Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Exploring Entrepreneurship, Virtually: The Henry Ford's Sagan

In recent months, we previewed a new virtual experience that we’ve created in partnership with Saganworks, a technology startup from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Today, we are happy to officially launch this experience for you to interact with!

Virtual barn-like space with many colorful images on the walls, with fruit tree & crates as well
A view of the Produce Industry section, featuring items from the Detroit Publishing Company Collection, the Label Collection, and photographs of Entrepreneur-in-Residence Melvin Parson’s time at The Henry Ford.

What we’ve created is a Sagan: a virtual room capable of storing content in a variety of file formats, and experienced like a virtual gallery. The Henry Ford and Saganworks have partnered together to use this Sagan to highlight some of the work the museum has done under the auspices of the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, which focuses on providing resources and encouragement for the entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow. Through this grant, we have been given the opportunity to examine some of our collections through an entrepreneurial lens, digitizing thousands of artifacts and sharing these stories through blog posts, expert sets and interviews with our Entrepreneurs in Residence. Our Sagan highlights these entrepreneurial stories and collections, displaying a sampling of objects we’ve digitized and content we’ve created all in one place – starting with those related to our collecting themes of Agriculture and the Environment and Social Transformation.

Virtual space with wood floor, white walls, and black-and-white images on the walls
Text panels, like the one seen here, are featured throughout the Sagan to provide information about the items you’re seeing in that section.

As previously mentioned, our Sagan is experienced like a virtual gallery with objects and photographs arranged on the walls – similar to an exhibit. Unlike an exhibit, however, the Sagan does not have extensive labels throughout. Instead, one brief text panel can be found in each section of the Sagan describing the collection within that space and how it relates to entrepreneurship.

Once you’re in the Sagan, you’ll have the opportunity to move throughout the space using the arrow or WASD keys on your keyboard and can scan the room by right-clicking and dragging your mouse in the direction you want to view. (Laptop users can hold the “control” key and use the trackpad to scan the room as well.) Within the Sagan, you’ll find photos and documents that we’ve digitized as part of the Initiative for Entrepreneurship. To view an item up close, select the artifact and click on the description that appears or double-click the artifact itself. On tables throughout the Sagan, you’ll also find digital content elements, such as blog posts and artifact sets, that provide further context. Double-clicking these elements will take you to the blog or set on The Henry Ford’s website.

Virtual gallery space with artifacts on walls and a stack of barrels
This stack of vinegar barrels was customized and created by Saganworks exclusively for The Henry Ford’s Sagan.

One of the exciting features we were able to incorporate within our Sagan is 3D artwork customized for The Henry Ford by the talented artists at Saganworks. Our 3D artwork includes an orange tree, fruit crate stands with life-like fruit, pickle barrels, and a larger-than-life stack of vinegar barrels, representing the vinegar products sold by the H.J. Heinz Company. Also visible within the space are virtual furniture pieces created by Saganworks and available to anyone who uses the program to help customize a space and create a mood within each room.

Empty virtual room on right; "furniture" panel on left with chair and shelf options
There are tons of furniture options to help furnish your virtual space from bookshelves and couches to sculptures and decorative artwork.

So what else makes The Henry Ford’s Sagan extra special? Our collections, of course. Items from the following collections are featured within our Sagan:

H.J. Heinz Company Collection (broken into two sections) Explore further by visiting the collection record, finding aid or the artifacts we’ve digitized from the collection.

  • Production – Entrepreneur H.J. Heinz entered the processed food industry in 1869 when he began selling horseradish out of his family home. Upon achieving success, his product line quickly expanded to include other products, such as pickled foods, condiments, and preserves. The items shown here document the production aspect of the H.J. Heinz Company, including photographs of the farms where the fruits and vegetables were grown and harvested, as well as images of the factory where the items were processed and packaged and the employees who worked there. The featured content element describes a Heinz employee notebook we found in our collection.
  • Marketing – H.J. Heinz was at the forefront of creative marketing. He rarely missed an opportunity to market his “57 Varieties” – a catchy slogan he created despite offering a line of more than 60 packaged food products. A prolific promoter, Heinz aimed to reach consumers in stores, at home, and everywhere in-between. The items shown here document the many advertising strategies of the H.J. Heinz Company, including streetcar advertisements, trade cards, labels, advertising drawings and illustrations, and photographs of elaborate grocery store displays. The featured content element explores other aspects of H.J. Heinz’s entrepreneurial journey.

Richard J.S. Gutman Diner Collection –
The American diner is recognized as an icon of roadside architecture and entrepreneurial enterprise. The items shown here come from the collection of Richard J.S. Gutman, the leading expert on American diners. Photographs, trade catalogs, menus, and matchbooks help tell the story of innovation and entrepreneurship from the craftsmen and designers who built the dining cars to the owners and operators who served customers every day. Explore further by visiting the press release, finding aid or the artifacts we’ve digitized from the collection.

Recipe Booklet Collection – Recipe booklets allow us to examine the changing eating habits of Americans and discover early products from some of the well-known companies in the food industry today. For many companies, recipe booklets were a method of marketing, offering creative uses for their products. Featured content elements include a history of the Jell-O Company and an opportunity to browse the booklets from the entrepreneurial companies included in this section. Explore further by visiting the finding aid or the artifacts we’ve digitized from the collection.

Detroit Publishing Company Collection – The Detroit Publishing Company (1895–1924) was an entrepreneurial venture that produced, published and distributed photographic views of the world. The company’s photographers captured images ranging from the exotic to the ordinary, including special events, everyday activities, infrastructure, various industries and views of cities and countrysides. The images shown here document the West Coast fruit industry, including photographs of the fields and groves where the fruit was grown, and images of the fruit being packaged and crated for shipping. Explore further by visiting the collection record, finding aid or the artifacts we’ve digitized from the collection.

Label Collection - Labels are important advertising tools that inform customers what a product is, who produced it and where it comes from. As competition increased within the West Coast fruit industry and the canned food industry in the late 1800s, labels and brand identification became even more important. The labels shown here include some of the entrepreneurial companies within our larger Label Collection. Featured content elements explore the history of labels, the process of lithography (how labels were made) and the entrepreneurial journey of “The Fruit King.” Explore further by visiting the artifacts we’ve digitized from the collection.

Entrepreneur-In-Residence Program, Melvin Parson – Melvin Parson, founder of We The People Growers Association, was the Spring 2019 Entrepreneur in Residence at The Henry Ford, funded by the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship. Driven by his mission for equality and social justice, Farmer Parson uses vegetable farming as a vehicle to address social ills. The featured content element links to an interview with Parson where he shares his journey and mission to secure equality and social justice through urban farming. Explore further by visiting the artifacts related to Parson that we’ve digitized.

Virtual space with image of smiling man with shovel and text panel on wooden wall
Visitors to our Sagan have the opportunity to click on individual items located on the walls or can interact with our content elements (blog posts and expert sets) throughout the Sagan. The content element featured here is an expert set of video clips from an interview with Melvin Parson, spring 2019 Entrepreneur in Residence at The Henry Ford.

Have we piqued your interest yet? Click here to explore our Sagan on your own (please note that this experience will be best in the Chrome browser on a desktop computer). After providing your name and email, you’ll be able to fully enjoy this new virtual experience we’ve created. Or, if you're on your mobile device, check out our narrated walkthrough right here:



What’s great about this type of virtual experience is that it is something anyone can create. That’s right: Anyone can create a Sagan. Whether it’s a virtual room to display family photos or a way for a teacher to offer lectures, notes and test prep for their students, Sagans provide infinite possibilities. With the capabilities of audio, visuals and a wide variety of customizations to choose from (such as furniture and room layout), individuals are able to experience their Sagans holistically, making Saganworks not just an alternative to in-person spaces, but a unique adventure.

It’s been quite an interesting experience for us to translate our entrepreneurial artifacts and stories into a virtual space. If you too are intrigued by The Henry Ford’s Sagan and would like to try building your own, create an account and use code “innovation” for 30 days free of the Saganworks Individual Plan, follow Saganworks on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Feeling creative? Images of all of The Henry Ford’s artifacts in our Digital Collections are available for download and use (in accordance with our terms of service). Maybe you’d like to try creating a virtual space with our digital artifacts as well. If so, we’d love to see them!  Share your Sagans with us via our social media channels using #THFSagan.


Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford.

educational resources, technology, entrepreneurship, by Samantha Johnson

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