Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Lillian Schwartz working at her home computer circa 2010.

Lillian Schwartz working at her home computer circa 2010. / THF706855

In 1949, Lillian Schwartz — an artist who became well known for her experimental spirit — packed her bags and boarded the U.S. Army transport ship General Daniel I. Sultan. Lillian's husband, Jack Schwartz, was a doctor and military service member. Several months earlier, he took up a new station in a pediatric hospital far from his home in New Jersey — in Fukuoka, Japan. Lillian and her young son now made the lengthy trek to join him there. Ten days of worry about seasickness, dysentery and their safety aboard a military vessel passed as they crossed the Pacific Ocean.

U.S. Army Transport Ship General Daniel I. Sultan. Lillian sailed on this ship to join her husband, Jack, in Japan in 1949.

U.S. Army transport ship General Daniel I. Sultan. Lillian sailed on this ship to join her husband, Jack, in Japan in 1949. / THF611239

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The holiday season is upon us, and visitors to Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village may catch an Edwardian Christmas dinner being prepared by presenters at the Edison Homestead. Try our delicious holiday recipes at home!

Christmas treats laid out for guests to see during Holiday Nights at the Edison Homestead. THF Photography, 2015.

Christmas treats laid out for guests to see during Holiday Nights at the Edison Homestead. / THF Photography, 2015.


For families in the 1910s, domestic life was changing rapidly as home economics and industry shaped how women viewed household chores and food preparation. The publications housewives turned to for holiday entertaining ideas also gave them plenty of ideas on how to spend money. Some guides were published by manufacturers looking to advertise all the uses for their products, like the Dennison Party Books or the Jell-O and the Kewpies Cookbook. Women’s magazines of the era featured gift guides and special Christmas advertisements advising readers on both the perfect gifts for the people on their lists and the perfect Christmas dinner menu. Middle-class homemakers used improved household technology, new consumer products, and helpful domestic guidebooks to celebrate Christmas traditions that are still recognizable 100 years later.

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The Christmas season brings cherished traditions and much-anticipated activities. These Hallmark ornaments reflect some of these classic Christmas experiences.

'Friendly Greetings,' Christmas ornament, 1992

Friendly Greetings, 1992 / THF350088

Sending Christmas greetings is a long-standing custom — whether through a physical or digital greeting card or social media. Though the postman may deliver cards to our mailbox, or greetings may arrive through email or social media, holiday missives are one way of letting family and friends know we are thinking of them and wishing them well at this festive time of the year.

'Born to Shop,' Christmas ornament, 2004

Born to Shop, 2004 / THF354780

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Photojournalism at its best has the power to extend beyond being merely documentary; at its finest, it is intended to make the viewer think or feel something about the subject matter. In the early part of the 20th century, photojournalism saw a new boom, and the field was led by innovative photographers — many of them women — with opinions about the subjects they shot. Among these pioneers was Margaret Bourke-White.

Margaret Bourke-White was born on June 14, 1904, in New York City. Her father, Joseph White, was a factory superintendent and inventor with a mind for machinery; her mother, Minnie Bourke, was a homemaker who firmly believed that Margaret should not be impacted by traditional gender limitations. From a young age, Margaret shared her father's interest in the mechanical, while also longing for a career that would offer adventure and excitement. In 1924, she married photographer Everett Chapman, but the marriage dissolved in 1926. After graduating from Cornell University in 1927, she moved to Cleveland to pursue a career in commercial photography.

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The Politics of a Press

November 30, 2023

During the 1920s, Henry Ford’s rampant collecting of Americana, which would become the basis of his museum’s collection, led him (through his purchasing associates and collectors) to pursue artifacts with compelling provenances attached to some of America's most fabled figures. While Ford maintained an interest in items of the “everyday” American, his avid pursuit of artifacts related to traditional American folk heroes, like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, aligned with the interests of other collectors of the time. It should be no surprise, then, that when Ford learned about a printing press purportedly used by celebrated writer and humorist Samuel Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, he leveraged his national network to acquire it.

Washington press, circa 1848,  decorated with reliefs of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

Washington press, circa 1848, decorated with reliefs of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. / THF101402

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“An oil painting by Matisse of a humanoid robot playing chess.” “An astronaut riding a horse in photorealistic style.” “An armchair in the shape of an avocado.” These are only a few input suggestions for the image generation platform known as Dall-E 2. In 2021, the company OpenAI launched the first iteration of Dall-E, and it quickly took the internet by storm. The program relies on a combination of machine learning techniques and artificial intelligence — or AI — to produce unique images from natural language text prompts.

But how unique are these images? Programmers, scholars and news anchors alike wrestled with this question in late 2022. The long-term consequences of technologies like Dall-E — including the chatbot ChatGPT — are still evolving. Some people see AI as a helpful aid for professional and personal creativity; others decry it as the end of art-making as we know it.

Like OpenAI's prompts suggest, Dall-E can mimic the style of other artists. Many artists' images, while visible on the internet, do not belong to the public domain. But Dall-E still mines their work to produce its own works. Is this fair practice? Is Dall-E stealing, or is it learning, like an apprentice learns from a master? Is Dall-E itself an artist?

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Whose Land Are You On?

November 24, 2023

The Paris of the Midwest. That was the phrase used to describe Detroit in the late 19th century. It was a city designed with a mission, and that mission was to impress, which it did. But the city and the land surrounding it were home to thousands of Indigenous peoples who, more often than not, are left out of the story.

'Point of origin marker in Detroit.

Point of origin marker in Detroit. / Photo courtesy of author.

History says that Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac founded Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit on July 24, 1701. But before that, several Indigenous nations were living on the land, called Waawiiyaataanong, meaning “where the river bends.” The Potawatomi, Odawa, Ojibwe, Miami and Huron all called this area home. As with colonization, though, these nations had to leave the site as European settlements began to spread.

When the fort and the city were being built, the Indigenous peoples in the area were encouraged to settle around the fort. In Cadillac’s mind, this added another layer of protection, not just for the fort but also for the fur trade. With its location on a waterway now called the Detroit River, Detroit was an important center for fur trading. The river linked Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie, both important in trade. As the settlement grew, the tides changed, and the Indigenous folks who called the area home soon found their lives turned upside down.

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The Great Cranberry Scare

On November 9, 1959, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Arthur Flemming announced to the American public that a cranberry crop from the Pacific Northwest had tested positive for a herbicide. Growers began using aminotriazole to eliminate deep-rooted grasses and sedges from cranberry bogs in the mid-1950s, but the weed killer proved to cause thyroid tumors in test animals and left a residue in some cranberries. Even the Eisenhowers in the White House replaced cranberry sauce with applesauce at their 1959 Thanksgiving dinner.

Documenting this dangerous herbicide residue triggered the “Great Cranberry Scare” of 1959. The media coverage that resulted marked a turning point in modern American food scares and helped launch the modern environmental movement. Environmentalist Rachel Carson incorporated these events into her pathbreaking book, Silent Spring (1962).


This incident reminds us of the important efforts of one of our collecting initiatives at The Henry Ford: the environment. The Henry Ford received funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to increase physical and intellectual control of agricultural and environmental artifacts. Cranberry harvesting tools, including rakes and bog shoes for horses hauling produce from bog to processing facility, count among the artifacts made more accessible because of IMLS funding.

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In 1972, Lillian Schwartz sat down with a bundle of pipe cleaners. She tested their flexibility, twisting them into loose loops and serpentine figures. Lillian was an artist and often used unconventional materials in her work, but these pipe cleaners weren't for arts and crafts. In front of her sat her colleague Max Mathews, who also worked at Bell Laboratories, a technology research facility in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Like Lillian, Max used the extensive computer equipment at the labs for creative endeavors, but he made music instead of art. Today, they were doing something different.

Lillian wrapped the pipe cleaners around Max's shoulders, experimenting with different positions — under his armpits, behind his neck — until she found a configuration that worked. The pipe cleaners sat over his right shoulder, arching from back to front, the front end spiraling up toward his mouth. Lillian would use this pattern to design a prototype hands-free telephone.

Max, like many people, easily tired of sitting in one place and holding a telephone receiver when taking calls. In the days before mobile phones, he couldn't even stand to walk around and burn off steam. Now, Max could easily take notes or pace across his office. Lillian's design not only responded to questions of ease and convenience, it anticipated hands-free technologies we're still experimenting with today.

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The holiday season is upon us, and visitors to Greenfield Village may catch a full Victorian Thanksgiving meal being prepared by presenters at Firestone Farm. Try our delicious Thanksgiving recipes at home. They all taste best with a healthy helping of homemade apple cider!

A roast turkey is served at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village.

A roast turkey is served at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village. Photo courtesy of Larissa Fleishman.

Roast Turkey

Wash, dry and stuff with a dressing of dry bread, soaked in water, pressed out and mixed with salt, pepper, thyme, butter and an egg. Sew up the turkey snugly, and put in a pan with a little water; roast slowly, allowing three hours for a ten-pound turkey. When commencing to brown, rub over with a little butter to keep the skin from blistering; boil giblets in water, chop fine and put in gravy.

May Perrin Goff, The Household of the Detroit Free Press, 1881, p. 590.

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