Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Auto Shows

June 15, 2018 Think THF
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National Automobile Show Official Program, 1956. THF206474

A big city auto show is a magical place. Automakers turn heads and grab headlines with futuristic concept cars and the latest production models. Suppliers and aftermarket vendors mount elaborate displays promoting everything from gearboxes to floor mats. For the public, it’s a chance to do some serious research on that next big car purchase, or to simply dream while gazing at sports cars, luxury sedans and special edition trucks.

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Program, "70th Annual Chicago Auto Show," February 25 through March 5, 1978. THF108058


Auto shows are part trade show and part show business, but they’ve been a part of the automotive industry from the beginning. We’ve put together a new Expert Set featuring programs and posters drawn from the past century. See how much has changed – and how much hasn’t – in selling the American automobile.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Concept Cars

June 13, 2018 Think THF
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Topps "World on Wheels" Series Collecting Card, circa 1951 General Motors Le Sabre Experimental Car, circa 1954. THF207260

Nothing stirs the imagination like a concept car. These dream vehicles offer a tantalizing glimpse into the future with dramatic styling features and sophisticated technologies that may (or may not) be right around the corner for us everyday drivers. Most concept cars never make it into regular production, though two notable examples – the Chevrolet Corvette and the Dodge Viper – did make the leap from fantasy to reality. (Sadly, my favorite concept car – the 1986 Corvette Indy – did not.)

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Concept cars are, by nature, ephemeral things. Once they’ve toured enough auto shows and generated enough buzz, they often get scrapped. One, the 1955 Lincoln Futura, went on to even greater glory after it was rebuilt into the Batmobile for the 1966-68 Batman television series. Other lucky vehicles found homes in museums.

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The Henry Ford has several concept cars in its collection, ranging from the sheltering Cornell-Liberty Safety Car to the shimmering Chrysler Turbine. We’ve pulled together cars, models and promotional materials in a new Expert Set celebrating these fantastic dream machines. Take a look and wish away!

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

dodge-demonDodge Demon 1.0: “Insidious,” one of 800 hot rods and custom cars on view at the 2018 Detroit Autorama.

There’s still snow on the ground in the Motor City, but car show season is officially underway after the 66th annual Detroit Autorama, held March 2-4. Some of the wildest, weirdest and/or most beautiful customs and hot rods filled Cobo Center in a celebration of chrome and creativity. For those who’ve never been, Autorama is a feast for the eyes (and, at closing time when many of the entrants drive off under their own power, the ears). Some 800 cars, built by the most talented rodders and customizers in the country, are brought together under a single roof to be admired, coveted and judged.

chevy-truckWit is as much a part of the customizer’s toolbox as wrenches and rachets. Check out this 1955 Chevy “Bad Humor” ice cream truck, surrounded by used popsicle sticks.

The most prestigious prize at Autorama is the Ridler Award, named in honor of show promoter Don Ridler. Only cars that have never been shown before are eligible. On Autorama’s opening day, the judges select their “Great 8” – the finalists for the Ridler. Anticipation builds throughout the weekend until the winner is announced at the end of the Sunday afternoon awards presentation. In addition to considerable bragging rights, the Ridler Award winner receives $10,000 and enshrinement in the online Winner Archive. This year’s Ridler went to “Imagine,” a silver 1957 Chevrolet 150 owned by Greg and Judy Hrehovcsik and Johnny Martin of Alamosa, Colorado.

chevy-camaroOur 2018 Past Forward winner, a 1956 Continental Mark II with a fifth-generation Chevy Camaro powertrain under the body.

Each year The Henry Ford gives out its own prize to a deserving Autorama participant. Our Past Forward award recognizes a car that 1.) Blends custom and hot rod traditions with modern innovation, 2.) Exhibits a high level of craftsmanship, 3.) Captures the “anything goes” spirit of the hobby, and 4.) Is just plain fun. Our 2018 winner, a 1956 Continental Mark II owned by Doug Knorr of Traverse City, Michigan, and built by Classic Car Garage of Greenville, Michigan, had all these qualities in the right combination. Everything about the car said “Continental,” only more so – from the oversized turbine wheels to the elegant Continental star on the valve covers. And if the 400-horsepower LS3 Camaro V-8 under the hood doesn’t say “anything goes,” then I don’t know what does.

dodge-monacoThe 1976 Dodge Monaco – notably a model made after catalytic converters, so it won’t run good on regular gas.

If chrome-plated undercarriages aren’t your thing, then Autorama Extreme was there for you again this year on Cobo’s lower level. Shammy cloths and car polish are decidedly out of place among the Rat Rods down below. In addition to show cars, vendors and the ever-popular Gene Winfield pop-up chop shop, Autorama Extreme features a concert stage with ongoing musical entertainment. There’s always a healthy dose of 1950s rockabilly on the schedule, but this year’s lineup also included a Blues Brothers tribute act – complete with a 1976 Dodge Monaco gussied up (or down, I suppose) into a fairly convincing copy of the Bluesmobile.

ford-model-aUnpolished and proud of it. A 1930 Ford Model A with the Rat Rods in Autorama Extreme.

amc-spiritNot everything at Autorama is textbook classic. Here’s a 1980 AMC Spirit patriotically living up to its name with lots of red, white and blue.

lethal-t“Lethal T,” for those who’ve always dreamed of putting a 427 Cammer in a Model T. 

If you haven’t been to Detroit Autorama, then make a point of being there in 2019. You won’t find anything quite like it anywhere else in the world.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Every January, the tech world descends upon Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. In 2018, over 4000 global companies displayed their products and ideas, spread throughout 2.6 million square feet of exhibition space in the Las Vegas Convention Center and ten hotels. Nearly 185,000 industry professionals, exhibitors, and media from around the world attended this year. By the numbers, it is an impressive event.

Many successful home technologies have made their debut at CES over its 51-year run: VCRs, camcorders, CD players, DVDs, tablet computers—even the original Nintendo Entertainment System and Xbox. This year’s trends included the forthcoming “5G network,” digital health and fitness, and improved autonomous vehicles. One “battle” visible on the show floor was the widespread adoption of voice-command technology—from smart speakers in the home to command modules in vehicles—and which platform would reign. Ask Alexa. Hey Google. Hi Bixby.

CES has been known to “make or break” companies. Established companies use the event as a forum to launch new products, improve existing devices, or inadvertently—present the occasional flop. Likewise, the 600+ startup companies that populate the specialized “Eureka Park” section angle to find the right pair of eyes on their idea and to secure funding for marketplace production.

Even with two curators on the ground, it was impossible to see everything. What follows is a sampling of our Curator of Communication & Information Technology and our Curator of Transportation’s favorite “CES Moments.” 

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Here come the robots! Some of them can’t be described as anything but “cute,” like this Kuri model (upper left) from Mayfield Robotics. Also popular was Blue Frog’s “Buddy,” (upper right) and Sony’s Aibo the robot dog (bottom). All three of these devices are designed as “companion robots” and have a variety of expressive features. Today’s robots are equipped with facial recognition, cameras for capturing life’s moments, and often double as home security. 

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Analog is always new again! The proliferation of quality cellphone cameras and social media has all but locked our memories into digital landscapes. But people remain hungry for physical media and printed photographs. This year at CES, Kodak displayed the Printomatic (right) and Polaroid announced the OneStep 2—an instant camera blending old and new technology (left, middle). The colorful film options and iconic square format should look familiar to today’s Instagrammers.

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Continuing in the analog spirit… When the Technics SL-1200 record turntable debuted in 1972, its direct-drive technology made it an immediate hit not just with consumers but also with radio and club DJs. These robust “Wheels of Steel” played an essential role in the early years of hip hop record scratching and live dance music mixing. While the SL-1200 went out of production in 2010, many 1970s-era Technics remain in use today. At 2017’s CES, the coveted device began production once again. This year, Technics announced a new high-end turntable—the SL-1000R—which carries over the best qualities of the SL-1200. While the drastic rise in recent vinyl sales is often touted as a “revival,” the commitment of companies to produce quality turntables is evidence that the medium never really went away. 

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There was a lot of buzz at CES 2018 about the coming of the “voice assistant wars” between Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and a flood of startups finding their way into the mix. Voice-activated technology is nearly ubiquitous, as we have learned to ask Siri and Google for directions. And smart home devices—especially interactive speakers—have become more commonplace as we use them not only to listen to music and podcasts, but also to seek out information like weather, steps to a recipe, or to set up reminders. Our tech curator’s biggest CES disappointment was the heavy rains and floods that forced the Google Assistant booth to close, as well as that fun looking slide to the left. 

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Growing plants – that’s technology too! A variety of companies presented vertical hydroponic growing systems, geared towards health-savvy consumers who wish to take control of the food they consume. The SmallGarden by ēdn (right) and products by Opcom Farm (left) have married stylish, scalable design with LED lighting and intelligent automation. 

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And perhaps our tech curator’s favorite item at CES this year was this robotic duck, designed through a partnership between Aflac and Sproutel. The award-winning “My Special Aflac Duck” is designed to help children cope with cancer treatment. Its touch sensors respond with soothing sounds when it is cuddled with, and it teaches young children calming breathing exercises while they undergo IV treatments. Round RFID chips containing emoji faces are meant to mirror emotions—when tapped against the duck, the toy will then reflect its patient’s feelings by groaning or quacking happily. An accessory even allows kids to play out administering “medication.” These features combine to allow young patients to communicate their emotions effectively, take on the role of caregiver, and reduce anxiety. The duck will be tested at an Atlanta treatment center this year, with the future goal of donating the social robot to any child diagnosed with cancer, nationwide.

While it’s not quite the North American International Auto Show, CES is an increasingly important venue for automakers to debut new technologies, or to announce new partnerships with tech-savvy firms. If the automotive side of this year’s show was to be captured in a single word, it’s “autonomy.” Self-driving vehicles are on everyone’s mind – we’re no longer talking about this tech in terms of “if,” but “when.”

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Toyota president Akio Toyoda spoke clearly to the growing overlap between the automotive and tech worlds when he noted that his company’s competitors now include not only carmakers like General Motors, Volkswagen and Honda, but also firms like Google, Apple and Facebook. Toyoda sees the car evolving into a personal assistant, using predictive artificial intelligence to anticipate the travel needs of its owner. And, like a growing number of other industry members and observers, he also predicts the inevitable – if slow – extinction of the internal combustion engine. Toyota and Lexus plan to offer electric or hybrid versions of every one of their models by 2025.

Toyota’s big CES announcement focused on its e-Palette concept (above). The fully-autonomous electric vehicle is designed for maximum flexibility. An e-Palette could serve as a bus providing ride sharing services. It could work as a mobile store bringing goods to your front door on demand. It could even function as a rolling flexible workspace, giving us back some of those 38 hours that the average American loses to traffic congestion each year. Companies like Amazon, Pizza Hut and Uber have already agreed to partner with Toyota in e-Palette’s development.

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Self-driving cars offer more than mere productivity. Safety promises to be their greatest benefit. Some 35,000 people die in motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. each year, and 90 percent of those accidents are due to human error. Eliminate the human element, so the thinking goes, and you eliminate the vast majority of those deaths.

Sophisticated lifesaving tools are here today. CES exhibitor eyeSight Technologies uses in-car sensors to track driver eye movement, blink rate and head pose (above). Look away from the road – say, at your phone – for too long and the system can trigger an audible alarm. Blink too often or for too long – perhaps because you’re too drowsy to drive – and the system could conceivably cause the car to slow down and pull off to the side of the road.

There are still many problems to solve before we have fully-autonomous cars in every garage. Who’s liable in an accident? The carmaker, the programmer, the owner? What happens when you’re traveling in a remote area with poor broadband service – and no GPS? What happens in the “transition” period, when self-driving cars share the road with human-driven vehicles? Can they communicate with one another? And the biggest question of all: Will people be comfortable putting their lives in a computer’s hands? But, ready or not, this new world is coming. In fact, it had already arrived at CES – Lyft and Aptive partnered to provide rides around Las Vegas in autonomous BMWs.

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When you think about the relationship between humans and self-driving cars, remember that it’s not just the humans inside the car. How pedestrians, cyclists and other street users interact with an autonomous vehicle is equally important. Ford’s CES booth featured a van at the center of an interesting research project (above). In the study, a driver camouflages himself in a seat-cover costume – yes, really – and then drives around gauging people’s reactions. How disconcerting is it to see an empty van rolling toward the crosswalk? And how confident can you be that it’ll stop for you?

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Ford and Toyota both emphasized that they’re not in the car business anymore – they’re in the mobility business. The recreated streetscape in Ford’s booth included not only the van and an autonomous Fusion sedan, but also bicycles, skaters and pedestrians. Ride sharing and self-driving vehicles will reduce traffic, either by cutting the number of cars on the road, or by using roads more efficiently. It’s a dream come true for urbanists who’ve long searched for ways to reclaim pavement for uses other than moving and/or parking cars. (Ever hear the term woonerf? You will!) In fact, Ford’s street even included park benches and grass in a reclaimed lane (above).

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The twin revolutions of the electric powertrain and autonomous capability may provide the best opportunity to get into the car business since just after World War II. Few newcomers attracted as much attention at CES as Byton. The Chinese manufacturer plans to enter the American market in 2020 with a battery-powered Level 3 autonomous car capable of up to 325 miles between charges (above). Instead of a dashboard, Byton’s car uses a 49-inch screen. And instead of knobs and buttons – or even a touchscreen – passengers control the car’s features with hand gestures. And you don’t even have to worry about locking your keys in the car – the Byton’s doors are unlocked with facial recognition software.

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And finally, for something completely different, the prize for Most Unexpected Quadricycle Sighting goes to… Gibson Guitars (above). The company’s special edition “20th Century Tribute” archtop, on display in its CES tent, featured images of influential people, technologies and events from the past century. Note that Orville and Wilbur Wright had a well-deserved spot, too!

 Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford. Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Can Objects Talk?

January 1, 2018 Think THF
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THF155560 / Radio Receiver Used in the Piccards' Stratospheric Balloon Ascension, 1934.

Objects have a tendency to develop lives and stories of their own, and I love figuring out the various ways they “speak” to us, the networks and worlds they form, and the variety of angles they can be looked at from. Part of the challenge of studying the history of media, information and communication is in knowing how to draw scattered data back together again, and how to weave a story out of it, to make it accessible and interesting — all the while rooting it to the object in question.

The microlevel details and histories of objects can be coaxed into connecting to big ideas. For example, the same “never leak” gaskets used in the modest Star-Rite electric toaster were also used in the engine of the Spirit of St. Louis airplane. So here, gaskets migrate out of the kitchen to become silent players that made the first transatlantic flight possible. This, in turn, connects not only to the development of aero technology but also to the desire to conquer space and time.

It makes me think of a shortwave radio receiver in our collection that was custom-built by William Duckwitz for ground communication during a balloon flight. The knobs, wires and tubes are typical of a DIY ethos. The flight itself took off from Ford Airport in 1934 and rose nearly 11 miles into the stratosphere. Who was manning the gondola below the hydrogen-filled balloon? Jeannette Piccard, a streetwise woman with impressive credentials. She was the first woman to be licensed as a balloon pilot and became the first American woman to enter the stratosphere and, technically speaking, space. Piccard once said: “When you fly a balloon, you don’t file a flight plan; you go where the wind goes. You feel like part of the air. You almost feel like part of eternity, and you just float along.”

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The objects in my curatorial care are essentially a huge collection of “black boxes”— a concept that means the more seamless and successful a technology is, the more mystifying and opaque its inner functions become to the everyday user. And so, another exciting task is to figure out a way to reveal the invisible networks among the collections, to allow patrons to see communications and IT devices and think beyond their sleek shells (or messy tubes and wires) and understand how they relate to ideas, stories, invention and to themselves — as users.


Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology. This article originally appeared in the Ask + Answer section of
The Henry Ford Magazine, January-May 2014.

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Our 1967 Ford Mark IV at SEMA with the 2018 GT Heritage Edition it inspired.

It’s been a busy couple of years for our 1967 Ford Mark IV. In the last 24 months, the car traveled to England, France, California and, most recently, Nevada. Race fans have welcomed the car at each stop, excited to see it 50 years after its Le Mans win with Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt. The car’s trip to the Silver State coincided with this year’s SEMA Show, presented by the Specialty Equipment Market Association from October 31-November 3 in Las Vegas.

The SEMA Show is among the largest automotive trade shows on the calendar. It brings together original equipment manufacturers, aftermarket suppliers, dealers, restoration specialists and more. SEMA draws some 2,400 exhibitors and 160,000 people (all of them industry professionals – the show isn’t open to the public) to the Las Vegas Convention Center each year. You’ll find a bit of everything spread over the show’s one million square feet of exhibit space: speed shop equipment, specialty wheels and tires, seats and upholstery, car audio systems, paints and finishes, motor oils and additives – basically, anything that makes a car run, look, sound or feel better.

raptorsFord provided (joyously tire-shredding) rides in Raptors, Focus RS hatches and Mustang GT350s.

Our Mark IV was given an honored place in Ford Motor Company’s main exhibit, where it was paired with the 2018 GT Heritage Edition that pays tribute to the Gurney/Foyt win. Ford’s exhibits continued outside the Convention Center in the “Ford Out Front” area. Jersey barriers formed an impromptu track in the parking lot, where attendees could ride with a professional driver in a Mustang GT350, a Focus RS, or an F-150 Raptor. Believe me, you haven’t seen drifting until you’ve seen it done with a pickup truck.

roadrunnerThe American Southwest, native habitat of the Roadrunner – like this 1970 Superbird tribute car.

Of course, Ford wasn’t the only OEM in town. Chevrolet, FCA, Toyota, Audi, Honda and Hyundai all had a presence at the show. Chevy brought its new special edition Camaro, honoring the 50th anniversary of Hot Wheels diecast cars, while FCA celebrated all things Mopar. Toyota, marking the 60th anniversary of its U.S. sales arm, brought Camrys representing each of that venerable model’s eight styling generations.

ppgpaintsPPG Paints displayed airbrushed portraits of this terrorsome trio: Edgar Allen Poe, Pennywise and Herman Munster.

PPG Paints gets my vote for most elaborate show booth. Embracing SEMA’s opening date of October 31, the company built a giant haunted house, complete with cars and parts strewn about the front lawn called – what else – “The Boneyard.” The surrounding fence was decorated with incredible airbrush art celebrating Halloween heroes like Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Munster.

retromanufacturingHaving a hard time finding new cassettes for your mid-1980s Buick Regal? Retro Manufacturing will sell you a perfect-match stereo with a USB port.

More than a few vendors drew crowds to their booths with the help of celebrity appearances. Walk around and you’d spot stars from every field of automotive endeavor. There were drivers (Emerson Fittipaldi, Ken Block), television hosts (Jessi Combs, Dennis Gage), custom builders (Gene Winfield, Chip Foose), rock stars (Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons), and all-around icons (Linda Vaughn, Richard Petty, Jay Leno, Mario Andretti).

livedemoMany SEMA booths hosted live demonstrations, like this pinstriper at work on a Ford Focus RS.

There were educational opportunities, too. Workshops and seminars throughout the week ranged from standard business conference fare (“Building a Sustainable Social Media Strategy”) to the decidedly SEMA-specific (“Building the Best Boosted Engines of Your Career”). If seminars aren’t your thing, you could learn by watching everything from welding to pinstriping taking place right at exhibitor booths.

zephyrWhen is a Mustang a Lincoln? When it’s this P-51 Mustang airplane-inspired hot rod by Chip Foose, powered by a Lincoln-Zephyr V-12.

Contests added to the fun, too. Hot Rodders of Tomorrow, a nonprofit that encourages young people to consider careers in the automotive aftermarket industry, sponsored a challenge in which high school teams competed against each other in timed engine rebuilds. The most celebrated contest was SEMA’s annual Battle of the Builders. Nearly 200 customizers brought vehicles to be judged in four categories: hot rods, trucks/off-road vehicles, sport compacts, and young guns (for builders age 27 and under). Three top finishes were selected from each category over the show’s run, and these top 12 vehicles led the post-show SEMA cruise. An overall winner was then selected from the 12. Troy Trepanier took this year’s top prize with his 1929 Ford Model A hot rod.

tuckerTucker Tribute: A hand-built replica powered by a Cadillac Northstar V-8.

So ended another SEMA Show – and a successful golden anniversary tour for the Mark IV. And while it’s good to have the car back in the museum, we’re glad we could share it with so many people over the past two years. We’ll hope to see some of you again in 2067!

 Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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The Canadian Model T Assembly Team wowed Old Car Festival crowds by putting together a working chassis in less than 10 minutes.

Our 67th annual Old Car Festival is in the books – and it was one for the books this year. Postcard-perfect weather, a host of new activities and hundreds of vintage automobiles from motoring’s first decades made this one of the most exciting Greenfield Village car shows in recent memory.

0118_023420170909_KMSPhotographyThis yellow 1921 Lincoln, from the Cleveland History Center, is believed to be the earliest surviving Lincoln motor car.

Lincoln took center stage as our featured marque. It was 100 years ago that Henry Leland left Cadillac to form what would become his second automobile company, named for the first president for whom he voted. We had a number of important Lincolns on hand. From The Henry Ford’s own collection was the circa 1917 Liberty V-12 aircraft engine (Lincoln’s first product) and the 1929 Dietrich-bodied convertible. Our friends at the Cleveland History Center’s Crawford Auto-Aviation Collection brought something very special: a 1921 Model 101 believed to be the oldest surviving Lincoln automobile.

0039_070920170909_KMSPhotographyThe earliest cars, like this red 1903 Ford Model A runabout, line up for their turn at Pass-in-Review.

Automotive enthusiasts had their pick of activities. There were the cars, of course, spread chronologically throughout the village. There were the Pass-in-Review parades, in which our expert narrators commented on participating vehicles as they drove past the Main Street grandstand. There were the car games, and continuing demonstrations by the Canadian Model T Assembly Team, in Walnut Grove. There were bicycle games near (appropriately enough) Wright Cycle Company. And there were presentations on various auto-related topics in Martha Mary Chapel and the Village Pavilion. Old Car Festival welcomed a few genuinely rare cars in addition to the wonderfully ubiquitous (Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge Brothers) and downright obscure (Crow, Liberty, Norwalk). Rarities this year included a 1913 Bugatti Type 22 race car (said to be the oldest Bugatti in North America) and a 1914 American Underslung touring car (purportedly the last vehicle produced by the company).

0027_068520170909_KMSPhotographyStaff presenters and show participants alike dressed in period clothing, adding to the show’s atmosphere.

But this year, the cars were only the beginning. Greenfield Village hosted activities and historical “vignettes” keyed to each decade represented in the show. Aging Civil War veterans reminisced about Shiloh and Gettysburg at the Grand Army of the Republic encampment. Farther into the village, doughboys and nurses commemorated the centennial of America’s entry into the Great War. Sheiks and Shebas danced the Charleston at the bandstand near Ackley Covered Bridge. Southern blues resonated through the Mattox Home, evocative of the Great Depression’s bleakest years. Perhaps the most popular vignette, though, was the 1910s Ragtime Street Fair occupying the southern end of Washington Boulevard. Great food, games and dancing filled the street, all set to music provided by some of the most talented piano syncopators this side of Scott Joplin.

0263_099820170909_KMSPhotography - CroppedIt’s magical when the sun sets and the headlamps turn on, like those on this 1925 Buick Master 6 Touring.

Longtime show participants and visitors will tell you that the highlight comes on Saturday evening. As the sun sets in the late-summer sky, drivers switch on (or fire up) their acetylene, kerosene and electric headlamps for the Gaslight Tour through Greenfield Village. Watching the parade, it’s hard to tell who enjoys it more – the drivers and passengers, or the visitors lined up along the route. This year’s tour was capped by a fireworks display at the end of the night.

It was a special weekend with beautiful automobiles, wonderful entertainment and – most of all – fellowship and fun for those of us who love old cars. Congratulations to the 2017 Old Car Festival Award Winners.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

imls-logoIn this blog post, conservator Louise Stewart Beck shared some incredible photographs of corrosion products that seemed to grow from the metal itself. We have found a lot of corrosion products where metal and hard rubber materials meet. In this collection, it happens frequently, and it makes sense to find these two materials so often due to the physical properties of the materials and their uses in regards to electricity. 

Let’s start with the metal. Metals are strong materials, allowing the objects to withstand the working environments where they were used. Additionally, metals make great conductors, allowing the electricity to readily flow through the desired path along wires. 

While metals are conductors, rubber is an insulator. This means it restricts the flow of electrons and prevents the electricity from transferring to separate entity—like a person—accidentally.

With this in mind, it makes sense that both metals and hard rubber would be found next to each other for the electrical objects to perform their function when first created. The long-term proximity of metal and hard rubber on these objects, unfortunately, also leads to active deterioration of the object. This situation is called inherent vice: The deterioration of physical objects due to the instability of the materials that make up the object.

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Group of metal objects with hard rubber carrion on the surface. (Accession number 31.1217.252).

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Detail of hard rubber corrosion on surface of the metal.  (Accession number 31.1217.252).

When Louise and I encounter the strange corrosion products where hard rubber and metal touch, we end up removing the product of a chemical reaction occurring due to the physical properties of the two materials. If the corrosion product is only removed, it will be back in a few years because the chemical reaction has not been stopped by simply removing the corrosion. Whenever possible, a barrier is placed between the hard rubber and metal to keep them from chemically interacting with one another. Our barrier of choice is Incralac, a clear non-reactive coating. When possible, we apply the coating to the metal after separating it from the hard rubber and allow it to dry. Once dry and reassembled, the barrier layer should prevent the chemical reaction that results in the interesting corrosion growth.  

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Conservator Louise using a scalpel to mechanically remove the hard rubber corrosion.  (Accession Number 31.1217.252).

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Conservator Louise submerging metal in Incralac after removing corrosion to form a barrier layer between the metal and the hard rubber to prevent further corrosion.  (Accession number 31.1217.252).

Of course, a lot of thought goes in to each treatment for each unique object, making working with this collection both challenging and rewarding.  Understanding the ways objects are originally created that may cause or increase deterioration allows us in the Conservation Lab to actively work to slow this deterioration down to ensure the object can be enjoyed by visitors for years to come.

imls-5Corrosion removed, waiting for the Incralac to dry.  (Accession number 31.1217.252).

Mallory Fellows Bower is the IMLS Conservation Specialist at The Henry Ford.

Type and Ceramics

August 16, 2017 Think THF

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FROM TOUR TO TILES: A tour of the Heath Ceramics factory in Sausalito, California, led House Industries co-founder Andy Cruz to a collaboration with the owners of the storied ceramics maker that produced objects like decorative clocks and tiles. (Carlos Alejandro)

How House Industries and Heath Ceramics turned a happenstance online meet-and-greet into a creative collaboration

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Heath Ceramic owners Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey (Aya Brackett)

After Andy Cruz’s blog post about the Heath Ceramics men’s restroom caught the eye of Catherine Bailey, co-owner of the distinctive California ceramic manufacturer, she reached out to House Industries.

Soon after, Cruz and Bailey began corresponding regularly.

Realizing they shared a mutual appreciation for each other’s work, the two decided that House Industries and Heath Ceramics should collaborate. “Andy is a genius. Working with him is a guarantee that you’re going to learn something new, that you’re going to see something differently and that you’re going to find yourself paying attention to the next level of detail you didn’t even realize existed,” said Robin Petravic, who co-owns Heath Ceramics with Bailey.

Recognizing Heath Ceramics founder Edith Heath as a California design legend for her elegant designs accented by raw finishes, Heath and House decided to pair her legacy with those of two other greats — Charles and Ray Eames and Richard Neutra. After working through an arduous process of trial and error, House Industries fonts inspired by the Eameses and Neutra were applied to a series of tiles that later inspired a ceramic wall clock collection, both of which have been in production ever since.

“Along with Andy’s immense and unique talent comes a great collaborator,” said Petravic. “We’ve come to trust that, as the conversation goes one way, then the other and then off in yet another direction, we’re going to end up in a great place in the end.”

As to House Industries’ willingness to follow those other directions and learn from its own mistakes, it was the original drawings and hours of tweaking, proofing and redrawing of the stencil numbers for the Heath Ceramics clock project that ended up providing inspiration for another landmark House Industries work — Yorklyn Stencil, the house typeface of House Industries.

This story originally ran in The Henry Ford Magazine. House Industries: A Type of Learning is on exhibit at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

Fans First

August 7, 2017 Think THF

Co-founder Andy Cruz shares how an enthusiast’s disposition and a willingness to experiment helped build his font factory, House Industries

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Even if you’ve never heard of House Industries, it’s safe to say you’ve seen its fonts and graphic design work. They’re everywhere, from drive-thru menus to record sleeves to children’s toy blocks to the signage associated with the modern-day burger joint Shake Shack.

House’s output is a connective tissue that runs between such cultural touchstones as hot-rod hero Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, iconic French fashion house and saddlery Hermès, midcentury designers Alexander Girard and Charles and Ray Eames, and renowned pottery and tile manufacturer Heath Ceramics.

House Industries was founded in Delaware in 1993 by graphic designers Andy Cruz and Rich Roat, when, in response to the overwhelmingly corporate clientele in Wilmington, the pair decided to develop their custom lettering into fonts they could sell as products. This additional income acted as a buffer, affording Cruz and Roat a certain measure of freedom when selecting clients and collaborations. Taking visual cues from their various influences and interests — hot rods, skateboarding, punk rock, cycling and modern design, among others — House Industries developed a reputation for enthusiastic experimentation and an idiosyncratic approach to type that has only grown over the years.

Soon much of their work and the stories behind it will be published in the book The Process Is the Inspiration and presented to the public in an exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. While preparing for the exhibition, Cruz took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with The Henry Ford Magazine about the underlying philosophy behind House Industries and its approach to collaboration.

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DID YOU KNOW? House Industries delivers its space-age 3009 font set in a die-cut spaceship reminiscent of a ’50s sci-fi film.

THF Magazine:
Can you talk about the general philosophy behind House Industries?

Cruz: We built House on the simple idea of incorporating personal interests into our work.

The trick was figuring out how to make our hobbies work hard for us, instead of working hard to support our hobbies. We tried to create a world at House where our curiosities and interests help fuel our business and personal lives and created a sense of purpose. So that’s one idealistic pillar of House Industries. Reality eventually kicked in, and we had to get down to figuring out how to apply those interests — that acquired knowledge — to the things that we were making. It started out as fonts, and then our design attention deficit disorder kicked in. Soon we were making clothing and then that became ceramics and then that became bicycles. So it’s always moving. It’s slightly unpredictable. But the cornerstone of House is following our interests and self-led learning.

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A DEEP DESIGN DIVE: House Industries spent four years researching the work of designer Alexander Girard, traveling to Germany, Michigan and New Mexico in the process. The result was the Girard collection of fonts and other items capturing the designer’s folk art sensibilities, plus a book documenting the project. House Industries also did its homework when iconic luxury brand Hermès commissioned the studio to “dress” its flagship Tokyo store with its signature alphabetical flair.

THF Magazine:
The spirit of collaboration is present and a constant throughout House Industries’ body of work. How do you approach collaboration?

Cruz: A lot of it is mutual appreciation, if you will. I think of the Heath stuff, where we just went out there for a factory tour with no credentials — just sort of rolled in as tourists. I put up a shot of the men’s bathroom [on our blog], where they had some really cool tiles, and [Catherine Bailey, co-owner of Heath Ceramics] reaches out and says, “I wish I’d known you were here. I’ve been following you guys for a long time. Let’s try and figure something out.”

Sure enough, we figured something out. Again, that wasn’t a calculated business maneuver. It was just one of those things where, “Hey, I’m digging what you guys are doing; you dig what we do; let’s put the chocolate in the peanut butter and hope other people like how it tastes.”

The best work always comes out when that relationship is there. When they trust us and we trust them, we end up with something that everyone is excited to be a part of.

THF Magazine:
It’s interesting the way you can thread the needle so successfully over and over again — creating something that’s identifiably a House Industries’ creation but also amplifies the message of a world-renowned brand like Hermès, for example. 

Cruz: There’s definitely a level of respect there that we try to be sensitive to. I think the Hermès project might be a good example because we wanted to be reverent to the brand, but at the same time, we wanted to bring something to the party that was a little more House Industries. We basically drew their name in the shape of a horse, then cut each letter out of solid chunks of cedar. If you tell someone that, you could definitely get some eye rolls. But that was all part of trying to understand the company’s equestrian history, their design legacy, and bake some of those elements into the project, and usually we can come out the other side looking and sounding like we know what we’re doing. [laughs]

THF Magazine:
You’ve taken on other projects during which you’re actively collaborating with brands connected to a family name and, in some cases — such as Charles and Ray Eames or Alexander Girard — with the history of design itself. How do you approach that?

Cruz: That stuff does come from being fans first, and I always try to remind our collaborators — be it an Eames or the Girards, even a Jimmy Kimmel — that we are stoked that they thought enough about us to let us work with their names. So we’re always conscious of that relationship. And as fans, you hate to see when your favorite brand does something, and it’s like, “Oh, man. That’s lame. Why’d they do that?” So that fan mentality helps us keep things honest at times. When we’re dealing with people’s family names and histories you admire, you don’t want to botch things up.

Accidental by Design
Throughout the conversation with The Henry Ford Magazine, Cruz is self-effacing and nonchalant, almost as if the success of House Industries has been a happy accident or its collaborations with indelible brands and legacies just sort of happened. But House’s new book, The Process Is the Inspiration, belies some of that.

With the Eames project, for example, it took House Industries a decade to bring that project to fruition. At which point, even after a lifetime of appreciation and a painstaking scouring of the Eames archive at the Library of Congress, House’s sketches of “whimsical display fonts” left Charles Eames’ grandson Eames Demetrios unimpressed. He asked for something more forward-thinking that would contribute to the already established Eames legacy. So Cruz and company attacked the project from another angle, enlisted another collaborator in Erik van Blokland and created a purposeful typographical system of “workhorse” fonts rooted in the utilitarian spirit and playful joy of Charles and Ray’s work. They even applied it to toys.

Having been won over, Demetrios said in retrospect: “Design is a willingness to surrender to a journey ... Every once in a while you encounter a company like House Industries who is willing to go on that journey and grow our brand as well as theirs.”

Despite Cruz’s charming self-deprecation, it’s clear that, far from being accidental, the success of House Industries and its collaborations comes down to the obsessive, enthusiastic hard work and due diligence of wonderfully obsessive enthusiasts.

By Bernie Brooks for The Henry Ford Magazine, with photos by Carlos Alejandro.