Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Celebrating a Milestone: 100,000 Digitized Artifacts

November 1, 2020 Think THF
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.

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.



Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

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

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