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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Garage Art

June 3, 2016 Think THF

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Photo by Bill Bowen.

Model T mechanics are restoration artists in their own right.


The Henry Ford has a fleet of 14 Ford Model T’s, 12 of which ride thousands of visitors along the streets of Greenfield Village every year. 

With each ride, a door slams, shoes skid across the floorboards, seats are bounced on, gears are shifted, tires meet road, pedals are pushed, handles are pulled and so on. Makes maintaining the cars and preserving the visitor experience a continuous challenge.

“These cars get very harsh use,” said Ken Kennedy, antique vehicle mechanic and T Shed specialist at The Henry Ford. “Between 150,000 and 180,000 people a year ride in them. Each car gives a ride every five to seven minutes, with the longest route just short of a mile. This happens for nine months a year.”

The T Shed is the 3,600-square-foot garage on the grounds of Greenfield Village where repairs, restoration and maintenance magic happen. Kennedy, who holds a degree in restoration from McPherson College in Kansas, leads the shed’s team of staff and volunteers — many car-restoration hobbyists just like him.

“I basically turned my hobby into a career,” quipped Kennedy, who began restoring cars long before college. His first project: a 1926 two-door Model T sedan. “I also have a 1916 Touring and a 1927 Willys-Knight. And I’m working on a Model TT truck,” he added. 

April through December, the shed is humming, doing routine maintenance and repairs on the Model T’s as well as a few Model AA trucks that round out Greenfield Village’s working fleet. “What the public does to these cars would make any hobbyist pull their hair out. Doors opening and shutting with each ride. Kids sliding across the seats wearing on the upholstery,” said Kennedy. Vehicles often go through a set of tires every year. Most hobbyist-owned Model T’s have the same set for three-plus decades. 

With the heavy toll taken on the vehicles, the T Shed’s staff often makes small, yet important, mechanical changes to the cars to ensure they can keep up. “We have some subtle things we can do to make them work better for our purpose,” said Kennedy. Gear ratios, for example, are adjusted since the cars run slow — the speed limit in Greenfield Village is 15 miles per hour, maximum. “The cars look right for the period, but these are the things we can do to make our lives easier.”

In the off-season, when Greenfield Village is closed, the T Shedders shift toward more heavy mechanical work, replacing upholstery tops and fenders, and tearing down and rebuilding engines. While Kennedy may downplay the restoration, even the conservation, underpinnings of the work happening in the shed, the mindset and philosophy are certainly ever present. 

“Most of the time we’re not really restoring, but you still have to keep in mind authenticity and what should be,” he said. “It’s not just about what will work. You have to keep the correctness. We can do some things that aren’t seen, where you can adjust. But where it’s visible, we have to maintain what’s period correct. We want to keep the engines sounding right, looking right.”

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Photo by Bill Bowen.

RESTORATION IN THE ROUND 
Tom Fisher, Greenfield Village’s chief mechanical officer, has been restoring and maintaining The Henry Ford’s steam locomotives since 1988. “It was a temporary fill-in; I thought I’d try it,” Fisher said of joining The Henry Ford team 28 years ago while earning an engineering degree. 

He now oversees a staff with similarly circuitous routes — some with degrees in history, some in engineering, some with no degree at all. Most can both engineer a steam-engine train and repair one on-site in Greenfield Village’s roundhouse. 

“As a group, we’re very well rounded,” said Fisher. “One of the guys is a genius with gas engines — our switcher has a gas engine, so I was happy to get him. One guy is good with air brake systems. We feel them out, see where they’re good and then push them toward that.” 

Fisher’s team’s most significant restoration effort: the Detroit & Lima Northern No. 7. Henry Ford’s personal favorite, this locomotive was formerly in Henry Ford Museum and took nearly 20 years to get back on the track. 

“We had to put on our ‘way-back’ hats and say this is what we think they would have done,” said Fisher. 

No. 7 is one of three steam locomotives running in Greenfield Village. As with the Model T’s, maintaining these machines is a balance between preserving historical integrity and modernizing out of necessity. 

“A steam locomotive is constantly trying to destroy itself,” Fisher said. “It wears its parts all out in the open. The daily firing of the boiler induces stresses into the metal. There’s a constant renewal of parts.” 

Parts that Fisher and his team painstakingly fabricate, cast and fit with their sturdy hands right at the roundhouse. 

DID YOU KNOW?
The No. 7 locomotive began operation in Greenfield Village to help commemorate Henry Ford’s 150th birthday in 2013. 

moog-love
Image Courtesy of Moogfest.com

From May 18-22,
Moogfest 2016—a festival dedicated to “the synthesis of music, art, and technology”—took place in Durham, North Carolina. While you may not have heard of Moogfest itself, you have almost certainly heard the sound of the synthesizer that is the namesake of the festival. If you’ve ever driven on the freeway nodding along to the Beatles “Here Comes the Sun,” or Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn,” you’ve heard the Moog. If you’ve rocked out to Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Lucky Man,” or danced to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” or (keeping it local to Detroit) Parliament’s “Flash Light”—you know what the Moog sounds like. And if you grew up as a child of the 1980s, watching John Carpenter’s classic horror films—that soundtrack that punctuated the dread of Halloween? It was played on a Moog by Carpenter himself. My point is, the Moog has permeated our culture—its influence is everywhere, in plain earshot.

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The Henry Ford is the repository for the original Moog prototype, pictured here. THF 156695

One of the reasons Moogfest is so important is because it raises awareness of the instrument’s impact. Not only is the Moog an essential innovation within the timeline of electronic instruments, it has also continued to influence the soundscapes of modern music. Another unique aspect of the festival is that its organizers give as much weight to organizing a carefully curated roster of lectures, workshops, and sound installations as they do in selecting the bands that play. From gatherings in small rooms where musicians lay their creative processes bare—to future-forward lectures about diverse topics like
Afrofuturism, technoshamanism and radical radio—Moogfest’s speaker programming gives those interested in music, art, and technology the chance to be absorb new ideas about the history of technology. 

This occasionally leads to interesting collisions and exchanges of ideas. Festival-goers might see a demonstration of IBM’s Watson project (a cognitive computing system), and later that day, hear Gary Numan play his groundbreaking 1979 Replicas album in its entirety. They might attend a workshop about “the internet of things,” and then take in a slice of a four-hour-long “durational performance” by analog synthesizer composer, Suzanne Ciani. Or for the truly committed—one might even participate in a “sleep concert” by Robert Rich, where the musician lulls participants to sleep with sound and influences their dreams from midnight until 8am the following morning. 

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Dave Tompkins, AUDINT, and Kristen Gallerneaux presenting their sonic research. The “mission patches” shown at center were discussed by AUDINT and represent cases in military history where sound was essential to the success of the mission: The Ghost Army, Operation Wandering Soul, and The Phantom Hailer.

While I have previously attended this festival as a spectator, this year I was honored to take part in Moogfest as an invited “Future Thought” speaker, where I helped to organize an event called
Spatial Sound & Subhistories. The event opened with a presentation about some of The Henry Ford’s own sound and communications history artifacts—including the prototype Moog synthesizer. Writer Dave Tompkins gave a riveting talk about his book-in-progress, about the effect of the natural landscape on Miami Bass and hip-hop music. The event was capped off by a tour through “can’t believe this is real” sound history by the UK-based collective AUDINT, who began their discussion with the WWII-era “Ghost Army.”

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Dorit Chrysler demonstrates the theremin in an adult workshop.

I also managed to take in a few events at the festival. On Thursday, I hit the ground running by participating in a theremin workshop led by world-renowned thereminist, Dorit Chrysler. Her resume is impressive, having played with the bands Blonde Redhead, Cluster, ADULT., Dinosaur Jr., and many others. Chrysler also founded KidCool Theremin School, which provides educational workshops to increase awareness of the instrument. After spending an enjoyable hour hearing stories about the theremin’s history and dipping my toes in the water of learning to play (but not too well), I’m very happy to say that KidCool Theremin School will be joining us at The Henry Ford for Maker Faire Detroit to offer a series of workshops and performances. Stay tuned for more details! 

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Sam Aaron makes electronic music using live Sonic-Pi coding.

The overlap between sound, art, and the technology used to make it has become indistinguishable in some cases. In this image, Sam Aaron is using Sonic Pi—a software program he created—to create live-coded synth music. As computer code swept quickly upwards on the projections behind the musician and the music changed with each command, it became obvious that Aaron was exposing the audience to the process he was using to manipulate sound. While my initial reaction was that this mode of music-making must be amazingly difficult, Sonic Pi was in fact developed as an entry point to teach basic coding in the classroom. 

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Ryan Germick talks about developing the Pegman icon for Google’s Street View.

At the “Arts & Smarts” event, Google Doodle team leader Ryan Germick played host to something that fell somewhere between a stand-up comedy and technology talk show—complete with a “robot” named “Jon Bot” (actually Germick’s brother in a silver space-age suit). Through a stream of constant self-effacement and hilarious jokes, Germick talked about the origins of the icons he created during his career at Google. As the artist behind the Google Maps “Pegman” icon in Street View, Germick now leads the team responsible for over 4000 Google Doodles—including an accurate version of a Moog synthesizer in celebration of inventor Bob Moog’s birthday. 

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Susan Kare talks about her career designing digital icons.

Keeping with the talk show format, Germick also interviewed a few other guests. Susan Kare, an artist and graphic designer responsible for “creating every icon you’ve ever loved” gave a retrospective tour through her career as a pioneer of pixel art and digital icons. While working at Apple, she created the “Chicago” and “Geneva” typefaces, as well as the “sad” and “happy” Mac graphics—and the Command key on Apple keyboards.

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Virtual Reality designer Manuel Clément has worked on many projects at Google, including the self-driving car project.

Next, Manuel Clément, Senior Virtual Reality Designer at Google, spoke about his early life in computing and his work on platforms like Flash in the 1990s, Google Chrome, Doodles, a Self-Driving car program, and Cardboard. Clément showed the outcome of a new prototyping team called Google Daydream, who are testing issues of social interaction, motion, and scale in virtual reality. He reminded the audience that VR is about “experiencing the impossible,” yet he is aware of its current limitations. In reference to an intense bout of app experiments, Clément asked: “What is VR good for? Maybe it’s good for nothing. But how about we build 60 things over 30 weeks and figure it out?” 

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An exhibit celebrating the legacy of another early synthesizer pioneer, Don Buchla.

A collection of Don Buchla instruments and memorabilia was also on view at Moogfest. Buchla, who is located in Berkeley, California, began creating analog and touch-sensitive synthesizers at about the same time as Bob Moog was creating his synthesizer prototype on the East Coast. The exhibit was created from the collection of Richard Smith—an important instrument technician in his own right, and one-time apprentice of Buchla. Smith provided a glimpse into one of the most complete collections of Buchla material ever assembled—this small portion of his archive certainly left me wanting to see the rest! 

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A “Minimoog Model D” synthesizer under construction at the Moog Music Pop-Up Factory.

Moog Music, whose headquarters and factory are located in Asheville, NC, built a “pop-up factory” for the Durham’s Moogfest. Even on the last day of the festival, the enthusiasm in the building was positively electric. Every demonstration synthesizer available was being played by a visitor, and displays related to Moog’s history were being used as photo opportunities: fans posed for photos next to a larger-than-life image of composer Wendy Carlos and by the circuit boards that once powered the synths of Kraftwerk, Dr. Dre, and Bernie Worrell (who to the delight of fans, dropped in for an impromptu session at the Factory). 

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A view of Yuri Suzuki’s interactive Global Synthesizer Project.

In the spirit of encouraging a Maker Culture, the three finalists of Moog’s 5
th Annual Circuit Bending Challenge were on display—a contest that asks contestants to create a unique electronic instrument for $70 or less. One wall was taken up by a collection of analog synthesizers in the shape of a world map. Designed by sound-art designer Yuri Suzuki, the Global Synthesizer Project asked people to contribute audio recordings of their regions. When the project debuted at Moogfest, visitors were allowed to interact by creating wire “patches” to play the gigantic archive of international sound. 

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The Minimoog Model D, exploded and assembled.

Moog Music also used the buzz around the festival to announce the revival of one of their most iconic synthesizers—the
Minimoog Model D. Using a remarkable amount of research, craftsmanship, and detail-oriented production, the company is staying true to the original 1970 version, down to the last circuit. Visitors could see an “exploded” Minimoog, and step over to the factory stations, where the various stages of their assembly was explained

moog-groupDarion Bradley of Make Noise shows off a modular synthesizer system.

Moogfest, out of necessity and the modern spirit of music-making, isn’t
all Moog all the time. In fact, there is a general spirit of comradery and democracy that permeates the event. In the Modular Marketplace, modern-day instrument makers show off their capabilities. In particular, small companies who create Eurorack modules—a sort of synthesizer that you can build piece-by-piece, by chaining together components—have a strong presence at Moogfest. Companies like Synthrotek, Mutable Instruments, Bleep Labs (along with dozens of others) demonstrated their gear and allowed people to try it out. The philosophies of innovation behind the Asheville-based Make Noise company seemed particularly relevant—not only with regard to their own instruments—but also to the general values found among creative technologists at this particular moment in time: “We see our instruments as a collaboration with musicians who create once in a lifetime performances that push boundaries and play the notes between the notes to discover the unfound sounds. We want our instruments to be an experience, one that will require us to change our trajectories and thereby impact the way we understand and imagine sound.”  

Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

synthesizers, moog

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Cunningham Drugs, Detroit, Michigan, 1976. THF 239803 

It is with great sadness that we hear of the passing of John Margolies.

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Elwood Bar, Detroit, Michigan, 1986. THF 239044

John was motivated the same way many photographers with a deep appreciation for history are: he wanted to capture things that had become overlooked, structures that were endangered, vulnerable, and on the brink of destruction. But rather than choosing a neighborhood, or town or region he chose what could be found along the edges of all the old roads, the pre-interstate routes stretched throughout the United States—like a local historian of endless highways. His finest images look like stills from a perfect road movie, and they capture an element of the nation’s essence and identity—mom and pop businesses, motels, diners, crazy signage and attractions, clamoring for the attention of motorists, played out against distance and motion.

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Sands Motel, Grants, New Mexico, 2003. THF 239001

A large selection of John’s photographic slides were acquired by The Henry Ford in 2013; John also donated a great many roadside-related souvenirs and other items.

The museum’s exhibit Roadside America: Through the Lens of John Margolies ran from June 2015 to January 2016.


Marc Greuther is Chief Curator and Senior Director, Historical Resources at The Henry Ford.

photography

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Since 1929, The Henry Ford has hosted a steady stream of celebrity visitors, eager to see our iconic artifacts. In 1961, French artist and iconoclast Marcel Duchamp and his wife visited Henry Ford Museum. If you know Duchamp’s history, you might find it an interesting contrast that the man who rejected art that was merely beautiful in favor of art “in the service of the mind” stopped to pose for
this photo in front of the Bugatti. The large, luxurious, and beautiful car seems a far cry from “Fountain,” created by Duchamp more than four decades before. We’ve just digitized dozens of images featuring celebrities of all stripes visiting our campus over many decades—browse more by visiting this Expert Set we’ve created within our Digital Collections.

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

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You could argue that one of the most visible buildings in Greenfield Village is
Martha-Mary Chapel, standing as it does at the end of the Village Green, with its columns in front and high steeple. However, unlike many of the other buildings in the Village, the Chapel is not a historic building that was moved from elsewhere, but was built in the Village in 1929. Henry Ford wanted to recreate a typical village green and therefore had the Chapel (a characteristic building for a green) built, and named it after both his own mother, Mary Litogot Ford, and his wife Clara’s mother, Martha Bench Bryant.  Some of the fixtures on the building came from Clara Ford’s childhood home, adding another layer of personal resonance. We’ve just digitized more than 100 images of the Chapel taken over its nearly 90-year history, including this classic shot from 1935—browse them all by visiting our Digital Collections.

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

THF159776Confederate Bass Drum, Captured at Missionary Ridge, 1860-1863. Gift of the Jewell Family. THF159778

A Battlefield Souvenir Preserved by GAR Members of Fulton County, Ohio


This drum was likely left behind by fleeing Confederates as Union soldiers drove them from the hill at the battle of Missionary Ridge in Tennessee on November 25, 1863. The astonished Confederates panicked, broke rank, and fled pell-mell. A Union victory. In less than a year and half, the Civil War would end and the Union preserved.

The abandoned drum was probably picked up from the battlefield by a member of the 38th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a Union unit that participated in the Missionary Ridge assault.

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This battlefield souvenir was then taken to Fulton County, Ohio, where it was preserved by members of the local Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of Union veterans. By the 1880s, Fulton County had about 11 GAR posts. To these Union veterans, this drum symbolized victory over Confederate forces. The drum was likely displayed in the GAR hall at Wauseon in Fulton County.

A few days before the Missionary Ridge battle, Abraham Lincoln gave his eloquent Gettysburg Address in Pennsylvania. For us today, this drum symbolizes the end of the Civil War and the “new birth of freedom” spoken of so memorably by Abraham Lincoln on that day.



Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

drums, musical instruments, Civil War Remembrance

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Detroit's Bagley Memorial Fountain stands amidst a banner and festive decorations in its original location at Woodward Avenue and Fort Street. This photograph may have been taken during a Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Memorial Day celebration. A society for Union Civil War veterans, the G.A.R. began observing the holiday - originally called Decoration Day - in 1868. THF 202914

When Civil War veterans returned home after the conflict they established their own fraternal organizations, helping one another remember and heal from their shared experiences. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) in Decatur, Illinois. The G.A.R. was a fraternal organization made up of Civil War veterans who fought and served for the Union. 

Veteran Robert Burns Beath, writing in 1888 of the returning home of veterans said, “They were soon to part, each in his own way to fight the battle of life, to form new ties, new friendships, but never could they forget the sacred bond of comradeship welded in the fire of battle, that in after years, should be their stimulus to take upon themselves the work confided to the people by President Lincoln ‘to bind up the Nation’s wounds,’ ‘to care for him who shall have borne battle, and for his widow and his orphan.”

This unique “bond of comradeship” would be the catalyst for veterans to join together in influencing a nation still reeling from the aftermath of war. Under the watch-words “Fraternity, Loyalty, and Charity” the G.A.R. set out to serve their brothers in arms as well as loved ones left behind by the fallen through charitable initiatives.

Steve LaBarre is the head of adult services and reference for a public library. He is a historian, researcher, and author of Mid-19th Century United States History and the American Civil War.  Becky Young LaBarre is Assistant Director at Glessner House Museum (1887) in Chicago’s Prairie Avenue Historic District. They reside in the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois.

Did you know?
The GAR helped establish May 30 as Memorial Day—or Decoration Day as it was then known—asking members to decorate the graves of their fallen comrades with flowers on May 30, 1868.

Confederate veterans who fought for the South formed their own organization, called the United Confederate Veterans (UCV), in 1889.

Civil War Remembrance

House of Glass

May 25, 2016 Think THF
Ford's New-Model Quality Center MS37640[1]
Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company Archives.

Restored architectural gem stands out in its industrial space
You don’t usually associate large manufacturing factories with architectural beauty. Sightseers at the Ford Rouge Complex’s glass plant, however, might be inclined to think otherwise.

This plant looks different. No concrete, only rivets and steel. From inside, the high roof and floor-to-ceiling windows create an unusually airy, spacious atmosphere. Natural light can’t help but stream in, creating a softness and easy glow.

Designed by famed American industrial architect Albert Kahn, the Ford Rouge’s glass plant was built in 1923 as an automotive glass-production facility. “It was about achieving volume,” Don Pijor, launch manager at the Dearborn Truck Plant and site expert for the glass plant, said of the building’s original design. “This space was built with steel columns riveted together, which gives it much more usable real estate.”

In the late ‘90s, the 40,000-square-foot building was taken out of the complex’s production equation, its sweeping windows covered with aluminum and its new primary purpose as a warehouse. 

When the restoration process began in the mid-2000s, the original intent was to transition the building into office space. Pijor later helped persuade Ford Motor Company leadership to put the plant to better use as a prove-out and employee training building for the Ford F-150, the truck built at the Rouge’s Dearborn Truck Plant.

Careful decisions were made at every corner during the restoration. The building’s window glass, for example, had come from Europe, so the restoration team reached out overseas to the original manufacturer for the glass to replace the windows. Entry doors to a fire station that was part of the building’s layout were also replaced to replicate those of the original specs.

“It’s beautiful,” Cynthia Jones, The Henry Ford’s Ford Rouge Factory Tour manager, said of the glass plant today. “There’s lots of natural light, and even though the fire station doors are in an area the public doesn’t see,

restoring them showed respect for the continuing history of the site.”

Today, the glass plant is a house for innovation, used for prototyping by Ford engineers and designers. As a result of its newfound purpose, the building’s glass at the lower levels is frosted so outsiders can’t see the confidential work being done inside.

Said Jones of balancing the building’s historical integrity with its modern uses, “When you’re making choices about restoring buildings, you look at product — what is it we’re making at this place and what does it need? You’re also employee-driven because if they can’t do their job well here, changes have to be made. Third, how does it affect the area around it? I think this site has that balance.”

Though the effectiveness of the plant’s current functions are at the forefront of any decision-making about its form, preserving its history is meaningful for the people who work there as well as for posterity. Added Pijor, “To sit in this space and watch flaming ore cars go by, it’s as if it has been like this for 100 years.”

THF113886Ford Rouge Glass Plant, 1927. THF 113886

National Historic Landmark
The Ford Rouge Complex was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978.

The rare designation (with just 2,500 historic landmarks nationwide) usually restricts future changes to a site. The Ford Rouge Complex, however, is recognized as remaining in continual operation, which means the designation can be maintained even as the site continues to evolve.

“It’s important for the public to be aware” of the designation, said Jones. The designation is marked at the complex’s entry with a plaque and a statue of Henry Ford.

Summer 2015 marked 100 years since Ford started acquiring the property which the Rouge now inhabits. “We’re carving out space within this giant industrial complex to recognize its history and the history of the hundreds of thousands of people that have been employed here,” said Jones.

Ford Rouge Factory Complex, design

limo-collage

The Henry Ford was excited to once again welcome author and former Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, along with journalist Lisa McCubbin, to Henry Ford Museum this spring in celebration of his latest book,
Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. 

More about Mr. Hill and our presidential limousines:
Clint Hill on Presidential Limousines
Presidential Vehicles
Looking Back: JFK Remembered at Henry Ford Museum
Protecting our Presidents
Turning Point

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In honor of Mr. Hill's visit to The Henry Ford, Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson put together this overview of the presidential limousines found within on exhibit at Henry Ford Museum. Learn more below.


A presidential parade car provides two things: visibility and security. Those concepts are often at odds. The Henry Ford’s presidential Lincolns illustrate the difficult and changing balance between the chief executive’s need to be seen and need to be safe.

“Sunshine Special,” the 1939 Lincoln Model K most often associated with Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the first parade car specifically modified for presidential use. Coachbuilder Brunn & Company focused more on utility than luxury, deleting armrests for maximum seating capacity and adding wide running boards for Secret Service agents. The car was not armored until Pearl Harbor, when bullet resistant tires, glass and armor plating were installed.

In 1950, Harry S. Truman took delivery of a new Lincoln with a body by Raymond Dietrich, but the car was used most often by successor Dwight D. Eisenhower. Again there was no armor, but in 1954 the limo received the weatherproof plexiglass roof that inspired its nickname, the “Bubbletop.” Security features did not extend much beyond riding steps on the rear bumper and flashing red lights at the front.

Planning for the next car started under Eisenhower, but the 1961 Lincoln Continental limo is forever tied to John F. Kennedy. Once again, armor was not considered necessary, and Kennedy preferred to travel with the top removed whenever possible. But his assassination ended the tradition of open cars. Ford and custom car builder Hess & Eisenhardt rebuilt the 1961 Lincoln with a permanent roof, titanium armor and bullet-resistant glass five layers thick.

The 1972 Lincoln limousine was the first presidential parade car designed and built as an armored vehicle from the start. Security was now of prime importance – a point dramatically underscored when Ronald Reagan suffered an attempt on his life while getting into the limo in 1981.

The Henry Ford’s presidential Lincolns were leased to the White House. As the leases ended, the cars returned to Ford Motor Company and the firm gifted them to the museum. Currently, Cadillac supplies the president’s state cars. Each is custom-built – most recently on truck platforms – and each is typically destroyed at the end of its service life.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Clint Hill, presidential limos, presidential vehicles

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Official Program of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 27th 500 Mile International Sweepstakes Race, May 30, 1939. THF 122945

Over the years, sporting events have become traditions in our lives: the Super Bowl in the winter, the Kentucky Derby every May, and the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day Weekend. Iconic events such as these develop their own customs over time, and the Indianapolis 500 is no exception. As we celebrate the 100th running of the race on May 29, here is a look at a few of the traditions that have developed over the years.

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Start of the 1911 Indianapolis 500. P.O.2703

Some of the current Indy traditions started in the early days of the race. Since the inaugural running on May 30, 1911, the contest has always been held on Memorial Day or that weekend. As a tribute to horse racing practices, only the winner of the race (and his team) are honored in Victory Lane, without a podium for the top three finishers. Speaking of victory celebrations, Lewis Meyer began another triumphal tradition in 1936.  After winning that year's race, Meyer grabbed a bottle of buttermilk to cool himself down, as he typically did on hot days. After an executive from the Milk Foundation saw a photograph of the celebration, it became a yearly occurrence.  Although there have been a few years without milk in Victory Lane, this appears to be a tradition that will last for years to come.


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Bobby Unser drinking milk in Victory Lane, 1968, 2009.158.317.5507

The 1940s saw the start of more traditions at the Indianapolis 500. In 1946, the song "Back Home Again in Indiana" was first played in pre-race festivities. Numerous artists have been enlisted to perform the song over years, including Jim Nabors, who sang it 36 times between 1972 and 2014. (Singer Josh Kaufman will fulfill the duty for this year.) In 1947 Grace Smith Hulman, the racetrack owner's mother, suggested balloons be released before the start of the race. Since 1950, 30,000 multicolored balloons, now made of biodegradable latex, have been let loose coinciding with the final notes of "Back Home Again in Indiana."

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Di Gilmore and Jim Nabors at the 1977 Indy 500 

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Balloon release at the 1963 Indy 500. 2009.158.317.1729

The next decades brought more long-lasting traditions to the Indianapolis 500.  In 1953, Wilbur Shaw first gave the starting call of "Gentlemen, start your engines!"  Some variation of this call has been used every year since then, with the opening periodically changing to "Lady and Gentlemen" or "Ladies and Gentlemen" for the years when female drivers are competing. A few years later, the 500 Festival Parade developed after local newspaper columnists noted the community festivities that accompanied the Kentucky Derby. The 2016 festival includes a mini-marathon, parade, children's activities, and the Snakepit Ball. It was 1960 that was the first year that the winner was adorned with a wreath, drawing from Grand Prix traditions.  The current wreath design contains 33 white cymbidium orchids representing the 33 cars and drivers on the starting grid.

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Jim Clark draped in victor's wreath at the 1965 Indy 500. 2009.158.91

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1968 Indy Festival Queen with the Borg Warner Trophy, 2009.158.317.5261

Since the 1970s, more traditions have been added to the Indy 500. The Last Row Party, started in 1972, is a charity function held the Friday before the race. In addition to raising scholarship funds for local students, the party also serves as a roast for the last three competitors to make the starting grid. A few years later, in 1976, Jeanetta Holder created and presented her first quilt to the winner of the race.  Over the years, she has crafted more than 40 hand-stitched quilts, with Bobby Unser's 1981 quilt now in the collection of the Henry Ford. More recent additions to the Indy traditions include concerts on Carb Day and Legends Day, and the kissing of the bricks, which actually started in NASCAR tradition in 1996. Gil de Ferran was the first Indy driver to do it at the conclusion of the 2003 race.

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Jeanetta Holder quilt for Bobby Unser, 1981. 2009.171.18

Tradition and ritual are a part of our everyday lives, and will certainly be an integral part of this year's Indianapolis 500. Over the last 99 contests, drivers, owners, and even fans have created new customs that add to the history and lore of the race. As you watch the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on May 29, keep your eyes open for the existing traditions and perhaps some new ones in the making.

Janice Unger is 
Digital Processing Archivist for Racing, Archives & Library Services, at The Henry Ford.

Indy 500, race car drivers, race cars, racing