Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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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.

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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.

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Santa Claus is a fan of The Henry Ford. Every year, he visits Henry Ford Museum and spends time with guests of all ages. This year, you’ll find him at the North Pole—in the Heroes of the Sky exhibit, right next to the Fokker Tri-Motor flown over the pole by Richard Byrd

Behind Santa is an enticing display of toys—but what you might not know about these is that all of them are artifacts in our collections, including this “Designed by You” Faber-Castell Fashion Studio set.

To learn more about the other toys in Santa’s Arctic Landing, or to put together a last-minute Christmas list for yourself, visit our Digital Collections to see more toys on display throughout Henry Ford Museum. 

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

digital collections

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Undoubtedly, our 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale is one of the most popular automobiles in the The Henry Ford’s collection. Rarely off display, the Royale has been a fixture in Henry Ford Museum for decades. It’s rare to walk by the car and not see at least one person snapping a photo, studying the label, or simply daydreaming about what it’s like behind that big steering wheel. And why not? The Royale has everything going for it: beautiful styling, superb engineering, and a princely price tag – not to mention, as one of only six in the world, exceptional exclusivity.

Needless to say, it would take something very special for us to loan the Bugatti to another museum. Our friends at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles have presented us with just such a reason. Last month, the Petersen opened an exciting new year-long exhibition, The Art of Bugatti. Automobile aficionados know the Bugatti name via the magnificent race and road cars built by Ettore Bugatti in the 1920s and 1930s. But Ettore was just one member of this remarkably artistic Italian-French family. Ettore’s father, Carlo Bugatti, designed exquisite furnishings. Ettore’s brother, Rembrandt, was a talented sculptor. (The elephant that sits atop our Royale’s radiator is based on a piece by Rembrandt Bugatti.) Ettore’s niece (and Rembrandt’s daughter), Lidia, was an accomplished artist.

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The Bugatti Royale’s distinctive elephant mascot was cast from a sculpture by Rembrandt Bugatti, brother of Royale designer Ettore Bugatti.

Furniture, paintings, sculpture, silver and – of course – automobiles from each of these three Bugatti generations are featured in the Petersen’s show. The broad-ranging exhibit even reaches into the present day. Volkswagen, current owner of the Bugatti marque, has loaned a 2016 Bugatti Chiron to the show. The two-seat supercar, capable of an astounding 260 miles per hour, carries forward Ettore Bugatti’s tradition of elegance combined with performance.

Our Bugatti Royale will be away at the Petersen for five months. The car leaves Henry Ford Museum in mid-January 2017 and returns in mid-June. While it’s away, we’re going to fill the Bugatti’s place in Driving America with another special luxury car from our collection: J.P. Morgan, Jr.’s 1926 Rolls-Royce New Phantom Limousine. It’s been several years since the Rolls-Royce has been on view, so the loan provides a special opportunity for The Henry Ford’s visitors, too.

We are proud to be a part of this wonderful new Bugatti exhibition, and we encourage anyone visiting southern California between now and October 2017 to stop by the Petersen. It’s properly regarded as one of the world’s finest auto museums, and The Art of Bugatti only adds to that reputation.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford

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The 2016 Teacher Innovator Award Winners: Far Back: Scott Weiler. From Left to right: Fabian Reid, Catherine Turso, George Hademenos, Jill Badalamenti, Cindy Lewis, Leon Tynes, Tracie Adams, Maureen Foelkl. (Unable to attend: Jessica Klass)

Next year, 2017, will mark the third year for the Teacher Innovator Awards, a program sponsored by The Henry Ford and Litton Entertainment, the producers of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation. This contest recognizes teachers who are innovative in the classroom, who inspire their students to think creatively, who are resourceful, and who make a positive impact on those around them from their students to their community. Ten grand-prize winners will be given an all-expenses paid trip to The Henry Ford for a five-day “Innovation Immersion Experience.” So what does that entail exactly?

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The 2015 Teacher Innovator Award winners. From Left to Right: Joe Morris, Donna Gradel, Linda Reimond, Lyle Crossley, Melissa Collins, Jamie Ewing, Saba Ghole, Mark Suter, Wrayna Fairchild, Laura Bradley. (Unable to attend: Bobby Moore.)

Well, for five days the winners will explore the grounds of The Henry Ford. They will be treated to curator-led tours of The Henry Ford where they will learn about innovation through the lens of manufacturing as they can build a Model-T, exploration as they learn about the early days of airplanes, automobile, and trains, and social change where they can hear the story of Rosa Parks while sitting on the very bus where she helped start the Civil Rights movement. These and countless other artifacts from mammoth steam engines from the early Industrial Revolution to Henry Ford’s personal violin collection await our guests every day.

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The 2016 winners building a Model-T within Henry Ford Museum.

They will traverse Greenfield Village where one can truly see how those in the past lived as the homes of innovative luminaries, such as the Wright Brothers, are open to the public. They can visit a working farm, watch as glass is blown in our own glass shop, ride a Model T or take a train ride around the village. They can experience firsthand the spirit of innovation which was needed for society to progress.

“…The Henry Ford helps teachers inspire their students to be the same kind of innovative, risk-taking, hands-on, problem-solving people that made America so great.” - Laura Bradley, 2015 Teacher Innovator Award winner.

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The 2016 winners exploring the Wright Cycle Shop in Greenfield Village.

The winners will also get to experience the height of modern innovation as they tour The Ford Rouge Factory, witnessing the modern assembly line at work as Ford F-150s are built right in front of them. By studying the history of this factory our educators will see examples of innovation in manufacturing, industry, and society itself.

“A week at The Henry Ford opened my eyes to not only Ford’s legacy, but also to the power of teaching our students to be innovators themselves.” - Laura Bradley, 2015 Teacher Innovator Award winner.

Our winners will explore the archives of The Henry Ford, viewing artifacts and hearing stories not generally available to the public. They will explore Maker Faire Detroit, witnessing a yearly gathering of innovators from all over the area who come to show off their ideas, designs, and products. The winners can even take in a movie at our Giant Screen Experience if they wish!

Finally, to pull the week together for our winners, members of our Learning and Engagement team will instruct the educators in the use of our innovation curricula, giving them a new tool to use with their students.

“…I was truly inspired to bring it all back to my classroom and my students... The unit on innovative thinking truly transformed the way my students think and approach problems and projects.” - Jamie Ewing, 2015 Teacher Innovator Award winner.

When it’s all said and done, the teachers who win this contest will leave The Henry Ford with a number of gifts, a beautiful award handcrafted in our glass shop, and a new understanding of the concept and practices of Innovation. Most importantly though is they will leave The Henry Ford knowing that their efforts in education are appreciated and that they are not alone in the struggle to reform our classrooms as these experiences will be shared as a group, a group of equally innovative educators and future collaborators.      

“I now have nine additional educators I feel connected to for future inspirational teaching lessons”. - Maureen Foelkl, 2016 Teacher Innovator Award winner.

If you know an educator, or are one yourself, who is innovative, creative, and resourceful, please take the time to apply for the Teacher Innovator Awards.

The Henry Ford Innovative Educator award has been so much more than just being recognized. It is truly about helping to transform me as an educator, thinker, and problem solvers. It has inspired me!”- Jamie Ewing, 2015 Teacher Innovator Award winner  

Frederick Rubin is the Coordinator for The Learning and Engagement Department at The Henry Ford. Blog posts by Laura Bradley and Maureen Foelkl regarding their experiences at The Henry Ford’s Teacher Innovator Awards can be found here and here.

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Topps Trading card, “Space Hero,” 1963. THF230101

Today, we tend to equate Topps bubble-gum cards with sports heroes, especially baseball players. But, in 1963, a special Topps card series paid tribute to a very different kind of hero—the astronaut. And no astronaut featured in this special card pack was more celebrated at the time than John Glenn.

The Space Race had begun in the late 1950s, when both the United States and the Soviet Union had 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 an even more aggressive space program than President Eisenhower had initiated before him. Of course, Congress had to approve a massive budget increase for the newly created civilian space agency NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to turn President Kennedy’s vision into a reality.    

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Topps Trading Card, “Our 1st Spacemen,” 1963. THF230117

On May 5, 1961, Americans breathed a sigh of relief as astronaut Alan Shepard finally became the first American in space. Two months later, astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom followed him with a second suborbital flight (a trip into space but not into orbit). Following up on these and other iterative achievements of Project Mercury, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth on February 20, 1962.  Americans held their collective breath as they followed the mission on radio and television, then celebrated like never before. President Kennedy called Glenn’s flight “a magnificent achievement.”  

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Topps Trading Card, “Glenn in Space,” 1963. THF230113

I was nine years old at the time and witnessed John Glenn’s takeoff that day on a fuzzy little black-and-white TV in our school gymnasium. Watching with my teachers and classmates, I felt a great sense of pride—perhaps doubly so because Glenn hailed from my home state of Ohio.

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Topps Trading Card, “1st Man in Orbit,” 1963. THF230115

When John Glenn passed away on December 8, 2016, he was the last survivor of the so-called Mercury 7—those seven courageous but well-trained pilots-turned-astronauts who ventured into outer space for their country during America’s nascent Space Program. Glenn will be remembered for his easy smile, his unassuming manner, his sense of duty, and his extraordinary bravery. He renewed American confidence when it was badly shaken during the Cold War era. After he safely landed, he received a hero’s welcome like no other. And he continued to be revered through his 25 years as a U.S. Senator from Ohio, and when he returned to outer space in 1998, as part of the crew on the Space Shuttle Discovery.

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Topps Trading Card, “Taking a Break,” 1963. THF230105

John Glenn struck us as just an ordinary guy, but one who possessed both an extraordinary sense of responsibility and nerves of steel. Through the images on these Topps bubble-gum cards, Glenn seems to be speaking to us across the decades, encouraging us to never stop following our dreams because sometimes the highly improbable actually becomes possible!

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Topps Trading Card, “Posing for Photographers,” 1963. THF230111

To repeat the well wishes of fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter when Glenn lifted off into the unknown from his Cape Canaveral launch pad in 1962, “Godspeed, John Glenn!”

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