Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

With Henry Ford Museum now being called Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, it brings about some reminiscing thoughts of the artifacts that stand out as the most innovative. While the name of the overall destination remains The Henry Ford, the organization is extending Henry Ford Museum’s name to better convey the core idea of innovation that threads throughout its key collection.

Some of the curators at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation had the same reminiscing thoughts, and each chose an artifact that stood out to them as the most innovative. When asked to choose an artifact from the museum that symbolized innovation, a lot of the curators had trouble picking just one.
Debra Reid - Curator of Agriculture and the Environment 
The manure spreader displayed in the agriculture exhibit inside Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation looks more like a work of art than a piece of farm equipment. Laborers painted the wooden box yellow and red, added pinstripes, and stenciled the manufacturer’s name and model number prominently on its exterior. This made the spreader a moving advertisement during the Golden Age of agriculture, roughly 1900 to 1920.

During this time some farmers profited from high market prices paid for the commodities that they grew. The spreader symbolized their investment in new ways of doing business. They purchased more land, built new farm buildings including corn cribs and dairy barns, and bought pure-bred livestock and new agricultural equipment to help them do their jobs. The spreader reduced the labor required to move increasing amounts of manure from barns and stables and apply it to their arable land. The machine distributed the organic manure and its three essential elements (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium) more evenly than pitching manure from a cart onto the fields. Not all farmers practiced such intensive animal husbandry, and thus, they had little use for such innovations,but the spreader answered the prayers of other farm families with livestock housed in barns and stables and fields in need of nutrients.


Jim Johnson - Curator of Landscaping and Historic Structures
My favorite innovative object is the Newcomen Steam Engine. Though it is not the actual very first one, it is among the first design generation of the world’s first steam engine and in essence, represents the birth of the Industrial Revolution and the beginning of the machine age. By having this direct association with the Industrial Revolution, the Newcomen is at the foundation of what would become the world we live in today.


Donna Braden - Curator of Public Life

Among my favorite innovative artifacts in the museum are the small and often-unnoticed plastic dishes in the 1950s (“Buying the Future”) case in Driving America, part of the raised timeline. Dishes made of the chemical melamine (sometimes referred to as Melmac) became wildly popular during the 1950s because industrial products like this were considered a sign of progress and modernity; their minimal design was thought to be“sleek” and “modern”; they were marketed as unbreakable and thus were considered perfect for Baby Boomer kids; and their bright colors, as shown in the case and the exhibit, perfectly matched the colors of other consumer products of the time, like cars. I also chose these dishes because they are so darned ordinary-looking and because, growing up in a large family of Baby Boomer kids myself, my mom always opted for anything that didn’t break and we had a set of these ourselves.


Charles Sable - Curator of Decorative Arts 
I have many "favorite" objects in the Museum. One that I am particularly fond of is Victor Schreckengost's "Jazz Bowl" (1931) located in "Your Place in Time." What I find fascinating about it is how Schreckengost was able to adapt the cubist aesthetic found in European and American high art to a punch bowl. Further, he made cubism serve as a narrative of New Year's Eve in New York City.


Matt Anderson - Curator of Transportation
Ah, that’s always the question a curator dreads most. The truth is, my favorite object tends to change on a daily basis! That said, I have a soft spot for Henry Ford’s 1896 Quadricycle. In and of itself, the vehicle really isn’t innovative, but it represents Ford’s all-out devotion to his dream – spending so much of his free time (and even a little work time) putting this little car together in the shed behind his house. It’s also a fine example of Ford’s philosophy to learn by doing. He certainly could read plans and blueprints, but Ford was most comfortable working in three dimensions. What does it take to build a working automobile? Henry Ford thought the best way to answer that question was to just go ahead and build one! Of course, without the Quadricycle, we never would’ve gotten Ford’s signature innovation: the well-designed, well-built and affordable Model T.


Kristen Gallerneaux - Curator of Communication & Information Technology 
My favorite artifacts change all the time, but lately on my daily walks through the museum, I’ve been stopping to visit the Eames kiosk that originally appeared at the IBM Pavilion in the 1964 New York World’s Fair. I love this piece because its connections to innovation are invisible or hidden in plain sight, waiting to be revealed. It might seem like an unlikely-looking thing to have been witness to computing history—but it was. Kiosks like this one were used by IBM at the World’s Fair to demonstrate new technologies—including one of the first public demonstrations of optical character recognition, and a new computer-based language translation service. Our particular kiosk was used as a canopy to protect elements of the Mathematica exhibit. As for the “hidden in plain sight” moment, if you stoop down and peek under the canopy, you’ll find an image of a bouquet of flowers printed underneath. These wildflowers were picked in Zeeland near Herman Miller’s offices, shipped on dry ice to the Eames Office in California, artfully arranged by Ray Eames—and finally photographed by Charles.

These are just a few of the artifacts that showcase different types of innovation here on the floor of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation; what's your favorite?

Halie Keith is a Media & Film Relations Intern at The Henry Ford.
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1989 Honda Accord

Inline 4-cylinder engine, overhead camshaft, 119 cubic inches displacement, 98 horsepower

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Using a front-wheel drive layout in a front-engine car allows for a compact design, but it requires some clever packaging under the hood. The Accord’s automatic transmission is combined with a differential into a single unit called a transaxle, mounted on the passenger side of the engine. The transverse-mounted engine has three valves per cylinder – two intake and one exhaust.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Engines Exposed


The Henry Ford is proud to announce we are changing the name of Henry Ford Museum to Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation beginning today, January 23, 2017. While the name of the overall destination remains The Henry Ford, the organization is extending Henry Ford Museum’s name to better convey the core idea of innovation that threads throughout its key collection. Learn more in this video from the president of The Henry Ford, Patricia Mooradian.
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Dozens of engines will be on view during Engines Exposed, but here Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford, describes some of his favorites to kick off this annual exhibit.

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1909 Ford Model T
Inline 4-cylinder engine, L-head valves, 177 cubic inches displacement, 22 horsepower

Early Model T engines circulated cooling water with a gear-driven pump, visible just behind this engine’s fan. After 2,500 units, Ford switched to a simpler – and less expensive – thermosiphon system dependent on natural convection. Model T never used an oil pump. The flywheel, spinning in an oil bath, simply splashed the lubricant around. The engine and transmission efficiently shared the same oil supply.

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imls-logoDuring the latter half of the nineteenth century, Professors William E. Ayrton and John Perry collaborated on inventing an array of instruments from electrical devices for railways to meters to measure electricity. The London, England-based company, Latimer Clark, Muirhead, & Co., manufactured this Ayrton and Perry ammeter between 1883 and 1890.  

Confident in their work, Ayrton and Perry personally certified the accuracy of their meters, which were touted as being among the most reliable. This ammeter, with its fascinating story, is one of the many objects being rediscovered as work progresses on The Henry Ford’s IMLS-funded grant.

To see our most recent behind-the-scenes updates, make sure to follow us on Facebook when we go live in the Conservation Lab.

Laura Lipp is a Collections Documentation Specialist at The Henry Ford.

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Topps Trading card, “Space Hero,” 1963. THF230101

Today, we tend to equate Topps bubble-gum cards with sports heroes, especially baseball players. But, in 1963, a special Topps card series paid tribute to a very different kind of hero—the astronaut. And no astronaut featured in this special card pack was more celebrated at the time than John Glenn.

The Space Race had begun in the late 1950s, when both the United States and the Soviet Union had 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 an even more aggressive space program than President Eisenhower had initiated before him. Of course, Congress had to approve a massive budget increase for the newly created civilian space agency NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to turn President Kennedy’s vision into a reality.    

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Topps Trading Card, “Our 1st Spacemen,” 1963. THF230117

On May 5, 1961, Americans breathed a sigh of relief as astronaut Alan Shepard finally became the first American in space. Two months later, astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom followed him with a second suborbital flight (a trip into space but not into orbit). Following up on these and other iterative achievements of Project Mercury, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth on February 20, 1962.  Americans held their collective breath as they followed the mission on radio and television, then celebrated like never before. President Kennedy called Glenn’s flight “a magnificent achievement.”  

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Topps Trading Card, “Glenn in Space,” 1963. THF230113

I was nine years old at the time and witnessed John Glenn’s takeoff that day on a fuzzy little black-and-white TV in our school gymnasium. Watching with my teachers and classmates, I felt a great sense of pride—perhaps doubly so because Glenn hailed from my home state of Ohio.

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Topps Trading Card, “1st Man in Orbit,” 1963. THF230115

When John Glenn passed away on December 8, 2016, he was the last survivor of the so-called Mercury 7—those seven courageous but well-trained pilots-turned-astronauts who ventured into outer space for their country during America’s nascent Space Program. Glenn will be remembered for his easy smile, his unassuming manner, his sense of duty, and his extraordinary bravery. He renewed American confidence when it was badly shaken during the Cold War era. After he safely landed, he received a hero’s welcome like no other. And he continued to be revered through his 25 years as a U.S. Senator from Ohio, and when he returned to outer space in 1998, as part of the crew on the Space Shuttle Discovery.

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Topps Trading Card, “Taking a Break,” 1963. THF230105

John Glenn struck us as just an ordinary guy, but one who possessed both an extraordinary sense of responsibility and nerves of steel. Through the images on these Topps bubble-gum cards, Glenn seems to be speaking to us across the decades, encouraging us to never stop following our dreams because sometimes the highly improbable actually becomes possible!

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Topps Trading Card, “Posing for Photographers,” 1963. THF230111

To repeat the well wishes of fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter when Glenn lifted off into the unknown from his Cape Canaveral launch pad in 1962, “Godspeed, John Glenn!”

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

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What do Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd have to do with Ford Motor Company? (Well, besides the fact that Ford cars appear in a number of their films) The Ford Motor Company Safety Department. It’s strange to think of these two physical comedians as poster boys of safety, but through weekly films on safety issues the Safety Department used innovative techniques to prevent accidents by showing the right and wrong way of performing jobs and using machines and tools, often using Keaton and Lloyd films as comic examples of unsafe behavior. Safety, however, was taken very seriously at Ford and was seen as so important that early on in the 1910s the role of safety engineering and inspection was removed from the Medical Department and set up as a separate department.

Headed up by Robert Shaw, the department was established in 1914 and was responsible for machine safety, job safety, as well as hygienic safety (the full title of the department was the Safety and Hygiene Department). The first safety committee included P.E. Martin, C.E. Sorensen, C.W. Avery, the minutes stated: “it is the aim of the Safety Committee to reduce the number and serious nature of accidents. The assistance of every Ford man is needed in this work.” And assistance they got. By 1922, the department had around thirty inspectors, some general and some specialists, it also included a bacteriologist who examined areas in the factory to help stop the spread of disease, and a range of cleaners who sanitized, scrubbed, and scoured every inch of the factory to make sure the environment was as germ-free and clean for the workers as a factory could be.

Of the inspectors, some were general, and some specialized in specific areas or machines in the factory. John Wagner, who joined the department in 1922, worked on punch presses and noted when he started workers were losing an average of 16 fingers a month on press punches alone. Wagner designed several guards and safety mechanisms for machines, noting, “we never designed a guard like a pair of handcuffs that would pull men's hands back. I never approved of them. The men resented that type of guard. The sweep guard was not resented.” Shaw also noted that “we never liked harnessing a man to a machine.” Every machine in the factory was inspected and new guards or devices installed as necessary, any new machines had to be approved by the department, and they were consulted when new machines were being designed.

Shaw worked not only to fix machines that caused accidents, but also to heighten awareness of unsafe behavior and correct problems before they caused injury. Weekly safety bulletins were published, posters were posted, articles appeared in the Ford Man, and safety slogans and tips were printed on the back of each man’s timecard. Safety statistics for each department would be compiled monthly and distributed to all the departments for contests with departments competing against each other for the best safety record. The department hosted safety sessions where they showed movies, performed skits, and gave talks designed for individual departments and the safety hazards they faced. Safety rallies, parades, and picnics were hosted at different plants and branches in Detroit with the Ford Motor Company Band entertaining the crowd.

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The department created safety cards for each job, which men has to read, sign, and turn in to the foreman who then carried them and used them to coach employees when they didn’t follow safety rules. Each new man was trained in safety procedures for his job before he started and was held accountable for complying with regulations. If a man was caught in violation of a safety regulation, such as running in the factory (with or without scissors), cleaning a machine while it was running, or using mushroom head tools that could catch and pull a man into a machine, they were sent up to the safety office to read through the safety bulletins and look at photos of industrial accidents from the plant. In rare cases of severe violation, a man was suspended, and if even more rarely, they were laid off for repeat safety offenses.

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The pamphlet, Factory Facts from Ford noted in 1917: “Safety work concerns not only the loss of fingers and injuries of this nature, but undertakes to protect the health of the men as well.” To this end the hygiene side of the department pumped in washed air “at just the right temperature for comfort and efficient work,” provided filtered and cooled water in drinking fountains that were sanitized multiple times a day, placed dust collection systems in dusty work areas, and scrubbed the floors at least once a week, boasting that cleaners swept “even the spaces which the average housewife passes over.”

Shaw extended the Ford safety program outside the company as well and was a founding member of the Detroit Industrial Safety Council. The council was composed of various Detroit area manufacturers and focused on reducing accidents through increased awareness, better machines and guards, and improving factory policies and environment.

Kathy Makas is a Reference Archivist for the Benson Ford Research Center at The Henry Ford. The Benson Ford Research Center is open Monday-Friday 9:00-5:00. Set up an appointment in our reading room or AskUs a question here.

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Elon Musk thinks big. The mission of his car company, Tesla Motors, is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,” while his commercial space travel business, SpaceX, aims “to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.” 

In June 2008, The Henry Ford visited SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California, campus to interview Musk about these lofty goals, a trip that resulted in a lengthy oral history now available online in both video and transcript format as part of The Henry Ford’s Visionaries on Innovation series. At the time the interview was conducted, Detroit photographer Michelle Andonian also documented the whole experience, taking many pictures of the facility, the museum staff who participated, and Musk himself. We’ve just added nearly 200 of these images to our Digital Collections, including this photo of Musk hard at work at his desk. 

Visit our Digital Collections to enter Elon Musk’s world through these images.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

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In 1990, a partnership was formed between The Henry Ford and Wayne-Westland Community Schools that would revolutionize the way The Henry Ford looked at community outreach. High School students would spend the first half of their days in the classroom, then be transported to The Henry Ford in taxis where they would spend the remainder of their school day working alongside full-time employees learning vital work skills, forming positive relationships, and creating memories that would last a lifetime.

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Twenty-six years later the foundation of the program remains the same. Students from the district continue to make the daily commute to The Henry Ford (although in school buses rather than taxis) where they work in placements ranging from the William Ford Barn, Firestone Farm, Institutional Advancement, banquet kitchens and restaurants, and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. They now have the opportunity to obtain additional academic credits by completing online courses, and participate in community engagement by practicing service learning with second-grade classrooms at an elementary school in the district on a weekly basis. Service learning allows our students to give back to their communities, and realize the impact they can have on the lives of others.

The students we serve have been identified by their counselors and principals for being at-risk for graduation. Academic struggles usually stem from a multitude of underlying issues such as an unstable home life, mental/physical health issues, or perhaps just lacking a sense of belonging in this world. People learn in different ways and normal schooling isn’t for everyone; the Youth Mentorship Program provides an atmosphere where students can succeed in an environment different from the traditional classroom.

The Youth Mentorship Program is a source of pride here at The Henry Ford. It’s one of the clearest ways we inspire people to learn from these traditions to help shape a better future, as our mission statement proudly states. Unlike most programs at The Henry Ford, the Youth Mentorship Program caters to a smaller group; approximately 12-15 students per semester. The students have the ability to participate in the YMP for a semester or longer, depending on what their schedule allows. Although small in numbers, we believe the YMP is a program that runs ‘an inch wide and a mile deep.’ Although we have a great desire to reach all youth in need in our community, small group size allows for more one-on-one opportunity as well as an overall intimate atmosphere. A quote we hear amongst our students year after year is how the YMP is truly like a family.

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It’s incredibly inspiring to watch these students learn their place in the world and become good and successful citizens of their community. Whether it’s passing classes and earning credits, serving The Henry Ford’s guests in a banquet kitchen or restaurant, shearing sheep at Firestone Farm, or walking across a stage to grab their high school diplomas, the Youth Mentorship Program opens the eyes of students to opportunities they may never imagined with overwhelming cheers of support. It truly has deep and lasting impact on the students it serves each semester, as well as the students’ families, The Henry Ford staff, and the Wayne-Westland community.

Help us continue making our community impact by making a donation to the Youth Mentorship Program this Giving Tuesday. How can your donation help?

  • $10 can provide a semester's worth of school supplies for a student
  • $30 will help uniform one student
  • $50 supplies a month's worth of meals for a student
  • $200 pays for one online course for a student to complete to earn credit
  • $2,500 provides transportation for one student for the year 
Learn more about this year's Giving Tuesday program at The Henry Ford and make your gift here.

YMP #GivingTuesday from The Henry Ford on Vimeo.

Emily Koch is Youth Mentorship Program Director at The Henry Ford.

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The copy in this ad references Americans’ voluntary reduction of food consumption during World War I. THF131084

Hot chocolate just might be the perfect drink. The scientific name for the chocolate tree—Theobroma cacao—means “food for the gods.” And for good reason. When mixed with hot liquid and sugar, chocolate has been known to stimulate, to calm, to improve digestion, to enhance the mood, to combat stress, and to promote long life.  All that, and it tastes great and smells divine!

Although a hot beverage using chocolate had originated in the New World with the ancient Aztecs—who consumed it during sacred ceremonies—it came to the American colonies by way of Europe. By that time, it was already a sweet creamy drink, popular with wealthy aristocrats who could afford the expensive imported sugar and spices that went into making it.  In early America, it became a popular substitute to tea after the colonists rejected British tea with its high import taxes (the response that brought on the Boston Tea Party).  

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The famous image on this recipe booklet cover, adopted by the company in 1883, was based upon an earlier painting of a waitress in a Viennese chocolate shop. THF131089

Small-scale chocolate mills sprang up in early America to process cacao beans into chocolate, making the price more affordable than importing the chocolate either from Europe or the West Indies.  In 1765, Dr. James Baker, an American physician, and immigrant Irishman John Hannon converted an old gunpowder mill in Dorchester, Massachusetts, into a mill for manufacturing chocolate. The hardened “cakes” of chocolate that the firm produced lent themselves well to the sweetened chocolate drink Americans loved. Baker’s Chocolate would go on to become an American empire.  Distinctive packaging and extensive newspaper advertising spread its popularity as far west as the 1849 California Gold Rush. 

Through the late 19th century, Baker’s Chocolate was arguably the largest chocolate manufactory in the United States. Its famous logo could be seen everywhere—on billboards, streetcar signs, grocery store placards, and recipe booklet covers.  The company thought it had it made. 

Until Milton Hershey came along.

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Hershey’s Cocoa Recipe Booklet, 1956. THF131107

Hershey, a Pennsylvania Quaker, began his candy business producing caramels. At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, he became intrigued by a display of German chocolate-making machinery. He bought the machines and, after a few years of experimentation, came up with a smooth, creamy milk chocolate candy bar.  Soon he was mass-producing chocolate candy bars that, at five cents, virtually anyone could afford. Despite European critics who claimed that Hershey’s chocolate was inferior to the centuries-old chocolates produced in their own countries, Hershey’s acquired such a loyal customer base that many Americans thought Hershey’s chocolate was chocolate.   

As a result of Milton Hershey’s innovations, Americans would soon favor eating chocolate over drinking it. But chocolate-drinking did not die out. It simply took on new forms and appealed to new audiences.  

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These young “flappers” are enjoying Baker’s Cocoa during a late-night sleepover party. THF131083

Cocoa powder (a processed component of chocolate)—easy to carry and prepare—became a popular field ration for soldiers during both the first and second World Wars.  Women emerged as major new consumers of chocolate beverages, for parties and get-togethers.  Hot cocoa was also considered a healthful, life-enhancing food for invalids.  
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Bosco bank, ca. 1930. THF131074


For the first time, despite warnings from critics about tooth decay, acne, and weight gain, chocolate drinks were promoted as a nutritional health food for children—a good way to get more milk into their diets while also giving them increased zest for life.  Bosco, a chocolate syrup first produced in 1928 in Towaco, New Jersey, was advertised as a healthful “milk amplifier” for children.  

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Yoo-Hoo soda bottle, 1955-65. THF131075

Yoo-Hoo Chocolate Flavored Beverage, also originating in New Jersey in the 1920s, was popular with and marketed to young people.  

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Nestle’s Quik ad, 1963. THF131088

By the mid-20th century, chocolate beverages reflected Americans’ on-the-go lifestyle with the introduction of “instant” cocoa powder and chocolate-powdered flavoring mixes.  Nestle’s Quik, produced in the United States although the company originated in Switzerland, was advertised as “the only chocolate milk that makes itself!”

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Swiss Miss Ad, 1963. THF131087

Swiss Miss Instant Cocoa Mix, whose name and packaging were intended to evoke chocolate’s “Old World” roots, became so popular as an easy-to-prepare airline beverage in the 1950s that it soon became available at grocery stores.  

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Bosco ad, 1963. THF125198

These and other “instant” chocolate drinks lent themselves perfectly to advertising through the new medium of television. What Baby Boomer does not remember the “I Love Bosco” jingle from the 1950s and early 1960s? And Quicky the bunny, famous for inhaling Nestle’s Quik at record speeds, debuted in commercials in 1973. At the same time that these commercials promoted chocolate beverages as fun and delicious for kids, they reminded Moms that these drinks were also healthful and nutritious.

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Quicky Nestle’s Quik pitcher, ca. 1985. THF166167

After centuries of preferring chocolate beverages that were increasingly easier, faster, and cheaper, Americans today are turning to a new appreciation for Old World and more traditional forms of chocolate and the beverages using this chocolate.  Maybe this is a permanent trend or maybe it’s just a temporary respite from our fast-paced lives.  Whatever it is, Milton Hershey was certainly on target when he declared: “Chocolate is a permanent thing.”  

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