Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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Lee and Kendra in partnership with their signed Memoranda of Understanding.

The Henry Ford recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its acquisition of The STEMIE Coalition, an alliance of youth invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship programs committed to teaching K-12 students the innovative mindset. The program has seen considerable success and continues to rapidly expand globally under a new brand, Invention Convention Worldwide. This week, The Henry Ford welcomed its affiliated program leadership from as far away as Singapore and Ukraine and from across the U.S. to collaborate and share best practices to advance youth invention education worldwide.

New to the community, and representing all K-12 students across the Republic of Korea, is the Korea Invention Promotion Association (KIPA), a relative analog to our U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) government agency’s educational and outreach activities. KIPA was established in 1994 to promote intellectual property rights – patents, trademarks, copyrights, and more – and expand patent management support for companies across South Korea.

Today, KIPA is overseeing an audacious goal -- to train all students in Korea in the process of invention. The Republic of Korea is the first country in the world to legislate that all students in grades 4-12 receive annual training in the invention process. KIPA has created a wealth of content to support teachers across Korea, including classroom materials, training for teachers, and national events designed to excite, guide, and celebrate young inventors.

The Henry Ford shares this mission – that within every child exists the potential to change the world. Under The Innovation Project and the Invention Convention Worldwide initiative, The Henry Ford is seeking to convene and collaborate with the world’s leading changemakers around invention education, and work to develop an innovative mindset in students everywhere.

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Lee and Kendra enjoy an authentic Model-T ride through The Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village.

KIPA and The Henry Ford Invention Convention Worldwide will collaborate to expand invention education across Korea, the U.S., and worldwide, working with the World IP Organization (WIPO). KIPA and The Henry Ford will take advantage of The Henry Ford’s extensive collection of stories and artifacts across 300 years of American Innovation – not to mention its curated lesson plans, teacher training, and digital media. They will similarly leverage KIPA’s own deep educator written, audio, video, and software content and tools in invention learning. Together, KIPA and The Henry Ford will build new and expanded pathways for young inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs to build life-long skills and innovative mindsets.

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Carol Kendra, Vice President of The Henry Ford, welcomed Du Seong Lee, Vice President of KIPA, along with Jimmy Han, Director and Danny Yoo, Section Manager, to The Henry Ford for a formal signing ceremony of the new partnership. Set against the backdrop of the world’s first research and development laboratory, the original renowned Menlo Labs of Thomas Edison, Lee and Kendra exchanged signatures, memoranda of understanding, and gifts to celebrate the occasion. The signing was held on the second floor of Edison’s lab where Edison first successfully created his first working light bulb, lighting up the world.

Lee and his staff joined American school children in a viewing a demonstration of one of the original first 200 working phonograph devices.  As Global Director of the Invention Convention Worldwide program, I presented Lee with an actual recording from the historic phonograph.

The Henry Ford and KIPA will begin collaborations and planning starting in October in Korea on joint efforts.  The Henry Ford’s President and CEO Patricia Mooradian received the Korean delegation in her offices and invited KIPA to discuss how we might include young Korean inventors at our Invention Convention showcases and competitions globally, and to work together to cultivate each child’s skill sets to create solutions to our world’s most pressing problems. Among the potential areas for collaboration include application of The Henry Ford’s digital assets, including clips from its award-winning Innovation Nation and Did I mention Invention? television shows and digital artifact cards from its 26 million piece collection, to KIPAs extensive content for educators, and creating new artificial reality and gaming approaches to invention education.

The Henry Ford’s Invention Convention Worldwide initiative is part of its Innovation Learning suite of learning resources, and today impacts more than 120,000 students across its affiliated network of partners.

Danny Briere is Chief Entrepreneur Officer and Global Director, Invention Convention Worldwide, at The Henry Ford.

The Henry Ford was recently recognized by WXYZ as one of the most Instagrammable spots in metro Detroit. If you’re always striving for that perfect Instagram post, here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned in the Photography Studio at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

First, composition is key. Make sure to take a look around you as you compose your shot—what do you want to include? Sometimes an interesting angle, or an object in the foreground, can change your picture drastically. Make sure to walk around a bit before you snap your shot, or take multiples, and see which one you like best.

Take, for instance, this image I took of the water tower.  By keeping it in the background, and other things in the foreground, it changes the photo to a view you might not see right away.

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Similarly, going for a different angle can make for an interesting photo, especially when it’s something like Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park lab. Most people see its profile while walking by, and don’t look back when they’re exiting, but just seeing it from another perspective makes it look like an entirely different building.

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Another thing to keep in mind is lighting, especially if you’re outside in Greenfield Village. On a sunny day, you want to make sure the sun is at your back, and if you’re taking photos of people, make sure it’s not in their eyes. On a gloomy day, always make sure to play around with the saturation and brightness/contrast before you post your picture. These little things can go a long way and can turn the grayest of photos a bit more vibrant!

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An overcast day at the Roundhouse can still have a pop of color.

For larger subjects, it comes back to angles. If you’re having a hard time fitting everything in the frame, take a couple steps back, or turn your focus to the details. Sometimes the most interesting photos come from looking at something a little more closely.

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And finally, lighting and exposure are important things to take into account when you’re going for the perfect shot. Though cell phones don’t allow as much control over exposure as cameras do, there’s still a lot that can be done. Take, for instance, these photos of the McDonald’s sign over by Lamy’s. By adjusting the exposure, we get a much more dynamic photo.

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Hopefully some of these tips will help you out the next time you’re wandering about the museum or village. What’s your favorite place to take photos here at The Henry Ford? Show us! Use #THFPhoto and show off your work.

Jillian Ferraiuolo is Digital Imaging Specialist at The Henry Ford.

Collecting in the 2000s

September 21, 2019

By the late 20th century, competition for the public’s leisure time was fierce and audience expectations were changing. Museum staff laid the foundation for a new generation of offerings in several distinct and separate venues—creating a unique, multi-day destination opportunity for local and out-of-town guests. These included: Henry Ford Museum, featuring a new changing exhibit gallery in 2003; Greenfield Village, refreshed and reimagined in 2003; IMAX® Theatre, opened in 1999; Benson Ford Research Center, opened in 2002; and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour, created in partnership with Ford Motor Company in 2004 and featuring a fully functioning, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. Adding so many new venues to the museum led to a name change to encompass them all—The Henry Ford. 

The Henry Ford acquired its Douglas DC-3 airplane in 1975. Due to its size, the plane initially was displayed outside Henry Ford Museum. In 2002, the plane was disassembled and thoroughly conserved to correct the effects of 27 years of weather exposure. The treated DC-3 was reassembled for display inside the museum in 2003. 

In September 2001, an article in the Wall Street Journal announced that the Rosa Parks bus would be auctioned online in October, and we immediately began researching this opportunity. 

We spoke to people involved in the original 1955 events, to those who planned other museum exhibits, and to historians. A forensic document examiner was hired to see if the scrapbook was authentic. A Museum conservator went to Montgomery to personally examine the bus. 

Convinced that this was the Rosa Parks bus, we decided to bid on the bus in the Internet auction. 

The bidding began at $50,000 on October 25, 2001 and went until 2:00 AM the next morning. We persevered, with our staff bidding $492,000 to outbid others who wanted the bus, including the Smithsonian Institution and the City of Denver. At the same time, our team also bought the scrapbook and a Montgomery City Bus Lines driver's uniform. 

Collecting in the 2000s 

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Pig Pen Variation and Mosaic Medallion Quilt by Susana Allen Hunter, 1950-1955
Recent decades found curators gathering objects and stories of previously underrepresented groups. In 2006, the museum acquired 30 quilts made by African American quiltmaker Susana Hunter. After working the fields of her rural Alabama tenant farm and tending to her family's needs, Susana Hunter sat down to lavish her creativity on quiltmaking. On-the-fly inspiration--rather than tradition--guided her improvisational creations made from the worn clothing and fabric scraps available to her. Along with Susana Hunter’s quilts came quilting and household equipment from her simple, two-room house that had no running water, electricity, or central heat. - Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life

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Everlast "Fallen Leaves" Relish Tray, 1940 – 1941 
During the early 2000s, curators sought out collections representing entrepreneurial stories to broaden our holdings. From the 1930s into the 1960s, the Everlast Metal Products Company manufactured aluminum giftware, which became fashionable during the Depression as an alternative to silver. Founded by immigrant brothers-in-law in Brooklyn, New York, they also partnered with designers, such as Russel and Mary Wright, who designed this relish tray. - Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts 

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"Monarch Coffee" Thermos, circa 1931
The Henry Ford opened "Heroes of the Sky" in 2003, just in time to commemorate the centennial of the Wright brothers' first flight. Several pieces were acquired in advance of the exhibit, but this simple little vacuum flask is a favorite. It's a relatable object that helps us to imagine those early days of open cockpits and seat-of-the-pants navigation -- when a pilot had little more than coffee with which to keep warm and alert. - Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation 

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4-H Uniform, circa 1948
The 4-H began as a youth program in Ohio in 1902 and by 1914 it became an official program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Federal Extension Service and cooperating state-based land-grant colleges. Boys and girls formed and managed their own local clubs. Ruth Ann Goodell joined the Eden Willing Workers 4-H Club near Garrison, Iowa, in 1942 when she was 10 years old. She sewed this uniform during the late 1940s, likely applying sewing skills she learned through club activities. The Henry Ford, anticipating the 100th anniversary of 4-H, collected this uniform as evidence of rural and farm youth culture.- Debra A. Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment 

What We Wore: Kids!

September 19, 2019

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As we continue to celebrate our first year of What We Wore--our new collections platform in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation--a new group of garments from The Henry Ford’s rich collection of clothing and accessories makes its debut.

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This season it’s all about kids.

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Sailor Suit, about 1925
Sailor suits were popular from the 1870s into the 1930s—with short or long pants for boys and skirts for girls. These nautically-themed outfits were usually made of sturdy washable fabrics and, though stylish, allowed kids a bit more freedom of movement.

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Jumper and Blouse, 1958–1960
(Gift of Mary Sherman)
In the 1950s, girls still wore dresses or skirts much of the time—for formal occasions and for school. Pants were play clothes—what girls wore after school to run around the yard or play indoors.

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"Wrecker" Coordinating Shirt and Pants, 1978
(Gift of Diana and John Mio)
Designs with kid appeal often appear on children’s casual clothing— images like cars and trucks, princesses, dinosaurs, animals, butterflies, and monsters.

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Blouse and Pant Outfit, about 1935
This girl’s casual outfit was inspired by adult fashion—beach pajamas, informal resort wear sporting wide pantlegs. Cheerful, pastel prints were popular during the Depression era.

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Leisure Suit, 1977
(Gift of Diana and John Mio)
The casual and versatile leisure suit reached the height of popularity with adult men in 1977, when John Travolta wore a white version to the disco in the movie Saturday Night Fever.  Even kids donned this ultimate—and short-lived—1970s fashion trend.

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Dress, about 1920
(Gift in Memory of Augusta Denton Roddis)
In the 1920s, simple dresses were preferred for younger girls. Linen fabric and pale colors were popular for summer wear. The understated details on this dress are embroidered, crocheted and tatted—the children’s mother was a skilled needlewoman.

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The Building Blocks of Childhood

Children love to build things--whether they create imaginary worlds or smaller versions of the real one.  Construction toys are quite literally and figuratively “the building blocks of childhood.”  Playing with them builds physical and intellectual skills--and encourages creativity.  Toy bricks, logs, and girders are the stuff of playtime joy!

Entrepreneurs have introduced innovative construction toys that have delighted new generations of children.  Which is your favorite? For the LEGO fans, Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO® Bricks, a first-of-its-kind, limited-engagement exhibition, is rising up in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation October 12 through January 5, 2020.

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Erector Set No. 1, about 1915

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Junior Tinkertoy for Beginners Set, 1937-1946

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American Plastic Bricks, about 1955 (
Gift of Miriam R. Epstein)

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Lincoln Logs, about 1960 (
Gift of Steven K. Hamp)

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Lego Building Set, 1976-1983

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Dream Builders Super Blocks Building Set, 1991-1992

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Recipe Booklet, “Joys of Jell-O,” circa 1962
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As Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, I research objects within The Henry Ford’s collections that tell entrepreneurial stories. Most recently, I delved into the Recipe Booklet Collection, which includes recipe booklets and pamphlets from 1852-2006. In researching the many companies represented within the collection I became intrigued by the recipe booklets, and the entrepreneurial story, of the much beloved dessert: Jell-O.

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Colorful drawings in the recipe booklet, “Jell-O, America’s Most Famous Dessert,” 1916 THF294400

For more than a century, Jell-O has been served at family gatherings, pot-lucks, and barbeques, becoming an American icon.

Jell-O is made with two primary ingredients: sugar and gelatin. Gelatin is made by extracting collagen from boiled animal bones, hooves, and tissue. Known for its binding capabilities, gelatin has been used as a recipe ingredient for centuries, particularly for molded desserts. Originally, gelatin dishes were most common in wealthy households where servants could be tasked with the time-consuming and unsavory work of making gelatin.

Gelatin is odorless and flavorless, always an added ingredient to a recipe and never a stand-alone dish. Advances in gelatin production eventually led to its packaged powdered form – an innovation that erased the time-consuming preparation and made the product available to nearly everyone. Still, sugar and spices had to be added by the maker. In 1897, Pearle Wait, a carpenter and patent medicine producer, combined fruit flavoring and sugar with gelatin powder to create a pre-packaged fruit-flavored dessert that just required boiling water and some time to cool and set. Pearle Wait and his wife, May, were amazed by the delicious result and the couple believed it would thrive in the packaged food business. May is attributed with having given the Jell-O name to the new product.

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Insert within the recipe booklet, “Jell-O Ice Cream Powder: Doesn’t That Look Good?” circa 1910 THF294409

The name “Jell-O” followed a trend at the time of adding an “O” to the end of product names.

With a catchy name and what he thought was a product full of potential, Pearle Wait attempted to sell his new product door-to-door. Unfortunately, Wait lacked the resources necessary to market his innovation, let alone hire salesmen. Less than two years after creating Jell-O, Wait sold the rights to the product and name to a fellow patent medicine competitor, Orator F. Woodward, for $450.

As owner of the Genesee Pure Food Company, Woodward had already experienced success with his health drink, Grain-O. After acquiring the rights to Jell-O, Woodward quickly created advertising for the promising product, but he too struggled to make a profit. He was so frustrated by his lack of initial success that he offered the Jell-O rights to one of his employees for $35. The man refused, which turned out to be extremely fortunate for Woodward. By 1902, his struggling Jell-O business had become a quarter-million-dollar success.

Some believe that this slow start was due to the fact that homemakers prided themselves on their homemaking skills. Ready-made products, such as Jell-O, were looked down upon as too simplistic, requiring no skill. Ironically, the product owed its success to recipe booklets, which provided creative uses for this ready-made product. As early as 1902, booklets were distributed by finely dressed salesmen who went door-to-door on distinctive wagons drawn by well-groomed horses. Once every household in a given area had a recipe booklet, a salesman would go to the local grocer and advise him to stock Jell-O to meet the impending demand. The recipe booklets were a huge success. Jell-O became a household name as homemakers across the country marveled at the “magic” dessert that could be transformed into a colorful dish for any occasion.

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Page from the recipe booklet, “Jell-O, America’s Most Famous Dessert,” 1916 THF294401

Jell-O booklets included recipes for a variety of desserts. Some recipes called for additional ingredients of whipped cream, or fresh or canned fruit, while others suggested homemakers use a gelatin mold or specialty serving dishes for a beautiful, sophisticated presentation. 

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Recipe Booklet, “The Jell-O Girl Entertains,” circa 1930 THF294510

Jell-O introduced one of its most successful marketing strategies, the Jell-O Girl, in 1904. She helped reinforce the idea that children loved Jell-O and proved that it was easy to make – so easy a child could do it. In this booklet, the Jell-O Girl tells readers that she’s hosting a party and wants to serve her favorite dessert, Jell-O. The booklet includes the Jell-O Girl’s favorite party recipes and describes tips every hostess should know.

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Back cover for the recipe booklet, “Polly Put the Kettle On We’ll All Make Jell-O,” 1924 THF294438

Heavy advertising contributed to Jell-O’s success. For some marketing campaigns, Jell-O enlisted prominent artists, including Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish, who designed the image featured here. 


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Page from recipe booklet, “Jell-O Secrets for the Automatic Refrigerator,” 1929 THF294522

Although Jell-O became known as “America’s Most Famous Dessert,” it was also suggested as an ingredient in appetizers, molded vegetable salads, and entrées.

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Cover and page from the recipe booklet, “New Jell-O Recipes Made with the New Flavor Lime,” Circa 1930 THF294532

In 1897, Jell-O was sold in four flavors: Strawberry, Raspberry, Orange, and Lemon. By 1906, the Genesee Pure Food Company introduced Cherry and Chocolate, with Peach following soon after. Lime Jell-O debuted in 1930.

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Page from the recipe booklet, “Polly Put the Kettle On We’ll All Make Jell-O,” 1924 THF294430Jell-O became a sensation, with factories producing over 1,200 packages per minute by 1924.

By 1923, Jell-O sales had far surpassed the Genesee Pure Food Company’s other ventures, prompting the company to formally change its name to the Jell-O Company. Two years later, in 1925, the Jell-O Company Inc., was sold to Postum Cereal Company, Inc., which would later become part of the large conglomerate General Foods Corporation.

Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford. Her favorite Jell-O recipe is for what her mother calls “Raspberry Fluff,” made with cottage cheese, Cool Whip, and a dry Raspberry Jell-O package.

advertising, Jell-o

As Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, I research objects within The Henry Ford’s collections that tell entrepreneurial stories. Most recently, I delved into the Label Collection’s food labels – a collection of beautiful labels from canned food and West Coast fruit crates. While examining this collection, I was drawn to the eye-catching and artistic designs and took note of the lithographers’ signatures. A recurring name was the Schmidt Lithograph Company. Further research in our collections database revealed other items designed by this lithography firm, including seed packets and a recipe booklet. These objects help tell the story of Max Schmidt and the evolution of his successful company.

thf293997Crate Label, “Victor Vineyard Tokay Grapes,” circa 1920, designed by Schmidt Lithograph Company THF293997

Max Schmidt was born in Germany in 1850. At the age of fourteen – not wanting to enter his family’s traditional medical practice – Schmidt set sail around the world for six years as a cabin boy, arriving in San Francisco in 1871. Speaking little to no English, Schmidt took odd jobs until he found himself working for engraving and lithography companies. These new jobs in California gave him the opportunity to hone his artistic skills.

In 1874, Schmidt ventured into a partnership with Frederick Beuhler, creating pictorial cuts for local newspapers. A “cut” refers to an image or illustration that can be reproduced through mass printing. Traditionally, this would have been done using woodcuts, but Schmidt and Beuhler utilized the new etching technique known as zincography. This process, which involved using a stylus to cut lines into a zinc metal plate, was more efficient and allowed their company to quickly become the printing plate supplier for all the San Francisco newspapers.

thf294037Crate Label, “River Lad Brand Asparagus,” 1940-1950, designed by Schmidt Lithograph Company THF294037

In 1876, Schmidt went into business on his own, creating M. Schmidt & Company, which produced stock certificates and colored labels utilizing the process of stone lithography. This involved drawing images on soft stone, like limestone, and transferring the image from the stone to paper using a printing press. Several years later in 1883, the company was incorporated as Schmidt Label & Lithographic Company.

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Crate Label, “Edna Alma Rancho Brand Grapes,” 1883-1899 THF294345

signature-closeupClose-up view of the lithographer signature on the Edna Alma Rancho label THF294349

Lithographic firms often included a signature on their designs so that people would know who created them. Today, these signatures can help us date the labels in our collection. In this case, because we know the name “Schmidt Label & Lithographic Company” was used from 1883--1899, we know the label was created within that date range.

With the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, more produce than ever before was being shipped across the country to eastern markets. Competition among growers and packing companies increased the necessity for labels, which aided in product and brand identification. In the 1870s and 1880s, the lithography industry in California swelled to meet the demand for labels. Los Angeles and San Francisco – where Schmidt’s company emerged as an industry leader – became major hubs for lithography.

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Just as his business was flourishing, Max Schmidt experienced a series of setbacks that could have very easily been the end of his lithography business. An unfortunate string of fires destroyed his factory in 1884 and again in 1886. Despite his misfortune, Max Schmidt – and his company’s reputation – persevered to continue producing high-quality commercial lithographs, including labels for fruit crates, canned fruits and vegetables, and canned salmon from the Pacific Northwest. 

The turn of the century saw a trend towards consolidation of the lithography industry. Out of the dozens of lithograph companies that had opened to meet the demand for labels and other commercial lithographs, several larger companies emerged as the leaders. By this time, Schmidt’s company was one of the most well-known in the industry. Following the consolidation trend, Schmidt acquired San Francisco-based Dickman-Jones and the label department from H. S. Crocker to form the Mutual Label & Lithographic Company in 1899. Throughout the early 1900s, the Los Angeles-based firms of Western Lithograph Company and Los Angeles Lithographic Company were also associated with Mutual, which quickly became a powerhouse in the industry.

thf294360Title page for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair Edition recipe booklet for “How to Eat Canned Salmon,” designed by Mutual Label & Lithographic Company THF294360

The 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire that hit San Francisco was devastating to the San Francisco lithography industry. Many companies lost all label designs, production equipment, and business records. Schmidt’s company was completely destroyed, but his previous financial success allowed him to quickly rebuild where other lithographers were not so lucky. When the new building opened in 1907, the Mutual name was replaced with Schmidt Lithograph Company, which remained the name of the business for the next six decades.

thf293101Stock Crate Label for an Unknown Brand of Asparagus, 1906-1966 THF293101

A common product for lithography companies was the stock label, like this one produced by the Schmidt Lithograph Company. These labels were void of brand identification so that it could be customized for any company. This was often a cost-efficient option for growers and packing houses.

 Throughout the 1900s, the Schmidt Lithograph Company experienced tremendous success. Schmidt was a showman with a kind disposition, leading to great working relationships with the firm’s clients and employees. His success enabled the company to expand, establishing offices and factories in Florida, Texas, Honolulu, Utah, and along the West Coast. When Max Schmidt died in 1936, his company was still one of the most successful lithography businesses in the country. In 1966, Schmidt Lithograph Company was purchased by the Stecher-Traung to create the powerful firm, Stecher-Traung-Schmidt, which remained in business until 1994.

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Crate Label, “Santa Brand Fruits,” 1928 THF293105

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Close-up view of the lithographer signature on the Santa Brand Fruits label THF294347

Lithographer signatures can tell us where a design came from. Schmidt was a major player in the lithography industry with factories across the country. The signature on this label tells us that it was created in Schmidt’s Los Angeles factory.

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Dodson Seed Store “Nasturtium” Seed Packet, 1966-1983 THF294259
Lithographers produced designs for a number of items including seed packets. The signature on the bottom of this seed packet notes that its design was created by the firm of Stecher-Traung-Schmidt.

Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford.

crate labels, lithography

Hooked on Comic Books

August 28, 2019

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Astonishing Tales, vol. 1 no. 29, 1975, featuring Guardians of the Galaxy - a reprint of their first appearance (1969) in Marvel Super-Heroes vol. 1 no. 18. THF305338

It started the summer I turned 14, when some neighbor kids told us they were moving and wanted to find a good home for their sizable stash of D.C. comic books. My four brothers and I had a hard time turning that down! The next thing we knew, several boxes of comic books arrived on our doorstep—opening a magical door into a world previously unknown to me.

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Archie, vol. 1 no. 102, July 1959. THF100874

Up until that time, I’d only read younger kids’ comic books—like Archie, Richie Rich, and Little Lotta. But these were different, these D.C. comics that recounted the exploits of such larger-than-life superheroes as Superman, The Flash, and my personal favorites—the teenage Legion of Super-Heroes.

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Adventure Comics, featuring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, vol. 1 no. 343, April 1966. THF 305335

My Mom was rather horrified when she learned of our new “acquisition.” She pictured us wasting our summer away reading these comic books rather than doing things that were—as she called it—more “constructive.” I must admit that I did spend many hours that summer immersed in the pages of those comic books. But in no way would I call it wasting my time. Through those comic books, I learned about how stories can be told through a series of pictures, how pictures can illuminate ideas and feelings, and how all of this can fuel a young reader’s imagination.

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First issue of Spider-Man I purchased, vol. 1 no. 88, September 1970 (author’s collection).

One evening a few years later, my comic book world shifted. My best friend introduced me to the backstory of Spider-Man—a completely different kind of comic book superhero created by Marvel, a completely different kind of comic book company. Spider-Man had problems. And flaws. And continual feelings of self-doubt. Here was a superhero who was reluctant, questioning, always feeling like a failure even when he just happened to save the world. On top of that, he was a teenager—just like me! Who couldn’t relate to that? I was forever done with Superman. So long, D.C.! Hello, Marvel!

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Spider-Man, vol. 1 no. 96, May 1971 – an unprecedented issue at the time. It did not display the Comics Code Authority stamp of approval like virtually all comic books at the time because it involved a drug-related story (author’s collection).

I soon branched out to other Marvel comic books. I became especially enamored with the stories of Dr. Strange, whose mystical world fascinated me and whose page after page of colorful psychedelic graphics captivated me even without the stories. I also went through a Silver Surfer period, appreciating his feeling of alienation from all human beings who inhabited Planet Earth. I tried many additional titles, but Spider-Man remained my perennial favorite.

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Dr. Strange, vol. 1 no. 171, August 1968, displaying typically striking graphics on the cover (author’s collection).

As I entered college, my passion for comic books came along with me. I rode my new 10-speed bicycle down miles of back roads to visit used comic book stores and attend the occasional comic book show. I joined a comic book enthusiasts’ group with fellow students, where we traded likes, dislikes, and back issues. I made inventories, kept needs lists, bought enthusiasts’ magazines, and traced the lineage of my favorite titles by searching for back issues. This was all in the days before the Internet, eBay, and Comic Cons, and most communication was accomplished through the mail.

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Silver Surfer, vol. 1 no. 1, August 1968 (author’s collection).

When I began my job as a curator here at The Henry Ford in 1977, my interest in comic books finally waned. Maybe I didn’t need that brand of escapism or that kind of outlet for my imagination anymore. Maybe I was too busy to take the time to delve into the stories. Comic books themselves changed. I remember feeling frustrated by Marvel’s trend, during the late 1970s, with story cross-overs throughout the entire network of their comic book titles to encourage more comic-book buying. Who had the patience and perseverance for that? Or the money, as the price of comic books soared at that time, from 15 cents in the late 1960s to 40 cents by 1980? This is also about the time that Spider-Man went mainstream, with a newspaper comic strip (starting 1977) and a Saturday morning cartoon (premiering 1981), both aimed at kids much younger than me. It seemed weird that, suddenly, I shared a common bond with my little five-year-old nephew—although he acted suitably impressed when I pulled out some of my old Spider-Man comic books for him, which by then seemed like ancient relics.

I might have let go of my comic book passion for good, but some project at the museum would always pull me back. For example, during my writing of the museum book Leisure and Entertainment in America (1988), I acquired a group of early comic books for the museum’s collection.

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Tales from the Crypt, vol. 1 no. 43, September 1954 - an early 1950s horror comic book title whose shocking content alarmed parents and helped lead to the comic book industry’s self-censorship board, called the Comics Code Authority. THF141540

When we decided to include a section on how people imagined the future in the Your Place in Time: 20th Century America exhibit, I acquired a range of comic book titles that focused upon futuristic themes.

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Spider-Man 2099, vol. 1 no. 1, November 1992 – a futuristic re-imagining of the original character (note steep $1.75 price by this time). THF305334

To my delight, the topic of comic books will be included in the upcoming filming for The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation. And next summer, the Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes traveling exhibit is headed our way in 2020. Here I am, more than a half-century later—and still hooked on comic books!

Back when I was a kid, many parents (including my own) worried about the harmful effects that reading comic books had on youth. In retrospect, I’d have to say that they were completely wrong. For me, comic books expanded my world immeasurably. They encouraged me to read, to write, to draw, to tap into my imagination. Maybe this started with those early Archie comic books. It certainly grew when that stash of D.C. comics landed on our front doorstep. But it blossomed and permanently formed who I am today when I entered the Marvel Universe.

Happy 80th birthday, Marvel!

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

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Crate Label, “Far West Brand Pears,” circa 1930
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As Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, I research objects within The Henry Ford’s collections that tell entrepreneurial stories. Most recently, I delved into the Label Collection, which includes labels from alcoholic beverages, cigar boxes, medicines, various food related items, and miscellaneous products. This blog post highlights the West Coast fruit crate labels and canned food labels.

Label Lithography

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Can Label, “Defender Brand Tomatoes,” 1913-1918 THF293393

In the late 1800s, the preferred method of printing used to make image-centric labels like these was lithography. This process involved the transfer of an inked image from stone or metal plates to paper via a printing press. Skilled artists drew their images on flattened, smooth pieces of stone – traditionally limestone – to then be inked and transferred. Later, flexible, photosensitive metal plates were used on rotary and offset presses, making the lithographic process more efficient. The artists who worked in this medium were called lithographers. Some of the growers, as well as some of the packing and distribution companies, had their own lithography departments to produce labels. The majority, however, hired lithography companies to create their label designs.

The introduction of color into the lithography process, known as chromolithography, transformed the advertising industry. Multi-colored lithographs involved several transfers of the same image from multiple stones, or plates, each with their own color ink in the desired layout. The more colors included in the image, the more transfers (and stones/plates) required to produce the desired result.

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Crate Label, “Atlas Brand Blackberries,” 1916-1930 THF113854 

This label for Atlas Brand Blackberries is an example of single-color lithography and was produced through a single ink pass. The shading and variation seen in this image was created by the methods of stippling, linework, and applying different densities of the same color of ink to the page. The stippling method refers to the pattern of dots, which can be seen if you look closely at the fruit depicted on this label.


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Can Label, “Holly Brand Peaches,” circa 1916 THF293047

To enhance the attractiveness of a label some lithographers incorporated metallic pigments and dimensional, embossed areas into their designs. Metallic pigments created the shiny golden appearance that can be seen along the edges of this label for Holly Brand Yellow Cling Peaches.


Fruit Crate Labels
Before the 1860s, East and West Coast markets were essentially isolated. Because of differing climates, certain produce was only available to consumers living in the eastern United States during specific seasons while most produce in the West could be grown throughout the entire year. When the transcontinental railroad opened in 1869, eastern markets were opened to the West Coast produce industry for the first time. The railroad, along with the growing canning industry, allowed consumers to enjoy fruits and vegetables year-round – encouraging the establishment of more growers and packing companies in the West to meet the high demand. By the turn of the century and into the early twentieth-century, California fruit growers provided an abundance of fresh fruit to the national markets, transforming the American diet.

With greater competition among growers and packing houses, the crate label became an important marketing tool. At the time, grocers were the link between customers and the products. Grocers obtained their goods from wholesale markets, choosing their products by price and intuition. The label had to stand out and appeal to the grocer who would then buy several crates of the product and sell it in his store. If the grocer heard that customers liked a certain brand over previous ones he’d supplied, he could make sure to purchase that particular brand again, using the crate label for identification.

These fruit crate labels are often stunningly beautiful – more like mini-posters with broad color palettes, incredibly detailed images, and clever brand names. A common feature of label design was an image of where the fruits and vegetables were produced. Customers became enamored with the shining groves of oranges in the West and came to identify certain places with the best produce. Other labels feature popular motifs of the time and allow us to explore the trends in graphic design.

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Crate Label, “Orchard Brand Pears,” circa 1920 THF293065

California wasn’t the only state on the West Coast to produce delicious fruit. Washington was known for its many varieties of apples as well as other fruits, including pears.


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Crate Label, “Bocce Brand Zinfandel Grapes,” circa 1940 THF293043 

C. Mondavi & Sons’ “Bocce” label played up the family’s Italian roots, aligning its product with the quality grapes grown in Italian vineyards. This successful business was established by Cesare Mondavi, a Minnesota grocer and saloon owner who often traveled to California to select and ship grapes back home to make his own wine. After becoming enamored with the California climate, which reminded him of Italy, he moved his family to Lodi in 1923 to open a business growing and shipping grapes. His success allowed him to purchase a winery in 1946, which is still thriving today as C. K. Mondavi and Family.

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Crate Label, “Santa Rosa Brand Ventura County Lemons,” copyright 1927 THF293109

This label features the sprawling lemon groves in Oxnard, California. It also features the “Sunkist” logo, which became a popular brand known for its high-quality oranges and lemons.

Canned Food Labels
The process of canning food has been around since the early 19th century, with products used as wartime provisions for French and British armies. Tin cans allowed food producers to safely transport their goods without fear of them breaking – as was common with glass jars and bottles – making cans a more economical container for foodstuffs. While canned foods were introduced to America by the 1820s, the demand for these products came four decades later during the American Civil War.

Unlike glass jars or bottles, which allowed consumers to view the product inside, cans required identification. At first, labels were simply a tool to inform the customers of the product they were buying, who produced it, and where it was produced. As railroad networks expanded in the late 1800s and competition increased, more elaborate labels were created to appeal to customers in new markets across the country. The label became even more important after World War I when customers began selecting products for themselves in self-service grocery stores.

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Can Label, “Butterfly Brand Golden Pumpkin,” 1880-1895 THF113859

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Can Label, “Butterfly Brand Golden Wax Stringless Beans,” circa 1885 THF113860

Using the same design for several different products became a strategy for helping customers find the brand with which they were familiar. Olney and Floyd’s Butterfly Brand products were easy to identify with their colorful, eye-catching labels and signature butterfly.


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Can Label, “Bare Foot Boy Brand Tomatoes,” circa 1910 THF293079

Characters were a common feature in product advertising. The goal was to create an emotional or personal connection between the product and the customer – a practice that is still seen in marketing strategies today.


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Can Label, “Lynx Brand Puget Sound Salmon,” 1880-1900 THF109742

As canned goods made their way across the country, certain states became known for specific products. Washington, for instance, was known for its salmon industry and canned salmon was shipped from the Pacific Northwest all across the United States. This beautiful label was created by the Schmidt Lithograph Company – one of the most well-known companies in the lithography industry.

If you enjoyed this small sample of labels, visit our Digital Collections to see other fruit crate labels and  canned food labels in our collection.

Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford.

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At The Henry Ford, we believe inside every person is the potential to change the world.

For 90 years, The Henry Ford has been a force for sparking curiosity and inspiring tomorrow’s innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs thanks to the generosity of our visitors, members, staff, volunteers and more. Their support helps us build on Henry Ford’s original mission to make this institution a hands-on learning resource for the visionary in all of us.

As we move closer to celebrating our 90th anniversary this October, here are nine ways you can go above and beyond to support The Henry Ford and our mission.

Visit
It may sound simple, but bringing your friends and family to The Henry Ford any day of the year is a great way to support our organization! When you’re here, make sure to post pictures and videos from your visit and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter and social accounts.

Shop at The Henry Ford
Consider supporting The Henry Ford by making a purchase at one of our retail locations. Gift cards can be used in any of our stores, as well as towards the purchase of a membership, handcrafted Liberty Craftworks piece or hands-on learning kit for all ages.

Become a member
Our members help make so much of what we do at The Henry Ford possible! If you’re already a member, you can always give the gift of membership, encourage your employer to become a corporate member or join the Donor Society.

Host an event
During many days of the week, when our doors close at 5 pm, we’re simultaneously opening our doors to evening event guests. Weddings, company picnics and holiday parties are all great ways to support our mission at The Henry Ford.

Volunteer your time
We love our volunteers! There are many ways to serve as a volunteer here at The Henry Ford. We are always looking for greeters, counselors with our summer camps and extra assistance at special programs throughout the year.

Donate to our Annual Fund
Donations to The Henry Ford Annual Fund go towards projects both big and small across our campus. You can make a monthly gift, apply for an employer-matched gift or leave a legacy through a planned gift.

Support local schools and students
Every year thousands of students visit The Henry Ford and are inspired by our collection. Help even more students learn from these stories of American Innovation by providing a school field trip scholarship, sending a child to summer camp or supporting a student in our Youth Mentorship Program.

Honor a loved one with a memorial gift
Memorial benches in Greenfield Village, named theater seats at the Giant Screen Experience and book plates in the Benson Ford Research Center are all wonderful ways to honor a family member, friend or special occasion.

Donate to The Innovation Project
The Innovation Project is a $150 million comprehensive campaign to build digital and experiential learning tools, programs and initiatives to advance innovation, invention and entrepreneurship. Gifts made to The Innovation Project will help us achieve greater accessibility, inclusivity and exposure to unlock the potential of the next generation.

Amanda Floyd is the Annual Fund Specialist at The Henry Ford.

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Rosa Parks Visiting Mattox House in Greenfield Village, August 1992. THF125176 

By the early 1990s, museum staff decided that its mission statement about America’s change through time was both too oriented toward the past and too inwardly focused on the museum’s own work. 

In 1992, staff settled upon a new mission statement with three key words—innovation, resourcefulness, and ingenuity—that both aligned with Henry Ford’s original vision and provided better opportunities to impact and inspire current and future audiences. These three words shaped and energized collecting—to encompass such topics as social transformation, modern design, and the stories and objects connected with innovators and visionaries. The Museum would launch its first web site in 1995. 

In the 1990s, collecting objects that reflected social and technological history of the second half of the 20th century increasingly became a focus. This 1960 Park and Shop game--representing a typical shopping center of the era, complete with parking lot--mirrored the rapid suburbanization of the post-World War II era as people moved from cities into the surrounding new suburbs. This game also immersed children in an adult world of shopping and consumerism. - Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life 

In the 1990s curators sought out Arts and Crafts era objects—especially those made by women—such as this charming silver and enameled jam dish and spoon, made about 1905 by silversmith Mary Winlock. Winlock was educated at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in the 1890s, and in 1903 she joined the Handicraft Shop, an artist cooperative, where she sold her distinctive enameled silver and jewelry. - Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts 

The Henry Ford's auto racing collection covers all of the most popular racing types in the United States, and it includes several landmark cars. None may be more significant than "Old 16," winner of the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup. This legendary Locomobile was the first American car to win America's first great international race, and it served notice that American-built cars were every bit as good as their European counterparts. Never restored, "Old 16" still looks much as it did at the time of that victory. We intend to preserve the car just as it is -- a rare and important survivor from motorsport's earliest years. - Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation 

During the 1990s, the museum leadership actively sought to represent more diverse American voices at Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. In response, a collections task force called for an increase in the racial, ethnic, and geographic diversity of the collections. Curators purchased images, like this one, that depicted the lives of African Americans, Jews, and immigrant populations. - Andy Stupperich, Associate Curator, Digital Content 

The Henry Ford's collection of mid-20th century design expanded as the century came to a close. In 1992, the Herman Miller furniture company donated a substantial collection of material designed by Alexander Girard, the Director of Design of Herman Miller's textile division from 1952-1973. Girard's incredible eye for color, texture, and whimsy helped transform the aesthetic of the modern movement. - Katherine White, Associate Curator 

In the 1990s, the museum assessed its holdings and developed guidelines for future collecting. The acquisition of a group of pictorial lunchboxes in 1999 reflected a new focus on post-World War II America. Introduced in 1950, pictorial lunchboxes relate to mass media, merchandising, and the Baby Boomer generation. Curators selected lunchboxes representing current events and popular culture, especially TV shows and movies. -Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content 

Large machine designed to harvest a delicate crop - the mass-produced and processed tomato. Tomato genetic research in California made the machine viable but this machine was sold in Ohio to a northern Illinois truck farming family. The story is essential to conveying the massive scale required to put canned tomatoes on grocery store shelves. - Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment