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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Our Thoughts Turn to Picnics

July 26, 2017 Archive Insight
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Family Picnic, ca. 1935 THF101122
July. Mid-summer. Fresh mornings, hazy afternoons, balmy evenings.  It’s a chance to get outdoors and appreciate all that summer has to offer. At a time like this, it’s easy for our thoughts to turn to picnics. In fact, July is National Picnic Month!

As you can see from the selections included here, picnics have long been packed for family reunions, for camping trips, for road trips. Despite the potential for invading ants, the need for some planning beforehand, and a bit of inconvenience at the picnic spot, the rewards are well worth the effort. Because picnics promise good company, a chance to escape from daily cares, and is it me or does food just taste better outdoors?

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Trade card, ca. 1880; THF215172
This circa 1880 trade card, advertising Crown sewing machines and Florence oil stoves, suggests that a good time could be had by all if the picnic included food cooked on a Florence oil stove.

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Photo, ca. 1900; THF284849
The people seated at the picnic table in this circa 1900 photograph are enjoying a clam steam, a particular favorite in New England.  The meal often also included other shellfish and sweet corn.

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Collapsible cup, ca. 1920; THF104640
These circa 1920 collapsible paper cups, distributed at Socony (Standard Oil Company of New York) service stations, made it easy for travelers to drink a cold beverage they might pack for their picnics.

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Photo, Vagabonds, July 24, 1921; THF34544
Even the rich and famous could enjoy an outdoor picnic, especially if served at a large Lazy-Susan table under a shady canvas cover. This 1921 photograph, taken during a “Vagabonds” camping trip in Hagerstown, Maryland, includes: Henry Ford and his wife Clara, son Edsel, and Edsel’s wife Eleanor; Thomas Edison and his wife Mina; Harvey Firestone and his wife Elizabeth Parke; President Warren G. Harding; and several others.

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Wash-up kit, ca. 1925; THF150975

Decades before pre-packaged moist towelettes came on the market, this circa 1925 Wash-Up Kit allowed picnickers to wash and dry their hands before eating—with a paper sheet that magically turned into soap when moistened and a set of paper towels.

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Photo, ca. 1930; THF120736

The family in this circa 1930 photograph was undeterred by the lack of restaurants along the highway. Like other motorists, they stopped along the side of the road and ate a meal they had packed themselves.

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Box of FMC Charcoal Briquets, 1935-7; THF6000
Ford Motor Company’s charcoal briquettes, produced in the 1930s from the wood wastes of its lumber operations in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, claimed to be safe, smokeless, and convenient—ideal for picnickers wanting to grill outdoors.

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Photo, 1955; THF113925

The picnickers in this 1955 publicity photograph are enjoying campstove-cooked hot dogs in the remote Colorado Rockies.

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Fisher-Price Picnic Basket, 1975; THF155302
Kids could enjoy their own “Teddy Bear picnic” with this 1975 Fisher-Price playset—complete with a plastic hinged-lid picnic basket, dishes, and a tablecloth.

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Herman Miller Poster, 1985; THF154517
This striking 1985 poster is one of a series of 20 that graphic designer Stephen Frykholm created for the annual company picnics of Herman Miller, Inc.—a company renowned for its “modern” furniture.

Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life, has fond memories of picnics growing up and continues to be a picnic aficionado.

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