Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

imlsThis blog post is part of a series about storage relocation and improvements that we are able to undertake thanks to a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

In the course of our work as conservators, we get some very exciting opportunities. Thanks to a partnership with Hitachi High Technologies, for the past few months the conservation lab here at The Henry Ford has had a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) with an energy-dispersive x-ray (EDX) spectroscopy attachment in our lab.

hitachi-usWhat does this mean? It means that not only have we been able to look at samples at huge magnifications, but we have had the ability to do elemental analysis of materials on-demand. Scanning electron microscopy uses a beam of electrons, rather than light as in optical microscopes, to investigate the surface of sample. A tungsten filament generates electrons, which are accelerated, condensed, and focused on the sample in a chamber under vacuum. There are three kinds of interactions between the beam and that sample that provide us with the information we are interested in. First, there are secondary electrons – the electron beam hits an electron in the sample, causing it to “bounce back” at the detector. These give us a 3D topographical map of the surface of the sample. Second, there are back-scattered electrons – the electron beam misses any electrons in the sample and is drawn towards a positively-charged nucleus instead. The electrons essentially orbit the nucleus, entering and then leaving the sample quickly. The heavier the nucleus, the higher that element is on the periodic table, the more electrons will be attracted to it. From this, we get a qualitative elemental map of the surface, with heavier elements appearing brighter, and lighter elements appearing darker.

microsope-scanConservation Specialist Ellen Seidell demonstrates the SEM with Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation volunteer Pete Caldwell.

The EDX attachment to the SEM allows us to go one step further, to a third source of information. When the secondary electrons leave the sample, they leave a hole in the element’s valence shell that must be filled. An electron from a higher valence shell falls to fill it, releasing a characteristic x-ray as it does so – the detector then uses these to create a quantitative elemental map of the surface.

scanA ‘K’ from a stamp block, as viewed in the scanning electron microscope.

The understanding of materials is fundamental to conservation. Before we begin working on any treatment, we use our knowledge, experience, and analytical tools such as microscopy or chemical tests to make determinations about what artifacts are made of, and from there decide on the best methods of treatment. Sometimes, materials such as metal can be difficult to positively identify, especially when they are degrading, and that is where the SEM-EDX shines. Take for example the stamp-block letter shown here. The letter was only about a quarter inch tall, and from visual inspection, it was difficult to tell if the block was made of lead (with minor corrosion) or from heavily-degraded rubber. By putting this into the SEM, it was possible a good image of the surface and also to run an elemental analysis that confirmed that it was made of lead. Knowing this, it was coated to prevent future corrosion and to make it safe to handle.

Elemental analysis is also useful when it comes to traces of chemicals left on artifacts. We recently came across a number of early pesticide applicators, which if unused would be harmless. However, early pesticides frequently contained arsenic, so our immediate concern was that they were contaminated. We were able to take a sample of surface dirt from one of the applicators and analyze it in the SEM.

scan2An SEM image of a dirt sample from an artifact (left) and a map of arsenic within that sample (right).

The image on the left is the SEM image of the dirt particles, and the image on the right is the EDX map of the locations of arsenic within the sample. Now that we know they are contaminated, we can treat them in a way that protects us as well as making the objects safe for future handling.

We have also used the SEM-EDX to analyze corrosion products, to look at metal structures, and even to analyze some of the products that we use to clean and repair artifacts. It has been a great experience for us, and we’re very thankful to Hitachi for the opportunity and to the IMLS as always for their continued support.

Louise Stewart Beck is the project conservator for The Henry Ford's IMLS storage improvement grant.

IMLS, Hitachi

One Last Winter

January 18, 2019 Think THF
naias1Lexus, which itself debuted at the North American International Auto Show in 1989, tantalizes visitors 30 years later with a drop-top concept version of its sporty LC coupe.

A Visit to the 2019 North American International Auto Show

It’s January in Detroit which means – for one last year – it’s time for the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). Traditionally, flashy concept cars and new production models are the talk of the town, but this year all the buzz concerns the show’s impending move to June next year. It’s a major shift – undoubtedly the biggest since the show added “International” to its title 30 years ago – but there are valid reasons. Detroit’s weather generally isn’t what you’d call “pleasant” in January; the countless people who put the show together in Cobo Center invariably find themselves working through the holiday season; and automakers are now finding themselves stretched between NAIAS and the Consumer Electronics Show, which wraps in Las Vegas just days before NAIAS opens.

It’s no secret that NAIAS – and auto shows in general – are suffering from flagging interest, both from the public and from automakers themselves. In recent years, we’ve seen a number of upmarket marques pull out of the Detroit show. (Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are all conspicuous by their absence in 2019.) The move to summer might reverse this trend, too.

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The 2020 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 – with a menacing mug to match its hellacious horsepower.

None of this is to suggest that NAIAS is a disappointment this year. There’s still lots to see. Ford Motor Company’s trucks and SUVs are front-and-center at the Blue Oval’s booth. The reintroduced Ranger pickup gets the prime real estate, but it’s the all-new Ford Explorer getting the rave reviews from the press. My favorite, however, is the forthcoming Shelby Mustang GT500. The 700+ horsepower beast arrives for 2020 to battle the Demons and Hellcats of the world. Mr. Shelby would’ve been proud.

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After an absence of nearly 20 years, the Toyota Supra returns for 2020.

Toyota grabs some of NAIAS’s biggest headlines with the return of its Supra sports car, not seen since the fourth generation ended production in 2002. Purists may be irked that many of the Supra’s makings – including its 3.0-liter straight-six – are of BMW lineage, but the look is all Toyota. One can even see a little 2000GT in its lines. Start saving now, as prices are expected to start just north of $50,000.

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Kia’s themed test track, for its new Telluride, livens up Cobo Center’s back wall.

With gas prices low again, Americans have fallen back in love with their SUVs and crossovers. Kia answers the call with its new-for-2020 Telluride SUV, first previewed as a concept car at the 2016 NAIAS. The Telluride will be the largest vehicle in Kia’s lineup, with room for eight in its three rows of seating. Expect to see it in showrooms this May.

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I love the pearlescent paint on this Volkswagen Beetle, though it would look even better with red, white and blue racing stripes and a big roundel on the hood.

Volkswagen has the inauspicious distinction of being the only European automaker with a major presence at NAIAS this year. True to form, though, the German marque has some of the show’s most imaginative displays. Several of its models are parked on a recreated soccer field, in celebration of VW’s sponsorship of the U.S. Soccer Federation. (Automakers have long-standing relationships with America’s pro baseball, football and basketball leagues, but VW becomes the first automotive company to serve as a presenting sponsor for U.S. Soccer.) The company’s interactives are good fun, too. Little ones will enjoy the touch screen coloring “books” that allow them to paint Beetles in any number of groovy colors – accessorized with flowers and peace symbols, of course.

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Harley Earl’s shadow hangs over Cadillac – in this case in the form of a high-finned ’59 Caddy perched above a modern CTS-V.

Sad to say, traditional three-box sedans are fading fast in Detroit. Ford and Chevrolet both have announced plans to all but end sedan production (not including specialty models like Mustang and Corvette, of course). Cadillac seems headed in that direction, too. The upmarket carmaker’s big debut this year is the 2020 XT6, a three-row SUV that might replace the full-size CT6 sedan in Cadillac’s North American lineup. The company’s ATS and CTS sedans are set to bow out this year as well.

NAIAS 2019 may feel a bit lower-key than other recent editions, but there’s still plenty to enjoy. In fact, I recommend that you spend some extra time soaking up the sights and sounds at this year’s show. After all, we’ve got a 17-month wait until the next one!

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Henry Ford 3
Matthew (third from left) and workshop colleagues visit the Roundhouse and hands-on turntable. 

In the summer of 2017 I had the opportunity to study at The Henry Ford through the National Endowment for the Humanities American History and Culture Workshop, “America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford.” As a history instructor, the workshop had numerous benefits, most importantly, the opportunity to work with an excellent and diverse team of educators. Too often as teachers, we are overwhelmed with lesson planning and so many other tasks, that there is little time in the school year to collaborate with master teachers in our field. This workshop provided me one of the greatest opportunities to work directly with some of the finest teachers I have known in my ten plus years as a public educator. 

The opportunity to visit The Henry Ford is like no other workshop experience I know. The Henry Ford helps bring history to life. The training consisted of studying the development of modern technology and its scientific and social impact on American society from as early as colonial settlement through the early 1900s. In our tours of the grounds, we met with numerous museum staff who explained the purpose and effect of each invention, from the Spinning Jenny to the steam engine. The workshop’s guides took their time to discuss how life, from the structure of the family to that of the labor force, changed as a result of these innovations.  Our team of teachers were able to go behind the scenes at the museum and actually get a hands-on experience working with a replica of a Model T Ford and viewing the notes and journals of some of America’s top scientists, such as Thomas Edison. At one point we visited the replica of Edison’s lab, viewing and discussing each project and item that shaped the life’s work of that inventor.

Moreover, the time in lecture with the workshop’s guest speakers was of equal benefit. The Henry Ford provided specialized lectures on the history and cultural effects of the American Industrial Revolution led by history professors from multiple universities including Oakland University and the University of Michigan. The speakers were engaging, examining a range of social issues of the past brought on by the rise of technology. This made me think more about how students, and teachers, for that matter, overlook the importance of science in history. As teachers, we often have students examine how one invention led to the rise of another and how this all brought on the move to the cities and the near abandonment of a farming culture, but there is often little mention as to what new ideas sprang up from these changes. With the rise of modernity also came a challenge to older institutions and the growth of modern social movements.  The lectures were more like conversations that tapped into a range of questions crossing over a multitude of academic fields. We left each day with a wealth of knowledge.

Hernry Ford 1Photos on view during behind-the-scenes archives tour for workshop, support learning about the changing roles of women in the home and workplace during the Industrial Revolution.

In addition to lectures and hands-on activities, The Henry Ford’s program allowed our group to work in cohorts and develop lesson plan material of our own. One memory that stands out to me was delving into archived materials with my team partner John of California. We were researching the automotive industry during the 1930s and had uncovered individualized letters and published essays by Henry Ford. As I sat there with John, fumbling through cartloads of historical materials I thought to myself, ”Where else could I have the chance to do something like this?” We spent hours going through the personalized history of one of the great names of the 20 century.

The program required that we create a unique lesson plan pertaining to our field. At the conclusion of our training we presented our projects, breaking down the sequencing and pedagogical strategies to our colleagues who later offered their advice and suggestions. As a result, I left the training with a treasure trove of resources and discovered new perspectives that has since benefited my students’ learning and impacted and altered my own philosophy of teaching.

Hernry Ford 2Firestone Farm presenter DJ drilling (planting) buckwheat grain at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village.

The experience of the workshop did not end with my training at The Henry Ford but continues on to today as I continuously fall back on my notes and memories of my past summer experience. I now ask my students to consistently investigate how science connects with all aspects of society and how these innovations represent more than just a demand for consumer products, but of the goals and values of that particular generation for that invention. My students use the digital collections, videos and articles from The Henry Ford and lessons from teachers from my cohort to help relive these great moments in history. The result has been wonderful. I have seen students begin a unit on the Industrial Revolution considering the topic boresome but leave class with a new interest. I am grateful for having been selected for this summer workshop and hope that many teachers from across the nation apply for this program.

Matthew Bunin is an NEH Summer Scholar. 

National Endowment for the Humanities - Model T

The Henry ford is proud to announce that the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded our institution a grant to again host the Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop, “America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford.” This workshop is a professional development opportunity for K-12 teachers of various disciplines. Two workshops will be held June 23-28, 2019 and July 14-19, 2019.

Participating teachers will explore the varied ways that Americans experienced social change between the 1760s and the 1920s through lectures and discussions by noted scholars and by visiting select sites at The Henry Ford, Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, including Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory, working farms, historic transportation, and Ford Motor Company’s Rouge industrial complex. In addition, participants will explore archival sources in the Benson Ford Research Center and dedicate time to lesson plan development. 

National Endowment for the Humanities - Group


Next year will be the ninth time The Henry Ford has hosted the America’s Industrial Revolution Workshop. This engaging and in-depth learning experience has touched almost 600 teachers in the past 14 years – we estimate almost 900,000 students have been impacted!

We have made some new and exciting changes with the hope to encourage teachers of all disciplines to participate in a discussion surrounding the innovations in industry and culture that happened during this period. These changes will provide a learning experience that encourages teachers to learn from their peers and carry their new understandings back to their classrooms. For instance, we have added a lecture on art history and the Industrial Revolution as well as an optional trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts to see the automotive industry as depicted by Diego Rivera

This year we have also made changes to the workshop reading list to include some more recent and more diverse pieces of scholarship on the Industrial Revolution. Alongside this change we have divided the reading list into “Must, Should, and Could,” providing an outline of what is expected to be read for the next day as well as additional reading material based on individual interest. 

This workshop will be useful in many types of K-12 classrooms. Obviously, if you teach the period of the Industrial Revolution, or eras following it, this background is indispensable for you. Science, technology and engineering teachers will discover concrete, society-changing examples of the concepts they teach. English language arts teachers will experience a taste of the eras that produced literature like “Little House on the Prairie,” “The Jungle,” works from Mark Twain, slave narratives, and Charles Dickens. Art and art history teachers will explore the societal impacts of the Industrial Revolution, be inspired by the beauty of the factory as did Diego Rivera, delve deeper into manufacturing design, and experience art as a primary source.

To learn more about the workshop, and to apply, please visit our website. Applications are due March 1, 2019. 

Alex Cavinee is NEH Program Coordinator at The Henry Ford.
What We Wore


What We Wore, a new collections platform in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, offers a much-anticipated opportunity to continually display objects from The Henry Ford’s rich collection of clothing and accessories.   

What’s a collections platform? It’s a small, specialized display of objects from our collection.  This new collections platform, the fourth to be installed in the museum, follows those of coverlets, telephones, and violins. 

The theme of the first group of garments displayed is “Home Front Heroes:  Women in World War II”--chosen to complement the “Enduing Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt, & the Four Freedoms” exhibit in The Gallery by General Motors. This clothing represents the stories of millions of American women who worked in defense industries, trained to be pilots, volunteered for the Red Cross, or provided a connection to civilian life for servicemen through USO-sponsored activities during World War II.  

What We Wore


What We Wore is located behind the Anderson Theater, across from Mathematica. Every four months, visitors to the museum will enjoy a look at yet another group of interesting garments and their stories from The Henry Ford’s collection.  

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

Toys That Fly!

December 19, 2018
Sure, trains may still be the classic holiday transportation toy (thank you very much, Polar Express), but some children still look to the skies when putting together their wish lists. We’ve got any number of pilotable playthings in our collection, but here are a few of our favorites.

“Mystoplane” Toy Airplane Set, 1946-1947 (2008.23.1)
“Mystoplane” Toy Airplane Set, 1946-1947 (2008.23.1)

“It’s scientific! It’s educational! It’s thrilling!” So claims the Mastercraft Toy Company about Mystoplane. This little airplane flies through the air without rubber bands or batteries, but with the wave of a magic wand. In reality, the Mystoplane is an extremely thin piece of foil, and the wand’s mystical power is plain old static electricity. Rub the wand against the included cloth and the resulting static charge causes the foil airplane to float near the wand’s tip. It’s low-tech fun at its best.

P-51 Mustang Model Airplane Kit, 1970-1980 (2016.107.1)
P-51 Mustang Model Airplane Kit, 1970-1980 (2016.107.1)

North American Aviation’s P-51 Mustang ranked among the pre-eminent fighter airplanes in World War II. With its powerful engine and its efficient wing and fuselage design, the Mustang flew faster and farther than other Allied fighters. Mustangs escorted B-17 and B-24 bombers on raids deep into German territory. When fitted with external drop tanks to increase its fuel capacity, a Mustang could make it all the way from Britain to Berlin and back. The P-51D version, equipped with a Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engine, topped out at more than 430 miles per hour. This balsa wood model doesn’t have quite the range or speed – but how much can you expect from a rubber band?

Star Wars Play Set, Millennium Falcon, circa 1979
Star Wars Play Set, Millennium Falcon, circa 1979 (2002.60.7)

Part of Kenner Products’ line of action figures based on the original Star Wars films, this Millennium Falcon spaceship didn’t technically fly…but in the hands of an imaginative kid (or kid at heart), she’ll make point-five past lightspeed, carrying Han Solo and Chewbacca (sold separately) on adventures across the galaxy.

The level of detail, functionality, and compatibility with the popular 3.75” action figures made this the definitive Millennium Falcon toy for the first generation of Star Wars fans.  Updated versions of the toy produced from 1995 to 2005 reused many of the original design elements.  She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts.

Star Wars Vehicle Play Set, Darth Vader TIE Fighter, 1979-1980
Star Wars Vehicle Play Set, Darth Vader TIE Fighter, 1979-1980 (2002.60.5)

An antagonist for Kenner Products’ Millennium Falcon, the evil Darth Vader’s ship featured a battery-powered “laser” light and sound effect, and – spoiler warning for a movie released in 1977 – a button-activated “exploding” action that made this toy fly apart

Spin Master “Air Hogs Hyper Stunt Drone,” 2016 (2016.114.1)
Spin Master “Air Hogs Hyper Stunt Drone,” 2016 (2016.114.1)

Static electricity and rubber bands were fine for the 20th century, but today’s toys are a bit more complex. This Air Hogs micro drone runs on two AAA batteries for the remote control and a USB-rechargeable battery in the drone itself. The little flyer is designed to be as user-friendly as possible, with a basic “beginner” mode and a set of shields that allow it to bounce off of obstacles. (“Crash and keep going.” If only everything in life was so simple!) Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can switch over to “advanced” mode, remove the shields, and fly as high as your confidence – and your ceiling – allows.

Never underestimate the power of play. You never know what inspiration a toy might spark – even years after the fact. You may have heard the story of the two brothers whose father brought home a rubber band-powered toy helicopter. They played and played with the little gadget and, when it broke, built versions of their own. Years later, they remembered those toys as they experimented with a new, larger project in the dunes near Kitty Hawk…

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford, and Jim Orr is Image Services Specialist at The Henry Ford.

Examining the Four Freedoms

December 3, 2018

postage-speech
U.S. Postage Stamps, Four Freedoms Issue, 1943

In January 1941, World War II raged in Europe—but the United States of America had not yet gotten involved.  Many citizens believed remaining uninvolved with the war was best. On January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke to Congress, and laid out key principles he saw as at stake in this conflict. Among other arguments for American involvement, FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech included this significant section, for which it is remembered:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want — which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants - everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

These Four Freedoms have entered our collective conscience as universal ideals—perhaps always imperfectly manifested, but always worth working towards.

However, the Freedoms have also been interpreted differently, by different people and at different times. Four of our curators examined The Henry Ford’s collections through the lens of each of the Four Freedoms to create their own interpretations.

We hope these thought-starters inspire your own contemplative journey: What does freedom mean to you?

sunshinespecial“Sunshine Special,” the 1939 Lincoln limousine modified for official use by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as it appeared circa 1942. (THF208669)

Editor’s Note: In connection with the exhibit Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms, now showing at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, the following excerpt is adapted from The Sunshine Special: FDR’s 1939 Lincoln K Series Presidential Limousine by Brody Levesque. The complete book is available at the Benson Ford Research Center.

A Unique Car Built Expressly for a President
One of the first things that a visitor notices when viewing the presidential vehicles at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is the size of the 1939 Lincoln K Model limousine custom built for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The car is massive. In fact, it weighs in at over 9,300 pounds and has an impressive wheelbase of 160 inches.

In 1937, Ford Motor Company president Edsel Ford lobbied to obtain a government contract to provide a presidential limousine for FDR’s use.  He wanted to regain a presence in the White House Garage and particularly to have Ford Motor Company’s prestige Lincoln division as the primary choice for presidential conveyance. Edsel Ford also knew that FDR liked his company’s cars.

Roosevelt, who was beginning the second of his four presidential terms, personally owned a 1938 Ford V-8 convertible coupe for his use at The Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, along with a 1936 Ford V-8 Phaeton convertible at his home in Hyde Park, New York. Both cars were equipped with special hand-operated controls so that FDR, whose paralytic illness prevented the use of his legs, could drive the cars himself.

Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln division delivered, in November 1939 and at a cost of $8,348.74, a current model K series chassis, to the Buffalo, New York, coachworks firm of Brunn & Company. There the four-door convertible, equipped with a 150-horsepower 414-cubic inch V-12, was further modified to meet U.S. Secret Service requirements. Brunn’s modifications added another $4,950 to the limo’s total cost.

The car was built with forward-facing jump seats, wider opening rear doors, reinforced extra-depth running boards and a pair of step plates above the rear bumper. It had strategically-placed handles for the Secret Service agents, as well as a Federal Electric Company police red light and siren combination with dual driving lamps and flag staff holders on the front. Another feature was that the roof was made extra tall so that the President, who had limited mobility and used a wheelchair, could enter and exit the car without difficulty.

Although coachbuilder Herman A. Brunn, owner of Brunn & Company, thought the car looked terrible with that extra tall top, the limo was finished and sent to Washington as ordered. In the end, it seems Mr. Brunn was right. According to Ford Motor Company internal memoranda and telegram communications, the car was returned to Brunn & Company’s Buffalo plant in the summer of 1941 to have its top replaced with one of standard height. Global events forced even more significant changes to the limo that December.

sunshinespecial2President Roosevelt preferred open cars whenever the weather permitted – and sometimes when it didn’t. (THF208655)

The First Presidential Car to Acquire Its Own Personality
Within a few weeks after the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the White House Garage delivered the 1939 Lincoln K series limousine to Ford Motor Company’s plant in Alexandria, Virginia, on the waterfront across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. The car was shipped to the Lincoln plant on West Warren Avenue in Detroit and, upon its arrival, Lincoln workers began to disassemble the limousine, readying its wartime armor and additional modifications requested by the Secret Service.

Workers removed the Brunn body and altered the car’s chassis. Its suspension was beefed up with heavy-duty shock absorbers and additional leaves in the springs – to handle the added weight of armor plating and thick bullet-resistant glass. Likewise, a modified windshield frame was installed to accommodate the thicker windshield glass. When the Brunn body was reinstalled, it received a new 1942 model H series Lincoln front end clip (fenders, grill, and front nose cap piece), which gave the car a crisp, more modern look.

A more powerful generator was installed, with new wiring harnesses. Cooling was improved by making the radiator tank top an inch thicker, adding three-and-one-half inches more to the core than was standard, and a larger fan was put in for additional engine cooling capacity. The cowling also had wider side vents installed to let more of the engine’s heat escape.

The whitewall bias-ply tires were replaced with the first generation of what are now referred to as “run flat tires,” which enabled the big limousine to continue to travel a short distance to safety if the tires were shot out. The two spare tires were put into reworked special front fender wells, in painted metal tire covers that didn’t need to be bolted into place and allowed for rapid tire changes.

Other body modifications included one-and-one-eighth inch thick nine-ply glass; a special rear-mounted antenna for radio equipment; and steel plating in the doors, firewall, kick and quarter panels, floor, transmission hump, and gas tank. The doors received three-sixteenths inch steel armor plating. Including the weight of the armor and the bullet-resistant glass, each modified door weighed almost 200 pounds. Stronger latches and striker plates were installed to handle the heavier door weight.

A bullet-resistant divider was installed between the front and rear seats. It included fold out bullet-resistant side glass screens for use when the convertible top was down. Another bullet-resistant screen could be added behind the rear seat when the top was lowered, and then stored in the trunk when not in use. When the door windows were down, a spring-loaded flap covered the slot in the top of the door to stop things from falling inside and jamming the windows.

When the Lincoln originally was delivered in 1940, it was painted a dark midnight blue with russet trim. Now the car was repainted in black, with chrome trim and brightwork. The rear step plates, grab handles, and wider running boards were reinstalled after the repainting was finished.

Detroit plant workers also added new running/fog lights to the front bumper, along with flag staff holders. The Federal Electric Company police red light and siren were reinstalled on the left front fender. By the end of the second week of April 1942, the car was ready to ship back to the Alexandria plant for delivery to the White House Garage where it could resume its presidential duties.

At an unknown time after the car’s 1942 retrofitting, an unidentified member of the White House Press Corps gave the limo the sobriquet it retains today: “Sunshine Special.” Although the exact reason for the nickname is lost to history, it may have been due to FDR’s well-known love of riding with the top down – sometimes even when the weather recommended against it.

sunshinespecial3
President Harry S. Truman aboard “Sunshine Special” near the end of the car’s service life, circa 1949. (THF208667)

Sunset for “Sunshine Special”
Following FDR’s death on April 12, 1945, “Sunshine Special” served his successor, Harry S. Truman, for another five years. The White House put out bids for a new presidential limousine in the spring of 1949 and, that summer, officials met with representatives from Ford Motor Company to discuss the contract. This would be the largest single order ever placed for the White House fleet.

In the early summer of 1950, nine custom-built enclosed 1950 model Lincoln Cosmopolitan limousines, produced by the Henney Motor Company of Freeport, Illinois, were delivered to the White House Garage. A matching four-door Lincoln Cosmopolitan convertible-bodied limousine, modified at the Grand Rapids, Michigan, shop of master coachbuilder Raymond Dietrich, was also delivered. The Dietrich seven-passenger Lincoln was fitted with a Hydramatic automatic transmission purchased from General Motors and then modified to mate with the 337 cubic-inch V-8 engine. Per the order’s specifications, none of the limousines were armored.

Upon delivery of the fleet of Lincoln Cosmopolitan limousines, older White House Garage vehicles were shipped back to their manufacturers or sold off. “Sunshine Special” was returned to Lincoln and subsequently donated to The Henry Ford.

Adapted from The Sunshine Special: FDR’s 1939 Lincoln K Series Presidential Limousine by Brody Levesque. The complete book is available at the Benson Ford Research Center.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

The Poetics of History

November 19, 2018

Tracy K. Smith is the current Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, commonly known as the US Poet Laureate. She is only the fourth African American to hold this post (or its predecessor, the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress) since its establishment in 1937, following Robert Hayden (1976–78), Gwendolyn Brooks (1985–86), and Rita Dove (1993–95 and 1999–2000).

Smith’s term as Poet Laureate comes at a particularly auspicious time, as the current Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden (2016– ), is both the first woman and the first African American ever to hold that post—and she was nominated to her office by the first African American president, Barack Obama.

poetry1
Barack Obama 2009 Inauguration Program, Enclosed with Inauguration Invitation

All of these offices had previously been held primarily or solely by white men, and with the new officeholders have come new perspectives. In Smith’s case, this began with her Poet-Laureate project, American Conversations: Celebrating Poems in Rural Communities, an outreach effort where she envisioned “poems might be a way of leaping past small-talk and collapsing the distance between strangers.” It continues in her latest book of poetry, Wade in the Water (Graywolf Press, 2018).

A book of poetry might seem at first glance to be a strange way to bring the past forward, tying historical events to topics at the forefront of our national conversation today. As Smith notes in the introduction to American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time, an anthology of poetry she edited, the very nature of a poem – from the layout of words on a page to the vivid, emotion-inducing language used – can “call our attention to moments when the ordinary nature of experience changes—when the things we think we know flare into brighter colors, starker contrasts, strange and intoxicating possibilities.” Poetry can help us process and make sense of complicated issues, and allow us the empathy to see things from someone else’s perspective.

In Wade in the Water, Smith takes this cultural and historical perspective one step further, with poems that use historical documents, including letters from slaveholders and statements of African Americans enlisted in the Civil War, to shed light on today.  Some of these are “erasure” poems, where Smith relies solely on text from these documents—but removes portions to induce a new perspective for the reader.  “Declaration,” for example, removes words from the Declaration of Independence:

Our repeated
Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.
We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration
and settlement here.
--taken Captive
on the high Seas
to bear—

The words she chooses to include are reminiscent of the forced journey of slaves to America and highlight the day-to-day experiences of African Americans as in contrast to the high ideals of the original document.

poetry2Engraved Copy of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, Commissioned by John Quincy Adams, Printed 1823.

In the lengthy poem, “I Will Tell You the Truth about This, I Will Tell You All About It,” Smith again shares the direct words of African Americans who enlisted to fight in the Civil War, as well as their families, “arranged in such a way as to highlight certain of the main factors affecting blacks during the Civil War….” Excerpts from the letters and documents use the original spelling of the writers (pointing out the literacy levels of African Americans at the time), and shed light on the ways the war impacted African American families—many of which concerns still sound familiar today. The initial section of the poem is drawn from a November 21, 1864, letter from Mrs. Jane Welcome to Abraham Lincoln:

Mr abarham lincon

I wont to knw sir if you please

whether I can have my son relest

from the arme       he is all the subport

I have now       his father is Dead

and his brother that wase all

the help I had      he has bean wonded

twise   he has not had nothing to send me yet

poetry3Wood Engraving, "First and Last Dress Review of 1st Regiment South Carolinian (Negro) Volunteers," 1862.

The poems that use only Smith’s own words also reference the past as a way to understand the present.  In “Refuge,” the narrator tries to create empathy within herself for an immigrant, a refugee, by seeing that person as her mother during the Montgomery Bus Boycott:

Until I can understand why you

Fled, why you are willing to bleed,

Why you deserve what I must be

Willing to cede, let me imagine

You are my mother in Montgomery,

Alabama, walking to campus

Rather than riding the bus. I know

What they call you, what they

Try to convince you you lack.

poetry4
Rosa Parks Bus before Restoration, Destination Sign, March 2002.

Empathy is clearly a key theme running through both Smith’s Poet-Laureate project and her poetry. Asked what “the greatest challenge of our time” is in an August 24, 2018, interview with the Financial Times, Smith answered, “Love. Maybe a better word is compassion. In particular, we have to learn a new way of looking at the people we fear; people we have socially acceptable ways of dismissing or condemning for their own misery or misfortune.” She invites us to use our own American history as that new lens in order to better understand others, the world we live in today, and not least, ourselves.

Ellice Engdahl is Manager, Digital Collections and Content, at The Henry Ford.

imls-logo-newTimber Scribe: A small tool, a timber scribe, helps inform us about resourcefulness and entrepreneurship.

The Oxford English Dictionary confirms use of the term “timber scribe” by 1858 as “a metal tool or pointed instrument for marking logs and casks.” Another tool, a “race-knife” (also spelled rase knife) performed a similar function, “marking timber,” but the tools differed in detail.

The race knife had a “bent-over, sharp lip for scribing,” according to Edward H. Knight who compiled the Practical Dictionary of Mechanics, a nearly 8,000-page behemoth containing 20,000 subjects and around 6,000 illustrations, published in 1877. The timber scribe included two pieces with bent-over sharp lips as well as a point. The combination made it possible to scribe Arabic numbers, not just gouge Roman numerals, into logs and casks and timber, as shown below.

IMLS-toolThis tool has a wooden handle, a brass band that helped stabilize the wooden end where the forged steel was inset into the wooden handle, and the steel point with a cutter/gouge and separate “bent-over sharp lip”/gouge Dimensions: Length 7.25 inches; Height 2 inches; Width 1 inch. Object ID: 2017.0.34.625

Simply stated, a timber scribe included the components of the race knife. Lumbermen, shipbuilders, house wrights and carpenters, coopers, and surveyors, all used the timber scribe to make uniform marks on wood, but they could also use the elongated cutter/gouge to make free-hand marks. They used the race knife to make free-hand marks.

Appearances mattered. The timber scribe at The Henry Ford combines three natural materials – iron/steel, brass, and wood – all processed and refined in ways that make the tool pleasing to the eye, and useful to the woodsman or craftsman. The maker chamfered the edges of the wooden handle and scribed the brass collar.

An 1897 catalog from a Detroit hardware distributor, the Charles A. Strelinger Company, advertised a “rase knife or timber scribe.” The company sold three variations: a large size (though the catalog provided no dimensions), a small size, and a pocket rase knife. The large timber scribe included all three steel components (point with cutter gouge and “bent-over sharp lip” gouge) while the small version included just two of the three (point and gouge). The pocket rase knife likely consisted of just the gouge, which folded into the wooden handle of the knife, as seen below.

lumberscribe
Rase Knife or Timber Scribe. Detail from Wood Workers’ Tools: Being a Catalogue of Tools, Supplies, Machinery, and Similar Goods used by Carpenters, Builders, Cabinet Makers, Pattern Makers, Millwrights, Carvers, Ship Carpenters, Inventors, Draughtsmen, and [also] all “Wood Butchers” not included in Foregoing Classification and in Manufactories, Mills, Mines, etc., etc. Detroit Michigan: Charles A. Strelinger & Company, 1897, page 662. In the collection of the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan. 

The tool in The Henry Ford's collection compares to the large timber scribe illustrated in Strelinger & Company’s 1897 catalog. The tool’s dimensions (7.25 inches long) inform us about the size of a “large” scribe.

Charles A. Strelinger was born in Detroit in 1856. The 1897 catalog Charles A. Strelinger Company indicated that the company had 30 years of experience in manufacturing and selling tools, supplies and machinery. Strelinger’s approach to advertising his wares through print media indicated how little change occurred in the tool business. The front page of the catalog had a blank space to write in the date, and, as he explained in “This Year’s Catalogue”: “our 1895 catalogue is also our 1896-’97-’98, and perhaps, 1899 catalogue. If we were selling Seeds and Plants, Ladies’ Hats and Bonnets, Patent Medicines, etc., we would, doubtless, find it necessary to issue a new catalogue every year, but our goods are of a stable nature, changes are comparatively few, and we are not warranted to going to the expense of printing a new book every year.”

The timber scribe and the Strelinger Company catalog confirm the need for specialized tools that serve many in various wood-working trades. The Company was resourceful in advertising, because the hand tools in woodworking were remarkably standardized by the late-nineteenth century and remained useful despite industrialization.

Debra A. Reid is Curator, Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.

The Henry Ford received funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in 2017 to support a three-year project to conserve, rehouse, and digitize thousands of objects. This is work, supported through IMLS’s Museums for America Collections Stewardship project, will continue over three years as The Henry Ford consolidates offsite collections into a new location on campus. The work “will improve the physical condition of the project artifacts through conservation treatment, rehousing, and removal to improved environments.” Finally, IMLS funding “will facilitate collections access through the creation of catalog records and digital images, available to all via THF's Digital Collections.”

A series of blogs shares the stories of small items that tell big stories of innovation, ingenuity, and resourcefulness, and that relate to other collections and interpretation at The Henry Ford.