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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

This week, we marked 10 years since R. Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion House has been on exhibit in Henry Ford Museum!

Dymaxion House construction inside Henry Ford Museum - December 2000

This prefabricated house was reconstructed mostly from the parts salvaged from the only two Dymaxion Houses ever made - one of which was inhabited by the Graham family of Wichita, Kansas.

Dymaxion House - circa 1960

Did you know that a family actually lived in a Dymaxion House? It's true - William Graham, an original investor in Fuller Houses Inc., purchased the two prototypes and lived in a hybridized version of it from 1948 until the 1970s.


Fast forward to present day (last week, actually), when we came across this tweet:


It turns out that Robby Simpson, a fifth-grade science teacher at Columbus Academy in Columbus, Ohio, and his school have been bringing students to The Henry Ford for the Great American Museum Experience (G.A.M.E.) program for years, and they always enjoyed the Dymaxion House exhibit. As it turns out, Ted Graham's daughter began attending Columbus Academy recently, and last week he offered to come talk to the fifth graders about his experience growing up in such a remarkable building before they made their trip to Dearborn to see the real thing.

Watch the video to hear some of the great things we learned from the visiting fifth graders, including:

  • As a boy, Ted Graham loved to climb on the aluminum-alloy window ledge, which runs around the inside of the whole building. He would use the cable-support system to work his way all the way around!
  • The house was very hot in the summer! In order to make the roof quieter and more watertight, Ted's father had insulated and sealed the roof and removed the ventilator on top, so the air circulation system that Fuller had in mind was interrupted.
  • If your Dymaxion house is very close to a lake, you can position a trampoline so that you can jump from the roof, to the trampoline, and into the lake!
  • Because the house was made of metal, every time it warmed up or cooled down, it would make spooky creaking noises!
  • Buckminster Fuller, Bucky Fuller, Dymaxion House

    Rawhide cool

    September 23, 2011 Think THF

    A few split-second decisions on March 30, 1981, made that the historic day on which Ronald Reagan survived an assassination attempt instead of the day he was assassinated.

    When Secret Service Agent Jerry Parr reacted within four-tenths of a second from the time the first of six shots were fired by John Hinkley, Jr., he took President Ronald Reagan out of direct range of gunfire. Then, just minutes later, it was Parr who realized the President had been hurt and made the decision to take him to an unsecured hospital instead of returning to the safety of the White House and its medical staff.

    Listening to Jerry Parr and author Del Wilber recount the story, in Henry Ford Museum during a lecture based on Wilber's compelling book "Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan," while they stood near the actual presidential limo used that day was more than just a treat.

    Wednesday night's event was just plain cool.

    Retired Secret Service Agent Jerry Parr fields questions at The Henry Ford near the actual Reagan limo after a lecture about his first-hand account of the near assassination of President Ronald Reagan, Wednesday Sept. 21, 2011. (Photo by Gary Malerba for The Henry Ford)

    The free lecture required reservations, which met maximum capacity and had to be closed days before the event.

    I know I wasn't alone in my appreciation. I talked with many people afterward and saw their enthusiasm as they asked Parr questions by the car, or waited to have Wilber sign their books. The place was really buzzing with a unique excitement.

    As I was waiting in line to have a couple books signed, I met a woman who said her husband decided to be a secret service agent because of the events of that day. (He was just 11 at the time.) I couldn't help but wonder if the day had played out differently, would he have made that same decision. It was kind of a hit-you-over-the-head example of how certain events in history, and split-second decisions, can change our lives, collectively and individually. Cool.

    Kristine Hass is a mother of five and long-time member of The Henry Ford. She frequently blogs about her family’s visits to America’s Greatest History Attraction.

    limousines, presidential limousines, presidents

    My husband, the kids and I spent the better part of Sunday at the Old Car Show at Greenfield Village. After all the bad weather we've been having, it was truly glorious to be out and about admiring the hundreds of vehicles displayed (and driving!) in the show.

    Vehicles at the show are those built from the 1880s to 1932. It was fascinating to see how many unique ideas different vehicle manufacturers had building some of those really early machines. Since this show is more about what you could see (although the sounds of the old engines were like music), below are (some) photos of this wonderful event. And here's a video of the 1770 Fardier de Cugnot in action.

    We were transported to a different time and place during the Old Car Show at Greenfield Village.

    My husband asks the driver questions about the three-wheeled 1885 Benz Motorwagen replica.

    Here's a replica of Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach's 1885 Reitwagen: the world's first internal combustion motorcycle.

    Michael Robinson, from Syracuse, New York, stands beside his 1909 Sears H Runabout. There were 11 Sears Autobuggies at the show.

    Judges check out Robinson's 1909 Sears Autobuggy.

    The grand-daddy of old vehicles. A working replica of the 1770 Fardier de Cugnot brought to the event from the Tampa Auto Museum.

    Some participants displayed technical information on a vehicle at the show, others the history of their vehicles or photos of the restoration process.

    Cars take to the road as they tour around the village.

    Fourteen-year-old Mary Claire is taking a photo of her dream ride.

    It was fun how folks get right into the spirit.

    A highlight was watching this team assemble a Model T in a little over 5 minutes, explaining the processes the whole time.

    Here they are, posing by the finished car. Awesome.

    Henry admires an Electric car from 1925.

    We ate our picnic lunch watching the fun and games at Walnut Grove. Drag races, relay races, how-slow-can-you-go races. Good fun.

    Some of the technology wasn't always reliable as this driver tries to crank start this Ford.

    Kristine Hass is a mother of five and long-time member of The Henry Ford. She frequently blogs about her family's visits to America's Greatest History Attraction.

    antique cars, Old Car Festival

    As a precursor to the school year, we took a visit to the one-room schoolhouses at Greenfield Village. And well, I think the thought of a summer being over was a little overwhelming for certain members of my crew.

    At the McGuffey Schoolhouse, Henry looks less than thrilled to think about school. Lillian is ready to go.

    We spent some time inside the McGuffey Schoolhouse, erected in 1934 by Henry Ford to honor William Holmes McGuffey. It’s built from logs taken from the Pennsylvania farm at which McGuffey was born in 1800. The McGuffey Eclectic Reader series of texts were commonly used in schoolhouses across the United States. Our nine-year-old Henry eagerly stood at the teacher’s podium and began to lecture his five-year-old sister on the Civil War. I attempted to explain to him that the Civil War hadn’t even occurred at the time the readers were written. Chronology wasn’t going to slow him down.

    Henry lectures Lillian at the McGuffey Schoolhouse.

    When we looked inside the Miller and Scotch Settlement schoolhouses--school’s Henry Ford attended in the 1870s--I have to be honest, I yearned for a little bit of their simplicity.

    Blank walls.

    A clean slate.

    No clutter, wires, smart boards, website passwords, Internet policies, consent forms, security doors, and bins of paper waiting to be recycled. Don’t get me wrong, I think technology is great and a welcome result of much of the innovation showcased at The Henry Ford. But I can also say, one of things I like best about Greenfield Village is how a visit transports you to simpler times. And I’m sure that many parents who have been presented with the infamous “school supply list” and navigated through back-to-school shopping mayhem, might just agree with me and find themselves (at least occasionally) hankerin’ for the bare walls those 1800s school houses.

    Henry Ford moved the Scotch Settlement Schoolhouse, and the home of his favorite teacher, John Chapman, to Greenfield Village in 1934. When Ford was nine, Chapman left the Scotch Settlement Schoolhouse and went to teach at the Miller Schoolhouse, Henry Ford transferred and remained Chapman’s student until he was 15. (Built at Greenfield Village in 1943, the Miller Schoolhouse is an accurate a replica of the original building.)

    The Scotch Settlement and Miller Schoolhouses remind me of the schoolhouse on the 1970s television show “Little House on the Prairie.” I remember visiting the schoolhouses at Greenfield Village as a girl and pretending with my older sister. I was always (appropriately) outspoken, freckly and big-toothed Laura. She was beautiful Mary. I remember hoping my parents would just leave me so I could imagine all the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories I had read and the sentimental NBC/Michael Landon versions I patiently waited for each week. Oh how I yearned for one of those bonnets. (Which, by the way, are for sale in the gift shops!)

    The Scotch Settlement Schoolhouse built in 1861. One-room schoolhouse simplicity.

    Students used to walk several miles to school each day since the one-room schools were in rural communities. (You can tell your parents that there is no evidence that the route was uphill both ways.) If children arrived early, they could play with their friends until their long school day started. Students of all ages shared that one room with girls on one side and boys on the other. They learned arithmetic, spelling, geography, music, history and art, and older children were assigned necessary chores like washing blackboards, preparing firewood and clearing snow.

    Children shared books and brought books from home. Books like the McGuffey Eclectic Reader and the Webster’s Blue Back Speller were passed from generation to generation. The main focus in education at the time though was proper moral training and character development.

    schoolhouses, schools

    1812 soldier marching through Greenfield Village

    We’ve seen some excellent reenactments and military drills for that conflict when visiting Mackinac Island, which is always interesting. But I will say, there is something so engaging to me when ordinary folks take a break from 2011, pack up their treasures and come together to set up a camp and participate in little muster on the side. This truly is an example of history coming alive. And as a family, we continue to be inspired and learn so much from it.

    Mother and child, circa 1812.

    The campsites and demonstrations were set up near the Porches and Parlors area of the village and were quite modest compared with some of the campsites we’ve seen at the Civil War encampment. The fact is, there are many more organizations and groups that come together to take part in Civil War reenactments. There isn’t quite the network of 1812 reenactments, but after talking to some of the participants, the numbers appear to be increasing. Most of the participants hail from the Midwest, one of the primary theaters of the war.

    My nine-year-old son, Henry, enlisted as a soldier. Again. It was his second enlistment this week.The doctor at the encampment quizzed Henry on his heath and physical capabilities, after passing that, the enlistment officer gave him his papers. He was then issued a musket.

    New recruits learn the ropes.

    The Captain who trained the new recruits was really fun. The kids enjoyed his instructions and sound effects as they learned the procedure for (pretend) loading their (pretend) muskets. Actually, just watching most of them figure out left from right was entertaining. A ragtag group to be sure.

    And. (Drumroll, please). There was a canon. We always look forward to the canon. That demonstration was also up near the Porches and Parlors, so we got a good close look. And boy was it was loud. Ear-plugging, heart-thumping loud. Henry loved every minute of it, and by the expressions of the bystanders, he wasn’t the only one.

    A young visitor tries on a feather embellished bonnet.

    With my daughters, I admired the Grecian-inspired women’s fashions of the late Federal era. In comparison with the corsets and layer upon layer of garments of the Civil War times, these walking dresses seemed almost practical. (At least they could fit through a doorway.) Although some women at the encampment were dressed in fine silk fabrics, most were wearing muted lightweight cottons. If you’re a Jane Austin fan, the Federal era in the U.S. is similar to the Empire style clothing in England with high waists and long flowing skirts. If you like Emma, you’ll love these gowns.

    Father and son, Chuck and Wilson LeCount. Wilson is a 3rd-generation reenactor in the LeCount family.

    I asked a few participants what first inspired them to take part in these kinds of events. Some were reenactors for other time periods, the Civil War, colonial times and the Revolutionary War. Others had family that reenacted. We met a pewter smith who started collecting metal forms 40 years ago but only recently decided to participate at events like the one in the village. It was his second. He had some beautiful buttons, spoons, coins and other various items.

    I met Chuck LeCount who came from Rochester, New York, to participate. Chuck was just 15 when he decided he wanted to participate in reenactments for the Revolutionary War, he talked his parents into it and continues the tradition with his wife and son, Wilson.  Wilson also drums for a fife and drum corp. Turns out, Chuck is a director for the Genesee Country Village and Museum near Rochester. It has a large historic village much like Greenfield Village, complete with teams. His interest in living history as a teen led him to a profession he obviously loves. (I’m sure not unlike so many of the folks who work at The Henry Ford.) Meeting him made me take more seriously my son’s comments when we left the event, “Okay, mom, that seals it. I’m doing that. No matter what.” Maybe this wannabe will end up becoming a reenactor after all. Inspired once again at The Henry Ford. Hmmm. Stay tuned.

    A family shares music of the period with their group Fiddlesix.


    Civil War

    The Firestone Farm corn field is making some terrific progress, even though a flooded field in May forced us to replant. (The weather is something farmers struggle with, regardless of the year— whether it's 1885 or 2011!) In fact, it looks like most of our corn plants will still be "knee-high by the Fourth of July," despite all of our spring flooding - huzzah!

    Last week, we cultivated our corn for the second time this year. Cultivating is when we loosen the soil and remove the weeds around each corn plant.

    Because the Firestones did not use herbicides to kill weeds in their fields, they planted their corn three feet apart in each direction so that they had room to cultivate.  And like the Firestones, we use a horse-drawn cultivator remove weeds in our cornfield.

    Horse-drawn cultivator

    We take our cultivator down each row from north to south, east to west, and then diagonally. This takes a great amount of patience and skill on the part of horse, driver and operator.

    Cultivating the corn field at Firestone Farm

    We used one of our newest horses, Henry, to cultivate. Although he is very young and new to this job, he handled the tight turns well and only stepped on a few corn plants. It looks like Henry and his partner Tom are turning out to be great additions to Greenfield Village!

    Henry the Horse

    Ryan Spencer is manager of Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village. Working at The Henry Ford was a childhood dream of his – although he did not realize then that it would involve so much manure.

    corn, farming, farms

    Earlier this week, we had the wonderful opportunity to host a most historic document: the Emancipation Proclamation.

    Guests viewing EP - photo by Bob Brodbeck

    This document, which was issued and signed by President Abraham Lincoln, formally proclaimed freedom for all slaves and invited black men to join the Union Army and Navy, resulting in the enlistment of approximately 200,000 freed slaves and free black people before the Civil War's end. (For more details on the document, and why it can only be displayed for 36 hours at a time, check out the National Archives' Prologue blog post on the Emancipation Proclamation's visit to our museum.)

    As word spread about the document's visit, the excitement and anticipation began to build across the Metro Detroit area - and when it was all said and done, an astonishing 21,015 people streamed past this historic document at Henry Ford Museum in 36 hours.

    Lines for EP - photo by Bob Brodbeck

    Line to DCW exhibit - photo by Bob Brodbeck

    Line under DC3 - photo by Bob Brodbeck

    Just before the Emancipation Proclamation was made available for public viewing, our opening ceremony welcomed visitors and set the stage for this exciting event with remarks by our chairman of the board, Evan Weiner; our president, Patricia Mooradian; and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Damon Keith, whose maternal and paternal grandparents were slaves.

    Evan Weiner speaking - photo by Bob Brodbeck

    Patricia Mooradian speaking - photo by Bob Brodbeck

    Judge Damon Keith speaking - photo by Bob Brodbeck

    Afterwards, groups like the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit performed both solemn and rousing gospel songs for the rapidly-growing crowd.

    Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit - photo by Bob Brodbeck

    The wait to see this historic document was long at times - up to eight hours - but most guests remained in high spirits, enjoying the performances on the stage near the exhibit, participating in hands-on activities like "enlisting" in the Army or taking breaks to check out artifacts throughout the museum, which was also completely open and free of charge during this timeframe.

    Guests looking at Reagan car during EP line wait - photo by Bob Brodbeck

    Choir performance for EP - photo by Bob Brodbeck

    Enlisting in the Army - photo by Bob Brodbeck

    And an honor guard - comprised of the Headquarters Guard, 5th U.S. Colored Troops, Company C and 102nd U.S. Colored Troops - stood at rapt attention near the document at all times.

    Honor guard - photo by Bob Brodbeck

    Once again, we wish to send a huge thank you to everyone who turned out to see this important part of American history. We were truly honored to be able to host the Emancipation Proclamation, and humbled to see the response by our fellow Metro Detroiters. This was an experience we'll never forget, and we hope you won't, either!

    Emancipation Proclamation

    In the 1800s, the local post office was the epicenter for community events, functioning as both the town hall and gossip center.

    Guests who have visited Greenfield Village recently may have noticed that our own historical "gossip center" - the Phoenixville Post Office, where you can purchase today's stamps and reproduction post cards - has been undergoing some necessary renovations, but luckily it's only for a short while! Let's take a closer look at what has been completed in the past month as we prepare for its re-opening in the next few weeks.

    When the Phoenixville Post Office was moved to Greenfield Village from Connecticut in 1928, it was placed on a foundation that was smaller than the building. This size difference caused the entire building to shift, bow out and lean forward with time. This movement also caused the front door to lean and become crooked.

    Post Office Front Door

    To fix the problem, our team of builders and engineers lifted the whole building (about an entire inch!) and straightened the door, as well as extended the porch in front of the post office to prevent rotting of the natural wood. A very daunting project for only a month of work!

    Floor of the Post Office Doorway

    Even though the Phoenixville Post Office will re-open to the public very soon, there still are a few things that need to be finished up for the renovation to be totally complete! Builders will replace the siding and roof as well as re-paint the exterior of the post office, although it will stay its original color.

    home renovation, renovation

    Over the last couple of weeks, our Firestone Farm team began plowing, harrowing and planting in our cornfield, which is adjacent to William Ford Barn.

    At Firestone Farm, we use a spring- tooth and spike-tooth harrow after plowing. Plowing is the first step in the process and turns over the dirt, bringing new soil to the ground’s surface; however, it also leaves the ground very uneven, almost like waves on a choppy lake. Harrowing breaks up clods of dirt, knocks down high ridges and fills in troughs (called furrows) until the ground is smooth enough to start planting.


    Next came the planting. We planted a very old variety of corn, called Reid’s Yellow Dent, which was used by farmers all over the United States in the late 1800s. The corn is planted by hand using a tool called a corn jabber.

    Ryan with corn jabber

    A piece of twine with knots every three feet is stretched across the field. Two farmers work their way towards the middle of the field, planting corn wherever there is a knot in the twine.

    Planting along rows - Photo by Lee Cagle

    When they meet in the middle, Firestone farmers give each other a friendly handshake—a Greenfield Village tradition and a sign of camaraderie in hopes of a good crop yield.

    Handshake - Photo by Lee Cagle

    Spacing the corn three feet apart will allow Firestone farmers to take a horse with a special tool called a cultivator in between each row to remove weeds. Later, farmers will plant pumpkins alongside their corn; the pumpkin vines will spread all over the ground and help keep weeds under control.

    Be sure to stop by and watch the corn’s progress each week!

    corn, crops, farming, vegetables

    Spring has finally arrived at Greenfield Village!

    While this gives us many causes for celebration – including the Village’s re-opening – one of my favorite elements of the season is watching the gardens in our historic homes grow.

    We have a wide variety of crops that grow in many different styles of gardens throughout Greenfield Village – and of course, all are cultivated according to that particular home’s geographic location and time period.

    Let’s take a walk through the gardens!

    Daggett Garden (built in 1754 in Andover, Connecticut)
    At Daggett, we show a very traditional way to garden. The word garden means “to guard in”; just as you guard something in with a fence, you guarded in your crops. In crowded Europeans cities, where the American colonists came from, you’d see them growing their crops in tiers and boxed beds because the cities were crowded and you had to maximize the amount of crops you got from each square foot of gardening.

    This is another location with raised beds, which were just rebuilt last year; we grow a variety of vegetables, herbs, flowers and even concord grapes – and just look at how big the cabbages we grow can get!

    Susquehanna Plantation (built circa 1835 in St. Mary’s County, Maryland)
    At this home’s original location, tobacco was the crop that the enslaved African Americans would have tended and grown. Growing tobacco was back-breaking work. Henry and Elizabeth Carroll enjoyed a very prosperous life from selling this tobacco; in 1860 alone, Carroll sold over 10,000 tons of the crop. Today, you can still see the same variety of tobacco grown in the fields surrounding the plantation, although it doesn’t grow quite as well here in the North.

    We start the plants early in what’s called a cold frame because the growing season for tobacco  is quite long – more than 140 days. In the 19th century, tobacco plants were started in protected seed beds, and then transplanted into hills in the fields. It was not uncommon to plant lettuce along with the tobacco seeds in the seed beds to act as a buffer, and to draw leaf-mulching insects away. Notice how the tobacco is being grown here, in a mound almost three feet high; to do this, you stick your foot in the mound, hoe up the soil up to your knee, pull out your foot, and then put the plant into the ground with your whole fist. From there, you have to keep mounding up and up.

    When the time is right, the entire top of the plant is pinched off to prevent it from going to seed and ending its growing cycle too soon.  This will cause the plant to try and replace its top with a lot of small shoots called suckers, so this is when the process of “suckering” begins: taking off the smaller leaves so that only a few leaves (about 12-14) will get really big instead.

    With open pollinated heirloom varieties, such as we use, you always save the seed and grow your crops again next year – this way, you maintain an original variety of the plant, and as a bonus, you don’t have to buy new seeds each year!

    Mattox Garden (built about 1880 in Bryan County, Georgia)
    Here, we grow okra – specifically, Georgia Jade okra, an heirloom variety that actually grows very well here in Michigan. You’d be surprised by the abundance of okra you can get, even in such a contrasting growing location.

    To do this, we work a good mulch right into the beds, which helps the water stays within the bed itself; it doesn’t run off and evaporate as much as it does when you have row crops.

    We also grow everything from yellow bantam corn, radishes, Muscadine and Scuppernong grapes, tomatoes and collard, mustard and turnip greens. With corn, tomatoes and okra, you can mix that with a rice dish, throw in a ham hock – and you have yourself all different kinds of gumbos and jambalayas. That was very typical Southern cuisine.

    (For another example of a classic Southern dish, watch our video here on how to make Hoppin’ John, from our cooking demonstrations during Celebrate Black History! in Henry Ford Museum.)

    Firestone Farm (built in 1828 in Columbiana, Ohio)
    Although the Firestone home was built in 1828, we show life as it was lived at this farm in the 1880s – and that means vegetables planted in neat rows in the kitchen garden.

    Most of our crops are directly sown and include a number of different pole and bush bean varieties. Dry beans were an important part of the winter stores as they would keep and could be used in a number of ways.

    We also have quite an assortment of fruit trees at Firestone Farm, with the most important being the apples that grow both in our small orchard and in the back yard of the farmhouse.  Some types of apples kept all the way into the spring months, and others were dried, made into apple sauce, and apple butter.  Cider is also really important, but not the sweet kind we all drink in the fall.

    We also grow citron melons at Firestone Farm; these look like little watermelons but are white inside – when you candy these (by cooking the rinds in a sugar syrup), you can put these into stone breads and a lot of holiday baked goods.

    Dr. Howard’s Medicinal Garden (built about 1840 in Tekonsha, Michigan)
    When we re-opened this building to visitors, we did a lot of research – which was easy to do, as there were a lot of original papers from Dr. Howard himself and even barrels and medicines that he used. He would pay young people to go out into the woods, pick herbs and bring them back to him to use in his medicines.

    The plants we grow there are the plants that we have documented that Dr. Howard grew and picked from the woods out in what is now known as Tekonsha, Michigan (in the extreme southwest corner of Michigan, about 10 miles south of Marshall, Michigan).

    Ford Home (built in 1861 in Springwells Township, Michigan)
    As with several of our gardens, we have wonderful concord grapes that we grow at Henry Ford’s birthplace, alongside parsnips, brandywine and yellow pear tomatoes and  different varieties of squash.

    Several of these older and almost forgotten varieties of crops are starting to become popular again, and it always makes me feel good when I go to my local grocery store and see something that we grow at the Ford Home, like Hubbard Squash. I have a feeling someday those pear tomatoes will be in your Kroger store because they are just so good.

    Clara Ford’s Garden of the Leavened Heart (built in 1929 in Greenfield Village)
    While the gardens at our historic homes are tended by our trained historic presenters, we also have several other gardens that are tended by our Village Herbal Associates, a very strong group of volunteers that cultivate the Dr. Howard Garden, Clara Ford’s Garden of the Leavened Heart and the Burbank Production Garden; they then sell their products at the Farmer’s Market that we have each fall in Greenfield Village.

    Henry Ford’s wife, Clara, was instrumental in putting this particular garden together. She didn’t have much to do with all of Greenfield Village, but Clara had that garden. It has Victorian pathways and very pretty shapes – in fact, if you look closely, you can see four arrows and four hearts; when you put them together, they make a complete circle that you can walk around.

    So the next time you visit, make sure to take a few moments to look at the many varied gardens growing throughout Greenfield Village – what other elements have you noticed about each home’s garden? What similarities do you see with today’s gardening practices? What kinds of differences do you see?

    gardening, gardens