glimpse of the gorge occurring during a family trip to Southern California in 1906.

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Visiting the Grand Canyon in 1906, Edsel sits here with his mother, Clara Ford, and Clara's mother, Martha Bryant. The canyon can be faintly seen in the background. THF255176

Edsel recorded a subsequent trip to the canyon in his diary during January of 1911. He wrote that he spent time hiking, visiting the Hopi House to watch Native American dances, and photographing the canyon. Photography would become one of many artistic hobbies Edsel pursued over the course of his life. Undoubtedly the beautiful vistas of the Grand Canyon provided a spark of creativity for the burgeoning young artist. The national parks and monuments had inspired creative sparks previously, allowing Edsel to illustrate this picture of the Washington Monument in 1909. These forays into the arts helped Edsel later become the creative force that took Ford Motor Company beyond the Model T and successfully into the industry of automobile design.

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Edsel recorded his second Grand Canyon trip in his diary. Interestingly, Edsel also mentions he has heard of the deaths of Arch Hoxsey and John B. Moisant, two record-breaking pilots who died while performing separate air stunts on New Year's Eve of 1910. THF255172

Before Edsel made his dreams of car design a reality, Ford Motor Company had played a role in helping to improve accessibility to the landscapes of the national parks by making the automobile, specifically the Model T, affordable to the masses. In 1915, at age 21, Edsel took off in a Model T on a cross-country road trip with six of his friends. Departing from Detroit and heading to San Francisco, the trip allowed Edsel to again witness the scenic changes in the countryside as he traveled across the continent, something he had experienced on numerous family trips before. This time though, he was in charge of the places he explored. Making various stops during his expedition, Edsel visited the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the desert of New Mexico and the Grand Canyon for a third time.

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Edsel Ford and friends hike down Bright Angel Trail while visiting the Grand Canyon during their 1915 cross-country road trip. THF243915

The Grand Canyon must have left quite the impression on Edsel because, in November of 1916, he brought his new wife Eleanor Clay there on the way to their honeymoon in Hawaii. He wrote his parents from the El Tovar Hotel saying "We are surely having a great time. Walking and breathing this great air." They had spent the previous day visiting Grandview Point, a spot that continues to provide park goers with breathtaking views of the canyon. Edsel's new wife Eleanor would play an important role in his future national park endeavors. She exposed him to the rugged shores and natural beauty of the Maine coast -- a place where Edsel would cross paths with John D. Rockefeller Jr., establishing a friendship that would last a lifetime.

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Operated by the Fred Harvey Company, which owned a chain of railroad restaurants and hotels, El Tovar Hotel was opened in 1905 through a partnership with the Santa Fe Railway. THF255180 

Ryan Jelso is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. 

national parks

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We continue to work on our IMLS-grant funded project to conserve, catalog, photograph, rehouse, and digitize 900 artifacts from our electrical distribution equipment collection.  A number of the meters and other artifacts we’ve turned up during that project were created by the Fort Wayne Electric Works (also known as the Fort Wayne Electric Corporation), an Indiana company that manufactured electrical equipment and other items in the late 19th century.  To accompany the artifacts, we’ve just digitized photographs from our Fort Wayne Electric Works archival collection, which show various parts of the factory around 1894—including this shot of the testing and calibrating laboratory. 

Connect our Fort Wayne artifacts with our Fort Wayne photographs for yourself by visiting our Digital Collections.

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

digital collections

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If you’ve visited Henry Ford Museum, this bench might look familiar to you.  In fact, you might have sat on this bench or one of about two dozen exactly like it during your visit.  However, this one is now off-limits to sitting, as it has found a place in our collections.  The bench was commissioned in 1939 by Edsel Ford for use at what was then known as the Edison Institute, now The Henry Ford.  It was designed by Walter Dorwin Teague, a leader in early industrial design, at the height of his career.  We’ve just digitized the
bench—visit our Digital Collections to see other artifacts from our collections related to Walter Dorwin Teague, including correspondence and blueprints associated with the bench.


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

digital collections

THF231106Pete Henderson, #16 Duesenberg, Ora Haibe, #14 Sebring, John Aitken, #2 Peugeot, Sheepshead Bay, 1914. THF231106

If you’re a fan of the Disney musical Newsies, you may remember the character Racetrack singing about obtaining "a permanent box at the Sheepshead races" in the song King of New York. While Racetrack was referring to a horse racing track located in Sheepshead Bay, New York, that same facility was later converted to a board track for automobile racing. While board tracks around the country had a limited lifespan, they set the stage for the eventual creation of modern paved oval racetracks and the expansion of automobile racing across the United States.

THF111772Barney Oldfield riding the "Blue Streak" on the Salt Palace Board Track, Salt Lake City, Utah, circa 1900. THF111772

The earliest oval board tracks in the United States, commonly known as motordromes at the time, were constructed around 1910. With designs based on the velodromes used for bicycle racing in Europe, they utilized thousands of small, wooden boards in their construction. For the one mile long track at Playa del Rey, California, over 300 miles worth of boards were used to create the racing surface.  Many of the board tracks also included steep banked corners, adding to the excitement. The wooden surface was cheaper to install than a paved one at the time, although the upkeep did create additional costs over the years.  

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Board track racing on the track in Playa Del Rey, California. THF228751

Over the next 20 years, board tracks were constructed in cities around the country, including Chicago, Tacoma, Omaha, and Brooklyn. Smaller communities also had tracks: Valley Junction, Iowa; Hopwood, Pennsylvania; Sharonville, Ohio; and Salem, New Hampshire, to name a few.  They ranged in length from half a mile to 2 miles, with thousands of people attending races. The American Automobile Association (AAA), which had established its Contest Board in 1908, sanctioned championship level races on these tracks. From 1920 through 1931, 82 of the group's 123 championship events were staged on wooden raceways. Early motor racing stars, such as Joe Nikrent and Louis Disbrow, found success on the boards as well as paved tracks.

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Joe Nikrent and Louis Disbrow racing in Oakland, California. THF229073

There were some drawbacks to the board tracks though. Safety issues, including high rates of speed in corners, extreme G-forces on the drivers, flying splinters and debris, and the basic tire technology of the time, led to accidents and fatalities on the tracks. Spectators, especially those at motorcycle races, were vulnerable to out of control vehicles veering off the track. Track upkeep was extremely expensive, with the tracks needing to be resurfaced every five years or less. Stories remain of repairs being made to the tracks as cars raced overhead. Lack of competition with the increase overall speeds was another drawback; generally the fastest car at the start of the race crossed the finish line first.

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Dave Lewis's Race Car Stopped on the Board Track at Altoona Speedway, Tipton, Pennsylvania, in 1925. THF73131

Major races ceased to be held on boards after 1932, although a few tracks prolonged their lives by hosting midget racing competitions. In the end, the majority of the tracks were torn down, the land utilized for other purposes. Alas, this was the fate of the Sheepshead Bay Speedway. The track, built in 1915 on the site of the old horse racing facility, only operated until 1919. The land was sold four years later and redeveloped for residential purposes, with no trace of the facility remaining today. Relegated to memory, it is important to remember the integral role that this board track and others like it played in the expansion of automobile racing across the United States.  

Janice Unger is Processing Archivist , Archives & Library Services for the Benson Ford Research Center, at The Henry Ford.