Construction at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, January 1985. THF138461
Guided by the 1980s mission-based phrase, “Stories of a Changing America,” Greenfield Village took on new life and Henry Ford Museum exhibits explored new topics. These included the acquisition of the Firestone farmhouse and creation of its living history program (1985), the “Automobile in American Life” exhibit (1987), and the “Made in America” exhibit (1992). During the 1980s and 1990s, museum staff placed new attention on accurate research, creative program planning, and engaging public presentations.
Elizabeth Parke Firestone donated a large segment of her stunning wardrobe in 1989, including custom-made garments created for her by prominent American and European couturiers. Firestone was an early client of French designer Christian Dior, who had just caused a sensation introducing his “New Look” to a post-WWII world, emphasizing slim waists and rounded feminine features. Firestone visited Dior’s Paris salon in 1946 and commissioned this dress, made for her daughter Martha’s wedding to William Clay Ford. - Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life
This type of lamp is typically called a "Television Lamp." It was made to sit atop a television console and to provide a low level of illumination, sufficient to keep one's eyes from being "harmed" by watching the small TV screens of that time (1946-1960). This marks a change in collecting as curators sought out objects that provided insight into social history. - Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts
For 50 years Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation generally presented artifacts in a traditional typological format. Tractors, airplanes, furnishings -- you name it -- sat in tidy rows where visitors were left to trace an item's technological evolution. That all began to change in the 1980s as the museum refocused on social history. No exhibit signaled this shift more dramatically than "The Automobile in American Life," opened in 1987. Cars were moved out of their stodgy rows and instead placed alongside contextual items like maps and travel literature, menus from quick-service restaurants, and replicated roadside lodgings. This Holiday Inn "Great Sign" was one of the more visible artifacts acquired for the new show. - Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
In 1982, Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village purchased the Seymour Dunbar Collection from Chicago's Museum of Science & Industry. The collection consists of over 1,700 prints, drawings, maps, and other items documenting various modes of travel from 1680 to 1910. Dunbar compiled this material while researching his four-volume history of travel in the U.S., which was published in 1915. - Andy Stupperich, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Reflecting a new emphasis on social history, museum staff developed interpretive exhibits that integrated objects from across collections categories to examine special themes. “Streamlining America” explored an influential mid-20th-century ideology and design style. This striking poster, selected for the exhibit, embodies the streamlined environment of the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair. - Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Harold K. Skramstad, Jr., president of The Edison Institute, considered the opening of Firestone Farm a "landmark event." Why? The house, barn, and outbuildings added a living historical farm to Greenfield Village, complete with wrinkly Merino sheep collected to sustain the type and increase interpretive potential. - Debra A. Reid, Curator, Agriculture and the Environment
Lighting and Communications Exhibits at Henry Ford Museum, 1979. THF112161
Home Arts Exhibit at Henry Ford Museum, 1979. THF112157
Transportation Exhibit at Henry Ford Museum, 1979. THF112159
Inaugural Run of the Torch Lake Steam Locomotive and Passenger Train in Greenfield Village, August 9, 1972. THF133929
With an unmatched treasury of America’s past already at their fingertips, the staff at Henry Ford Museum continued Henry Ford’s vision as they began to add to the collection.
1939 Douglas DC-3 after Move from Ford Proving Ground to Henry Ford Museum, June 2, 1975. THF124077
In 1974, North Central Airlines (known today as our partner Delta after a series of mergers) donated a 1939 DC-3 Douglas airplane that, at the time of its donation, had flown more than 85,000 hours, more than any other plane. In 1978, the Ford Motor Company donated the limousine President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy rode in when he was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. The car, leased by the government from Ford Motor Company, was extensively rebuilt and then used by four presidents after Kennedy. The Ford Motor Company donation stipulated that the car could not be displayed until the Kennedy children reached adulthood.
Decorative Arts Gallery in the Henry Ford Museum Promenade, 1976. THF271166
In the 1970s, museum staff began to place more emphasis on collection decorative and fine arts, such as furniture and paintings. The museum’s research library began to acquire engravings, rare books, and documents associated with the early history of the country, such as an original Paul Revere engraving of the Boston Massacre and a copy of the famous “Stamp Act,” published in London in 1761. In the early 1970s, the museum purchased an extraordinary collection of 19th century quilts made my Susan McCord, an Indiana farmwife.
Fire Damage, Henry Ford Museum, August 9, 1970. THF111720a
As the museum staff worked to make significant improvements to the museum experience, they faced another challenge. In August 1970, as more than 1,000 visitors toured the exhibits, a fire broke out in the museum. It was one of the worst fires to ever hit an American museum, destroying hundreds of artifacts, including major portions of the textile collections. Though the museum reopened to the public in just two days, it was a full year before the building was completely repaired.
Torch Lake Locomotive at Main Street Station in Greenfield Village, July 1978. THF133933
Let Freedom Ring Parade, Greenfield Village, 1976. THF112250
This decade witnessed a flurry of planning and construction, with a steady stream of improvements designed to broaden the appeal and educational impact of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. (Attendance at historic sites was climbing during the early 1970s as the nation moved toward the bicentennial of its founding.) The expansion was intended to attract new audiences and set the institution on a path to self-sufficiency. In Greenfield Village, the most dramatic changes were the new railroad and period amusement park. The railroad line, completed in 1972, circled the village perimeter. Visitors rode in open cars, pulled by a steam locomotive. The train quickly became a visitor favorite.
Suwanee Park and Steamboat, Greenfield Village, 1975. THF95455
Suwanee Park, located alongside the Suwanee Lagoon, opened in 1974 as a recreation of a turn-of-20th amusement park. The complex was designed to be a “focal point fun,” offering a “nostalgic look at how American amused themselves in bygone days.” The centerpiece of the new amusement park complex was a restored, fully operational, 1913 Herschell-Spillman Carousel.
The village received an important new building in the 1970s, a mid-18th-century rural Connecticut saltbox house (now Daggett Farmhouse). In Henry Ford Museum, the vast Hall of Technology underwent a total redesign. New restaurants and gift shops further improved the visitor experience. In 1972, the museum opened its first professional conservation lab and staffed it with trained conservators. A year later, the Tannahill Research Center (now incorporated into the Benson Ford Research Center) opened and held the institution’s remarkable collection of historical manuscripts, books, periodicals, maps, prints, photographs, music, and graphic collections.
Additions Made to the Collections: 1970s
“Brewster” Chair, 1969 In 1970, the Museum purchased what was believed to be a rare and remarkable 17th century armchair. In 1977, a story broke about a woodworker who attempted to demonstrate his skill by making a similar chair that would fool the experts. Analysis proved the Museum's chair was the woodworker's modern fake. Today we use this chair as a teaching tool in understanding traditional craft techniques. - Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts
Susan McCord Vine Quilt In 1970, a fire in Henry Ford Museum destroyed many objects on exhibit and in storage--including much of the quilt collection. Curators soon began to fill the void. An exceptional acquisition in 1972 brought ten quilts made by Indiana farmwife Susan McCord--an ordinary woman with an extraordinary sense of color and design. This distinctive vine pattern is a McCord original, made by sewing together fabric scraps to create over 300 leaves for each of the thirteen panels. McCord’s quilts remain among the most significant in the museum’s collection. - Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life
1961 Lincoln Continental Presidential Limousine For years, the White House leased Lincoln parade limousines from Ford Motor Company. When the leases ended, Ford Motor reclaimed the cars and generously gifted them to The Henry Ford. This arrangement enabled our unmatched collection of presidential vehicles. None is more significant than the 1961 Continental that carried President Kennedy through Dallas in November 1963. Following the assassination, the open car was rebuilt with a permanent roof, armor plating, and other protective features and put back into service. The Henry Ford acquired the limo in 1978 and first exhibited it -- alongside its 1939 and 1950 Lincoln predecessors -- in 1981. - Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
Black & Decker Type AA Circular Saw, 1930-1931 In the 1970s, curators worked to bring Henry Ford Museum’s considerable tool collection into the 20th century. As part of that effort, staff wrote to power tool manufacturer Black & Decker for information about its history and most important products. The company responded with a donation of five electric power tools, including this example of Black & Decker’s first portable circular saw. -Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Self-Propelled Cotton Picker, 1950 John Rust invented a wet-spindle system for mechanically picking cotton in 1928. By 1933 his machine picked five bales per day (2,500 lbs). Peter Cousins, Curator of Agriculture, wanted one of Rust’s machines, and Allan Jones agreed to donate his 1950 picker, named "Grandma," in 1975. Twenty years of life intervened before the picker arrived at The Henry Ford in January 1995. -Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment
During the 1950s and the 1960s, the museum prepared to engage a new generation of visitors. Fresh paint, improved exhibits, special events, and enhanced amenities began to transform the museum into an increasingly attractive destination for the visiting public.
Staffordshire Case in Decorative Arts Gallery in Henry Ford Museum, circa 1960. THF139326
In Henry Ford Museum, curators reduced the number of objects on display in the main exhibit hall, arranged the artifacts in a more orderly fashion, and provided explanatory labels. The transportation collections were rearranged, presenting the trains, automobiles, and bicycles in chronological order for the first time. This helped visitors see more clearly how technology and design had evolved over time, Similarly, the decorative arts galleries grouped furniture, ceramics, glassware, and silver to show the evolution of American taste.
Edison Institute Board of Trustees, 1967. THF133538
In 1969, as the institution celebrated its 40th anniversary, William Clay Ford, then board chairman of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, announced that both the Ford Motor Company and the Ford Foundation would each donate $20 million in grants to the organization. In speaking at the anniversary celebration that year, William Clay Ford said, “I think the institute is one of the great philanthropic legacies of my grandfather. It in no way diminishes the significance of this historic resource to note that he underestimated its financial needs when he conceived it more than a generation ago.”
Nearly half of the money was used for needed improvements to museum and village facilities and programming. The remainder was used to create an endowment fund to provide for future income. The announcement launched a period of development not see seen since Henry Ford’s era.
The museum purchased this 1842 silhouette of Noah and Rebecca Webster in 1962--just in time to be placed in the Webster House as it was being opened to the public for the first time since it was moved from New Haven, Connecticut in 1936. This silhouette, mentioned in Rebecca’s will, had been left to a Webster daughter. Curators were fortunate to have also acquired an original Webster desk, sofa, and some portraits to include along with other period furniture, tableware, paintings, quilts, and accessories. Yet, when completed, the rooms were more effective at showcasing fine decorative arts objects than reflecting the Webster family’s life. The era of historically accurate, immersive settings had not yet arrived in the museum field. - Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life
Throughout the mid-20th century, curators sought out the best examples of decorative and folk arts, one of which is this portrait of a 4-year-old girl named Sarah. Painted around 1830 by an itinerant artist, this endearing girl carries a basket of stylized fruit and flowers and wears a necklace of coral beads, which were thought to ward off illness. - Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts
Mustang fans know the story well. Canadian airline pilot Stanley Tucker bought Serial Number One in Newfoundland on April 14, 1964. After Mustang became a sales sensation, Ford spent two years convincing Tucker to give it back (ultimately, in trade for a fully-loaded '66 Mustang). Ford Motor Company then gave Serial Number One to The Henry Ford where the landmark vehicle immediately... went into storage until 1984. Such was the museum's philosophy in those days. A vehicle wasn't truly historic -- and worthy of display -- until it reached 20 years of age. Happily, exhibit policies and visitor expectations are quite different today! - Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
The museum's collection not only includes automobiles, but automotive accessories and registration materials. In the 1960s, the State of Michigan donated a run of Michigan license plates dating from about 1906 to 1968. Alongside the museum's historic vehicles, these objects help tell the rich story of America's automotive history. -Andy Stupperich, Associate Curator, Digital Content
By the 1960s, Curator of Mechanical Arts, Frank Davis, and his curatorial colleagues had started to organize the thousands of artifacts collected during Henry Ford's lifetime. The collections displayed in the museum's vast Mechanical Arts Hall, curated by Davis, contained machines related to agriculture, power generation, lighting, transportation, and communication. With a special interest in radio, Davis couldn't pass up the chance to add this radio to the collection in 1967. Created by pioneer of radio engineering and credited inventor of FM radio, Edwin Howard Armstrong, this radio was a gift to Armstrong’s wife for their 1923 honeymoon and the first portable "superhet" radio receiver ever made. - Ryan Jelso, Associate Curator of Digital Content
In 1969, as the institution celebrated its 40th anniversary, board chairman William Clay Ford announced an extensive expansion and improvement program that would include the creation of a perimeter railroad for Greenfield Village. The 1873 Torch Lake, originally used by a copper mining company in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, fit in perfectly with these plans. Returned to operating condition, the engine shifted from hauling ore to transporting passengers and was just shy of 100 years old when the railroad opened in 1972. - Saige Jedele, Associate Curator of Digital Content
In 1964, the Ford Motor Company donated its archive to Edison Institute, with the records from the office of Henry Ford at the collection’s core. Housed in over 3,000 boxes and forming an unbroken run of correspondence from 1921 through 1952, the Engineering Lab Office Records are a remarkable group of materials that document a period of more than thirty years of activity of one of the world's great industrialists and his company. -Brian Wilson, Sr. Manager, Archives and Library
The Ford Motor Company transferred business records to the Edison Institute in 1964. The transfer included this 1960 advertisement for the Ford 981 diesel tractor and the Ford 250 hay baler. Existing collections had not covered this time period. Henry Ford and collectors such as Felix Roulet focused on earlier technological innovations as they built the collection between the 1920s and 1940s. When Peter Cousins joined the staff in 1969 as the first trained historian hired to curate agriculture, his research confirmed inventors and patent numbers and affirmed the richness of the collection. He also identified items still needed to tell authentic stories about technological history after Henry Ford's era. - Debra A. Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment
"Allegheny" Locomotive Arrives at Henry Ford Museum, 1956. THF112196
Henry Ford’s energy had been the animating force behind the Edison Institute. His death in 1947 challenged the institution to manage a collection that had grown to massive proportions – with no adequate storage solutions and no formal cataloging system.
Aerial View of Henry Ford Museum, circa 1953. THF112188
Clara Ford took over for her husband after his death, and the skeletal staff maintained the status quo at the Institute for the next few years without real direction. In 1950, the death of Clara signaled the end of another era. The Ford family stepped away from the daily management of the institution and began a strong tradition of lay leadership. In the early 1950s, all three of the Fords’ grandsons served on the Board of Trustees. William Clay Ford took over the position of board president in 1951 and remained chairman of the board for 38 years.
Museum Executives and "Today" Show Staff after Live Broadcast from Greenfield Village, October 25, 1955. THF116184
In January 1951, the board appointed A.K. Mills to the new post of executive director of Greenfield Village and the Edison Institute Museum. He implemented business practices and hired professional staff members. During the 1950s, the public – especially the vast traveling public – became the focus of the institution’s attention. In 1952, as a tribute to its founder, the Edison Institute was renamed Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. Mills died suddenly in 1954; Donald Shelley replaced him as executive director, a position he held for the next 22 years.
Industrial Progress U.S.A. Exhibit, Henry Ford Museum, 1952-1954. THF112172
Traveling exhibits, developed by the institution in the 1950s, offered the museum a chance to promote itself beyond the local area, increase awareness, and increase visitation. Henry Ford Museum’s attendance steadily climbed each year. The number of visitors doubled over the decade, from 500,000 in 1950, to 1 million by 1960. The village and museum had become a national attraction.
Acquisitions to the Collections: 1950s
Walking Doll In the 1950s, the museum’s curators acquired many objects for the collection through a network of antique collectors and dealers. Curators were especially looking for folk art and other “early American” objects. Collector Titus Geesey of Wilmington, Delaware had filled his home with three decades worth of collecting. Ready to pare down a bit, Geesey sold over 300 objects to the museum over the years, including prints, tableware, coverlets, a weathervane, and toys. This late 19th-century mechanical doll from Geesey’s collection came in 1958. - Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life
Moravian Bowl with Stylized Fish and Turtles in Center, 1810-1820 In the mid-20th century, Henry Ford Museum built on its early holdings to become one of the preeminent collections of American decorative and folk arts. This ceramic serving bowl was made by Moravian-German immigrants in Alamance County, North Carolina. The playfully arranged turtles and fish are unique representations in Moravian ceramics, which usually emphasizes abstract decoration. - Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts
1941 Allegheny Steam Locomotive It's perhaps the most photographed object in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, and certainly among the best-remembered by our visitors. The mighty Allegheny has anchored the museum's railroad collection since 1956. Used steam locomotives were a dime a dozen in those days as railroads switched to diesel-electric power. Some went to museums and some to tourist railroads. But many more went to city parks and county fairgrounds, left to the mercies of the weather. The Allegheny is a gem carefully preserved indoors for more than 60 years now -- four times longer than it actually operated on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. - Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
"Battle Scenes of the Rebellion" Battle of Gettysburg, Civil War Panorama" In the 1880s, Thomas Clarkson Gordon (1841-1922), a self-taught artist and Civil War veteran, created a panorama depicting scenes from the Civil War. Gordon toured his 15-paneled panorama throughout eastern Indiana, retelling the history of the conflict through his vivid illustrations. In 1956, Thomas Gordon's daughters wrote to Henry Ford II, hoping he would want the panorama for his grandfather's "Dearborn Museum." The request was redirected to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. The donation arrived in 1958. - Andy Stupperich, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Birth and Baptismal Certificate for Maria Heimbach, 1784| German immigrants in Pennsylvania created fraktur – highly-decorated documents – to commemorate life’s most significant events. This particular fraktur is a Geburts-und Taufscheine – or a birth and baptismal certificate – and is the most common type. The name fraktur is rooted in a German calligraphic tradition and was primarily used for official documents. The Pennsylvania German frakturs continue this typographic tradition but expand upon it to create a new cultural tradition for a new homeland. - Katherine White, Associate Curator
1953 Ford X-100 Concept Car During its 50th anniversary in 1953, Ford Motor Company celebrated the past and looked to the future. A. K. Mills -- former head of Public and Employee Relations and recently-appointed Executive Director of the newly-renamed Henry Ford Museum -- managed multiple anniversary projects. While Mills organized new exhibits, oral histories, books, films, and -- most importantly -- a company archive, Ford engineers completed a special project of their own. Their fully-functional concept car, known as the X-100, was showcased during anniversary celebrations and featured more than 50 futuristic innovations, including heated seats and a telephone. - Ryan Jelso, Associate Curator
Print of Mary Vaux Walcott Wildflower Sketch, "Trumpet Honeysuckle," 1925 Clara Ford was an active gardener who presided over several gardening organizations during her lifetime. Citing her interest in flowers, the William Edwin Rudge Printing House of New York sent Mrs. Ford a set of prints originally illustrated by Mary Vaux Walcott in 1925. (The gift also served to demonstrate the quality of the firm’s color reproductions.) When Clara Ford died in 1950, a group of items from her estate – including these prints – came into the museum’s collection. - Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Sears, Roebuck and Company Mail-Order Catalog, "Consumers Guide, 1901," Catalogue No. 111 Mail order catalogs opened up the world of retail to families around the country. With thousands of items right at their fingertips this Sears and Roebuck catalog would give access to clothing, equipment, home goods, and everything in between to anyone in the United States. The Benson Ford Research Center now utilizes trade catalogs like this to document fashion and innovation of the time. - Sarah Andrus, Librarian
H.J. Heinz Company Collection Expansion at the H.J. Heinz Company in Pittsburgh during the early 1950s looked to be the end for “The Little House Where We Began,” the small brick building where H.J. Heinz began his business and that had been moved by barge to Pittsburgh in 1904. To save it from demolition, the H.J. Heinz Company donated the building to the Edison Institute, where it was reconstructed in Greenfield Village as the Heinz House. Along with the building, the H.J. Heinz Company donated this sizable archival collection that includes photographs, advertising layouts, publications, scrapbooks, and business records, all of which help convey the history of the Heinz House, the H.J. Heinz Company, and other stories of innovation and entrepreneurship. - Brian Wilson, Senior Manager, Archives and Library
Ford-Ferguson Model 9N Tractor, 1940 The Ford Motor Company re-entered the tractor business in the United States in 1939 with the 9N, a Ford tractor with a 3-point hydraulic hitch-and-lift system invented by Harry Ferguson. After Edsel and Henry both died, Henry Ford II ended the Ford-Ferguson arrangement and released a new model, the 8N, marketed through the Dearborn Motor Corporation, not through Ferguson. Ferguson sued, and after four years he accepted $9.25 million paid by FMC to settle the patent-infringement case. This tractor was one of eight that FMC assembled for the litigation and then transferred to the Edison Institute to complete its display of Ford tractors. - Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment
Igor Sikorsky Landing the VS-300 Helicopter before Presenting it to Henry Ford Museum, October 7, 1943. THF118083
This year, Henry Ford’s museum and village complex – now known as The Henry Ford – celebrates its 90th anniversary. Throughout 2019, we’ll be reflecting decade-by-decade on significant additions to the collection he began, with a focus on our institution's evolving collecting philosophies. This post covers our history and acquisitions during the 1940s.
Edison Institute Schools Students in Class, Giddings Family Home, Greenfield Village, September 1944. THF126142
While the collection did continue to grow, the 1940s were quieter years for the museum and village. As World War II tooled up, activities and personnel were cut back, not as many visitors attended, and the Edison Institute school system, which peaked in 1940 with 300 students enrolled, was reduced in size.
Henry Ford and Former Colleagues at the Edison Illuminating Company Building Dedication, Greenfield Village, November 8, 1944. THF244447
Henry Ford added few new buildings to Greenfield Village, but he rounded out the representation of his personal history with replicas of the one-room Miller School he had attended, the Edison Illuminating Company power plant in Detroit where he had worked, and Ford Motor Company's Mack Avenue Automobile Plant (these last two at reduced scale). In 1944, Ford moved his childhood home – which he had painstakingly preserved on the family farm 25 years before – to Greenfield Village, assuring that it would be cared for after he was gone.
Henry Ford and Edsel Ford Visiting the Rouge Plant Tool and Die Shop Construction Site, June 16, 1938. THF116315
In 1943, Henry and Clara Ford’s only son, Edsel, who was an able and enthusiastic supporter of the museum and the arts in general, died of stomach cancer at the age of 49. Two years later, Henry suffered a severe stroke. On April 7, 1947 at the age of 83, Henry died at Fair Lane, his Dearborn home, with Clara by his side.
The passing of the Edison Institute’s founder begged the question “what next?” for the institution. Henry’s vision had been the driving force behind his creation. Who would drive that vision now?
Additions to the Collections: 1940s
Writing Slate, 1880-1910 As word spread of Henry Ford’s historical endeavors, people offered him objects that they themselves had gathered. In 1941, Ethel G. Douglas sent Ford over 2,500 objects “collected in several years travel.” Many of these - toys, games, clothing, dolls, and books - related to childhood, including this slate. Millions of kids used slates like this one in 19th century one-room schools. Henry Ford was one. For him, the slate might evoke personal memories, but also appreciation for traditional teaching methods these rural schools represented - and that he incorporated into his private Greenfield Village school system. Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life
Centripetal Spring Chair from a Pullman Train Car, 1860-1880 This is the first attempt at a mass-produced, comfortable chair. It is supported by a series of springs which provides resilience, meaning that it "gives" with the weight of the sitter. When it was patented, this was a revolutionary achievement. This was the second in a series of centripetal designs by Thomas E. Warren of Troy, New York. Dating to 1852, this version was intended to smoothen out the inevitable bumps for passengers riding in a railroad car. Donated by the Michigan Central Railroad in 1941, the revolutionary nature of the technology was yet to be recognized by scholars. Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts
1939 Sikorsky VS-300A Helicopter The Henry Ford's collecting efforts have never been confined only to faraway history. Contemporary collecting - of artifacts from the recent past or present day - has always been core to the institution's work. Henry Ford eagerly accepted Igor Sikorsky's VS-300A helicopter in 1943 - a mere four years after its first test flight. Like Sikorsky, Ford understood the helicopter's enormous potential. The gift was initiated by a mutual friend of Ford's and Sikorsky's who also recognized an aviation innovation when he saw one: Charles Lindbergh. Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
Folding Portable Spinning Wheel Used by Mahatma M. K. Gandhi Henry Ford was an admirer of Gandhi's selfless life, self-reliant ideals and nonviolent principles. In July 1941, Henry Ford wrote a short note to Gandhi praising the "lofty work" of the Indian leader. Gandhi returned the compliment and sent a spinning wheel, or charkha, that he had used. Gandhi used the charkha as a symbol in India's struggle for independence and economic self-sufficiency. Andy Stupperich, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Sampler Made for Henry Ford, 1943 Henry Ford received hundreds of gifts from admirers all around the world. Many of these gifts were made intricately and carefully by hand, like this embroidery sampler crafted by Ms. Ellen E. Merrow of Eagle Springs, North Carolina. The embroidered verse is a cautionary message that still feels relevant today – more than 75 years later. Katherine White, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Shards Found at Henry Ford's Birthplace, Dearborn, Michigan, 1860-1919 Henry Ford began his first restoration project in 1919 after a road extension required the moving of his dilapidated childhood home. Over the next few years, Ford meticulously refurnished the home to how it looked in 1876, the year his mother died. While employees combed the countryside for antiques, others excavated the original site for ceramic shards like this for reproduction. Even though this project launched Henry's passion for collecting, the Ford home and its contents, which included these shards, weren't moved to Greenfield Village until 1944 - the last building he personally had moved there. Ryan Jelso, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Slippers, Worn by Sophia E. Ewing on Her Wedding Day, 1864 In 1940, a cartoon appeared in newspapers around the country. It emphasized Henry Ford’s unusual interest in artifacts from everyday life, rather than the fine art and antiques collected by other wealthy individuals. Text beneath an image of Ford holding a woman’s shoe read, “…he gets a whale of a kick out of collecting a sample of every type of shoe ever made in the U.S.!” In response to the cartoon, donations from readers – including this pair of wedding shoes worn in 1864 – poured in. Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content
George Washington Carver Cabin George W. Carver and Henry Ford shared an interest in chemurgy or the chemical transformation of agricultural commodities into byproducts such as hydrogenated oils. Ford invited Carver to speak at the 1937 chemurgy conference in Dearborn. In 1942, Ford honored Carver with this replica of Carver's birthplace, paneled in wood donated by Boy Scouts from every state. Carver spent the night of July 21, 1942 in the building. Debra A. Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment
What inspires your child when they set foot inside Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation? We want to see. In honor of our 90th year, we’re looking for examples of curiosity and excitement from a child’s point of view.
From March 1-31, we’re looking for child-created videos to become part of an official video from The Henry Ford highlighting Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. We’re looking for clips that showcase a child’s excitement, what they learned during their visit, their favorite artifacts, and more. Get their friends together, show off what they know about our artifacts – it's all up to them. We’ll pull the entries together to show how Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation inspires – all from a child’s point of view. You may see some of your footage in our video this spring!
From our selected entries, we’ll pick nine submissions at random to receive a family membership to The Henry Ford.
What would you pick to highlight Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation? We can’t wait to see. And don’t forget – kids get in free to the museum with paid adult admission now through March 31. Learn more about our 90th anniversary admission special to help you make your video submission.
To submit your video: Upload your child’s video clip (no more than 30 seconds long) to YouTube with #THFInspiration in the video description by 11:59 pm ET March 31.
Accepted video formats include AVI, MOV, m4v, and MP4.
Make sure the video is public. Giveaway winners will be contacted via YouTube comment by April 5.
This year, Henry Ford’s museum and village complex – now known as The Henry Ford – celebrates its 90th anniversary. Throughout 2019, we’ll be reflecting decade-by-decade on significant additions to the collection he began, with a focus on our institution's evolving collecting philosophies. This post covers our history and acquisitions of the 1930s.
A Working Village After its dedication in 1929, Henry Ford didn't consider his campus complete. In Greenfield Village, he continued to erect homes, mills, and shops that he felt best reflected the way Americans had lived and worked, or that were associated with famous people he admired. Individuals even began to offer Ford historic structures for his Village.
By the mid-1930s, several Village shops were staffed by people demonstrating traditional craft skills, including glassblowers, blacksmiths, weavers, shoemakers, and potters. Visitors to Greenfield Village not only had the pleasure of watching the craftsmen work, they could also buy samples of their hand-crafted products. Craftsmen like brick makers and sawyers supported the Village restoration efforts.
Building the Museum While Ford Motor Company draftsman Edward J. Cutler labored in the muddy fields of Greenfield Village, architect Robert O. Derrick was designing a large indoor museum adjacent to the historical village to house the objects Ford had collected. Derrick suggested that the façade should resemble Independence Hall and related buildings of Philadelphia, with a large “Exhibition Hall” in back.
Since Henry Ford had rejected the notion of storage rooms, nearly everything had to be exhibited out in the open. The twelve-acre museum contained a glorious assemblage of stuff. To Ford, that assemblage represented the evolution of technological progress. For nearly a decade after the museum officially opened to the public in 1933, visitors found it a work in progress. The exhibits would not be completed until the early 1940s.
Additions to the Collections: 1930s
Stanley Cookstove Henry Ford appreciated the history found in everyday objects and in inventions that made people’s lives better. This innovative 1830s cookstove hits on both these “cylinders.” Used by people to prepare their daily meals, it is an everyday object with emotional connection to hearth and home. As an improvement over fireplace cooking, this cookstove is an example of technological progress--one of many that Ford was gathering for his museum. - Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life
Sweetmeat Dish owned by Alexander Hamilton Like many collectors in the 1930s, Henry Ford and his staff were interested in acquiring decorative arts objects that had strong historical associations. The staff also sought out works that were aesthetically pleasing. This sweetmeat basket, which descended through the family of Alexander Hamilton, fit the bill. Part of a larger set of Sheffield plate silver, the group was a prized acquisition in 1935. - Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts
Noah Webster Home Following the dedication of Greenfield Village in October of 1929, Henry Ford continued to expand, and “flesh out,” the collection of buildings in Greenfield Village. The Noah Webster House from New Haven, Conn., was one of the examples of projects brought to Henry Ford; the building was purchased from the salvage company that had already began the demolition. The Noah Webster story aligned perfectly with Henry Ford’s passion for education and his interest in the history of education in the United States. This home, where Noah Webster completed the American Dictionary, a work that finally defined American English to the rest of the world, could not have been a better fit. - Jim Johnson, Director of Greenfield Village and Curator of Historic Structures & Landscapes
Wright Cycle Shop Henry Ford admired self-made innovators who rose from humble roots to change the world. (He counted himself among them.) Surely the Wright brothers fit that mold. Ford acquired the Wrights' home and cycle shop in 1937, relocating them from Dayton, Ohio, to Greenfield Village. Wilbur had passed away in 1912, but Orville assisted Ford in the buildings' restoration. He provided furnishings and books original to the home and helped to locate surviving equipment used in the shop. - Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
Machine Used to Strand Transatlantic Cable This cable machine, built by Glass, Eliot & Co., helped to wire the world. It was used at Enderby’s Wharf in Greenwich, England, to build the second transatlantic telegraph cable. Machines like these were used to create the core of submarine cable from iron and conductive copper—and then moved aboard a ship, where they applied a protective sheath made of galvanized steel, an insulating layer of gutta-percha, and a final layer of jute to protect against abrasion. These submarine cables—like the modern-day fiber-optic cables that carry the signals of Internet traffic—connected cultures and communities. - Kristen Gallerneaux, Curator of Communication & Information Technology
Circus Poster, Barnum & Bailey, A Child Dreaming of a Circus, 1896 In 1935, the Strobridge Lithographing Company donated 329 circus posters to this institution. The company produced posters for the biggest circuses, including Barnum & Bailey and the Ringling Brothers. This collection of colorful posters give insight into the excitement that “Circus Day” held in communities – and especially rural communities – all over the country. In many towns, the day was treated like a holiday, with schools and workplaces closed for the occasion. This particularly evocative poster illustrates the eager dream of a child, anticipating the wonders of the circus. - Katherine White, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Coffeepot, Made by Paul Revere, 1755-1765 With an eye for design and a developed artistic sensibility, avid art collector, Edsel Ford, began collecting early American silver in the 1920s. In 1936, Edsel donated part of his silver collection to his father's museum, including this coffeepot made by silversmith Paul Revere. A talented artisan, Revere created this coffeepot in the late 1750s or early 1760s -- before his famed midnight ride that warned fellow Patriots, "the British are coming." Wealthy citizens in colonial America used luxury silver items like this coffeepot to consume popular drinks of the time period, which included tea and coffee. - Ryan Jelso, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Jacquard Loom When Henry Ford couldn’t locate a suitable Jacquard loom for Greenfield Village in the 1930s, he commissioned weaving master Sidney Holloway to create blueprints for the construction of this reproduction. This loom employs the innovative punch card technology (developed by French weaver Joseph-Marie Jacquard) that revolutionized the weaving industry in the early 1800s. As an artifact, it helps tell a broad story of industrial change and exemplifies Henry Ford’s commitment to experience-based education. - Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content
McGuffey Newly Revisited First Reader - 1844 Henry and Clara Ford both were taught on McGuffey Readers. These beloved primers that taught both morals and literacy skills make up the foundation of the library at The Henry Ford. Many different editions, like this one, were bought in the 1930s to help round out a full collection of McGuffey Readers. - Sarah Andrus, Librarian
Jenny Young Chandler Collection Jenny Young Chandler’s photographs not only capture scenes of daily life in and around Brooklyn, New York, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, but also document objects and collections held by private individuals and museums in New York and New England during the same period. These themes of documenting everyday life and building museum collections, as well as the use of photography, were all very much of interest to Henry Ford when he acquired this collection in 1932. - Brian Wilson, Senior Manager Archives and Library, Benson Ford Research Center
1926 Fordson Tractor Cutaway The Ford Motor Company used cutaways to educate customers about new technologies. They conveyed information about internal combustion, power generation, and transmission through arrows and symbols, but few words. Antonio Stabile, a Ford distributor in Rosario, Argentina, displayed this cutaway made from a 1926 Fordson tractor, in the showroom and at exhibitions. (Ford incorporated a branch office in Argentina in 1919.) Model changes made the cutaway obsolete. Mr. Stabile shipped it and a similar Model T cutaway, both created in the service department at Agencia Ford Stabile, under the direction of Bernardo Pagliani, to Ford in late 1931. - Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture & the Environment
In 1927, Greenfield Village was “born,” as Henry Ford began to acquire buildings and move them to Dearborn for his historical village. The first building Ford bought was the Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern), which came from the village of Clinton, Mich., about 45 miles west.
Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern) on its original site in Clinton, Mich., mid-1920s. THF237242
The dilapidated 1831 stagecoach inn had stood on the Chicago Road in Clinton for almost 100 years. Ella Smith, its owner, still lived in the badly deteriorated building. As Henry Ford’s agents stood inside the crumbling structure, they worried it might collapse. One of Ford’s assistants observed, “There was only one man in 4,000 that would consider it anything but a pile of junk.” Yet, Henry Ford’s vision and resources assured that this early 1830s inn--built when Michigan was still a territory--survived.
The Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern) in Greenfield Village, August 1929. THF123747
By summer 1929, the inn stood--restored--on the village green, as Greenfield Village continued to take shape around it.
Aerial View of Henry Ford Museum under Construction, Late October or Early November 1929. THF98555
Henry Ford dedicated his museum and village on October 21, 1929, marking the 50th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s first successful light bulb test. Ford named his new complex The Edison Institute of Technology to honor his friend and lifelong hero. This year, Henry Ford’s museum and village complex – now known as The Henry Ford – celebrates its 90th anniversary. Throughout 2019, we’ll be reflecting decade-by-decade on significant additions to the collection he began, with a focus on our institution's evolving collecting philosophies.
Our Origins Although Henry Ford became one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful industrialists, he never forgot the values of the rural life he had left behind growing up on a farm. His interest in collecting began in 1914, as he searched for McGuffey Readers to verify a long-remembered verse from one of his old grade school recitations. Soon, the clocks and watches he had loved tinkering with and repairing since childhood grew into a collection of their own. Before long, he was accumulating the objects of ordinary people, items connected with his heroes and from his own past, and examples of industrial progress.
Contrary to the notorious quote, Henry Ford never really believed that history is bunk. What he believed was bunk was the kind of history taught in schools—that emphasized kings and generals and omitted the lives of ordinary folks. In 1916, Ford began to imagine building a museum that would show people a kind of history he believed was worth preserving.
Restorations In 1919, Henry Ford learned that his birthplace was at risk because of a road improvement project. He took charge—moving the farmhouse and restoring it to the way he remembered it from the time of his mother’s death in 1876, when he was 13. He and his assistants combed the countryside for items that he remembered and insisted on tracking down.
He followed this up by restoring his old one-room school, Scotch Settlement School; the 1686 Wayside Inn in South Sudbury, Massachusetts (with a plan to develop a “working” colonial village); and the 1836 Botsford Inn in Farmington, Michigan, a stagecoach inn where he and his wife Clara had once attended old-fashioned dances. These restorations gave Ford many opportunities to add to his rapidly growing collections while honing his ideas for his own historic village.
Ford Home, Front Parlor, Original Site, Dearborn, Michigan, 1923. THF126093
Something of Everything In the early 1920s, Henry Ford moved his growing hoard of antiques into a vacated tractor assembly building. The objects fit every description. Large items hung from rafters; smaller ones sat on makeshift benches and racks. Watches and clocks hung along the wall. Henry and his wife Clara enjoyed sharing their relics with others. Once people learned Ford was collecting objects for a museum, they flooded his office with letters offering to give or sell him antiques.
Frank Campsall, Charles Newton, and Henry Ford at the Ford Engineering Laboratory with Donations for Henry Ford's Museum, 1928 THF126101
Ford also sent out assistants to help him find and acquire the kinds of objects he felt were important to preserve. Goods intended for the museum arrived in Dearborn almost daily—sometimes by the train-car full. By the late 1920s, Henry Ford had become the primary collector of Americana in the world.
Rocking Chair Used by Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre the Night of His Assassination, April 14, 1865. THF159537
One of the most well-known artifacts in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is the rocking chair used by Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre the night of his assassination, April 14, 1865. Originally purchased as part of a parlor suite, the rocking chair was intended for use in a reception room in Ford's Theatre, which opened in 1863. The parlor suite was purchased by Harry Clay Ford (no relation to Henry Ford), manager of the Theatre. However, the comfortable rocking chair began to be used by ushers during their "down" time and the fabric became soiled by their hair oil. This stain is still visible on the back. Sometime in 1864, Harry Ford had the chair moved to his apartment across the alley from the Theatre in a belated attempt to keep it clean.
Beginning with the Theatre's opening in 1863, President Lincoln became a frequent visitor. At some point, Mr. Ford began to supply the president and his party with comfortable seating furniture. Apparently, the president preferred this rocking chair, perhaps, due to his height. On the afternoon of April 14th, the chair was brought to the president's box along with a matching sofa and side chair. After the assassination, the Theatre and its contents was seized by the federal government.
After its seizure, the chair remained in the private office of the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. In 1867, the chair was transferred to the Department of the Interior and then sent to the Smithsonian Institution and placed in storage. For all practical purposes, the chair vanished from the public for half a century. Documentation at the Smithsonian indicates that it was catalogued into the collection in 1902. In 1929, the rocker was returned to Blanche Chapman Ford, widow of Harry Clay Ford.
Mrs. Ford sold the chair at auction through the Anderson Galleries in New York on December 17, 1929. The purchaser was Israel Sack, the dean of antique American furniture dealers, and an agent of Henry Ford. Sack had observed that Ford delighted in furniture that had association with American historical figures. Sack, in turn, offered the chair to Mr. Ford, who purchased it and carefully documented its arrival in Greenfield Village in early 1930. There, the chair resided in the Logan County, Illinois Court House where Lincoln practiced law as a circuit rider in the 1840s. Mr. Ford had moved the Court House to Greenfield Village in 1929--the chair became the centerpiece of his Lincoln collection. In 1979, as part of the institution's 50th anniversary, the chair moved from the Court House to the Museum, where it remains today.
Beyond the Lincoln Chair, our collections experts have selected a number of other items acquired before and during the 1920s that reflect our early collecting philosophy.
Ned Kendall Keyed Bugle Country dances, town bands. America’s musical traditions held personal meaning for Henry Ford. In 1928, Ford purchased Daniel S. Pillsbury’s extraordinary collection of 175 early band instruments.This 1837 keyed bugle from the Pillsbury collection had belonged to Ned Kendall-- keyed bugle virtuoso and leader of the Boston Brass Band. During the 19th century, community bands provided much of the music enjoyed by everyday Americans. - Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life
Argand Lamp, 1790-1850 This lamp expresses the collecting philosophy that Henry Ford and his staff were using in developing the lighting collection. They were seeking to acquire examples documenting the changes in lighting technology that led to the introduction of the electric light bulb in 1879. This Argand lamp was one the first oil lamps that created a flame burning brighter than a single candle. - Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts
Menlo Park Laboratory Among the most iconic and significant buildings in Greenfield Village, the re-creation of the Menlo Park Compound was a very important achievement for Henry Ford. Work began to salvage what was left of Menlo Park in the late 1920s. By early 1929, original bits of the Main Lab, the Carbon Shed, and the Glass House came together with the re-created Library, and Machine Shop to bring Menlo Park to life. On October 21, 1929, the entire project received Thomas Edison’s stamp of approval, with the exception of it being too clean. - Jim Johnson, Director, Greenfield Village and Curator, Historic Structures & Landscapes
1896 Ford Quadricycle It all began with the Quadricycle. Ford Motor Company, the Model T, The Henry Ford -- none of it would have happened if Henry Ford hadn't finished this little car in June 1896. He sold it a few months later for $200 -- money he promptly spent building his second car. Fast forward to 1904. With Ford Motor Company blooming and Henry perhaps feeling nostalgic, he paid $65 to buy the Quadricycle back. It was arguably Mr. Ford's first significant acquisition documenting his own life and achievements. - Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
Platform Rocker, 1882-1900 In 1928, Henry Ford became interested in the estate of the late Josephine Moore Caspari of Detroit. A wealthy heiress, she married a Spanish riding master but divorced him just four years later after discovering that he had married another in Germany. The divorce was the talk of the town. Ms. Caspari became a recluse; bolting the doors to her large Italianate mansion and positioning two large dogs to guard the entry. When she passed away, her estate was set to be sold. Intrigued, Henry Ford bought many items from the estate, including this platform rocker made by George Hunzinger. Hunzinger’s platform spring rocking chairs combined numerous inventions, creating a more comfortable and quiet rocking experience. - Katherine White, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Paper Horseshoe Filament Lamp Used at New Year's Eve Demonstration of the Edison Lighting System, 1879 Electrical engineer William Joseph Hammer began working for Thomas Edison in 1879 and soon started collecting the incandescent lamps they were developing at Edison's Menlo Park complex in New Jersey. After Edison created the first practical incandescent lamp in October 1879, news spread and the public clamored to view his achievement. On New Year's Eve, thousands of people streamed into Menlo Park to see the first public display of Edison's electric light, including this surviving example. In 1929, a group of Edison's former employees known as the "Edison Pioneers" donated Hammer's collection, which contained this lamp, to Henry Ford's new museum the "Edison Institute." - Ryan Jelso, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Letter from Thomas Edison to His Parents, October 30, 1870 This brief letter from a 23-year-old Thomas Edison to his parents provides insight into the early growth of Edison’s work on telegraph instruments. As part of a much larger collection acquired in 1929 through a gift from the Edison Pioneers, the letter also reflects Henry Ford’s many efforts to honor his friend and lifelong hero, which included the re-creation of Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory and the naming of his new museum and village complex The Edison Institute of Technology. - Brian Wilson, Senior Manager Archives and Library, Benson Ford Research Center
Eastman Kodak Box Camera, 1888-1889 Henry Ford drew on personal and professional connections to build his extensive museum collection. Following a conversation with Ford, photography pioneer George Eastman donated a group of significant cameras that included this one: an example of Eastman’s first “Kodak” camera (the first designed for roll film), which revolutionized popular photography. - Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Ambler's Mowing Machine, circa 1836 Henry Ford relied on antique dealers to ferret out "firsts," and the Ambler Moving Machine is an example. Felix Roulet acquired the machine for Ford. He convinced Ford of the merits of the Ambler mower by quoting a paragraph printed in Merritt Finley Miller’s booklet, The Evolution of the Reaping Machine, published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Experiment Stations, Bulletin No. 103 (1902), page 28: “Enoch Ambler of New York, obtained a patent Dec 23, 1834 about which little can be learned. It is understood, however, that he had the first wrought-iron finger bar with steel guards & shoes…” Roulet described the machine to Ford in correspondence, and he assured Ford that “this machine will be a gem in [sic] Mr Fords collection." The machine arrived at Ford Motor Company on November 23, 1924. - Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment