Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

You’re in a nightclub. The cavernous space is packed with bodies moving in time to the pulsing, morphing rhythms of electronic music. On a small stage, a shadowy figure hunches over a laptop, typing furiously. Projected computer code scrolls down a wall, The Matrix-style, a digital flurry of numbers, words and brackets as synth sounds build and music loops modulate.

This scene could almost be a slick DJ club set, but there are no knobs, decks or instruments in sight. Yet the code is real, and it’s all live. 

This is the world of live-coding music, an art form in which performers create music by programming computers on the fly, in front of an audience, writing and revising instructions that trigger and manipulate sounds, rhythms and effects in real time.

THE MATH OF MUSIC
When it comes to expressing musical ideas, computer programming might seem an unlikely outlet. But computer science is grounded in math, and music, with all of its messy, imprecise human expression, is largely built on mathematical relationships — harmonic structure, rhythmic patterns, and at its most fundamental, the unique combinations of sine waves that make up the sounds all around you, from birdsong to the roar of a jet engine. 

We’ve been exploring parallels between music and math since the days of Pythagoras. Today, musicians and composers are able to use computers as tools to interpret and express these values and relationships.

“It’s clearer through coding that music can be expressed as essentially patterns of numbers that are processed and transformed in various ways — and that we can add expressivity by changing the sounds we are using and shaping the structure of our sounds,” said Shelly Knotts, a composer, experimental artist and live coder in the United Kingdom.

As a live coder learns to anticipate these mathematical relationships, his or her ears learn to “hear” the relationships, much like in traditional music theory training. Live coders often write code that they can hear in their heads — which, at a fundamental level, relates to Beethoven’s ability to continue composing even after he had completely lost his hearing.

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS

Live-coding languages and styles vary. Most performers create music entirely on the fly, constructing ideas from scratch; a few mix in precoded elements, DJ-style. But they all embrace the movement’s overarching philosophy that live coding should be inclusive and accessible to everyone. 

For most live coders, exposing their code is part of the performance and serves to demystify their process, forging a connection with the artist through his or her “instrument,” explained Sam Aaron, a British researcher, software architect, educator and live coder. “Why is it important for a guitarist to let you see his or her guitar? People have all held guitars; most of us are not very good at it, so when you see someone who’s good at it, you can appreciate the virtuosity.”

There’s no denying that projecting computer code adds a compelling visual element to a performance, but if you’re not paying attention to the language itself, you’re missing the point. “It’s like saying Jimi Hendrix made amazing music, but he had a fabulous wooden necklace,” added Aaron.

Live coding challenges preconceived ideas about the programmer’s experience by bringing a traditionally solitary process into a participatory realm. “It’s like writing, really; you don’t generally write in a social way,” said British musician and researcher Alex McLean, member of the live-coding band Slub and cofounder of TOPLAP, an organization formed in 2004 to bring live-coding communities together. “I think live coding is not necessarily showing programmers as something different, but rather a different way of interacting with the computer; it’s very different, working alone on a piece of text and having people in front of you, listening intently,” added McLean, who is also credited with co-inventing the algorave, a rave-like club event based around live coding.

Since its inception about 15 years ago, live-coding culture has been rooted largely in Europe and the U.K., but the movement is slowly building international interest through festivals and other live events, long-distance collaborations over video and social media, and creative partnerships with more mainstream artists. But the most powerful force for longevity is education, and right now, it’s Aaron holding the key.

CRACKING THE CODE
“I want to make sure the leap from code to music is as small as possible and as clear and simple to as many people as possible,” said Aaron, a passionate advocate for unearthing the creative potential of programming languages. He spends his days as a researcher at the University of Cambridge in England and his nights performing live coding. 

In 2012, Aaron created Sonic Pi, a simple yet powerful open-source programming environment designed to enable users at any level to learn programming by creating music and vice versa. Sonic Pi is used all over the world; it runs on any computer platform including Raspberry Pi, the $40 credit card-sized computer designed for DIY projects and for promoting computer science in schools and developing countries. 

“Music really helps by wrapping the math concepts and computer science concepts into something that has direct meaning to kids, which is making music,” Aaron said. “And making the kind of music, hopefully, that they listen to on the radio or stream.” 

The case for building these new learning paths to computer science is strong. Understanding basic programming improves logical thinking and provides a fundamental understanding of technology we use every day.

“Teaching people what coding is — how precise a language has to be for a computer to understand it — gives people an appreciation of an execution of semantics in a program, affordances of a system, interaction with a system,” said Aaron. “People are telling kids to learn how to program because they can become professional programmers. It’s like saying we should all do sports in school so we can become professional athletes. You don’t teach math because you’re training the future mathematicians. There’s a level of math that’s useful to all of our lives."

Sarah Jones is a writer for The Henry Ford Magazine. This story originally ran in the March-May 2017 issue.

The Henry Ford Magazine

imls-logoWhile researching the many electrical objects being digitized as part of the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences grant, a few stories have stood out to me. These stories sometimes involve the people behind the scenes: manufacturers, inventors, etc., and other times are about how the object was used. Below are four such objects and their stories.

This Jenney Electric Motor Company rheostat has uncovered an interesting story about the company’s namesake. It was designed by Charles G. Jenney who was awarded a patent for it in 1892. Jenney, originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana with his father to design and produce electrical equipment for the Fort Wayne Jenney Electric Light Company. On February 27, 1885, Jenney, who had been contracted to the Fort Wayne Jenney Electric Light Company by his father while still a minor, successfully petitioned to be removed from the company, and, a month later, he founded the Jenney Electric Light Company later the Jenney Electric Company. The Jenney Electric Company was demonstrating Jenney’s dynamos, arc lamps, and incandescent lamps by August that same year. This company was bought out and Jenney started again, this time with the Jenney Electric Motor Company in 1889 for which he produced electrical equipment like this rheostat, filed for more patents, and wired and lit the streets of Indianapolis.

Designed by Fredinand Buchhop optician and the optician Emil B. Meyrowitz this uniquely shaped motor powered electric drill was used for nasal surgeries including septum operations and electro cautery. On March 3, 1891, Meyrowitz and Buchhop patented the motor, but were only able to patent the globular shape. Even though the motor was crudely constructed, it was portable enough to be useful in the operating theater and at the patient’s bedside.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Professors William E. Ayrton and John Perry collaborated on many electrical device inventions including electric railway devices, and electrical measurement instruments including this ammeter. Ayrton and Perry personally certified the accuracy of their meters, and they were touted as being among the most reliable meters during a test in 1886. The London, England-based company, Latimer Clark, Muirhead, & Co., Limited manufactured this Ayrton and Perry Ammeter made between 1883 and 1890.

Last but not least, an electric contactor that required a bit of sleuthing to uncover the correct patents and court cases. According to a tag on this electric contactor, it was used as part of General Electric’s defense when they were on trial for infringing on Sundh Electric Company’s patents. The contactor was part of patent 969,738, which described a new method of operating and controlling electrically controlled switches with an electric motor. This contactor would have been provided in conjunction with the auxiliary switch arrangement to be used on the resistance controlling contactors during operation. Sundh Electric Company thought General Electric’s switch mechanism was too similar to their own, but their patent did not include a contactor resembling this object. Additionally, Sundh Electric Company improved upon an already existing patent prompting the court to side with the defendants, which allowed both patents to remain valid. 

Laura Lipp is Collections Documentation Specialist at The Henry Ford.

IMLS

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I’ve already shared some thoughts on the 2017 North American International Auto Show, but one important new car wasn’t yet revealed during my visit last week. Of course, I’m talking about the Lego Batmobile from Chevy.

My tastes in bat-transportation run more traditional, but Chevy has something going for it here. The Lego Batmobile’s 20,000-horsepower rating makes it eight times as powerful as the Goldenrod land speed racer. Likewise, the V-100 engine’s 60.2-litre displacement is more than eight and a half times what it took for the Mark IV to win at Le Mans fifty years ago. The Lego Batmobile’s styling achieves that rare combination of aerodynamic and exquisite, certain to turn heads on every street corner. Be sure to order the optional bat hood ornament – superior to anything by Lalique. (Besides, everybody knows that bats eat dragonflies.)

Granted, the Lego Batmobile’s $48,000,000 price tag is roughly 1,116 times larger than that of the Bugatti Royale, but choose the extended 84-month financing plan and your monthly payment is a reasonable $571,430. (Pro tip: Take advantage of the 0% financing – trust me on this.) The Lego Batmobile is a personal car for every personality – whether you’re feeling vengeful, groovy, hoarse, or just plain indefensible.

Indeed, the Chevrolet’s Lego Batmobile may only have one strike against it – I’m told that it handles like a ton of bricks.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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Life is often a juggling act of work, play and family. While current-day clothiers experience the trials and tribulations of being small-town entrepreneurs in the big business of fashion, more than 100 years ago many women were facing similar circumstances, leaning on their sense of style to furnish a living.

In the late 1800s, Elizabeth Cohen had run a millinery store next to her husband’s dry goods store in Detroit. When he died and left her alone with a young family, she consolidated the shops under one roof. Living above the store, she was able to run a business and earn a living while staying near her children.

Cohen leveraged middle-class consumers’ growing fascination with fashion, using mass-produced components to create hats in the latest styles and to the individual tastes of customers. To attract business, resourceful store owners like Mrs. Cohen displayed goods in storefront windows and might have advertised through trade cards or by placing advertisements in newspapers, magazines or city directories.

“While Mrs. Cohen was more likely following fashion than creating it, it did take creativity and design skill,” Jeanine Head Miller, curator of domestic life at The Henry Ford, said of Cohen’s millinery prowess. “She was a small maker connecting with local customers in her community — a 19th-century version of Etsy, perhaps, but without the online reach.”

And she certainly gained independence and the satisfaction of supporting her family while selling the hats she created from the factory-produced components she acquired. “People can appreciate the widowed Elizabeth Cohen’s balancing act,” added Miller, “successfully caring for her children while earning a living during an era when fewer opportunities were available to women.” 

Jennifer LaForce is a writer for The Henry Ford Magazine. This story originally appeared in the June-December 2016 issue.
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In the summer of 2014 I had the opportunity to study at The Henry Ford through the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop “America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford.” I had applied for two NEH programs that spring, one in Boston and the other at The Henry Ford. As a history major, I was very excited about the idea of Boston. Being a Michigan resident, I had been to The Henry Ford numerous times in my life and I "knew" what was there. I knew I would be happy with either location and a week of studying history is pretty much what history nerds want, right?! 

I was honored to get the letter inviting me to The Henry Ford even if I was a little disappointed that I would not spend three weeks in Boston. I was somewhat concerned because as I left school in June, I knew that my schedule for the next school year was World History and AP European History - not necessarily classes that I thought related to Michigan or the collection at The Henry Ford. 

Was I in for a surprise. My week at The Henry Ford blew me away. Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, and the Ford Rouge Factory offered social, economic, and political history for the US and technological artifacts that directly related to the worldwide Industrial Revolution. I came back to school with images of technologies that had propelled the world into the modern era and new ideas of how to share those images with my students. On top of the sheer number artifacts, the staff of The Henry Ford also put together a collection of speakers with expertise beyond any I had studied before. 

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Learning about steam engines with Chief Curator Marc Greuther.

That first year back I did not have the time or the resources to take my students to The Henry Ford, but I showed clips and shared my experiences. In 2015 I was given the opportunity to teach AP US History and my main goal was to get my students to the museum and village. With the help of a grant from The Henry Ford my first class of 40 AP US History students got to spend a day at both locations. We spent the morning in the rain wandering around the village and seeing the buildings and pieces of history.  The afternoon was warmer and drier and we were able to wander through the museum and see artifacts that we were reading about in the classroom. 

In 2016 the interior design teacher and I brought two buses of students to see the village and we wandered through time, seeing the changes in American life from the colonies to the 1920s. We rode the train and watched as The Henry Ford’s artisans showed how everyday items were created with past technology. With both visits, my time at the workshop came flooding back. I could share with my students details about the buildings, artifacts, and museum history that are not available to just any visitor.  I felt like I took them on a journey through time. Both years I was able to use the trip to make connections that would have been more abstract without those personal experiences. More than half of my students had never been to the village or museum before this trip.  

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NEH teachers learn by doing on the Weiser Railroad in Greenfield Village. 

I asked some students to share their experiences and here is what a few had to say.

"Throughout the field trip I enjoyed seeing many historical buildings that contributed to American History. I didn't think I would ever get a chance to see the laboratory where the Wright Brothers did their famous work. I had seen pictures of their workshop when I created a project on them in middle school. Overall a great experience."

"It was fascinating to actually see the stuff that we read about in textbooks. The Thomas Edison exhibit was interesting because there was indoor electricity but still had an outhouse. "

"I mean personally for me, it was just amazing to see things and stuff that didn't even originate in Michigan. The fact everything there is kept as detailed and accurate as possible amazes me. The old style homes were crazy and definitely reflected the location they belong in in their architectural design.  So simply put it was a fantastic opportunity to learn a lot about not just our state, but others and see the different technological advancements."

My last day at The Henry Ford my family came down to visit and we spent an extra day taking our daughters around the museum and village. Needless to say, we left with a family membership and have been back at least three times a year since. We have shared the experience with friends and family and watched the World Series of Historic Baseball and ice skated during the Christmas festivities. We saw Gridiron Glory and grooved to the Beatles in The Magical History Tour. It is our day trip destination of choice.  

Leah Markey is a Social Studies Teacher at Heritage High School in Saginaw. Mich.

Math Book Reimagined

January 30, 2017 Think THF
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"Flatland" book image by James Han

When Chris Lauritzen at YouTube in October 2014 to start a book design and publishing studio called Epilogue, he expected to have a working version of his first title — a reissue of Edwin A. Abbott’s cult classic "Flatland" — ready by the holidays. So much for expectations: The launch party was held in April 2016. 

Not that Lauritzen was slacking off in the intervening year and a half. Independently publishing a print book these days, especially one conceived as a beautiful art object, takes a serious, long-term commitment. Lauritzen didn’t just have to design
"Flatland" — to conceptualize it, typeset it, illustrate it and prototype it. He also had to crowdfund it and then look all over the country (plus Canada) for those few remaining specialty shops that would suit his various printing, binding and shipping needs. All of which raises the obvious question: Why? Who would want a meticulously crafted print edition of a 130-year-old public-domain text in 2016? Especially when print is, if not dead, then certainly struggling?

Lauritzen’s answer is to question the question: He believes it’s a glorious, singular time for the print medium.

SMALL BOOK, BIG IMPACT
At one time, everything was printed on paper: ads, fliers, brochures, pamphlets, notes. Or, as Lauritzen characterizes that stuff: “Junk. Ephemeral noise.” But over the years, much of that material has gone digital, clearing the printed world of clutter.

“By choosing to do something in print, you’re saying this thing is worth a damn,” Lauritzen said. “Print is starting to become its own quality filter.”

Lauritzen knew he wanted to apply that filter to something in the public domain, a vast collection of works that anyone can use, print and distribute without permission. But he
wasn’t aware of "Flatland" until a friend suggested he check it out.

Written in 1884 by the English scholar Edwin A. Abbott, "Flatland"
is a small book about a big subject: multiple dimensions. The narrator, a square
named (fittingly) A. Square, lives on a flat 2-D plane, but he’s forced to consider what the 3-D world of Spaceland might look like when a sphere from there pays him a visit.

Ian Stewart, an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick in England who published an annotated version of "Flatland" in 2002, considers Abbott’s book one of the earliest works of popular science. “There’s really nothing
else like it,” Stewart said. “It was completely original and unusual.”

The book wasn’t just about having fun in multiple dimensions, though. Abbott used geometry to challenge Victorian norms about the role of women in society — math as a tool for social progress. Some didn’t get it; many did. The first edition sold out quickly, and it has been in print ever since, a favorite among a wide range of readers who wonder about their place in the world.

Lauritzen was an immediate convert — it was exactly what he was looking for. Given its largely two-dimensional setting, he felt it would play nicely with his skill set as a graphic designer. But more than that, "Flatland" had a following, not huge but passionate, that was rather unhappy with the editions of the book currently available.

NOT JUST FOR SHOW
Because works in the public domain can be accessed for free, there’s not much financial incentive for a publisher to put out nice editions. "Flatland" is no exception. It exists in a variety of terrible formats, from websites and PDFs to cheesy print runs that feel more like pamphlets than books. “It’s really unsatisfying,” Lauritzen said.

So, when he launched a Kickstarter in April 2015, that was his selling point: the chance for a beloved classic to get the makeover it deserved. The goal was $24,000; he raised well over three times that ($81,777, to be exact). Then the real challenge — making
the book — began. Even though Lauritzen intended the reissue to be something of a collector’s item, he didn’t want a finished product that was destined for a coffee table,
untouched and unread.

“It shouldn’t be a fetishized object,” he said. “The sooner you throw it on the ground, the better.”

To that end, he chose to make it softcover, with thick paper and extra-wide margins for writing in. The floating spine means you can bend the pages back as much as
you want and the binding won’t crack. Lauritzen also appended a visual guide, full of exquisite black-andwhite illustrations that illuminate various concepts in the text. He’s
now working on a supplementary online library of shapes — “an education/ art experience for students of geometry,” he said. Finally, to add heft, he designed an elegant gray slipcase, stamped with a silver tesseract.

This wasn’t a solo production, of course. At last year’s launch party, held in a small shop in San Francisco, Lauritzen thanked all of the people who helped him along the way — friends, family, the workers in Vancouver and Phoenix and Oakland who printed and bound and shipped the books. Of the 2,000 copies Lauritzen printed, roughly half were sent to Kickstarter backers, and the remainder are now available for $65 each, a price Lauritzen hopes will decrease in subsequent print runs.

You can tell Lauritzen is proud of the result. He flips through it lovingly — though he’s not afraid to bend a corner or mark up a page. The whole point is to get people to read it.

“Time was spent writing this thing, time was spent designing this thing, time was spent producing it, time was spent getting it into your hands,” he said. “That’s contagious. That’s something you can sense. It gives you permission to take time with it, to sit down and really delve in.”

Jason Kehe is a writer for The Henry Ford Magazine. This story originally ran in the March-May 2017 issue of the magazine
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The Henry Ford sponsored the 2017 CES Innovation Awards, visible here.

If you explore the Consumer Electronic Show “by the numbers,” the tallies show an influx of 177,000 people into one small area of Las Vegas. Over the course of four days, the visiting population (equivalent to that of a small city) attempts to make its way through nearly 2.5 million square feet of exhibitions presented by almost 4000 different companies. By no means to be shrugged off is the 35 miles of walking I did over the five days that I was there; despite all of this trekking across three separate venues, I failed to see everything.

For those unfamiliar with the event, CES is a global trade show produced by the Consumer Technology Association. Every January, established companies and young startups alike launch and demonstrate the latest in consumer technology. At this event, some of the biggest names in innovation display alongside next-generation technology developers.

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Many artifacts from The Henry Ford’s collections, including those above, were first launched at CES.

In 2017, CES reached its 50th anniversary. To celebrate this milestone, an exhibition of devices first introduced to the public at the show were on display. The list of technology unveiled at CES over the years is impressive: Sony’s U-matic VCR (1970), the Sony/JVC personal Camcorder (1981), Philips’ CD player (1981)—as well as a lineage of media formats like the laserdisc (1978), CD (1981), DVD (1996), and Blu-Ray (2004). Many items that were introduced to the marketplace at CES also appear in The Henry Ford’s collections: Atari’s version of Home Pong (1975), the Commodore 64 (1982), the Nintendo Entertainment System (1985), the Sony Walkman (1980), and many cellphones from the 1980s that seem laughably large to us now such as the Motorola “brick phone” and wearable StarTAC flip-phone. 

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The Aira service is a digital visual interpreter for the blind.


The Henry Ford also sponsored the CES 2017 Innovation Awards—“an annual competition honoring outstanding design and engineering in consumer technology products.” Several winners in the Accessibile Tech category were of interest, given The Henry Ford’s archival collections documenting a visit from Helen Keller, blind workers at the Ford Rouge, TTY/TDD devices, or vibrating alarm clocks for the deaf and hard of hearing. The Aipoly application uses artificial intelligence and a smartphone camera to help the blind identify objects around them; the Aira service is a similar real-time visual interpreter that makes use of wearable devices like Google Glass to do the same. The ReSound ENZO2 hearing aid also makes use of the Bluetooth technology embedded in smartphones, allowing people to adjust noise cancellation levels in crowded area from an app on their phone—or to stream phone calls and music directly to their assistive devices. 

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The REMI smart alarm clock helps children to develop healthy sleep patterns. (Image courtesy of Urbanhello)

Increased awareness of digital citizenship and responsibility were also evident in the Innovation Awards—an important theme that will continue to affect our technology collections as we continue to grow them. The XooLoo Digital Coach rethinks parental controls over teen’s technology use. Rather than simply limiting content, this application allows parents to ethically participate and learn about the patterns of use in their children’s digital lives. The app does many things, such as log the amount of time spent on websites and social media, allows parents to turn off digital access during mealtimes—yet respects privacy by not exposing messages or geo-tracking. Other examples include the Motorola Moto-Mods series, which allows a Moto Z phone to transform into a boombox or a big screen projector—turning the solitary viewing or listening of media stored on smartphones into outward, shared experiences. The pleasant-looking Remi smart alarm clock by UrbanHello visually trains children how to create better sleep routines, which results in healthy growth, moods, and learning. Its glowing face flips from sleepy to happy mode, indicating when it is acceptable for a child to get out of bed; additional custom programming tells children when to brush teeth, plays calming music or can act as a monitoring device.


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The Navdy heads-up display allows drivers to see basic information linked from cell phone apps through a transparent screen on their dashboard. (Image courtesy of Navdy)

The continuing exploration into the applications of Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality dominated many booths, and was present in the work of several Best of Innovation Awardees. The Google Tilt Brush has been receiving attention as one of the first “killer apps” designed for VR, allowing people to create immersive worlds of painted light that might be applied towards prototyping video games, fashion, art projects, and industrial design.


And the Navdy Head-Up Display projects essential information linked from smartphone applications onto a clear display that rests in the line of sight of a driver’s windshield. Intended to reduce mental distraction that comes with needing to turn one’s head to look at vehicle technology, the Navdy allows drivers to see basic mapping, messages, and incoming phone calls without looking at their cellphones. 

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Ian Bernstein of the robotics company, Sphero, talks about important tactics for technology startups (second from left).

At a TechStars panel discussion, Ian Bernstein of the robotics company Sphero spoke about the importance of a young hardware company being able to “fake it.” Sphero was one of the first three companies in the world to create a device controllable from a smartphone. Their quirky spherical robots glide around with huge amounts of personality. Today, most people would recognize their Star Wars BB-8 toy sold in major retail stores beginning in 2015. But when Bernstein and co-inventor Adam Wilson first demonstrated their prototype Sphero at CES in 2011, after two days of heavy use, the 3D printed shells started to break down. On the third day of CES, the robots might have looked the same to visitors, but in reality, hours before the show opened, Bernstein had been misting clear backup shells with white spray-paint out in the parking lot. The spheres were also held together with clear silicon bands to make it easier for his friends working the booth to charge drained batteries.

As a curator of technology, it was easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume and potential of promising new technologies that were everywhere I looked. But beyond the dazzle of the “near future,” there were other layers to consider: the absolute importance of technology as an agent of social transformation, the remixing of old technologies into new—or the collapsing of multiple technologies down into one “convergence” device. Also tangible was the sheer amount of ingenuity and resourcefulness it could take for a single company to finally reach a point of presenting their work to the public. The innovator trait of embracing failure and revision in the prototyping process was also top of mind as I walked through the show. In the end, it is difficult to predict which ideas and devices will eventually reach the level of mass adoption by the everyday people—a key component to the “staying power” of technology. 

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Our curator of technology can verify that the coffee made in the DENSO Robotics Café was very good.

Many people have asked: “what is the best thing you saw at CES?” This question usually results into a wide-eyed panic as I try to rank one incredible bit of innovation over the other. But maybe a better question would be “what is the strangest thing you experienced at CES?” Immediate answer: being served a surprisingly good cup of pour-over coffee brewed by two graceful robot arms in the DENSO robotics booth. Once the former barista in me stopped thinking in a panic—“the robots are coming!”—the caffeine fix was appreciated, all the same.

Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

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Chrysler’s Portal concept car. The company that invented the minivan now reimagines it.

It’s that time of year again, when the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) brings the world’s largest automobile manufacturers to Detroit to tempt us with their upcoming models – and tease us with a few dreamy concepts. As usual, the show does not disappoint. Autonomous concept cars, compact crossovers and alternative fuels are all prominent at this year’s event.

2016gtFord’s 2016 GT Le Mans winner, still covered in dust and glory.

Ford is rightfully proud of its big win in the GTE-Pro class at the 2016 Le Mans 24-hour race. Not surprisingly, the #68 GT piloted to victory by Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller is front and center at the company’s booth. What is pleasantly surprising, though, is that the Blue Oval resisted the urge to clean up the car and instead is displaying it in all of its battle-scarred glory. The GT wears that dirt and grime like a badge of honor.

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Ford’s autonomous Fusion Hybrid. The company promises a fully autonomous car for public use in 2021.

 Ford has made headlines recently with its plan to reposition itself as a mobility company rather than a carmaker. Head to the back of the firm’s NAIAS space and you’ll see that it’s more than mere talk. There’s a Go Bike from Ford’s bicycle sharing program in San Francisco, and a mention of the Chariot ride-sharing service the company purchased there in 2016. The real highlight for me, though, was the autonomous Fusion Hybrid. Apart from a pair of LIDAR units mounted above the side-view mirrors, most of the car’s sensors are hidden in what could pass for a luggage rack. Ford promises a fully autonomous vehicle in ride-sharing service in 2021. It seems the car won’t look all that different from anything else on the road. (While those LIDAR units are fairly discreet, I’m holding out for the inevitable autonomous car with an infrared scanner.)

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I always love the cutaways, like this V-6 from the all-wheel drive Cadillac CT6. Note the black driveshaft, running alongside the gearbox and bell housing, which sends power to the front wheels.

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Chevrolet Bolt, the 2017 North American Car of the Year.

General Motors has its own reason to crow. The Chevrolet Bolt takes honors as 2017’s North American Car of the Year. Chevy promises 90 miles of range with a 30-minute charge, certainly impressive in the EV category. And the Bolt’s 0-60 m.p.h. time of 6.5 seconds may not be Tesla-type ludicrous, but it’s a full second faster than many of its gas-powered subcompact competitors. And speaking of unconventional fuels, the General’s GMC Terrain crossover gets an optional diesel engine for 2018. GM hasn’t always had the best of luck with diesels, but the fuel efficient 1.6-liter engine could make Terrain buyers happy at the pump.

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Gustaf, the Volvo Spokesmoose. He’s there to promote the Swedish carmaker’s large animal detection system – and to provide a fun photo opportunity.


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The 2018 Toyota Camry gets an aggressive look to match its aggressive sales.

Toyota always mounts an impressive display at NAIAS, and this year is no exception. The company’s big surprise is a robust facelift to its perennially best-selling Camry. The 2018 model gets an angular, aggressive front end wholly unexpected on a sedan that’s practically synonymous with, well, “practical.” They say you should never mess with success, but you don’t become the world’s largest automaker by taking blind risks. I’m sure the focus groups loved the redesign. Besides, it’ll look great at Daytona.

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Volkswagen’s I.D. Buzz autonomous van. Think how many more mysteries Scooby and the gang could solve if Fred didn’t have to worry about driving.

Thanks to its diesel shenanigans, Volkswagen had a rough year, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the German manufacturer’s NAIAS booth. They’ve brought what might be the most eye-catching concept vehicle at Cobo Center. The I.D. Buzz is a cheery homage to the classic Microbus, but the hippies have gone high-tech. The Buzz is all-electric – and intended to be fully autonomous. As envisioned, the van gives owners the best of both worlds with a standard manual mode that can be switched over to automatic whenever the driver needs a break.

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Presumably, the gas tank on this one is empty while it’s in Cobo Center – just like it was when Alexander Rossi coasted across the finish line in first place at last year’s Indianapolis 500.

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Another notable race car, the 2006 Rust-eze Special. Sure to be a hit with the toddler set.

While I could have spent the whole day wandering through the main hall, I’m glad I saved some time for the lower level. From January 8-12, the space hosted “AutoMobili-D,”a dedicated exhibition focused on autonomous vehicle research, urban mobility, and a number of techy startup companies. Of particular note was the booth devoted to the University of Michigan’s Mcity autonomous vehicle test facility. That Ann Arbor track, together with the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run, enables Michigan to hold its own against the tech titans of Silicon Valley, who threaten to take away the Great Lake State’s mantle of automobile R&D leadership.

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The Henry Ford’s 2010 Edison2, on view in Campus Martius.

If your visit to NAIAS takes you through Campus Martius, you might take a moment to peek in the lobby of the One Campus Martius building. There you’ll find our own Edison2 concept car, winner of the 2010 Progressive Automotive X Prize. The gasoline-powered vehicle, which weighs all of 830 pounds, got more than 100 miles per gallon during the competition. What with all of the folks from around the globe in Detroit this week, we thought we might tempt them to visit us in Dearborn. What better break from the cars of today and tomorrow than a look at the innovative automobiles of yesterday?

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

auto shows

imls-logoAs we start a new year, it’s a good time to look back on the first half of The Henry Ford’s IMLS-funded grant to work on electrical objects, and to take stock for the future.

We had a busy and productive fall 2016, with some new adventures thrown in with continuing progress on objects themselves. If you haven’t already seen them, you should check out our Facebook Live videos – we’ve done a few so far (in October, November, and December), and the plan is to continue doing them on the first Friday of each month.

imls-5Gaulard & Gibbs transformer on the shelf before treatment (29.1333.229).

This Gaulard & Gibbs transformer had several conservation issues when we first saw it, most notably that the wooden base had broken under the strain of the weight of the object itself. You can see this in the before picture, where the object is lying on its side because it cannot stand anymore. There are also faint hints of color along the metal tabs that run up the body of the object.

imls-4The Gaulard and Gibbs transformer after treatment (29.1333.229).

You can see that this transformer had a fantastic transformation during conservation treatment – simply removing years of built-up dust revealed a very vivid red and black coloration. The broken wooden base was also very successfully repaired, and it is now possible for the object to stand on its feet again. When it’s packed for storage, it will be lying down again, so that the weakened wooden base isn’t put under too much strain for long periods of time.

We featured this object briefly in our Facebook Live videos – you may have noticed, if you tuned into both, that you could see the ‘before’ and ‘after’ as they happened.

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The interior of a meter, with strange accretions on white enameled metal. Note that this view is of the reverse of the top face (29.1333.63)

We’ve also encountered some interesting materials and material problems in the first half of our IMLS grant work. One of the most interesting was this strange accretion, found on the interior of a meter. Those brownish bulbs appeared to be seeping into the object from the top, but were only present on the enameled portions of the metal. They were friable and lighter on the inside than the outside. We looked at samples under the microscope, and even attempted to culture a sample, in case it’s a type of mold (it does not appear to be). We’re still not sure what exactly they are, but we will continue to try to figure it out! Mysteries of the museum, indeed.

imls-2An ohmmeter with a great example of hard rubber – note that the cylindrical casing which would usually go over the black area is removed in this photo (31.1217.235)

We have also recently come across a fantastic example of perfectly preserved hard rubber. The base of the object is one solid slab of hard rubber, but the protected interior area has retained the original black, mirror-like finish. The discoloration and matte surface of hard rubber occurs primarily from light exposure over time, and the colors possible range from a light black to the red-brown color on this object. We’ve put the exterior cylindrical case back on the object, sealing it well, so that the very tight case can continue to preserve this fantastic interior. 

imls-1Conservator Cuong Nguyen and Conservation Technician Andrew Ganem working on motors in their lab.

We have also been very fortunate to have Cuong and Andrew working with us for a little while. They're tackling some larger motors, which take longer to complete. Their help allows Conservation Specialist Mallory Bower and I to continue to work at the pace necessary to keep the project on target, while ensuring that as much of the collection as possible is treated. We greatly appreciate their help.

As always, this is only a small sampling of what we have been up to on the IMLS project. Please feel free to stop by our window at the back of the museum and see what we’re working on – there is always something interesting on our desks. Keep your eyes peeled for our next Facebook Live, as well. As we continue to move into 2017 and are fully into the second half of the project, we are excited to continue our work and continue keeping you updated

Louise Stewart Beck is the IMLS Project Conservator at The Henry Ford.

The Henry Ford proudly announces that the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded our institution a grant to again offer the Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop “America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford” for K-12 teachers. The workshops will be held July 9-14, 2017 and July 16-21, 2017.

Participating teachers will explore the varied ways that Americans experienced social change between 1760s and the 1920s through lecture/discussions by noted scholars and by visiting select sites at The Henry Ford, Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum, including Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory, working farms, historic transportation, and Ford Motor Company’s Rouge industrial complex. In addition, participants will explore archival sources in the Benson Ford Research Center and dedicate time to lesson plan development with colleagues.

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“Learning by doing” - Scything, pre-Industrial Revolution. 

Next year will be the eighth time The Henry Ford has hosted the America’s Industrial Revolution workshop. This deep learning experience has touched almost 500 teachers in the past 11 years – we estimate over 700,000 students have been impacted!

This year we are making some exciting tweaks that will make the week even more fruitful and more fun.

The biggest change is that we are adding a bus tour of Industrial Revolution-era Detroit. Participating teachers come from all over the country (and sometimes abroad, if they are teaching in military schools, etc.) and they just can’t miss our neighboring city which had such a pivotal role in America’s industrial story. On Monday evening, the second night of the workshop, teachers will take a tour bus to explore a few key areas of Detroit. We will visit Hamtramck, Highland Park, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant and Corktown, allowing us to move through Detroit history from the era of a frontier surrounded by farmland, to a growing city fueled by industrial production that came to spawn the king of American manufacturing, the automobile industry. 

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Henry Ford designed the Model T in a secret room at the Piquette Plant. 

We have found that participating teachers are often history junkies (just like ourselves) hungry for more learning. So, during our daily site visits to Greenfield Village we will use our knowledgeable master presenters as guides. We invite you to try to stump them with the great questions we know teachers always have.

Speaking of historical learning, we have updated the workshop reading list to include some more recent and more diverse pieces of scholarship on the Industrial Revolution. I particularly enjoyed Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend by Scott Reynolds Nelson. It tells about a historian’s journey to uncover the real story behind the folk song about John Henry, investigating if there was truly an African-American convict working on the railroad who died in a contest with a steam drill.

We want to encourage more useful lesson-planning time, too. So we have allocated time during the day to spend with colleagues of similar grades/subjects to plan lessons and to visit the Benson Ford Research Center to make use of our primary sources. We will also encourage teachers to use those primary sources virtually through our online collections. Teachers will see our rich collections in use by the scholars each morning, too.

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Read and touch primary sources at the Benson Ford Research Center. 

And it’s not just for social studies teachers. The workshop will be useful in many types of K-12 classrooms. Obviously if you teach the period of the Industrial Revolution, or eras following it, this background is indispensable for you. Science, technology and engineering teachers will discover concrete, society-changing examples of the concepts they teach. English Language Arts teachers will experience a taste of the eras that produced literature like Little House on the Prairie, The Jungle, Mark Twain, slave narratives, and (from across the pond) Dickens’ many works. Art teachers may find themselves inspired by the beauty of the machinery, as did Diego Rivera and Charles Sheeler at the Ford Rouge Factory.

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Rivera was inspired by the Ford Rouge Factory for his “Detroit Industry” fresco cycle at the Detroit Institute of Arts. THF116582 

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? To learn more about the workshop, and to apply, please visit thehenryford.org/neh. Applications are due March 1. 

Christian W. Overland is Executive Vice President of The Henry Ford and Project Director, America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford.

Catherine Tuczek is Curator of School and Public Learning at The Henry Ford.