Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation


Launching today from The Henry Ford, Innovate Curriculum helps students connect core subjects like STEAM, social studies and English to real-world applications through an interdisciplinary, hands-on online curriculum that accelerates 21st century skills development.

Innovate Curriculum leverages primary sources of The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation, an unparalleled collection of 26 million artifacts that sheds light on the way people have innovated across 300 years of history.

Learn more and register for a chance to win a free year of Innovate for your classroom here.

Innovate

Assistive technology refers to a wide range of products designed to help people work around a variety of challenges as they learn, work, and perform other daily living activities. Certain assistive devices allow people who are deaf or hard of hearing to access technologies that many take for granted, like telephones, televisions, and even alarm clocks. For a young woman in the 1970s and 80s, these products -- now in the collections of The Henry Ford -- also provided greater independence, broader access to popular culture, and improved communication with family and friends.

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Hal-Hen Products Vibrating Alarm Clock, circa 1975 (THF158135)

In September 1975, just before leaving home to begin college, a young woman named Shari acquired this inventive alarm clock. It included a bedside clock connected to a vibrating motor, which attached to the underside of the bed and shook intensely when the alarm was triggered. The eager freshman looked forward to waking independently, “rather than trying to rely on others who would have a different class schedule” -- so it’s easy to imagine her dismay when she arrived at her dormitory to find bunk beds! The alarm “would shake and rattle the whole bunk,” creating “quite a rude awakening” for her bunkmate. After a few nights, the students figured out how to separate their bunk beds into twin beds. Even though the new arrangement made the small dorm room even tighter, Shari (and, undoubtedly, her roommate) finally considered the alarm clock to have been “a definite advantage.”

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Brochure, "Real-Time Closed Captioning Brings Early-Evening News to the Hearing Impaired, circa 1981 (THF275615)

In December 1981, with money saved from her first job after college, Shari purchased a television caption adapter. At this time, a few programs, like the national news, were broadcast with closed captions for viewers who were deaf or hard of hearing. This text was visible only when activated, at first through separate decoding units.

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Television Caption Adapter, 1980-1981 (THF173767)

Shari remembered -- especially as more shows began to include closed captions in the 1980s -- that this decoder “opened up a whole new world of entertainment.” She associated closed captioning with independence -- as she didn’t “have to pester other family members to ‘tell me what they're saying’” -- and participation, recalling, “No longer did I resign myself to reading a book in an easy chair in the same room while the rest of the family watched exciting shows on TV!” The Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 required televisions to have built-in caption display technology, decreasing the need for separate caption adapters and giving people access to on-screen captions almost anywhere they watched TV.

System 100 Text Telephone Unit, circa 1980 (THF173771)

In 1981, the same year she purchased her first TV caption adapter, Shari also acquired a teletypewriter, or text telephone, abbreviated TTY. This device connected to a standard telephone line, allowing communication via a keyboard and electronic text display. The technology was freeing -- Shari remembered that “it was wonderful to finally be able to independently make a few of my own phone calls” -- but also limited. At first, she could only communicate with someone else who had access to a TTY device. After she became a mother, Shari recalled loaning a TTY unit to a neighbor who also had small children, making it easier to “set up ‘play dates’ and just do the typical conversing young moms do.” In the late 1980s, some states implemented services to relay dialogue between TTY and non-TTY users. Eventually, spurred by state and federal legislation, relay systems improved nationwide, and TTY technology became more accessible and affordable.

In their time, these lifechanging devices represented the cutting edge of assistive technology. Ongoing research, technological adthf173770vances, and new design approaches in the decades that followed led to improved products and more choices for consumers. Today, many users have adopted digital technologies. Email, text or instant message, and real-time video services enable communication, and digital devices, often connected to smartphones, offer solutions that address a range of user needs.


Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. Learn more about assistive technology on an upcoming episode of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

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At The Henry Ford, we believe inside every person is the potential to change the world.

For 90 years, The Henry Ford has been a force for sparking curiosity and inspiring tomorrow’s innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs thanks to the generosity of our visitors, members, staff, volunteers and more. Their support helps us build on Henry Ford’s original mission to make this institution a hands-on learning resource for the visionary in all of us.

As we move closer to celebrating our 90th anniversary this October, here are nine ways you can go above and beyond to support The Henry Ford and our mission.

Visit
It may sound simple, but bringing your friends and family to The Henry Ford any day of the year is a great way to support our organization! When you’re here, make sure to post pictures and videos from your visit and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter and social accounts.

Shop at The Henry Ford
Consider supporting The Henry Ford by making a purchase at one of our retail locations. Gift cards can be used in any of our stores, as well as towards the purchase of a membership, handcrafted Liberty Craftworks piece or hands-on learning kit for all ages.

Become a member
Our members help make so much of what we do at The Henry Ford possible! If you’re already a member, you can always give the gift of membership, encourage your employer to become a corporate member or join the Donor Society.

Host an event
During many days of the week, when our doors close at 5 pm, we’re simultaneously opening our doors to evening event guests. Weddings, company picnics and holiday parties are all great ways to support our mission at The Henry Ford.

Volunteer your time
We love our volunteers! There are many ways to serve as a volunteer here at The Henry Ford. We are always looking for greeters, counselors with our summer camps and extra assistance at special programs throughout the year.

Donate to our Annual Fund
Donations to The Henry Ford Annual Fund go towards projects both big and small across our campus. You can make a monthly gift, apply for an employer-matched gift or leave a legacy through a planned gift.

Support local schools and students
Every year thousands of students visit The Henry Ford and are inspired by our collection. Help even more students learn from these stories of American Innovation by providing a school field trip scholarship, sending a child to summer camp or supporting a student in our Youth Mentorship Program.

Honor a loved one with a memorial gift
Memorial benches in Greenfield Village, named theater seats at the Giant Screen Experience and book plates in the Benson Ford Research Center are all wonderful ways to honor a family member, friend or special occasion.

Donate to The Innovation Project
The Innovation Project is a $150 million comprehensive campaign to build digital and experiential learning tools, programs and initiatives to advance innovation, invention and entrepreneurship. Gifts made to The Innovation Project will help us achieve greater accessibility, inclusivity and exposure to unlock the potential of the next generation.

Amanda Floyd is the Annual Fund Specialist at The Henry Ford.

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1950 Plymouth Deluxe Suburban Station Wagon. THF90908

The earliest station wagons hauled travelers and luggage between train stations and hotels. Wagons remained low-production specialty vehicles until the 1950s, when parents embraced them as ideal vehicles for transporting growing families. Packed with children, groceries, camping gear, or luggage, station wagons became the very symbol of the family car.

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Durant Motor Company, "The New Star Car," 1924. THF105552

Star, made by Durant Motor Company, became the first manufacturer-produced station wagon in 1923. Early wagons, also known as depot hacks, were utility vehicles, and not very family-friendly.

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"The New All-Metal Plymouth Suburban, the Car with 101 Uses," Chrysler Corporation Plymouth Division, 1949. THF105554


By 1949, when the Plymouth Suburban was introduced, families were growing and suburbs expanding. The utility of the modern Suburban appealed to parents, and the first all-steel body was a major upgrade from older wood-body wagons.

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1957 Ford Station Wagon Ad, "Nine's Fine!" THF105560


By 1957, all wagons had steel bodies. But designers applied wood—or fake wood—to “woody” wagons for many years.

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1961 Chevrolet Catalog, "There's a Chevy Wagon for Every Purpose, Every Family!" THF105556

Even compact cars like the Chevy Corvair had wagon versions. This 1961 Chevy sales brochure touted its rear-engine Corvair Lakewood, with storage in front and back.

 

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How does an 18th century teapot with a repaired spout relate to a hacked Speak n’ Spell?

Spontaneous design can be as trivial as using duct tape to fix a broken car bumper—or as critical as building a temporary survival shelter.

A new pop-up exhibit, Break, Repair, Repeat: Spontaneous & Improvised Design is the result of a collaboration between Curator of Decorative Arts Charles Sable and Curator of Communication & Information Technology Kristen Gallerneaux. The pair looked deeply into The Henry Ford’s collections, finding objects that had been broken, repaired, or created through improvisation—and acquired a few new artifacts along the way.

Some objects in this exhibit have been altered many times, have led multiple lives, and served various purposes. They have been intentionally modified to serve very specific practical needs, or to share an artistic vision.

From the traditional “make-dos” that originally inspired this exhibit to custom clothing—from pirate radios to handmade instruments—this exhibit exposes interesting collisions and connections, cutting across many of The Henry Ford’s collections areas.

Ultimately, this is an exhibit about unscripted innovation and the messiness of creative problem-solving. And the objects in it? They are intriguing because they are just the “right amount of wrong.”

See the artifacts included in this pop-up exhibit in this expert set. Break. Repair. Repeat. will be on exhibit in the cases outside The Gallery by General Motors in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation until September 15, 2019.

Kitschy coin collectors convey Americans’ changing views of man’s ability to go where none had gone before.

There was a time when outer space belonged to the realm of fantasy and science fiction. Through movies, radio, television, comic strips and comic books, kids cheered as fantasy space heroes like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Tom Corbett-Space Cadet safeguarded Earth’s inhabitants from evil forces. Futuristic space toys proliferated, from atomic ray guns and wind-up robots to toy spaceships. Then something happened. The United States and the Soviet Union began to explore outer space for real. When the Russians launched Sputnik I in October 1957, the “space race” took off, leading to a new era of more realistic space toys. 

The Henry Ford’s collection of space-themed banks, dating from 1949 to 1964, captures the span of these two perceptions of outer space — as just a fantasy world to being a real place into which humans ventured. These mechanical banks, produced by Detroit-based companies Duro Mold & Manufacturing and Astro Manufacturing, were offered at individual bank branches as incentives for kids to start bank accounts. Having the branch bank’s name affixed to the front of one of these futuristic coin collectors was a sure sign that the financial institution was modern, progressive and in step with the times.

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Atomic bank (c. 1949): co-opting a popular word of the Cold War era.

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Rocket bank (c. 1951): resembling comic-book-style rockets.

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Strato bank (c. 1953): the coin was shot through the “stratosphere” to the moon.

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Guided missile bank (c. 1957): the first type made by Astro.

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Plan-It bank (c. 1959): a play on words, depicting the sun surrounded by nine orbiting planets.

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Satellite bank (c. 1961): this time - resembling a real rocket.

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Unisphere bank (c. 1964): topped by the iconic centerpiece from the New York World’s Fair.

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Destination moon bank (c. 1962): featuring the moon atop a realistic-looking rocket.

See more mechanical banks in our digital collections. 

Donna Braden is Senior Curator & Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. 

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing

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The Space Race began in the 1950s, when both the United States and the Soviet Union attempted to launch ballistic missiles into outer space.  Americans were surprised when the Russians beat them to it, launching the Sputnik I satellite in October 1957.  But, when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited earth on April 12, 1961, Americans were downright shocked and not a little concerned.  As a response, President Kennedy pledged to support a more aggressive space program than President Eisenhower had initiated before him.

On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy laid out a bold vision—that America should commit itself to landing a man on the moon “before the decade is out.”  When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin A. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. finally did set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, many people considered it America’s finest hour.

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Learn more about these artifacts below and then see them for yourself in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation during our pop-up exhibit now on display this summer.

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This pictorial souvenir card depicts President Kennedy awarding NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal to America’s first astronaut, Navy Commander Alan B. Shepard, Jr., on May 8, 1961, three days after his successful flight.
Souvenir Card, 1961.  THF230121

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Trading cards like these generated excitement among America’s youth about the achievements of the space program.
Topps Astronaut Trading Cards, 1963. THF230119

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This “Destination Moon” mechanical bank commemorates astronaut John Glenn’s achievement of orbiting the earth in 1962.
Mechanical Bank, 1962. THF173785. (Gift of Raymond Reines, Dedicated to the Berzac Family)

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Congress had to approve a massive budget increase for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to make Kennedy’s bold vision even a remote possibility.
Recruiting Advertisement for NASA, July 1962. THF230079

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NASA’s Apollo 11 lunar mission captivated audiences watching the drama unfolding on television. Some even documented the events with their personal cameras.
Photographic Print, July 20, 1969. THF114240

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Print made from slide, July 20, 1969. THF114242


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Four months before real men landed on the moon, Snoopy appeared in a Peanuts comic strip as the “World Famous Astronaut” walking on the moon.  This Peanuts Pocket Doll commemorates the 1969 moon landing.
Snoopy Toy, 1969. THF52. (Gift of CarolAnn Missant)

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This coloring book included the Mercury, Apollo, and Saturn vehicles and astronauts, as well as some history of the space program.
Coloring Book, 1969. THF292641

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Those who viewed the moon landing on TV on July 20, 1969, often have difficulty separating the historic occasion from the steadfast reporting of it by Cronkite—considered at the time “the most trusted man in America.”
Record Album, Narrated by Walter Cronkite, 1969. THF110908

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The cover story for this issue contained an in-depth report of the historic moon-landing mission.
Time Magazine for July 25, 1969. THF230050. (Gift of the Estate of Dr. and Mrs. Martin A. Glynn)

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This commemorative game, simulating the successful moon landing, had players collecting “moon rocks.”
Board Game, 1969-1975. THF91918

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This phonograph record comprises a “recorded history of space exploration and the triumph of the lunar landing.”
Record Album, 1969. THF154908. (Gift of the Estate of Dr. and Mrs. Martin A. Glynn)

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At the height of the Apollo space program, Marathon Gas Stations offered a series of promotional glasses featuring the Apollo 11, 12, 13, and 14 missions.
Tumblers commemorating Apollo 11 mission, circa 1969. THF175132 (Gift of Jan Hiatt)

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The Apollo 11 astronauts took pieces of the 1903 Wright Flyer—the first practical heavier-than-air flying machine—on their 1969 mission to symbolize the incredible progress made in those 66 years. Here, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong poses in front of the Wright brothers' home in Greenfield Village during a 1979 visit to The Henry Ford.
Photograph of Neil Armstrong in Greenfield Village, August 16, 1979. THF128246

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The iconic image on this poster depicts Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon’s surface, a photo taken by Neil Armstrong.
Poster, 1969. THF56899

Read more
John Glenn, Space Hero
John F. Kennedy's Enduring Legacy


Donna Braden is Senior Curator & Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

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Lee Iacocca (right) lights a candle with Henry Ford II (center) and Don Frey to celebrate the Ford Mustang’s first birthday in April 1965. (THF113838)

A Born Salesman
Lee Iacocca, the charismatic corporate executive whose long careers at Ford and Chrysler made him one of the best-known businessmen in America, passed away on July 2 at age 94. With his passing, the automotive industry lost one of its most colorful figures of the last 60 years.

Born and raised in Allentown, Penn., Iacocca earned a degree in industrial engineering from Lehigh University in 1945. Given his location, one might have expected him to take a job in the steel industry. But Iacocca was one of those people with gasoline in the veins. He wanted to build cars – specifically, he wanted to build them for Ford Motor Company. He joined the Blue Oval in 1946 as an engineer. But for a born salesman like Iacocca, it was an awkward fit at best. He asked for a reassignment to sales in Ford’s Philadelphia district, and his career blossomed from there.

Iacocca first attracted attention from senior Ford managers with a novel promotion in the mid-1950s. He dreamed up a “’56 for 56” gimmick in which customers could buy a new 1956 Ford with 20 percent down and monthly payments of $56 dollars thereafter. It was simple, it was catchy, and it was a hit. The promotion earned him a transfer to Ford’s world headquarters in Dearborn.

Total Performance
Lee Iacocca made no small plans. Barely into his 30s when he moved to Dearborn, Iacocca resolved that he’d be a Ford vice president by age 35. Though he climbed up the ranks quickly, he missed his goal – Iacocca wasn’t named Vice President and General Manager of the Ford Division until he’d turned 36. By a twist of fate, Ford President Robert McNamara left to become President Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense soon after Iacocca’s appointment. Iacocca’s influence at Ford Motor Company increased accordingly.

Young, enthusiastic, and a car guy to the core, Iacocca was the polar opposite of McNamara, whose major accomplishments at Ford included turning the sensuous two-seat Thunderbird into a four-seat family sedan. (Though to be fair, McNamara nearly doubled Thunderbird’s sales as a result.) Iacocca wanted his company to think young. He remembered the Ford V-8 of his own youth which, with help from legions of hot rodders, gave Ford a performance image. Chevrolet snatched that image in the mid-1950s with its small-block V-8 and its classic “Tri Five” Chevys of 1955-57.

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Iacocca (right) with Jimmy Clark (center), Benson Ford, and the double overhead cam V-8 that Ford developed for the Indianapolis 500. (THF110520)

Among Iacocca’s first moves were to get Ford Motor Company back into racing. He greenlit a striking mid-engine sports car prototype and then – with Henry Ford II, Leo Beebe, Carroll Shelby, Jacque Passino, and others – launched an all-out assault in nearly every form of racing under the banner “Total Performance.” By decade’s end, Ford had racked up victories in NASCAR, on drag strips, at Indianapolis, and at Le Mans. But Iacocca’s tenure at Ford is forever tied to one car.

The Youth Car
Working in secret with a select team, Iacocca pitched the need for a “youth car” targeted at the up-and-coming Baby Boomers. He wanted something with the appeal of a Thunderbird, the look of a Ferrari, and the economy of a Volkswagen – a tall order to be sure. But Ford’s designers and engineers rose to the challenge. In one of the automotive industry’s great triumphs, they put a sporty body on the existing Ford Falcon compact car chassis, produced a seemingly endless menu of options and accessories that encouraged customers to personalize, and dubbed their new creation “Mustang” – a name that evoked freedom, open spaces, and, in the words of one marketing expert, “was American as all hell.”

Ford optimistically hoped to sell 200,000 Mustangs in the first model year. But the car’s splashy launch – at the 1964 New York World’s Fair – and a savvy marketing campaign kicked off a mania rarely seen in automotive showrooms. By the end of the 1965 model year, more than 680,000 buyers had taken a new Mustang home.

Mustang’s success made Iacocca a household name. But his rising star contributed to growing tensions between Iacocca and Henry Ford II, the company’s chairman and ultimate authority. After several difficult years, their strained relationship foundered and, in 1978, led to an acrimonious parting of the ways between Iacocca and Ford Motor Company.

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Iacocca found the perfect pitchman for Chrysler – himself. His print and television ads made him one of the best-known business figures in the United States. (THF103024)

A Second Act
No one could have blamed Iacocca if he’d retired then and there. The Mustang alone was enough to secure his legacy. But retirement wasn’t Iacocca’s style. He missed being at the center of the action. When the failing Chrysler Corporation offered him the job of CEO, he couldn’t resist. Iacocca’s second act was even more impressive than his first.

Iacocca took over a company in ruin. Chrysler was losing millions with little hope of recovery. His first and most important act was to secure a loan guarantee from the U.S. Congress. He then set about rebuilding the automaker’s product line. First came the K-Car, a highly-adaptable front-wheel drive platform that Chrysler offered under any number of makes, models and designs. Then came another vehicle that, like the Mustang before it, transformed the industry. The minivan, manifested in the Plymouth Voyager and the Dodge Caravan, was born of an idea Iacocca had toyed with at Ford to no avail. At Chrysler, the innovative minivan became a best-seller that redefined the family car for a generation of Americans. To top off his achievements, Iacocca added an evergreen marque to Chrysler’s lineup when he acquired American Motors and its enduring Jeep brand in 1987.

Eager to restore faith in Chrysler vehicles, Iacocca personally vouched for his products in a series of memorable television and print ads. He ended many of them with a simple, straightforward challenge to his audience: “If you can find a better car, buy it.” The ads were effective, and he enjoyed making them. In truth, he enjoyed the limelight. Through the 1980s, Iacocca added to his celebrity by writing two best-selling books, leading a successful effort to restore the Statue of Liberty, and appearing in a bit part on the popular TV series Miami Vice. For a time, there was even serious talk about Iacocca as a candidate for President of the United States.

Enough for Two Lifetimes
Iacocca retired from Chrysler in 1992. He’d returned the company to profitability, restored its reputation, and repaid its government loan. But even then he didn’t really retire. With billionaire Las Vegas developer Kirk Kerkorian, Iacocca launched an unsuccessful takeover attempt of Chrysler in 1995. Ten years later, he returned to Chrysler – by then under German ownership as DaimlerChrysler – to shoot a few commercials, reprising his trademark “If you can find a better car…” slogan.

Lee Iacocca seemed to live two lifetimes in his 94 years. He enjoyed success at two car companies, and he fathered two groundbreaking vehicles. Iacocca lived to see the Mustang turn 50, and to see Chrysler fall into bankruptcy once more before remerging as a part of FCA. He will be remembered as long as there are people who love cars like he did.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Though the various series and movies of Star Trek are set in the future, those crews and characters sometimes ended up crossing paths with historical figures familiar to those of us stuck here in the 21st century.  Image Services Specialist (and Trekkie) Jim Orr shares some objects from our collection that tie to those notables, and explains each Star Trek connection as we continue to celebrate our latest exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, "Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds."

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Life Mask of Abraham Lincoln by Clark Mills

In the 1966 Star Trek episode "The Savage Curtain," Captain Kirk and Commander Spock become unwilling participants in an alien experiment to determine which is stronger—good or evil.  Their allies included a doppelganger of Kirk's hero, President Abraham Lincoln.

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Relief Plaque of "The Last Supper"

In the 1969 Star Trek episode "Requiem for Methuselah," Kirk encounters an ancient, immortal being who claims to have been many notable figures from history, including Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci.  Another version of Leonardo da Vinci would appear in the 1997 Star Trek: Voyager episode "Concerning Flight," in which alien arms dealers steal the U.S.S. Voyager's holographic equipment.

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Bookplate of Jack London, circa 1905

In the 1992 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Time's Arrow," Lieutenant Commander Data finds himself stranded in the year 1893 after an encounter with time-traveling aliens.  There, he befriends hotel bellhop (and aspiring writer) Jack London.

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Portrait of Mark Twain, by Edoardo Gelli, 1904

While attempting to rescue a time-traveling Data from 1893 San Francisco in the 1992 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Time's Arrow," the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise accidentally returns with author Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain).

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Book, "Opticks: or a Treatise on Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colours of Light," by Sir Isaac Newton, 4th ed., 1730

Data played a hand of poker against holographic representations of "three of history's greatest minds" in the 1993 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Descent."  Sir Isaac Newton's works include Opticks: or a Treatise on Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colours of Light.

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Ford Motor Company Executive Ernest G. Liebold with Albert Einstein, 1941

Data's poker game with "three of history's greatest minds" also includes a holographic representation of Albert Einstein.  Ford Motor Company executive E.G. Liebold posed for this photograph with the real Albert Einstein in 1941.

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Amelia Earhart Speaking at the Elks Air Circus, July 11, 1929

Amelia Earhart's mysterious fate has figured into the plots of TV shows ranging from Night Gallery to The Love BoatStar Trek: Voyager featured Earhart in the 1995 episode "The 37's," explaining her 1937 disappearance as—what else—an alien abduction. (Thanks to Curator of Transportation and fellow Trekkie Matt Anderson for this contribution!)

Jim Orr is Image Services Specialist at The Henry Ford and has seen all 732 episodes (and counting) of every series of Star Trek.

Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds

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The Budd Company approached American Motors Corporation in 1962 with this concept car, which placed a sporty body and a powerful V-8 on an inexpensive Rambler Ambassador chassis. Fearing it would fail, AMC decided against putting the car into production. Two years later, Ford's Mustang became a massive hit using the same idea of a sporty body on an existing chassis.

Learn more about getting this car ready for the 30th Motor Muster, then see it for yourself June 15-16 in Greenfield Village.

Motor Muster