Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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This alphabet quilt, likely made in Berks County, Pennsylvania, dates from about 1910.   THF168579  (Purchased through the Eleanor B. Safford Memorial Textile Fund.)

“A, B, C, D, E, F, G—   H, I, J, K, L-M-N-O-P—.… Now I know my ABCs”

The alphabet song gave us a fun way to learn our ABCs—and the order of the letters.  (I don’t know about you, but I sometimes still find myself singing it as I alphabetize something.)  Even before kids head off to school, we not only sing the alphabet song to them, but surround them with images of alphabet letters—on building blocks, children’s dishes, and even, wallpaper—to help them learn their ABCs. 

Alphabet letters also appear on quilts. Quilt block patterns published in the 20th century made it easier to plan and create these quilts. In 1906, Ladies Art Company, a mail order business that published hundreds of quilt patterns, offered a series of alphabet block designs. The Henry Ford’s alphabet quilt was likely made using these patterns.

The letters on this alphabet quilt may look like they are curved—but they are actually made up of triangles, squares, rectangles and trapezoids.  The letter blocks were designed to avoid curved seams, which are more difficult to execute than these other geometric shapes. Yet, even using these Ladies Art Company patterns offered challenges.  Some letters, like the G and Q, required more intricate piecing.  Some quiltmakers simply deviated a bit in piecing the blocks for these, and other letters.  Our quiltmaker managed the Q, but made a few small changes in creating the G.

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Though working from the same pattern, each individual quiltmaker created her own unique quilt through her choice of fabric, the exact arrangement of the letter blocks, the design of the sashing and borders, and the quilt patterns used in the decorative corner blocks that complete the quilt. Some quiltmakers arranged the letter blocks in rows of three and five. Others placed them in four rows of five letter blocks—and then figured out what to do with the leftover Z! Our quilt maker tucked the Z into one corner, creating a delightfully whimsical effect.

We don’t really know who made this quilt, or who they made it for.  But it is easy to imagine a child cuddling with this charming alphabet quilt—and learning his or her letters at the same time.


Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

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 iPod nano MP3 Player & Earbuds, circa 2008. THF150173

What does "portable music" mean to you? This group of artifacts challenges what that notion has meant, from the early 20th-century to present day. Some objects may seem familiar--some may seem laughably large to be considered "portable" today.

An evolution of listening styles is also present: from the open channels of radio for news and top-40 music--to formats like the LP and MP3 that allowed people to take control of their listening experience, minus the DJ.
THF133277Four Gallon Stoneware Crock, 1878-1896. THF133277

0012_003620170524_KMSPhotographyIn 19th-century America, sturdy waterproof stoneware pottery became popular for utilitarian items such as crocks, jugs, and butter churns. The rough-textured outer glaze was created when common rock salt was thrown into the kiln during firing, which vaporized and combined with melted silica from the pottery.

The blue decoration--made with a cobalt oxide glaze mixture--lent variety and artistry to these otherwise plain pieces.

Today, House Industries has their own salt-glazed pottery project with Eldreth Pottery

The pottery is one of the few manufacturers in the world that continues to employ the centuries-old technique of glazing ceramics with salt during the firing process. The application is difficult to control, giving each piece of stoneware a unique texture and distinctive colored finish.

See their pottery inspiration examples in "A Type of Learning" in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and learn more about the ongoing artistry of salt-glazed stoneware in our digital collections.

During the weekend of July 29th-30th, 2017, Maker Faire Detroit will return for its eighth year at The Henry Ford. From robotics to crafts, costume design to homebrewed carnival rides—hack-a-thons to soldering demonstrations—this family-friendly event promises to engage visitors with an immersive experience of ingenuity on overdrive. Hundreds of Makers (nearly one third of them new) will join us from around the globe this weekend, filling over 30-acres of space inside and outside of The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. 

Our Curator of Communications and Information Technology, Kristen Gallerneaux, has put together this list of a few of her most anticipated Makers for 2017.

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1. Musical Lightning, Times Four!
The Tesla Orchestra from Cleveland, Ohio are creators of “the world’s largest twin musical tesla coils.” For Maker Faire Detroit, they will demonstrate a quartet of mini coils capable of emitting three-foot lightning bolts—lightning that will be transformed into music before your eyes and ears. Each coil can play several notes – four coils put together brings the promise of Tesla harmonies! They will perform six times each day in Anderson Theatre. 

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2. Robots!
In 1992, FIRST Robotics Competition had its inaugural event in a high school gymnasium with a total of 28 teams. Today, there are thousands of FIRST teams around the world. Founded by engineer Dean Kamen, FIRST gives high school students and their adult mentors the chance to collaborate and solve a problem: design and build a working industrial-sized robot. At Maker Faire Detroit, you can see robotics demonstrations by at least 15 competing FIRST teams from Michigan. Put it on your calendars: in April 2018, Detroit will host the FIRST Robotics Global Championship. 

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3. Flaming Carnival Games!
Capn Nemos Flaming Carnival join us from Chicago. This group of artists, Makers and performers has been making the scene with their large-scale interactive projects: Hudor, the fire-breathing dragon boat, and a Halloween Parade that took over the streets of Chicago. This weekend, Nemos will present a selection of their midway carnival experiences including Ping Pong of Doom, High Striker, Zap!, and a “flaming popcorn machine.”  

pencil point4. Drawing!
Camp Pencil Point will host workshops about the ins and outs of drawing comics during Maker Faire weekend. Along with human camp counselors, other inhabitants of the Pencil Point staff such as Drew the Draw-topus will make appearances. Seating is limited, but the workshops will repeat every hour. Bring your pencils! 

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5. Bikes Shaped like Animals!
Fabricator Juan Martinez and author Dave Eggers will bring a small herd of their metal creatures to Maker Faire. The 826michigan project, “The Spirit of the Animals is in the Wheels” is made up of a group of rideable metal animals built onto bicycle frames. A bear, a bison, and a 19-foot scaly mammal known as a pangolin will roam the grounds all weekend. Underneath these graceful creations, these Makers also bring a message—to raise awareness of the transportation challenges that Detroit-area children face when commuting to and from school every day. 

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6. Fluorescent Coral!
Coral Morphologic was founded in 2007 by marine biologist Colin Foord and musician Jared McKay. Each member brings innovative skills in science and art to create lush and mesmerizing media experiences about the world’s endangered coral reefs. Coral Morphologic act as the preservationists, educators, and philosophers for Miami’s unique aquaculture. A 4K projection of a documentary about the group’s work will show three times per day in the Giant Screen Experience. 

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7. Inflatable Alien Fruit!
Wild Aesthetic is the creation of local interdisciplinary artist Sean Hages. His huge inflatable “alien fruit” sculpture will fill part of the museum’s plaza. What else is there to say? It’s a big, colorful, wonderful sculpture with otherworldly tentacles! 

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8. Art is for Everyone!
Zot Artz was a favorite at last year’s Maker Faire, and we are happy to have them return in 2017. Since 1990, Dwayne Szot has been using his talents as an artist and engineer to create adaptive art tools for children who use wheelchairs. Zot Artz will be onsite with an interactive demonstration, showing the creative ways that assistive devices can be transformed to paint, draw, and stamp out colorful art.  

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9. Fire Breathing Dragons!
It will probably be difficult to walk the grounds of Maker Faire and miss seeing a 30-foot-long, 19-foot-tal metal dragon built on top of a GM mini bus. Heavy Meta breathes fire out of her animatronic mouth and shoots fireballs from her tail. This mutant art car dragon will be commuting over the Canadian border from Toronto, and was created by an eclectic group of Makers including high school interns, professional metalworkers, and engineers. 

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10. Speaker Program!
A packed schedule of interesting talks has been programmed for The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation’s Drive In-Theatre. On Saturday, Caleb Kraft, Senior Editor at Make: magazine will talk about open source projects and the Maker community. On Sunday, young “hackschooler” Ben Hodsdon will share experiences about using Makerspaces and alternative learning outlets to hack a skilled education. Two panel discussions about food sustainability and Detroit’s agricultural renaissance will also take place on Sunday: Eastern Market: Innovation in Food Sourcing, and Farming in the City: Plants and Animals. Dr. Carleton Gholz of The Detroit Sound Conservancy will also join us to speak about the importance of Detroit’s sonic heritage and innovative models for its preservation.  

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Bonus Points!
Inside the museum, the immersive design and typography exhibit, House Industries: A Type of Learning will be open for viewing. This exhibit is sure to be a hit with the Maker community, and admission is free with a Maker Faire ticket. Guests of House Industries will hold special programming inside this exhibit over the weekend.

On Saturday, Aaron Draplin of Draplin Design Co. and the popular Field Notes Brand “will take guests on a spirited walk through a wild array of projects and products—both big and small—from the front lines of graphic design.” Demonstrations at: 11-11:30am, 1:30-2pm, 4:30-5pm.

On Sunday, Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching encourages guests to stop by and pick up an embroidery hoop. Jenny will lead guests through the process of stitching House Industries fonts during her 30-minute embroidery sessions. Demonstrations at: 11-11:30am, 1:30-2pm, 4:30-5pm. 

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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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"Seedy Weeds," Fabric Sample Designed by Ruth Adler Schnee, 1953. THF169002

0062_019920170710_KMSPhotographyWalking through the House Industries "A Type of Learning" exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation you're sure to notice the attention given to printed textiles, from kitchen tea towels to handmade dolls.

The textiles created by the House Industries team are just one of their popular offerings and make us think about other well-known textiles that reside within our collections.

Another set of bold textiles  have broad appeal are those created by pioneering modern designer Ruth Adler Schnee. Her furnishing and drapery fabrics were favorites of the everyday consumer and leading architects alike, including Minoru Yamasaki, Paul Rudolph, and Buckminster Fuller. Adler Schnee’s textiles, which feature vivid color and abstracted organic forms, added whimsy and depth to the sleek, minimal aesthetic popular in the mid-century period.

Take a look at a few of Adler Schnee's pieces in The Henry Ford collections in this expert set.
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THF91558 (Photographed by John Sobczak)

In the early 19th century, lined paper was generally used only in business ledgers and account books. And the ruling was done by hand using cylindrical rulers and dip pens. Imagine the tedious hours that went into ruling just one book, with multiple colored lines as well as many stop lines, cross lines and sets of double as well as single lines.

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In the 1840s, William Orville Hickok got to work on improving this by-hand paper-ruling process, inventing a machine that had a moving belt running beneath a set of pen nibs held in place by a crossbar. Cotton threads, dipped into a trough of ink containers, kept the overhead pens moist. Ink was applied from the mounted pens to the paper fed through the machine — an exercise in perfect positioning and synchronicity.

Learn more about William Orville Hickok and his contributions to the paper-ruling business, and see the 1913 Hickok Paper Ruling Machine for yourself in Made in America at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. The Hickok paper-ruling machine was donated by Carl H. Dubac of Saginaw, Michigan, in 1986. Dubac’s father, who bound books by hand for more than 60 years, used the machine to line paper for ledger books. 
 
During the week of May 1 - 5, 2017, The Henry Ford invited renowned glass artist Hiroshi Yamano to work in the Greenfield Village glass shop alongside our artists and craftspeople. Watch this exclusive interview to learn more about Yamano's week at The Henry Ford and how he uses glassblowing techniques from the past to influence his work in the present.

When the 29 millionth Ford came off the assembly line in 1941 there was no doubt who the owner would be - a group of American Red Cross volunteers were waiting for the keys as the car rolled into sight. The donation of the vehicle was just a small part of the role Ford Motor Company undertook with the American Red Cross during World War II. Both Henry and Edsel Ford not only made large monetary donations and sponsored blood drives and fundraisers at Ford plants, but they also gave space, teachers, supplies, and vehicles to the Detroit Chapter of the American Red Cross Motor Corp.

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Edsel Ford Presents the 29-Millionth Ford to the Red Cross, April 29, 1941. 
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The Motor Corp., which was started during WWI in 1918, was a segment of the American Red Cross made up of women civilian volunteers. They were responsible for transporting wounded and sick soldiers to various hospitals; conveying donated blood, supplies, and food to airstrips for over overseas transport, and also driving hospital volunteers, Red Cross personnel, and visiting military family members to hospitals, recovery centers, and funeral homes. The Motor Corp. served the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Blood Blank, various social agencies, and the USO. These women provided their own vehicles, gas, time, and tools and also had to purchase their uniform, and insignias for their cars.

Not only were volunteers in the Motor Corp. required to provide their own vehicles but they had to perform their own maintenance as well. Many of the volunteers had never been called on to service a car, and with wartime restrictions on materials, auto repair was even more difficult. Ford Motor Company stepped in to offer mechanics training courses to Detroit Chapter Motor Corp. volunteers. The Company provided trained mechanics, free of charge, to teach groups of volunteers the basics of car maintenance. According to the National Red Cross Motor Corp. Volunteer Special Services Manual, the mechanics course should cover how to “change a tire, apply chains, replace light bulbs, check gas flow at carburetor back through fuel pump to tank, check battery, check loose electrical connections, check spark plugs, and check electrical current at generator and distributor.” Volunteers didn’t have it easy, instructor were encouraged to “disconnect various electrical wires and parts of the gas pipe system” so members could analyze what was wrong and fix it. Ford opened up rooms in Highland Park for many of the training classes in 1941, and dealerships all over Detroit were made available for evening classes. The classwork included both informational lecture instruction and hands-on training on automobiles. The company also provided trucks for driving tests, and other equipment needed by the local Corp.

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Red Cross Women's Motor Corps Workers Learn about Auto Maintenance, March 1941. THF269991

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The first vehicle Ford donated to the Red Cross during WWII was an important vehicle to the company. The car was a Super Deluxe Ford Station Wagon, but this was no ordinary car, it was the 29 millionth Ford car produced in their 38 year history. The car sported the Motor Corp. insignia on the front door and carried a ceremonial license plate of "29,000,000." The morning of April 29th, 1941 found Edsel Ford with a group of volunteers from the Motor Corp. of the Detroit chapter of the American Red Cross.  A dozen or so representatives of the Motor Corp gathered with Ford as the car rolled to the end of the line. Edsel handed off the keys to the Captain of the Detroit Motor Corp, Barbara Rumney, who took the wheel as Edsel joined her for a ride in the new car.

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Edsel Ford Presents the 29-Millionth Ford to the Red Cross Women's Motor Corps, April 29, 1941. THF270143

By 1942, the Detroit Chapter of the Motor Corp. had over 1,300 trained volunteers, and after Ford’s donation of the 29 millionth car, had added 22 other pieces of equipment to broaden their reach and impact.  Barbara Rumney wrote Ford stating “We realize that if it had not been for your generous response, we could not have attempted many of the things that we are doing to serve our country in its crisis.” Over the course of World War II 45,000 women volunteered for the American Red Cross Motor Corp. driving 41 million miles to support the war effort.

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Red Cross Women's Motor Corps Worker Learning about Auto Maintenance, November 1941. 
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Kathy Makas is a Reference Archivist for the Benson Ford Research Center at The Henry Ford. There’s plenty more in our collections on Ford Motor Company and the war effort. Visit the Benson Ford Research Center Monday-Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Set up an appointment in the reading room or AskUs a question.

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"Art Deco" refers to the artistic movement prominent during the inter-war period. The 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris was the launching point for the movement, as well as the inspiration for its name. The aesthetic was widely adopted, both geographically and across disciplines.

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In this expert set, Art Deco in the Museum, you'll see examples of art deco artifacts that are on display in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, like this 1937 LaSalle Coupe found in Driving America.

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In this expert set,  Art Deco - Behind the Scenes, we've put together a collection of art deco-related artifacts, like the 1940 Sentinel Wafer Electric Clock that aren't currently on display but are in our digital collections.