Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

In June 1878, Eadweard Muybridge was hard at work. At the Palo Alto Stock Farm in Stanford, California, the photographer positioned 12 cameras along the side of a racetrack. A wire trailed away from each camera, connected to an electromagnetic circuit. Muybridge was meticulous; he wanted the experiment to work. Leland Stanford, once governor of California, commissioned Muybridge to answer a pressing question: When a horse ran, did all four hooves ever leave the ground?

It was a contentious topic among horse-racing enthusiasts, and Muybridge believed he could settle the matter using one of Stanford’s horses. Losing the horse onto the racetrack, as the animal careened around, it tripped the camera wires. Twelve tiny negatives were the result, capturing the full motion sequence. When Muybridge developed the images, they confirmed that when the horse gathered its legs beneath it, all four hooves left the ground.

Photographs from Muybridge’s series The Horse in Motion

Photographs from Muybridge’s series "The Horse in Motion." / Via Wikimedia Commons

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Three brands developed by Corning Glass Works during the 20th century — Pyrex, Corning Ware and Corelle — became household names that revolutionized American kitchens and endured decades of changing consumer tastes and expectations.

Pyrex Perfect Antenna Insulator, 1930-1939
Corning Glass Works found both industrial and household applications for Pyrex. The company produced Pyrex insulators and laboratory glassware alongside its increasingly popular ovenware in the 1930s. Pyrex Perfect Antenna Insulator, 1930-1939. / THF174626 

In 1908, scientists at Corning developed glass that could withstand extreme temperatures. It was initially used for industrial products like railroad lanterns and battery jars. Hoping to broaden the market, Corning spent years testing possible household applications. Encouraged partly by the success of one notable experiment — when Bessie Littleton, whose husband was a Corning researcher, used a modified glass battery jar to bake a cake — Corning introduced Pyrex, a line of temperature-resistant glass cookware. The launch of Pyrex in 1915 inaugurated a new Corning division dedicated to consumer products.

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glass, by Jeanine Head Miller, by Charles Sable, 20th century

To celebrate the completion of the first six months of work on our 2022-2024 IMLS Museums for America – Collections Stewardship Program, the Conservation staff are highlighting some standout objects we have cleaned and repaired. This grant began late last year as part of a two-year project to conserve, rehouse, relocate and create fully digital catalog records for 1,800 objects related to agriculture and the environment that have resided in the Collections Storage Building. Many of these objects will be used to support our Edible Education and Green Museum initiatives.

View of the Staff working in the Conservation Lab
Stop by the back of the museum, near the steam engines, to get a peek through the windows of the Conservation lab and see what staff are currently conserving.

Dolphin Mold during the cleaning process
One of the first objects chosen for the grant was this entertaining dolphin-patterned culinary mold that received a thorough cleaning. The image above was taken during cleaning.

Dolphin Mold after cleaning process is complete
The inscription reads: “OF ALL Y FISHES IN Y SEA / I AM DOLPHIN EAT OF ME” / THF192318

Glass washboard before cleaning
This glass washboard was cracked in nine places and previously mended, but the glue was discolored from aging. The tin soap tray mounted in the wooden frame was  corroded.

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IMLS grant, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

Charley Harper’s unique approach to wildlife art — a style he called “minimal realism” — delighted popular audiences and earned the admiration of the scientific community. Best known for his simplified, geometric depictions of natural subjects (especially birds), his later work conveyed powerful messages about the environment. Harper credited early commissions from Ford Motor Company with encouraging both his focus on wildlife subjects and his signature style.

"Ford Times", July 1952
This updated take on a Grand Canyon landscape painted during Charley Harper’s honeymoon was the first in his “Horseless Carriage Adventures” series, which commemorated Ford Motor Company’s 50th anniversary in 1953. / THF706499


Charley Harper (1922-2007) began his career as a commercial artist in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the late 1940s. He’d just returned from a cross-country honeymoon funded by a traveling art scholarship. A portfolio Harper had assembled during the trip caught the attention of the Ford Times, a promotional magazine published by Ford Motor Company. Ford Times featured a mix of travelogues and general interest stories, with Ford advertising sprinkled throughout. Several pages near the back of each issue spotlighted noteworthy American restaurants. Charley Harper’s first Ford Times illustration appeared here, in the December 1948 issue.

detail "Ford Times," December 1948
Charley Harper’s first Ford commission was printed in the “Favorite Recipes of Famous Taverns” section of the December 1948 issue of Ford Times. / Detail, THF706474

Harper’s painting of the Gourmet Room, a restaurant atop the new Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati, was the first of many restaurant illustrations by Harper that appeared in Ford Times and its sister publication, Lincoln-Mercury Times. Some were later reprinted in a series of recipe books (of which Harper also illustrated two covers).

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Roald Amundsen
Roald Amundsen, 1906. / Detail, THF621173

The list of Norwegian Roald Amundsen's polar accomplishments is impressive. From 1903 to 1906, Amundsen and a crew of six navigated the first ship through the famed Northwest Passage. In 1911, he became the first person to set foot at the South Pole. Following this history-making dash, Amundsen returned to the Arctic. In 1918, he set off to drive a ship into the polar ice cap and drift over the Arctic Ocean and perhaps the North Pole. The expedition ended in 1921 — unsuccessful. Though he failed, Amundsen and his crew joined the few people at the time to have traversed the Northeast Passage — the route along the Arctic coasts of Europe and Asia.

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 Massey-Harris Model 20 Self-Propelled Combine
1938 Massey-Harris Model 20 Self-Propelled Combine in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. / THF110572 

Combines loom large on the floor of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, but they loom even larger on the physical and historical landscape of America’s agricultural heartland. Standing high on the horizon, combines both symbolize and represent the reality of the mechanization of modern agriculture. The 1938 Massey-Harris Model 20 self-propelled combine, a designated landmark of American agricultural engineering, was the first commercially successful self-propelled combine to make its way through an American harvest. 

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1930s, 20th century, Henry Ford Museum, food, farms and farming, farming equipment, by Jim McCabe, agriculture

New Holland TR70 Axial Flow Combine
New Holland TR70 Axial Flow Combine, 1975. / THF57471 

The combine — a piece of agricultural machinery — gets its name because it combines the three major tasks of harvesting grain:

  • Harvesting: cutting and gathering the crop in the field.
  • Threshing: removing the kernels or seeds of the crop from the rest of the plant.
  • Separating: separating the kernels from other plant material such as stalks, chaff or straw.

Combines save large amounts of time and labor because they combine many activities into a single task. Self-propelled combines culminated 150 years of monumental changes in farming technology.

A Combined Harvester in a California Grain Field
Efforts to perfect combine technology date to the early 1800s, but horse-drawn — and later tractor-drawn — machines were large and unwieldy. This combined harvester operated in California grain fields around 1900. / THF702847 

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Roast chicken. Mashed potatoes. A simple chocolate cake. Some foods have a sense of timelessness about them — they are reliable standbys that seem or stand the test of time with little to no alteration. Other foods, however, drift in and out of the public consciousness — and our refrigerators and stomachs. These foods are fads — practices followed for a time with exaggerated zeal, per the Merriam-Webster dictionary — and they reflect the values and preoccupations of the times in which they were popular.

As the 19th turned into the 20th century, domestic science and home economics arose as formally taught disciplines. Many domestic scientists espoused a view of women and women’s work that emphasized “feminine virtues” like beauty and daintiness. This changed the way women were expected to cook, as more emphasis was placed on presentation and nutritional value, rather than on creating culinary experiences that delighted the senses and filled the stomach.

This emphasis is readily apparent in the popularity of aspics — gelatinized dishes — in the first decades of the 20th century. Recipe booklets — most often produced by gelatin companies like Knox Gelatine and Jell-O — gave home cooks a myriad of ways to incorporate gelatin into their meals, in ways both savory and sweet. These dishes were often served on beds of iceberg lettuce, or in hollowed-out halves of fruit, providing a compact way of serving all of a meal's component parts in one tidy package.