Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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"I cannot live without books."  - Thomas Jefferson

While most people are celebrating Independence Day, this Fourth of July is the 190th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s death. Thomas Jefferson compiled multiple libraries during his lifetime; one of which he used to restock the Library of Congress in 1815 after it had been destroyed during the War of 1812, and another that was auctioned three years after his death in February 1829. The auction catalog can be viewed in our digital collections and you can learn more about his libraries here.

Laura Lipp is Collections Documentation Specialist at The Henry Ford.

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If you’ve visited Henry Ford Museum, you’ve probably seen our collection of Presidential vehicles, which includes a 1972 Lincoln limousine used by Ronald Reagan (notably on the day in 1981 when he was shot by John Hinckley).  If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about how this car was originally built, you’re in luck.  We recently discovered in our collections a series of detailed photographs documenting the original construction of the Reagan limo by Ford's Special Vehicles Engineering Department, mostly covering the period between August 1970 and October 1971.  The early stage image shown here was taken on August 19, 1970.  Explore more than 130 additional photos taken during the construction of this historic vehicle by visiting our Digital Collections.

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

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Because our collections are so vast and predate the computer age, we are always stumbling across interesting artifacts we weren’t expecting to find.  We recently rediscovered a set of eight letters sent to writer Frank Dorrance Hopley from various notable personalities in 1921. Hopley hoped to write an article on the “most thrilling moment” in these men’s lives, and had asked them to share those stories. In the letter shown
here, James W. Gerard, Ambassador to Germany during World War I, related that his moment was when “the German Kaiser shook his finger in my face”—a thrilling moment indeed. Unfortunately, many of the rest of the letters we located provide less thrilling—but perhaps more amusing—responses: former president William Taft noted his life had not been thrilling and he therefore could not single out any one moment, and Robert Lansing, Secretary of State during World War I, suggested his most thrilling moments were personal ones he did not care to reveal. Not surprisingly, we couldn’t turn up any evidence that Hopley’s article was ever completed. Visit our Digital Collections to read all the letters, including a momentous answer from Thomas Edison.

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

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Concert in the Ford Symphony Gardens, Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago, Illinois, 1934. THF212561

For the past 24 years the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and The Henry Ford have teamed up for Salute to America, our annual concert and fireworks celebration in Greenfield Village. But the affiliation between the DSO and our organization goes back much farther than that.

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Preparing for a Performance in Ford Symphony Gardens, Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago, Illinois, 1934. THF212547

The connection dates back to the 1934 Chicago World's Fair, A Century of Progress International Exposition. Ford Motor Company’s exhibits were housed in the famous Rotunda building and also included the Magic Skyway and the Ford Symphony Gardens. The large amphitheater of the Symphony Gardens hosted several musical and stage acts, including the DSO, who Ford sponsored for 150 concerts over the course of the year. The symphonic notes proved so popular that Henry and Edsel Ford decided to launch a radio program featuring selections from symphonies and operas - the Ford Sunday Evening Hour. The weekly program played to over 10,000,000 listeners each broadcast over the CBS network (the same network that now presents The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation). Musical pieces were played by DSO musicians under the name Ford Symphony Orchestra, a 75-piece ensemble, and were conducted by Victor Kolar, the DSO’s associate director, for the first few years of the show. Pieces ranged from symphony classics including works by Handel, Strauss, Litszt, Wagner, Handel, Puccini, Bizet, and Tchaikovsky (including, of course, the 1812 Overture), to some of Henry Ford’s favorite traditional and folk songs like Turkey in the Straw  and Annie Laurie, and even included popular tunes such as Night and Day by Cole Porter.

Each broadcast featured guest stars, soloists, and singers such as Jascha Heifetz, Grisha Goluboff, Gladys Swarthout, Grete Stükgold, and José Iturbi. The broadcast performances were open to the public for free, first at Orchestra Hall from 1934-1936, and then at the Masonic Temple 1936-1942. The show ran from 1934-1942, September-May with 1,300,000 live attendees and countless radio listeners tuning in.

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Advertising Poster, The Ford Summer Hour, 1939. THF111542

Salute to America is our summer music tradition, and listeners in 1939 must have wanted some summer-themed music as well because Henry and Edsel started the Ford Summer Hour that year. Like the winter program, it was broadcast each Sunday evening on CBS, from May to September and featured a smaller 32-piece orchestra, again mostly made up of DSO musicians. Guest stars and conductors appeared, such as Don Voorhees, James Melton, and Jessica Dragonette.

The show included music from Ford employee bands like the River Rouge Ramblers, Champion Pipe Band, and the Dixie Eight. This was a program of lighter music, popular songs, and tunes from musical comedies and operettas. Apparently not everyone appreciated the lighter fare; a letter from a concerned listener stated:

“...as the strains of the trivial program of Ford Summer Show float into my room, I am moved to contrast them with the fine programs of your winter series, and to wonder why the myth persists that in hot weather the human mentality is unequal to the strain of listening to good music. Pardon me while I switch my radio to station WQXR which has fine music the year round.”

Strong words from the listening public, though apparently not the majority as the summer program rivaled the winter program with about 9,000,000 listeners per broadcast. The Ford Summer Hour, broadcast from the Ford Rotunda, only ran three seasons, but played a wide range of music for listeners such as Heigh Ho from Snow White, Dodging a Divorcee, selections from Carmen, Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be, and One Fine Day from Madame Butterfly.

Both programs ceased by 1942 with the opening of World War II. Henry Ford II tried to bring back the Ford Sunday Evening Hour in 1945, broadcasting the same type of music by DSO musicians, but times and tastes had changed and the program was discounted after the first season.

Kathy Makas is a Benson Ford Research Center Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford. To learn more about the Ford Sunday Evening Hour or Ford Summer Hour, visit the Benson Ford Research Center or email your questions to us here.

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In 1915, Henry Ford began acquiring property along the Rouge River in southeastern Michigan with the intent of building a vast manufacturing complex, aiming to transform raw materials into parts and those parts into automobiles in the most rapid and efficient possible ways. The first major building on the site was constructed in 1917, but work to extend and expand the Rouge plant and its capabilities continued through the 1920s.  We’ve just digitized 119 images taken between February and May 1918 that focus on the construction going on at the Rouge, including many like
this one that give a sense of the expansive nature of the endeavor.  Visit our Digital Collections to see these Rouge images and others from our Automobile Plant Construction Photographs collection, or learn more about the modern Rouge and how you can see the plant yourself on our visit page.

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

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Visitors to the 1964 New York World’s Fair’s IBM Pavilion were submerged in a futuristic world made possible by computers. A world imaginatively conjured up by an intricately detailed fake newspaper with the headline “Computer Day at Midvale!” 

The one-of-a-kind aluminum panel was created by the Eames Office, the studio of famed designers Charles and Ray Eames. Hand-painted with imagined newspaper headlines and draped with patriotic bunting, it hung on the back of one of the pavilion’s “Little Theatres” and was surrounded by lights, intended to lure visitors to come and watch the mechanical pupp

“The themes in the Midvale panel, and the IBM Pavilion on the whole, document a critical moment where people were being exposed to the culture of computing on a mass scale,” said Kristen Gallerneaux, The Henry Ford’s curator of communications and information technology. “Accessible systems like the IBM/360 were just around the corner, whose adoption would touch (and potentially disrupt) the lives of information and office workers. IBM needed to address this wariness of technology — they needed to humanize computers. The company found their solution in the playful visual communication skills of the Eames Office.” 

Last year, The Henry Ford acquired the aluminum panel from its original owners, whose father, Robert Charles Siemion, had worked as an engineer and manager at the 1964 IBM Pavilion. 

“The ephemeral nature of those fairs was such that most of the displays — and even the architecture — would be dismantled after the fair was over,” said Gallerneaux, who learned about the panel in an article on antique pricing. “But Siemion, as a manager, was invited to take home part of the pavilion as a memento. We’re lucky that he chose to salvage this panel and that his children knew to hold onto it all these years.”

The Eames Office employees who designed the pavilion are listed on the newspaper’s left in a credits area. The panel is among several IBM Pavilion-related objects The Henry Ford has acquired and the third such artifact associated with Charles and Ray Eames. 

“Charles and Ray Eames were fascinated with the circus and early Americana, and there’s a wonderful sense of these themes coming together with high technology in the panel,” Gallerneaux said. “The IBM Pavilion was designed to send you into another head space so you could synthesize the concepts coming together at the time. It was an interesting collision of computing history and design history happening in one place.”

From a conservation standpoint, the panel, well maintained by its owners, only required minimal treatments. “It’s interesting to think about the public as stewards of material culture,” Gallerneaux said. “We acquire a lot of interesting collection items that way.”

The “Computer Day at Midvale” panel will appear in a future exhibit at The Henry Ford about communications and information technology. 

DID YOU KNOW?
The 1964 New York World’s Fair featured 140 pavilions spread over 646 acres. 

Eames Office

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This month, we recognize 150 years of a phenomenon that started in Detroit but has become a national icon: Vernors. In 1866, pharmacist James Vernor began serving his zippy ginger ale at his pharmacy’s soda fountain, and it became first a local, then a regional favorite.  Today, Vernors is owned by Dr Pepper Snapple Group, a major North American beverage company, and can be found throughout the United States. Many Detroiters retain a particularly strong loyalty to the fizzy concoction, swearing by both its taste and its ability to soothe an upset stomach—so much so that the
Detroit Historical Society has organized a week-long anniversary celebration.  In recognition of the milestone, we dug through our collections for some Vernors-related artifacts, and turned up labels, signs, photos of delivery trucks, a recipe booklet, and, perhaps most intriguingly, several photos like this one of James Vernor III sitting in a Vernors-branded Ford amphibious jeep.  We haven’t yet been able to turn up the full story behind these images, but suspect they might relate to clearing surplus inventory of such vehicles after World War II.  We invite you to pop open a refreshing ginger ale of your own and browse the rest of the Vernors-related items we found in our Digital Collections.

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

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Since 1929, The Henry Ford has hosted a steady stream of celebrity visitors, eager to see our iconic artifacts. In 1961, French artist and iconoclast Marcel Duchamp and his wife visited Henry Ford Museum. If you know Duchamp’s history, you might find it an interesting contrast that the man who rejected art that was merely beautiful in favor of art “in the service of the mind” stopped to pose for
this photo in front of the Bugatti. The large, luxurious, and beautiful car seems a far cry from “Fountain,” created by Duchamp more than four decades before. We’ve just digitized dozens of images featuring celebrities of all stripes visiting our campus over many decades—browse more by visiting this Expert Set we’ve created within our Digital Collections.

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

THF159776Confederate Bass Drum, Captured at Missionary Ridge, 1860-1863. Gift of the Jewell Family. THF159778

A Battlefield Souvenir Preserved by GAR Members of Fulton County, Ohio


This drum was likely left behind by fleeing Confederates as Union soldiers drove them from the hill at the battle of Missionary Ridge in Tennessee on November 25, 1863. The astonished Confederates panicked, broke rank, and fled pell-mell. A Union victory. In less than a year and half, the Civil War would end and the Union preserved.

The abandoned drum was probably picked up from the battlefield by a member of the 38th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a Union unit that participated in the Missionary Ridge assault.

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This battlefield souvenir was then taken to Fulton County, Ohio, where it was preserved by members of the local Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of Union veterans. By the 1880s, Fulton County had about 11 GAR posts. To these Union veterans, this drum symbolized victory over Confederate forces. The drum was likely displayed in the GAR hall at Wauseon in Fulton County.

A few days before the Missionary Ridge battle, Abraham Lincoln gave his eloquent Gettysburg Address in Pennsylvania. For us today, this drum symbolizes the end of the Civil War and the “new birth of freedom” spoken of so memorably by Abraham Lincoln on that day.



Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

drums, musical instruments, Civil War Remembrance

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The Henry Ford was excited to once again welcome author and former Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, along with journalist Lisa McCubbin, to Henry Ford Museum this spring in celebration of his latest book,
Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. 

More about Mr. Hill and our presidential limousines:
Clint Hill on Presidential Limousines
Presidential Vehicles
Looking Back: JFK Remembered at Henry Ford Museum
Protecting our Presidents
Turning Point

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In honor of Mr. Hill's visit to The Henry Ford, Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson put together this overview of the presidential limousines found within on exhibit at Henry Ford Museum. Learn more below.


A presidential parade car provides two things: visibility and security. Those concepts are often at odds. The Henry Ford’s presidential Lincolns illustrate the difficult and changing balance between the chief executive’s need to be seen and need to be safe.

“Sunshine Special,” the 1939 Lincoln Model K most often associated with Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the first parade car specifically modified for presidential use. Coachbuilder Brunn & Company focused more on utility than luxury, deleting armrests for maximum seating capacity and adding wide running boards for Secret Service agents. The car was not armored until Pearl Harbor, when bullet resistant tires, glass and armor plating were installed.

In 1950, Harry S. Truman took delivery of a new Lincoln with a body by Raymond Dietrich, but the car was used most often by successor Dwight D. Eisenhower. Again there was no armor, but in 1954 the limo received the weatherproof plexiglass roof that inspired its nickname, the “Bubbletop.” Security features did not extend much beyond riding steps on the rear bumper and flashing red lights at the front.

Planning for the next car started under Eisenhower, but the 1961 Lincoln Continental limo is forever tied to John F. Kennedy. Once again, armor was not considered necessary, and Kennedy preferred to travel with the top removed whenever possible. But his assassination ended the tradition of open cars. Ford and custom car builder Hess & Eisenhardt rebuilt the 1961 Lincoln with a permanent roof, titanium armor and bullet-resistant glass five layers thick.

The 1972 Lincoln limousine was the first presidential parade car designed and built as an armored vehicle from the start. Security was now of prime importance – a point dramatically underscored when Ronald Reagan suffered an attempt on his life while getting into the limo in 1981.

The Henry Ford’s presidential Lincolns were leased to the White House. As the leases ended, the cars returned to Ford Motor Company and the firm gifted them to the museum. Currently, Cadillac supplies the president’s state cars. Each is custom-built – most recently on truck platforms – and each is typically destroyed at the end of its service life.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Clint Hill, presidential limos, presidential vehicles