Many of us have been baking a bit more than usual while staying at home. So, let’s take look at how America’s favorite cookie, the chocolate chip, was born.
Before we get to chocolate chips, let’s talk chocolate. It’s made from the beans of the cacao tree and was introduced by the Aztec and Mayan peoples to Europeans in the late 1500s. Then a dense, frothy beverage thickened with cornmeal and flavored with chilies, vanilla, and spices, it was used in ancient ceremonies.
Today, most Americans say chocolate is their favorite flavor. Are you a milk or dark chocolate fan? My vote? Dark chocolate.
Cookies were special treats into the early 1800s; sweeteners were costly and cookies took more time and labor to make. Imagine easing them in and out of a brick fireplace over with a long-handled peel.
Detail of late 18th century kitchen in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. See the kitchen for yourself with this virtual visit.
As kitchen technology improved in the early 1900s, especially the ability to regulate oven temperature, America’s cookie repertoire grew.
Detail of 1930s kitchen in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. See the kitchen yourself with this virtual visit.
Until the 1930s, baking chocolate was melted in a double boiler before being added to cookie dough. Check out this 1920 recipe for Chocolate Mousse from our historic recipe bank.
Then came Ruth Graves Wakefield and the chocolate chip cookie. Ruth, a graduate of the Framingham State Normal School of Household Arts, had taught high school home economics and had worked as a dietitian.
In 1930, 27-year-old Ruth and her husband Kenneth opened a restaurant in Whitman, Massachusetts called the Toll House Inn. The building had never been a toll house, but was located on an early road between Boston and New Bedford. The restaurant would grow from seven tables to 60.
A quick aside: our 1820s Rocks Village Toll House in Greenfield Village. Early travelers paid tolls to use roads or cross bridges. This one collected fares for crossing the Merrimack River.
Rocks Village, Massachusetts toll house in Greenfield Village. THF2033
With Ruth Wakefield’s background in household arts, she was well-prepared to put together a menu for her restaurant. It was a great location. The Toll House Inn served not only the locals, but people passing through on their way between Boston and Cape Cod.
Over time, Ruth’s reputation grew, and the restaurant became well-known for her skillful cooking, wonderful desserts, and excellent service. On the back of this circa 1945 Toll House Inn postcard, a customer wrote: “…down here two weeks ago & had a grand dinner.”
Ruth Wakefield, curious and willing to experiment, liked to create new dishes and desserts to delight her customers. The inn had been serving a butterscotch cookie--which everyone loved--but Ruth wanted to “give them something different.”
About 1938, Ruth had an inspiration. She chopped up a Nestle’s semisweet chocolate bar with an ice pick and stirred the bits into her sweet butter cookie batter. The chocolate bits melted--and didn’t spread, remaining in chunks throughout the dough.
Recipe Booklet, "Favorite Chocolate Recipes made with Nestle's Semi-Sweet Chocolate," 1940. THF125196
Legend has it that the cookies were an accident--that Ruth had expected to get all-chocolate cookies when the chocolate melted. One of those “creation myths?” A great marketing tale? Ruth was a meticulous cook and food science savvy. She said it was a deliberate experiment.
The marriage of sweet, buttery cookie dough and semisweet chocolate was a hit--the cookies quickly became popular with guests. Ruth shared the recipe when asked. Local newspapers published it. And she included it in the 1938 edition of her “Tried and True Recipes” cookbook.
The Toll House, Whitman, Massachusetts, circa 1945. THF183297
Nestle’s saw sales of its semisweet chocolate bar jump dramatically in New England--especially after the cookie was featured on a local radio show. When Nestle discovered why, they signed a contract with Ruth Wakefield, allowing Nestle to print the recipe on every package.
Nestle’s truck, 1934. Z0001194
Nestle began scoring its semisweet chocolate bar, packaging it with a small chopper for easy cutting into morsels. The result was chocolate “chips”--hence the name.
Recipe Booklet, "Favorite Chocolate Recipes made with Nestle's Semi-Sweet Chocolate," 1940. THF125194
Nestle included the Toll House Cookie “backstory” and the recipe in booklets promoting their semisweet chocolate.
Chocolate chip morsels were a great idea, so other companies followed suit.
Recipe Leaflet, "9 Famous Recipes for Hershey's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Dainties," 1956. THF295928
Other delectable treats, like these “Chocolate Refresher” bars shown in this 1960 ad, can be made with chocolate morsels. The possibilities are endless.
Nestle's Semi-Sweet Morsels Advertisement, "Goody for You," 1960. THF43907
We hope you enjoyed this week’s experiences focused on Taking Risks. Were you inspired to create or invent something? Please share your story or photos with us on social media using #WeAreInnovationNation!
If you missed anything from our series this past week, check out the recordings and resources below. We hope that you will join us this upcoming week to explore new themes drawn from our Model i Learning Framework, focusing on how innovators Learn from Failure.
What We Covered This Week How can we be brave and do new things to make the world a better place?
STEAM Stories Our STEAM story of the week wasI Will Be Fierce by Bea Birdsong and illustrated by Nidhi Chanani. I Will Be Fierce was a 2020 Southern Book Prize Finalist and is a powerful picture book about courage, confidence, kindness, and finding the extraordinary in everyday moments. Check it out with your favorite online reading service. Then we learned about the many ways we use metal and fabric with a lesson from our early childhood curriculum, Innovate for Tots and a coloring page featuring George Washington’s Camp Bed.
At a time when Americans are traveling less and the lodging industry is making big changes, let’s take a look back at the story of Kemmons Wilson, whose Holiday Inns revolutionized roadside lodging in the mid-20th century.
In the early days of automobile travel, motorists had few lodging options. Some stayed in city hotels; others camped in cars or pitched tents. Before long, entrepreneurs began to offer tents or cabins for the night.
Auto Campers with Ford Model T Touring Car and Tent, circa 1919 THF105459
More from The Henry Ford: Here’s a look inside a 1930s tourist cabin. Originally from the Irish Hills area of Michigan, the cabin is now on exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. For motorists weary of camping out, these affordable “homes away from home” offered a warmer, more comfortable night’s sleep than a tent. You can read more about tourist cabins and see photos of this one on its original site in this blog post.
Soon, “motels” -- shortened from “motor hotels” -- evolved to meet travelers’ needs. Compared to other lodging options, these mostly mom-and-pop operations were comfortable and convenient. They were also affordable. This expert set showcases the wide variety of motels that dotted the American landscape in the mid-20th century.
Crouse's Motor Court, a motel in Fort Dodge, Iowa THF210276
More from The Henry Ford: Photographer John Margolies documented the wild advertising some roadside motels employed to tempt passing motorists (check out some of his shots in our digital collections), and our curator of public life, Donna Braden, chatted with MoRocca about motorists’ early lodging options on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation (you can watch here).
After World War II, more Americans than ever before hit the open road for business and leisure travel. Associations like Best Western helped travelers find reliable facilities, but motel standards were inconsistent, and there was no guarantee that rooms would meet even limited expectations. When a building developer named Kemmons Wilson took a family road trip in 1951, he got fed up with motel rooms that he found to be uncomfortable and overpriced (he especially disliked being charged extra for his children to stay). Back home in Memphis, Tennessee, he decided to build his own group of motels.
As a young man, Wilson (born in 1913) displayed an entrepreneurial streak. To help support his widowed mother, Wilson earned money in many ways, including selling popcorn at a movie theater, leasing pinball machines, and working as a jukebox distributor. By the early 1950s, Wilson had made a name for himself in real estate, homebuilding, and the movie theater business.
Later in life, Kemmons Wilson tracked down his first popcorn machine and kept it in his office as a reminder of his early entrepreneurial pursuits. Detail, THF212457
Kemmons Wilson trusted his hunch that other travelers had the same demands as his own family -- quality lodging at fair prices. He opened his first group of motels, called “Holiday Inns,” in Memphis starting in 1952. Wilson’s gamble paid off -- within a few years, Holiday Inns had revolutionized industry standards and become the nation’s largest lodging chain.
An early Holiday Inn “Court” in Memphis, 1958THF120734
What set Holiday Inns apart? Consistent, quality service and amenities Guests could expect free parking, air conditioning, in-room telephones and TVs, free ice, and a pool and restaurant at each location. And -- Kemmons Wilson determined -- no extra charge for children!
Swimming Pool at Holiday Inn of Daytona Beach, Florida, 1961 THF104037
Thanks to the chain’s reliable offerings (including complimentary toiletries!), many guests chose a Holiday Inn for every trip.
Inspired by Holiday Inns’ success, competitors began offering many of the same services and amenities. Kemmons Wilson had set a new standard -- multistory motels with carpeted, air conditioned rooms became the norm.
"Sol-Mar Motel," an example of a Holiday Inn-style motel in Jacksonville Beach, Florida THF210272
Kemmons Wilson knew location was key. He chose sites on the right-hand side of major roadways (to make stopping convenient for travelers) and took risks, buying property based on plans for the new Interstate Highway System.
Holiday Inn adjacent to highways in Paducah, Kentucky, 1966 THF287335
Holiday Inns’ iconic “Great Signs” beckoned travelers along roadways across the country from the 1950s into the 1980s. Kemmons Wilson’s mother, Ruby “Doll” Wilson, selected the sign’s green and yellow color scheme. She also designed the décor of the original Holiday Inn guestrooms!
Holiday Inns unveiled a new "roadside" design in the late 1950s: two buildings -- one for guestrooms and one for the lobby, restaurant, and meeting spaces -- surrounding a recreational courtyard. These roadside Holiday Inns featured large glass walls. The inexpensive material lowered construction costs while creating a modern look and brightening guestrooms. The recreated Holiday Inn room in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation demonstrates the “glass wall” design. Take a virtual visit here.
Holiday Inn Courtyard, Lebanon, Tennessee, circa 1962 THF204446
After becoming a public company in 1957, Holiday Inns developed a network of manufacturers and suppliers to meet its growing operational needs. To help regulate and maintain standards, property managers (called “Innkeepers”) ordered nearly everything -- from linens and cleaning supplies to processed foods and promotional materials -- from a Holiday Inns subsidiary. This menu, printed by Holiday Inns’ own “Holiday Press,” shows how nearly every detail of a guest’s stay -- even meals -- met corporate specifications.
Holiday Inn Dinner Menu, February 15, 1964 THF287323
By the 1970s, with more than 1,400 locations worldwide, Holiday Inns had become a fixture of the global and cultural landscape. Founder Kemmons Wilson even made the cover of Time magazine.
We hope his story inspires you to make your own mark on the American landscape -- or at least take a fresh look at the roadside the next time you’re out for a drive, whether down the street or across the country!
Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content at The Henry Ford, has happy poolside memories from a childhood stay at one of Holiday Inns’ family-friendly “Holidome” concepts. For more on the Holiday Inn story, check out chapter 9 of "The Motel in America," by John Jakle, Keith Sculle, and Jefferson Rogers.
Rachel Carson devoted her early career to studying and writing about the ocean. During the 1950s, her poetic books about the sea brought her recognition and fame as an author.
Carson’s books helped build a new awareness about the environment. Her most important book, Silent Spring, released in 1962, asked Americans to examine the negative effects of widespread chemical pesticide use.
Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, linked human action to environmental destruction and ignited a national conversation. THF110029
During World War II, a chemical called DDT protected troops by killing disease-spreading insects. After the war, numerous products containing DDT became commercially available to American consumers for pest control.
In Silent Spring, Carson urged the public to live in harmony with nature and cautioned against the overuse of DDT, which destroyed insect populations and threatened other wildlife species. America reacted. The government banned DDT in 1972. The environmental movement—sparked in part by Carson’s book—continues today.
An interactive digital experience in Henry Ford Museum features the stories of Rachel Carson, Luther Burbank, and George Washington Carver.
Learn more about Carson’s life and work in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where a new digital experience in the Agriculture & the Environment exhibit explores
The post-WWII “chemical craze” that prompted Carson to act
The long-term environmental effects of pesticide misuse
Books and magazines from the beginning of the environmental movement
Carson’s influence on the evolution of environmental activism
We hope you enjoyed this week’s experiences focused on Staying Curious. Were you inspired to create or invent something? Please share your story or photos with us on social media using #WeAreInnovationNation!
If you missed anything from our series this past week, check out the recordings and resources below. We hope that you will join us this upcoming week to explore new themes drawn from our Model i Learning Framework, focusing on how innovators Take Risks.
What We Covered This Week How can we turn our questions into ideas, and our ideas into actions?
This Memorial Day weekend, bring a favorite recipe from Civil War Remembrance in Greenfield Village into your own home. Though the name of the dish is simple, the results are plentiful and could well feed an army. It’s also simple to make; the true key to this dish is cooking it over an open fire, but it can also be prepared on a kitchen stove over medium-to-high heat. Whichever method you choose, a large cast-iron skillet is essential to re-creating this dish.
A few tips from our chefs:
There's no wrong way to prepare this dish; add whatever herbs and spices you like.
Boil potatoes until tender; let cool, then peel and cut into 1-inch chunks. Slice sausage into 2-inch pieces. Slice apples into ½-inch pieces. Julienne onions into ½-inch slices. Preheat a large cast-iron skillet over the campfire (or on stove). Add the butter and sausage; cook until lightly browned. Add the apple slices, onion and garlic; cook for about 5 minutes. Top with the potatoes and let cook for a few minutes before stirring. The potatoes must be cool when added. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in. Let all cook together until everything is tender and the flavors are melded, about 10-20 minutes. Stir occasionally, but if you stir too much, it will be mushy.
On May 14 The Henry Ford recognized the 2020 winners of Invention Convention Michigan through a special awards ceremony hosted on our YouTube and Facebook channels. More than 2,600 students across the state participated in events leading up to the state final this year, with 155 students competing in the final competition.
Thank you to staff who participated in judging this year, our sponsors, and congratulations to the students listed below who have been invited to compete at Invention Convention U.S. Nationals.
Learn more about the winning inventions from the inventors themselves below along with our virtual awards ceremony.
Grades 3-5 Third Place: Falcon Saiabhiram Akkaraju, Grade 5, Novi Meadows Elementary, Novi Falcon (Flying Automated Litter Controller) is a Litter picking drone.
Second Place: Dispens-a-Ramp Diya Ural, Grade 4, Village Oaks Elementary, Novi
The Dispens-a-Ramp is an invention to help big dogs that are having a hard time getting into cars (especially, SUVs). Dispens-a-Ramp is a bi-foldable ramp with a built-in automatic treat dispenser. When the dog puts its paw on the button, it triggers the treat dispenser to dispense the treat into the bowl. Each Dispens-a-Ramp could have few dispensing units.This encourages the dog to move further onto the ramp and finally, into the car.
The main purpose of the invention is for the dogs to have a positive experience getting into the car. Hence, my motto is "One step to a Dog's Happy Journey".
First Place: Filtere – Water Filtration System John Tewolde, Grade 5, Brendel Elementary, Grand Blanc
Filtere is a water filter that can be used to filter contaminated water. It uses three types of water filtration methods - Granular Activated Carbon (GAC), Ion Exchange, and UV light. This germ-killing combination gets all 30 of the particles that could end up in water. It can be used in any container of water, and cleans ALL germs within 30 seconds. Water contamination is a large problem in the world that affects more than two billion people. Filtere is an affordable and effective solution to this problem.
Grades 6-8 Third Place: Piezo Power Samvith Mahesh, Grade 6, Novi Meadows Elementary, Novi
When pressure is applied to some special crystal structure deforms, atoms get pushed around, hence generating electricity and is known as Piezo electric affect. Our project is designing products that uses this science as an energy producer using energy humans exert while doing daily activities.
Second Place: Porch Pirate Preventer (P3) Akhilesh Shenoy and David Tauro, Grade 6, Novi Meadows Elementary, Novi
Did you know that over 1.7 million packages are stolen daily around the world? Our incredible Porch Pirate Preventer (P3) stops package theft of porch deliveries in a very cost-effective way.
Our device, which is made up of a chip, an accelerometer, a Piezo buzzer and a numeric keypad, uses a loud alarm to prevent thieves from taking delivered packages. The chip is programmed using Python to make the accelerometer and Piezo buzzer work with each other.
Once the package is placed on the homeowner's porch, the delivery person uses the keypad on the package to activate P3. He/she then sends a message to the package owner to let them know that the package is delivered and activated. Only the package owner can deactivate P3 using the keypad on the package. If the package is moved or a wrong code is entered, a loud alarm is set off.
Just as bottle returns work in many states, P3 is fully refundable for the package owner when returned to participating merchants. The company can then reuse P3 on future deliveries. So it's a win-win all around!
First Place: Reinnervate Suhani Dalela, Grade 8, Independent Inventor, Saline
Reinnervate is an alternative medicine based instant fatigue reduction device. Using World Health Organization's standardized meridian points, this device provides instant energy to the user without disrupting the activity they are doing.
Grade 9-12 Third Place and Howard & Howard Patent Award: EcoRinse Elizabeth Li, Grade 12, Huron High School, Ann Arbor
EcoRinse is a robust, redesigned showering system that aims to reduce water waste in the shower. It redirects cold water that sits in pipes into the water heating system so that the cold water can be reused as hot shower water instead of flowing down the drain while the user waits for water to heat up in the shower.
Second Place: Perceive the Puzzle Jayden Smith and Siena Smith, Grade 12, Huron High School, Ann Arbor
Perceive the Puzzle is a portable EEG for autistic individuals. The device allows caregivers to monitor brain activity, helping them to address episodes of stress quickly and easily. This is something that you can't find anywhere on the market and hits close to home for us. Our project was inspired by our Uncle Mark who was diagnosed with autism with he was four so we wanted to make something that would help him!
Grand Prize and First Place: AstroTrack: An Efficient Approach to Minor Planet Recovery, Detection, and Characterization Anirudh Cowlagi, Grade 12, Huron High School, Ann Arbor
Advances in the field of planetary science, particularly concerning our own solar system, have been dramatic over the last few decades. These advancements owe largely to developments in observing technology and more comprehensive astronomical surveys across the world. However, with these copious amounts of new data comes a need for more effective methods of analysis. This project offers a solution to the issue by presenting an efficient Python-based approach to aid with the detection, recovery, and characterization of minor planets in the solar system (asteroids, trans-neptunian objects, Kuiper Belt objects, etc.).
There's something special about chocolate. It makes us feel better when we're down, gives us energy when we're tired, even evokes memories of long-ago childhood experiences. In fact, this "feel-good" food contains more than 300 known chemicals that act upon the brain to uplift our mood, increase alertness, reduce stress, and possibly even enhance memory. Indeed, it seems apt that chocolate's scientific name, Theobrama cacao, means "food of the gods"--a reference to its use in ancient Mayan and Aztec ceremonies.
The history of chocolate in America is filled with unique and significant innovations--innovations that transformed this food from an elite luxury to an affordable and appealing staple in almost everyone's diet. Read on to learn more about a few "feel-good" classics from America's rich chocolate heritage.
Recipe Booklet, "Favorite Chocolate Recipes made with Nestle's Semi-Sweet Chocolate," 1940. THF125194
Chocolate Chip Cookies In the late 1930s, Ruth Wakefield “invented” the chocolate chip cookie while baking some of her favorite cookies. Wakefield was a dietitian and food lecturer until she and her husband opened the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. At the Toll House, she served home-cooked meals for tourists and local customers.
Bosco Drink Mix Advertisement, 1963, "What New Bosco and a Shaker Will Do for You" . THF125198
Bosco® Chocolate Syrup If you're a Baby Boomer, chances are that the word "Bosco®" almost immediately brings to mind the jingle from the old television commercial, beginning with the verse:
I love Bosco®, It's rich and chocolate-y; Chocolate-flavored Bosco® Is mighty good for me.
The advertisement pictured here was a direct appeal to the moms of these TV-watching kids. It not only promised a convenient shaker, but claimed that the new recipe was "super-fortified" for healthy, growing children.
Bosco®, introduced in 1928, was apparently no match for the products of the more dominant brands, like Hershey's chocolate syrup (1926) and Nestle's Quik (1948). Yet, Bosco® not only still exists, but is happily living on in our popular culture--its jingle was even included in the soundtrack of the movie Shrek 2.
Nabisco Oreo Cookies Advertisement, "Oh! Oh! OREO!," 1951 . THF125200
Oreos® Youngsters from virtually every generation of the last century have been able to enjoy an Oreo® cookie dipped in a glass of whole milk, or have mischievously "unscrewed" the chocolate disks of an Oreo® to eat its creamy center. Oreo® cookies were introduced by Nabisco in 1912, to compete with the British "biscuit"-type cookies that Nabisco claimed were too "ordinary." The first Oreos® were available with either lemon meringue or white cream filling.
Over 500 billion Oreo® cookies have been sold since they were first introduced, making them the best-selling cookie of the 20th century.
S'mores Chocolate seems to blend perfectly with crispy Graham crackers and soft, puffy marshmallows. Products combining these three ingredients have been around for almost a century, including Mallomars (Nabisco, 1913) and Moon Pies (Chattanooga Bakery, Tennessee, 1917). No one knows who invented S'mores, the camping treat made by sandwiching a toasted marshmallow and a piece of chocolate between two graham crackers. The recipe for these gooey, delicious treats first appeared in the 1927 Girl Scout Handbook as "Some Mores." Today, portable restaurant and home kits are bringing the fun of making and eating S'mores indoors.
Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. A version of this post originally ran in 2008 as part of our Pic of the Month series.
We hope you enjoyed this week’s experiences focused on Being Empathetic. Were you inspired to show empathy? To create or invent? Please share your story or photos with us on social media using #WeAreInnovationNation!
If you missed anything from our series this past week, check out the recordings and resources below. We hope that you will join us this upcoming week to explore new themes drawn from our Model i Learning Framework, focusing on Stay Curious.
STEAM Stories Join us for a reading of Get Up, Stand Up by Bob Marley and Cedella Marley and then learn about wood and fabric using a lesson from our early childhood curriculum, Innovate for Tots. Watch the video here.
Innovation Journeys Live! Join us for an Innovation Journey Live and learn how innovations in hearing and speech technologies provide accessibility options for many during our interview with Kristen Gallerneaux, Communication and Information Technology.
#THFCuratorChat Get a feel for what Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson shared during our most recent #THFCuratorChat, highlighting our partners at AAA.
Kid Inventor Profile In our Friday segment we will learn how empathy for others inspired this Invention Convention US Nationals winner to develop software to help doctors screen for cancer. This week we feature Vidya Srinivas, Invention Convention Michigan’s grand prize winner and first place winner in the 12th grade category at Nationals last year. Her invention, AutoImage is a cell-counting and identifying software that is intended to minimize the amount of time that researchers spend on manual labor during the cancer research process, enabling faster, more accurate, and more cost-effective cancer research. Watch video here.
Learn more below about how our Invention Convention Curriculum activities can to keep your child innovating here:
Resource Highlight: Innovate Curriculum
In our continued efforts to help parents, students and educators during these times of uncertainty, The Henry Ford is providing helpful tips that assist parents in adapting its educational tools for implementation at home.
This week we are again highlighting a lesson from the Innovate Curriculum. Designed to accelerate core discipline performance, Innovate helps middle and high school students connect their subject matter to real-world applications through innovation understanding and skills development, unleashing every student’s potential to develop groundbreaking ideas. Students journey from learning the habits and actions of innovators to unleashing the innovator within.
Create your free account today to access four interactive courses featuring: - Primary source digital artifacts from The Henry Ford’s Archive of American Innovation - Dynamic lessons with real-life stories - Learn-by-doing activities and interactive content that helps prepare students and their prototypes to participate in competitions - Exclusive interviews with past and present visionaries - Celebrity-led tours of today’s most exciting start-ups - Facilitator guides that help educators and parents guide their students through the courses
Keep in mind that these courses were designed to be completed in a classroom setting, so feel free to adapt the courses for home use. These courses can be done on their own or in any order, but the recommended sequence is as follows:
INNOVATE 101: Inspire Our Future as an Innovative Thinker Students learn about the unique qualities that make an innovator, and how innovative thinking can not only solve problems but create world-changing social transformation.
INNOVATE 102: Solve Our Problems Students learn how innovators uncover insights, define problems, design prototypes and optimize solutions.
INNOVATE 103:Unleash Your Ideas as You Learn to Think Like an Entrepreneur Students discover how to move ideas forward by identifying customers, what to do to protect their ideas, how to communicate with an audience and how to pitch to investors.
INNOVATE 104:Activate Your Potential Students get to apply what they have learned and turn an idea into action. They will uncover an issue, come up with a solution, identify the users and create a unique prototype that they develop, showcase and pitch to others.
If your child is inspired to create an innovation of their own, check out Innovate 102, Lesson 2: Learning What People Need. Use the Innovate 102 facilitator’s guide and the tips below to guide your experience.
To prep for Lesson 2, you may want to first look at Innovate 102, Lesson 1: Uncovering a Need.
Begin by discussing what “innovation” means. You can use Innovate 101, Lesson 1 to help frame the conversation.
Spend some time talking about the Actions of Innovation and the Habits of an Innovator – which ones have you used before? Which ones are less familiar? See page 2.
Encourage your child to start keeping a “design journal” – see page 1 of the facilitator guide for more details.
Talk about why it is important to talk to people who will use your innovation.
Think about the difference between closed- and open-ended questions. Why are open-ended questions more valuable when trying to find out what people need?
In this lesson, entrepreneur Will Allen demonstrates the power of open-ended questions. Can your child think of times when they asked open-ended questions? Closed-ended questions? Was there a difference in the types of answers they received?
Practice asking open-ended questions with your child. Learning how to understand what people need is an important skill for all ages! Parents and educators can learn more about Model i here.
Thanks to AAA Auto Club Group for sponsoring this week’s events.
While working for Ford Motor Company, Thompson conceived of an idea for an all-terrain vehicle that would do for Third World countries what the Model T did for America. This post highlights Thompson’s life and career as the first African-American automobile designer and sheds light on his little-known project for a vehicle ahead of its time, dubbed the Warrior.
Finding His Passion On an October afternoon in 1934, 12-year-old McKinley Thompson, Jr., was stopped in his tracks while walking home from school. The reason? He had spotted a brand-new silver DeSoto Airflow, the first silver-colored and streamlined vehicle he had ever seen. In an interview from 2001, Thompson recalled that “the clouds opened up for the sunshine to come through… It lit that car up like a searchlight.” Awestruck by the unique design of the car, it was right then and there that Thompson knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: an automobile designer.
McKinley Thompson, Jr., undated (Photograph Courtesy of McKinley Thompson, Jr.)
In his youth, Thompson showed promise in drawing and was particularly interested in futuristic themes. He participated in commercial art courses throughout high school and, upon graduation in 1940, completed drafting courses where he learned to plan projects and present his ideas through drawings and concept illustrations. With these skills, Thompson acquired his first job as a draftsman with the National Youth Administration. He then worked as an engineering design layout coordinator for the Army Signal Corps until he was drafted to serve in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. Following the war, he continued working for the Signal Corps until 1953, when he found an opportunity to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an automobile designer.
Seizing the Opportunity
“Do you want to be an Automotive Designer” contest article from Motor Trend magazine, March 1953 THF299257
In March of 1953, Motor Trend magazine sponsored an Automotive and Industrial Design contest with the goal of discovering talented young adults. The prize? One of five, four-year tuition-free scholarships to the prestigious Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles – one of the most respected schools for industrial design. Contest entry required several drawings and sketches, photographs, or models of cars and other products, along with an essay responding to the prompt, “What I think the trend in automotive design will be in the next ten years.” For McKinley Thompson, this was the chance of a lifetime – and he won.
McKinley Thompson’s winning entry in the article, “From Dream to Drawing Board to…?” in Motor Trend magazine, September 1953. In his essay, Thompson wrote that cars of the future would sacrifice aerodynamics to accommodate “more functional roominess and reduced size.” THF299268
Thompson’s gas turbine car, which incorporated reinforced plastic (an unusual choice of material at the time), won him the top prize. Thompson became the first African American to attend the Art Center, where he excelled throughout his course of study. After graduation, Thompson was offered a job with Ford Motor Company in the Advanced Styling Studio, finally realizing his childhood dream and breaking a barrier by becoming the first African-American automobile designer.
In the Advanced Styling Studio, designers were given a great deal of creative freedom. This suited Thompson’s interest in futuristic themes, allowing him to contribute sketches for fantastical ideas, such as a flying car and a nuclear-powered multi-trailered truck. He also worked on the Allegro and Gyron concept cars and collaborated on design ideas for the production Mustang and Bronco.
The Warrior While Thompson’s career at Ford gave him the opportunity to work on a variety of vehicles and concepts that could change the automotive industry, his most innovative idea had the potential to change the world. Thompson envisioned an all-terrain vehicle for Third World countries that would be easy to build and maintain, with low production costs. But his vision extended beyond the vehicle, which he dubbed the Warrior. He anticipated auto plants – located in the developing nations that would use the car – bringing jobs, better roads, and eventual economic independence to the host countries. Much like how the Model T brought America into the modern age and stimulated the economy through accessible and affordable mobility, Thompson believed the Warrior could do the same for Third World nations.
His program was called “Project Vanguard.” The plan was to use Uniroyal plastic components – known as Royalex – because they were lightweight, durable, and relatively cost-efficient. The first phase of the plan involved building a facility where Royalex could be fabricated for use on the Warrior and other assets. The second phase would involve the building of the vehicle division (to encompass the Warrior and other future vehicles), followed by a marine division for constructing boats, and a container division where “habitat modules” would be fabricated for housing. Though Ford Motor Company was supportive when Thompson first brought his idea to the company in 1965, Ford ultimately passed on the project in 1967, believing that the vehicle would not sell in large enough quantities to warrant the investment.
Despite this setback, Thompson still believed that his vehicle could succeed. He thought that if he produced a prototype car and could demonstrate the possibilities of this unique application of Royalex, he could garner interest for investment in the program. He gathered several friends to help in financing the Warrior prototype, including Wally Triplett – the first African American to play in the National Football League (for the Detroit Lions). By day, McKinley Thompson drafted concept drawings for Ford, but by night he worked tirelessly to bring his Warrior to life in a rented garage on Detroit’s west side.
Once his prototype was complete, Thompson and his partners attempted to market it to other investors and groups. They reached out to the Small Business Administration, which turned them down because the endeavor would take place outside the United States. They tried to gain assistance from the Agency for International Development but received little interest. A group of people at Chrysler, who assisted small businesses in getting started, suggested to Thompson that he first establish a market for Royalex in the United States. Plastic-bodied vehicles were still an unusual concept, and American automakers at the time were only experimenting with the idea on a limited scale. Thompson realized he was caught in a classic catch-22: He needed a Royalex facility to establish a market for plastic-bodied vehicles, but he couldn’t get the facility built without an existing market for plastic-bodied vehicles.
Instability on the African continent derailed opportunities to conduct business with the nations themselves. Thompson even tried to secure a bank loan to build Warrior cars in Detroit, but he was ultimately denied in this attempt as well. (Triplett later recounted that he felt that race played a role.) While every potential investor he approached told him it was a good idea, Thompson simply was unable to secure the funding needed to pursue his idea, eventually causing him to shut down the project in 1979.
Image from a 1965 Royalex sales brochure, showing the possibilities of an amphibious vehicle using Royalex materials. Interestingly, the Warrior was designed to be an all-terrain vehicle – including use for crossing rivers and small inland lakes! Click here to check out the rest of this brochure in which Uniroyal has suggested other uses for Royalex. THF290896
An Inspiring Career Around the same time that the doors were closing on the Warrior, Thompson developed another way to influence and change people’s lives. He coordinated a traveling exhibit, featuring the work of other African-American automobile designers, to motivate and encourage young people toward careers in design. Thompson traveled across the country, staging his exhibit in schools and shopping centers.
Photograph from the Ford Motor Company publication, “Rouge News,” March 19, 1962 THF299429
McKinley Thompson had an impressive 28-year career with Ford. In 1962 he was awarded Ford’s highest honor for community service, the Citizen of the Year Award. He contributed to a variety of projects (including experimental concept cars), worked in the Thunderbird and Falcon design studios, and eventually oversaw 50 craftspeople and modelers before retiring in 1984.
Despite his career success, Thompson continued to regret that his Warrior vehicle and overall program never materialized – though he was proud of his accomplishment in building the Warrior and proving it’s basic feasibility. The Warrior project was ahead of its time in design and philosophy. The extensive use of plastic, so common today, was revolutionary at the time. Mr. Thompson’s larger economic prophecy was partially fulfilled in 1995 when Ewert Smith’s URI, an all-terrain vehicle designed for African topography, was manufactured in the small town of Witvlei, Namibia. The URI plant became Witvlei’s largest employer, providing economic stability to the area.
Even though the Warrior never made it to market, Thompson kept the car as a leisure vehicle, taking it on family vacations and occasionally using it to run errands – usually attracting a fair amount of attention. Thompson donated his prototype to The Henry Ford in 2001.
McKinley Thompson, Jr., passed away at the age of 83, after battling Parkinson’s disease, in 2006.
Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford. This post expands upon Bart Bealmear’s “The Warrior,” blog post from February 2014. Special thanks to Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation, for his help in reviewing the content.