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.
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 weinspire 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.
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. Continue Reading
When asked “What is your definition of design?” Bill Stumpf, co-designer of the Herman Miller Aeron Chair, replied: “A means of creatively sustaining the arts of daily living in a technological world.”
Herman Miller’s Aeron Chair has been called the most comfortable chair in the world and the most privileged chair in the office. In a 1994 interview, co-designer Bill Stumpf shared his thoughts: “A chair is our third life after sleeping and standing… As an object, it’s alive and intimate, not static. It’s 10 times more interesting than a building and 10 times more difficult to design.” Three years earlier, when the designers Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick first entered into their collaboration, their goal was to design a chair that supported a person in any position, at any task their office job served up.
The Aeron took an iconoclastic approach to chair design: Stumpf’s deep knowledge of ergonomics, combined with Chadwick’s curiosity for materials use, they built it from the ground up. The design team conducted anthropometric studies across the country, using a specially designed measuring device to examine the relationship between sizes of people and their preference for chair size. Their studies proved that the “one size fits all” chair model was inaccurate, and so the Aeron was made available in three sizes to conform to different body types.
Over the course of three years of research and design, as the Aeron Chair came to life, so did fourteen unique patents. The Pellicle mesh fabric, developed specifically for the Aeron, was breathable, and unlike the foam cushioning of the typical office chair, allowed heat and moisture from the body to pass through. Interwoven Hytrel fibers conformed to the sitter while seated, distributing weight and pressure upon the body—but always returned to their neutral position when vacated.
The Aeron prototypes housed in the collections of The Henry Ford—from the earliest design explorations to pre-production examples—represent a physical timeline of Propst and Chadwick’s achievements. The prototype seen on this page is “wired” for testing—once connected to strain gauges to measure load and stress. Every individual component of the Aeron Chair was sent through a rigorous engineering process, from aerated suspension to posture-fitting tilt mechanisms; recycled aluminum alloy structures to the way the mesh seating was encapsulated in the frame.
The Aeron’s history is closely entwined with the growth of the computing industry. As desktop computers became ubiquitous in the 1980s, the requirement to engage with monitors and keyboards for longer amounts of time increased. The Aeron Chair is a modern solution to the unhealthy alignment of bodies to screens. Its launch in 1994 coincided with the early stages of the “dot-com boom,” and the chair was adopted as a status symbol, populating the offices of the growing tech industry. And despite the “bursting” of the same bubble in 2000, the chair continues to be regarded among creative and information workers as a back-saving necessity.
From collections to your living room. Take home a piece of history when you give today. Your support will spark innovation among future change makers.
Donate $150 or more* and receive a limited-edition, signed and numbered museum-quality print (while supplies last).
GIFT 5 OF 6: Inspired by the Aeron Chair A breakthrough in manufacturing invented by Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick for Herman Miller. Captured by internationally renowned photographer Lisa Spindler; 12" x 12," unframed. To learn more about this gift as well as other Spark Innovation gifts, visit our website.
*Tax deduction = total donation minus fair market value of print.
Every year, the first Friday in October brings Manufacturing Day, a time to celebrate the contribution that modern manufacturing makes to our lives. We see it not only in the countless products we use every day, but in the many jobs that manufacturing provides to American workers.
We thought it would be appropriate to mark the day with a look back at the most influential manufacturing innovation of the 20th century: Henry Ford’s moving assembly line. By combining interchangeable parts with the subdivision of labor and the movement of work to workers, Ford dramatically increased the speed with which his employees built Model T automobiles – reducing the car’s price and boosting sales as a result. The moving assembly line quickly spread to other automakers, and then to manufacturers of all types. Today, almost anything you can name is made on an assembly line, from helicopters to hamburgers.
Here, in honor of Manufacturing Day, is an Expert Set of 25 photos, documents and artifacts that tell the story of Henry Ford’s ground-breaking manufacturing technique.
Dress, circa 1835, once owned by author and illustrator Tasha Tudor. THF49064
Way back when, making clothing was a household enterprise. Many families raised the raw materials and did much of the labor-intensive spinning, weaving and hand-sewing to produce the clothing they needed. Textiles were precious, and most people had only a few garments. Today, clothing is a massive commercial operation — it’s all about us going off-site or online and searching out ready-to-wear from hundreds of factory-made items hanging on hundreds of racks or presented as seemingly endless choices on websites. Here are some of the tools of the garment trade that got us from in-house to in-store, all part of The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation.
THE WALKING WHEEL In the 1760s, rural families would spin wool (from sheep raised on-site) on a walking wheel inside the home, creating yarn eventually woven into cloth for making their own clothing. Where can you see one? Walking Wheel, Daggett Farmhouse, Greenfield Village
ROLLER PRINTING The process of printing designs on textiles, shown above, using a cylinder made these fabrics much more affordable and fueled demand. By the 1830s, New England textile factories were producing a staggering 120 million yards of cotton prints each year.
THE SEWING MACHINE Sewing machines began to transform the process of sewing clothing during the late 1840s. While it might take 14 hours to sew a man’s dress shirt by hand, it would only take an hour by sewing machine.
R.S. Bailey’s New Combination System for Ladies and Children’s Waists, Basques, Sacques and Patterns, patented 1888. THF123321
THE DRESS PATTERN Commercial dress patterns made planning and cutting out a garment much easier. These patterns gave people a guide to making the correct cuts, sized from small child to adult.
THE POWER LOOM The power loom industrialized textile weaving during the early Industrial Revolution, automating the process of weaving and dramatically reducing the need for the skilled human hand. It took decades and a cast of innovators to perfect this technology.
African-American quiltmaker Susana Allen Hunter turned the "fabric" of everyday life into eye-catching quilts with an abstract, asymmetrical, and often, modern feel. Created from the 1930s to the 1970s, Susana Hunter's quilts reflect her life in rural Wilcox County, Alabama—one of the poorest counties in the United States.
Strip Quilt by Susana Allen Hunter, 1950-1955. THF73619
Susana Hunter made handsome, unique quilts, fashioned literally from the fabric of everyday life.
Susana's quilts are pieced in a design-as-you-go improvisational style found among both blacks and whites in poorer, more isolated pockets of the rural South. People living in these more remote areas had less access to quilt pattern ideas published in newspapers or printed in books. For fabrics, rural women depended on mail order catalogs or whatever was available in the local store. These "constraints" left quiltmakers like Susana Hunter free to use their imaginations. Bedsheet Pieced Together from Commercial Sugar Sacks by Susana Allen Hunter, 1930-1970. THF94355
Making an improvisational quilt top required a continual stream of creativity during the entire process, as the quiltmaker made hundreds of design decisions on the fly, fashioning an attractive whole out of whatever materials were at hand. Overall visual impact mattered most—not minor details such as whether a patch in a row had a square or rectangular shape. Size and shape was determined by the scraps available at the time.
Sewing Thimble Used by Susana Allen Hunter, 1930-1969. THF93486
Handmade Fan Used by Susana Allen Hunter. THF44759 For Susana and her husband Julius, life often meant hard work and few resources. The Hunters were tenant farmers who grew cotton and corn, tended a vegetable garden, and raised hogs, chicken and cattle. They lived in a simple, two-room house that had no running water, electricity or central heat. The outside world came to them through a battery-powered radio and a wind-up phonograph. Though the Hunters didn't have much in the way of material goods or the latest 20th century technology, they never went hungry, raising much of their own food.
Portrait of Susana Allen Hunter, June 1960. THF125834
Susana Hunter wanted all of her quilts to be different. Some of her quilt designs have a warm, homey feel. Many resemble abstract art. Other quilts pulsate with the visual energy created by many small, irregular pieces of vividly-colored fabric sewn together. Still others incorporate cornmeal or rice sacks, often reserved for quilt backing, as part of the design of the carefully-pieced quilt top.
What did you do this summer? Earlier this summer, winners of our 2015-16 Building Stories student creative contest visited Henry Ford Museum to tour the exhibit With Liberty and Justice for All. They had photos taken on the Rosa Parks Bus, a fitting memento of their hard work writing poignant stories on Rosa Parks, one of our nation’s most impactful social innovators. Please enjoy the story written by our grand prize winner, Yani Li, here.
From left: Teacher Dr. Melissa Collins, Elementary First Prize Winner Isaiah Watkins, Middle School First Prize Winner Sarah Ellis, High School First Prize and Overall Winner Yani Li, and teacher Julie Ellis.
While the Building Stories contest has been cancelled moving forward so that The Henry Ford can reconsider its contest offerings, we encourage teachers to make use of the primary source “foundational materials” developed for Building Stories.
Catherine Tuczek is Curator of School & Public Learning at The Henry Ford.
Maureen Foelkl is one of this year's Teacher Innovator Award winners. She shared her thoughts about her experience here at The Henry Ford; take a look here to see the rest of this year's winners.
From the moment I spied the entrance gates to The Henry Ford it reminded me of Disneyland as a child. The anticipation of the innovative educators’ experience was coming to fruition. The Henry Ford's Frederick Rubin and Phil Grumm greeted the innovative teacher group with a warm welcome and an introduction to our week.
Our days were thoughtfully planned. We began the experience interacting with modern day creators at Maker Faire Detroit. We were given the privilege of awarding blue ribbons to makers we believe captured the true innovative spirit. There were many creative ideas that it made it virtually impossible to isolate just two blue ribbon winners.
I was personally inspired by a 12-year-old maker that had taken used clothing and converted the rags into costumes that young adults stylishly wore. He started his own YouTube channel to show others how they could create their own woven masterpieces. The maker ribbon was his true inspiration to continue his own innovative creations. As an educator, this is what I value. An avenue to make students feel valued and successful.
The team from The Henry Ford is a phenomenal group of leaders that made the Teacher Innovator award meaningful. Cynthia Jones, Marc Greuther, Catherine Tuczek, Ben Seymour, Ryan Spencer, along with the most pleasant and helpful group of employees contributed to the positive experience at the museum. I now have nine additional educators I feel connected to for future inspirational teaching lessons.
I am creating an E-STEM unit of study for outdoor school. The Henry Ford's website will be invaluable as I begin to generate meaningful lessons. One of my lessons, on John Muir the expert navigator will expose students to the history of direction. Young navigators will learn to use a compass. I will have students take a brief overview from and research the history of the compass. For me, the lesson comes to life because I was fortunate to have a behind the scenes tour of the archives. Standing inches away from this compass allows me to tell a story behind the piece. I will share the knowledge to the next generation of learners in hope that they too will become explorers of their world.
The 2016 Teacher Innovator Award Winners: Far Back: Scott Weiler. From Left to right: Fabian Reid, Catherine Turso, George Hademenos, Jill Badalamenti, Cindy Lewis, Leon Tynes, Tracie Adams, Maureen Foelkl. (Unable to attend: Jessica Klass)
I highly encourage teachers to visit Henry Ford Museum and take time to introduce your students to the world of innovation via their website to inspire the creativity in teaching and learning.
Maureen Foelkl is a Teacher Innovator Award Winner at The Henry Ford and is a teacher at Chapman Hill Elementary in Salem, Oregon.
Seventeen Ford GT cars pose for a group portrait on Pebble Beach’s 18th fairway. P/1046, which finished first at Le Mans 50 years ago, leads the pack.
It’s a big year for Ford Motor Company’s iconic GT40 race car. Fifty years ago, New Zealander drivers Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren realized Henry Ford II’s ambitious goal to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, while two other GT40s took second and third place. This year, in a bold move, Ford returned to Le Mans with the all-new GT and, in fairy tale fashion, won its class 50 years to the day after the Amon/McLaren victory. Meanwhile, demand for the forthcoming street version of the new GT is so great that Ford just announced it’ll be adding two more production years to the supercar’s limited run. What better time, then, to celebrate the GT40 at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance?
Three cars representing four years of consecutive Le Mans victories: Our Mark IV J-5 (1967), P/1075 (1968-69), and P/1046 (1966). Private owners and museums around the world answered the call from Pebble Beach organizers. On August 21, they filled the 18th fairway with what might have been the most impressive collection of Ford GT cars ever assembled outside of the Circuit de la Sarthe. No fewer than 17 GT40s and GT40 variants made the trip to California, and it seemed that every important car was there. There was chassis P/1046, the GT40 Mark II that Amon and McLaren drove to victory in 1966. Freshly – and brilliantly – restored to its race day appearance, the car took “Best in Class” honors from the Pebble Beach judges. Alongside it were 1966’s second and third place cars driven by Ken Miles and Denny Hulme, and Ronnie Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson, respectively.
GT40 P/1015 won the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona with Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby. Four months later, it finished second at Le Mans with Miles and Denny Hulme.
Le Mans winners from other years were present, too. Our Mark IV chassis J-5, of course, won in 1967 with Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt sharing the driver duties. Then there was chassis P/1075, the GT40 Mark I that won Le Mans twice in a row, with drivers Lucien Bianchi and Pedro Rodriguez in 1968, and with Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver in 1969. Ford Motor Company itself pulled out of Le Mans after 1967, but privateer John Wyer did the GT40 proud with those back-to-back victories.
From Switzerland came this replica of GT/101, the very first GT40, which turned heads at the 1964 New York Auto Show.
Le Mans wasn’t the only race represented at Pebble Beach. Mark IV chassis J-4, which won the 1967 12 Hours of Sebring with Bruce McLaren and Mario Andretti at the wheel, was there on the fairway. So was GT40 P/1074, the Mirage variant which took first place at Belgium’s Spa 1000-kilometer race in 1968 with Jacky Ickx and Dick Thompson. The collection was rounded out with a replica of GT/101, the first-ever GT40, and the prototype 1967 GT40 Mark III that modified the track racer into a more civilized street machine.
The rare GT40 Mark III. Just seven of these refined road cars were ever built. To put the icing on the cake, the GT40 also featured on this year’s official concours poster. The painting, by noted automotive artist Ken Eberts, features the 1966 trio of 1-2-3 finish cars posed in front of the Lodge at Pebble Beach. Behind the cars stand Carroll Shelby, Henry Ford II and Edsel Ford II. (The younger Mr. Ford not only witnessed the 1966 victory with his father, he was also at Le Mans this year for the 2016 win.)
This year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for fans of the GT40. We were honored to participate with the Mark IV, and we look forward to watching the next chapter of GT history unfold with Ford Performance’s new generation of cars.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
More often than not, these two disciplines and the artists that practice them go hand in hand
When the founders of Kate Spade decided in 2015 that they wanted to once again make a go of the accessories business, they decided that their new label, called Frances Valentine, would consist primarily of shoes instead of handbags (which was the thing they originally became famous for in the early 1990s).
The handbag market is crowded enough, they said, so rather than offer dozens of pocketbooks, they whipped up just a few easy-to-carry totes and a broad range of footwear, including everything from casual sneakers to sky-high stilettos.
No matter what category they’re chasing, designers Andy Spade and Kate Valentine — who changed her surname in order to create a delineation between the real person and the still-active brand — will always favor clean lines mixed with artful graphic flourishes. That’s why the collection’s pièce de résistance is a chunky geodesic heel that makes an appearance in the designer’s spring collection under a strappy sandal and, in the fall, a sharp Chelsea boot. The heel was inspired by American architect R. Buckminster Fuller, whose futuristic domes can be found everywhere from Russell Township, Ohio, to Montreal, Québec.
It’s a novel interpretation, but hardly an unexpected one. “Fashion is architecture,” Coco Chanel once said. “It is a matter of proportions.”
BODY OR BUILDING Indeed, fashion and accessories designers have long applied the principles of architecture to their chosen medium. There are endless examples of the two intermingling. What they have in common is functionality. Unlike art, which often has no end use other than contemplation, architecture and fashion both serve a purpose. The precision required to erect a building or some other sort of edifice is an inspiration for designers, who must often bring structure to a material that lacks form.
It’s no surprise that several of fashion history’s greatest practiced or at least studied architecture before learning to drape a dress. Tom Ford was an undergrad at Parsons Paris (a branch campus of New York’s esteemed The New School) when his eye began to stray from the monumental toward the sartorial. Legendary Italian designer Gianni Versace studied architectural drafting while moonlighting as a buyer for his mother’s clothing store in southern Italy. Italian designer Gianfranco Ferre, who earned a degree in architecture from the Milan Polytechnic Institute, began his fashion career designing accessories, a process that is often more in line with that of his intended profession — perhaps because it requires the eye of an industrial designer.
Dubbed “the architect of fashion,” Ferre went on to lead the House of Dior from 1989 to 1996. His most notable contribution to fashion, however, is his white shirt iterations. (A garment that requires plenty of engineering to get right.)
Becca McCharen, the Brooklynbased designer behind Chromat, has used the foundations of her architecture degree from the University of Virginia to build an unorthodox fashion label. “Architecture school taught me how to approach a design project,” she said. “It is my full reference on how to design.”
Without any formal fashion training, McCharen treats each garment as if it’s a building. “I think of the body as a building site,” she continued. “Just as you’d be looking at materials and the map of a site before you start plans, we’re looking at context, too. Joints and the movement of the joints all around the place we’re designing for.”
The designer, best known for the cage-like structures she molds to the body, also uses her electrical engineering know-how to wire garments so that they are illuminated in an enticing, not hokey, way.
A MUTUAL ADMIRATION It might be the minimalists, many of whom are not trained architects, who take the practice’s theories most wholeheartedly.
Cuban-born American designer Narciso Rodriguez wanted to be an architect before he became a fashion designer, and the exacting lines of his clothing reflect that. “Architecture is always one of the foundations for me,” he once told The New York Times. The New York-based designer’s favorite buildings include resident treasures such as the Seagram, Empire State and Chrysler buildings.
The Turkish-born, London-based designer Hussein Chalayan has been known to draw more directly from the well of home design, crafting a skirt out of a coffee table and creating a dress that functions as a chair. Or there is Los Angeles-based designer (and former architect) Airi Isoda, whose company is called wrk-shp. She has taken to dipping clutches in latex house paint and coats in concrete.
Isoda, who studied architecture at the University of Southern California, has said the exhibit Skin & Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion & Architecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles was a lightbulb moment. “It was the first time I saw fashion in a new light — conceptual and architecture for the body,” Isoda told the website Archinect. “Viewing an elaborately draped dress with folds similar to a façade of a building I studied in school … it was just an eye-opening experience because I saw intellectual fashion, past its somewhat superficial and superfluous nature.”
Isoda went on to study fashion design; wrk-shp is a culmination of her multiple disciplines. The company designs clothing and accessories, lighting, objects and buildings in Los Angeles and beyond. In fact, the buildings of Japanese architect Toyo Ito inspired Isoda’s latest apparel collection. In particular, his “lily pad” columns have informed her silhouettes and pocket details.
It’s important to note that the relationship between fashion and architecture is one of mutual admiration. “Starchitects” are often commissioned to design clothing and accessories. For instance, architect Zaha Hadid was almost as well known for her honeycomb-lattice jewelry as she was for erecting the Guangzhou Opera House. Before her death in 2016, she had also collaborated with the shoe label United Nude, as has Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.
But many of the most important fashion and architecture collaborations have nothing to do with actual clothes. Consider the ongoing partnership between Koolhaas and Prada. He has designed several retail stores for the Italian brand and also collaborates with its leader, Miuccia Prada, on collection visuals. The relationship between these two — underscored in the skate-park-like Prada store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, which still impresses 15 years after it opened — has served as an example for many. Like Prada’s clothes, Koolhaas’ concepts remain interesting years, and even decades, after they are conceived.
Making things that last, not just structurally but also intellectually, is the greatest challenge for both architects and fashion designers. Perhaps the fact that clothing and buildings are both rooted in need first and desire second best explains why these two worlds cannot be uncoupled from one another.
Raymond Taylor and E.T. Paull’s “A Signal From Mars March and Two-Step,” 1901 imagines two inhabitants of Mars using a signal lamp to communicate with Earth. THF129403
The concept of "life on Mars" and "Martian Fever" was not incited in the pages of the tabloid magazine Weekly World News—but actually reaches much further back to 1877—with Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli. The astronomer himself was not to blame: a single word in his report—canali, which is Italian for “channels”—was misinterpreted to mean "canal" once translated into English. In Schiaparelli’s time, telescopes became more advanced and powerful, allowing him to make detailed maps of the planet’s surface. At the time of this mapping, Mars was in “opposition,” bringing the planet into close alignment with Earth for easier observation. While creating his maps, however, Schiaparelli fell victim to an optical illusion. He perceived straight lines crisscrossing the surface of the planet, which he included in his records, assigning them the names of rivers on Earth. These were the canali—and the source of a misunderstanding which morphed into a self-perpetuating legend about intelligent, ancient, canal-building Martian lifeforms.
Much to Schiaparelli’s annoyance, the American astronomer Percival Lowell continued to pursue this "life on Mars" theory. Beginning in 1895, Lowell published a trilogy of books about the “unnatural features” he saw through his telescope in Flagstaff, Arizona. He created his own maps of the planet, much of which Schiaparelli believed to be pure fantasy. In reality, the imagery Lowell was seeing was likely caused by diffraction illusion in his equipment. Lowell was not alone in popularizing the concept of an intelligent Red Planet. The astronomer, psychical researcher, and early science fiction writer Camille Flammarion published The Planet Mars in 1892, which collected his archival research and historic literature exploring the idea of an inhabited planet. In 1899, Nikola Tesla claimed to have tapped into intelligent radio signals from Mars; in 1901 the director of Harvard’s Observatory Edward Charles Pickering claimed to have received a telegram from Mars.
In 1901—the year that Raymond Taylor and E.T. Paull’s "A Signal from Mars" sheet music was published—"Mars Fever" had officially taken hold, as scientists and enthusiasts alike actively explored the potential for two-way communication with Mars. This piece of music, made in tribute to the planet, is a prime example of the exoticism of science, space travel, and speculation about the limits of technology (along with a few missteps) colliding with future-forward, popular, and artistic culture.
Amazing Stories, September 1950. THF344586 Speculative thinking about Mars did not end in 1901—it has continued to provide a source of inspiration and exploration for both popular and scientific cultures. The Red Planet and its hypothetical inhabitants often appeared in early pulp and science fiction magazines like Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories. The first issue of Amazing Stories was published in April 1926 by inventor Hugo Gernsback, and was the first magazine to be fully dedicated to the genre of science fiction. Gernsback himself is credited as the “father” of science fiction publishing—or, as he called it, “scientification.” The magazine introduced readers to far-reaching fantasies with journeys to internal worlds like Jules Verne’s “Trip to the Center of the Earth,” and explorations of other dimensions and galaxies, time travel, and the mysterious powers of the human mind. Throughout its publication of over 80 years, Amazing Stories included many fictional accounts of Mars, including H.G. Wells’s “War of the Worlds,” Cecil B. White’s “Retreat to Mars,” pictured here, E.K. Jarvis’s “You Can’t Escape from Mars!”
Standing left to right are H.G. Wells and Henry Ford at Cotswold Cottage, Greenfield Village, 1931. This photograph was taken 7 years before the infamous 1938 radio broadcast of Wells’s War of the Worlds. This radio-play used media as an all-too-effective storytelling device, inciting a public panic about an alien invasion in the process. THF108523 In 1924, with Mars once again in opposition to Earth, a new round of astronomical experiments and observations emerged. In order to test theories of advanced cultures inhabiting the planet, the inventor Charles Francis Jenkins and astronomer David Peck Todd were commissioned by the US military to conduct a study to “listen to Mars.” For the purposes of this experiment, Jenkins created an apparatus called the “radio photo message continuous transmission machine,” capable of creating visual records of radio phenomena on a long strip of photographic paper. Jenkins’s device was connected to an ordinary SE-950 NESCO radio receiver, serving as the “listening ear” in this experiment. Any incoming signal would trigger a flash of light on the paper, creating black waveform-like lines and thus revealing any chatter of alien radio waves.
The Army and Navy proceeded to silence radio activity for short periods over the three days of Mars’s closest course, believing that anyone who was bold enough to defy military-ordered radio silence would surely be extraterrestrial in origin. The Chief of US Naval Operations, Edward W. Eberle, sent this telegram on August 22nd:
7021 ALNAVSTA EIGHT NAVY DESIRES COOPERATE ASTRONOMERS WHO BELIEVE POSSIBLE THAT MARS MAY ATTEMPT COMMUNICATION BY RADIO WAVES WITH THIS PLANET WHILE THEY ARE NEAR TOGETHER THIS END ALL SHORE RADIO STATIONS WILL ESPECIALLY NOTE AND REPORT ANY ELECTRICAL PHENOMENON UNUSUAL CHARACTER AND WILL COVER AS WIDE BAND FREQUENCIES AS POSSIBLE FROM 2400 AUGUST TWENTY FIRST TO 2400 AUGUST TWENTY FOURTH WITHOUT INTERFERRING [sic.] WITH TRAFFIC 1800
Radio Receiver, Type SE-950, Used by Charles Francis Jenkins in Experiment Detecting Radio Signals from Mars. THF156814 When the paper was developed, the researchers were surprised to find that it contained images. These graphics were interpreted by the public to be “messages” composed of dots and dashes and “a crudely drawn face” repeating down the thirty-foot length of film. Jenkins, however, feared that his machine would be perpetrated as a hoax, so when the films were released he did so with this caveat: “Quite likely the sounds recorded are the result of heterodyning, or interference of radio signals.” While the popular press used these images as confirmation of life on Mars (in fact, this 1924 experiment has appeared as “evidence” in the tabloid, Weekly World News), the scientific community provided logical explanations: static discharge from a passing trolley car, malfunctioning radio equipment, or the natural symphonic radio waves produced by Jupiter. The SE-950 radio used by Jenkins in this experiment is now part of The Henry Ford’s collection: a simple rectangular wood box with knobs and dials that easily hides its deeper history as part of an experiment to communicate with Mars.
From Schiaperelli to Lowell; from the adventure tales of H.G. Wells to the first science fiction magazines of Hugo Gernsback; from a curious piece of turn-of-the-century sheet music to an even stranger experimental radio—Mars has acted as an inspirational and problematic site for creative and scientific pursuits alike. In July of 1964, the fly-by images gathered by the spacecraft Mariner 4 put an end to the most far-flung theories about the planet. As Mariner 4 transmitted images back to Earth, there were no signs of canals, channels—or a populated planet. And finally, in recent years, technological innovation has allowed our knowledge of Mars to grow at a rapid pace, with NASA’s on-planet rover missions and SpaceX’s Falcon and Dragon vehicle programs. Martians or not, despite the fact that the Red Planet lingers an average of 140 million miles away from Earth, it continues to broadcast an inspirational signal of astounding strength, which reaches straight into the human imagination.
Kristen Gallerneaux is the Curator of Communication and Information Technology, The Henry Ford.
( Telegram from the Secretary of the Navy to All Naval Stations Regarding Mars, August 22, 1924, Record Group 181, Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, 1784-2000, ARC Identifier 596070, National Archives and Records Administration.)