Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

As with many entrepreneur stories, this one begins with immigrants coming to the United States to pursue the American dream. That dream was to create stylish, attractive silver housewares, but a national economic crisis forced them to get creative with a new material – aluminum – and resulted in the creation of the Everlast Metal Products Corporation. This blog highlights the company’s nearly 30-year history.

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Everlast Aluminum Advertisement, “Yours From Everlast The Finest – Bar None!” 1947 THF125124

When the Great Depression gripped the nation during the 1930s, demand for consumer products fell as many people struggled to get by in the faltering economy. Up to this point, silver had been the primary material used for creating fashionable housewares. With few buyers able to purchase silver products, manufacturers turned to aluminum. One of the most prolific manufacturers of aluminum giftware was the Everlast Metal Products Corporation of New York City.

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Everlast Aluminum Advertisement, “Everlast Hand-Forged Aluminum, So Beautiful – So Versatile!” 1948-1949 THF295633

Everlast founders Louis Schnitzer and his brother-in-law, Nathan Gelfman, were experienced metalworkers in their homeland of Kiev, Russia before immigrating to the United States in the 1910s. In the early 1920s, the two men created a silver housewares business in New York City called Western Silver Works, Inc., where they polished and plated silver. By 1930, Schnitzer and Gelfman began producing silver- and chrome-plated items under the name Western Silver Novelty Company.

Affected by the decline of buyers for silver products during the Great Depression, Schnitzer and Gelfman decided to adapt, attempting to work with the modern and more affordable metal, aluminum. Aluminum was more costly than gold from its discovery in the 1800s until the first smelting methods were invented in 1886. Inexpensive aluminum cookware and kitchen utensils were manufactured in the 1890s, but poor manufacturing quality made customers skeptical of the new material. During the first World War, aluminum’s light weight and rust-resistant properties made the metal ideal for use in soldiers’ canteens and military vehicles. From this, aluminum gained wider acceptance, and consumer confidence in the metal led to a surge in aluminum products in the next few decades.

In 1932, Schnitzer and Gelfman formed Everlast Metal Products Corporation and began producing high-quality, hand-forged aluminum giftware. Hammered aluminum giftware products were, at once, both “old” and “new.” In an era of growing uniformity via factory production, the “made by hand” aspect of these products held an aesthetic appeal for consumers, while their aluminum material made them seem decidedly modern.

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Everlast “Forged” Gravy Boat, 1938-1950 THF125117
Everlast’s first product line, “Forged Giftware,” was introduced in 1933 and continued until the company closed. Featuring Colonial Revival- and Neoclassical Revival-inspired designs, this line – with items like this gravy boat – appealed to customers with traditional tastes.

 

Schnitzer, the creative force behind the company, recognized the necessity of increased marketing to promote Everlast’s products. Around 1935, Jack Orenstein was brought on as National Sales Manager. Orenstein, skilled in merchandising techniques and in building relationships with clients, was essential in the success of the company. Already successful in the giftware industry before joining the company, Orenstein organized a highly effective sales force which gave Everlast a national presence in the decorative aluminum giftware market.

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Everlast “Forged” Tray, 1933-1936 THF144106

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Everlast “Forged” Tray, 1938-1947 THF144107
Through innovative manufacturing and creative marketing, Everlast was able to expand its “Forged Giftware” product line. Instead of creating new product forms each year, the company combined new handles and design motifs with previous years’ product forms to create “new” pieces. This cost-effective method for product development enabled Everlast to introduce new items regularly while also keeping up with rapidly changing design trends. The two trays pictured here have the same form, but the second piece now features handles and a different motif.

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Everlast Aluminum Advertisement, “Yours from Everlast for ‘Dining Out’ at Home!” THF295629  

When the United States entered World War II in 1942, the production of aluminum for consumer goods was halted to focus on the production of military equipment. While some aluminum houseware companies struggled to adapt, Everlast rose to the challenge, securing government contracts and upgrading their facilities to produce military equipment under the name Browning Precision Tool Co.

Throughout the war, Everlast created partnerships with various businesses in the floral, woodworking, and ceramic industries, enabling the company to remain in the public awareness, despite not producing consumer goods itself. As the war was winding down, Everlast turned its focus back to manufacturing consumer products. The upgrades made to its facilities during wartime put the company in a better position to manufacture mass-produced giftware in a more cost-effective manner – just in time for increased consumer spending during a time of post-war prosperity.

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Everlast “Bali Bamboo” Ice Bucket, 1953-1959 THF125114
Everlast’s most successful line, “Bali Bamboo,” was a direct result of America’s fascination with the South Pacific following World War II. More than 60 different items, produced between 1946 and 1959, featured raised bamboo shoots and a satin finish. Together these features provided the added advantage of hiding scratches.

Following the war, Everlast resumed its advertising and marketing strategies. To increase its accessibility to consumers in the Midwest, the company also established a showroom in Chicago in 1946. Unfortunately, despite the initial post-war momentum for aluminum housewares, the industry and company struggled throughout the 1950s, experiencing setbacks that ultimately led to its demise.

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Everlast “Silvercrest” Tumbler, circa 1952 THF125119
In 1952, Everlast introduced a line called “Silvercrest,” featuring a highly polished aluminum finish. By this time, as a cost-cutting measure, the products’ “hand-forged” hammer marks were actually produced by a machine.

The first blow to the Everlast company came in 1951 when the Korean War initiated a restriction on the use of aluminum for consumer goods once again. Soon after, Jack Orenstein left the company to pursue a career in the new era of modern housewares – ceramics and plastics. Compared to these materials, which were colorful and lacked ornamentation, aluminum was beginning to be seen as old-fashioned and outdated. Despite several attempts to reinvent its products, Everlast floundered, failing to revive consumer interest in aluminum housewares.

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Everlast “Modern” Three-Tier Tidbit Tray, circa 1953 THF125116
In an attempt to reinvent its products amidst the growing popularity of plastics, Everlast introduced a contemporary line in 1953 called, “Everlast Modern.”

Like other manufacturers of the time, the company also chose to forego quality in favor of machine-made, mass-produced goods. This ultimately over-saturated the housewares market and crushed any interest in “hand-forged” household items. After nearly thirty years in business, Louis Schnitzer and Nathan Gelfman closed Everlast in 1961.

The two men from Russia had forged their American dream, adapting early on to pursue their entrepreneurial vision. It can be said that advances in technology and rapidly changing consumer interests secured the downfall of the aluminum industry. It cannot be said, however, that Everlast’s founders went down without a fight. Though their entrepreneurial journey came to an end in 1961, the founders experienced undeniable success during their company’s thirty-year history to become one of the eminent manufacturers of aluminum housewares and giftware.

To see more artifacts from the Everlast Metal Products Corporation, visit our Digital Collections.

Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from the Pic of the Month from April 2007, written by Donna Braden and Kira Macyda. Special thanks to Constance Levi for sharing her knowledge of the company and for reviewing this content.

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 A closer look at an unassuming machine in The Henry Ford’s collection reveals personal stories and reminds us of the far-reaching impacts of what we eat and where we live.

After the Civil War, urban populations swelled. Until this time, farm families had kept flocks of chickens and gathered eggs for their own consumption, but with increased demand for eggs in growing cities, egg farming grew into a specialized industry. Some families expanded egg production at existing farms, and other entrepreneurs established large-scale egg farms near cities and on railroad lines. Networks developed for shipping eggs from farms to buyers – whether wholesalers, retailers, or individuals operating eating establishments.

While farmers who sold eggs directly to customers carried their products to market in different ways, sellers who shipped eggs to buyers standardized their containers to ensure a consistent product. The standard egg case became an essential and enduring part of the egg industry.

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Egg producers initially used different sizes and types of containers to pack eggs for market. As the egg industry developed, standardized cases that held thirty dozen (360) eggs – like this version first patented by J.L. and G.W. Stevens in 1867 – became the norm. THF277733

Egg distributors settled on a lightweight wooden box to hold 30 dozen (360) eggs. The standard case had two compartments that held a total of twelve “flats” – pressed paper trays that held 30 eggs each and provided padding between layers. Retailers who purchased wholesale cases of eggs typically repackaged them for sale by the dozen (though customers interested in larger quantities could – and still can – buy flats of 30 eggs).

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The standard egg case held 12 of these pressed paper trays, or “flats,” which held 30 eggs each.
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Some egg shippers purchased premade egg cases from dedicated manufacturers. Others made their own. Enter James K. Ashley, who invented a machine to help people build egg cases to standard specifications. Ashley, a Civil War veteran, first patented his egg case maker in 1896 and received additional patents for improvements to the machine in 1902 and 1925. 

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James K. Ashley’s patented Champion Egg Case Maker expedited the assembly of standard egg cases. 

Ashley’s machine, which he marketed as the Champion Egg Case Maker, featured three vises, which held two of the sides and the interior divider of the egg case steady. Using a treadle, the operator could rotate them, making it easy to nail together the remaining sides, bottom, and top to complete a standard egg case, ready to be stenciled with the seller’s name and filled with flats of eggs for shipment.

Ashley’s first customer was William Frederick Priebe, who, along with his brother-in-law Fred Simater, operated one of the country’s largest poultry and egg shipping businesses. As James Ashley continued to manufacture his egg case machines (first in Illinois, then in Kentucky) in the early twentieth century, William Priebe found rising success as the big business of egg shipping grew ever bigger.

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One of James K. Ashley’s Champion Egg Case Makers, now in the collections of The Henry Ford. THF169525

James Ashley received some acclaim for his invention. Ashley’s Champion Egg Case Maker earned a medal (and, reputedly, the high praise of judges) at the St. Louis World's Exposition in 1904. And in 1908, The Egg Reporter – an egg trade publication that Ashley advertised in for more than a decade – described him as “the pioneer in the egg case machine business” (“Pioneer in His Line,” The Egg Reporter, Vol. 14, No. 6, p 77).

While the machine in the The Henry Ford’s collection no longer manufactures egg cases, it still has purpose – as a keeper of personal stories and a reminder of the complex ways agricultural systems respond to changes in where we live and what we eat. 

Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content, and Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford. For more information about James K. Ashley and his Champion Egg Case Maker, see Reid’s related article in Midwest Open Air Museums Magazine, Spring 2018.

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In the early 21st century, the threat of global warming and the end of cheap gas worried many drivers. Among drivers’ options was buying a gasoline-electric hybrid such as this Prius. The hybrid concept was over 100 years old, but new technologies made it practical. Hybrids cost more but reduce fuel consumption, which leads to lower emissions.

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Toyota introduced the Prius in Japan in 1997 and then worldwide in 2000. The price was steep for a compact, but tax credits offset some of the cost, and drivers got a little environmental peace of mind in the deal, too. THF206198

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One of the selling points of modern hybrid cars is that computers do all the work. But many owners like monitoring the car’s operation on the in-dash screen and enjoy minimizing fuel usage. This image shows the dashboard of a 2004 Prius. THF101127

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Toyota pointed to the Prius as proof of its commitment to the environment. This 2001 advertisement highlighted the company’s efforts to refine its hybrid system in a continued “search for even greener forms of transportation.” THF205087

Built 86 years apart, two vehicles in The Henry Ford’s collection say a great deal about changing technology -- but they say even more about our society's changing values.

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1916 Woods Dual-Power Hybrid Coupe

The Woods Motor Vehicle Company, established in 1899 as one of America's earliest automobile producers, was one of the biggest makers of battery-powered electric cars. But, by the early 1910s, the popularity of electric cars was waning. Gasoline-powered cars went farther on a tank of gas than electric cars went on a single battery charge, and filling an empty tank was easier and quicker than recharging batteries. These key shortcomings became more important as car owners drove their cars longer and longer distances. The Woods company sought to meet the challenge by building a car with two power-plants -- a clean, quiet, electric motor fed by batteries and an internal combustion engine fed by gasoline. The Woods Dual-Power automobile appeared in 1916.

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Driving a Dual-Power was different from driving an electric or gasoline car. The driver manipulated levers to vary the balance between the gasoline and electric motors. THF103732

Driving a Dual-Power was considerably different from driving either an electric or a gasoline car. The driver began by moving a lever on the steering wheel to get the car rolling under electric power. When the car reached the speed of 20 miles per hour, the driver moved another lever to engage a clutch connecting the electric motor to the gasoline motor, starting the gasoline motor. By manipulating the levers, the driver varied the balance between the gasoline and electric motors; the car could run on both power sources at the same time, or either independently.

But the Dual-Power seemed to solve problems customers didn't have in 1916. The 48 miles-per-gallon figure claimed for the car meant little to a driver who could afford the Woods' $2,650 price. And the Woods' 35 miles-per-hour top speed was no better than a $740 Model T Ford sedan's. Woods didn't even advertise the Dual-Power's lower exhaust emissions, because automobile pollutants were of little concern at that time. It also seems that the Dual-Power was not as smooth and trouble free as the ads and brochures suggested. Woods re-engineered the car for 1917, but potential buyers were not impressed. The Dual-Power -- and the Woods Motor Vehicle Company itself -- vanished in 1918.

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2002 Toyota Prius Sedan

Ratchet forward to the 1990s. Automakers around the world were confronted by rising gasoline prices and stringent regulations on tailpipe emissions. Japanese giant Toyota set out to design a new car that dramatically improved gas mileage and dramatically reduced exhaust emissions. Toyota engineers probably never heard of the Woods Dual-Power, but in 1994 they settled on a dual-power design, combining a small gasoline engine with batteries and an electric motor. The first hybrid Toyota Prius went on sale in Japan in December 1997, and in the United States in August 2000.

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Operating a Prius was simple -- a sophisticated computer system controlled both the electric and gasoline motors, smoothly shifting power between the two. THF91042

Although the Prius drivetrain was similar in principle to the Dual-Power's, operating a Prius was much simpler. The driver merely turned the ignition key, pulled the transmission selector lever into "D," stepped on the gas, and drove away. A sophisticated computer system controlled both the electric and gasoline motors, smoothly shifting power between the two. Sometimes the computer system used the gasoline engine to recharge the batteries. It even shut the engine off when the car stopped and started it up again as needed. The Woods engineers would have given their eye teeth for such technology. Woods sales staff might have given their right arms for the Prius' popularity.

Toyota's Prius hybrid sold well in Japan and even better in the United States. By 2005, Prius accounted for nearly 10% of Toyota's American sales. Part of that popularity was due to Prius' reliability, good performance, and considerable amount of interior room for its size. Part was due to Prius' excellent gas mileage -- over 40 miles-per-gallon on the highway and over 50 mpg in stop-and-go traffic. But it could take several years for savings on gasoline to make up for the several thousand-dollar price difference between a Prius and a comparable, conventional Toyota Corolla -- even with federal tax subsidies for hybrid cars.

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For many people, what a car doesn't do -- use lots of gasoline, emit lots of pollutants -- has become as important as what it does do. THF205087

What really sold many people on the Prius was environmental responsibility. Driving cars with lower emissions and higher gas mileage was The Right Thing To Do, whether it reduced out-of-pocket expenses or not. Furthermore, driving a Prius told the world that you were Doing The Right Thing. The Prius became hip, especially among intellectuals and celebrities. Movie stars took to arriving at the Academy Awards in Priuses rather than limousines to demonstrate their concern for the environment. Even after other car makers such as Ford, Honda, Saturn and Nissan added hybrids to their lineups, the Prius retained its cachet.

The stories of the Dual-Power and Prius tell us that the definition of what we want an automobile to do is always evolving. Yes, we want cars to take us where we want to go. And taking us there in high style, or high comfort, or at high speed is often still important. But, for many people, what a car doesn't do -- use lots of gasoline, emit lots of pollutants -- has become as important as what it does do.

Bob Casey is The Henry Ford’s former Curator of Transportation. A version of this post originally ran in March 2007 as part of our Pic of the Month series.

While the concept of the e-bike has been around since the 1890s, it was not until the 1990s that battery, motor, and materials technology had advanced to the point where motorized bicycles became practical. While fully motor-driven units do exist, most e-bikes are of the “assist” variety. The rechargeable battery-powered motors on these bikes aren’t intended to replace muscle. Rather, they deliver a boost on steep hills or provide a few moments’ rest for a fatigued pedaler. The motors supplement rather than supplant human effort.

The Henry Ford acquired its first examples of electric-assist bicycle technology in 2017, with two prototype bicycles from Ford Motor Company’s Mode:Flex project. This 2015 initiative came out of the company’s efforts to position itself as a “mobility provider” for a post-car future. With the millennial generation returning to cities and, to some extent, turning away from automobiles in favor of public transit and other alternative forms of transportation, Ford charged teams of designers and engineers to create prototype bicycles specifically tailored for its automobile customers.

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One of two Mode:Flex units acquired by The Henry Ford in 2017, this prototype bicycle is fully functional and capable of carrying a rider. Made of mostly steel, it weighs around 80 pounds – considerably heavier than a typical road bike’s 20-30 pounds. Bruce Williams, who led the Mode:Flex project, contended that the weight could be halved by using different materials if the bicycle ever went into production. THF172635

The Mode:Flex team – led by Bruce Williams, a Senior Creative Designer who had previously worked on the redesign of Ford’s F-150 pickup – developed a concept for a jack-of-all-trades bicycle that is easily disassembled for compact storage in any Ford vehicle. The front and rear ends are interchangeable between city, road and mountain bike configurations. (The bike’s seat post, which houses its 200-watt electric motor and rechargeable battery, remains the same in any configuration.)

The Mode:Flex connects to an app that controls the electric-assist motor; operates the LED headlight, taillight and turn signal (inspired directly by the units on the Ford F-150); and provides speedometer and trip odometer functions, navigation assistance, and real-time traffic updates. Running in “No Sweat” mode, the app monitors a user’s heart rate. When the heart rate climbs, the bicycle’s electric motor kicks in with a corresponding level of assistance, allowing novice bikers to ride to work in standard office attire (rather than Lycra or Spandex).

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This non-functional mock-up of the Mode:Flex bicycle was largely created from thermoplastic materials rendered on a 3D printer. Built for promotional display purposes only, it lacks a working motor and is unable to support the weight of a rider, but it clearly illustrates the Mode:Flex bike’s foldability.
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While the Mode:Flex could be used as a commuter’s sole mode of transportation, it is particularly geared toward those making multi-modal commutes. Someone might drive in from a distant suburb, park in a satellite lot outside the urban core, and then bike the “last mile” to work, shopping or entertainment. The bicycle’s app is designed to work seamlessly with an owner’s car as well. It can lock and unlock doors, monitor gas mileage or electric vehicle charging, track parking locations and perform other similar functions. The bicycle’s battery can be pulled out for remote charging or connected directly to a Ford vehicle’s electrical outlet.

The Mode:Flex bikes in The Henry Ford’s collection are concept prototypes, and Ford has no immediate plans to put them into production. Nevertheless, they represent concrete efforts by automakers to broaden their product lines and customer bases in response to evolving trends in personal transportation.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

thf213730George Washington Carver at Tuskegee Institute, 1939 THF213730

George Washington Carver’s commitment to knowledge, serving the community, and making a difference drove his work as an influential agricultural scientist.

Carver loved plants as a child and studied them his entire life. Despite the many challenges he faced, he earned degrees in agricultural science and gained international recognition for his work.

In 1896, Carver began his 47-year career at Tuskegee Institute, a university in Alabama committed to educating African-Americans. There, he taught agricultural science, managed the school’s experimental farm, and researched better farming practices.

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One of the many bulletins Carver produced to help southern farmers THF288047

Carver shared his knowledge through practical instruction, “how-to” publications, and a mobile classroom. His research became the basis for lessons on improving the health and nutrition of the soil as well as the health and well-being of people and the livestock they tended.

Carver understood that farm families who raised cash crops like cotton had little time to grow food for themselves and no extra money to buy it. He identified hundreds of new uses for undervalued food crops like peanuts and sweet potatoes, which increased market opportunities and improved diets.

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An interactive digital experience in Henry Ford Museum features the stories of Luther Burbank, Rachel Carson, and George Washington Carver.

Learn more about Carver’s remarkable career in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where a new digital experience in the Agriculture & the Environment exhibit explores

  • Bulletins produced by Carver to help southern farm families
  • Carver’s work to create nutrient-rich soil needed to grow healthy crops
  • Weeds – an untapped food source Carver liked to call “nature’s vegetables”
  • New products Carver developed from crops southern farmers already grew

George Washington Carver

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In 1916, gasoline was cheap, and no one cared about tailpipe emissions. But this hybrid wasn’t about fuel prices or pollution. Woods Motor Vehicle Company built it to capture new customers. Sales of the company’s electric cars were falling as more people chose gasoline-burning cars. The Dual-Power supposedly combined the best of both, but customers disagreed. The car and the company disappeared in 1918.

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This 1913 Woods Electric was much like other companies’ electric cars. Sales of all electrics—not just Woods—declined in the teens. THF103736

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The 1916 Dual-Power’s gasoline engine and electric motor are under the hood, connected by a magnetic clutch. Its battery box is under the seat, toward the rear.” THF103732

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Woods used surprisingly antiquated imagery in the logo for the Dual-Power. Perhaps the company was trying to assure potential buyers that its radical new car was as reliable as the familiar horse. THF103741

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Starting a drag race at the first NHRA national championship meet, Great Bend, Kansas, 1955. (THF122645)

If you’ve visited Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in the past several months, then you’ve undoubtedly noticed the large construction walls in the museum’s northeast corner, just behind Driving America. That 24,000 square-foot space will soon be home to our newest exhibit, Driven to Win: Racing in America presented by General Motors.

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Racing gloves worn by Danica Patrick while competing in NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series, 2016-2017. (THF176306)

Driven to Win will be among the most comprehensive looks at automobile racing in the United States. We’ll cover every major American racing type, and we’ll do it from 1895 – when the Chicago Times-Herald sponsored the country’s first formal auto race – right up to the present day. We’re featuring 26 vehicles in the show, including some old favorites and a few new surprises. We’ll also have more than 225 artifacts from the museum’s collection – many of them newly acquired for this exhibit.

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George Heath driving his winning Panhard #7 at the first Vanderbilt Cup race, 1904. (THF277321)

Guests entering Driven to Win will first encounter what we call the “Dawn of Racing” where they’ll learn about American racing’s earliest days, whether on repurposed horse tracks or requisitioned public streets. Fittingly, the first vehicle they’ll see in this section is a successful little racer built and driven by a certain Henry Ford, the 1901 Ford Sweepstakes.

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Dan Gurney signing autographs for young fans at the Indianapolis 500, 1966. (THF110522)


Just behind this introductory zone, we talk about “Igniting the Passion.” We’ll see some of the ways in which young people are introduced to motorsport through toys and games. Some of them will go on to become lifelong fans. Others might take up racing-inspired hobbies like tether cars. A few may go on to careers in the sport, whether behind the wheel, behind the pit wall, or behind the scenes. This area also serves as the entrance to our film experience, which forms the literal and figurative center of the exhibit. Inside, audiences will enjoy the sights, sounds, and spectacle of race day, and be inspired by young people pursuing dreams at legendary locations like Daytona, Indianapolis, and Bonneville.

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One of the 3.2 million bricks used to resurface Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909. (THF152054)


Outside the film theater, visitors can step into The Henry Ford’s own Winner’s Circle presented by Rolex. Here they’ll see the innovative and influential cars that changed the game. They’ll find the 1956 Chrysler 300-B from Carl Kiekhaefer’s phenomenal Mercury Marine team, which dominated NASCAR in the mid-1950s. Nearby is the Penske PC-17 that Rick Mears drove to victory in the 1988 Indianapolis 500, giving him the third of his record-tying four Indy wins – and Team Penske the seventh of its astounding 18 Indy victories. (The Chevrolet-powered Penske chassis is loaned to us courtesy General Motors, the exhibit’s presenting sponsor.)

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Bobby Unser charging up Pikes Peak on his way to victory, 1962. (THF218104)


Moving around the exhibit’s perimeter, visitors will encounter the major forms of racing popular in the U.S. They’ll learn about land speed racing at Bonneville, where Goldenrod topped 409 mph in November 1965; they’ll see hill climbing at Pikes Peak, where Bobby Unser and his legendary family reigned supreme; they’ll visit the ceremonial heart of American racing at Indianapolis, where Harry Miller designed some of early racing’s most beautiful (if not always successful) open-wheel racing cars; they’ll travel overseas to Le Mans, where Ford Motor Company raced American sports cars in the 1960s and the 2010s; they’ll visit Daytona, birthplace of NASCAR and home to one of the country’s greatest stock car tracks; and they’ll see an homage to the vanished Detroit Dragway, where gassers and rail jobs once battled for the title of Top Eliminator.

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Lyn St. James instructing young students at her Complete Driving Academy, 2008 (THF58563)

But racing isn’t just about the cars, it’s about the people behind them. Driven to Win visitors will have the chance to train using some of the same methods as today’s top drivers. There’s strength training with special machines that mimic muscle motions in a race. There’s neurocognitive training with interactive stations that test vision, memory, and reaction time. We’ll also have a pit crew activity where visitors can try their hand changing tires and refueling cars – though probably not in the 15 seconds it takes a top NASCAR crew. And for those eager to get behind the wheel, we’ll have a set of sophisticated simulators that are about as close to driving a hot lap as you can get without wearing a helmet.

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Running the measured mile at Bonneville, circa 1950. (THF238926)


It’s been a long time coming, but Driven to Win: Racing in America promises to be worth the wait. Its blend of exciting immersive experiences will be unlike anything else in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation – or in any other automotive museum, for that matter. We couldn’t be prouder of the work we’ve put into it, and we look forward to sharing the results with everyone this summer.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. See more racing artifacts in our collection in this expert set.

As Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, I research objects within The Henry Ford’s collections that tell entrepreneurial stories. Most recently, I delved into the Label Collection’s food labels – a collection of beautiful labels from canned food and West Coast fruit crates. This post will highlight the story of “Fruit King,” Joseph Di Giorgio.

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Crate Label, “Oh Yes! We Grow the Best California Fruits,” 1930-1940, used by the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation THF293029

Giuseppe “Joseph” Di Giorgio (1874-1951) was introduced to the fruit business at a young age. His father grew lemons and grapes, among other seasonal crops, in Sicily. In 1888, at the age of 14, Di Giorgio immigrated to the United States. When he arrived in New York, speaking little-to-no English, he found work as a fruit jobber, a middleman who would buy large quantities of goods from fruit packers and sell those goods to retailers or merchants.

After a short time of learning the business, Di Giorgio moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he set up his own store selling lemons. By the age of 16, he had become one of the most successful fruit receivers and distributors in Baltimore. But lemons were a seasonal crop. To supplement his income in the off-season, he began importing bananas from the West Indies – a prosperous endeavor that eventually became a year-round business.

His good fortune allowed him to invest in other business ventures, including partnerships with investors to open auction houses for fresh produce in various cities across the United States. Shipments of produce were brought into the auction houses and sold quickly at fair prices to merchants who would gather daily for their pick of the products. It was a profitable business. Owners of the auction house received money from packing and shipping companies for hosting the sale, and received commission on the sold goods. By 1904, Di Giorgio owned auction houses in New York and Baltimore, and had partial interests in others along the East Coast and throughout the Midwest. 

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1924 Railroad Refrigerator Car, Used by Fruit Growers Express THF68309

Refrigerated rail cars, like this one, allowed meats and produce to be shipped for long distances without spoiling. This innovation allowed farmers to reach new and distant markets, and it provided tastier, healthier foods to consumers.

Joseph Di Giorgio recognized that a direct influence in the growing and packing business would allow him to control every aspect of the fresh produce business – the orchards where the fruit was grown, the harvesting and packing of the produce, shipment to the auction houses he already owned, and the final sale to merchants. In 1911, Di Giorgio seized the opportunity to make his vision a reality by purchasing Earl Fruit Company, the dominant packing company in California.

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Men Loading Fruit Boxes onto Horse-Drawn Wagons, circa 1905 THF205612

By the time Joseph Di Giorgio purchased the Earl Fruit Company in 1911, it had packing houses in every important fruit center across the state of California. The company shipped its produce across the country to eastern markets by rail and to local markets by horse-drawn wagon. In this photograph, taken in 1905 before Di Giorgio purchased the company, men load crates of oranges bearing the name “Earl Fruit Company” onto wagons heading for market. 

With the profits he made through this lucrative acquisition, Di Giorgio was able to expand even further. His first land acquisition came in 1918 when he purchased citrus groves in Florida. The following year, he developed open desert land in California’s San Joaquin Valley, turning it into a thriving oasis for various fruits. By 1920, Joseph Di Giorgio was the leading supplier of California’s deciduous fruit (that is, fruit that grows on vines, trees, and bushes, excluding citrus fruits.) He also owned apple orchards in Oregon and Washington, plum orchards in Idaho which produced prunes, and citrus orchards in Florida that yielded oranges and grapefruit. At this time, Di Giorgio still owned an operation in the banana industry as well, but he abandoned this venture in the 1930s as he turned his focus to his domestic interests.

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Crate Label for Blue Flag Brand Pears, 1920-1994 THF293053

Upon arrival at an auction house, merchants were given a catalogue of the produce available. With so many companies and brands to choose from, it was important for fruit packers to make their products stand out. Companies often adopted a signature image or brand to help loyal customers recognize their products. One of Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation’s widely used brands was Blue Flag Brand, which featured a flag within its label design.

In December 1920, Di Giorgio established the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation, combining all of his holdings – close to 50 by one estimate – into one company. Throughout the next several decades, the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation would venture into the vegetable and canning industries. In the 1930s, the company entered the wine business and by mid-century had the largest winery in the state of California.

At the time of his death in 1951, Joseph Di Giorgio was at the peak of his career as a grower, and his company was the largest fruit-packing enterprise in the country. The success of his company can be attributed to Di Giorgio’s leadership. His experience in all aspects of the fruit industry allowed him to recognize potential problems and adapt appropriately. A brilliant and personable man, Di Giorgio earned respect and loyalty from employees and clients alike – an aspect of the business Di Giorgio was proud of. But above all, he was confident and dedicated to seeing his vision through, propelling the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation to national recognition and appropriately earning himself the media-given nickname, the “Fruit King.”

Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford.

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This full-color, large-format book is a compilation of Buster Brown comic strips that originally ran in the
New York Herald in 1903 and 1904. THF297428

You may not know his name, but you’re likely familiar his work. Richard Outcault, a talented comic illustrator with a keen eye for marketing, found his ultimate success with the character Buster Brown in the early 1900s.

Born in Lancaster, Ohio, in 1863, Richard Felton Outcault showed an early interest in art. As a teenager, he attended the McMicken School of Design (now the Art Academy of Cincinnati) and found work painting decorative scenes for a Cincinnati safe manufacturer. By 1889, Outcault had taken a position as an artist at Thomas Edison’s West Orange, New Jersey, laboratory, working primarily on corporate exhibitions.

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Richard Outcault created this illustration for Edison’s exhibit at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. It depicts the Menlo Park laboratory complex in 1879, when Edison first demonstrated his experimental lighting system. THF236600

Around 1890, Outcault left West Orange for New York City, where he began contributing mechanical drawings to technical publications like Electrical World and Street Railway Journal. He also submitted comic illustrations to some of the popular weekly humor magazines that had emerged in the 1880s, including Judge, Life, and Puck.

As public interest in comic publications grew, new advances in color printing technology became available, and newspaper publishers saw an opportunity to cash in. In 1893, the New York World introduced a weekly color comic supplement that, at first, reprinted illustrations from the humor magazines it mimicked. Richard Outcault joined the staff of the World as a cartoonist and published his first original comic for the paper in September 1894.

The Yellow Kid
By 1896, one of the recurring characters in Outcault’s comics – a little baldheaded boy wearing a bright yellow nightshirt – had become a sensation. World readers began buying the paper every Sunday to check in on the adventures of the “Yellow Kid,” who the paper also licensed for merchandising. The Yellow Kid became the face of a wide range of products, from cigarettes and packaged foods to fashion accessories and household appliances.

The Yellow Kid’s popularity demonstrated the commercial value of comics and helped establish the medium as a newspaper fixture. Richard Outcault likely never benefitted directly from the licensing of the Yellow Kid – at that time, newspapers owned the rights to the images published in them, and copyright law didn’t protect characters – but he noted the marketing potential of a popular comic character.

Buster Brown
With the success of the Yellow Kid, Outcault himself became something of a commodity. Demand for his comics kept him busy, and Outcault continued illustrating for several newspapers and magazines through the turn of the century. In 1902, he introduced Buster Brown, a mischievous 12-year-old boy from a well-heeled Manhattan family. Readers went crazy for Buster Brown’s shenanigans (and for his pet dog, Tige). Outcault had another hit on his hands.

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Richard Outcault was a pioneer in the strip style of comic illustration, with sequential image panels and accompanying text (often in speech bubbles) that contributed to the narrative. By about 1900, this format had become standard for comics. THF297493

This time, he managed to profit from it. Though he never owned the legal rights to Buster Brown, Outcault licensed the character’s name and face to hundreds of companies. Buster Brown promoted everything from bread and cigars to toys and – perhaps most famously – shoes.

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This bank is just one example of the hundreds of products manufactured during the first quarter of the twentieth century that bore Buster Brown’s likeness. Buster’s canine companion, Tige, sits at the horse’s feet. THF304975

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The St. Louis-based Brown Shoe Company (now Caleres) is probably the best-known Buster Brown licensee. Buster and Tige promoted the Brown company’s shoes – commonly called “Buster Browns” – into the 1990s.
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Americans purchased these branded products for decades after Outcault introduced Buster Brown. The character became a household name that outlived its comic strip, which was last published in 1921. By then, Richard Outcault was focusing less on illustrating and more on marketing. Eventually, he stepped away from comics altogether, returning to painting before his death in 1928. Eighty years later, the comic industry formally recognized Outcault’s important career, inducting him into its hall of fame at the 2008 San Diego Comic Convention.

Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content at The Henry Ford