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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

One Giant Leap for Mankind

July 15, 2019 Innovation Impact

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing

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The Space Race began in the 1950s, when both the United States and the Soviet Union attempted to launch ballistic missiles into outer space.  Americans were surprised when the Russians beat them to it, launching the Sputnik I satellite in October 1957.  But, when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited earth on April 12, 1961, Americans were downright shocked and not a little concerned.  As a response, President Kennedy pledged to support a more aggressive space program than President Eisenhower had initiated before him.

On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy laid out a bold vision—that America should commit itself to landing a man on the moon “before the decade is out.”  When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin A. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. finally did set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, many people considered it America’s finest hour.

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Learn more about these artifacts below and then see them for yourself in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation during our pop-up exhibit now on display this summer.

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This pictorial souvenir card depicts President Kennedy awarding NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal to America’s first astronaut, Navy Commander Alan B. Shepard, Jr., on May 8, 1961, three days after his successful flight.
Souvenir Card, 1961.  THF230121

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Trading cards like these generated excitement among America’s youth about the achievements of the space program.
Topps Astronaut Trading Cards, 1963. THF230119

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This “Destination Moon” mechanical bank commemorates astronaut John Glenn’s achievement of orbiting the earth in 1962.
Mechanical Bank, 1962. THF173785. (Gift of Raymond Reines, Dedicated to the Berzac Family)

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Congress had to approve a massive budget increase for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to make Kennedy’s bold vision even a remote possibility.
Recruiting Advertisement for NASA, July 1962. THF230079

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NASA’s Apollo 11 lunar mission captivated audiences watching the drama unfolding on television. Some even documented the events with their personal cameras.
Photographic Print, July 20, 1969. THF114240

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Print made from slide, July 20, 1969. THF114242


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Four months before real men landed on the moon, Snoopy appeared in a Peanuts comic strip as the “World Famous Astronaut” walking on the moon.  This Peanuts Pocket Doll commemorates the 1969 moon landing.
Snoopy Toy, 1969. THF52. (Gift of CarolAnn Missant)

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This coloring book included the Mercury, Apollo, and Saturn vehicles and astronauts, as well as some history of the space program.
Coloring Book, 1969. THF292641

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Those who viewed the moon landing on TV on July 20, 1969, often have difficulty separating the historic occasion from the steadfast reporting of it by Cronkite—considered at the time “the most trusted man in America.”
Record Album, Narrated by Walter Cronkite, 1969. THF110908

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The cover story for this issue contained an in-depth report of the historic moon-landing mission.
Time Magazine for July 25, 1969. THF230050. (Gift of the Estate of Dr. and Mrs. Martin A. Glynn)

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This commemorative game, simulating the successful moon landing, had players collecting “moon rocks.”
Board Game, 1969-1975. THF91918

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This phonograph record comprises a “recorded history of space exploration and the triumph of the lunar landing.”
Record Album, 1969. THF154908. (Gift of the Estate of Dr. and Mrs. Martin A. Glynn)

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At the height of the Apollo space program, Marathon Gas Stations offered a series of promotional glasses featuring the Apollo 11, 12, 13, and 14 missions.
Tumblers commemorating Apollo 11 mission, circa 1969. THF175132 (Gift of Jan Hiatt)

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The Apollo 11 astronauts took pieces of the 1903 Wright Flyer—the first practical heavier-than-air flying machine—on their 1969 mission to symbolize the incredible progress made in those 66 years. Here, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong poses in front of the Wright brothers' home in Greenfield Village during a 1979 visit to The Henry Ford.
Photograph of Neil Armstrong in Greenfield Village, August 16, 1979. THF128246

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The iconic image on this poster depicts Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon’s surface, a photo taken by Neil Armstrong.
Poster, 1969. THF56899

Read more
John Glenn, Space Hero
John F. Kennedy's Enduring Legacy


Donna Braden is Senior Curator & Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

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