Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Rosa Parks Bus in Henry Ford Museum - The Henry Ford

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.

Marty McFly's hoverboard -- source of a million crushed hopes today. (THF319315)

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. Continue Reading

The Top Hat Side Show performing in Greenfield Village.

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. Continue Reading

events, Greenfield Village, vaudeville, holidays, Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village, Halloween, by Lish Dorset

0122_042020150715_KMSPhotography

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.

stephanie-artifactJuly 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: Continue Reading

inventors, The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

Lyn St. James Prepping a Driver, 2008 (Object ID: 2008.26.3.4)

Race car driver, commentator, author, motivational speaker. Competed in seven Indianapolis 500 races in nine years, including six consecutive years. Two-time competitor in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s oldest endurance sports car race. Nine-time participant in the 12 Hours of Sebring race.  Two wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona race. Owner of over 30 national and international speed records over a 20-year period. A courageous, determined, hardworking, record-breaking, and inspirational race car driver. A woman.

Are you surprised? We're describing Lyn St. James, one of the most influential female race car drivers in history. From her first professional race in 1973, to her last in 2000, Lyn St. James continually showed the motor sports world that not only could women compete with men on the race track, but that they would outlast them, outsmart them, and outrun them. Lyn St. James was a pioneer who embodies the saying that sometimes “it takes a woman to do a man’s job.”

Throughout her career, Lyn helped other female athletes build successful careers just like she had. She serviced as the President of the Women’s Sports Foundation for 3 years, and established her own charitable foundation, Women in the Winner’s Circle, in 1994. Her work with the foundation even led to the formation of a traveling museum exhibit about female drivers, created with The Henry Ford, in 2010. Continue Reading

racing, women's history

Lithograph, "Mr. Lincoln, Residence and Horse As They Appeared On His Return from the Campaign with Senator Douglas," 1858. THF8178

It is fascinating to connect with objects that were a part of 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. Continue Reading

furnishings, by Charles Sable, home life, presidents, Abraham Lincoln

 

Photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions.

Our sign replica has welcomed guests to Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past fall.

If you've visited Ford Field to see a Detroit Lions game, chances are you've see a neon sign that now hangs over the Pro Shop. And if you've visited Henry Ford Museum to explore Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, chances are you've seen that same sign here, this time a replica that looks like a lot like the original.

We had a chance to talk with our partners over at the Detroit Lions to learn a little bit more about this familiar sign.

The sign was created in 1963 when Mr. William Clay Ford, Sr. bought the club and was hung in the Detroit Lions Headquarters. The logo on the sign came from a patch that was worn on the team’s blue blazers that they would wear when travelling.

The Lions organization, along with the neon Lions sign, then moved to the Silverdome in 1975.

When the organization moved to Ford Field in 2002, the sign was left at the Silverdome. Ford Field Director of Sports Events Danny Jaroshewich brought it to Lions President Tom Lewand’s attention that the sign was left and suggested that it be brought to the new offices at Ford Field. The sign was sent to be refurbished before being placed above the Pro Shop, where it is still currently hung.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford

Henry Ford Museum, by Lish Dorset, Michigan, Detroit, sports, football

Although there were no Civil War battles fought in Michigan, and we have not graves to decorate, Greenfield Village has become a place where we commemorate one of the most pivotal time periods of our Nations’ History. Since 1993, The Henry Ford has hosted Civil War Remembrance in Greenfield Village over the Memorial Day weekend to honor the sacrifice of not only those from 1861 – 1865, but of all veterans who have faithfully served in the protection of the United States. Memorial Day’s genesis can be traced to the American Civil War as comrades, families and small towns across the land decorated the graves of recently fallen soldiers.

The Civil War Remembrance program offers an opportunity to journey back in time to a moment when our nation was engaged in a massive civil war affecting lives across thousands of miles. Guests can appreciate and honor the memory of those four defining years where more than 3 million would have fought and over 750,000 will have died – the equivalent of 7.8 million dead today. As we are in the fourth year of the Civil War sesquicentennial years, it's important to reflect and think about this time period 150 years past and how it's relevant to our world today and for our future. One of the ways we make those distant events relevant is through commemoration and programming. Civil War Remembrance is one such way and is an officially recognized event by the Michigan Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee through the Michigan Historical Commission.

Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield Village

It's important that we remember the extraordinary service and paramount sacrifice of the common individual soldier who drew from that large reservoir of bravery and courage to continue onward in spite of almost certain death. To their families and to their generation they were known, for the pain and loss of a loved one was felt directly and with absolute certainty. To us they are unknown in name only as their actions will live forever. And to those families and loved ones who sustained incredible and permanent loss, undue hardships and burdens beyond imagine, we must always sustain and uplift the memory of those contributions that made such an indelible impression on our identity. As a principal defining moment, this monumental conflict put into motion a series of events that has brought us to where we are today as a people and as a nation. Their determination and perseverance wove yards of whole cloth creating a foundation for America’s tapestry that continues to be created.

Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield VillageCivil War Remembrance is one of the most comprehensive programs of its kind – we like to say it's the ultimate tribute to the ultimate sacrifice. This program draws participants, historians and experts from throughout the country. Over the three-day weekend Greenfield Village will come alive with special recognition opportunities, commemorations, musical performances, exhibitions, demonstrations (tactical infantry, artillery and cavalry), dramatic performances, hands-on and participatory activities and much more. One of my favorite program offerings is "Enlist in the Army" where guests can “enlist” in the army receiving a reproduction enlistment form from an 1860’s recruiter at the Phoenixville Post Office. After enlistment, they head to Dr. Howard’s Office to see if they are fit for service (everyone passes with a cursory superficial “if you're breathing you're good” exam), and then they are off to the Logan County Courthouse to be “mustered in” and prepared for military drill and schooling. At this point, the group of guests are commanded by an officer in the Federal army, given wooden muskets and then drilled on the Village Green with commands and movements as new recruits would have received during the war. We only need to figure out how to muster them out of service at the conclusion of the day!Tim EriksenThis year we have Tim Erikesen and The Trio de Pumpkintown as our primary musical performance with an extended concert Saturday evening with shorter performances both Sunday and Monday. Tim is acclaimed for transforming American tradition with his startling interpretations of old ballads, love songs, shape-note gospel and dance tunes from New England and Southern Appalachia. He combines hair-raising vocals with inventive accompaniment on banjo, fiddle, guitar and banjo sexto-a twelve string Mexican acoustic bass-creating a distinctive hardcore Americana sound. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the 1864 presidential election wherein Abraham Lincoln won a second term in office. We will have a re-created Lincoln Campaign Head Quarters stationed out of the Tintype Studio in Greenfield Village.

For 2014, The Henry Ford is very pleased to have partnered with the National Park Service in delivering special presentations and outreach programming through the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield relating to the 150th Anniversary of General Grant’s Overland Campaign of 1864. For the highlight of this partnership, The Henry Ford will take part in Reverberations, an innovative program initiated by the National Park Service connecting three national parks in Virginia and eight communities around the country to illustrate the devastating impact of the Civil War on communities across the country. Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan is one of those communities.

This special candlelight illumination ceremony with John Hennessy, Civil War historian and chief historian/chief of interpretation at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park military park, will be simultaneously conducted by the partner communities both North and South. This ceremony will culminate in taps being played in Greenfield Village and echoed to these other locations virtually as the event will be streamed live in conjunction with the other ceremonies. The activities will ultimately conclude with a grand illumination ceremony the Fredericksburg National Cemetery in Virginia.

Civil War Remembrance Weekend takes place in Greenfield Village Saturday, May 24, through Monday, May 26, with a special late night Saturday evening. Learn more about the program by visiting our event page.

Brian James Egen is Executive Producer at The Henry Ford.

Civil War Remembrance, Greenfield Village

To put it simply – The Henry Ford is the reason I became a history teacher! As an 8-year old boy, I visited Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village with my family in the 1970s. I was immediately hooked by the awesome power of the historical artifacts, buildings and stories. Suddenly, history came alive. I saw the past not just as dates and events in a stuffy textbook, but as a link to where we are right now, and where we are going in the future.

When I learned about The Henry Ford’s Teacher Fellow Program, it was a no-brainer for me to apply. I hoped that my years of experience as a public high school history teacher would be enough to convince The Henry Ford to accept me into the program. Fortunately, it was.

Living almost two hours away from Dearborn, Mich., I wound up making close to 10 round-trips during a six-month time period. The funny thing was, I hardly noticed the drive! Often times I spent the drive brainstorming ideas and different plans to help The Henry Ford really connect with teachers in the classroom.

The Henry Ford is a treasure chest full of so many awesome ideas, programs, primary sources, artifacts, and stories that teachers can use each and every day in their classrooms to make history come alive. History is just that – a STORY! The story is ongoing and never ends. When teachers can make real, concrete links to the past that are hands-on, suddenly students begin to grasp the emotions behind the events – people, who are just like them, experienced history with emotions that are real and identical to those we have right now. The materials at The Henry Ford are just that powerful!

One of our projects was raising awareness to teachers on the “outside” who cannot make it to Dearborn with their classes. So, why not bring The Henry Ford to them? We created a series of videos (I have never shied away from an audience!) to help teachers realize all that The Henry Ford has to offer for in-class use. Teachers can now access so many materials and programs online to use in their own classrooms. It truly is awesome.

Another project was the Digital Curator Kit. We wanted to have something hands-on for students of all ages to utilize while both in their classrooms and during a field trip. It places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the students and allows them to find artifacts that relate to an area of their choosing. In a way, the students are now making their own personal museum!

The Henry Ford’s Teacher Fellow Program allows a group of teachers, who would not otherwise work together, to collaborate in a way that benefits not only themselves, but other teachers as well. It empowers them to have a lasting effect, together, on the future students and teachers coming to, and using, the resources of The Henry Ford.

The Teacher Fellow Program was an opportunity for professional development unlike any other. Teachers collaborate on-site at America’s Greatest History Destination. We are given the unique ability to be hands-on, behind the scenes, at The Henry Ford. We are given access to every possible resource we could imagine. While that can seem overwhelming at first, once the purpose and direction of the Fellows becomes clear, there is no limit to the impact the group can have on the hundreds of thousands of students and teachers who use The Henry Ford each year.

I have made contacts with teachers from both Ohio and Michigan that I wouldn’t have met. We can now collaborate, as Fellows, on future projects in our classrooms and continue the work we have done as 2013 Teacher Fellows at The Henry Ford.

I am truly looking forward to Graduation Day on Oct. 26. To see the finished product of our hard work – and to show others for the first time our vision – is very exciting.

An image from the last Teacher Fellow Program graduation in Lovett Hall Ballroom.

Over the past several months I have become a member of a large group of professionals with the dedication to bring history to life for everyone of any age. I am so honored to be a part of The Henry Ford’s family. The little 8-year old boy has now turned a passion for history into a life-time dedication of helping others see that the past is a link to the present and future. You could easily say, I have always been a part of The Henry Ford – or better yet, it is a part of ME!

Todd Edmond is a member of The Henry Ford’s 2013 Teacher Fellow Program. He hails from Tiffin, Ohio and teaches U .S. History and AP U. S. History at Tiffin Columbian High School.

Originally published in the January-May 2013 edition of The Henry Ford Magazine.

Ever have an idea that just got away from you? Things started out with the best intentions in mind, and then before you knew it, a perfect storm carried your idea away, along with all of those good intentions? That's the story behind the office cubicle we all love to hate and its underappreciated designer Robert Propst.

Before it was known as the cubicle, it was called the Action Office System. Propst invented the concept in the 1960s after intense study of how "the world of work" operates. The Action Office debuted under the Herman Miller name in 1968 and literally transformed the nation's idea of the workplace.

"The name was intentional," said Marc Greuther, our chief curator here at The Henry Ford (we have an archived collection of Propst's work). "Propst believed in fluidity and movement. He had an active mind and wanted to create a space that wouldn't pen you in."

The Action Office System contained movable walls, shelves, stand-up desks and other modular components, like the Communication Center from our collections, pictured above.

"The idea was that everyone had a unique way of working," noted Greuther, "so Propst created an area that was highly customizable, allowing workers to transform their space in a way that best suited them."

Things started to go awry when the government began offering tax incentives to businesses for office expenses. Since the Action Office System's square cubicle could create the most workspaces in a single area - equating to the biggest tax break - it quickly became the Action Office option that sold best. And Propst became the unintentional father of the office-cube farm we know today.

"Propst attacked the things that attacked him," Greuther added. "He liked solving problems and had his hands in many areas, from toys and playground equipment to hotel carts." Propst, in fact, had more than 120 patented inventions to his name when he died in 2000.

"He is a truly underappreciated and under-recognized designer of our time."

To see more from the collections of The Henry Ford, take a look at other Robert Propst-related items in our Digital Collections. You can read more from The Henry Ford Magazine here.

Robert Propst, furnishings, offices, design