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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

In the early 1920s, Tsuneji "Thomas" Sato (1882-1969) found himself in the middle of a Michigan lumber camp on the opposite side of the world from his birthplace in Japan. Working with precision and productiveness and, most importantly, personality, Sato  served a hot meal to a group of vagabonds who, although weary from their travels, had no apparent reason to be weary at all. Sato knew that firsthand, as he and his co-workers had been the ones responsible for getting this party — and their extravagant  caravan — over hills, across rivers and through the wilderness.

Tsuneji Sato, 1921

Tsuneji Sato, 1921. / THF127407

While the lumber camp was obscure, the camping party’s members certainly were not, as Sato’s employer was the man who needed the vast swaths of hardwood being extracted out of Michigan’s northern forests at this camp, and others, to feed his automobile manufacturing machine, Ford Motor Company. At the heart of the company’s brand recognition was the polarizing, do-it-yourself folk hero Henry Ford whose wealth contradicted his own populist ethos and whose life was wholly dependent on a group of people who made things happen for him. A group, for some time, that included Sato. So much so that Ford postponed this trip just to ensure that Sato could make it work around his own personal schedule.

Tsuneji Sato preparing a meal at Sidnaw Lumber Camp in 1923

Tsuneji Sato preparing a meal at Sidnaw Lumber Camp in 1923. / THF127423

In some sense, the Fords were no different than other wealthy families of the early 20th century who had the means to staff their homes, preferring to hire domestic servants from a growing Japanese immigrant population generalized at the time as “polite, careful, clean, ambitious, and intelligent.” Japanese immigration to the United States had gradually increased over the late 1800s as the notoriously insular empire emerged from isolation and struggled with the abrupt pace of industrialization, regional war and a northern famine. By the early 1900s, hundreds, if not thousands, of Japanese immigrants were finding employment success in America’s household services sector, but a general spike in immigration began escalating a nativist angst among white Americans.

The Ford Family and Tsuneji Sato.

The Ford Family and Tsuneji Sato. Pictured left to right are Eleanor Ford, Sato, Henry Ford, Edsel Ford and Clara Ford on a 1921 camping trip in Maryland. / THF127405

A furor of anti-Asian discrimination and violence, especially on the West Coast where Asian American communities were expanding, eventually led to an informal agreement between President Theodore Roosevelt and Japan, known as the Gentleman’s Agreement of 1907-1908, which restricted immigration from Japan until the Immigration Act of 1924 ultimately banned immigration from Asian regions altogether. Despite increasing xenophobia and restrictions, Tsuneji’s brother Junjiro (1870-1957) left their hometown of Wakuya, located in Japan’s northern prefecture, Miyagi, and made his way to the United States in 1894. At some point in the next 20 years, his younger brother Tsuneji would join him.

Tsuneji and Junjiro Sato

Tsuneji and Junjiro Sato. Date unknown. Source: Courtesy of the Sato brothers' descendants.

Upon the completion of Henry and Clara Ford’s sprawling Fair Lane Estate in 1915, Clara Ford contacted the Japanese Reliable Employment Agency of New York City looking for help. The Fords' former Japanese domestic servants, a couple who had worked for them at previous homes, wanted more for their lives in America: their own house and the ability to chase their own dream. Henry Ford obliged and gave the husband a job at his Highland Park plant, leaving Clara to inquire for someone who was single and “not as attached.” What the Fords received in Tsuneji Sato, now with the adopted English name of Thomas, was someone highly regarded who had the charisma and work ethic that could keep up with the unusual demands of an automobile magnate’s family. Continue Reading

by Ryan Jelso, 20th century

"Liberty Island" Snow Globe

Liberty Island Snow Globe, circa 1995 / THF175423

Mass-produced plastic snow globes (also known as snowdomes) are resonant and enduring objects of American culture. They have been sold as souvenirs and collectibles since the 1950s, but their story is nearly 150 years old.

Water-filled glass snow globes were first introduced at the Paris Universal Exposition of 1878. By 1879, there were at least five companies producing and selling snow globes throughout Europe.

In the early 1920s, snow globes were introduced in the United States, where they became popular collectors’ items. An American, Joseph Garaja, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, revolutionized the snow globe industry with a new method of assembly, patented in 1929. Hollywood films launched the mass popularity of snow globes, beginning with "Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman" (1940) and "Citizen Kane" (1941).

Snow Globes Gif

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What We Wore: Shoes Exhibition Case

From practical footwear to eye-catching fashion statements, Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation’s current What We Wore exhibit is all about shoes. On display are 30 pairs of men’s, women’s and children’s shoes dating from the 1780s to the 2000s.

Each pair offers a bit of footwear history — and, for some perhaps, a familiar style once found in their own closet!

Shoes will be on display until May 24. Here’s a peek at a few examples.

Men's Boudoir Slippers, 1855-1860

Men’s Boudoir Slippers, 1855-1860 / THF31115

Men's embroidered slippers were very popular in the mid-1800s. Ladies magazines often included embroidery patterns for house slippers that a woman might make for her husband as a gift.

Men's Wingtip Shoes, 1945-1955

Men’s Wingtip Oxfords, 1945-1955, Gift of Richard Glenn / THF370088 

The low-sided oxford came into fashion for men’s footwear in the 1910s, along with wingtips (a toe cap in the shape of a bird’s wing embellished with a perforated pattern). White shoes were for summer.

Reebok Pump AXT Cross-Training Shoes, circa 1990

Reebok Pump AXT Cross-Training Shoes, circa 1990 / THF370066

In the 1970s, athletic shoes became big business as the popularity of running and more relaxed dress codes in workplaces and schools led to a boom in the market. Manufacturers developed high-tech features designed for more support and stability. Reebok introduced the Reebok Pump in 1990, a shoe that used inflatable chambers that pumped-up for a custom fit.

Women's Shoes, 1785-1789

Women’s Shoes, 1785-1789, Gift of American Textile History Museum / THF370062 

Before shoemaking became a mechanized industry in the mid-1800s, shoes were made by hand. Amos Boardman created these silk shoes — undoubtedly for a prosperous client— in one of the many small shoemaking home-shops that flourished in late 1700s New England.

Women's Boots, Used by Anna D. Larkin, 1867

Women's Boots, 1867, Gift of Cora D. Maggini, Worn by Angeline (Anna) Duckworth when she married Rufus Larkin in Posey County, Indiana, in September 1867 / THF158262 

Sandals from ancient Greece or Rome inspired these 1860s shoes — footwear designed to reveal pretty-colored silk stockings beneath!

Women's Platform Shoes, 1945-1950

Women’s Platform Shoes, 1945-1950, Gift of American Textile History Museum, Donated to ATHM by Sharon and Phil Ferraguto / THF370078

Introduced in the late 1930s, platform shoes remained popular through the 1940s. These eye-catching examples sport cherry red, ivory and gray reptile leather.

Glitter Jelly Sandals, circa 1990

Women’s Glitter Jelly Sandals, circa 1990 / THF172055

Jelly shoes were a favorite among young women in the 1980s and 1990s. Made of PVC plastic, the shoes came in a rainbow of colors. Sandals were the most popular.

Girls' Slippers, circa 1850

Girls’ Slippers, circa 1850 / THF156007

In the mid-1800s, girls wore slippers with ribbon ties for formal occasions. For everyday? Low boots.

Boys' Boots, circa 1865

Boys’ Boots, circa 1865 / THF156008

Children’s clothing has increasingly included images that have appeal for a child. These are an early example — Civil War-era boots with a figure of a dashing Zouave soldier.

Saddle Oxfords, 1955-1965

Saddle Oxfords, 1955-1965, Gift of Randolph C. and Nancy M. Carey / THF78930

The saddle shoe, with its contrasting color leather “saddle,” is a style icon. Worn by uniformed schoolkids since the 1930s and by “bobby soxer” teens in the 1940s and 1950s, the saddle shoe has an enduring link to youth culture.

Jeanine Head Miller is curator of domestic life at The Henry Ford.

What We Wore, Henry Ford Museum, fashion, by Jeanine Head Miller, 20th century

Mysterious Transmissions_Blog
The Henry Ford’s radio collections hold a variety of strange-looking objects, many with hidden purposes, including a radio receiver that was used during “space” travelers Jeannette and Jean Piccard’s stratospheric balloon ascension near The Henry Ford in 1934. Photo by Trevor Naud  THF155560

In my own collection as The Henry Ford’s curator of communications and information technology, there are many objects with lively backstories. The radio collections alone are rife with curiosities: a WWI-era field radio used in a 1924 experiment to “listen” to Mars. Another radio shares similarities with the 1901 Sweepstakes race car — a 1905 Telimco radio created by the eccentric science fiction publisher Hugo Gernsback was once believed to be a replica but is now understood to be an original. Espionage radios too: a muddy-looking lump of clay with a secret homing beacon inside that is meant to look like tiger scat or “dog doo.”

Mysterious Transmissions2_Blog
T-1151 Doo Radio Transmitters, circa 1970. Photo by Trevor Naud / THF189735

These joke shop antics may seem humorous but quickly reveal an ominous angle as further research determined that these transmitters were used for reconnaissance by the CIA during the Vietnam War.

This post was adapted from an article written by Kristen Gallerneaux, curator of communication & information technology with photos by Trevor Naud, in the Winter-Spring 2023 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.
In the interview that follows, Kristen Gallerneaux, curator of communication and information technology speaks with curator of agriculture and the environment Debra Reid about some of the stories concerning past uses of these sites. Beyond three-dimensional artifacts at The Henry Ford, there are intriguing narratives that can be divined from the very landscapes on which our campus sits — from Oakwood Boulevard to the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. 

Jim Johnson, director of Greenfield Village and curator of historic structures and landscapes, and Debra Reid, curator of agriculture and the environment, stand in the shadow of Greenfield Village’s oldest tree, an Eastern white oak that took root over 400 years ago. The two are committed to understanding more — and discovering things anew — about the land that The Henry Ford has called home for almost 100 years. 

Kristen- As a 94-year-old institution, we have occupied this site for almost a century. But I’ve always been interested in finding ways to be more inclusive of stories about prior uses and past occupants too, especially knowing that the River Rouge oxbow flows through the back of Greenfield Village. This river was an important trade and industry route as well as an important resource for the Indigenous people who used this land before us. How do we “read” storied environments like these to understand them better today? 

Debra- Downriver from our main campus, we have the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. That site is sometimes described as being an unused “wasteland” before it was developed for the original industrial complex. But there were Indigenous people living in the eluvial bottoms who were foraging in those rich areas — and later, French-owned ribbon farms, general and market garden farms.

In my research with French records and plat maps, there is strong evidence of complex history in the area surrounding what later became the Rouge plant. By 1915 and 1917, plat maps show who owned the land, and in Henry Ford’s correspondence, we can see how he systematically began to purchase land in this area. Eventually, 1,500 acres were identified for the Rouge plant’s site. You can extrapolate interesting histories from what happens along the Rouge River, and there is much more research needed. 

Kristen- There have been so many fascinating stories connected to waterways in the metro Detroit area and across the border into Canada. But the presence of Indigenous people that preceded and coexisted in this area, alongside the founding of Detroit, has often been washed away by the dominating spotlight of industrial histories.

Debra- And also “washed away” in the sense that when industrialists acquire 1,500 acres on a river, what disappears because of that? There were also ancient mounds and sand dunes near Zug Island, which were taken down by a glass factory across the river in Delray. The sands from mounds became the raw product for the glass plant. [Editor’s note: Zug Island sits at the confluence of the Detroit River and the mouth of the Rouge River. Before European arrival, it was an ancient burial ground but was heavily industrialized in the 1890s.] Their archeological remains were disseminated.

So, if we think of industrial destruction of evidence of Indigenous presence as a typical approach for the time and we head back upriver to the Rouge plant, what, if anything, remained of an archeological record when construction began there? Images show how soil was removed down to the bedrock to put in pilings, which obliterated the archaeological evidence. But even before Ford, in 1889, the Detroit International Exposition & Fair was held not far from this site, which I discovered while researching the Detroit Central Market. There is an article that shows our market building, and it also mentions leveling mounds in preparation for the fair.

On streets not far from The Henry Ford’s campus, enormous piles of buffalo bones once sat in the late 19th century, waiting to be rendered down for use in a wide range of consumer products. / From The Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

Kristen- I know of a street in Delray called Carbon Street and once found an incredible image from the late 19th century of men standing on that street on top of enormous piles of buffalo bones that were going to be rendered down for things like pigments. Once you see these images, it’s hard to forget them.

Debra- Yes! And those bones were charred — basically obliterated — and found their way into a wide range of consumer products. The buffalo were annihilated on the U.S. Plains after European arrival, and the bones of bison were shipped to places like Detroit. This was a huge stove-making city, and the blacking made from the bones was used to keep stoves black. Pharmaceutical industries also used the bones, and they were processed into bone meal fertilizer and other agricultural byproducts. So the material rendered from the bones in that image impacts farming, consumerism, medicine...

Kristen- was even used as pigment in “bone black” printing ink. Which means that people were literally receiving information and viewing printed images by “reading” buffalo byproducts. The onion layers of history keep opening. It can get quite overwhelming if you think about it too much. 

This post was adapted from an article in the Winter-Spring 2023 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

At The Henry Ford, we often undertake detective work within our own collections as we seek to deepen our knowledge of objects, their contexts, and reevaluate their histories. Sometimes our investigations leave us with more questions than when we started. But with object-based research, there are very rare and special “eureka” moments that can simultaneously reveal an answer and unsettle everything we thought was true.

A perfect example came with the reevaluation of Henry Ford’s first race car, the Sweepstakes, which is celebrated for its win at a Grosse Pointe, Michigan, racing event held on Oct. 10, 1901. This victory in turn revived Henry Ford’s credibility as a businessman and helped secure the funding that eventually led to the founding of Ford Motor Company in 1903.

In the interview below, Matt Anderson, curator of transportation, speaks with Kristen Gallerneaux, curator of communications and information technology, about how the discovery of a "replica-turned-real" was made.

MobilityMystery_blog Continue Reading

Artist Lillian Schwartz produced cutting-edge films, videos and multimedia works, including the print Boulez Conducting / THF188554

Member Preview: March 24, 2023
Open to Public: March 25-Jan. 1, 2024

Spring 2023 marks the debut of a new collections gallery in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. You can find it behind the Heroes of the Sky exhibit and by the new permanent exhibit, Miniature Moments: A Journey Through Hallmark® Keepsake Ornaments (see story on Page 64). The Henry Ford’s Lillian Schwartz collection is the first to be exhibited in the new space, which is set to host temporary exhibitions of significant collections going forward.

A donation from the Schwartz family in 2020, the material acquired from multimedia artist Lillian Schwartz’s body of work includes thousands of objects, from films and videos to 2D artwork, sculptures, personal papers, computer hardware and film editing equipment.

The approximately 1,800-square-foot gallery will be split into three sections for the Schwartz exhibition, expounding on three core themes, from the artist’s transition from childhood to adulthood, her introduction to the Bell Laboratories in the late ‘60s through early ‘70s and her penchant for pushing the media she worked with to its limits. Expect to see a newly restored kinetic sculpture, Proxima Centauri, that has not been on exhibit in a museum in decades, along with rarely shown mixed-media works, Schwartz’s early films and a humorous series about early internet web searches, among many other artifacts.

This post was adapted from an article in the Winter-Spring 2023 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine. More about The Henry Ford’s acquisition of works from groundbreaking multimedia artist Lillian Schwartz in the January-May 2022 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

Our collections sometimes surprise us at The Henry Ford, as Curator of Decorative Arts Charles Sable has often experienced. Using his expertise about how the stylistic attributes of art historical movements have trickled into home goods — furniture and upholstery textiles especially — Sable has become adept at using different methods to “read” the physical evidence of the objects under his care. Even the imprints of manufacturing can leave essential clues: machine-sawn wood carries marks distinct from wood sawn by hand. Nails, nuts and bolts are similarly telling.

Working closely with conservation staff, Sable has uncovered surprising origin stories and debunked long-held presumptions.

Sable sat down with Kristen Gallerneaux, curator of communications & information technology, to share his favorite "collections mysteries."

Kristen- What is an example of an especially enigmatic object you’ve dealt with recently?

Charles- There is an overmantel, a decorative structure over a mantelpiece, located above the fireplace in the Lovett Hall ballroom. In 1968, it was published in a book called The Looking Glass in America, identifying it as a piece made in Salem, Massachusetts, in the Federal period style between 1800 and 1810. This was an incredibly “high-style” example, and this is also how Henry Ford understood it when he purchased it for Lovett Hall in 1936.

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Central to understanding Western historical perceptions of the Middle and Near East in the arts is the concept of “Orientalism.” In decorative arts, Orientalism is the representation of Asian lives and arts as interpreted by Europeans and Americans. Westerners historically stereotyped these cultures as exotic, mysterious and sometimes decadent. Unlike the Far East, which was also viewed as distant, the Near and Middle East were more accessible for Europeans, and later, Americans who traveled there. In the early 19th century, European artists famously painted harem scenes and images of snake charmers for adoring audiences. By the end of the century, wealthy Americans were collecting these paintings and placing them in their parlors and sitting rooms. They also added souvenirs of travels, trade goods and even custom-made furnishings made in “Oriental” styles. Westerners could show off their worldliness, wealth and good taste by mixing and matching elements of “Oriental” culture together.

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Black wooden chair, with woven seat, painted with gold decoration
Side Chair, Created by Lambert Hitchcock, 1825-1835. /

Many people believe that mass production started with Henry Ford and the Model T. But the ideas that led to this breakthrough were already being put into practice back in the early 1800s, in mills and manufactories dotting the countryside across New England.

It was there that Lambert Hitchcock applied early mass-production techniques to turn out chairs by the thousands — uniform, durable, attractive, affordable and, for a time, wildly popular. 

Portrait of woman with elaborate hairstyle wearing a dark dress with lace collar and holding a book
Julia Barton Hunting of Pine Plains, New York, sat on a Hitchcock chair while posing for this portrait by Ammi Phillips, about 1830. / THF95303

Invention was in the air in New England during the early 1800s. Burgeoning industries like firearms, clocks and textiles were experimenting with new machinery — to increase production and make up for labor shortages — and with new factory arrangements that integrated materials and activities under one roof. 

Furniture making had a long tradition of handcraftsmanship, and manufacturers varied in their adoption of machine production over generations-old hand processes. Handcrafted pieces were made to order, resulting in low production and fairly high costs. With water- or steam-powered machines to rough out the pieces, furniture makers could turn out more products at lower costs to sell to a wider market. Neither of these processes was right or wrong — the choice was essentially a business decision.

Lambert Hitchcock chose machine over hand production, inspired by the bustling firearms and clock industries in his home state of Connecticut. He had started out learning the craft of fine furniture making. But Hitchcock dreamed of manufacturing affordable furniture, using uniform parts that were quickly and cheaply made by machine and easy to assemble.

In 1818, Hitchcock chose a site in northwestern Connecticut where two fast-moving rivers came together. There, using the rivers’ power to operate his machinery, Hitchcock produced a line of chairs that was so affordable he basically created a brand-new market. Before long, Hitchcock’s chair factory — in the newly named village of Hitchcocks-ville — was turning out some 15,000 chairs per year.

The price, ranging from 45 cents to $1.75 (about $10.15 to $39.40 today), certainly appealed to people. Also appealing was the idea that machines could be harnessed to produce sturdy, functional chairs that everyone could enjoy. But Hitchcock did not ignore aesthetics. His characteristic stenciling across the back chair rails served as an attractive substitute to the hand carving on more expensive custom-made chairs. 

In 1825, Hitchcock went one step further. He erected a three-story factory, arranged into sections, in which specific tools and materials were associated with logical steps in the assembly process. The ground floor held areas for rough-cutting work, like sawing, turning and planing. On the second floor, the chair parts were bonded together with glue, then dried in a kiln until their joints were firm. On the third floor, the chairs were painted and decorated, using precut stencils and prearranged patterns. Each of these stencils, designed to create a different part of the overall composition, was positioned on the chair back, then carefully rubbed with bronze powders to achieve the special tone and shading.

detail, thf626707
Lambert Hitchcock’s innovative factory in Hitchcocks-ville (now Riverton), Connecticut, as depicted in a 1955 Hitchcock Chair Company trade catalog. / Detail, THF626707 

Professional male stencilers probably cut the stencils and lent their expertise, but women did much of the actual stenciling at Hitchcock’s factory. Many had learned this skill as young women at female academies that were popular in New England at the time. There they practiced the art of theorem painting — that is, creating stylized pictures of fruits and flowers that similarly used precut stencils, metallic powders and prearranged patterns. 

Painting of bowl of fruit with other produce surrounding it
An example of a theorem painting, created in 1835 by Caroline Bennett, a young woman who would have attended a female academy. / THF119757

Women also worked as seat rushers and caners, while children often did the painting and striping. At its peak of production in the late 1820s and early 1830s, Hitchcock employed over 100 workers. 

Lambert Hitchcock was innovative in his manufacturing techniques: integrated work processes, division of labor, and application of fast and inexpensive, yet still attractive, decorative techniques. Hitchcock was also an assertive salesman, opening retail stores in Hitchcocks-ville and Hartford (the state capital), selling chairs wholesale to dealers and store owners and distributing his chairs far and wide through the network of itinerant Yankee peddlers. 

Unfortunately, Lambert Hitchcock also made some costly mistakes. He located his factory in a very isolated area, with deplorable roads to Hartford and other markets. In 1844, Hitchcock moved his factory to a town called Unionville, banking on the construction of a new canal. But, alas, the canal construction was halted, and a new railroad bypassed the town. For his tremendous contributions, Hitchcock died at the age of 57 with few assets to his name. 

But Hitchcock’s name and his chairs lived on. The chairs were so popular during their heyday that many competitors tried to imitate both their aesthetics and production techniques. To this day, chairs of this general style are referred to as Hitchcock (or Hitchcock-type) chairs. Hitchcock chairs were also painstakingly reproduced by succeeding generations of artisans, a tribute to the genius and foresight of Lambert Hitchcock, a true American innovator. 

Generations of artisans continued producing Hitchcock chairs and a range of other furniture, as shown in this 1955 brochure.
Generations of artisans continued producing Hitchcock chairs and a range of other furniture, as shown in this 1955 brochure. / THF626710 

Donna R. Braden is senior curator and curator of public life at The Henry Ford. This post originally ran in March 2008 as part of our Pic of the Month series.

decorative arts, Connecticut, 1830s, 1820s, 1810s, 19th century, manufacturing, home life, Henry Ford Museum, furnishings, entrepreneurship, by Donna R. Braden