Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Innovative Inspiration

September 7, 2016 Think THF

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Maureen Foelkl is one of this year's Teacher Innovator Award winners. She shared her thoughts about her experience here at The Henry Ford; take a look here to see the rest of this year's winners.


From the moment I spied the entrance gates to Th Henry Ford it reminded me of Disneyland as a child. The anticipation of the innovative educators’ experience was coming to fruition. The Henry Fod's Frederick Rubin and Phil Grumm greeted the innovative teacher group with a warm welcome and an introduction to our week. 

Our days were thoughtfully planned. We began the experience interacting with modern day creators at Maker Faire Detroit. We were given the privilege of awarding blue ribbons to makers we believe captured the true innovative spirit. There were many creative ideas that it made it virtually impossible to isolate just two blue ribbon winners.

I was personally inspired by a 12-year-old maker that had taken used clothing and converted the rags into costumes that young adults stylishly wore. He started his own YouTube channel to show others how they could create their own woven masterpieces. The maker ribbon was his true inspiration to continue his own innovative creations. As an educator, this is what I value. An avenue to make students feel valued and successful.

The team from The Henry Ford is a phenomenal group of leaders that made the Teacher Innovator award meaningful. Cynthia Jones, Marc Greuther, Catherine Tuczek, Ben Seymour, Ryan Spencer, along with the most pleasant and helpful group of employees contributed to the positive experience at the museum. I now have nine additional educators I feel connected to for future inspirational teaching lessons.

I am creating an E-STEM unit of study for outdoor school. The Henry Ford's website will be invaluable as I begin to generate meaningful lessons. One  of my lessons, on John Muir the expert navigator will expose students to the history of direction. Young navigators will learn to use a compass. I will have students take a brief overview from and research the history of the compass. For me, the lesson comes to life because I was fortunate to have a behind the scenes tour of the archives. Standing inches away from this compass allows me to tell a story behind the piece. I will share the knowledge to the next generation of learners in hope that they too will become explorers of their world.

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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)

I highly encourage teachers to visit Henry Ford Museum and take time to introduce your students to the world of innovation via their website to inspire the creativity in teaching and learning.

Maureen Foelkl is a Teacher Innovator Award Winner at The Henry Ford and is a teacher at Chapman Hill Elementary in Salem, Oregon.

Teacher Innovator Awards

On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday, a celebration that encouraged us to seek connections within our collections. This blog post is the first part of four that will trace Edsel Ford’s relationship to the national parks.

The landscapes preserved by the national parks are a source of inspiration. Not only do they document the natural history of America, but they are also integral in telling the story of humanity on the continent. They remain powerful educational tools, allowing citizens to reflect on their collective history and where they want society to go in the future. Responsible for protecting these historical, cultural, and scenic landscapes, the National Park Service owes much of its existence to the forward-thinking industrialists who supported the early environmental movements in America.

The National Park Service's birth can largely be attributed to the efforts of millionaire industrialist Stephen Mather. Using his wealth and political connections, Mather secured the job of Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior and went to Washington. Once there, he worked to lobby, fundraise, and promote an agency that could manage America's national parks and monuments. Finding success, Mather became the first director of the newly-formed National Park Service in 1916. At times, he even funded the agency's administration and bought land out of his own pocket. Mather was not the only affluent American to donate his time and wealth to the National Park Service.

The Rockefellers and Mellons, two of America's wealthiest families in the early 20th century, also became champions of the national parks. Specifically during this time period, the biggest player in national park philanthropic efforts was John D. Rockefeller Jr., the only son of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. Among his many other National Park Service donations, Rockefeller Jr. was noteworthy for purchasing the land or donating the money that helped create the national parks of Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, and Shenandoah, including the expansion of Grand Teton and Yosemite National Parks. Rockefeller dominated this philanthropic scene and ultimately influenced the only son of another wealthy industrialist to join him in his cause.

Edsel Ford, born to Henry and Clara Ford in 1893, was not born into wealth, but the success of Ford Motor Company in the early years of the 20th century led his father to become one of the richest men in America. This set Edsel down a path to inherit the responsibility of that wealth, a position in which he would thrive. Remarking that wealth "must be put to work helping people to help themselves," Edsel understood the elite position he was in and acted with grace throughout his life. Often described as altruistic, sensible, reserved and most importantly modest, Edsel would go on to channel his family's money into countless philanthropies including medical research, scientific exploration, the creative arts and America's national parks.

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While this photograph was taken during the Fords' 1909 trip to Niagara Falls, they posed for the shot in a studio and were later edited into a photo of the falls. THF98007

At a young age, Edsel experienced some of the monuments and landscapes that make up our current national park system, creating memories that surely influenced him later in life. Family trips in 1907 and 1909 took Edsel to Niagara Falls, today a National Heritage Area in the park system. For the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909, Edsel accompanied his father by train to Denver and from there they took a scenic drive to Seattle where the exposition was being held. In 1914, he joined Thomas Edison, John Burroughs and his family as they spent time camping in the Florida Everglades. He also had the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon at least four times in his life, with his first glimpse of the gorge occurring during a family trip to Southern California in 1906.

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Visiting the Grand Canyon in 1906, Edsel sits here with his mother, Clara Ford, and Clara's mother, Martha Bryant. The canyon can be faintly seen in the background. THF255176

Edsel recorded a subsequent trip to the canyon in his diary during January of 1911. He wrote that he spent time hiking, visiting the Hopi House to watch Native American dances, and photographing the canyon. Photography would become one of many artistic hobbies Edsel pursued over the course of his life. Undoubtedly the beautiful vistas of the Grand Canyon provided a spark of creativity for the burgeoning young artist. The national parks and monuments had inspired creative sparks previously, allowing Edsel to illustrate this picture of the Washington Monument in 1909. These forays into the arts helped Edsel later become the creative force that took Ford Motor Company beyond the Model T and successfully into the industry of automobile design.

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Edsel recorded his second Grand Canyon trip in his diary. Interestingly, Edsel also mentions he has heard of the deaths of Arch Hoxsey and John B. Moisant, two record-breaking pilots who died while performing separate air stunts on New Year's Eve of 1910. THF255172

Before Edsel made his dreams of car design a reality, Ford Motor Company had played a role in helping to improve accessibility to the landscapes of the national parks by making the automobile, specifically the Model T, affordable to the masses. In 1915, at age 21, Edsel took off in a Model T on a cross-country road trip with six of his friends. Departing from Detroit and heading to San Francisco, the trip allowed Edsel to again witness the scenic changes in the countryside as he traveled across the continent, something he had experienced on numerous family trips before. This time though, he was in charge of the places he explored. Making various stops during his expedition, Edsel visited the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the desert of New Mexico and the Grand Canyon for a third time.

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Edsel Ford and friends hike down Bright Angel Trail while visiting the Grand Canyon during their 1915 cross-country road trip. THF243915

The Grand Canyon must have left quite the impression on Edsel because, in November of 1916, he brought his new wife Eleanor Clay there on the way to their honeymoon in Hawaii. He wrote his parents from the El Tovar Hotel saying "We are surely having a great time. Walking and breathing this great air." They had spent the previous day visiting Grandview Point, a spot that continues to provide park goers with breathtaking views of the canyon. Edsel's new wife Eleanor would play an important role in his future national park endeavors. She exposed him to the rugged shores and natural beauty of the Maine coast -- a place where Edsel would cross paths with John D. Rockefeller Jr., establishing a friendship that would last a lifetime.

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Operated by the Fred Harvey Company, which owned a chain of railroad restaurants and hotels, El Tovar Hotel was opened in 1905 through a partnership with the Santa Fe Railway. THF255180 

Ryan Jelso is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. 

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We continue to work on our IMLS-grant funded project to conserve, catalog, photograph, rehouse, and digitize 900 artifacts from our electrical distribution equipment collection.  A number of the meters and other artifacts we’ve turned up during that project were created by the Fort Wayne Electric Works (also known as the Fort Wayne Electric Corporation), an Indiana company that manufactured electrical equipment and other items in the late 19th century.  To accompany the artifacts, we’ve just digitized photographs from our Fort Wayne Electric Works archival collection, which show various parts of the factory around 1894—including this shot of the testing and calibrating laboratory. 

Connect our Fort Wayne artifacts with our Fort Wayne photographs for yourself by visiting our Digital Collections.

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

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A Wardrobe Workshop

September 2, 2016 Think THF
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Greenfield Village and you can’t help but notice the clothing. From the colonialera linen garments worn by the Daggett Farmhouse staff as they go about their daily chores to the 1920s flapperstyle dresses donned by the village singers, or even the protective clothing worn by the pottery shop staff in the Liberty Craftworks district — all outfits in Greenfield Village are designed to add to the guest experience. In many cases, these tangible elements help accurately showcase the time period being interpreted. 

“Clothing is such a big part of history,” said Tracy Donohue, general manager of The Henry Ford’s Clothing Studio, which creates most of The Henry Ford’s reproduction apparel and textiles for daily programs as well as seasonal events. “It’s a huge part of how we live even today. The period clothing we provide helps bring to life the stories we tell in the village and enhances the experience for our visitors.”

The Clothing Studio is tucked away on the second floor of Lovett Hall. It provides clothing for nearly 800 people a year in accurate period garments, costumes and uniforms, and covers more than 250 years of fashion — from 1760 to the present day — making the studio one of the premier museum period clothing and costume shops in the country. 

The scope and flow of work in the studio is immense, from outfitting staff and presenters for the everyday to clothing hundreds for extra seasonal programs such as Historic Base Ball, Hallowe’en and Holiday Nights. Work on the April opening of Greenfield Village, for example, begins before the Holiday Nights program ends in December, with the sewing of hundreds of stock garments and accessories in preparation for hundreds of fitting sessions for new and current employees.

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“When it comes to historic clothing, our goal is to create garments accurate to the period — what our research indicates people in that time and place wore,” said Donohue. “For our group, planning for Hallowe’en is an especially fun challenge. We have more creative license with costumes for this event than we typically do with our daily period clothing.” 

For Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village, the studio staff researches new characters and can work on the design and development for more elaborate wearables for months. In addition to new costume creation, each year existing outfits are refreshed and/or reinvented. Last year, for example, the studio added the Queen of Hearts, Opera Clown and a number of other new characters to the Hallowe’en catalog. Plus, they freshened the look of the beloved dancing skeletons and the popular pirates.

Historic clothing, period photographs, prints, trade catalogs and magazines from the Archive of American Innovation provide a wealth of on-site resources to explore the styles, clothing construction and fabrics worn by people decades or centuries ago. Each year, Jeanine Head Miller, curator of domestic life, and Fran Faile, textile conservator, host the studio’s talented staff for a field trip to the collections storage area for an up-close look at original clothing from a variety of time periods. 

“Getting the details right really matters,” Miller said. “Clothing is part of the powerful immersive experience we provide in Greenfield Village. Having people in accurate period clothing in the homes and the buildings helps our visitors understand and immerse themselves in the past, and think about how it connects to their own lives today.” 

Did You Know?
The Clothing Studio has a comprehensive computerized inventory management system, which tracks close to 50,000 items.

During each night of Hallowe’en, Clothing Studio staff are on call, checking on costumed presenters throughout the evening to ensure they look their best.

What They're Wearing Under There
At Greenfield Village, costume accuracy goes well beyond what’s on the surface. Depending on the time period they’re interpreting, women may also wear chemises, corsets and stays.

“Our presenters have a lot of pride in wearing the clothing and wearing it correctly,” said Donohue.

While the undergarments function in the service of historic accuracy, corsets also provide back support and chemises help absorb sweat. Natural fibers in cotton fabrics breathe, so they’re often cooler to wear than modern-day synthetic fabrics. And when the weather runs to extreme cold conditions, layers of period-appropriate outerwear help keep village staff warm. The staff at the Clothing Studio also sometimes turns to a few of today’s tricks to keep staff comfortable. Wind- and water-resistant performance fabrications are often built into Hallowe’en costumes to offer a level of protection from outdoor elements.

“It can be 100 degrees in the summer and 10 degrees on a cold Holiday Night,” Donohue said. “Our staff is out in the elements, and they still have to look amazing. We care about the look and overall visual appearance of the outfit, of course, but we also care about the person wearing it.” 

From The Henry Ford Magazine. This story originally ran in the June-December 2016 issue.

The Henry Ford Magazine

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If you’ve visited Henry Ford Museum, this bench might look familiar to you.  In fact, you might have sat on this bench or one of about two dozen exactly like it during your visit.  However, this one is now off-limits to sitting, as it has found a place in our collections.  The bench was commissioned in 1939 by Edsel Ford for use at what was then known as the Edison Institute, now The Henry Ford.  It was designed by Walter Dorwin Teague, a leader in early industrial design, at the height of his career.  We’ve just digitized the
bench—visit our Digital Collections to see other artifacts from our collections related to Walter Dorwin Teague, including correspondence and blueprints associated with the bench.


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

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GT40 Group

Seventeen Ford GT cars pose for a group portrait on Pebble Beach’s 18th fairway. P/1046, which finished first at Le Mans 50 years ago, leads the pack.

It’s a big year for Ford Motor Company’s iconic GT40 race car. Fifty years ago, New Zealander drivers Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren realized Henry Ford II’s ambitious goal to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, while two other GT40s took second and third place. This year, in a bold move, Ford returned to Le Mans with the all-new GT and, in fairy tale fashion, won its class 50 years to the day after the Amon/McLaren victory. Meanwhile, demand for the forthcoming street version of the new GT is so great that Ford just announced it’ll be adding two more production years to the supercar’s limited run. What better time, then, to celebrate the GT40 at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance?

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Three cars representing four years of consecutive Le Mans victories: Our Mark IV J-5 (1967), P/1075 (1968-69), and P/1046 (1966).

Private owners and museums around the world answered the call from Pebble Beach organizers. On August 21, they filled the 18
th fairway with what might have been the most impressive collection of Ford GT cars ever assembled outside of the Circuit de la Sarthe. No fewer than 17 GT40s and GT40 variants made the trip to California, and it seemed that every important car was there. There was chassis P/1046, the GT40 Mark II that Amon and McLaren drove to victory in 1966. Freshly – and brilliantly – restored to its race day appearance, the car took “Best in Class” honors from the Pebble Beach judges. Alongside it were 1966’s second and third place cars driven by Ken Miles and Denny Hulme, and Ronnie Bucknam and Dick Hutcherson, respectively.

IMG_5513GT40 P/1015 won the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona with Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby. Four months later, it finished second at Le Mans with Miles and Denny Hulme.

Le Mans winners from other years were present, too. Our Mark IV chassis J-5, of course, won in 1967 with Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt sharing the driver duties. Then there was chassis P/1075, the GT40 Mark I that won Le Mans twice in a row, with drivers Lucien Bianchi and Pedro Rodriguez in 1968, and with Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver in 1969. Ford Motor Company itself pulled out of Le Mans after 1967, but privateer John Wyer did the GT40 proud with those back-to-back victories.

IMG_5516From Switzerland came this replica of GT/101, the very first GT40, which turned heads at the 1964 New York Auto Show.

Le Mans wasn’t the only race represented at Pebble Beach. Mark IV chassis J-4, which won the 1967 12 Hours of Sebring with Bruce McLaren and Mario Andretti at the wheel, was there on the fairway. So was GT40 P/1074, the Mirage variant which took first place at Belgium’s Spa 1000-kilometer race in 1968 with Jacky Ickx and Dick Thompson. The collection was rounded out with a replica of GT/101, the first-ever GT40, and the prototype 1967 GT40 Mark III that modified the track racer into a more civilized street machine.

IMG_5519The rare GT40 Mark III. Just seven of these refined road cars were ever built.

To put the icing on the cake, the GT40 also featured on this year’s official
concours poster. The painting, by noted automotive artist Ken Eberts, features the 1966 trio of 1-2-3 finish cars posed in front of the Lodge at Pebble Beach. Behind the cars stand Carroll Shelby, Henry Ford II and Edsel Ford II. (The younger Mr. Ford not only witnessed the 1966 victory with his father, he was also at Le Mans this year for the 2016 win.)

This year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for fans of the GT40. We were honored to participate with the Mark IV, and we look forward to watching the next chapter of GT history unfold with Ford Performance’s new generation of cars.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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More often than not, these two disciplines and the artists that practice them go hand in hand

When the founders of Kate Spade decided in 2015 that they wanted to once again make a go of the accessories business, they decided that their new label, called Frances Valentine, would consist primarily of shoes instead of handbags (which was the thing they originally became famous for in the early 1990s).

The handbag market is crowded enough, they said, so rather than offer dozens of pocketbooks, they whipped up just a few easy-to-carry totes and a broad range of footwear, including everything from casual sneakers to sky-high stilettos.

No matter what category they’re chasing, designers Andy Spade and Kate Valentine — who changed her surname in order to create a delineation between the real person and the still-active brand — will always favor clean lines mixed with artful graphic flourishes. That’s why the collection’s pièce de résistance is a chunky geodesic heel that makes an appearance in the designer’s spring collection under a strappy sandal and, in the fall, a sharp Chelsea boot. The heel was inspired by American architect R. Buckminster Fuller, whose futuristic domes can be found everywhere from Russell Township, Ohio, to Montreal, Québec.

It’s a novel interpretation, but hardly an unexpected one. “Fashion is architecture,” Coco Chanel once said. “It is a matter of proportions.”

BODY OR BUILDING
Indeed, fashion and accessories designers have long applied the principles of architecture to their chosen medium. There are endless examples of the two intermingling. What they have in common is functionality. Unlike art, which often has no end use other than contemplation, architecture and fashion both serve a purpose. The precision required to erect a building or some other sort of edifice is an inspiration for designers, who must often bring structure to a material that lacks form.

It’s no surprise that several of fashion history’s greatest practiced or at least studied architecture before learning to drape a dress. Tom Ford was an undergrad at Parsons Paris (a branch campus of New York’s esteemed The New School) when his eye began to stray from the monumental toward the sartorial. Legendary Italian designer Gianni Versace studied architectural drafting while moonlighting as a buyer for his mother’s clothing store in southern Italy. Italian designer Gianfranco Ferre, who earned a degree in architecture from the Milan Polytechnic Institute, began his fashion career designing accessories, a process that is often more in line with that of his intended profession — perhaps because it requires the eye of an industrial designer.

Dubbed “the architect of fashion,” Ferre went on to lead the House of Dior from 1989 to 1996. His most notable contribution to fashion, however, is his white shirt iterations. (A garment that requires plenty of engineering to get right.)

Becca McCharen, the Brooklynbased designer behind Chromat, has used the foundations of her architecture degree from the University of Virginia to build an unorthodox fashion label. “Architecture school taught me how to approach a design project,” she said. “It is my full reference on how to design.”

Without any formal fashion training, McCharen treats each garment as if it’s a building. “I think of the body as a building site,” she continued. “Just as you’d be looking at materials and the map of a site before you start plans, we’re looking at context, too. Joints and the movement of the joints all around the place we’re designing for.”

The designer, best known for the cage-like structures she molds to the body, also uses her electrical engineering know-how to wire garments so that they are illuminated in an enticing, not hokey, way.

A MUTUAL ADMIRATION
It might be the minimalists, many of whom are not trained architects, who take the practice’s theories most wholeheartedly.

Cuban-born American designer Narciso Rodriguez wanted to be an architect before he became a fashion designer, and the exacting lines of his clothing reflect that. “Architecture is always one of the foundations for me,” he once told The New York Times. The New York-based designer’s favorite buildings include resident treasures such as the Seagram, Empire State and Chrysler buildings.

The Turkish-born, London-based designer Hussein Chalayan has been known to draw more directly from the well of home design, crafting a skirt out of a coffee table and creating a dress that functions as a chair. Or there is Los Angeles-based designer (and former architect) Airi Isoda, whose company is called wrk-shp. She has taken to dipping clutches in latex house paint and coats in concrete.

Isoda, who studied architecture at the University of Southern California, has said the exhibit Skin & Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion & Architecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles was a lightbulb moment. “It was the first time I saw fashion in a new light — conceptual and architecture for the body,” Isoda told the website Archinect. “Viewing an elaborately draped dress with folds similar to a façade of a building I studied in school … it was just an eye-opening experience because I saw intellectual fashion, past its somewhat superficial and superfluous nature.”

Isoda went on to study fashion design; wrk-shp is a culmination of her multiple disciplines. The company designs clothing and accessories, lighting, objects and buildings in Los Angeles and beyond. In fact, the buildings of Japanese architect Toyo Ito inspired Isoda’s latest apparel collection. In particular, his “lily pad” columns have informed her silhouettes and pocket details.

It’s important to note that the relationship between fashion and architecture is one of mutual admiration. “Starchitects” are often commissioned to design clothing and accessories. For instance, architect Zaha Hadid was almost as well known for her honeycomb-lattice jewelry as she was for erecting the Guangzhou Opera House. Before her death in 2016, she had also collaborated with the shoe label United Nude, as has Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

But many of the most important fashion and architecture collaborations have nothing to do with actual clothes. Consider the ongoing partnership between Koolhaas and Prada. He has designed several retail stores for the Italian brand and also collaborates with its leader, Miuccia Prada, on collection visuals. The relationship between these two — underscored in the skate-park-like Prada store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, which still impresses 15 years after it opened — has served as an example for many. Like Prada’s clothes, Koolhaas’ concepts remain interesting years, and even decades, after they are conceived.

Making things that last, not just structurally but also intellectually, is the greatest challenge for both architects and fashion designers. Perhaps the fact that clothing and buildings are both rooted in need first and desire second best explains why these two worlds cannot be uncoupled from one another.

By Lauren Sherman. This story originally ran in the June-December 2016 edition of The Henry Ford Magazine.

By Lauren Sherman
By Lauren Sherman

The Henry Ford Magazine

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Raymond Taylor and E.T. Paull’s “A Signal From Mars March and Two-Step,” 1901 imagines two inhabitants of Mars using a signal lamp to communicate with Earth. THF129403  

The concept of "life on Mars" and "Martian Fever" was not incited in the pages of the tabloid magazine Weekly World News—but actually reaches much further back to 1877—with Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli. The astronomer himself was not to blame: a single word in his report—canali, which is Italian for “channels”—was misinterpreted to mean "canal" once translated into English. In Schiaparelli’s time, telescopes became more advanced and powerful, allowing him to make detailed maps of the planet’s surface. At the time of this mapping, Mars was in “opposition,” bringing the planet into close alignment with Earth for easier observation. While creating his maps, however, Schiaparelli fell victim to an optical illusion. He perceived straight lines crisscrossing the surface of the planet, which he included in his records, assigning them the names of rivers on Earth. These were the canali—and the source of a misunderstanding which morphed into a self-perpetuating legend about intelligent, ancient, canal-building Martian lifeforms. 

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Giovanni Schiaparelli’s Map of Mars (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). 

Much to Schiaparelli’s annoyance, the American astronomer Percival Lowell continued to pursue this "life on Mars" theory. Beginning in 1895, Lowell published a trilogy of books about the “unnatural features” he saw through his telescope in Flagstaff, Arizona. He created his own maps of the planet, much of which Schiaparelli believed to be pure fantasy. In reality, the imagery Lowell was seeing was likely caused by diffraction illusion in his equipment. Lowell was not alone in popularizing the concept of an intelligent Red Planet. The astronomer, psychical researcher, and early science fiction writer Camille Flammarion published The Planet Mars in 1892, which collected his archival research and historic literature exploring the idea of an inhabited planet. In 1899, Nikola Tesla claimed to have tapped into intelligent radio signals from Mars; in 1901 the director of Harvard’s Observatory Edward Charles Pickering claimed to have received a telegram from Mars.

In 1901—the year that Raymond Taylor and E.T. Paull’s "A Signal from Mars" sheet music was published—"Mars Fever" had officially taken hold, as scientists and enthusiasts alike actively explored the potential for two-way communication with Mars. This piece of music, made in tribute to the planet, is a prime example of the exoticism of science, space travel, and speculation about the limits of technology (along with a few missteps) colliding with future-forward, popular, and artistic culture.

THF344586Amazing Stories, September 1950. THF344586

Speculative thinking about Mars did not end in 1901—it has continued to provide a source of inspiration and exploration for both popular and scientific cultures. The Red Planet and its hypothetical inhabitants often appeared in early pulp and science fiction magazines like
Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories. The first issue of Amazing Stories was published in April 1926 by inventor Hugo Gernsback, and was the first magazine to be fully dedicated to the genre of science fiction. Gernsback himself is credited as the “father” of science fiction publishing—or, as he called it, “scientification.” The magazine introduced readers to far-reaching fantasies with journeys to internal worlds like Jules Verne’s “Trip to the Center of the Earth,” and explorations of other dimensions and galaxies, time travel, and the mysterious powers of the human mind.  Throughout its publication of over 80 years, Amazing Stories included many fictional accounts of Mars, including H.G. Wells’s “War of the Worlds,” Cecil B. White’s “Retreat to Mars,” pictured here, E.K. Jarvis’s “You Can’t Escape from Mars!” 

THF108523Standing left to right are H.G. Wells and Henry Ford at Cotswold Cottage, Greenfield Village, 1931. This photograph was taken 7 years before the infamous 1938 radio broadcast of Wells’s War of the Worlds. This radio-play used media as an all-too-effective storytelling device, inciting a public panic about an alien invasion in the process. THF108523

In 1924, with Mars once again in opposition to Earth, a new round of astronomical experiments and observations emerged. In order to test theories of advanced cultures inhabiting the planet, the inventor Charles Francis Jenkins and astronomer David Peck Todd were commissioned by the US military to conduct a study to “listen to Mars.” For the purposes of this experiment, Jenkins created an apparatus called the “radio photo message continuous transmission machine,” capable of creating visual records of radio phenomena on a long strip of photographic paper. Jenkins’s device was connected to an ordinary SE-950 NESCO radio receiver, serving as the “listening ear” in this experiment. Any incoming signal would trigger a flash of light on the paper, creating black waveform-like lines and thus revealing any chatter of alien radio waves.

The Army and Navy proceeded to silence radio activity for short periods over the three days of Mars’s closest course, believing that anyone who was bold enough to defy military-ordered radio silence would surely be extraterrestrial in origin. The Chief of US Naval Operations, Edward W. Eberle, sent this telegram on August 22nd:

7021 ALNAVSTA EIGHT NAVY DESIRES COOPERATE ASTRONOMERS WHO BELIEVE POSSIBLE THAT MARS MAY ATTEMPT COMMUNICATION BY RADIO WAVES WITH THIS PLANET WHILE THEY ARE NEAR TOGETHER THIS END ALL SHORE RADIO STATIONS WILL ESPECIALLY NOTE AND REPORT ANY ELECTRICAL PHENOMENON UNUSUAL CHARACTER AND WILL COVER AS WIDE BAND FREQUENCIES AS POSSIBLE FROM 2400 AUGUST TWENTY FIRST TO 2400 AUGUST TWENTY FOURTH WITHOUT INTERFERRING [sic.] WITH TRAFFIC 1800[1]

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Radio Receiver, Type SE-950, Used by Charles Francis Jenkins in Experiment Detecting Radio Signals from Mars. THF156814

When the paper was developed, the researchers were surprised to find that it contained images. These graphics were interpreted by the public to be “messages” composed of dots and dashes and “a crudely drawn face” repeating down the thirty-foot length of film. Jenkins, however, feared that his machine would be perpetrated as a hoax, so when the films were released he did so with this caveat: “Quite likely the sounds recorded are the result of heterodyning, or interference of radio signals.” While the popular press used these images as confirmation of life on Mars (in fact, this 1924 experiment
has appeared as “evidence” in the tabloid, Weekly World News), the scientific community provided logical explanations: static discharge from a passing trolley car, malfunctioning radio equipment, or the natural symphonic radio waves produced by Jupiter. The SE-950 radio used by Jenkins in this experiment is now part of The Henry Ford’s collection: a simple rectangular wood box with knobs and dials that easily hides its deeper history as part of an experiment to communicate with Mars.

From Schiaperelli to Lowell; from the adventure tales of H.G. Wells to the first science fiction magazines of Hugo Gernsback; from a curious piece of turn-of-the-century sheet music to an even stranger experimental radio—Mars has acted as an inspirational and problematic site for creative and scientific pursuits alike. In July of 1964, the fly-by images gathered by the spacecraft Mariner 4 put an end to the most far-flung theories about the planet. As Mariner 4 transmitted images back to Earth, there were no signs of canals, channels—or a populated planet. And finally, in recent years, technological innovation has allowed our knowledge of Mars to grow at a rapid pace, with NASA’s on-planet rover missions and SpaceX’s Falcon and Dragon vehicle programs. Martians or not, despite the fact that the Red Planet lingers an average of 140 million miles away from Earth, it continues to broadcast an inspirational signal of astounding strength, which reaches straight into the human imagination.

Kristen Gallerneaux is the Curator of Communication and Information Technology, The Henry Ford. 

([1]  Telegram from the Secretary of the Navy to All Naval Stations Regarding Mars, August 22, 1924, Record Group 181, Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments, 1784-2000, ARC Identifier 596070, National Archives and Records Administration.) 

Mars

THF231106Pete Henderson, #16 Duesenberg, Ora Haibe, #14 Sebring, John Aitken, #2 Peugeot, Sheepshead Bay, 1914. THF231106

If you’re a fan of the Disney musical Newsies, you may remember the character Racetrack singing about obtaining "a permanent box at the Sheepshead races" in the song King of New York. While Racetrack was referring to a horse racing track located in Sheepshead Bay, New York, that same facility was later converted to a board track for automobile racing. While board tracks around the country had a limited lifespan, they set the stage for the eventual creation of modern paved oval racetracks and the expansion of automobile racing across the United States.

THF111772Barney Oldfield riding the "Blue Streak" on the Salt Palace Board Track, Salt Lake City, Utah, circa 1900. THF111772

The earliest oval board tracks in the United States, commonly known as motordromes at the time, were constructed around 1910. With designs based on the velodromes used for bicycle racing in Europe, they utilized thousands of small, wooden boards in their construction. For the one mile long track at Playa del Rey, California, over 300 miles worth of boards were used to create the racing surface.  Many of the board tracks also included steep banked corners, adding to the excitement. The wooden surface was cheaper to install than a paved one at the time, although the upkeep did create additional costs over the years.  

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Board track racing on the track in Playa Del Rey, California. THF228751

Over the next 20 years, board tracks were constructed in cities around the country, including Chicago, Tacoma, Omaha, and Brooklyn. Smaller communities also had tracks: Valley Junction, Iowa; Hopwood, Pennsylvania; Sharonville, Ohio; and Salem, New Hampshire, to name a few.  They ranged in length from half a mile to 2 miles, with thousands of people attending races. The American Automobile Association (AAA), which had established its Contest Board in 1908, sanctioned championship level races on these tracks. From 1920 through 1931, 82 of the group's 123 championship events were staged on wooden raceways. Early motor racing stars, such as Joe Nikrent and Louis Disbrow, found success on the boards as well as paved tracks.

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Joe Nikrent and Louis Disbrow racing in Oakland, California. THF229073

There were some drawbacks to the board tracks though. Safety issues, including high rates of speed in corners, extreme G-forces on the drivers, flying splinters and debris, and the basic tire technology of the time, led to accidents and fatalities on the tracks. Spectators, especially those at motorcycle races, were vulnerable to out of control vehicles veering off the track. Track upkeep was extremely expensive, with the tracks needing to be resurfaced every five years or less. Stories remain of repairs being made to the tracks as cars raced overhead. Lack of competition with the increase overall speeds was another drawback; generally the fastest car at the start of the race crossed the finish line first.

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Dave Lewis's Race Car Stopped on the Board Track at Altoona Speedway, Tipton, Pennsylvania, in 1925. THF73131

Major races ceased to be held on boards after 1932, although a few tracks prolonged their lives by hosting midget racing competitions. In the end, the majority of the tracks were torn down, the land utilized for other purposes. Alas, this was the fate of the Sheepshead Bay Speedway. The track, built in 1915 on the site of the old horse racing facility, only operated until 1919. The land was sold four years later and redeveloped for residential purposes, with no trace of the facility remaining today. Relegated to memory, it is important to remember the integral role that this board track and others like it played in the expansion of automobile racing across the United States.  

Janice Unger is Processing Archivist , Archives & Library Services for the Benson Ford Research Center, at The Henry Ford.