It’s an old museum-related joke: You don’t feel old until you see your toys exhibited as historic artifacts. Okay, so I felt a bit aged the first time I saw that Star Wars lunchbox in Your Place in Time, but I never questioned its right to be there. For us Gen X types, few things are so much of our time as Star Wars.
While I was around when all three of the original films were in theaters, most of my viewings came via videotapes recorded from HBO airings. (Heh, a Star Wars viewing still doesn’t feel quite right to me unless it starts with this.) Not until Return of the Jedi arrived in 1983 was I old enough to see one of the movies on the big screen. I still remember being thrilled by the sarlacc pit battle and the speeder bike chase, being saddened at Yoda’s death, and being generally grossed out by Jabba the Hutt. Disgusting or not, it was satisfying to finally see that vile gangster after hearing his name dropped ominously in the first two movies. All in all, it was a magical experience, and the reason that I don’t personally rate Jedi as a lesser work than its predecessors.
In a rare moment, one person’s simple act of courage can change the world. On the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, we pause to reflect on the impact and legacy of her courageous action.
Rosa’s awareness of social injustice started at an early age. As a girl growing up in Alabama, Rosa hated the disrespectful way that whites often treated black people. Her grandfather, a former slave, instilled a sense of pride and independence in her.
Our founder, Henry Ford, realized that not everyone learns best by reading books or listening to a lecture, the traditional modes of education he experienced 150 years ago which are still dominant today. One of Henry’s most important learning experiences was fixing pocket watches. He developed an understanding of engineering and science through hands-on, self-directed discovery. He founded The Henry Ford as a school, where children would learn by doing with the real stuff of history and science. He collected artifacts which showed hundreds of years of changes in technology and daily life, and allowed the children to use them.
Today, we still share with children the “real stuff” of history and science. Over 200,000 students are lucky enough to take a field trip to The Henry Ford each year. Although we’ve discovered we can’t allow many of our artifacts to be used to the degree they were in the 1930s, The Henry Ford has made historical artifacts more hands-on than most other history museums. On field trips, students literally go inside science and history when they fathom the overwhelming number of inventions at Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory or explore (and smell) the Firestone Farm barn. Of course, there is no experience more powerful for our student visitors than taking a seat in the actual Rosa Parks Bus.
You may be wondering, besides Mold-A-Ramas and selfies with cool historic cars - what do students come away with?
Yes, they see examples of the “real stuff” which they learn about in Social Studies, Science and English Language Arts every day. And, they have had fun learning, which is vital to becoming lifelong learners. But the most important thing they get is a profound understanding that real people did these things which they study in school. Real people, just like them, changed the world. And they can, too.
On this #GivingTuesday, we hope you will consider making a gift of at least $8 to The Henry Ford. Your contribution makes these important field trips possible and helps us to inspire the next generation of innovators and change makers. You can make your gift below.
Catherine Tuczek is Curator of School and Public Learning at The Henry Ford.
Fifty years ago today, brothers Bob and Bill Summers of Ontario, California, earned their place in the record books when Goldenrod, their four-engine streamlined über hot rod, averaged 409.277 miles per hour on the Bonneville Salt Flats. It would take 45 years for another non-supercharged, wheel-driven car to best their mark. Not bad for a couple of California dreamers working out of a vegetable stand.
Well, that’s not quite true. Oh, it’s true that their shop was in a converted vegetable stand, but the implication – that they were kids who got lucky – isn’t fair at all. The Summers brothers were Bonneville veterans, having built and raced a series of imaginative cars on the salt since 1954. And, while the brothers themselves were not wealthy, they had well-heeled corporate sponsors supporting Goldenrod. So no, this was no fly-by-night operation.
The early 1960s saw a revolution at Bonneville unlike anything since serious land speed racing started at the western Utah ancient lake bed in the 1930s. Drivers like Craig Breedlove in his celebrated Spirit of America hit 400, 500 and 600 miles per hour using jet power. These cars were more like airplanes without wings. There was no mechanical connection between the engine and the wheels – jet thrust literally pushed the car across the salt.
This is it – the future is now. For any self-respecting Child of the Eighties, October 21, 2015, has been circled on the mental calendar since November 1989 when Back to the Future Part II hit theaters. I was 13 years old when I first saw Doc Brown and Marty McFly take their time traveling DeLorean to the fantastically futuristic world of Hill Valley 2015 – old enough to realize that we probably weren’t going to get hoverboards and flying cars, but young enough to still hope that we might. The year 2015 seemed impossibly far off (like, as far off as 2041 seems today), and one could imagine that some of those wonderful things in the movie might just come to pass. Well, not so much…
Predicting the future is a fool’s errand. Any movie that tries to imagine future technologies will inevitably miss the mark. Back to the Future Part II’s creative team knew this well, so they chose to go all in and make their 2015 as over-the-top as possible. That tech optimism is a big part of the movie’s appeal. BTTF II gives us happy robots that pump our gas, serve our soft drinks, and welcome us home at the end of the day. They’re a pleasant contrast to the tortured replicants and cyborgs of Blade Runner and RoboCop.
Being a transportation curator, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the transport technologies featured in Back to the Future Part II. Let’s start with those flying cars. The dream of an aircraft in every garage is an old one. It shows up in books, magazines and – on rare occasions – in reality. (Even Henry Ford spent some time and money on the concept.) The flying cars in BTTF II are there because they have to be. It’s the future we all want! Needless to say, we didn’t get them by 2015. Personally, I think flying is well beyond the skills of the average driver (myself included). Flying cars aren’t a good idea until we can take most of the operation and navigation out of the driver’s hands. And that’s the good news here in the real 2015 – driverless cars are edging ever-closer to practical reality. Give me a car that operates itself, and then I’ll start clamoring for it to fly.
New to Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village this year is the Top Hat Side Show. Led by Andrew D'Ascenzo, a professional circus and fire performer, the vaudeville-style show features unique acts in several fields including circus, fire, sideshow, magic, and comedy. Vaudeville performances aren’t new to The Henry Ford; every summer in Greenfield Village our dramatic programs in Town Hall combine music, comedy, and dance revues that pay homage to the great music and zany humor found in vaudeville.
Today organizations across the country are honoring manufacturing with Manufacturing Day, a day celebrating modern manufacturing. There are more than 2,000 events to choose from. We tell the story of manufacturing through our Ford Rouge Factory Tour experience and the artifacts within our collections. If you're curious to learn more about Henry Ford and manufacturing, take a look at this collection of blog posts and videos.
Another car show season drew to a close with our Old Car Festival on September 12-13. It’s always disheartening for car fans – and warm weather fans – to see summer go, but the festival makes for a great climax. This year we had more than 900 cars, bicycles and commercial vehicles registered for the event. Every one of them dated from the 1890s to 1932, a time of innovation, evolution and variety. Visitors to Greenfield Village saw everything from the ubiquitous Ford Model T to the downright obscure Havers (only a handful of these cars, built in Port Huron, Michigan, from 1911-1914, are thought to survive).
In a typical day at The Henry Ford I find myself answering patron questions or assisting with research. Then, there’s the not-so-typical day when I’m coordinating and work on the Special Access team.
July 13, 2015, was one of those not-so-typical days. I found myself face to face with someone people may call one of the most fascinating inventors in history, Nikola Tesla. You might be asking, how does one find herself in this position? Well, let me show you.
The Special Access Program is designed to allow for closer examination of artifacts in storage, access to artifacts beyond visitor barriers, or filming behind the scenes at The Henry Ford. It allows patrons (film crews, enthusiasts, model makers, etc.) access to our collections that can’t be accommodated in the usual ways such as viewing exhibits and items on display, searching collections online, or viewing material in the public reading room.
In fact, the artifacts from the collection are some of the biggest stars of our television show, The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, so the Special Access team is very busy during filming. The first episode of season 2 – filmed in part on this day in July – features the work of Nikola Tesla. I brought several objects to “center stage” for the shoot, including the death mask of Nikola Tesla, shown above. I worked with our Exhibits team to move the electroplated copper mask and its beautifully designed pedestal (which together weigh more than 50 pounds!) from a case in the Made in America exhibition to a sturdy table. It joined several objects that I had moved temporarily from collections storage to the museum for filming:
It is fascinating to connect with objects that were a part of his Abraham Lincoln’s world. The Henry Ford owns a number of furnishings from Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois, where they lived before Lincoln was elected president.
The Lincoln furniture from their Springfield home tells us about the tastes of the Lincolns in the decades before Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860. Stylistically, the furniture represents the middle-class, early Victorian aesthetic of the 1840s and early 1850s. The Lincolns selected sturdy and comfortable, yet stylish furnishings for their home.