Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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As you might expect, a car company with as long a life and as many different vehicles in production at various times as Ford Motor Company needed to document down to individual nuts and bolts each part of each vehicle. Over the 50 years between 1903 and 1957, Ford produced more than one million parts drawings, a comprehensive microfiche set of which now reside in The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center. We’ve just digitized several hundred of these parts drawings, including a couple dozen, like this one, that cover Model T ambulances built by Ford to be used during World War I. 

Go online to learn more about our parts drawings holdings, or browse all the digitized Ford parts drawings in our Digital Collections.

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

digital collections

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Chrysler’s Portal concept car. The company that invented the minivan now reimagines it.

It’s that time of year again, when the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) brings the world’s largest automobile manufacturers to Detroit to tempt us with their upcoming models – and tease us with a few dreamy concepts. As usual, the show does not disappoint. Autonomous concept cars, compact crossovers and alternative fuels are all prominent at this year’s event.

2016gtFord’s 2016 GT Le Mans winner, still covered in dust and glory.

Ford is rightfully proud of its big win in the GTE-Pro class at the 2016 Le Mans 24-hour race. Not surprisingly, the #68 GT piloted to victory by Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller is front and center at the company’s booth. What is pleasantly surprising, though, is that the Blue Oval resisted the urge to clean up the car and instead is displaying it in all of its battle-scarred glory. The GT wears that dirt and grime like a badge of honor.

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Ford’s autonomous Fusion Hybrid. The company promises a fully autonomous car for public use in 2021.

 Ford has made headlines recently with its plan to reposition itself as a mobility company rather than a carmaker. Head to the back of the firm’s NAIAS space and you’ll see that it’s more than mere talk. There’s a Go Bike from Ford’s bicycle sharing program in San Francisco, and a mention of the Chariot ride-sharing service the company purchased there in 2016. The real highlight for me, though, was the autonomous Fusion Hybrid. Apart from a pair of LIDAR units mounted above the side-view mirrors, most of the car’s sensors are hidden in what could pass for a luggage rack. Ford promises a fully autonomous vehicle in ride-sharing service in 2021. It seems the car won’t look all that different from anything else on the road. (While those LIDAR units are fairly discreet, I’m holding out for the inevitable autonomous car with an infrared scanner.)

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I always love the cutaways, like this V-6 from the all-wheel drive Cadillac CT6. Note the black driveshaft, running alongside the gearbox and bell housing, which sends power to the front wheels.

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Chevrolet Bolt, the 2017 North American Car of the Year.

General Motors has its own reason to crow. The Chevrolet Bolt takes honors as 2017’s North American Car of the Year. Chevy promises 90 miles of range with a 30-minute charge, certainly impressive in the EV category. And the Bolt’s 0-60 m.p.h. time of 6.5 seconds may not be Tesla-type ludicrous, but it’s a full second faster than many of its gas-powered subcompact competitors. And speaking of unconventional fuels, the General’s GMC Terrain crossover gets an optional diesel engine for 2018. GM hasn’t always had the best of luck with diesels, but the fuel efficient 1.6-liter engine could make Terrain buyers happy at the pump.

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Gustaf, the Volvo Spokesmoose. He’s there to promote the Swedish carmaker’s large animal detection system – and to provide a fun photo opportunity.


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The 2018 Toyota Camry gets an aggressive look to match its aggressive sales.

Toyota always mounts an impressive display at NAIAS, and this year is no exception. The company’s big surprise is a robust facelift to its perennially best-selling Camry. The 2018 model gets an angular, aggressive front end wholly unexpected on a sedan that’s practically synonymous with, well, “practical.” They say you should never mess with success, but you don’t become the world’s largest automaker by taking blind risks. I’m sure the focus groups loved the redesign. Besides, it’ll look great at Daytona.

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Volkswagen’s I.D. Buzz autonomous van. Think how many more mysteries Scooby and the gang could solve if Fred didn’t have to worry about driving.

Thanks to its diesel shenanigans, Volkswagen had a rough year, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the German manufacturer’s NAIAS booth. They’ve brought what might be the most eye-catching concept vehicle at Cobo Center. The I.D. Buzz is a cheery homage to the classic Microbus, but the hippies have gone high-tech. The Buzz is all-electric – and intended to be fully autonomous. As envisioned, the van gives owners the best of both worlds with a standard manual mode that can be switched over to automatic whenever the driver needs a break.

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Presumably, the gas tank on this one is empty while it’s in Cobo Center – just like it was when Alexander Rossi coasted across the finish line in first place at last year’s Indianapolis 500.

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Another notable race car, the 2006 Rust-eze Special. Sure to be a hit with the toddler set.

While I could have spent the whole day wandering through the main hall, I’m glad I saved some time for the lower level. From January 8-12, the space hosted “AutoMobili-D,”a dedicated exhibition focused on autonomous vehicle research, urban mobility, and a number of techy startup companies. Of particular note was the booth devoted to the University of Michigan’s Mcity autonomous vehicle test facility. That Ann Arbor track, together with the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run, enables Michigan to hold its own against the tech titans of Silicon Valley, who threaten to take away the Great Lake State’s mantle of automobile R&D leadership.

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The Henry Ford’s 2010 Edison2, on view in Campus Martius.

If your visit to NAIAS takes you through Campus Martius, you might take a moment to peek in the lobby of the One Campus Martius building. There you’ll find our own Edison2 concept car, winner of the 2010 Progressive Automotive X Prize. The gasoline-powered vehicle, which weighs all of 830 pounds, got more than 100 miles per gallon during the competition. What with all of the folks from around the globe in Detroit this week, we thought we might tempt them to visit us in Dearborn. What better break from the cars of today and tomorrow than a look at the innovative automobiles of yesterday?

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

auto shows

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Dozens of engines will be on view during Engines Exposed, but here Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford, describes some of his favorites to kick off this annual exhibit.

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1909 Ford Model T
Inline 4-cylinder engine, L-head valves, 177 cubic inches displacement, 22 horsepower

Early Model T engines circulated cooling water with a gear-driven pump, visible just behind this engine’s fan. After 2,500 units, Ford switched to a simpler – and less expensive – thermosiphon system dependent on natural convection. Model T never used an oil pump. The flywheel, spinning in an oil bath, simply splashed the lubricant around. The engine and transmission efficiently shared the same oil supply.

imls-logoAs we start a new year, it’s a good time to look back on the first half of The Henry Ford’s IMLS-funded grant to work on electrical objects, and to take stock for the future.

We had a busy and productive fall 2016, with some new adventures thrown in with continuing progress on objects themselves. If you haven’t already seen them, you should check out our Facebook Live videos – we’ve done a few so far (in October, November, and December), and the plan is to continue doing them on the first Friday of each month.

imls-5Gaulard & Gibbs transformer on the shelf before treatment (29.1333.229).

This Gaulard & Gibbs transformer had several conservation issues when we first saw it, most notably that the wooden base had broken under the strain of the weight of the object itself. You can see this in the before picture, where the object is lying on its side because it cannot stand anymore. There are also faint hints of color along the metal tabs that run up the body of the object.

imls-4The Gaulard and Gibbs transformer after treatment (29.1333.229).

You can see that this transformer had a fantastic transformation during conservation treatment – simply removing years of built-up dust revealed a very vivid red and black coloration. The broken wooden base was also very successfully repaired, and it is now possible for the object to stand on its feet again. When it’s packed for storage, it will be lying down again, so that the weakened wooden base isn’t put under too much strain for long periods of time.

We featured this object briefly in our Facebook Live videos – you may have noticed, if you tuned into both, that you could see the ‘before’ and ‘after’ as they happened.

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The interior of a meter, with strange accretions on white enameled metal. Note that this view is of the reverse of the top face (29.1333.63)

We’ve also encountered some interesting materials and material problems in the first half of our IMLS grant work. One of the most interesting was this strange accretion, found on the interior of a meter. Those brownish bulbs appeared to be seeping into the object from the top, but were only present on the enameled portions of the metal. They were friable and lighter on the inside than the outside. We looked at samples under the microscope, and even attempted to culture a sample, in case it’s a type of mold (it does not appear to be). We’re still not sure what exactly they are, but we will continue to try to figure it out! Mysteries of the museum, indeed.

imls-2An ohmmeter with a great example of hard rubber – note that the cylindrical casing which would usually go over the black area is removed in this photo (31.1217.235)

We have also recently come across a fantastic example of perfectly preserved hard rubber. The base of the object is one solid slab of hard rubber, but the protected interior area has retained the original black, mirror-like finish. The discoloration and matte surface of hard rubber occurs primarily from light exposure over time, and the colors possible range from a light black to the red-brown color on this object. We’ve put the exterior cylindrical case back on the object, sealing it well, so that the very tight case can continue to preserve this fantastic interior. 

imls-1Conservator Cuong Nguyen and Conservation Technician Andrew Ganem working on motors in their lab.

We have also been very fortunate to have Cuong and Andrew working with us for a little while. They're tackling some larger motors, which take longer to complete. Their help allows Conservation Specialist Mallory Bower and I to continue to work at the pace necessary to keep the project on target, while ensuring that as much of the collection as possible is treated. We greatly appreciate their help.

As always, this is only a small sampling of what we have been up to on the IMLS project. Please feel free to stop by our window at the back of the museum and see what we’re working on – there is always something interesting on our desks. Keep your eyes peeled for our next Facebook Live, as well. As we continue to move into 2017 and are fully into the second half of the project, we are excited to continue our work and continue keeping you updated

Louise Stewart Beck is the IMLS Project Conservator at The Henry Ford.

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Susan McCord (at far right) with family at the McCord farm, about 1904.  (with Susan, from left to right:  Susan’s daughter Millie McCord Canaday, husband Green McCord, granddaughter Ruth Canaday). Right: Susan and Green McCord, about 1885. EI.1929.2222

On her family’s farm near McCordsville, Indiana, Susan Noakes McCord (1829-1909) made meals for her husband and children, cleaned the house, sewed and mended the family’s clothing, knitted accessories, cared for the chickens, milked cows, tended the vegetable and flower gardens, read her Bible through each year, and participated in community gatherings.

In her “spare” time, she also made exquisite quilts. Exceptional quilts.

This ordinary Indiana farmwife had an extraordinary genius for designing and making quilts. Her “palette?”  Like other resourceful housewives of her time, Susan used materials that she had on hand: scraps of cotton prints or dress velvets left over from making her family’s clothing. She also cut usable fabric from the family’s worn-out clothing. Susan made some of her quilts in patterns then popular. And she likely used the flowers in her garden as further inspiration. 

But what Susan created with these everyday materials, the inspiration she found around her, and her rich imagination was stunning. Susan could manipulate fabric, color, and design to turn a traditional quilt pattern into something extraordinary. Her workmanship was equally superb. She joined her quilt top, the layer of filling, and the backing with thousands of tiny, even stitches—averaging 10 to the inch.

THF95129Floral Urn by Susan McCord, about 1860. THF 95129

Susan’s Floral Urn quilt is reminiscent of album quilts made of large appliqué floral or wreath blocks that were popular during the mid-19th century. But Susan's version is exceptionally imaginative. Susan's love of gardening likely inspired the fuchsia, tulips, and daisies which spill whimsically from the urns.

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Ocean Waves Quilt by Susan McCord, about 1880. THF 95131

This Ocean Waves quilt pattern was well-known in the late 19th century. But in Susan's hands the design is breathtakingly executed, formed of hundreds of tiny half-inch triangles cut from printed cotton fabrics. Susan finished the borders of this quilt with her unique meandering vines with colorful pieced leaves.

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Fan Variation Quilt by Susan McCord, about 1900. THF 95136

In the late 19th century, decorative "crazy" quilts -- made from silk, velvet, and wool scraps stitched together "crazily" and embellished with embroidery -- were all the rage. This quilt is a variation of a crazy quilt design called fans. Most quilters placed a fan in just one corner of a block. Susan sewed fans of varying sizes in each corner. Then she joined the blocks together to form "wheels" that dazzle with a sense of motion and energy.

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Vine Quilt by Susan McCord, 1880-1890. THF 95128

This stunningly beautiful quilt is Susan's masterpiece. This trailing vine design is a Mc original. Susan pieced together printed and solid cotton fabric scraps to create the over 300 leaves on each of the 13 vine panels. Susan used variations of this vine in the borders of several quilts. But Susan's vine design is rendered to perfection in this work of genius.

Do I sound like a member of the Susan McCord Fan Club? I am—along with hundreds of her other admirers. 


The Henry Ford is fortunate to have 13 Susan McCord quilts in our collection. Explore more of Susan’s quilts through our digital collections.

Vine inspired by Susan McCord  42284 X  Windham Fabrics

Windham Fabrics has recently created a fabric collection inspired by Susan’s genius for quilt making--and by the printed fabrics that found their way from her humble scrap bag into her stunning creations. Take a look at our new
Vine collection, along with two pattern ideas, to inspire your own genius today.


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

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We continue to digitize one of the highlights of our vast auto racing collections, the Dave Friedman collection of photos. Over the course of 2016, we added 2,330 new items from this collection to our online holdings, bringing the total digitized from the Friedman collection to almost 21,000 images.

While these images capture the drama and the spectacle of car racing in the 1960s, nearly nine out of ten of those we’ve digitized thus far are black-and-white photos. However, we’ve just digitized a set of several dozen color images from the 1960 United States Grand Prix at Riverside, including this shot where you can enjoy the vivid red noses of the cars.

See more pics from the same race, or browse all our digitized color images from the Dave Friedman collection in our Digital Collections.

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

digital collections

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One of the key aspects of the Dymaxion House in Henry Ford Museum is its central mast, which supports the entire structure. Buckminster Fuller, who created Dymaxion, had a lifelong interest in creating maximal structural strength with minimal materials and weight, most famously seen in his work with geodesic domes. When Fuller won his first commission for a geodesic structure, the Ford Rotunda, he worked with the Aerospace Engineering Lab at the University of Michigan to create a truss for load testing. Saved twice from being discarded by university staff, this test module was donated to The Henry Ford in 1993. 

It’s newly digitized and available for viewing in our Digital Collections, along with many other artifacts related to geodesic domes, Buckminster Fuller, and the Dymaxion House.

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

digital collections

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If you’ve been watching Season Three of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, you’ve already gotten to learn about artifacts from our collection that include the quilts of Susana Allen Hunter, the Herschell-Spillman carousel, and the 1957 Cornell-Liberty Safety Car.  We’re always working far ahead on these stories, though, so we’re currently digitizing artifacts for upcoming stories.

One segment will feature Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson explaining the origins of air mail. While sending a letter or package overnight may seem mundane today, it was once new and exotic. Daring pilots captured public attention, as demonstrated by the 1930 publication Couriers of the Clouds: The Romance of the Air Mail.

See more artifacts related to air mail by visiting our Digital Collections—and keep watching The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation to learn more!

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

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation, digital collections

The Henry Ford proudly announces that the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded our institution a grant to again offer the Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop “America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford” for K-12 teachers. The workshops will be held July 9-14, 2017 and July 16-21, 2017.

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

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“Learning by doing” - Scything, pre-Industrial Revolution. 

Next year will be the eighth time The Henry Ford has hosted the America’s Industrial Revolution workshop. This deep learning experience has touched almost 500 teachers in the past 11 years – we estimate over 700,000 students have been impacted!

This year we are making some exciting tweaks that will make the week even more fruitful and more fun.

The biggest change is that we are adding a bus tour of Industrial Revolution-era Detroit. Participating teachers come from all over the country (and sometimes abroad, if they are teaching in military schools, etc.) and they just can’t miss our neighboring city which had such a pivotal role in America’s industrial story. On Monday evening, the second night of the workshop, teachers will take a tour bus to explore a few key areas of Detroit. We will visit Hamtramck, Highland Park, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant and Corktown, allowing us to move through Detroit history from the era of a frontier surrounded by farmland, to a growing city fueled by industrial production that came to spawn the king of American manufacturing, the automobile industry. 

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Henry Ford designed the Model T in a secret room at the Piquette Plant. 

We have found that participating teachers are often history junkies (just like ourselves) hungry for more learning. So, during our daily site visits to Greenfield Village we will use our knowledgeable master presenters as guides. We invite you to try to stump them with the great questions we know teachers always have.

Speaking of historical learning, we have updated the workshop reading list to include some more recent and more diverse pieces of scholarship on the Industrial Revolution. I particularly enjoyed Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend by Scott Reynolds Nelson. It tells about a historian’s journey to uncover the real story behind the folk song about John Henry, investigating if there was truly an African-American convict working on the railroad who died in a contest with a steam drill.

We want to encourage more useful lesson-planning time, too. So we have allocated time during the day to spend with colleagues of similar grades/subjects to plan lessons and to visit the Benson Ford Research Center to make use of our primary sources. We will also encourage teachers to use those primary sources virtually through our online collections. Teachers will see our rich collections in use by the scholars each morning, too.

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Read and touch primary sources at the Benson Ford Research Center. 

And it’s not just for social studies teachers. The workshop will be useful in many types of K-12 classrooms. Obviously if you teach the period of the Industrial Revolution, or eras following it, this background is indispensable for you. Science, technology and engineering teachers will discover concrete, society-changing examples of the concepts they teach. English Language Arts teachers will experience a taste of the eras that produced literature like Little House on the Prairie, The Jungle, Mark Twain, slave narratives, and (from across the pond) Dickens’ many works. Art teachers may find themselves inspired by the beauty of the machinery, as did Diego Rivera and Charles Sheeler at the Ford Rouge Factory.

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Rivera was inspired by the Ford Rouge Factory for his “Detroit Industry” fresco cycle at the Detroit Institute of Arts. THF116582 

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? To learn more about the workshop, and to apply, please visit thehenryford.org/neh. Applications are due March 1. 

Christian W. Overland is Executive Vice President of The Henry Ford and Project Director, America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford.

Catherine Tuczek is Curator of School and Public Learning at The Henry Ford. 

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imls-logoDuring the latter half of the nineteenth century, Professors William E. Ayrton and John Perry collaborated on inventing an array of instruments from electrical devices for railways to meters to measure electricity. The London, England-based company, Latimer Clark, Muirhead, & Co., manufactured this Ayrton and Perry ammeter between 1883 and 1890.  

Confident in their work, Ayrton and Perry personally certified the accuracy of their meters, which were touted as being among the most reliable. This ammeter, with its fascinating story, is one of the many objects being rediscovered as work progresses on The Henry Ford’s IMLS-funded grant.

To see our most recent behind-the-scenes updates, make sure to follow us on Facebook when we go live in the Conservation Lab.

Laura Lipp is a Collections Documentation Specialist at The Henry Ford.