Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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1950 Plymouth Deluxe Suburban Station Wagon. THF90908

The earliest station wagons hauled travelers and luggage between train stations and hotels. Wagons remained low-production specialty vehicles until the 1950s, when parents embraced them as ideal vehicles for transporting growing families. Packed with children, groceries, camping gear, or luggage, station wagons became the very symbol of the family car.

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Durant Motor Company, "The New Star Car," 1924. THF105552

Star, made by Durant Motor Company, became the first manufacturer-produced station wagon in 1923. Early wagons, also known as depot hacks, were utility vehicles, and not very family-friendly.

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"The New All-Metal Plymouth Suburban, the Car with 101 Uses," Chrysler Corporation Plymouth Division, 1949. THF105554


By 1949, when the Plymouth Suburban was introduced, families were growing and suburbs expanding. The utility of the modern Suburban appealed to parents, and the first all-steel body was a major upgrade from older wood-body wagons.

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1957 Ford Station Wagon Ad, "Nine's Fine!" THF105560


By 1957, all wagons had steel bodies. But designers applied wood—or fake wood—to “woody” wagons for many years.

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1961 Chevrolet Catalog, "There's a Chevy Wagon for Every Purpose, Every Family!" THF105556

Even compact cars like the Chevy Corvair had wagon versions. This 1961 Chevy sales brochure touted its rear-engine Corvair Lakewood, with storage in front and back.

 

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“Batman Cartoon Kit” Colorforms, 1966-68. THF 6651

It was the 1960s—the golden age of television. Some 95% of American homes boasted at least one TV. These were primarily black and white sets, as color TV was still out of the reach of many families. It’s hard to imagine now but there were only three channels at the time. Every year, the three networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC) vied for viewer ratings, shifting and changing shows and showtimes at two pivotal times during the television season—Fall and Winter.

As the Fall 1966 season unfolded, it became evident to TV viewers that something extraordinary was happening. Sure, there were the usual long-running sitcoms, like Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, and The Beverly Hillbillies. But change was in the wind. A new crop of programs emerged—colorful, fast-paced, poking fun at things that were supposed to be serious and exploring contemporary social issues.

Why the difference all of a sudden? Many of these shows were aimed at the youth audience, considered by this time an influential group of TV watchers. Others purposefully took advantage of the new color televisions. Sometimes show producers and creators were simply tired of the old formulas and wanted to break out of the box.

Let’s take a look at a few highlights from the 1966-67 TV season—starting with the staid and true and working up to the wild and wacky—and see what all the hubbub was about!

Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (Sunday, 7:30-8:30 p.m., NBC)

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Snow Globe, “The Wonderful World of Disney,” 1969-79. THF174650

On Sunday nights since 1954, millions of Americans had tuned in to watch Walt Disney host his TV show, with a changing array of animated and live-action features, nature specials, movie reruns, travelogues, programs about science and outer space, and—best of all—updates on Walt Disney’s theme park, Disneyland. Since 1961, this show had been broadcast in color.

The 1966-67 season was particularly memorable because Walt Disney tragically passed away on December 15, 1966. But since the episodes had been pre-recorded, there was Walt still hosting them until April 1967. Viewers found this both comforting and disconcerting. Finally, after April, Walt was dropped as the host and, eventually, the show was retitled The Wonderful World of Disney. It ran with solid ratings until the mid-1970s.

Bonanza (Sunday, 9:00-10:00 p.m., NBC)

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“Ponderosa Ranch” Mug, ca. 1970. THF174648

Viewership was high on NBC on Sunday nights at 9:00, as Bonanza was one of the most popular TV shows of all time. Running for 14 seasons and 430 episodes, this series about the trials and tribulations of widower Ben Cartwright and his three sons on the Ponderosa Ranch was an immediate breakout hit when it premiered in 1959, amidst a plethora of more run-of-the-mill prime-time westerns. Its popularity was primarily due to its quirky characters and unconventional stories—including early attempts to confront social issues. It was the first major western to be filmed in color and was the top-rated show on TV from 1964 to 1968. Bonanza ran until 1973.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Friday, 8:30-9:30, NBC)

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“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” lunchbox and thermos, 1966.  THF92303

Premiering in September 1964, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. took full advantage of the popularity of the spy genre launched by the James Bond film series. In fact, early concepts for it were conceptualized by Bond creator Ian Fleming. In this series, Napoleon Solo (originally conceived as the lone star) and Russian agent Ilya Kuryakin (added in response to popular demand) teamed up as part of a secret international counterespionage and law enforcement agency called U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement). Solo and Kuryakin banded together with a global organization of other agents to fight THRUSH, an international organization that aimed to conquer the world.

During this, the Cold War era, it was groundbreaking for a show to portray a United States-Soviet Union pair of secret agents, as these two countries were ideologically at odds most of the time. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was also known for its high-profile guest stars and—taking a cue from the Bond films—its clever gadgets. In 1966, this series won the Golden Globe for Best Television Program and, building upon its popularity, spun off into two related double-feature movies that year. Unfortunately, attempting to compete with lighter, campier programs of the era, the producers made a conscious effort to increase the level of humor—leading to a severe ratings drop. Although the serious plot lines were soon reinstated, the ratings never recovered. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was canceled in January 1968.

I Spy (Wednesday 10:00-11:00, NBC)

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TV Guide featuring “I Spy” characters Robert Culp and Bill Cosby on cover, March 25-31, 1967. THF275655

One series that never opted for campy was I Spy, which starred Bill Cosby and Robert Culp playing two U.S. intelligence agents traveling undercover as international “tennis bums.” This series, which premiered in 1965, was also inspired by the James Bond film series and remained a fixture in the secret agent/espionage genre until cancelled in April 1968. I Spy, additionally a leader in the buddy genre, broke new ground as the first American TV drama series to feature a black actor in a lead role. It was also unusual in its use of exotic locations—much like the James Bond films—when shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. were completely filmed on a studio backlot.

I Spy offered hip banter between the two stars and some humor, but it focused primarily on the grittier side of the espionage business, sometimes even ending on a somber note. The success of this series was attributed to the strong chemistry between Culp and Cosby. Cosby’s presence was never called out in the way that black stars and co-stars were made a big deal of on later TV programs like Julia (1968) and Room 222 (1969).

Get Smart (Saturday, 8:30-9:00 NBC)

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“Get Smart” Lunchbox, 1966. THF92304

Premiering in September 1965, Get Smart was a comedy that satirized virtually everything considered serious and sacred in the James Bond films and such TV shows as I Spy and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Created by comic writers Mel Brooks and Buck Henry as a response to the grim seriousness of the Cold War spy genre, it starred bumbling Secret Agent 86—otherwise known as Maxwell “Max” Smart, along with supporting characters, female Agent 99 and the Chief. These characters worked for CONTROL, a secret U.S. government counterintelligence agency, against KAOS, “an international organization of evil.” Brooks and Henry also poked fun at this genre’s use of high-tech spy gadgets (Max’s shoe phone perhaps being the most memorable), world takeover plots, and enemy agents. Somehow, despite serious mess-ups in every episode, Maxwell Smart always emerged victorious in the end.

Get Smart was considered groundbreaking for broadening the parameters of TV sitcoms but was especially known for catchphrases like “Would you believe…” and “Sorry about that, Chief.” Despite a declining interest in the secret-agent genre, Get Smart’s talented writers attempted to keep it fresh until it was finally cancelled in May 1970.

Batman (Wednesday and Thursday, 7:30-8:00, ABC)

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Toy Batmobile, 1966-69. THF174647

Bursting onto the scene in January 1966, Batman became an instant hit and took the country by storm. Batmania was in full swing by the Fall 1966-67 TV season. The series, based upon the DC comic book of the same name, featured the Caped Crusader (millionaire Bruce Wayne in his alter-ego of Batman) and the Boy Wonder (his young ward Dick Grayson in his alter-ego of Robin). These two crime-fighting heroes defended Gotham City from a variety of evil villains. It aired twice weekly, with most stories leaving viewers hanging in suspense the first night until they tuned in the second night.

This show successfully captured the youth audience, with its campy style, upbeat theme music, and tongue-in-cheek humor. Despite the fact that it verged on being a sitcom, the producers wisely left out the laugh track, reinforcing the seriousness with which the characters seemed to take the often absurd and wildly improbable situations in which they found themselves. The filming simulated a surreal comic-book quality, with characters and situations shot at high and low angles, with bright splashy colors and with sound effects, like Pow, Bam, and Zonk, appearing as words splashed across the action sequences on screen. The series was also replete with numerous gadgets and over-the-top props, with the Batmobile undoubtedly most memorable. Batman ran until March 1968, experiencing a significant ratings drop after its initial novelty faded.

Lost in Space (Wednesday 7:30-8:30, CBS)

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“Lost in Space” Lunchbox and Thermos, 1967. THF92298

Loosely based upon the story of the Swiss Family Robinson, this TV series depicted the adventures of the Robinson family, a pioneering family of space colonists who struggled to survive in the depths of space in the futuristic year of 1997—as the United States was gearing up to colonize space due to overpopulation. But the family’s mission was sabotaged, forcing the crew members to crash-land on a strange planet and leaving them lost in space.

The show had premiered in September 1965 as a serious science fiction series about space exploration and a family searching to find a new place for humans to dwell. But, in January 1966, pitted against Batman’s time slot, Lost in Space producers attempted to imitate Batman’s campiness with ever-more-outrageous villains, brightly colored outfits, and over-the-top action. The plots increasingly featured Robby the Robot and the evil Dr. Zachary Smith. Viewers and actors alike strongly disapproved of this shift. The show lingered on until March 1968.

The Monkees (Monday, 7:30-8:00, NBC)

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“Monkees” Lunchbox and Thermos, 1967. THF92313

Where other shows might have been lighthearted, campy, or tongue-in-cheek, The Monkees at times verged on pure anarchy. This series, which premiered on September 12, 1966, led off NBC’s prime-time programming every Monday night. It lasted only two seasons but during that time, its star shone brightly. The Monkees followed the experiences of four young men trying to make a name for themselves as a rock ‘n’ roll band, often finding themselves in strange, even bizarre, circumstances while searching for their big break. Aimed directly at the youth audience, the band members were characterized as heroes down on their luck while the adults were consistently depicted as the “heavies.”

The Beatles’ films A Hard Day’s Night and Help! inspired producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider to create not only a show about a rock ‘n’ roll band but also to adapt a loose narrative structure (each member of the Monkees was trained in improvisational acting techniques at the outset of the show) and the musical sequences or “romps” that appeared each week. The series built a reputation for its innovative use of avant-garde filming techniques like quick jump cuts and breaking the fourth wall (that is, having the characters directly address the TV viewers). A well-oiled marketing machine behind the show also ensured that strong tie-ins were maintained with teen magazines, merchandise, and live concerts.

The Monkees won the Emmy for best comedy series during its first, the 1966-67, season. However, backlash was inevitable among critics and older teenagers when the Monkees admitted that they did not play their own instruments—although they clearly played them in their live concerts and, in fact, eventually had a falling-out with network executives about this very issue. Though the show was cancelled in 1968, it experienced a huge revival among younger audiences through Saturday morning reruns and especially with the 1986 MTV Monkees Marathon. Remaining band members Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith still attract large audiences of intergenerational fans at their live concerts, while reruns of their TV shows continue to draw new audiences.

Star Trek (Thursday, 8:30-9:30 NBC)

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“Star Trek” lunchbox, 1968. THF92299

When Star Trek premiered on September 8, 1966, science fiction shows were not very advanced—or even thought of very highly. Star Trek’s closest competitor, Lost in Space, offered only shallow plots, one-dimensional characters, and fake sets. No one could imagine at the time that this rather low-key show would become one of the biggest, longest-running, and highest-grossing media franchises of all time. This series traced the interstellar adventures of Captain James T. Kirk and his crew aboard the United Federation of Planets’ starship Enterprise, on a five-year mission “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Creator Gene Roddenberry, aiming the show at the youth audience, wanted to combine suspenseful adventure stories with morality tales reflecting contemporary life and social issues. So, to get by network scrutiny, he set the premise of the show in an imaginary future. With the freedom to experiment, he put in place one of TV’s first multiracial and multicultural casts and was able to explore through different episodes some of the most relevant political and social allegories on TV at the time. The stories were also considered exceptionally high quality for that era, involving believable characters with which viewers could both identify and sympathize. Unlike the gloomy predictions of most science fiction writings of the time, Roddenberry hoped that the futuristic utopia he created on Star Trek would give young people hope, that it would empower them to create a better future for themselves someday. Star Trek, with only modest ratings, lasted only three seasons. But it would go on to become a cult classic.  

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (Sunday, 9:00-10:00 p.m. beginning February 1967, CBS)

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TV Guide featuring The Smothers Brothers on cover, June 10-16, 1967. THF275657

In Fall 1966, The Garry Moore Show, a variety show on CBS hosted by the aging radio and TV star, was no match when pitted against Bonanza—even with this, its first season in color. Network executives, at their wit’s end to try to attract viewership, decided the only way they could come up with a quick replacement was to substitute another variety show. In desperation, they landed on a simple variety series featuring the soft-spoken, clean-cut, non-threatening folk-music-playing Smothers Brothers. Considered a “young act,” an added bonus was that their show might capture the coveted youth audience. Little did they know what they were in for.

As the show evolved, the brothers not only became more politicized themselves but felt that they owed it to their young viewers to increase the show’s relevance, boldly addressing overtly divisive political and social issues. Their staff of young writers was only too happy to comply. Unfortunately, as a result, the brothers were continually at odds with the network censors until the show was finally cancelled after three seasons. In its continual conflicts with network executives, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour turned the variety show genre on its ear and paved the way for Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1968) and, in pushing TV’s all-out rebellion against the status quo, led an explosive charge that resulted in 1970s shows like All in the Family (1971).

These are but a few highlights from the 1966-67 TV season. Some say that this was the greatest television season ever, a clear indication that TV had finally come of age. Because of shows like these, television would certainly never be the same again. And, come to think of it, neither would we!

Donna Braden, Curator of Public Life, was 13 years old during that memorable TV season and proudly wears her fan club button to every Monkees concert she still attends.

Woodstock 1969

August 2, 2019

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Estimate: 200,000 attendees. Over 400,000 showed up.

This flag was at Woodstock, too--a witness to this legendary event that reflected the 1960s counterculture movement’s quest for freedom and social harmony.

Flags like this one were provided to vendors, musicians, and technical crew to allow them access to the Woodstock Musical Festival grounds at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in upstate New York during the August 1969 event. They were to fly the flag from their vehicles or attach it to their booths.

Woodstock’s organizers--none of whom were over 27-- billed the event as “An Aquarian Exposition: Three Days of Peace and Music.” Held from Friday, August 15 and extending into the early morning of Monday, August 18, the music festival featured 32 iconic performers including Joan Baez, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, The Who, the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix.

An Extraordinary Event Creates Enormous Challenges

There was a lot that went right with Woodstock. And many things that didn’t. The free-spirted and peaceful audience was filled with excitement and the musicians turned in electrifying performances. But the inexperienced organizers found their planning for this unprecedented event enormously inadequate--especially since they had to find a new venue only a few weeks before the concert.

The original location--an industrial park near Woodstock, New York--pulled out only a month and a half before the event.  Fortunately, two weeks later Max Yasgur agreed to rent his Bethel, New York farm as the new venue. Nathan’s Hot Dogs--Coney Island’s famous vendor--pulled out when the location of the festival was moved.  Two weeks before the concert, the organizers hired Food for Love, a trio with little experience in the food business. Larger food-vending companies hadn’t wanted to take on Woodstock--no one had ever handled food services for such a large event. Many were reluctant to put in the investment required--what if the festival didn’t draw enough of a crowd to make a profit?

Woodstock’s organizers had told the Bethel authorities that they expected no more than 50,000 people. As the event drew near, with 186,000 advance tickets sold, 200,000 concertgoers seemed a more likely estimate. The organizers then hurriedly tried to bring in more toilets, more water, and more food. Woodstock would ultimately draw an inconceivable number--over 400,000 concertgoers.

The roads around Bethel became jammed for miles with people heading to the concert. Many abandoned their vehicles and made the long walk in. The plugged roads would also make it extremely difficult to get needed supplies in.

The stage, parking lots, and concession stands were barely finished in time for the event. Concert-goers started arriving two days before--with the ticket booths and gates still uncompleted. Since people were able to just walk in, the organizers were forced to declare it a free concert--creating a monumental debt for them. (Though profits from a soundtrack and movie made from films of the Woodstock Festival would help bring down the debt.)

Most concertgoers arrived expecting to be able to purchase food. Food for Love concessions were quickly overwhelmed.  Food became very hard to find. The Hog Farm, a West Coast commune hired to help with security, stepped in to help. They provided free food lines serving brown rice and vegetables--and granola. For some of the crowd, granola was nothing new. But for many it was. Granola would soon become the iconic food of the hippie era.

When the people of Sullivan County, where Yasgur’s farm was located, heard reports of food shortages, they gathered thousands of food donations, including 10,000 sandwiches, as well as water, fruit, and canned goods. Concertgoers who had brought their own food shared what they had with others.

It rained off and on during the event, interrupting or delaying performances--and creating a sea of mud. There weren’t enough receptacles for garbage.  People waited an hour to use one of the portable toilets--then finding it an extremely unsanitary experience when they finally reached the front of the line.

Yet--despite unbelievably crowded conditions with wall-to-wall concertgoers, massive traffic jams, serious food shortages, no running water, no telephones, no electricity (except for the performance stage--and even that was sketchy at times), lack of sufficient restroom facilities, and the muddy quagmire--Woodstock was a place of communal peace and sharing for the three days of the festival. There were no reported incidents of violence among this gathering of over 400,000 people.  

What Really Mattered

In the end, Woodstock wasn’t really about the food, the weather, or even the lack of creature comforts. For many who attended, Woodstock was about experiencing three days of legendary rock and roll music, being part of a peaceful community with hundreds of thousands of other young people, and immersing yourself freely and fully in the moment.  (And, yes, free love and drugs in addition to rock and roll.) The Woodstock concert logo on this flag--the guitar and dove of peace--sums up the idealism of many of Woodstock’s concertgoers.  

This flag’s faded and tattered appearance seems to suggest the logistical challenges of Woodstock. But it is more likely that its owner displayed this treasured keepsake for years after--the flag couldn’t fade this much or get this tattered in just three days. Instead, this flag attests to the eternal staying power of Woodstock as a cultural landmark for an entire generation of American youth--and for the nation.  

Woodstock captured, vividly and indelibly, the spontaneity and free spirit of the counterculture movement of the 1960s--and its vision of freedom and social harmony that would ignite change in American society during the coming years.

Woodstock made history.

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

Woodstock has left its “mark”--not only in memory--but in archeology. Binghamton University’s archaeology team can really “dig it.” In 2018, they determined the location of the stage. By analyzing rocks and vegetation, they also located the area of the vendors’ booths, known as the Bindy Bazaar.

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How does an 18th century teapot with a repaired spout relate to a hacked Speak n’ Spell?

Spontaneous design can be as trivial as using duct tape to fix a broken car bumper—or as critical as building a temporary survival shelter.

A new pop-up exhibit, Break, Repair, Repeat: Spontaneous & Improvised Design is the result of a collaboration between Curator of Decorative Arts Charles Sable and Curator of Communication & Information Technology Kristen Gallerneaux. The pair looked deeply into The Henry Ford’s collections, finding objects that had been broken, repaired, or created through improvisation—and acquired a few new artifacts along the way.

Some objects in this exhibit have been altered many times, have led multiple lives, and served various purposes. They have been intentionally modified to serve very specific practical needs, or to share an artistic vision.

From the traditional “make-dos” that originally inspired this exhibit to custom clothing—from pirate radios to handmade instruments—this exhibit exposes interesting collisions and connections, cutting across many of The Henry Ford’s collections areas.

Ultimately, this is an exhibit about unscripted innovation and the messiness of creative problem-solving. And the objects in it? They are intriguing because they are just the “right amount of wrong.”

See the artifacts included in this pop-up exhibit in this expert set. Break. Repair. Repeat. will be on exhibit in the cases outside The Gallery by General Motors in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation until September 15, 2019.

At Maker Faire Detroit 2019 this weekend we’re celebrating a decade of makers, entrepreneurs, and innovators. While making your way both inside and out of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation enjoying the ultimate celebration of geek culture, make sure to be on the lookout for a collection of artifacts from the collections of The Henry Ford that complement the maker spirit. 

Much like the fascinating diversity of makers you will encounter across the faire, the selection of artifacts, many not often seen on display, let alone actually operating, also represent a quite an array of ingenuity. They run the gambit from delicate artistry to powerful brawn. These artifacts will be out of storage for a limited this weekend - get your tickets now to see them for yourself.

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Violano Virtuoso, 1925 

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Mechanical Singing Bird, 1890-1910 

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Mutoscope, 1900-1905 

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“Electric Traveling Crane” Arcade Game, circa 1933  

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1922 Detroit Electric Coupe 

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Replica of 1896 Ford Quadricycle 

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Port Huron Steam Traction Engine

Jim Johnson is Director of Greenfield Village and Curator of Historic Structures & Landscapes at The Henry Ford.

Maker Faire Detroit

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Construction at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, January 1985. THF138461 

Guided by the 1980s mission-based phrase, “Stories of a Changing America,” Greenfield Village took on new life and Henry Ford Museum exhibits explored new topics. These included the acquisition of the Firestone farmhouse and creation of its living history program (1985), the “Automobile in American Life” exhibit (1987), and the “Made in America” exhibit (1992). During the 1980s and 1990s, museum staff placed new attention on accurate research, creative program planning, and engaging public presentations. 

Additions the collections: 1980s 

Elizabeth Parke Firestone donated a large segment of her stunning wardrobe in 1989, including custom-made garments created for her by prominent American and European couturiers. Firestone was an early client of French designer Christian Dior, who had just caused a sensation introducing his “New Look” to a post-WWII world, emphasizing slim waists and rounded feminine features. Firestone visited Dior’s Paris salon in 1946 and commissioned this dress, made for her daughter Martha’s wedding to William Clay Ford. - Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life 

This type of lamp is typically called a "Television Lamp." It was made to sit atop a television console and to provide a low level of illumination, sufficient to keep one's eyes from being "harmed" by watching the small TV screens of that time (1946-1960). This marks a change in collecting as curators sought out objects that provided insight into social history. - Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts 

For 50 years Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation generally presented artifacts in a traditional typological format. Tractors, airplanes, furnishings -- you name it -- sat in tidy rows where visitors were left to trace an item's technological evolution. That all began to change in the 1980s as the museum refocused on social history. No exhibit signaled this shift more dramatically than "The Automobile in American Life," opened in 1987. Cars were moved out of their stodgy rows and instead placed alongside contextual items like maps and travel literature, menus from quick-service restaurants, and replicated roadside lodgings. This Holiday Inn "Great Sign" was one of the more visible artifacts acquired for the new show. - Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation 

In 1982, Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village purchased the Seymour Dunbar Collection from Chicago's Museum of Science & Industry. The collection consists of over 1,700 prints, drawings, maps, and other items documenting various modes of travel from 1680 to 1910. Dunbar compiled this material while researching his four-volume history of travel in the U.S., which was published in 1915. - Andy Stupperich, Associate Curator, Digital Content 

Reflecting a new emphasis on social history, museum staff developed interpretive exhibits that integrated objects from across collections categories to examine special themes. “Streamlining America” explored an influential mid-20th-century ideology and design style. This striking poster, selected for the exhibit, embodies the streamlined environment of the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair. - Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content 

Harold K. Skramstad, Jr., president of The Edison Institute, considered the opening of Firestone Farm a "landmark event." Why? The house, barn, and outbuildings added a living historical farm to Greenfield Village, complete with wrinkly Merino sheep collected to sustain the type and increase interpretive potential. - Debra A. Reid, Curator, Agriculture and the Environment 

Kitschy coin collectors convey Americans’ changing views of man’s ability to go where none had gone before.

There was a time when outer space belonged to the realm of fantasy and science fiction. Through movies, radio, television, comic strips and comic books, kids cheered as fantasy space heroes like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Tom Corbett-Space Cadet safeguarded Earth’s inhabitants from evil forces. Futuristic space toys proliferated, from atomic ray guns and wind-up robots to toy spaceships. Then something happened. The United States and the Soviet Union began to explore outer space for real. When the Russians launched Sputnik I in October 1957, the “space race” took off, leading to a new era of more realistic space toys. 

The Henry Ford’s collection of space-themed banks, dating from 1949 to 1964, captures the span of these two perceptions of outer space — as just a fantasy world to being a real place into which humans ventured. These mechanical banks, produced by Detroit-based companies Duro Mold & Manufacturing and Astro Manufacturing, were offered at individual bank branches as incentives for kids to start bank accounts. Having the branch bank’s name affixed to the front of one of these futuristic coin collectors was a sure sign that the financial institution was modern, progressive and in step with the times.

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Atomic bank (c. 1949): co-opting a popular word of the Cold War era.

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Rocket bank (c. 1951): resembling comic-book-style rockets.

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Strato bank (c. 1953): the coin was shot through the “stratosphere” to the moon.

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Guided missile bank (c. 1957): the first type made by Astro.

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Plan-It bank (c. 1959): a play on words, depicting the sun surrounded by nine orbiting planets.

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Satellite bank (c. 1961): this time - resembling a real rocket.

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Unisphere bank (c. 1964): topped by the iconic centerpiece from the New York World’s Fair.

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Destination moon bank (c. 1962): featuring the moon atop a realistic-looking rocket.

See more mechanical banks in our digital collections. 

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

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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Looking Glass by Shelley Muzylowski Allen.

This month we’re excited to welcome Shelley Muzylowski Allen to the Greenfield Village Glass Shop at The Henry Ford as our July Artist in Residence. You can see Shelley in action July 9-13; get to know a little more about Shelley in this Q&A.

Tell us a little bit about you and your work.
I was born in Northern Manitoba in a small mining town. I believe that its open skies and barren landscape fostered imagination. I spent a lot of time outside in the long summer light playing outside - on the railroad tracks and on large rock slabs, sometimes finding fossilized stone. During the extreme winter days, my sister and I would dig tunnels through the snow and at night, I would watch the aurora borealis create light up shapes on the snow and on our curtains inside. Here I started to paint at a very early age and eventfully studied the medium at the Emily Carr Institute of Art.

My work then and now was directly influenced from my experiences and environment that surrounded me. I layer glass powder colors and use a reverse carving technique to achieve detail, texture and a painterly style on my blown sculpture. I hope that by leaving ambiguity and creating gesture in the recognizable natural forms, that they become universal, creating their own story and sparking an emotion or a memory in the viewer.

How did you get started with glassblowing?
After I finished my BFA, I worked at a nonprofit arts center in Vancouver, B.C. One of my co-workers saw my paintings and suggested that my work would translate really well to glass. She had been to the Pilchuck Glass School and gave me their catalogue. I had only seen perfume bottles and functional ware being created on the pipe, so I didn’t understand why she thought I should go there. I applied out of curiosity.

The second I walked in the Pilchuck hot shop my life changed completely. I became obsessed with the medium and that fall drove to Seattle to take lessons at night and then back to Vancouver the same night. In retrospect I realize that because I was so open to and intensely focused on working and learning this medium the path I was to follow unfolded before me.

I was extremely fortunate that both Rik Allen and Karen Willenbrink Johnsen (friendships that began during the Pilchuck session) asked me to assist them during that winter season. A couple of years later, Rik and I got married. I was regularly assisting Karen which led me to work with Bill and the Morris team. I was in awe of and had great respect for the passion and fearlessness that every member of that team had working with glass. It is a way of seeing and working that I strive to continue in my own shop and work.

What piece are you most proud of that you’ve created to date?
One of my most recent pieces, See, Swan, that is currently on exhibit at the Habatat Galleries, in Royal Oak, Mich., and focuses on a nearly life-size swan and its reflection, has opened up a new dialogue and direction with glass and my subject matter.

Focusing on a local and magnificent natural phenomena — the northern migration of the swans through the Skagit Valley — See, Swan, is a meditation on this fragile existence.

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See, Swan (2018) Blown, hand-sculpted, and engraved glass, steel, 39”w x 80”H x 12”d

Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Inspiration is all around me in the natural world. I watch the weather and the seasons, the flora and the fauna, and how they respond to each other and connect to us as humans.

What are you most looking forward to as being an Artist in Residence this year?
I am looking forward to working and being in the presence of such a magnificent and important collection of history. Stepping out of my familiar work environment, I can let go of my everyday routine stimulating and allowing space for growth and ideas. I’m excited to work with more transparent pieces utilizing the shop’s color pots and am designing some new pieces regarding this. I’m also really looking forward to working with The Henry Ford’s team and exchanging skill sets and ideas.

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Lee Iacocca (right) lights a candle with Henry Ford II (center) and Don Frey to celebrate the Ford Mustang’s first birthday in April 1965. (THF113838)

A Born Salesman
Lee Iacocca, the charismatic corporate executive whose long careers at Ford and Chrysler made him one of the best-known businessmen in America, passed away on July 2 at age 94. With his passing, the automotive industry lost one of its most colorful figures of the last 60 years.

Born and raised in Allentown, Penn., Iacocca earned a degree in industrial engineering from Lehigh University in 1945. Given his location, one might have expected him to take a job in the steel industry. But Iacocca was one of those people with gasoline in the veins. He wanted to build cars – specifically, he wanted to build them for Ford Motor Company. He joined the Blue Oval in 1946 as an engineer. But for a born salesman like Iacocca, it was an awkward fit at best. He asked for a reassignment to sales in Ford’s Philadelphia district, and his career blossomed from there.

Iacocca first attracted attention from senior Ford managers with a novel promotion in the mid-1950s. He dreamed up a “’56 for 56” gimmick in which customers could buy a new 1956 Ford with 20 percent down and monthly payments of $56 dollars thereafter. It was simple, it was catchy, and it was a hit. The promotion earned him a transfer to Ford’s world headquarters in Dearborn.

Total Performance
Lee Iacocca made no small plans. Barely into his 30s when he moved to Dearborn, Iacocca resolved that he’d be a Ford vice president by age 35. Though he climbed up the ranks quickly, he missed his goal – Iacocca wasn’t named Vice President and General Manager of the Ford Division until he’d turned 36. By a twist of fate, Ford President Robert McNamara left to become President Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense soon after Iacocca’s appointment. Iacocca’s influence at Ford Motor Company increased accordingly.

Young, enthusiastic, and a car guy to the core, Iacocca was the polar opposite of McNamara, whose major accomplishments at Ford included turning the sensuous two-seat Thunderbird into a four-seat family sedan. (Though to be fair, McNamara nearly doubled Thunderbird’s sales as a result.) Iacocca wanted his company to think young. He remembered the Ford V-8 of his own youth which, with help from legions of hot rodders, gave Ford a performance image. Chevrolet snatched that image in the mid-1950s with its small-block V-8 and its classic “Tri Five” Chevys of 1955-57.

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Iacocca (right) with Jimmy Clark (center), Benson Ford, and the double overhead cam V-8 that Ford developed for the Indianapolis 500. (THF110520)

Among Iacocca’s first moves were to get Ford Motor Company back into racing. He greenlit a striking mid-engine sports car prototype and then – with Henry Ford II, Leo Beebe, Carroll Shelby, Jacque Passino, and others – launched an all-out assault in nearly every form of racing under the banner “Total Performance.” By decade’s end, Ford had racked up victories in NASCAR, on drag strips, at Indianapolis, and at Le Mans. But Iacocca’s tenure at Ford is forever tied to one car.

The Youth Car
Working in secret with a select team, Iacocca pitched the need for a “youth car” targeted at the up-and-coming Baby Boomers. He wanted something with the appeal of a Thunderbird, the look of a Ferrari, and the economy of a Volkswagen – a tall order to be sure. But Ford’s designers and engineers rose to the challenge. In one of the automotive industry’s great triumphs, they put a sporty body on the existing Ford Falcon compact car chassis, produced a seemingly endless menu of options and accessories that encouraged customers to personalize, and dubbed their new creation “Mustang” – a name that evoked freedom, open spaces, and, in the words of one marketing expert, “was American as all hell.”

Ford optimistically hoped to sell 200,000 Mustangs in the first model year. But the car’s splashy launch – at the 1964 New York World’s Fair – and a savvy marketing campaign kicked off a mania rarely seen in automotive showrooms. By the end of the 1965 model year, more than 680,000 buyers had taken a new Mustang home.

Mustang’s success made Iacocca a household name. But his rising star contributed to growing tensions between Iacocca and Henry Ford II, the company’s chairman and ultimate authority. After several difficult years, their strained relationship foundered and, in 1978, led to an acrimonious parting of the ways between Iacocca and Ford Motor Company.

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Iacocca found the perfect pitchman for Chrysler – himself. His print and television ads made him one of the best-known business figures in the United States. (THF103024)

A Second Act
No one could have blamed Iacocca if he’d retired then and there. The Mustang alone was enough to secure his legacy. But retirement wasn’t Iacocca’s style. He missed being at the center of the action. When the failing Chrysler Corporation offered him the job of CEO, he couldn’t resist. Iacocca’s second act was even more impressive than his first.

Iacocca took over a company in ruin. Chrysler was losing millions with little hope of recovery. His first and most important act was to secure a loan guarantee from the U.S. Congress. He then set about rebuilding the automaker’s product line. First came the K-Car, a highly-adaptable front-wheel drive platform that Chrysler offered under any number of makes, models and designs. Then came another vehicle that, like the Mustang before it, transformed the industry. The minivan, manifested in the Plymouth Voyager and the Dodge Caravan, was born of an idea Iacocca had toyed with at Ford to no avail. At Chrysler, the innovative minivan became a best-seller that redefined the family car for a generation of Americans. To top off his achievements, Iacocca added an evergreen marque to Chrysler’s lineup when he acquired American Motors and its enduring Jeep brand in 1987.

Eager to restore faith in Chrysler vehicles, Iacocca personally vouched for his products in a series of memorable television and print ads. He ended many of them with a simple, straightforward challenge to his audience: “If you can find a better car, buy it.” The ads were effective, and he enjoyed making them. In truth, he enjoyed the limelight. Through the 1980s, Iacocca added to his celebrity by writing two best-selling books, leading a successful effort to restore the Statue of Liberty, and appearing in a bit part on the popular TV series Miami Vice. For a time, there was even serious talk about Iacocca as a candidate for President of the United States.

Enough for Two Lifetimes
Iacocca retired from Chrysler in 1992. He’d returned the company to profitability, restored its reputation, and repaid its government loan. But even then he didn’t really retire. With billionaire Las Vegas developer Kirk Kerkorian, Iacocca launched an unsuccessful takeover attempt of Chrysler in 1995. Ten years later, he returned to Chrysler – by then under German ownership as DaimlerChrysler – to shoot a few commercials, reprising his trademark “If you can find a better car…” slogan.

Lee Iacocca seemed to live two lifetimes in his 94 years. He enjoyed success at two car companies, and he fathered two groundbreaking vehicles. Iacocca lived to see the Mustang turn 50, and to see Chrysler fall into bankruptcy once more before remerging as a part of FCA. He will be remembered as long as there are people who love cars like he did.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.