Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

For the entire month of November, we at The Henry Ford are celebrating the digitization of over 100,000 artifacts! To reach a goal of 100K artifacts digitized takes many people and departments coordinating and working together. Let’s look at how our conservation department contributed to this momentous achievement. I’ll be highlighting one of the current projects in which digitization is a crucial step.

Graphic with text; "Conservation" is highlighted
This graphic shows the various steps in The Henry Ford's digitization process, and where conservation fits in.

As Project Conservator on a three-year Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant awarded to The Henry Ford, I work with other conservation and collections specialists to clean and stabilize 3D objects from our Collections Storage Building. These objects oftentimes have never been on display, let alone photographed. As conservators, it’s our responsibility to make sure the objects are not only camera-ready but are structurally sound for exhibition or museum storage.

logo with green dot pattern on left and text on right

For this IMLS grant, the objects undergo a multi-step process involving many hands in order to get to digitization. First, objects are tagged by collections or conservation staff with a Tyvek label that states the object number (if known), description/identifying name, and location found in storage. This tag stays with the object throughout the various stages and is updated with staff initials as tasks are completed.

Blank printed forms with text rubrics

Objects are then vacuumed to remove surface dirt and/or mold before moving from the storage building to be cleaned thoroughly in the Conservation Lab. If the object is too large to handle, it stays in the building for conservation treatment performed in a section that has been zoned off as a clean room. Outside contractors bring in heavy-duty equipment to lift and move the bigger and heavier objects.

Machinery with large wheel suspended by heavy chains from a board or plank
A Herschell-Spellman steam engine (27.139.1) rigged up for moving out of storage.

Flatbed semi truck loaded with large machinery and person strapping it down
Caravan of large objects being moved out of storage!

If the object is an appropriate size for the IMLS team to handle and move by forklift or box truck, we bring it back to the Conservation Lab for cleaning and stabilization.

Front view of forklift loaded with bundles at large door

Due to the number of objects we conserve, not all get photographed in the lab. That will happen later! However, we do take before, during, and after conservation treatment photos for some objects that have interesting conservation treatments and/or a significant change from start to finish.

GIF rotating through several images
Check out a recent blog on the conservation treatment of this Megalethoscope (32.742.113).

Other staff are also involved in the IMLS grant, including registrars who catalog and attach a unique accession number to each object.

Hand in blue gloves holding brush or pen to corner of trunk

Quick photographs are often taken at this stage in order to research and find more information about the object.

Woman in surgical mask and blue gloves photographing what appears to be a copper tub in front of a washer and dryer

Finally, the object is ready for its close-up! It moves down to our photography studio to be photographed under the proper lighting and with a professional grey backdrop. Sometimes the object is so large that is easier to photograph it in its new storage location. You can find all of these images in our Digital Collections on THF.org.

Tripods with lights pointed at machinery, with more machinery at side
Here is a Pratt & Whitney Gear Cutter and Lathe, circa 1900, getting set up for photography in storage.

Webpage with images, text, and search box
Click here to visit our Digital Collections and search for digitized artifacts!

As we are all facing challenges this year brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to adopt new procedures to keep the process running smoothly! It has not been possible to photograph all objects included in the grant. Before the object leaves the conservation lab and moves to storage, though, it gets quickly photographed, and that image is attached to the record in our collections database.

Person in gloves photographing a wood cabinet with machinery inside

At a later date, our photographer will take the beauty shot for Digital Collections and keep the tally rolling on our digitization numbers! As of today, over 3,500 objects have been pulled from storage, conserved, and rehoused during this three-year grant. Close to 3,000 of those objects have been digitized and are available online.

lights on tripods pointing at glass plate stretched across milk crates; man kneeling nearby
Photographer Rudy Ruzicska taking the perfect image.

The final step for these objects is moving to a new home in storage, going on loan, or display for THF visitors to see up close. We work with collections management staff to box, palletize, and wrap the objects before finding the perfect location in storage or sending them on their next adventure for public viewing. The objects from this IMLS grant are just a small portion of the 100,000 artifacts that have been digitized, but they also include some of the largest objects we have in the collection!

Large black circular machinery/equipment
A couple of generators sitting in front of boxed and palletized objects in storage.

Let’s end with a blast from the past of The Henry Ford’s early digitization days in 2012. Here are a few images of what it took to digitize an abundance of hubcaps! Some of these you may have seen on display in the Driving America exhibit. The rest you can find in Digital Collections.

GIF rotating through several different images
For an in depth look at hubcaps, check out this blog post.

Congratulations to all who have helped over the years to get so many of The Henry Ford’s artifacts digitized and accessible!

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IMLS grant, #digitization100K, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, by Marlene Gray, collections care, conservation, digitization

Collection management staff play a crucial role in The Henry Ford's digitization process. We not only find and pull objects from their storage locations and move them to the photo studio, we also unpack or assemble objects if needed, assist the photographer with setup, repack the objects, and return them to storage after being photographed. We also track the locations of objects in the collections database as they are moved from place to place.

Graphic with text
This graphic of our digitization process shows where collection management fits in.

Most movements are pretty straightforward and involve only minimal handling, but some objects give us a greater challenge. Sometimes it is the sheer quantity of objects that creates a challenge in coordinating and streamlining the digitization process.

One example of this type of work is our recently acquired Hallmark ornament collection. Over 6,600 ornaments were acquired, and we initially set out to digitize them all, with photography completed by the end of 2020. (Note that this goal has since been disrupted, like so many things, by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.) With this many ornaments, it became clear that a plan was needed to maximize efficiency and that it was way too much work for the present staff to accomplish due to other job duties, so contract employees were hired to work solely on the project.

We streamlined the process as much as possible, but there were still quite a few steps.

GIF showing two views of cardboard boxes shrinkwrapped onto pallets
Pallets of incoming unprocessed ornaments in our storage building.

After the ornaments are catalogued by our registrars, collection management staff move the ornaments from the processing area to the Photo Studio, making sure all items are securely packed so no damage occurs during the journey. Because our campus is so large, this involves moving the objects from one building to another.

Cardboard boxes on shelves
Catalogued ornaments awaiting delivery to the Photo Studio.

Upon arrival in the studio, the ornament product packages are removed from the storage cartons and then the ornaments are unpacked from their product packages. Care is taken in opening the packages, and the items are carefully removed as to not tear the boxes, damage the ornament, or lose any small pieces. The ornaments are then sorted to keep similarly sized ones together, so the photo setup doesn’t need to be changed between each photograph. Glass or shiny ornaments usually require different lighting, so these are kept in their own batch as well.

The ornaments are readied ahead of the photo shoot to easily move through the process, allowing a large number per day to be shot. We don’t want to get slowed down by taking time in between each shot to unpack the next item.

Red boxes and loose ornaments on two-level cart
Ornaments getting prepared to be photographed.

Christmas ornaments and boxes in large, flat, open gray box
Ornaments with their packages and accession number tags ready for photography.

Red boxes lined up, with an ornament (mostly mini football helmets) in front of each
Ornaments lined up on a cart, ready to be photographed.

GIF cycling through two images of a man and woman with boxes of ornaments and camera
Photographing the ornaments.

Assisting with the photography setup is also part of the job: placing the ornaments on the table, removing them after they’re photographed, making sure all parts are included in the shot, and assisting the photographer as needed.

After the photographer is done, we wrap the ornament in clean new tissue paper and carefully place it back into its product package. The product packages are then placed in new, clean archival storage boxes, sorted by year. For permanent storage, the bubble wrap that was included in the original packaging is removed, as it does not contain a stable plastic and may break down and harm the objects.

GIF cycling through three images of small red and green boxes in larger gray boxes
Photographed ornaments being sorted before being boxed up for storage.

Since this a very large collection, it would take up a large amount of shelf space in storage. To save space, we stack the completed cartons on a pallet. When the pallet is full, it is then shrink wrapped to keep all the cartons in place during movement to their storage location.

Gray boxes stacked on pallet and secured with clear plastic wrap
Palletized Boxes shrink wrapped to keep everything in place.

Paper with three diagrams containing squares and text, overlaid with clear plastic
Diagram of location of boxes to easily locate boxes (and the individual ornaments they contain) within the pallet in the future.

Four gray boxes in a stack
Barcoded boxes ready to be palletized.

At each step of the process, from cataloging to the final storage location, the location of each ornament is tracked in our collection management database [Axiell’s EMu]. We update the location field each time we move an artifact. With 6,600 ornaments in the collection, that’s a lot to keep track of—so we streamline this step as well.

A holder location is created in EMu and a barcode is generated for each storage box and pallet used. Each time we move a box to a pallet, we scan its barcode and the one on the pallet, and all ornaments in that box get their location updated automatically in our database. Then when we move the pallet, we scan its barcode and the barcode of its storage location, and all ornaments in all the boxes on the pallet get their locations updated. This saves a lot of time and is much more efficient then updating each object individually each time.

Due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, our digitization priorities have shifted—but we were still able to digitize more than 2,000 of the Hallmark ornaments before we had to stop. You can check out some curator highlights from the collection in our Expert Set, or browse them all in our Digital Collections.

The Henry Ford is facing unprecedented financial challenges due to the impact of our 16-week closure and reduced operations. We need your help in securing our future. Love the Henry Ford? Please support all that we treasure—including our digitization program. Longtime supporters of The Henry Ford will match your donation dollar for dollar, so your contribution will have double the impact.
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COVID 19 impact, by Victoria Morris, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, photography, digitization, collections care

As The Henry Ford celebrates the milestone of digitizing its 100,000th artifact, we have been given the opportunity to reflect on the importance of this work and how it positively impacts our ability to share our stories with the world.

What does digitization mean? Digitization is the process of getting an artifact online for the public to view in a digital format. The Digitization and Digital Content pillar of the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship directly contributes to the museum’s digitization effort. As Project Curator, I work with other curators to identify entrepreneurial stories within our collections and select items to be digitized by the Entrepreneurship team. I am then able to use the digitized artifacts within pieces of digital content, such as blog posts and expert sets, to share these stories with the public.

Product bottles sitting on a table

Arrangement of barrels with text on them
Product Catalogue of F. & J. Heinz Company, circa 1878. Through the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, we were able to digitize this amazing catalog of F. & J. Heinz products from The Henry Ford’s sizable H.J. Heinz Company collection. Digitization of this catalog, as well as other objects from the Heinz collection, provide greater resources for researchers and visitors interested in learning more about the history of this company / THF291879 & THF291887

So how does this process begin? For me, it starts with doing background research on the individual, company, or collection identified, and then spending time in the Benson Ford Research Center looking at every item in that particular collection. This can take hours—sometimes days—depending on the size of the collection, but it’s fun to work with the physical documents, photographs, and other materials within the collection and see what interesting things I discover.
Woman sitting at table with boxes and images both standing up and lying flat

Project Curator Samantha Johnson with items from the H.J. Heinz Company Collection in the Benson Ford Research Center.

While looking through the collection, a story begins to unfold and I can start to see how we might utilize some of the items to tell that story in a blog post or expert set. When selecting items for digitization, I really start to think about what items would visually represent the story I’m trying to tell. I also look for items that I find personally interesting and artifacts that I think others will enjoy. But to use the items in digital content, they must be cataloged and imaged.

What does it mean to catalog an artifact? Cataloging is the process of entering important identifying information about an artifact into the museum’s collection’s management database. Important information includes the artifact’s unique ID number, title, maker history, date, location, and description of the artifact, among other things. Catalog records are not only accessed by internal staff, but much of the information is also made accessible to a global audience through our Digital Collections – one of the many ways we present information about our collections to researchers, other organizations, and the general public around the world.

Woman in office cubicle with book open on desk in front of her

Project Cataloging Specialist Katrina Wioncek cataloging a sample book from the American Textile History Museum Collection. (Photograph by Samantha Johnson)

For the Initiative for Entrepreneurship, after individual items have been selected for digitization, the Project Cataloging Specialist makes sure that the items are cataloged and any important information is included within the catalog record. It is extremely helpful if the catalog record has an image of the object available, which is one reason why the next process, imaging, is so important.

What does imaging mean?  Imaging is the process of rendering an object, document, photograph, etc. into a digital format. For 3D objects, imaging occurs through photography—for example, to learn how we photograph our quilt collection, check out this blog post. For 2D materials, digitization can occur by scanning or by photographing the objects, depending on their size, material, fragility, and other considerations. The images must also be cropped and processed through programs such as Adobe Photoshop—but it is important to note that we do not use these types of programs to make the objects look better. Our imaging goal is to provide an accurate representation of the physical object.

Woman looking at camera, standing at table setup with lights and camera

Project Digitization Specialist Karen Wissink imaging an artifact. (Photograph by Katrina Wioncek)

For the Initiative for Entrepreneurship, after the item is cataloged, the Project Digitization Specialist images the object and processes the image(s), then uploads it to our collection management database. When the artifacts are both cataloged and imaged, they are harvested to our Digital Collections, for people all over the world to enjoy.

Once artifacts are online, I can then use them in digital content like blog posts, using the objects to help share stories with the public. “The Larkin Idea” is one of my favorite posts, because we had the opportunity to tell the entrepreneurial story of the Larkin Company utilizing a variety of digitized artifacts.

Digitization for the Initiative for Entrepreneurship began in February 2019, and since then our team has digitized nearly 2,500 artifacts from 19 different collections! This initiative, funded by the William Davidson Foundation, has given The Henry Ford an amazing opportunity to analyze our collections through an entrepreneurial lens and highlight the stories of entrepreneurs from the past so that they might inspire the entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow. Check out our blog for more about these stories and The Henry Ford’s digitization program.

The Henry Ford is facing unprecedented financial challenges due to the impact of our 16-week closure and reduced operations. We need your help in securing our future. Love the Henry Ford? Please support all that we treasure—including our digitization program. Longtime supporters of The Henry Ford will match your donation dollar for dollar, so your contribution will have double the impact.
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#digitization100K, digital collections, digitization, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, by Samantha Johnson, entrepreneurship

When production of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation began in 2013, we knew the show would provide a tremendous opportunity to share our stories with new audiences. We also knew it would require tremendous resources. But we couldn’t have predicted the show’s longevity or success, with six seasons and three Emmy awards to date – or the important role our digital collections would play in the project. From planning to post-production and beyond, the images and information we’ve made available through digitization have become TV stars in their own right.

GIF scrolling down webpage with images and text
Digital Collections pages are a handy resource for the Innovation Nation producers. They provide information about artifacts – like this tomato harvester, which will be featured in season 8 – and help the stories take shape.

Our Digital Collections factor into the earliest stages of story development for Innovation Nation. Even before the show’s producers begin to discuss potential angles for a particular topic with the experts at The Henry Ford, they’ve often explored related Digital Collections pages. This provides background information, helping to guide the story and ground it in solid historical research. It also shapes the producers’ vision for the story, helping to determine where it will be filmed and what we might need to bring out for the cameras.

Three chairs in video screenshot
Photographs showing a range of chairs from The Henry Ford’s furniture collection made an Innovation Nation appearance in season 2.

After a story is filmed, our work is just beginning. We add any featured artifacts that aren’t already online to our queue for digitization. Including them as part of our Digital Collections makes them accessible to wider audiences and gives us the option to include them in future digital content. In addition to the “on camera” collections, supporting graphic and video assets from our holdings often appear in the final cut. We research our collections, digitizing new material as needed, and provide high-resolution image and video files to the story’s producer and editor. Sometimes, the producer will even write a script that highlights these supporting assets. An artifact doesn’t have to be two-dimensional or in video format to be considered – photographs of our three-dimensional collections may be featured, as well.

Webpage detail with images and text
The “Dig Deeper” section of the J.R. Jones General Store episode webpage features brand-new digital content and newly-digitized material.

Though informative, the short-form stories that air on Innovation Nation can only say so much. Our Digital Collections and content offer viewers a chance to dig even deeper. Each episode has a dedicated webpage on thf.org that provides links to resources – such as blog posts, expert sets, or groups of related digital collections – that provide context for a particular topic and further highlight our holdings and expertise. Often, the “Dig Deeper” section of an episode webpage contains brand-new content, created specially to support that Innovation Nation story. So, whether you’re a long-time viewer or just learning about the show, it’s worth visiting thf.org to explore more. To get started, consider checking out content related to some of our most recent episodes here, or browse featured artifacts from all the seasons of Innovation Nation in our Digital Collections.

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#Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, by Saige Jedele, digital collections, digitization, TV, The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

The Henry Ford reached a digitization milestone recently, adding the 100,000th artifact to its Digital Collections website. The digitization team at The Henry Ford began a little over ten years ago to update and add to this site. Early on, we developed data standards that guided our progress. Certain required information -- a title, an object name, dimensions, creator, and searchable keywords, to name a few -- accompanies each object record. And every object that goes online must have an image that meets our standards.

Page with text; "Write a Summary" is highlighted
This graphic shows the various tasks in The Henry Ford's digitization workflow, and where writing a summary fits in.

But have you noticed that many of The Henry Ford’s online collections records have a small label-like paragraph -- something called "Summary"? As staff at The Henry Ford looked at other institutions' collections webpages, we noticed many contained standard descriptive information, but few explained the importance of the object. Some collections webpages added a detailed (sometimes dry) physical description, or maybe text from an old exhibit label, or sometimes long academic articles. The digital collections staff at The Henry Ford wanted something more reader-friendly, something informative, and perhaps even enjoyable. After a series of discussions, we decided that a short 60-word paragraph -- a Summary -- was the solution. A Summary would answer the question, “So what?” -- why is this object important for The Henry Ford to collect and preserve? -- and hopefully spur viewers to explore our digital collections more deeply.

A GIF scrolling down a webpage with car photo and text
A Summary is one of the first things you see when you go to a Digital Collections record page. This GIF shows the Summary for
Mustang serial number one, along with much other information about the car.

When staff originally conceived of the idea, a Summary was viewed as a vital part of the online data, but not a requirement. Finding the right words for some object Summaries takes time, and the 60-word limit is constricting -- though we do allow a few more words when needed. An object usually can tell multiple “So what?” stories, and curators -- the primary authors of a Summary -- would like to share them all. What one “So what?” story would you choose to tell if you were writing a Summary about the rocking chair used by President Lincoln on the night of his assassination, a Ford Model T, or the home (or cycle shop) of Orville and Wilbur Wright?

Even seemingly mundane objects offer interesting insights. Curators thoroughly research these objects then carefully choose words that will convey a coherent idea--while at the same time working within the prescribed word limits. Our research into an object's history and use provides viewers with a deeper understanding of our online collections.

Piece of equipment with dials
What could be more mundane than a wattmeter -- a device used to measure electricity usage? Learn more about how electric companies found ways to measure electricity usage and charge customers appropriately in the Summary for this c.1907 Type C Wattmeter. / THF168572

Standing man.
The man in this carte-de-visite was originally identified as an acrobat in our collection records. But while researching the image to write the Summary, the curator discovered that this "acrobat" was Henry Brown, a well-known long-distance walker. / THF210533

Though a Summary may not be perfect, we hope that it gives viewers an insight into our collections that will spark an "a-ha" moment. And staff at The Henry Ford have created well-researched blog posts, Expert Sets, What If stories, and Connect 3 and other videos for those viewers who want more in-depth stories about our collection.

So, how are we doing? Currently, more than 65,000 of the 100,000 Digital Collections objects have a Summary, and curators continue to add more. We have plenty of work in the future.

Do you want to give it a try?

Find an object in your home (or go to our Digital Collections website and find an object without a Summary) and write a 60-word Summary to answer the question, "So what?" -- why is this object important? Some objects may be easy to write about; others, not so much. Remember that readers should understand the concept you are trying to convey, and perhaps be inspired to want to know more.

The Henry Ford is facing unprecedented financial challenges due to the impact of our 16-week closure and reduced operations. We need your help in securing our future. Love the Henry Ford? Please support all that we treasure—including our digitization program. Longtime supporters of The Henry Ford will match your donation dollar for dollar, so your contribution will have double the impact.
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#Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, digitization, research, digital collections, by Andy Stupperich

GIF cycling through a wide variety of objects
This GIF runs through fewer than 1/10th of 1% of the artifacts available for you to discover in our Digital Collections.



If you’ve ever liked or commented on a photo of one of our artifacts on social media…

If you’ve ever looked at an image from our collections reproduced on a wall or label in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation…

If you’ve ever used one of our digital interactives in the museum…

If you’ve ever visited one of our exhibit pages for the museum or our district pages for Greenfield Village…

If you’ve ever looked at one of our blog posts or expert sets

If you’ve ever visited our Digital Collections


If you’ve done any of these things, then you’ve had an encounter with our digitization program.

As you might be able to tell from that list, digitization of our collection now underpins much of what we do, and helps us fulfill our mission to inspire people to learn from America’s traditions of ingenuity, resourcefulness and innovation to help shape a better future. For about a decade, The Henry Ford has been systematically adding artifacts to our website, and today we are proud to announce that we have just added our 100,000th artifact. We are using this opportunity to kick off a month-long celebration during the month of November, and will be giving you behind the scenes looks at the digitization process, sharing fun facts about digitization and our Digital Collections, and counting down the most popular digitized artifacts of all time.

A tractor sits in front of a building
Our 100,000th digitized artifact is this photo--of the 100,000th Fordson tractor. / THF146392

As an institution that holds artifacts in the public trust, we have always cared for them and documented them. But the amazing expansion of the digital realm over the last decade has given us new ways to expand access to our fascinating and significant stories. According to the Pew Research Center, when we embarked on this effort in earnest around 10 years ago, one-quarter of Americans did not use the Internet, only 4 of 10 Americans participated in social media, and American smartphone usage was rare.

Website screenshot with text and images
Our original Digital Collections website.

Our beginnings, too, were humble.  Our initial digitization efforts in the early 2010s were funded by generous gifts from Lynn and Paul Alandt and Benson Ford, Jr., on behalf of the Benson and Edith Ford Fund. Our first collections website began with only 500 artifacts included—the very first being this 1929 Ford Model A Coupe used by Henry Ford.

Black car on grass in front of a brick wall with windows
Our first digitized artifact was this 1929 Ford Model A Coupe, used by Henry Ford. / THF87486

As time went on, the number—and breadth—of artifacts we had digitized grew. By 2012, we’d reached 8,000 digitized artifacts; by late 2013, we’d hit 20,000; and two years ago, we hit 75,000. At the same time, technology proliferated—smartphone usage skyrocketed, and web users started to rely on being able to access information anywhere, any time.

Over the years, we’ve digitized artifacts being put on display in new exhibits both large and small, new additions to the collection, artifacts used in The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, objects that tell innovation learning stories, and many other “hidden gems” that may not have been on display for many years. They underpin innovative new interactive experiences in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, and allowed us to present a comprehensive online content program during the current coronavirus pandemic.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that if you’re a fan of The Henry Ford, you’ve probably benefitted in some way from our digitization program.

So we invite you to join us throughout the month of November here on our blog, as well as our social media channels, to learn more about the many steps that go into this process and the experts on our staff who make it happen—and to learn some fun and interesting facts about our collections along the way. The first week will provide an overview of our work; the week of November 9 will focus on collections management and conservation; week three will focus on the work of our registrars; and we’ll wrap up Thanksgiving week with a highlight on our imaging staff.

And don’t forget to check out our Digital Collections for yourself—share your favorites with us on social media using the hashtag #digitization100K.

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digital collections, #digitization100K, technology, by Ellice Engdahl, digitization, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

Man sitting in front of wall filled with books
James A. H. Bell (circa 1890-1915) has his Zoom bookshelf game on point. / THF38607


I’m Sarah Andrus, and I am the librarian at The Henry Ford. The Henry Ford’s library is an extensive resource for our staff, researchers, and scholars to explore our collections, as well as provide all of the background reading you could need for a lifetime. While our reading room has been closed to the public, I’ve been providing book recommendations to my colleagues at The Henry Ford, and I’d like to pass those along to you!

It is now the end of October, and that means two things:

  1. It is National Book Month, and readers around the world get to celebrate their favorite stories.
  2. In 2020 we have all been on way too many video calls.


All of our virtual meetings have led to plenty of office backdrops across Zoom calls, Facetime catch-ups, and virtual happy hours. Here at the Henry Ford we have been keeping an eye on everyone else’s bookshelves, as well as making sure our own are up to snuff for every person we now welcome into our home offices.

So to celebrate the end of National Book Month, I am here to help you spruce up your bookshelves so that they are ready to impress friends, families, coworkers, and even the occasional webinar audience—with the added bonus that you’ll actually want to read them!


These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore

2020 feels like we are all living through a history book, which makes Lepore’s tome chronicling the story of our nation a welcome companion. These Truths is well researched and compulsively readable. As a bonus, at over 900 pages it is sure to stick out on your bookshelf!

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

Readers who are fans of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird will find a new take on Harper Lee. Part biography, part story of a small-town serial killer, and full of Harper Lee, Truman Capote, and the real Macomb (Monroeville), Furious Hours has something for everyone. It is addictive, literary, and full of little facts that will stick with readers well after finishing the last page.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

A timely new release for 2020 from Wilkerson, Caste is an informative read, and perfect to continue a personal education on the events of this year. It is also going to be a hit on your shelves.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat

This has been a year of home cooking. Nosrat’s cookbook is a must-have for new cooks and foodies alike. It teaches technique, not just recipes, and includes beautiful illustrations. The cover isn’t too shabby, either.

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

Traveling may be out of the cards, but with Broom’s memoir you’ll find yourself transported to New Orleans East, an area rarely written about, but full of culture and personality. Broom weaves the history of her hometown with her own life story to create a mesmerizing tale of resilience, community, and family.

The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humbolt’s New World by Andrea Wulf

After a summer of gardening, hiking and generally enjoying the outdoors, there is no better friend than Wulf’s gorgeous biography of environmentalist Alexander Von Humbolt. Chronicling a life both thoughtful and adventurous, The Invention of Nature is a worthy addition to your Zoom bookshelf.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel

Fiction has a big place in 2020. In a time when travel is difficult, socialization has changed and the world feels completely different, there is always comfort in a story. In The Glass Hotel, Mandel takes readers back a decade to the last financial crisis—but also to the Canadian wilderness and out to sea. It is an adventure full of interesting characters living their most flawed lives. It is everything a good story should be, with a cover to stun on your shelves.


Even in 2020, books remain a way we can learn, travel, and expand our world—at a time where it feels harder to do these things outside of our houses. These recommendations will help keep your horizons broad, and your Zoom contacts impressed.


Sarah Andrus is Librarian at The Henry Ford.

by Sarah Andrus, COVID 19 impact, books

Transparent figure of Abraham Lincoln standing in room with table and dais

"Ghost of Abraham Lincoln" in Logan County Courthouse for Halloween in Greenfield Village, 1982 / THF146345

Our beloved Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village program is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It’s been a fascinating journey to have been involved from nearly the beginning, eventually leading the team that plans and produces this very complicated and detailed guest experience.

Throughout the entire history of the event, the true star of the show has been Greenfield Village after dark. I know of no better palette for our amazing creative team to have at its disposal to work magic year after year.

The year 2020 and its COVID-19 pandemic will be looked back on as a turning point for not only the Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village program, but for all of The Henry Ford. The need for a safe environment and the resources available have forced the team to take a fresh look at the event and view things from a very different perspective. We are excited and invigorated by the plan we have brought forth and we hope our guests are too.

The Beginnings of Halloween in Greenfield Village

The Greenfield Village Halloween program began as an experience shared through our Education Department’s catalogue of classes and courses. This new concept of a family-based, Halloween-themed experience was first developed as a scary wagon ride experience, with stops and treats at various buildings in Greenfield Village. There were other fun seasonal activities, including dunking for apples, a costume parade and contest, and refreshments in Lovett Hall. The wagon ride was carefully planned out and tapped into Village stories, going as far as having as having a staff member’s child on board as a designated kidnap victim--a sign of the different times that were the early 1980s.

Man and woman wearing historical clothing and facepaint hand candy to man and little boy
"Trick or Treat" at Wright Home in Greenfield Village, October 1982 / THF146356

This program was presented on an ambitious scale. It was offered one night only and served a remarkably large audience. It was wildly popular and showed what future possibilities and demand lay ahead for the Halloween season. (You can read more about this very first Greenfield Village Halloween program here.)

A series of events led to the next phase of the Greenfield Village Halloween program. The Tylenol poisoning scare in the fall of 1982 changed people’s view of the safety of trick-or-treating. This, combined with new staff and reorganized Village Programs and Special Events departments, brought forth the novel idea of opening Greenfield Village at night as a safe place for trick-or-treating. Thus, the foundation for Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village was born: the basic format of the program we have used until now.

This first Village trick-or-treat Halloween program drew an unexpectedly huge crowd of over 5,000 people. No control measures for timed or paced entry times were put in place and the event was open to the public. As expected, the supply of treats ran out quickly and drastic measures had to be put in place to try and keep pace. I remember working at the first treat stop, the Loranger Gristmill. We gave out handfuls of loose candy corn (a nice thematic connection to the gristmill). I remember it being a very chaotic experience and the porch of the gristmill being coated in smashed candy corn, which could not be seen—only felt—under my feet. In the light of the following day, I was amazed to see single pieces of candy corn that had been pressed out to the size of my hand, still retaining their original shape and color!

Crowd of adults and children, many in costume, outside brick house
"Trick or Treat" at Heinz House in Greenfield Village, October 1982 / THF146374

Many lessons were learned that opening weekend. Moving forward, Halloween in Greenfield Village became a members-only event and entry times were established to slow and control the flow.

Developing the Program in the 1980s and 1990s

Halloween would remain a members-only event for the next 20 years. The first few years, Halloween only took place for one weekend in October. This would continue through the 1980s. By the early 1990s, the still members-only program would expand to two weekends and eventually three. During this time, staff were allotted a certain amount of free tickets, but were required to show up on a set day and time and stand in a very long line to get their tickets. Member tickets for the limited number of program days typically sold out very quickly.

In the first era of the program, there was a lot of emphasis put on the treats and their thematic connection to the Greenfield Village sites from which they would be given out. Different treats were picked out each year.

Orange page with text
The inside of the brochure for 1983’s “Family Halloween in Greenfield Village” lists the thematic connections for each building treat stop. / THF146311

Connecting the trick-or-treat path were a variety of Halloween-themed vignettes or interactions, associated with historical events and characters with a nod to scary stories of the past. The effects were low-tech and, in some cases, took inspiration from the emerging haunted house industry. First seen in the 1970s, these haunted houses were grassroots amateur efforts, often sponsored and produced by local Jaycees, Elks, and other fraternal organizations as fund raisers. They relied on cheap scare tactics that involved being jumped out at, grabbed, and sometimes gory scenes. For years, we used some of these very same techniques. The Ackley Covered Bridge was notorious for this.

Person in a gorilla costume in front of adults and children, many in costume, in a wooden covered bridge
"Gorilla" on Ackley Covered Bridge during Halloween in Greenfield Village, October 1982 / THF146372

When it came to infrastructure, the Greenfield Village of the 1980s and 1990s basically resembled the Greenfield Village of 1929. There were very few, if any, streetlights and limited access to power to add additional lighting. Until the restoration of 2003, Halloween in Greenfield Village was very dark. Because of this, the jack-o’-lantern pumpkin path played an important role in lighting the way through the experience. A continuous thread to today’s program is the large number of hand-carved and candlelit jack-o’-lanterns that line the path—though now, they serve more to create ambience and atmosphere. Over 1,000 pumpkins are now hand-carved each week to achieve the continuous path.

Four women carve pumpkins on tables covered in newspaper
Volunteers Carving Pumpkins for Family Halloween Jamboree in Greenfield Village, October 1981 / THF146327

Throughout the 1990s, the Family Halloween program, still a members-only event, continued to grow in popularity and had become a yearly tradition for many. Creative collaborations between the Special Events, Village Programs, and AV teams continued to improve the experience, and serious work and experimentations began with lighting and visual effects. A huge breakthrough was the discovery that Tim and Tom, the Firestone Farm black Percheron horses were decent riding horses. It was not long before the Headless Horseman made his debut in the front fields of Firestone Farm. He was soon joined by Ichabod Crane and a Halloween in Greenfield Village favorite was born.

By 2001, though the sophistication and fit and finish of Halloween in Greenfield Village had evolved dramatically from its early years, there was still great potential for growth. Previously, costuming had mainly been reworked or cast-off bits and pieces from the period clothing inventory, décor was minimal, and aside from the hundreds of pumpkins on the jack-o’-lantern path, the main emphasis remained on treats.

The New Millennium Brings a Turning Point to the Program

Three men with pipes in muddy trench; construction equipment and buildings nearby
Workers Laying Conduit in Greenfield Village during Infrastructure Restoration, January 2003 / THF133585

In 2002, the big news around Greenfield Village was the impending massive infrastructure restoration that would begin to take place in the fall. The Village would close at the end of September and not reopen until the following June. Halloween would take a hiatus that year as the huge project gained steam. This would be a turning point and a newly imagined program soon emerged, keeping in step with the newly imagined Greenfield Village.

By the summer of 2003, a cross-functional team began planning the work. The team very quickly established a back story that would guide what the new Halloween would and would not be. The shock and gore, now so prevalent in haunted houses, was removed from the mix. Instead, there was a move toward a family-friendly experience that would rely on the power of Greenfield Village after dark and scary and adventure-based stories that fuel the imagination and Halloween spirit.

Another important inspiration was Halloween party guides, published from the early 1900s through the 1950s, in the collections of The Henry Ford. These handbooks gave endless advice on how to decorate, what games to play, what food to prepare and serve, and a whole host of other miscellaneous tips on how to throw the best Halloween party. Among the most useful and inspirational were the series of yearly Bogie Books, published by the Dennison paper and party goods company from 1912 through 1935. These pamphlets were filled with illustrations, some in color, that featured the huge array of crepe paper and other party products produced by the Dennison Manufacturing Company. Elaborate costumes and party décor were shown—along with the list of Dennison products one would need to replicate the awe-inspiring ideas featured. The colors, textures, and techniques guided our teams in both costuming and decorating throughout the Village.

Two children look at a black pumpkin house with Halloween symbols nearby and text
Dennison's Bogie Book: Suggestions for Halloween & Thanksgiving, circa 1925 / THF96746

Trick-or-treating would remain the main vehicle for moving guests through the experience on a set path, but the look and feel of the treat stations would begin to change dramatically. The Period Clothing Studio became very involved and began to design a spectacular series of costumes to bring the gothic, fairytale, and adventure storybook characters to life—with a nod to costumes of the 1910s and 1920s. By 2005, these characters would become the treat station hosts, with their own stages and stage lighting. Other favorite characters, like the Woman in White, the Dancing Skeletons, the live scarecrow, and, of course, the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane, made triumphant returns with new costumes.

Two women work at a large table filled with fabric bolts and sewing notions; elaborate costumes hang in the background
Costume Studio Preparing for Halloween in Greenfield Village, October 2005 / THF12490

Another significant change at this point was the shift from Hallowe’en being a members-only event to a public event. Members still had first-pick when ticket sales opened, as they do now, but after a certain date, the public was invited to purchase tickets. As the popularity of the event continued to grow, so did attendance capacities.

The creative work to improve costumes, set designs, and theatrical lighting continued. Through the 2010s, staged theatrical performances of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and other fun, but dark fairytales, such as “Hansel and Gretel” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” were added to the mix. To set up the live Headless Horseman experience, Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was also performed. Along with the dramatic presentations, live Halloween-themed musical performances featuring a vampire trio, the Potion Sisters, and a musical pirate review rounded out the offerings. To top it off, the Top Hat Side Show became a fixture on Washington Boulevard, anchoring the 1920s carnival theme in that area.

Man in black pants and hat and white tank top points from a stage, with lighted "Top Hat Side Show" sign behind him
The Top Hat Side Show performing at Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village for the first time in 2015. (Photo by KMS Photography)

By 2019, the Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village experience had hit its full stride and welcomed a record number of guests. There were now several different ways to experience the program with the addition of evening dining opportunities, including the children-themed “Fairytale Feast” and the 1850s Eagle Tavern Harvest Supper.

Rethinking Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village in 2020

Sign with text
Signage outside the main entrance of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in March 2020, announcing the closure of our venues due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy Ellice Engdahl)

Planning for the 2020 Hallowe’en program was well underway when the world as we knew it came to a screeching halt—and along with it, the entire summer calendar of Greenfield Village special events. As we cautiously reopened the Village and Museum over the Fourth of July weekend, The Henry Ford continued to learn and understand how safety measures should work, what the scale of program offerings needed to be, and what the future might bring. By the end of the summer, it was clear that we could consider a Halloween program in October. We knew it would need to be reimagined and presented in a very different way in order to comply with safety measures while at the same time allowing our guests to have a fun and enjoyable experience.

Based on decades of experience in planning and producing large scale public events, the Hallowe’en planning team took a fresh look at the program. It was immediately apparent that the entire concept of lining up for treats would have to be eliminated. Without the need for a set prescribed route, new possibilities opened, and the Holiday Nights model of enjoying the evening at one’s own pace and experiencing program elements in any order became the logical approach. Greatly reduced attendance capacities and timed entry would ensure a safe experience. Unfortunately, we were not able to offer our evening dining experiences this year, but happily, many familiar and favorite characters and experiences made a return.

Woman in witch costume in front of a locomotive and crowd of people
A witch and the Hallowe’en Express welcome guests to Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village in 2020. (Photo courtesy Jim Johnson)

A very exciting addition for 2020 is the Hallowe’en Express, a brand-new Halloween-themed train ride that makes a round trip excursion from the “Brimstone” Station at the front of the Village. Guests encounter all sorts of sights and sounds along the way. The presence of a live steam locomotive in the Village, with an eerie whistle created just for this occasion, adds an entirely new dimension to the overall experience for our guests.

Over the past 40 years, Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village has steadily grown and evolved. There have been many turning points in its long history, and 2020 will rank among the most significant. New beginnings can often be viewed as painful endings, but the Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village planning team is fully embracing this new beginning and is very excited to share the path we have taken.


Jim Johnson is Director of Greenfield Village and Curator of Historic Structures & Landscapes at The Henry Ford.

COVID 19 impact, holidays, Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village, Halloween, Greenfield Village history, Greenfield Village, events, by Jim Johnson, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford


Man in blue button-down shirt and khaki pants walks along wooden fence with large white banner reading "Coming Soon: The Vegetable Building from Detroit's Central Market"

An amazing thing happened during the spring and summer of 2020, while The Henry Ford was closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of dedicated individuals formed a new donor society, the Carver-Carson Society, and raised more than six times what was needed to bring back to life the Detroit Central Market in Greenfield Village.

How in the world did they do this?

Well, prior to the pandemic shutdown, The Henry Ford was still $200,000 shy of reaching its $5 million fundraising goal. The Henry Ford has always had big plans for the market, which was built in 1860 and is considered one of the oldest surviving urban farmer's markets of its kind in the country. The Henry Ford's vision is for the market to become a world-class convening center and hub of innovation by attracting farmers, food entrepreneurs and thought leaders to help educate and engage the public on critical issues, including food security, regenerative agriculture and environmental sustainability. That vision was in danger of being significantly delayed when The Henry Ford had to close its doors in March. This all changed when a group of dedicated donors answered the call to support the market project by forming the Carver-Carson Society and creating plans for The Henry Ford's first-ever virtual fundraiser, Farm to Fork.

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On August 20, 2020, Farm to Fork aired live over Vimeo, creating a virtual show filled with interviews, films, cooking demonstrations and engaging conversations. The event was co-chaired by Emily Ford, Lauren Bush Lauren and The Henry Ford's president and CEO, Patricia Mooradian, and raised over $800,000. This thought-provoking and entertaining event helped not only to cross the fundraising finish line but to surpass its original goal.

One of the highlights was the first Carver-Carson Conversation, featuring an intimate conversation moderated by Debra Reid, curator of agriculture and the environment. Special guest panelists included legendary chef and restaurateur Alice Waters; her daughter, designer and author Fanny Singer; event co-chair Lauren Bush Lauren; and Melvin Parson, a community farmer and The Henry Ford's first Entrepreneur in Residence. Their lively discussion touched on important issues around food security, food equity, regenerative farming and the need for local food environments and farmers. We plan to have many more Carver-Carson Conversations, both virtually and in person, in the future.

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Detroit Central Market, The Henry Ford Effect, philanthropy, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, food, COVID 19 impact, agriculture

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"It is innovative thinking such as this which dares to dream that we could travel to space, to the moon and eventually to Mars," said Joan Higginbotham, a former astronaut and director of human exploration primes at Raytheon Technologies. She was awarding this year's Most Innovative Award. The winner? Anirudh Cowlagi, inventor of AstroTrack, a Python-based solution to aid with the detection and characterization of minor planets in the solar system.


"Advances in the field of planetary science have been dramatic over the last few decades," Anirudh explained. "However, with this new data comes a need for more effective methods of analysis." Anirudh received a $2,500 scholarship, plus a hand-selected mentor from Raytheon Technologies to aid him in his innovation journey.

The Henry Ford's Invention Convention gives more than enough reason for hope during these challenging times. This year, over 120,000 K-12 students designed and pitched their creative solutions to the problems of the world, from potato-based plastic bags and energy-generating keyboards to more breathable face masks. These students were tasked with a single request: find a problem they care about and try to solve it.

With lockdowns and travel restrictions inhibiting many educational programs, The Henry Ford digitized Invention Convention within weeks. This quick pivot allowed The Henry Ford’s 20 affiliates to operate their programs and events despite the difficult circumstances. Among these affiliates was the Michigan Invention Convention, which had its most participants ever despite being held virtually. The Henry Ford similarly digitized its U.S. Nationals event, which culminated in an online award ceremony hosted by CBS science correspondent Alie Ward.

The award ceremony featured a number of keynote speakers and presenters, including several former astronauts, the director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, key executives including the CEO of Stanley Black & Decker and more than 80 award-winning young inventors. Nearly a dozen full patent applications were awarded to students.

The impact of the U.S. Nationals event has been astounding. As of mid-August, the award ceremony video had received over 40,000 views across its channels, with viewership of Invention Convention via news media with 500 million impressions this year. Most importantly, The Henry Ford continues to improve the accessibility and inclusion of the program. This year, over 54% of the inventors were female, and 55% of the winners self-identified as students of color.

The Henry Ford is grateful to its many partners and sponsors who continue to support and help build this vital program of innovation, invention and creative thinking — in particular, Raytheon Technologies, a founding sponsor of Invention Convention Worldwide and the presenting sponsor of U.S. Nationals 2020. Learn more about The Henry Ford's Invention Convention program at inventionconvention.org.

If you are interested in supporting this inspiring program or participating as a judge in 2021, keep an eye on The Henry Ford’s Invention Convention web page for updates in Spring of 2021.

childhood, The Henry Ford Effect, inventors, Invention Convention Worldwide, innovation learning, events, education, COVID 19 impact