Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Celebrating Ninety: Collecting in the 1960s

May 20, 2019 THF 90
The Henry Ford - 1960s

Henry Ford Museum, 1965. THF133278

During the 1950s and the 1960s, the museum prepared to engage a new generation of visitors. Fresh paint, improved exhibits, special events, and enhanced amenities began to transform the museum into an increasingly attractive destination for the visiting public.

Staffordshire Case in Decorative Arts, 1960

Staffordshire Case in Decorative Arts Gallery in Henry Ford Museum, circa 1960. THF139326

In Henry Ford Museum, curators reduced the number of objects on display in the main exhibit hall, arranged the artifacts in a more orderly fashion, and provided explanatory labels. The transportation collections were rearranged, presenting the trains, automobiles, and bicycles in chronological order for the first time. This helped visitors see more clearly how technology and design had evolved over time, Similarly, the decorative arts galleries grouped furniture, ceramics, glassware, and silver to show the evolution of American taste.

Edison Institute Board of Trustees, 1967

Edison Institute Board of Trustees, 1967. THF133538

In 1969, as the institution celebrated its 40th anniversary, William Clay Ford, then board chairman of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, announced that both the Ford Motor Company and the Ford Foundation would each donate $20 million in grants to the organization. In speaking at the anniversary celebration that year, William Clay Ford said, “I think the institute is one of the great philanthropic legacies of my grandfather. It in no way diminishes the significance of this historic resource to note that he underestimated its financial needs when he conceived it more than a generation ago.”

Nearly half of the money was used for needed improvements to museum and village facilities and programming. The remainder was used to create an endowment fund to provide for future income. The announcement launched a period of development not see seen since Henry Ford’s era.

Acquisitions Made to the Collections in the 1960s

Samuel Metford Silhouette of Noah and Rebecca WebsterSamuel Metford Silhouette of Noah and Rebecca Webster

The museum purchased this 1842 silhouette of Noah and Rebecca Webster in 1962--just in time to be placed in the Webster House as it was being opened to the public for the first time since it was moved from New Haven, Connecticut in 1936. This silhouette, mentioned in Rebecca’s will, had been left to a Webster daughter. Curators were fortunate to have also acquired an original Webster desk, sofa, and some portraits to include along with other period furniture, tableware, paintings, quilts, and accessories. Yet, when completed, the rooms were more effective at showcasing fine decorative arts objects than reflecting the Webster family’s life. The era of historically accurate, immersive settings had not yet arrived in the museum field. - Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life


Oil Painting, "Sarah ... at the Age of Four," 1830-1840
Oil Painting, "Sarah ... at the Age of Four," 1830-1840

Throughout the mid-20th century, curators sought out the best examples of decorative and folk arts, one of which is this portrait of a 4-year-old girl named Sarah. Painted around 1830 by an itinerant artist, this endearing girl carries a basket of stylized fruit and flowers and wears a necklace of coral beads, which were thought to ward off illness. - Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts


1965 Ford Mustang Serial Number One

1965 Ford Mustang Serial Number One

Mustang fans know the story well. Canadian airline pilot Stanley Tucker bought Serial Number One in Newfoundland on April 14, 1964. After Mustang became a sales sensation, Ford spent two years convincing Tucker to give it back (ultimately, in trade for a fully-loaded '66 Mustang). Ford Motor Company then gave Serial Number One to The Henry Ford where the landmark vehicle immediately... went into storage until 1984. Such was the museum's philosophy in those days. A vehicle wasn't truly historic -- and worthy of display -- until it reached 20 years of age. Happily, exhibit policies and visitor expectations are quite different today! - Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation


License plate - "Michigan License Plate, 1913" - Michigan. Dept. of State

License plate - "Michigan License Plate, 1913" - Michigan. Dept. of State

The museum's collection not only includes automobiles, but automotive accessories and registration materials. In the 1960s, the State of Michigan donated a run of Michigan license plates dating from about 1906 to 1968. Alongside the museum's historic vehicles, these objects help tell the rich story of America's automotive history. -Andy Stupperich, Associate Curator, Digital Content


First Portable Superheterodyne Radio Receiver, Made by Edwin Howard Armstrong, 1923

First Portable Superheterodyne Radio Receiver, Made by Edwin Howard Armstrong, 1923

By the 1960s, Curator of Mechanical Arts, Frank Davis, and his curatorial colleagues had started to organize the thousands of artifacts collected during Henry Ford's lifetime. The collections displayed in the museum's vast Mechanical Arts Hall, curated by Davis, contained machines related to agriculture, power generation, lighting, transportation, and communication. With a special interest in radio, Davis couldn't pass up the chance to add this radio to the collection in 1967. Created by pioneer of radio engineering and credited inventor of FM radio, Edwin Howard Armstrong, this radio was a gift to Armstrong’s wife for their 1923 honeymoon and the first portable "superhet" radio receiver ever made. - Ryan Jelso, Associate Curator of Digital Content


Torch Lake Steam Locomotive, 1873

Torch Lake Steam Locomotive, 1873

In 1969, as the institution celebrated its 40th anniversary, board chairman William Clay Ford announced an extensive expansion and improvement program that would include the creation of a perimeter railroad for Greenfield Village. The 1873 Torch Lake, originally used by a copper mining company in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, fit in perfectly with these plans. Returned to operating condition, the engine shifted from hauling ore to transporting passengers and was just shy of 100 years old when the railroad opened in 1972. - Saige Jedele, Associate Curator of Digital Content


Ford Motor Company Historic Business Records Collection

Ford Motor Company Historic Business Records Collection

In 1964, the Ford Motor Company donated its archive to Edison Institute, with the records from the office of Henry Ford at the collection’s core. Housed in over 3,000 boxes and forming an unbroken run of correspondence from 1921 through 1952, the Engineering Lab Office Records are a remarkable group of materials that document a period of more than thirty years of activity of one of the world's great industrialists and his company. -Brian Wilson, Sr. Manager, Archives and Library


1960 Advertisement for the Ford 981 Diesel Tractor and Ford 250 Hay Baler

1960 Advertisement for the Ford 981 Diesel Tractor and Ford 250 Hay Baler, "Up To 10 Tons Per Hour...That's Making Hay the Ford Way!"


The Ford Motor Company transferred business records to the Edison Institute in 1964. The transfer included this 1960 advertisement for the Ford 981 diesel tractor and the Ford 250 hay baler. Existing collections had not covered this time period. Henry Ford and collectors such as Felix Roulet focused on earlier technological innovations as they built the collection between the 1920s and 1940s. When Peter Cousins joined the staff in 1969 as the first trained historian hired to curate agriculture, his research confirmed inventors and patent numbers and affirmed the richness of the collection. He also identified items still needed to tell authentic stories about technological history after Henry Ford's era. - Debra A. Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment

Facebook Comments