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Humans have traveled the edges of the iced-covered Arctic for thousands of years. Native peoples survived by harvesting the polar seas' bounty, and within the past several hundred years, explorers probed the ice-bound waters to locate quick trade routes to distant lands. (Explorers finally navigated a ship through the Northwest Passage in the early 1900s.) Around the turn of the 20th century, more adventurers — some for personal glory, others for scientific advancement — voyaged into the unexplored Arctic region to uncover its secrets and be the first to reach the North Pole. Trekking across the ice, however, was hazardous. From the late 1890s into the 1930s — before robust and reliable airplanes made it possible to fly long distances in relative safety and comfort — some explorers turned to balloons and airships to face the challenges posed by the polar icepack.


The Aerial Age, 1911
Walter Wellman's airship America, 1907 / THF701652


Walter Wellman (1858-1934) and the America


Walter Wellman, an American journalist, adventurer, and self-styled expert on an array of topics--mounted two unsuccessful expeditions in the 1890s to reach the North Pole by trekking over the ice. Neither attempt advanced far into the Arctic, and his second expedition nearly cost him his life. But his reports of the harrowing exploits — of men battling the cold, "ice-quakes," and polar bears — enthralled readers. The public eagerly followed Wellman's progress through newspaper and journal articles. Wellman used his celebrity to secure funding, mainly from his employers at The Chicago Record-Herald, for future adventures. And those backing his expeditions used Wellman's exploits to lure readers to their publications.

After a near-fatal attempt in 1898-99, Wellman decided the best way to reach the pole was by an airship. In 1905, Wellman, funded by his employers at The Chicago Record-Herald, secured a French-built balloon. The sausage-shaped airship, which he christened America, was 165 feet long and 53 1/2 feet in diameter. A metal-sheathed car, 52 1/2 feet long by 6 feet wide, hung below the hydrogen-filled bag. It would carry the crew and equipment, including two gasoline engines to drive the wooden propellers.

The following year, Wellman shipped the America to Spitsbergen, Norway — the westernmost bulk of land in the Svalbard archipelago bordering the Arctic Ocean — to make his first attempt to fly over the polar icecap. But delays and crippling mechanical failures plagued the enterprise. When Wellman arrived at his remote outpost in July 1906, he found the hangar, that he planned to have built to protect the airship while he prepared it for flight, unfinished. The expedition's experimental motor vehicles, designed by Wellman to pull sleds over the ice, proved useless. (Wellman planned to carry these vehicles onboard the airship and use them instead of dogs if the airship failed to stay aloft.) But most damaging: the airship's engines caused problems. The engines performed well by themselves when designers tested them in France. But when Wellman's team mounted the engines to the airship in Spitsbergen, the driving gear fell apart, the propellers could not stand the strain, and the car in which the crew would work and live as they flew over the icepack could not take the vibration. Wellman's first attempt never got off the ground, but he vowed to try again.


Ernest L. Jones Early Aviation Scrapbook
The hangar for the America under construction in Spitsbergen / THF285398 [detail] Continue Reading

When people started driving cars downtown, parking became a nightmarish problem.


Ford Model T Automobiles in Henderson, Texas
Ford Model T Automobiles in Henderson, Texas, 1920 / THF101634


By the 1920s, automobile parking on city streets was out of control. Parked cars effectively narrowed roadways, restricting the flow of traffic. Cities tried everything. They widened streets. They prohibited parking by fire hydrants and intersections. They marked out parking spaces, experimenting with optimal arrangements to improve traffic without discouraging customers from visiting downtown stores and other businesses.


Woman with a Coin-Operated Parking Meter
Woman with a Coin-Operated Parking Meter, circa 1935 / THF267387 
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Tinsmiths with Their Work Tools, circa 1875

Tinsmiths pose with hand tools, machines, sheets of tinplate and examples of tinware, circa 1875. / THF228486

In early America, most tin shops were small family businesses. As the popularity of tinware grew, so did its production. Connecticut became the earliest tin manufacturing center. From there, the craft spread south and westward as skilled tinsmiths and their trained assistants brought tools, patterns and know-how to establish shops in new places.

The tinsmith held an important position as an artisan in the 19th century. Successful tinsmiths were enterprising and ambitious. As entrepreneurs, their goal was to make items that customers wanted, through means that saved as much time and labor as possible. Tinsmiths produced a vast array of utilitarian wares to meet a range of consumer needs. In addition to new goods, they offered repair services. Customers might bring their local tinsmith an article of tin or another material, such as pottery or glass, with a broken part to be repaired with a tin replacement.

Tinsmiths repaired these glass items during the second half of the 19th century.

Tinsmiths repaired these glass items during the second half of the 19th century. The glass portions are original; the tin portions are later replacements. / THF174369, THF174614, THF174041

Whenever possible, tinsmiths used machines in addition to hand tools to help them produce more of the same goods in less time and at a lower cost. Individual artistry was important – an item or its decoration might have a unique variation, either created by the tinsmith or arising out of the traditional or popular aesthetics of that particular region (e.g., Pennsylvania German hearts, tulips and birds). However, if that item proved popular, a tinsmith would produce it by the dozen.

Chromolithograph, "Prang's Aids for Object Teaching, Trades & Occupations-Plate 11, Tinsmith," 1874

This 1874 image depicts tinsmiths at work. Tinware and other metal goods are displayed for sale in the store adjacent to their shop (upper right), where a salesperson assists a customer considering a cast-iron stove. / THF626434

Selling Tinware

Tinsmiths came up with ingenious ways to sell their wares. They might retail them in their shops or at the local general store. But to meet and stimulate demand outside the areas in which they worked, tinsmiths made use of traveling peddlers.

Some peddlers worked directly for or under contract to a tinsmith. But, especially in New England, the most successful peddlers were independent. They bought stock from tin shop owners and sold it in open markets or from portable carts or wagons. These peddlers not only sold standard tinware but also took custom orders and stocked a variety of items beyond tinware, like brooms, dry goods and sewing notions. They primarily accepted barter in trade for their stock. Items accepted in barter — like hides, tallow, spun yarns, rags, wood ashes and feathers — came with standard price equivalents, which the peddler would resell to dealers for a profit. The barter system lasted well into the 19th century because peddlers actually made more profit from reselling these items to dealers than from selling tinware and other goods to customers for cash.



Magazine page of people selling items

This 1868 illustration of a peddler selling his wares includes tinware as well as brooms, textiles and other items. / THF705605


Decline of the Tinsmith

By the 1870s, large tin manufactories turning out dozens of items had evolved into full-fledged tinware factories using steam-driven presses. It became no longer economical for most tinsmiths (except in the remotest of areas or because of longtime customer loyalty) to make or repair simple items, as factory-made goods were so much less expensive. Into the 20th century, some tinsmiths stayed in business by producing gutters, downspouts and furnace ducts. But even these were replaced later in the 20th century by galvanized steel and aluminum, which were more durable and easier to maintain. By the end of the 20th century, handmade tinware had come to be considered a heritage craft or folk art.

Donna R. Braden is senior curator and curator of public life at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted for the blog by Saige Jedele, associate curator, digital content.

decorative arts, Tin, by Donna R. Braden, 19th century

Tinsmiths with Their Work Tools, circa 1875

Tinsmiths pose with hand tools, machines, sheets of tinplate and examples of tinware, circa 1875. / THF228486

Until the first decade of the 19th century, tinsmiths in both Europe and America manufactured virtually all tinware by hand, using a wide range of specialized tools. But as tinware became more popular, American tinsmiths developed a unique set of equipment that included patented cast-iron geared machines.

American tinsmithing began in the 18th century, but the production of tinware really took off after the War of 1812, when American tinsmiths could finally obtain a constant supply of tinplate (or tin-coated iron, the material tinsmiths use to make their wares) from England and Wales. (These countries dominated the tinplate industry through most of the 19th century.) The influx of imported tinplate, as well as the immigration of skilled English and Welsh tinsmiths, contributed to the tremendous popularity of tinware in 19th-century America.



Lithograph, "Tinsmiths," circa 1840

This circa 1840 lithograph depicts the hand process of producing tinware, as well as several hand tools and examples of finished goods. / THF626375


Tinplate was a stiff but pliable material, shaped by cutting, bending, crimping (to create folds or pleats), hammering and soldering joints together. Tinsmiths needed training and skill to accomplish these tasks. Overheating could destroy the tin coating. Over-hammering could break the coating. Joints had to be carefully soldered with soldering irons heated over charcoal stoves or braziers. Tinsmiths generally developed their own wooden patterns to help reduce variation and error, but handwork still took much practice.

Increasing American demand for tinware led to the development and enthusiastic embrace of numerous patented hand-powered machines that saved time and labor, making it possible for tinsmiths to produce the same items in quantity in less time and at a lower cost. When they could afford them, American tinsmiths eagerly added these machines to their more traditional sets of hand tools.



Chromolithograph, "Prang's Aids for Object Teaching, Trades & Occupations-Plate 11, Tinsmith," 1874

This 1874 image depicts a tin shop that utilized traditional hand tools as well as at least one hand-cranked machine, visible just behind the tinsmith at center. / THF626434

A unique American characteristic of many crafts and trades in 19th-century America — tinsmithing being no exception — was the preference for speed and uniformity over European traditions of personal, individualized workmanship. Hand-cranked machines revolutionized American tinsmithing by replacing old hand methods — like crimping, bending and locking edges, cutting, forming, slitting, cutting circles, stamping and rolling — with quicker, more efficient steps to produce greater quantities of uniform pieces in less time. And as American tinsmiths embraced machines, their assistants required less training.



Shaw, Clark & Burton Trade Literature, "Burton's Double Seamer," September 1, 1859

The manufacturer of Burton’s Double Seamer, patented in 1859 and illustrated here sealing the bottom of a round pan, advertised it as “the only one of any value to the tinware manufacturer.” Early hand-cranked machines led to a plethora of patented machines developed by American blacksmiths, toolmakers and machinists throughout the 19th century. / THF626369

Circle Shear

This hand-cranked circle shear, patented in 1860, allowed tinsmiths to cut circles of tinplate up to 20 inches in diameter. / THF705411


Peck, Stow & Wilcox Co. Trade Catalog, "P.S. & W. Tinsmiths' Tools and Machines," circa 1895

Tinsmiths used hand-cranked forming machines, like this one depicted in a circa 1895 Peck, Stow & Wilcox Co. trade catalog, to create cylindrical shapes. / Detail, THF626395

By the 1850s, a range of patented geared machines could be found in an increasing number of tin manufactories, which employed up to 30 people and turned out dozens of uniformly made items. The longtime use of precut patterns or templates led, by the late 19th century, to the use of published pattern books, further helping to ensure uniformity. Small tin shops, which persisted into the early 20th century (particularly in rural and remote areas), could order parts – such as lids or bucket handles – from these establishments and pair them with or attach them to their own forms, to avoid purchasing the expensive specialized equipment needed to produce them. See our blog for more on the history of tinsmithing and tinware.

Donna R. Braden is senior curator and curator of public life at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted for the blog by Saige Jedele, associate curator, digital content.

by Donna R. Braden, decorative arts, 19th century, Tin

Lithograph depicting tinsmiths working in a workshop surrounded by tools of their trade

This circa 1840 lithograph depicts several examples of tinware as well as some of the tools and processes used to make it. / THF626375

During the 19th century, tinplate or tin (actually iron coated with tin) was the dominant material for utilitarian items, both in American homes and in public spaces like offices and stores. Tin was lightweight, inexpensive, easy to clean, nontoxic and durable. As long as its coating remained intact, it resisted corrosion and had a pleasing silvery appearance. Tin goods, known as tinware, could be decorated to further enhance their appearance through japanning (coating with a resin to produce a dark, glossy finish), painting or pierced designs. Middle-class Americans happily purchased articles made of tin in place of equivalent housewares made of earlier materials: heavy cast iron, old-fashioned wrought iron, hard-to-clean wood, dull pewter and breakable pottery.


Page of a trade catalog depicting tools for purchase

A range of japanned tinware sold by Herr & Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, circa 1926. / THF704030

The range of tinware made in local tin shops was almost endless. Most were highly utilitarian articles including kitchen utensils, bakeware, containers, lighting devices, stove piping, food safes and foot warmers. Customers also brought in broken items, whether made of tin or another material, to have them repaired. For example, they might have the tinsmith replace the broken handle of a piece of pottery with a newly fashioned tin one, as this was much less expensive than purchasing a new piece of pottery.


Photograph of a ceramic pitcher that has been reinforced by a tinsmith with a metal structure

A tinsmith replaced the broken handle of this pitcher, dated 1839-1846. / THF174611

Tinware’s dominance persisted until the late 19th century, when it began to be superseded by goods made of materials that were considered even more attractive. These included speckled graniteware (steel with a porcelain-enamel coating) and, for showier items like teapots and coffeepots, Britannia (a combination of tin and antimony with small amounts of zinc, brass and copper) and silver plate (silver-coated iron). By the early 20th century, more durable materials – aluminum and galvanized or stainless steel – were becoming the new standards for utilitarian items. But tin, ever resilient, persists in modern-day products as a coating in aluminum cans and in combination with lead as a solder to join metal pieces together.

Donna R. Braden is senior curator and curator of public life at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted for the blog by Saige Jedele, associate curator, digital content.

Tin, decorative arts, 19th century, by Donna R. Braden


Ceramic vase depicting the Carnegie library.

The Carnegie library depicted on this ceramic vase was built in Syracuse, New York, in 1905, with a $200,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie. Designed by Syracuse architect James Randall, it still boasts its original spacious marble vestibule and grand curved marble staircase. / THF192213

When I was growing up, I loved to visit the library. My local library, in a repurposed 1920s-era mansion in an eastside suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, was a magical place — complete with niches, mysterious cupboards and a grand staircase. I had no familiarity with Carnegie libraries until the 1980s when, as a young museum curator, I visited the Port Huron (MI) Museum of Arts and History to consult on a log cabin located on the museum’s grounds. When the director showed me around the main museum, he proudly told me that it had once been a Carnegie library. The interior space was delightfully laid out in a rotunda shape with staircases and balconies.


Street view of the Carnegie library in Lebanon, Ohio

The Carnegie library in Lebanon, Ohio — funded by a $10,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie and supplemented by locally raised funds — opened in 1908. A large addition was built in the 1980s. / Photograph by the author.

I later encountered Carnegie libraries in other towns — like Traverse City, Michigan (where the library was also repurposed as a museum) and Lebanon, Ohio (where it is still used as a library). The townspeople in these places similarly spoke with pride about the fact that these were Carnegie libraries.


Bookplate from Andrew Carnegie depicting a stack of books with a torch and the motto "Let there be light"

Andrew Carnegie’s own bookplate, circa 1915, bears the biblical phrase “Let There Be Light,” which symbolized to him the illuminating qualities of books and knowledge. Carnegie sometimes requested that a rising sun and the phrase “Let There Be Light” be engraved near the entrance of a library that he funded. / THF291248

Carnegie libraries were the vision of Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), a Scottish immigrant who was born poor but amassed an immense fortune from railroads, oil and steel. By the time he sold his Carnegie Steel Company for $250 million and retired, he was one of the wealthiest men in the world — perhaps the wealthiest.

As a youth working for a telegraph company in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (now part of Pittsburgh), Carnegie was introduced to a Colonel James Anderson, who generously opened his private library to young workers wishing to borrow and read books. This inspired Carnegie so much that he promised himself that if he ever became wealthy, he would provide similar opportunities to eager and deserving workers.


Postcard depicting the front street view of the public library in Denver, Colorado in 1910

In 1910, Denver, Colorado, opened its Central Library building, an elegant Greek temple design made possible by a grant from Andrew Carnegie. Between 1913 and 1920, Carnegie also underwrote the construction of the city’s first eight branch libraries, which came to a grand total of $230,000. This building was decommissioned in 1956 when a new Central Library opened. / THF628038

Indeed, when Carnegie retired a wealthy man, he devoted the rest of his life to philanthropy, giving away some $350 million — nearly 90% of his fortune — to a variety of charities. At the same time, he developed a philosophy about wealth and philanthropy, which he described in an 1889 essay entitled, “The Gospel of Wealth.” In this essay, he asserted that the wealthy should use their riches for “lasting good” to society. They should live without extravagance, provide moderately for their dependents and distribute the rest of their riches to benefit the welfare and happiness of the common man — meaning not just anyone, but those who helped themselves, those who were interested in improving their own lot in life.


Photo taken by Jenny Young Chandler of young people sitting at tables and reading in the library in Tompkins Park, New York in 1910

This free public library, which was designed by McKim, Mead & White and opened in 1904, was located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It was aimed at the varied immigrant populations — German, Italian, Jewish, Polish and Ukrainian — who inhabited that part of the city. / THF38047

This philosophy paralleled that of Progressive-era reformers of the time, who attempted to “remedy” the challenges inherent in the tremendous increase of immigrants arriving in America. These reformers believed that libraries were important to arming the new immigrants with knowledge to help them rise in society, become better voters by resisting the lure of dishonest politicians and avoid such unwholesome pursuits as drinking and gambling.


Photo taken by Jenny Young Chandler of a man sitting in an armchair next to a case of books in a library

Wealthy, educated citizens often amassed private libraries for their own use. In this photograph, William J. Carr, justice of the Supreme Court of Kings County, New York, poses in front of his massive book collection. / THF38611

Free public libraries began to spread during the early 20th century, coinciding with new town developments. Before that time, most book collections were either privately owned, accessible by paid subscription or haphazardly stored in such public buildings as churches, post offices or city halls. But, although townspeople were high on ideals and ambition, these public libraries usually lagged behind in development, as money was tight, book collections were lacking and establishing places for reading just seemed to be a lower priority than such essential city services as public transportation, sanitation and schools.


Postcard depicting the front street view of the public library in Canton, Ohio in 1909

When the citizens of Canton, Ohio, received Carnegie funding for a new library building, they enthusiastically held a design competition. Canton architect Guy Tilden won the competition and designed a stately new library, which opened in 1905. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. / THF289036

Enter Andrew Carnegie, armed with happy memories of times spent as a youth in Colonel Anderson’s library and committed to helping those who wanted to improve their own lives. The first of his funded libraries opened in 1889, in Braddock, Pennsylvania, home to a Carnegie steelworks. This was followed by a library in Carnegie’s own hometown of Allegheny.

Between 1886 and 1919, Andrew Carnegie donated more than $40 million to 1,679 new library buildings in communities of all sizes across America. Carnegie libraries were constructed in 46 states — with Indiana leading the way (165), followed by California (142), Ohio (111), New York (106), Illinois (106) and Iowa (101). Carnegie also funded libraries in other countries — the first being in his birthplace of Dunfermline, Scotland.


Postcard depicting the front street view of the public library in Detroit, Michigan in 1921

As Detroit grew by leaps and bounds in the early 20th century, the existing library building quickly outgrew its capacity. In 1910, the city accepted funds from Andrew Carnegie to build a new library to be situated along rapidly expanding Woodward Avenue. New York City architect Cass Gilbert (designer of the famed Woolworth Building) won the design competition for the new building, which opened in 1921. North and south wings were added in 1963. / THF119073

Towns had to apply to receive funding for a Carnegie library. In their applications, townspeople had to promise that their town owned the land on which the library would be built and that they would commit to the library’s ongoing maintenance and staffing. The architectural styles of the buildings typically followed popular building styles of the time and were often the result of local design competitions. In many small towns, the Carnegie library stood out as the most imposing structure, symbolizing that community’s dreams of prosperity and hopes for the future.


Photo taken by Jenny Young Chandler of young people sitting at tables and reading in the Newark library

Although a free public library had existed in Newark, New Jersey, since 1884, this building, which opened in 1901, featured the new innovation of open stacks. / THF38387

A unique feature inside these libraries was "open stack" shelving that encouraged browsing. (Before, a clerk or librarian would retrieve requested books from “closed stacks.”) The libraries also tended to be open in design so that a librarian stationed at a central desk could keep a watchful eye over the entire library. Unfortunately, over time, staffing and maintenance did become an issue in many towns, as city planners were thrilled to receive a grant to build their library but then found themselves strapped for funds to support and maintain it.


Postcard depicting the front street view of the public library in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1943

In 1905, Andrew Carnegie donated an initial $260,000 to build a central library and three branch libraries in Springfield, Massachusetts (with enthusiastic contributions from local citizens, he increased his donations twice). An Italian Renaissance Revival-style design was chosen for the building, which opened in 1912 and featured a bronze bust of Andrew Carnegie in the central rotunda. In 1974, the library was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. / THF628058

Some people questioned Andrew Carnegie’s motives in funding these libraries. In 1892, Carnegie refused to end violence caused by strikebreakers at his company's Homestead Steel Works, forever staining his reputation. People criticized him for being ruthless, for funding libraries as a personal monument, for funding institutions that focused on the poor, or for focusing myopically on libraries as a panacea to society’s ills. Black activists criticized him for reinforcing Jim Crow (segregationist) policies while white racists accused him of potentially forcing integration into towns that strictly adhered to Jim Crow laws.


Postcard photo of the front street view of a public library in Iowa City, Iowa in 1904

Iowa City, Iowa, was undergoing extensive growth at the turn of the century, and the Library Board of Trustees saw the wisdom of building a permanent home for its library. The board sent an inquiry to Andrew Carnegie during the summer of 1901 and was awarded a $25,000 grant (with an additional $10,000 the following year) for the library’s construction. The library opened in 1904. / THF628004

In the end, despite questions and criticism, large cities and small towns alike could not resist the lure of outside funding for a public library. To those who did get Carnegie funding to build a free public library, their libraries were, and have remained, sources of civic pride, epitomizing the sort of democratizing spirit that pervaded American communities in the early 20th century.

Donna R. Braden is senior curator and curator of public life at The Henry Ford.

19th century, by Donna R. Braden, 20th century

In 2021, The Henry Ford acquired the papers of noted computer-generated film and new media artist Lillian F. Schwartz as part of the larger Lillian F. Schwartz & Laurens R. Schwartz Collection.

The papers, perhaps the most complex set of materials ever brought into the holdings of the archives and library at The Henry Ford, contain multiple formats, including documents, graphics, audio, still and moving images, and books in both physical and digital forms.

In addition to the archival and library materials, the larger collection includes many three-dimensional items, such as sculpture, clothing, and large framed artworks, with our collections management and registrar staff being responsible for the care of those items.

The collection’s journey to the archives and library began by receiving the shipment into a large project area in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, and then unwrapping and unloading pallets.

Pallet filled with boxes, all wrapped with clear plastic, sitting in storage area among other boxes and pallets
Photo by Brian Wilson

Pallet containing many wide, shallow boxes, all wrapped in clear plastic wrap, sitting in a storage area among other similarly packaged material
Photo by Brian Wilson

Boxes were sorted so that we could check them against existing inventory lists and create additional inventories if needed. Any unlabeled boxes were given temporary paper labels so that they could be tracked.

As the inventories were reviewed, determinations were made about where materials would be stored in the Benson Ford Research Center (BFRC). Storage locations were specified based on the format of the material with, for example, film being placed in cold storage, and books being transferred to library storage.

Once we understood how much we had and where we wanted to put it, we began making shelf space in the BFRC. Many existing collections had to be relocated to create room, with location data for each of those collections requiring updates in our collections management system. In several cases, moving a collection required moving one, two, or three other collections to make efficient use of available shelving. In the end, we made 95 shelves and 16 flat file drawers available for the Schwartz papers. With each shelf being 40 inches wide, this added up to over a football field in length of shelving!

Shelves containing a variety of labeled archival boxes
Photo by Brian Wilson

Long set of empty shelves
Photo by Brian Wilson

The newly cleared shelves and drawers were slowly filled with boxes and folders over several weeks as the materials were moved from the museum to the BFRC.

Shelves stretching into the distance filled with a variety of archival boxes
Photo by Brian Wilson

Large flat filing cabinet opened in a waterfall fashion to show flat folders and papers inside
Photo by Brian Wilson

In addition to storing the physical materials, we’ve also been reviewing the electronic data included in the papers. Located on multiple “carriers,” including computers, external hard drives, and backup disks, the data includes thousands of text, image, and video files. We’re noting the type, storage size, manufacturer, and part and serial number for each carrier and have created disk images of the most recently used hard drive to improve access to and preserve that data.

Our next steps in this journey will be to expand and refine the original inventories by reviewing the entire collection in the BFRC box-by-box, folder-by-folder, and hard-drive-by-hard-drive with the goal of creating a single master inventory. This inventory will become the starting point for access to the papers for our staff and researchers.

Be sure to visit our Digital Collections to see items from the entire collection that have already been digitized, and contact the archives and library at research.center@thehenryford.org if you’d like more information on this collection—or any of the hundreds of others in our holdings.


Brian Wilson is Senior Manager of Library and Archives at The Henry Ford.

2020s, 21st century, women's history, technology, Michigan, drawings, Dearborn, computers, collections care, by Brian Wilson, art, archives, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

Leo Goossen

November 21, 2022 Archive Insight

Blueprint of technical drawing of engine

Supercharger Assembly Drawing of Offenhauser Engine by Leo Goossen, April 21, 1934 / THF175170

Leo Goossen was an automotive draftsman, engineer, and one of the most influential engine designers in American auto racing. In a presentation from our monthly History Outside the Box series on Instagram earlier this year, Processing Archivist Janice Unger recognized Goossen’s 130th birthday with a quick biography and look at some of Goossen’s work from our collections. If you missed it on Insta, you can watch below.

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California, 20th century, racing, race cars, Michigan, History Outside the Box, engines, engineering, drawings, cars, by Janice Unger, by Ellice Engdahl, archives

Museum display with large flat case containing paper and small items, a few large artifacts behind it, and extensive labels on either side
Designs for Aging: New Takes on Old Forms, a temporary pop-up exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from August through October 2022 / THF191476


A chair, a cane, a vegetable peeler.

These are not new forms. Versions of these objects have existed for hundreds of years and have even worked well enough for many people. 

But did these objects work well for all people?

This is the question that Universal Design asks. As the industrial design discipline has evolved, designers’ awareness of needs beyond those of “the average person”—such as children, those with disabilities, and older adults—has grown. The practice of Universal Design advocates for the inclusion of a range of bodies and abilities in the design of objects.

Each of the objects below represent the story of a designer working to transform an ordinary object into one that performs better for a group whose needs are often overlooked: older adults.

The results are products that work better for all of us.

Disability Rights & the “Graying of America”


The American disability rights movement gained traction and national attention by the mid-1970s. Activists advocated for equitable care for all people and framed accessibility as a civil rights issue—modeling their language after the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

At the same time, concerns were raised about the future impacts of the baby boom and decreasing fertility rates: soon, the media reported, elderly people would outnumber children.

The disability rights movement and the “graying of America” converged and designers began to explore what part design could play in creating equitable and accessible environments for older adults.

Black-and-white page with text and 8 images of bent-over person using a cane
Notal Program, 1979, page 6 / THF702602

Herman Miller’s Projects for Aging


In the 1970s, Michigan-based furniture company Herman Miller embarked upon exploratory design projects for the elderly.

The Notal project was their first foray into design specifically for older adults, researching how their day-to-day lives were affected by ill-suited environments.

The MetaForm project was established in the mid-1980s. The project’s leaders hoped to reimagine whole environments to best suit the challenges that accompany aging—enabling people to “age in place,” at home instead of an institution. A variety of high-profile consultants and designers were hired to explore solutions for five specific areas—sleeping, long-term sitting, food preparation, material handling, and personal hygiene.

Photo with three superimposed images of a woman with gray hair wearing blue scrubs leaning back in a burnt-orange reclining chair
Woman in Motion Study with Prototype Sarah Chair, 1987-1991 / THF702658

The Sarah Chair


Herman Miller designers Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf were tasked with creating a chair that would accommodate long-term sitting for the MetaForm project.

Stumpf had deep knowledge of ergonomics; Chadwick was especially adept at solving problems of form. Their “Sarah Chair” incorporated ideas to serve aging bodies, including an advanced tilt mechanism to aid users in getting into and out of the chair without losing balance.

Despite years of research, user testing, and prototyping, Herman Miller canceled MetaForm in 1991, primarily due to the challenges of marketing high-end furniture to older adults.

Stumpf and Chadwick applied the lessons learned from the Sarah Chair toward another group of people who sat for long periods: office workers. The Aeron Chair was introduced in 1994 to immediate and lasting acclaim.

Wooden chair with visible reclining mechanisms on side with steel blue/gray upholstery on seat and seat back
Prototype Sarah Lounge & Rocker Combination Chair, 1987-1991 / THF191319

OXO Good Grips


In the 1980s, Sam and Betsey Farber had retired from a long career in the cookware industry and were enjoying travel. While on vacation, Betsey was trying to peel an apple but was having difficulty due to the arthritis in her hands. The traditional vegetable peeler she was using was difficult to grip, especially when applying force. Sam and Betsey realized there was an opportunity to improve this object and called a friend, Davin Stowell of design consultancy Smart Design, and asked him to prototype an easier-to-user peeler.

The OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler was introduced in 1990. Despite its cost (nearly triple the traditional peeler), it sold well. This relatively simple improvement to a classic tool increased usability for a wide range of people. The OXO Good Grips line of tools now numbers in the hundreds.

Vegetable peeler with broad black handle in black and white plastic blisterpack with text and image of potato peelings
OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler, 2022 / THF191162

Patricia Moore: Designer and Gerontologist


As a young industrial designer working for the firm of design legend Raymond Loewy, Patricia Moore often challenged her superiors to design more accessibly, for a wider variety of body types and abilities. Looking to better understand the challenges of an elderly person, Moore employed a professional makeup artist and transformed herself into an 80-year-old woman using a latex mask and custom prosthetics. She even put baby oil in her eyes to blur her vision, stuffed wax in her ears to muffle sound, and bound her body to restrict movement. She then went out into the world—observing, interacting, and connecting with people as an elderly woman—with the ultimate goal of using these experiences to help design better products for aging adults.

Moore disguised herself for over three years, conducting research and becoming a sought-after expert in design for aging populations. She has spent decades consulting on projects, including Herman Miller’s MetaForm and OXO Good Grips.

Book cover with text, portrait of smiling woman, and inset image of same woman in white wig, glasses, and makeup to simulate aging
Disguised!, 1985 / THF703274

Michael Graves’s Canes


Architect and industrial designer Michael Graves developed an interest in Universal Design and the healthcare industry after an infection left him paralyzed from the waist down in 2003. In the years after his own ability shift, Graves redesigned the utilitarian objects that become indispensable with age and disability—objects that didn't hold the attention of most mainstream industrial designers. He focused on the cane as an object particularly ripe for revision, prototyping numerous ergonomic handles and experimenting with the grip.

Board with different styles and shapes of cane handles mounted on it--mostly gold but also silver and gray colored
Cane Handle Models on Display Board, 2014-2015 / THF191163

The canes that Graves designed, as well as those created by his design firm after his death in 2015, are adaptable to bodies as well as lifestyles. They are lightweight, available in numerous colors, adjustable to accommodate differing heights, and foldable for storage. 

Box with black plastic item in foamcore inside and text inside top flap; instruction pamphlet sitting in front of box
Quick Fold Cane, 2021 / THF191154

Michael Graves Design & Stryker


Michael Graves Design teamed up with Stryker, a medical technologies company, to reimagine the hospital patient’s experience. Spurred by one of his many extended hospital stays, Michael Graves remarked, “It was far too ugly for me to die in there!”

Wheelchair with white plastic frame and blue plastic seat and seat back
Stryker Prime TC Transport Chair, 2013 / THF188699

Graves redesigned the wheelchair—a chair that had seen little change since the 1930s—as well patient room furniture. User comfort was the ultimate focus. The objects Graves designed feature adjustable components, easy maneuverability, and intuitive operation, as well as quality finishes and his signature injection of color.


Katherine White is Associate Curator at The Henry Ford. A temporary exhibit, Designs for Aging: New Takes on Old Forms, curated by Katherine, was on view in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from August–October 2022. The content of the exhibition is replicated in this post.

21st century, 20th century, home life, Herman Miller, healthcare, furnishings, design, by Katherine White

Sepia-toned photo of a large group of men and women in 19th-century clothing standing in front of a two-story wooden house with large porch and columns

Members of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Visiting Mount Vernon, September 21, 1892 / THF254036

The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) was a fraternal society founded in 1866 for Civil War veterans from the Union Army. Earlier this year, Collections Specialist Laura Myles shared some artifacts from our collections related to the G.A.R., and also explained their relationship with Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day), as part of our History Outside the Box series on The Henry Ford’s Instagram channel. On the first Friday of every month, our collections experts share stories from our collection on Instagram—but if you missed this particular episode, you can watch it below.

 

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20th century, 19th century, veterans, holidays, History Outside the Box, Grand Army of the Republic, Civil War, by Laura Myles, by Ellice Engdahl