Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

F-150 assembly inside Factory Tour

Every year, the first Friday in October brings Manufacturing Day, a time to celebrate the contribution that modern manufacturing makes to our lives. We see it not only in the countless products we use every day, but in the many jobs that manufacturing provides to American workers.

We thought it would be appropriate to mark the day with a look back at the most influential manufacturing innovation of the 20th century: Henry Ford’s moving assembly line. By combining interchangeable parts with the subdivision of labor and the movement of work to workers, Ford dramatically increased the speed with which his employees built Model T automobiles – reducing the car’s price and boosting sales as a result. The moving assembly line quickly spread to other automakers, and then to manufacturers of all types. Today, almost anything you can name is made on an assembly line, from helicopters to hamburgers.

Here, in honor of Manufacturing Day, is an Expert Set of 25 photos, documents and artifacts that tell the story of Henry Ford’s ground-breaking manufacturing technique.

Henry Ford: Assembly Line

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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The Cornell-Liberty Safety Car – space age and safety conscious. (THF90867)

We have our share of unusual-looking automobiles in Henry Ford Museum. The Tucker, the Belly Tank Lakester and the Comuta-Car all turn heads. But there’s only one that looks like it just flew in from the Spacely Space Sprockets factory: the 1957 Cornell-Liberty Safety Car. Behind that endearingly odd exterior, though, was a serious five-year effort to save lives by making American cars safer.

Over the first half of the 20th century, many automakers focused their efforts on making cars more reliable, more comfortable and more powerful. Safety was a lesser concern. There were exceptions – laminated windshield glass, which didn’t break into sharp pieces, was in use by the late 1920s – but conventional wisdom held that safety didn’t sell. Customers wanted their cars to be faster, not safer.

By the 1950s, that attitude began to change. Cars were certainly faster by then, but they also had roads to accommodate the higher speeds. State-built turnpikes and Federally-funded Interstates had drivers zipping along at 75 miles per hour, and the booming postwar economy put more Americans behind the wheel each year. It’s little wonder that more drivers traveling at faster speeds led to a rise in accidents. By 1950, some 35,000 people were dying in auto accidents each year. Faculty members at Cornell University and officials at Liberty Mutual insurance took notice. In 1951, the two institutions teamed up to research a simple question: What causes injuries in automobile accidents?

THF103543Steering wheels and sharp edges could be lethal. (THF103543)

America’s highways became a laboratory, and police officers and emergency room doctors became research assistants. By carefully studying accident reports and medical records from around the country, the Cornell-Liberty team made several key discoveries. Car doors were a weak spot. Too often in an accident, a door was smashed open and one or more of the occupants was thrown from the vehicle. Furthermore, the team discovered that someone thrown from a car was more than twice as likely to receive serious injury. They learned that back seat passengers were three times safer than those in the front during a crash.

Researchers determined that the head was the most frequently injured part of the body, and that one in ten victims received a facial disfigurement. Contrary to popular belief at the time, the steering wheel provided no extra protection to the driver. Indeed, the wheel was often a cause of injury, being pushed into a driver’s chest during a crash. What’s more, control knobs, window frames and decorative ornaments often maimed accident victims.

THF90862Bucket seats cradle passengers while seat belts keep them secure. (THF90862)

The Cornell-Liberty team put its findings into practice by building a concept car that reduced or eliminated many of these dangers. Working from a 1956 Ford Fairlane, the team produced a car incorporating more than 60 protective features. In effect, they thought of their car like a giant egg carton designed to keep its fragile contents secure. The safety car’s accordion-style doors latched in three places, keeping them closed in a crash. Its bumper wrapped completely around the vehicle, protecting in low-speed accidents. Seat belts were prominent. Head restraints prevented whiplash injuries. The steering wheel and column were replaced by a pair of control handles. The dashboard, like other interior surfaces, was padded. Door handles were recessed. Unnecessary badges and baubles were removed.

THF90865The dashboard is uncluttered and the gauges are easy to read. (THF90865)

The best way to survive an accident is to avoid one, so the Cornell-Liberty team took driver visibility and distraction into account. The panoramic windshield – cleaned by five wipers – gave the driver an unobstructed view (as did the driver’s position, in the middle of the car rather than on the left side). Controls were kept to a minimum, and the oversized speedometer dial and gauges were placed directly below the driver’s sightline. The fuel gauge even had a “low level” indicator – something of a novelty in 1957. Indeed, the Cornell-Liberty team seemed to have anticipated every possible distraction; contemporary press reports noted that the offset front seats discouraged “necking while driving.”

Neither Cornell nor Liberty Mutual had any plans to manufacture or sell safety cars, of course. Instead, they hoped that their project would bring more attention to crash protection from the public and – more to the point – from automakers. A decade later, after some additional prodding from Ralph Nader and new government regulations, safety was an established priority in Detroit. And while the car you drive today may not have five windshield wipers or handlebar steering, it’s certainly got a bit of the 1957 Liberty-Cornell Safety Car inside.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. 

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

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In the early 1960s, designers Charles and Ray Eames set out to reveal the wonder they saw in math through an engaging and interactive exhibit they called Mathematica: A World of Numbers … and Beyond. The designers, perhaps best known for the iconic Eames lounge chair, used models and demonstrations to bring to life concepts such as probability, geometry, the Moebius strip, and more.

In 2015, The Henry Ford acquired an original Mathematica exhibit, and is currently working to restore the interactive components before installing the exhibit on the Museum floor in 2017. We’ve begun to digitize some of the signage and reading material from the exhibit, including this reading stand that discusses, among other things, the “Man Machine Interface.” 

Visit our Digital Collections to view zoomable detail shots, or to see the other Mathematica signage digitized so far.

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

Eames, digital collections

imls-logoThere has been a lot going on at The Henry Ford lately – our Beatles exhibit has just closed, the new Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery is soon to open, and the conservation department has been involved with those goings-on and more. Even though there’s a lot of change and activity, our IMLS-funded grant project to work on our electrical collections continues at a steady pace. As we approach the halfway point in the grant, we are also approaching 450 objects conserved – the halfway point of our 900-object goal!

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Conservation Specialist Mallory Bower and Senior Conservator Clara Deck clean objects in the Collections Storage Building.

We have been continuing to make regular trips to our Collections Storage Building (CSB) to select artifacts for inclusion in the grant; while we’re out there, we give them an initial clean, before bringing them into the museum to be fully conserved, then photographed and packed. 

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Collections Specialist Cayla Osgood brings down the dynamo on a forklift while Mallory “spots”, keeping a watchful eye for corners, overlapping edges, or any other potential issues.

We have recently brought our third “extra-large” object in from CSB, an Eickemeyer Dynamo. When choosing objects to bring in, we take into account the wants and needs of other departments of the museum, and we chose this object as there was some interest in it from the curatorial department. Since it was high up on a shelf, it had been a little while since they were able to inspect it up-close – there was a lot of excitement when we brought it in! Although it will not be going on display, it is now clean and accessible, and soon it will be digitized and available online. 

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The Eickemeyer Dynamo, retrieved from storage (32.107.1)

The dynamo did not need an excessive amount of treatment, largely a brush/vacuum to remove storage dust, plus removal of a little copper corrosion on some of the fittings on the ends. (Want to read more about our “extra-large” objects? Check out our previous blog post!)

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A circuit breaker with a marble base, during treatment (29.1333.292)

Although the “extra-large” objects have been focused on quite a bit in our blogs, most of what we do involves much smaller objects. There are so many different materials and types of objects, we have a lot of interesting challenges to work through. Something of particular note that we have come across a few times now is objects with marble bases, like this circuit breaker. The marble is frequently very dirty, with staining and significant accretions, and, as in this case, also cleans up fairly well! This “in progress” shot shows how different the object can look from when we get it out of the Collections Storage Building to when it’s clean and finished, ready to be digitized and packed.  

So that’s where we stand currently, nearly halfway through our IMLS grant, working away on lots of electrical objects. Keep your eyes peeled for future blog posts with updates on our progress!

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

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American Style and Spirit: 130 Years of Fashions and Lives of an Entrepreneurial Family is a temporary exhibit opening in Henry Ford Museum on November 5. The exhibit is based on an extensive donation of garments and accessories, all used by the Roddis family of Marshfield, Wisconsin. These artifacts are exceptional in demonstrating how clothing tells us something about the person who wears it, while also illuminating broader stories of American life. We have just digitized a number of Roddis Collection pieces, including this 1952 day dress

To learn more, visit our Digital Collections to see the other pieces digitized thus far and watch for more to be added in the weeks leading up to the exhibit opening.

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

American Style and Spirit, digital collections

The Couture Life

September 26, 2016 Archive Insight

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Elizabeth Parke Firestone (1897–1990) was the wife of Harvey S. Firestone, Jr., son of the founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. As a well-heeled and fashion-conscious woman, she both traveled to and corresponded with many famous couture houses in Paris, including the
House of Dior

An inquiry from Dior
last year led to our digitization of many of the articles of Christian Dior clothing in our collection that belonged to Mrs. Firestone, but when we dug even further, we turned up over 370 Dior design drawings, mostly dating from the 1950s.  Many, like the 1955 “Fête a Trianon,” are intricately colored, and include handwritten notes and fabric swatches, giving potential customers a taste of their glamour. Visit our Digital Collections to peruse all of these Dior design drawings.

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

Dior, digital collections

Making America Better

September 23, 2016 Think THF

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The attendees are members of the Presidential Commission on the Development of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. From left, they are: Dr. Robert Wright, commission Chairman; Renee Amoore; Vicky Bailey; Andrew McLemore, Jr.; Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.; Senator Rick Santorum, R-Penn.; Michael Lomax; Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga.; Harold Skramstad, Jr.; Barbara Franco; Robert Wilkins; Senator Sam Brownback, R-Kan.; Cicely Tyson; Lerone Bennett, Jr.; Congressman John Larson, D-Conn.; Eric Sexton; Claudine Brown; Larry Small, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; Currie Ballard. White House photo by Paul Morse. 

NMAAHC-logo_mobileWe celebrate a new national museum for the citizens of the United States – the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The idea of a national museum for African Americans started 100 years ago when black Civil War veterans announced their intentions in Washington D.C. to create a building on the Mall that would commemorate the deeds, struggles and contributions of Black Americans for the advancement of our nation. In 1929, the same year Henry Ford opened his museum complex in Dearborn, Michigan, President Herbert Hoover appointed a commission to study the idea of establishing an African American museum. However, the commission languished and was eventually dissolved 15 years later.

The Civil Wars veterans’ dream to commemorate the history and culture of African Americans was  revived by civil rights icon and U. S. Representative John Lewis, who knows about perseverance and leadership through his many key roles in the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement. For 15 years, Representative Lewis co-sponsored and reintroduced legislation annually to establish a national museum to preserve and present African American history and culture. The museum bill finally passed in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and, on December 16, 2003, President George W. Bush signed the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act authorizing the creation of the new Smithsonian Institution museum. John Lewis attended the presidential bill signing ceremony along with members of the African American Presidential Commission, including The Henry Ford’s President Emeritus Harold Skramstad.

In July 2005, Lonnie Bunch was appointed as the founding Executive Director to lead the establishment of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Mr. Bunch’s vision is that the stories, objects and lives presented in the museum will “make America better.” On September 24, 2016, the museum opened to the public with a dedication ceremony led by President Barack Obama. Our new national museum enables current and future generations to engage in their history at an institution destined to, as Mr. Bunch hopes, “make America better.”

Christian W. Overland is Executive Vice President of The Henry Ford.

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Dress, circa 1835, once owned by author and illustrator Tasha Tudor. THF49064

Way back when, making clothing was a household enterprise. Many families raised the raw materials and did much of the labor-intensive spinning, weaving and hand-sewing to produce the clothing they needed. Textiles were precious, and most people had only a few garments. Today, clothing is a massive commercial operation — it’s all about us going off-site or online and searching out ready-to-wear from hundreds of factory-made items hanging on hundreds of racks or presented as seemingly endless choices on websites. Here are some of the tools of the garment trade that got us from in-house to in-store, all part of The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation.

THE WALKING WHEEL
In the 1760s, rural families would spin wool (from sheep raised on-site) on a walking wheel inside the home, creating yarn eventually woven into cloth for making their own clothing.
Where can you see one? Walking Wheel, Daggett Farmhouse, Greenfield Village

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ROLLER PRINTING

The process of printing designs on textiles, shown above, using a cylinder made these fabrics much more affordable and fueled demand. By the 1830s, New England textile factories were producing a staggering 120 million yards of cotton prints each year.

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Howe Sewing Machine, 1854-1857. THF154874

THE SEWING MACHINE
Sewing machines began to transform the process of sewing clothing during the late 1840s. While it might take 14 hours to sew a man’s dress shirt by hand, it would only take an hour by sewing machine.

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R.S. Bailey’s New Combination System for Ladies and Children’s Waists, Basques, Sacques and Patterns, patented 1888.  THF123321


THE DRESS PATTERN
Commercial dress patterns made planning and cutting out a garment much easier. These patterns gave people a guide to making the correct cuts, sized from small child to adult. 

THE POWER LOOM
The power loom industrialized textile weaving during the early Industrial Revolution, automating the process of weaving and dramatically reducing the need for the skilled human hand. It took decades and a cast of innovators to perfect this technology.

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

The Henry Ford Magazine

imls-logoOne of the main components of The Henry Ford’s IMLS-funded grant is the treatment of electrical objects coming out of storage. This largely involves cleaning the objects to remove dust, dirt, and corrosion products. Even though this may sound mundane, we come across drastic visual changes as well as some really interesting types of corrosion and deterioration, both of which we find really exciting.

imls-draftingboardAn electrical drafting board during treatment (2016.0.1.28)

Conservation specialist Mallory Bower had a great object recently which demonstrates how much dust we are seeing settled on some of the objects. We’re lucky that most of the dust is not terribly greasy, and thus comes off of things like paper with relative ease. That said, it’s still eye-opening how much can accumulate, and it definitely shows how much better off these objects will be in enclosed storage.

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Before and after treatment images of a recording & alarm gauge (2016.0.1.46)

The recording and alarm gauge pictured above underwent a great visual transformation after cleaning, which you can see in its before-and-after-treatment photos. As a bonus, we also have an image of the material that likely caused the fogging of the glass in the first place! There are several hard rubber components within this object, which give off sulfurous corrosion products over time. We can see evidence of these in the reaction between the copper alloys nearby the rubber as well as in the fogging of the glass. The picture below shows where a copper screw was corroding within a  rubber block – but that cylinder sticking up (see arrow) is all corrosion product, the metal was actually flush with the rubber surface. I saved this little cylinder of corrosion, in case we have the chance to do some testing in the future to determine its precise chemical composition.

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Hard rubber in contact with copper alloys, causing corrosion which also fogged the glass (also 2016.0.1.46).

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Hard rubber corrosion on part of an object – note the screw heads and the base of the post.

This is another example of an object with hard rubber corrosion. In the photo, you can see it ‘growing’ up from the metal of the screws and the post – look carefully for the screw heads on the inside edges of the circular indentation. We’re encountering quite a lot of this in our day to day work, and though it’s satisfying to remove, but definitely an interesting problem to think about as well.

There are absolutely more types of dirt and corrosion that we remove, these are just two of the most drastic in terms of appearance and the visual changes that happen to the object when it comes through conservation.

We will be back with further updates on the status of our project, so stay tuned.

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

IMLS

1968RiversideARRC_190

If you know a bit about The Henry Ford, you probably know that one of our areas of expertise is automobile racing. Along with many artifacts, we hold vast amounts of archival materials on the topic, including the Dave Friedman Collection of hundreds of thousands of racing images, among other materials. We’ve just digitized a grouping of nearly 500 images from the 1968 American Road Race of Champions (ARRC) held at Riverside, California—bringing the total number of images we’ve digitized from this collection to over 20,000. 

Visit our Digital Collections to see this dramatic 1968 ARRC shot—or browse all the digitized images from the Dave Friedman Collection.

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

Digital Collectiosn