Tucked away among the rolling stock and locomotives on display in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is an unassuming piece of railroad equipment, modest and apparently devoid of style or character. This little locomotive is one of the most significant items in the collection. It is one of the first locomotives to successfully use internal combustion instead of steam as its power source.
The decline of steam By the mid-1920s the design and development of steam locomotives had become rigorous and scientific. The dominance of steam, however, was being challenged. Could the internal combustion engine with its higher efficiency, ease of operation, and reliance on cheap fuel become an alternative power source for railroad operations? Smoke abatement rulings in Chicago and New York City provided a further incentive for researching alternatives to steam power.
Success with internal combustion General Electric's internal combustion engine/railroad interests dated back to 1904. However, by 1920 they had not developed a suitable engine. In late 1923, the Ingersoll-Rand Company successfully developed a locomotive to General Electric's specifications. Over the next 13 months it was tested on 10 different railroad systems. Its success led to a production run of variant engines that ended in 1937 when Ingersoll-Rand withdrew from the locomotive-building field. Cheaper than steam The American Locomotive Company supplied the car bodies for these early locomotives. Assembly took place at the General Electric plant in Erie, Pennsylvania. Ingersoll-Rand supplied the engines, building their sales pitch around low operating cost. Number 90, the sixteenth unit built, was delivered in December 1926 and used as a promotional demonstrator, switching in Ingersoll-Rand's Phillipsburg, New Jersey, plant rail yards.
Ingersoll-Rand's Number 90 Diesel-Electric Locomotive, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, probably 1926. THF271020
Efficient design Number 90's blunt appearance hardly suggests speed or glamour, but compared to steam locomotive switchers its angular outline appears neat and businesslike. The operator's positions -- located at either end -- are clean and tidy, partitioned from the heat of the engine, located in the center of the car. The locomotive's operation is streamlined even if its style is minimal. Subsequent collaborations between industrial designers and railroad companies produced locomotive designs that would further emphasize Number 90's utilitarian appearance.
The job of the switcher Switchers worked out their years in dirty yards assembling the freight trains that were as much a part of the railroad experience as the fastest overnight express. Number 90 continued in use as a switcher in the Ingersoll-Rand plant until the late 1960s by which time the diesel revolution that it had helped begin had swept steam power aside in the United States.
Maker: General Electric/Ingersoll-Rand/American Locomotive Company Engine: 6-cylinder diesel Horsepower: 300 @ 550 rpm. Displacement: 5655 cu. in. Generator: 200 kilowatts, 600 volts Traction motors: 4 @ 95 horsepower each Weight: 60 tons Tractive effort: 36,000 lbs. Speed: 30 mph. Gift of Ingersoll-Rand Company
Marc Greuther is Chief Curator and Senior Director of Historical Resources at The Henry Ford.
Writer demonstrating proper posture and hand-holding position, c. 1800. THF286087
In her recent article, “Cursive: Dead or Alive?” (The Henry Ford Magazine, June-December 2017), author Anne Trubek asserts that, today, cursive writing “is becoming retro-cool, more interesting precisely because its utility has largely passed.”
Indeed, the importance of penmanship—as cursive writing was once called—has radically declined as part of school curricula in recent years. It is no longer required in most states’ Common Core standards—due to increased technology use, the rejection of repetitive drills as teaching tools, and the higher importance placed on reading and math in government-issued tests. However, not everyone agrees that eliminating it from the curriculum is desirable, arguing that mastery of cursive writing helps with hand-eye coordination, long-term memory, problem-solving, and idea generation.
The heated debate about the need for young people to learn cursive writing—or not—raises the question of how we got here. In fact, the story of handwriting in America is one of continual adaptation to technological and social change, and in no small part the influence of two innovators whose names have been largely forgotten today—Platt Rogers Spencer and Austin Norman Palmer.
A trained engrosser transcribed the original 1776 version of this document—the Declaration of Independence—from Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten draft. THF92259
In the 1700s, as more people learned to read and printed materials became more available, reading became a desirable skill. But writing? That was reserved exclusively for the wealthy and for those whose profession required it—like merchants, bookkeepers, legal clerks, and engrossers (those trained to transcribe the final draft of a document in a large, clear hand).
Handwriting in those days was tedious and difficult, including learning how to fashion quills from goose feathers, mix ink, rule lines on paper, and use the ink-filled quill without spotting or smudging the paper.
Writing became a more widely accepted and embraced skill during the early 1800s, as self-trained writing masters traveled around the country offering courses of instruction. In more populated urban areas, they offered private writing courses in what were in essence the first business colleges.
To motivate students, teachers often bestowed awards for good penmanship, like this 1877 example. THF286089
In small towns and villages, writing masters taught the rudiments of handwriting to students in the growing number of common, or public, schools. Learning to write came to be considered as important a skill as reading and arithmetic for schoolchildren (actually, boys) in preparation for their future roles in industrial America.
The word “Penmanship” on the cover of this 1867 Spencerian writing book exemplifies that very writing method. THF286020
One particular writing master, Platt Rogers Spencer, would become so successful that his approach to handwriting almost completely dominated penmanship education during the post-Civil War period. Spencer realized that, to truly influence how most Americans learned to write, he needed to go right to the source. So he brought penmanship lessons directly to teacher-training schools. From there, the popularity of his writing method spread to public and private education at all levels—from business colleges down to primary schools. So pervasive and dominant was his influence that Spencer became known as the “Father of American Handwriting.”
This fancy trade card gives an idea of the level of expertise in penmanship that students of the Toledo Business College would attain. THF225626
Spencer’s unique approach to handwriting reduced the alphabet to a few elemental principles, equating each letter—and parts of each letter—to natural forms like waves, sunbeams, clouds, and leaves. In this way, he could claim that his approach was not just a series of mechanical movements but also a “noble and refining art.” At the same time, his handwriting lessons emphasized order and precision. With students from different walks of life—rural and urban, rich and poor, obedient and unruly, foreign- and American-born—all practicing exactly the same lessons, Spencer could claim that learning his handwriting method would mold America’s young people into reliable citizens and obedient future workers.
The Ford Motor Company logo is an example of Spencerian writing, which Henry Ford learned in school. THF104934
Spencerian became the dominant handwriting method in America from the 1860s into the early 1900s. It seemed to fit everything that Americans strived for. That was, until penmanship entrepreneur Austin Norman Palmer came along, claiming that Spencerian handwriting was all wrong for Americans. He argued that Spencerian script was too ornate, too meticulous, too slow, too tiring, even too feminine. What Americans wanted and needed, he argued, was a “plain and rapid” style adapted to “the rush of business,” a style that was masculine and unsentimental.
As shown in this 1920s language composition book, students learning the Palmer method were taught to pride themselves on their penmanship, which was considered a judge of good character. THF247435
Palmer introduced a new approach—one which forced the muscles to move in certain patterns—over and over and over, with the idea that the muscles would imprint the memory of these movements into the brain and become habit. Though the approach was radically different, Palmer’s goal—like Spencer’s—was ultimately about social control. Disciplining the body, he asserted, would also force students to conform to the conventions of society. He came down particularly hard on left-handedness, which he considered deviant, and he insisted that left-handers learn to write with their right hand.
Students of Henry Ford’s Edison Institute school system hard at work practicing their writing skills, 1944. THF126142
The Palmer method began displacing the Spencerian method of handwriting by the 1890s and, by the second decade of the 1900s, millions of Americans had become “Palmerized.” In truth, given the limited resources and lack of teacher training in many communities—as well as negative attitudes by both teachers and students toward the rigorous requirements of this method—the Palmer method was not strictly enforced in most school systems and it was often combined with other handwriting methods.
This type of school desk, made in the 1940s but used well into the 1960s, contains a hole for an ink bottle to be used with a dip pen. THF158363
Paralleling new studies in child psychology and new approaches to childhood education, two trends emerged in the 1900s. First was the realization that young children simply did not possess the motor skills to learn cursive writing, leading to a new emphasis on learning printing first and cursive writing later. Second, a new attitude emerged that writing could be more than a mechanical movement—it could become an outlet for self-expression.
The brightly colored images on this early 1970s school box, used for holding writing implements and other school supplies, were inspired by those of Peter Max and other psychedelic designers of the era. THF169170
Coinciding with these trends were new forms of technology—from typewriters to word processors to personal computers—that, by the end of the century, displaced the need for handwriting in our society. Meanwhile, ink-dipped steel pens of the early 1900s were replaced by ballpoint and rollerball pens later in the century, and by Smartphones and iPads today.
As Americans, we tend to romanticize and revive that which we have lost. So it comes as no surprise that, as computers have replaced the necessity of handwriting, so handwriting has become an art, a craft, the province of “makers”—equated with creativity and self-expression.
We’ll see what lies in store for handwriting into the future.
For further reading on this topic, take a look at, Handwriting in America: A Cultural History (by Tamara Plakins Thornton, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996).
Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford and handwrote this blogpost—believing that putting pen to paper helps her think more creatively than typing on a computer keyboard.
It’s Back to School season—ads for clothing and school supplies are everywhere. The first day of school has meant many things to the generations of kids who have shared this experience. Excitement, curiosity, wariness--and for some of the first timers among us—perhaps even a bit of fear. Along with the first day of school often came fresh new school supplies: crayons with pointy tips, pencils with pristine erasers, and even a new schoolbag or backpack. And for many, it meant getting a brand new outfit to wear on that all-important first day of school.
Megan Mines donned this plaid Kelly green dress and headed off to her first day of kindergarten in Warren, Ohio in 1980. She was a little wary of the plunge into the unknown world of kindergarten—what would it be like? Megan also wore the dress for her school photo later that year.
Do you remember your first day of school—kindergarten or any other year? What was it like? And what did you wear?
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.
In this blog post, conservator Louise Stewart Beck shared some incredible photographs of corrosion products that seemed to grow from the metal itself. We have found a lot of corrosion products where metal and hard rubber materials meet. In this collection, it happens frequently, and it makes sense to find these two materials so often due to the physical properties of the materials and their uses in regards to electricity.
Let’s start with the metal. Metals are strong materials, allowing the objects to withstand the working environments where they were used. Additionally, metals make great conductors, allowing the electricity to readily flow through the desired path along wires.
While metals are conductors, rubber is an insulator. This means it restricts the flow of electrons and prevents the electricity from transferring to separate entity—like a person—accidentally.
With this in mind, it makes sense that both metals and hard rubber would be found next to each other for the electrical objects to perform their function when first created. The long-term proximity of metal and hard rubber on these objects, unfortunately, also leads to active deterioration of the object. This situation is called inherent vice: The deterioration of physical objects due to the instability of the materials that make up the object.
Group of metal objects with hard rubber carrion on the surface. (Accession number 31.1217.252).
Detail of hard rubber corrosion on surface of the metal. (Accession number 31.1217.252).
When Louise and I encounter the strange corrosion products where hard rubber and metal touch, we end up removing the product of a chemical reaction occurring due to the physical properties of the two materials. If the corrosion product is only removed, it will be back in a few years because the chemical reaction has not been stopped by simply removing the corrosion. Whenever possible, a barrier is placed between the hard rubber and metal to keep them from chemically interacting with one another. Our barrier of choice is Incralac, a clear non-reactive coating. When possible, we apply the coating to the metal after separating it from the hard rubber and allow it to dry. Once dry and reassembled, the barrier layer should prevent the chemical reaction that results in the interesting corrosion growth.
Conservator Louise using a scalpel to mechanically remove the hard rubber corrosion. (Accession Number 31.1217.252).
Conservator Louise submerging metal in Incralac after removing corrosion to form a barrier layer between the metal and the hard rubber to prevent further corrosion. (Accession number 31.1217.252).
Of course, a lot of thought goes in to each treatment for each unique object, making working with this collection both challenging and rewarding. Understanding the ways objects are originally created that may cause or increase deterioration allows us in the Conservation Lab to actively work to slow this deterioration down to ensure the object can be enjoyed by visitors for years to come.
Corrosion removed, waiting for the Incralac to dry. (Accession number 31.1217.252).
Mallory Fellows Bower is the IMLS Conservation Specialist at The Henry Ford.
Is the saying, “dog days of summer,” about dogs? Not directly; at least, not about any farm dog (or city dog) we know. Instead, the “dog” is Sirius, the nose of the constellation, Canis Major, and the brightest star in the night sky. We get the best look at the constellation between November and April, but during late summer in the Northern hemisphere, Sirius appears in the eastern sky before dawn, and “rises” with the sun. Ancient Greeks considered Canis Major a homage to Orion’s greater hunting dog, Laelaps. Ancient Egyptians associated the rising of Sirius with the sun, and believed the “double sun” created the hottest season of the year. Today when we hear, “Sirius,” we might first think if Sirius Black, Harry Potter’s godfather, and not about the association between the star, Sirius, and summer heat. Let’s not forget the historic association between the hot “dog days of summer” and Sirius’ rising in tandem with the sun (July 22 through August 23).
During these “dog days,” let’s take a look at some of the photographs in The Henry Ford's collections, and think more about the dogs and the people that posed with them.
Woman Feeding Cats and Dog in a yard, circa 1900. THF211312
Can we tell whether Nellie consider her cats, or her dog as her “best friend”? It is difficult to tell because the image indicates that she paid attention to both the felines and the canine.A closer look indicates that the dog has a collar and that Nellie is either feeding him a treat or has a stick as a chew to distract him from the cats at the feed bowl.
Other photographs remind us that dogs lure us into a relaxed state. This carte-de-visite of a girl and her dog, taken in a photographer’s studio, shows a remarkably relaxed pose given the often formal and stiff portraits of the Civil War era. How many of us spend hours lounging with our own dogs?
John Burroughs with His Dog, “I Know,” 1885-1890. THF113982
Famous men struck poses with their favorite dogs, too. This photograph of internationally renowned naturalist, John Burroughs, shows him at eye level with his dog, “I Know,” sometime between 1885 and 1890. A closer look at “I Know” indicates that he has some border collie features, including his alert view and focus beyond the camera, the furry, light-colored ruff, and the white blaze on his face.
John Burroughs at his birthplace, Roxbury, New York, 1918. THF241519
A photograph taken thirty years later (1918) shows John Burroughs at his birthplace in Roxbury, New York, with another attentive border-collie-type dog. This photograph could be of anyone anywhere with a loyal canine pet.
Trade Card for Cultivating Tools, Syracuse Chilled Plow Co., circa 1880. THF225590
Do your hunting expeditions involve dogs? A trade card advertising Syracuse Chilled Plow Company cultivators, featured a colorful scene of a hunter with two bird dogs.
"Eager for Deer," Man and Dogs Ready for Hunting in the Woods, circa 1903 THF118863
Working dogs had jobs to do, but they also bonded with their handlers. A photograph of a man sitting on a felled tree has seven hunting dogs close in proximity, including one in his arms. At least one of the dogs is on a chain, and most have collars, tools which helped hunters controlled the pack of dogs that they used to flush out deer or other game from heavily wooded areas.
Edsel Ford with His Pet Dog at the Ford's Edison Avenue House, Detroit, Michigan, circa 1908. THF95291 Other dogs lived more of a life of leisure. A photograph of Edsel Ford taken around 1908, had the following inscription on the back: "Edsel & his dog, sitting on step that goes down into our garden. Garrage (sic) in rear.” Clara Bryant Ford likely took the photograph and wrote the description. It was taken at the Edison Avenue Home in Detroit.
Boy on a Bicycle Holding a Dog, circa 1950. THF201327
Compassion can make young men do some surprising things to protect their dogs. Some dogs romp in the snow, but this fellow seems to be sparing his little rat terrier the shock by giving him a ride on the back of his bicycle.
Numerous images of dogs and of objects featuring dogs exist in the collections of The Henry Ford. How many of our parents thought they could use a “Little Snoopy” pull toys to distract us from the craving for a real dog?
You can see more dog-related items in The Henry Ford collections here.
Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.
Bergmann & Company Edison Chemical Meter, Used at the City Hotel, Sunbury, Pennsylvania, 1883. THF164679
As work progresses on the Electrical Collection thanks to an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant, the fascinating context in which these objects were used is discovered. This Edison chemical meter used at the City Hotel in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, the first hotel commercially wired for electricity, and was part of the first three-wire power system in the world.
Following the success of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York, the first central power station in the world, Thomas Edison sent his agent, P. B. Shaw, to find other ideal locations for more central power stations. The locations needed to have high gas prices to make the switch to electric lights appealing, and inexpensive fuel to help compete in the lighting business.
Shaw traveled the Coal Region of Pennsylvania to find a place that met the criteria, and organized multiple Edison Electric Illuminating Companies including Shamokin (1882), Sunbury (July 1883), and Mount Carmel (November 1883). The site selected in Sunbury backed up onto a stream flowing down from Shamokin, which would deposit coal on its banks after heavy rainfall or melting snow. Sunbury’s high cost of gas, free coal, and proximity to water meant that it was the perfect location for a power plant; however, the location was outside the town’s business center, which would add to the cost due to the length of wires needing to be strung from the power plant to potential customers.
To offset costs, Edison took a party of potential donors on his electric railway to demonstrate his innovative technology. After the demonstration, Edison was inspired to improve his two-wire system in use in New York by adding a third-wire to act as a neutral line, as well as using two dynamos to generate 220 volts while still allowing 110 volt lamp usage to ensure consistent distribution of power throughout the long wires. After a brief test, Edison applied for a patent and the three wires with conductors were strung to the City Hotel, thus making it the first building to be commercially wired for electricity and Sunbury the first city to have three wire commercial direct current incandescent lighting and overhead conductors.
On July 4, 1883, the City Hotel of Sunbury became the first building lit with incandescent carbon-filament light bulbs using the three wire system. To measure the electricity used by the hotel, an Edison Chemical Meter, one of the first electric wattmeters, was installed. These electrolytic meters measured electricity through electroplating, but needed to be removed and measured at the central station in order to bill customers. The meters were reliable, despite the cumbersome method for billing, but were phased out in the 1890s and replaced by mechanical meters, which were easier to read.
Laura Lipp is a Collections Specialist at The Henry Ford.
In 1902, nine regional automobile clubs joined together to create a national motoring organization called the American Automobile Association (AAA). Picking up where bicyclists had left off with their “Good Roads” movement in the 1890s, the earliest goal of AAA was to lobby for road improvements. Since then, AAA has devoted itself to all matters that concern American motorists—including driver safety, emergency services, and ensuring the best possible experiences for automobile travelers.
The Michigan chapter of the American Automobile Association formed in 1916 (see Curator Matt Anderson’s blog post celebrating its 100th anniversary last year). In the following blog post, we focus on the many unique and innovative contributions of AAA and AAA Michigan to improve the overall travel and vacation experience. Many of the items shown here are drawn from a rich collection of materials that was donated to The Henry Ford by AAA Michigan in 1987.
So, pack your bags, buckle your seat belts, and get ready for a road trip through time!
American Motorist magazine, August 1909. THF202277
In 1909, AAA began publishing this magazine for motorists—offering travel tips, club news, and road improvement updates. The inaugural issue was in February of that year.
When AAA first formed, the annual Glidden Tour was conceived as a way to raise public consciousness about the poor condition of America’s roads. These tours were grueling, several-hundred-mile tests of automobile reliability and endurance. Cars often got stuck in the mud, as in this ca. 1910 photograph of a “pathfinder” car—that is, one that traveled the roads before the official tour, measuring their distances and noting their condition and surface quality.
Postcard, Public Auto Camp in Yellowstone, ca. 1920. THF128250
By 1915, AAA’s advocacy of better roads could be seen in improvements along both extended stretches of cross-country roads and better road surfaces within national parks. By 1915, so many motorists stopped at Yellowstone National Park on their way to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, that automobiles were officially allowed entrance into the park for the first time. Motorists arrived at the park prepared to camp so public campgrounds were soon created to ensure safety, order, and control. (For more, see this post on automobiles and the national parks.)
Guidebook, Motoring in and Out of New York, 1934. THF209528
AAA has long been known for its road maps. Roads were so poorly marked in the early years of motoring that maps had to include detailed written instructions or photographs of landmarks with arrows superimposed on them. As roads improved—and with the addition of identifiable highway names and numbers—road maps became easier to follow. This detailed 1934 book of maps to and from New York City came from the Lansing Branch of AAA Michigan.
In 1915, the Automobile Club of Missouri offered the first emergency road service for its members. This idea caught on quickly, and it soon became a service offered by all AAA affiliates to its members. This toy tow truck, made by the Wyandotte (Michigan) Toy Company about 1940, proudly sports an American Automobile Association decal on its side. It may have been a promotional item for AAA.
As the number of Mom-and-Pop motels increased after World War II, competition provided the impetus for motel owners to offer free giveaways as both souvenirs and easy advertising. This book of matches, which was probably neatly set in an ashtray in the motel room when the guest arrived, proudly indicates that the Rest-Well Motel, in western Wisconsin, was AAA-approved.
An intriguing item in The Henry Ford’s AAA Michigan collection is this 1949 “Negro Motorist Green Book.” The brainchild of black postal carrier Victor H. Green, this book contained listings of safe places (in both the South and the North) for African American motorists to stay, eat, and fill up with gas during the era of segregation. Green was passionate about distributing copies of the Green Book to places where African Americans were likely to encounter them, including AAA offices. See this post for more on “The Negro Motorist Green Book.”
This delightful “Trip-Pak” was a free giveaway of AAA Michigan during the post-World War II era. Look more closely and you’ll see Optrex eye wash, Burma-Shave shaving cream, razor blades, NōDōz tablets, TUMS antacid, Bromo-Seltzer antacid/pain reliever, and Vaseline hair tonic. Clearly created with male travelers in mind, perhaps this kit was designed for the traveling businessman.
Those of us of a certain age fondly remember visiting the local AAA office before embarking on a long-distance vacation to pick up a TripTik. Before the days of MapQuest, GPS, and Google Maps, this was a collection of strip maps bound together in a spiral binding. Using a brightly colored marker, the knowledgeable AAA agent would map out the designated route—greatly alleviating our fears of getting lost in an unfamiliar setting. This TripTik, provided as a service to members of AAA Michigan, contains 14 separate strip map pages that mark out an early 1950s trip from Detroit to Lake Wales, Florida.
AAA’s active lobbying for better roads included the push for the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, authorizing 41,000 miles of interstate expressways. This 1956 booklet, available at AAA Michigan offices at the time, described for eager readers the “Exciting Story of the Nation’s 50 Billion Dollar Road Program.”
AAA began producing travel guides in the teens and 1920s, to help vacationers plan their trips. The first TourBook in its modern format appeared in 1959. By 1992, the date of this TourBook, these contained a sophisticated rating system as well as indications of accessible accommodations and non-smoking areas in restaurants. In the days before the Internet, having a TourBook in hand guaranteed a no-risk vacation.
Today, AAA Michigan is still continuing to create innovative solutions for their members to travel across the country. Their new AAA app pulls together many of their well-known member benefits into one convenient destination on your phone.
Donna Braden, Curator of Public Life, is looking forward to her vacation later this month, which includes a road trip along the historic Oregon Trail and a long anticipated return to Yellowstone National Park.
FROM TOUR TO TILES: A tour of the Heath Ceramics factory in Sausalito, California, led House Industries co-founder Andy Cruz to a collaboration with the owners of the storied ceramics maker that produced objects like decorative clocks and tiles. (Carlos Alejandro)
How House Industries and Heath Ceramics turned a happenstance online meet-and-greet into a creative collaboration
Heath Ceramic owners Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey (Aya Brackett)
After Andy Cruz’s blog post about the Heath Ceramics men’s restroom caught the eye of Catherine Bailey, co-owner of the distinctive California ceramic manufacturer, she reached out to House Industries.
Realizing they shared a mutual appreciation for each other’s work, the two decided that House Industries and Heath Ceramics should collaborate. “Andy is a genius. Working with him is a guarantee that you’re going to learn something new, that you’re going to see something differently and that you’re going to find yourself paying attention to the next level of detail you didn’t even realize existed,” said Robin Petravic, who co-owns Heath Ceramics with Bailey.
Recognizing Heath Ceramics founder Edith Heath as a California design legend for her elegant designs accented by raw finishes, Heath and House decided to pair her legacy with those of two other greats — Charles and Ray Eames and Richard Neutra. After working through an arduous process of trial and error, House Industries fonts inspired by the Eameses and Neutra were applied to a series of tiles that later inspired a ceramic wall clock collection, both of which have been in production ever since.
“Along with Andy’s immense and unique talent comes a great collaborator,” said Petravic. “We’ve come to trust that, as the conversation goes one way, then the other and then off in yet another direction, we’re going to end up in a great place in the end.”
As to House Industries’ willingness to follow those other directions and learn from its own mistakes, it was the original drawings and hours of tweaking, proofing and redrawing of the stencil numbers for the Heath Ceramics clock project that ended up providing inspiration for another landmark House Industries work — Yorklyn Stencil, the house typeface of House Industries.
This year, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the dedication of the George Washington Carver Memorial in Greenfield Village. There is not a great deal of specific information about this project in the archival collections, but here is what we do know.
Henry Ford’s connections and interest in the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute began as early as 1910 when he contributed to the school’s scholarship fund. At this time, George Washington Carver was the head of the Research and Experimental Station there.
Henry Ford always had interests in agricultural science, and as his empire grew, he became even more focused on using natural resources, especially plants, to maximize industrial production. He was especially interested in plant materials that could be grown locally. Carver has similar interest, but his focus was on improving the lives of southern farmers. His greatest fame was that of a “Food Scientist”, though he was also very well known for developing a variety of cotton that was better suited for the growing conditions in Alabama. Through the decades that followed, connections and correspondences were made, but it would not be until 1937 that the two would meet face to face.
Through the 1930s, work and research began to really ramp up in the Research or Soybean Laboratory in Greenfield Village. Various plants with the potential to produce industrial products were researched, but eventually, the soybean became the focus. Processes that extracted oils and fibers became very sophisticated, and some limited production of soy based car parts did take place in the late 1930s and early 1940s, as a result of the work done there.
In 1935, the Farm Chemurgic Council had its very first meeting in Dearborn. This group, formed to study and encourage better use of renewable resources, would meet annually becoming the National Farm Chemurgic Council. It was at the 1937 meeting, also held in Dearborn, that George Washington Carver, and his assistant, Austin Curtis, were asked to speak. Carver was put up in a suite of rooms at the Dearborn Inn, and it was here that he and Henry Ford were able to meet and discuss their ideas for the first time, face to face. During the visit, Ford entertained Carver at Greenfield Village and gave him the grand tour. Carver was also invited to address the students of the Edison Institute Schools. Carver would write to Ford following the visit, “two of the greatest things that have come into my life have come this year. The first was the meeting with you, and to see the great educational project that you are carrying on in a way that I have never seen demonstrated before.”
It was at some point during the visit that Henry Ford put forth the idea of including a building dedicated to George Washington Carver in Greenfield Village. It seems that he asked Carver about his recollections of his birthplace, and went as far as to ask for descriptions and drawings. Later correspondence from Austin Curtis in November of 1937 confirm Ford’s interest. It was determined by that point that the original building that stood on the farm of Moses Carver in Diamond Point, Missouri had long been demolished. Granting Ford’s request, Curtis would go on to supply suggested dimensions and a sketch, to help guide the project. The cabin was described as fourteen feet by eighteen feet with a nine- foot wall, reaching to fourteen feet at the peak of the roof. It included a chimney made of clay and sticks.
A 1937 rendering of the birthplace of George Washington Carver based on his recollections. No artist is attributed, but it is likely this was drawn by Carver. THF113849
It would not be until the spring of 1942 that the project would get underway. The building, very loosely based on the descriptions provided by Carver, would be constructed adjacent to the Logan County Courthouse. In 1935, the two brick slave quarters from the Hermitage Plantation, had been reconstructed on the other side of the courthouse. The grouping was completed with the addition of the Mattox House (thought to be a white overseers house from Georgia) in 1943. As Edward Cutler, Henry Ford’s architect, would state in a 1955 interview, “we had the slave huts, the Lincoln Courthouse, the George Washington Carver House. The emancipator was in between the slaves and the highly- educated man, It’s a little picture in itself.”
There are no records beyond Henry Ford’s requests for information as to how the final design of the building, that now stands in Greenfield Village, was determined. An invoice and correspondence does appear requesting white pine logs, of specific dimensions, from Ford’s Iron Mountain property. There is also an extensive photo documentation of the construction process in the spring and early summer of 1942.
Logs in place, roof framing in process, spring 1942. THF285285
Newly Completed George Washington Carver Memorial, Early Summer, 1942. THF285295
In the end, the cabin would resemble less of a hard scrabble slave hut, and more of a 1940s Adirondack style cabin that any of us would be proud to have on some property “up north”. It was fitted out with a sitting room, two small bedrooms (with built in bunks), a bathroom, and a tiny kitchen. It was furnished with pre-civil war antiques and was also equipped with a brick fireplace that included a complete set-up for fireplace cooking. As an interesting tribute to Carver, a project, sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America, provided wood representing trees from all 48 states and the District of Columbia to be used as paneling throughout the cabin. Today, one can still see the names of each wood and state inscribed into the panels.
Plans had initially been made for Carver to come for an extended stay in Dearborn in August of 1942, but those plans changed and he arrived on July 19. This was likely due to Carver’s frail health and bouts of illness. While the memorial was being built, extensive plans were also underway for the conversion of the old Waterworks building on Michigan Avenue, adjacent to Greenfield Village, into a research laboratory for Carver. The unplanned early arrival date forced a massive effort into place to finish the work before Carver arrival. Despite wartime restrictions, three hundred men were assigned to the job and it was finished in about a week’s time.
George Washington Carver would stay for two weeks and during his visit, he was given the “royal” treatment. His visit was covered extensively by the press and he made at least one formal presentation to the student of the Edison Institute at the Martha Mary Chapel. During his stay, he resided at the Dearborn Inn, but on July 21, following the dedication of the laboratory and the memorial in Greenfield Village, just to add another level of authenticity to the cabin, Carver spent the night in it.
George Washington Carver and Henry Ford at the Dedication of the George Washington Carver National Laboratory, July 21, 1942. THF253993 Edsel Ford, George Washington Carver, and Henry Ford, Carver Memorial, July 21, 1942. THF253989
George Washington Carver at fireplace in Carver Memorial, July 21, 1942. THF285303
George Washington Carver seated at the table in Carver Memorial, July 21, 1942. THF285305
The completed George Washington Carver Memorial in Greenfield Village c.1943. THF285299
Beginning in 1938, Carver began to suffer from some serious health issues. Pernicious anemia is often a fatal disease and when first diagnosed, there was not much hope for Carver’s survival. He surprised everyone by responding to the new treatments and gaining back his strength. Henry and Clara visited Tuskegee in 1938 for the first time, later, when Henry Ford heard of Carver’s illness, he sent an elevator to be installed in the laboratory where Carver spent most of his time. Carver would profusely thank Ford, calling it a “life saver”. In 1939, Carver visited the Fords at Richmond Hill and visited the school the Fords had built and named for him there. In 1941, the Fords made another visit to Tuskegee to attend the dedication of the George Washington Carver Museum.
During this time, Carver would suffer relapses, and then rebound, each time surprising his doctors. This likely had much to do with his change in travel plans in the summer of 1942. Following his visit to Dearborn, through the fall, there was regular correspondence to Henry Ford. One of the last, dated December 22, 1942, was a thank you for the pair of shoes made by the Greenfield Village cobbler. Following a fall down some stairs, George Washington Carver died on January 5, 1943, he was seventy-eight years old.
Carver Memorial in its whitewashed iteration, c.1950. THF285299
It was seventy-five years ago, that George Washington Carver made his last trip to Dearborn. His legacy lives on here, and he remains in the excellent company of those everyday Americans such as Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, and Henry Ford, who despite very ordinary beginnings, went on to achieve extraordinary things and inspire others. His fame lives on today, and even our elementary school- age guests, know of George Washington Carver and his work with the peanut.
Jim Johnson is Curator of Historic Structures and Landscapes at The Henry Ford.
Bryan, Ford, Friends, Family & Forays: Scenes from the Life & Times of Henry Ford, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 2002.
Edward Cutler Oral Interview, 1955, Archival Collection, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
Collection of correspondences between Henry Ford and George Washington Carver, Frank Campsall, Austin Curtis, 1937-1943, Archival Collection, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
George Washington Carver Memorial Building Boxes, Archival Collection, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.
The Herald, August, 1942, The Edison Institute, Dearborn, MI
I was saddened to hear about the passing of Marty Sklar on July 27, at age 83.
Who is Marty Sklar, you may ask?
He was one of the last people with a direct link to Walt Disney and the creation of Disneyland in the 1950s. Marty started working for Walt Disney as a young intern while still at UCLA, writing marketing copy for Walt’s newly planned theme park in Anaheim, California. Most of us can only imagine Walt Disney walking down Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A. during the last frenzied months of construction. But Marty was actually there, learning from the master, helping Walt achieve his dream through his own talent for writing. No wonder Marty later gained the nickname of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice!
I met Marty in the early 2000’s, when he was Vice-Chairman and Principal Creative Executive of Walt Disney Imagineering. At The Henry Ford, we were working on a traveling exhibition, “Behind the Magic: 50 Years of Disneyland.” I had heard that Marty was the one who had generously “opened the vault” for us, given us unprecedented access to the amazing Imagineering art collection that had provided the basis for all the lands and attractions in Disneyland. All he asked for in return was to review our progress from time to time.
People who worked for Marty seemed to revere him. And were maybe a little intimidated by him as well. I found him to be down to earth, inquisitive at all the right times, and incredibly insightful. It helped that every review would inevitably wrap up with one of Marty’s humorous anecdotes about his experience working with Walt Disney. Then his serious demeanor would relax a bit and his eyes would twinkle. Whew, the scrutiny was over.
But I realized that it wasn’t scrutiny, really. What Marty was doing was assessing our ideas against a larger vision. Did they fit Disneyland? Did they fit Walt Disney Imagineering? Did they align with Walt Disney’s original vision? Marty was the keeper of the vision. His job at all times was to make sure that every new idea honed to the vision.
As the curator of our Disneyland exhibit, I was asked to co-write a publication with noted historian and scholar Karal Ann Marling, and to speak at a symposium that was held in conjunction with the exhibit. I picked as my topic a question that had long intrigued me and was, coincidentally, one in which Greenfield Village had once played a role: What had inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland? Marty was also a speaker at the symposium that day, along with several others.
Marty at podium. THF12415
Of course, everyone was rapt with attention when Marty took the stage. In fact, that’s probably why all the people had showed up to begin with! After our presentations, Karal Ann and I kept busy signing our book for symposium attendees. It was reasonably crowded. But Marty’s line was miles long!
Marty signing books. THF12435
Everyone, it seemed, wanted to not only have him sign a book but also just to meet him, to have their picture taken with him. As for me, I tried to act nonchalant by not asking for a picture. But I did screw up my courage to ask Marty to sign my book. And what he wrote in it I still treasure to this day.
Inscription in my book.
In 2013, I picked up a copy of Marty’s just-published memoir, Dream It! Do It! My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms. There I learned much more about the projects in which he had been instrumental, including behind-the-scenes stories of the four attractions that the Walt Disney Imagineers had worked on for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, the decision to continue Walt’s legacy after his death in 1966 with Walt Disney World in Florida, and the creation of many of the other Disney theme parks worldwide.
Walt Disney World brochure (89.126.19 – THF344606)
Though I only knew him for a brief period of time, I will not soon forget Marty Sklar. His insight, his wisdom, his dry sense of humor will live on in my memory. I will also take away from the experience an important lesson that I can apply to my work and my life every day—the skillful way in which he could somehow, simultaneously, both encourage wild creativity and make sure that everyone aligned with a larger vision.
It sounds easy. But it’s not. That to me was the mark of true genius.
Donna Braden, Curator of Public Life, enjoys both studying and visiting Disney theme parks.