Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

029720180601_KMSPhotography

Stemie Coalition Logo-jpegI’m pleased to announce that The Henry Ford and the STEMIE Coalition have officially joined forces to strengthen our invention education offerings across the country and around the world. Several members of the STEMIE Coalition are now part of The Henry Ford organization.


For those of you who don’t know, The STEMIE Coalition is a non-profit, umbrella membership organization of youth invention and entrepreneurship programs across the U.S. and globally and is best known for producing NICEE, the National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo.

0237_033820180601_KMSPhotography

We held the 2018 NICEE for the very first time here in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation this past June, and now we will be the permanent home of that program during which more than 400 students from 20 states and two countries qualified to attend.   

In fact, when we started the conversations around the planning and hosting of NICEE here at The Henry Ford, it was then that we realized how similar our missions are, that both organizations shared a vision of creating the next generation of innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs and it was apparent to us that combined, we could reach significantly more students and make a greater impact.

I see this as a marriage of missions. The STEMIE Coalition’s mission to train every child in every school in invention and entrepreneurship skills aligns with The Henry Ford’s quest to move our country forward through innovation and invention. This expands the pipeline of products available to address kids preK-12 and to increase the accessibility of invention education for students of all backgrounds. This is an investment in unleashing the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs and creating tomorrow’s workforce.

Thank you, as always, for helping The Henry Ford activate our mission and for your continued support. See you soon.

Patricia E. Mooradian is President & CEO of The Henry Ford.

mm1
Only at Motor Muster! The 1st Michigan Fife & Drum Corps passes a 1955 Buick Special Riviera.

Another summer means another car show season. Here at The Henry Ford, that means another Motor Muster. Our 2018 event goes down as one of the most exciting in recent memory, with a host of new activities and experiences – and more than a few great cars, too. Some 700 automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, bikes and military vehicles filled Greenfield Village with the sights and sounds of mid-20th century motoring.

mm2Chevrolet’s long-running small-block V-8 – under the hoods of the 1957 Bel Air and Corvette seen here – is a perfect example of an iconic engine.

Our theme this year broke with tradition. Rather than feature one particular make or model, we celebrated “Iconic Engines of Detroit’s Big Three.” Our profiled power plants included Ford’s flathead V-8, which brought horsepower to the masses from 1932-1953; Chevrolet’s small-block V-8, which remained in production, in one form or another, from 1955-2003; and Chrysler’s celebrated hemispherical combustion head engines, first marketed under the “FirePower” name before gaining the better known – and still used – “Hemi” moniker. The broader theme allowed us to make the most of a visit from the Early Ford V-8 Club of America, as well as a consortium of dedicated Mopar owners and fans.

mm3Moving under its own power for the first time in several years, The Henry Ford’s 1956 Chrysler 300-B recalled NASCAR’s early days.

Each of these iconic engines was on view in our special display tent across from Town Hall. From The Henry Ford’s own collection came a 60-horsepower variant of the Ford V-8. Our Chrysler 300-B, from the Carl Kiekhaefer team that dominated NASCAR’s 1956 Grand National series, not only sat in the tent but also wowed crowds with Hemi-powered noise during our Saturday afternoon racing Pass-in-Review presentation. We rounded out the tent’s Big Three display with a small-block-powered 1955 Chevy Bel Air courtesy of show participant John Dargel.

The Ford V-8 was an especially appropriate choice for Motor Muster. Some of the engine’s early design work was done by a small group of engineers working out of Thomas Edison’s Fort Myers Laboratory in Greenfield Village. The lab provided the team with privacy and freedom from distraction – and maybe even a little inspiration.

mm4Tether cars peaked in popularity in the years surrounding World War II, though newer models – like this 1990s example – continue to be built by enthusiasts.

We added a small-scale surprise to the tent this year. Throughout the weekend, visitors could watch our conservators at work on a gasoline-powered tether car. These miniature racers competed against the clock while tethered to a central pivot, or against each other on scaled-down board tracks. The featured car was one of dozens acquired by The Henry Ford from the E-Z Spindizzy Foundation in 2013.

mm5
Scenes from the World War II home front came to life at our small-town War Bond drive.

Building on the “historical vignette” concept that debuted at last year’s Old Car Festival, this year’s Motor Muster included period settings for each decade represented by the cars in the show. For the 1930s, we staged a Civilian Conservation Corps camp at the McGuffey School. For the 1940s, we reenacted a home front War Bond drive, circa 1943, along Washington Boulevard. (In keeping with the theme, Spam sandwiches were available for lunch!)

mm6
The 1951 General Motors Le Sabre concept car, on loan courtesy of our friends at GM, was a highlight of the “FuturaFair” auto show vignette. GM also provided the 1958 Firebird III.

The 1950s were represented by a Motorama-style auto show in the Village Pavilion. Our “FuturaFair” display included three of that decade’s notable concept cars: the 1951 GM Le Sabre, the 1953 Ford X-100, and the 1958 GM Firebird III. At the Scotch Settlement School, a happy group of revelers enjoyed a suburban-style picnic set in the 1960s. And the Spirit of ’76 reigned at the foot of the Ackley Covered Bridge, where the 1st Michigan Fife & Drum Corps and the Plymouth Fife & Drum Corps performed Bicentennial-themed concerts throughout the weekend.

mm7
Badminton kept our Bicentennial vignette lively, while mid-1970s AMC wagons and cars provided atmosphere.

If just looking at cars wasn’t enough, visitors could learn about them either by watching our narrated Pass-in-Review programs at the Main Street grandstand, or by sitting in on one of several presentations in the Village Pavilion. Topics included everything from Ford factory paint methods to the lasting impact of the Chevrolet Corvair. Of course, you could also learn simply by asking the owners about their cars. They enjoy sharing share their stories: where they found the car, why they bought it, and why they love the hobby.

It was another magical weekend filled with good friends, good food, and hundreds of vintage vehicles. And for our 2018 Motor Muster award recipients, it was a winning weekend as well. What better way to welcome another summer?

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Motor Muster

Concept Cars

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

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

THF94591

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

THF90390

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

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Michigan, Detroit, Autorama, by Matt Anderson, car shows, cars

car1

Hot Hatch Heaven! Hyundai’s 275-horsepower Veloster N, one of several new models unveiled at this year’s North American International Auto Show.

Detroit is the capital of the global automotive industry once more as the 2018 North American International Auto Show arrives at Cobo Center. Carmakers from around the world have come to share peeks at their 2019 model lines, and hint at new technologies that may be coming in the years ahead. As usual, the exhibits range from exciting, to informative to downright unreal.

car2This is exactly what it looks like: a 1979 Mercedes-Benz G-Class frozen in amber.

Mercedes-Benz takes the cake for most unusual display. The German automaker unveiled a new version of its venerable G-Class SUV, in continuous production since 1979. To emphasize its endurance, Mercedes encased a vintage G-Class in a giant block of amber. (Think dino-DNA mosquitoes in Jurassic Park.) The block is located outside, along Washington Boulevard, rather than in the Mercedes-Benz booth. But don’t miss that either – you can see a 2019 G-Class splattered with faux mud, and the G-Class driven to victory by Jacky Ickx and Claude Brasseur in the 1983 Paris-Dakar Rally.

car3The Chevrolet Silverado – now lighter thanks to a blend of steel and aluminum body panels.

With gas prices down and the economy up, Americans have reignited their romance with pickup trucks. Chevrolet and Dodge both revealed new full-sized models, while Ford trumpeted the return of its mid-size Ranger. The 2019 Chevy Silverado rolled out under the headline “mixed materials.” In response to the Ford F-150’s aluminum bed (premiered at 2014’s NAIAS) and fuel efficiency targets, the bowtie brand is now building Silverado bodies with a mix of steel and aluminum components, shedding some 450 pounds from the truck’s overall weight. Chevy, celebrating a century in the truck business this year, is quick to point out that Silverado’s bed remains an all-steel affair. (Silverado TV commercials have been cutting on the F-150’s aluminum bed for some time now.)

car4Eyeing the American market, China’s GAC Motor makes a splash with its Enverge concept car.

China is a bigger factor in the American auto industry each year. Buick’s Envision crossover is already made in China, and Ford will shift production of its compact Focus there next year. It’s only a matter of time before a Chinese automaker starts marketing cars in the United States. GAC Motor hopes to be the first, announcing plans to sell vehicles stateside in 2019. (Yes, Chinese-owned Volvo is already selling cars here, but it first came to the U.S. in 1955 in its original Swedish guise.) It could be a tough sell – U.S. automakers and politicians aren’t too pleased with the steep tariffs imposed on American cars sent to China. In the meantime, GAC tempts NAIAS visitors with its Enverge concept SUV. The all-electric Enverge is said to have a range of 370 miles on a single charge – and can be recharged for a range of 240 miles in a mere 10 minutes.

car5
Detective Frank Bullitt’s 1968 Ford Mustang, among Hollywood’s most iconic cars.

Ironically, one of the most talked-about cars at NAIAS is 50 years old. Ford Motor Company tracked down one of two Highland Green Mustangs driven by Steve McQueen in the 1968 thriller Bullitt. As any gearhead knows, the movie’s epic 11-minute chase scene, in which McQueen and his Mustang go toe-to-toe with a couple of baddies in a black 1968 Dodge Charger, is considered one of Hollywood’s all-time greatest car chases – even half a century later. Its lasting appeal is a credit to McQueen’s skill (both as an actor and a driver – he did some of the chase driving himself), the “you are there” feel of the in-car camerawork, and – obviously – the total absence of CGI. Those are real cars trading real paint.

The current owner’s parents bought the Mustang through a 1974 classified ad in Road & Track magazine. For years they used one of pop culture’s most important automobiles as their daily driver! With the movie’s 50th anniversary this year, the owner decided it was time to bring the car back into the spotlight. Ford agreed and, in addition to the movie car, its booth also features the limited edition 2019 Bullitt Mustang, a tribute car that hits dealer lots this summer.

car6
Digital license plates may one day eliminate sticker tabs – or be remotely updated to alert police of a stolen vehicle.

The youngest, hungriest companies at NAIAS are on Cobo Center’s lower level. More than 50 start-ups, along with colleges and government agencies, are in Detroit for the second annual AutoMobili-D, the showcase for fresh ideas and innovative technologies. Reviver Auto hopes to revolutionize an accessory that hasn’t changed in more than a century: the license plate. The California company proposes swapping the tried and true stamped metal plate for a digital screen. The new device is more visible in low light and poor weather, and resistant to the corrosion that plagues metal plates. In lieu of adhesive registration tabs, your digital plate could be renewed remotely each year by the DMV. Plates could also broadcast Amber Alerts to other drivers, or be updated by authorities if you report your car as stolen. Some will argue that current license plates are fine – as functional and intuitive as need be. But based on the number of randomly-placed renewal tabs I see out there, I’m not so sure there isn’t room for improvement.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Michigan, Detroit, technology, NAIAS, movies, cars, car shows, by Matt Anderson

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

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

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

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

ces2

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

ces4

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

ces5

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

ces6

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

ces3

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

ces7

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

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

ces8

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

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

ces9

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

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

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

ces10

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

 ces11

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

ces12

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

ces1

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

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

Can Objects Talk?

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

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

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

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

THF155561

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


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

Nostalgia for those who experienced it—and a hip mid-century modern revival for others.

0003_011620171120_KMSPhotography

The Visits with Santa experience in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation this year is a throwback to the 1960s. Kids can tell Santa their wishes as they sit next to him under a colorful kiosk made by Ray and Charles Eames for the IBM pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  Nearby is a cozy 1960s living room vignette—complete with a La-Z-Boy chair, television set, and an aluminum Christmas tree from the era.

This mid-century modern theme coincides with the opening of our newest permanent exhibit in the museum, Mathematica, also designed by Ray and Charles. Several components of Mathematica were featured inside that IBM Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, so we were excited to bring those two experiences together for this year’s holiday programming.

The scene provides a bit of nostalgia for those who experienced the 1960s—and a hip mid-century modern revival for others. Let’s look at some blasts from the 1960s Christmas past.

THF170112
Aluminum trees brought a modern look to a mid-1960s Christmas.  THF170112

The early 1960s brought a fresh, new look to Christmas tree aesthetics.  A completely modern look--the aluminum Christmas tree.   It made a shiny, metallic splash in living rooms all over America.  More than a million trees were sold during the decade.   A tree choice that eschewed the traditional pine- or fir-scented Christmas experience when it landed on the Christmas scene in the 1960s, now conjures up images of a retro Christmas past.

THF8379
Color wheel sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company, 1960-1965.  THF8379

A color wheel lit up the aluminum tree, with the tree changing from blue to red to green to gold as the wheel revolved.  The color wheel was there for a practical reason—you couldn’t put strings of lights on aluminum trees because of fire safety concerns.   But to those viewing the transformation, the color wheel seemed a no-brainer way to light these trees—so modern and so magical.  It was mesmerizing to watch—whether from a front row seat in your living room or the view through your neighbor’s window.

THF309083
The Smith family of Redford, Michigan purchased these ornaments in 1964 to hang on their aluminum Christmas tree.  THF309083

Aluminum trees called for minimalist look. The trees were often sparingly decked with ornaments all of one color. 

THF125145
The Wojewidka siblings pose for a Christmas photo in front of their live tree in 1960.  THF125145

Yet, “real” trees remained popular as well—fresh-cut trees chosen from one of the many temporary Christmas tree lots that popped up in cities and towns. (The cut-your-own trend was not yet widespread.)  Scotch pines were favored by many—though there were diehard balsam fans as well.  These trees were bedecked with a varied array of ornaments—glass ones by the Shiny Brite company were popular. And shiny “icicles”—made of lead before it was prohibited—hung from the branches to add to the sparkle.

Holiday Greetings in the Mail

THF287028
By the early 1960s, Christmas cards offered a greater variety of seasonal images beyond those traditionally found. This image shows a woman clothed in a pine tree decorated with 1960s trendy-colored ornaments.   THF287028  

By mid-December, mailboxes were filling with Christmas cards, sent by family and friends to let the recipient know that they were being specially thought of during the holiday season. It was exciting to pull out handfuls of cards from the mailbox—it may have been the only time during the year when a kid had much interest in what the postman delivered. And not necessarily because of the cards themselves—the cards were a tangible sign that Christmas was indeed on its way and that Santa would soon be making his deliveries!  

THF155082
Christmas card display clothesline and pins, about 1964. THF155082   

Where did people display all these Christmas cards? On a mantle, a table, or the top of the television. Or taped to a wall or a large mirror in the living room. Hanging them from a Christmas-themed clothesline was a more novel way to display them.

THF287036
This 1962 stamp carried traditional Christmas images of lighted candles and a wreath.  THF287036

In 1962, the United States Postal Service issued the first Christmas-themed postage stamps in America. (A few other countries had already beaten us to the punch on issuing Christmas-themed postage stamps.) But once begun, Christmas stamps graced more and more Christmas card envelopes to complete the annual presentation of holiday-themed greetings sent through the mail. 

Making a List

THF135874
Christmas catalogs like this 1964 Sears, Roebuck & Company got a workout in December. THF135874

Kids were busy deciding what to ask Santa for. Instead of perusing the web, kids looked forward to the arrival of Christmas season catalogs sent by stores like Sears, Roebuck and Company, J.C. Penney, and Montgomery Ward.  Kids (and adults) eagerly leafed through the pages of the toys, clothing, and other gifts offered within, making their wish list for Santa’s perusal before passing the catalog along to another family member.

Television offered additional gift ideas, playing out the merits of products before viewers’ eyes in commercials that one couldn’t speed past with a DVR.

Toys for Girls and Boys
Many 1960s toys that appeared on the Christmas lists of millions of kids during the 1960s—some in updated versions—are still classics.

THF135811
Silly Putty modeling compound, about 1962.  THF135811

Silly Putty was invented during World War II as General Electric researchers worked to develop a synthetic substitute for rubber.  While no practical purpose could be found for the stuff, it did turn out to be a great toy. Silly Putty bounced higher and stretched farther than rubber.  It even lifted images off the pages of color comics. (My sister took Silly Putty to bed with her, leaving a perfect egg-shaped stain on the sheets that never came out.)

THF93827
Eight-year-old Rachel Marone of New York received this Etch A Sketch as s Christmas gift in 1961.  THF93827

The 1960s saw an innovative new arts and crafts toy—the Etch A Sketch. Turning the knobs at the bottom of the screen (one to create horizontal lines, one for vertical) let the user “draw” on the screen with a mixture of aluminum powder and plastic beads. To erase, you just turned the screen over and shook it.  Incidentally, it was the first toy that Ohio Art, its manufacturer, ever advertised on television.  (Accomplished users could make great drawings on the Etch A Sketch—and some of us were just happy to produce decent-looking curved lines.)

THF170363
This 1962 Play-Doh Fun Factory was a childhood toy of Mary Sherman of Minnesota.  THF170363

Play-Doh introduced their Fun Factory in 1960. Now kids could go beyond free-form modeling with their red, yellow, blue and white Play-Doh. The Play-Doh Fun Factory provided instructions on how to create things like trains, planes, and boats—and an extruder with dies to easily make the components. 

Watching Christmas Specials on TV

THF162745
Album from A Charlie Brown Christmas television special, about 1965.  THF162745

Kids eagerly listened for announcements on television or leafed excitedly through TV Guide magazine to find out when the holiday specials would air.  You didn’t want to miss them—it was your only shot at watching!  There were no DVRs or DVDs back then. Two animated classics from the mid-1960s--A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas--are among the earliest and most enduring of the Christmas specials developed for television.  

Within their engaging storylines, these two shows carried a message about the growing commercialization of the holiday.  As kids watched the barrage of toy ads that appeared with regularity on their television screens and leafed through catalogs to make their Christmas lists, seeing these cartoons reminded them that Christmas was also about higher ideals—not just about getting presents.  These television shows—and the increasing number and variety of Christmas specials that have since joined them—remain a yearly reminder to temper one’s holiday-related commercialism and to think of the needs of others. 

Not only have Charlie Brown and the Grinch become perennial favorites enjoyed by children and adults alike, but the soundtracks of these shows have joined the pantheon of musical Christmas classics. 

Christmas Music

THF135943
The Ronettes’ version of Sleigh Ride, with its freshly melodic “Ring-a-ling-a-ling Ding-dong ding” background vocals on this 1963 Phil Spector-produced album, has become an iconic Christmas classic. THF135943

What would a 1960s Christmastime be without Christmas-themed music heard on the stereo at home and over speakers in stores? The 1960s saw a flood of Christmas albums and singles. Various singers—like Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Brenda Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, the Ronettes, the Crystals, and the Beach Boys—recorded their versions of old favorites and new tunes.   

The Annual Christmas Photo

THF287005
In 1963, the Truby brothers of Royal Oak, Michigan, posed in Santa pajamas given to them by their grandmother. THF287005

After the presents were opened and everyone was dressed in their Christmas finery, it was time to round up the kids for photos. Siblings (and, sometimes, their parents) might be posed together in front of a seasonal backdrop like the Christmas tree or a fireplace. Some families filmed home movies of their celebrations. These home movies often captured only strategic snippets of the Christmas celebration—movie film was expensive. And these home movies were without sound—which was probably sometimes a good thing!

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

correspondence, events, Henry Ford Museum, popular culture, by Jeanine Head Miller, toys, holidays, Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

by Matt Anderson, car shows, cars

0479_171320170910_KMSPhotography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

car shows, Greenfield Village, cars, Old Car Festival