Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

The Massey-Harris Combine displayed in Henry Ford Museum. THF6425

Combines loom large on the museum floor—but they loom even larger on the physical and historical landscape of America’s agricultural heartland. Standing high on the horizon, combines both symbolize and represent the reality of the mechanization of modern agriculture. The 1938 Massey-Harris Model 20 self-propelled combine, a designated landmark of American agricultural engineering, was the first commercially successful, self-propelled combine to make its way through an American harvest.

The harvest was, and still is, the defining event of a farm community. It was the most complicated, time-critical, labor-intensive activity of the farmer’s year, and everyone—men and women, young and old, rich and poor—participated. Through much of history, the success of the harvest could make or break a farming community.

Throughout most of our nation’s history, the amount of acreage that could be successfully harvested before the crop was damaged by weather, insects, or rot determined how much land would be planted. Not surprisingly, over the last several hundred years, tremendous time and effort has been put toward improving the speed and efficiency of the harvest. Continue Reading

farming equipment

EI.1929.2040

Henry Ford greatly admired his friend Luther Burbank for his work as a naturalist and botanist—it’s no coincidence that the shovel buried in The Henry Ford’s cornerstone belonged to Burbank.  Greenfield Village also holds a strong Burbank presence—his garden office was moved to the Village in 1928, and eight years later, his birthplace was added. As part of our ongoing project documenting the histories of Greenfield Village buildings, we’ve just digitized a number of images showing Luther Burbank’s birthplace on its original site in Lancaster, Massachusetts, including this photograph labeled “south end.”

To see more artifacts related to the famed developer of the Russet Burbank potato, still one of the world’s most popular varieties, visit our digital collections.

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

digital collections

Manure spreader made by International Harvester, about 1905

The act of farming draws nutrients from the soil. If the nutrients are not returned, the soil will become depleted and lose productivity. One of the best ways to restore the soil is to recycle what was removed from it by spreading manure on it. This International Harvester Manure Spreader made a dirty job not-so-dirty.

Caring for the Land: Forgotten – Then Re-discovered

To the Europeans who settled colonial America, the availability of land seemed limitless.  Farmers paid little attention to caring for the soil, quickly abandoning the fertilizing activities they had practiced in Europe. These farmers felt it more cost effective to simply move on to new land when the soil lost productivity, rather than put in the effort to restore its fertility. Continue Reading

farm tools, farming equipment

Goldenrod averaged 409.277 miles per hour at Bonneville on November 12, 1965 -- a record for a wheel-driven car. (THF90968)

Fifty years ago today, brothers Bob and Bill Summers of Ontario, California, earned their place in the record books when Goldenrod, their four-engine streamlined über hot rod, averaged 409.277 miles per hour on the Bonneville Salt Flats. It would take 45 years for another non-supercharged, wheel-driven car to best their mark. Not bad for a couple of California dreamers working out of a vegetable stand.

Well, that’s not quite true. Oh, it’s true that their shop was in a converted vegetable stand, but the implication – that they were kids who got lucky – isn’t fair at all. The Summers brothers were Bonneville veterans, having built and raced a series of imaginative cars on the salt since 1954. And, while the brothers themselves were not wealthy, they had well-heeled corporate sponsors supporting Goldenrod. So no, this was no fly-by-night operation.

The early 1960s saw a revolution at Bonneville unlike anything since serious land speed racing started at the western Utah ancient lake bed in the 1930s. Drivers like Craig Breedlove in his celebrated Spirit of America hit 400, 500 and 600 miles per hour using jet power. These cars were more like airplanes without wings. There was no mechanical connection between the engine and the wheels – jet thrust literally pushed the car across the salt. Continue Reading

The 1896 Duryea Runabout, America’s first series-produced automobile. THF.90213

It is difficult, and a bit foolhardy, to identify any one car as being the most significant in the history of the American automobile industry. That said, the 1896 Duryea Runabout has a better claim to that title than most. It is the first series-produced automobile made in the United States. While just 13 copies were built, they were just that—identical copies as opposed to singular prototypes or custom orders. Only one of these pioneering vehicles survives today—and it is part of The Henry Ford’s collections.

Brothers Charles E. and J. Frank Duryea typified the mechanically-minded experimenters who built the first American automobiles. Charles entered the bicycle business in 1888, initially in St. Louis before moving to Peoria, Illinois, and then Washington, DC. The younger Frank joined his brother not long after graduating high school in 1888. The brothers were bitten by the auto bug after reading an 1889 article inScientific American on the pioneering work done in Germany by Karl Benz. After relocating to Springfield, Massachusetts, the Duryea brothers set out to build their own automobile. Continue Reading

antique cars

28.999.3

We continue to digitize materials documenting the histories of the many buildings in Greenfield Village. This week, it’s the turn of Rocks Village Toll House, previously known as East Haverhill Toll House. This building was originally located on the banks of the Merrimac River in Rocks Village, Massachusetts, connecting the towns of East Haverhill and West Newbury, and was acquired by Henry Ford because of his interest in American transportation history and related structures. The photograph shown here depicts the Toll House on its original site in 1928, the same year it was moved to Greenfield Village; the front of the Toll House is just barely visible beyond the building with three windows in the side. Visit our digital collections to view more materials related to the Rocks Village Toll House.

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

toll houses


The 1946 Lamy's diner, as it appears today in Henry Ford Museum. THF77241

Back before diners were considered revered icons of mid-20th-century American culture, Henry Ford Museum's acquisition of a dilapidated 1940s diner raised more than a few eyebrows. Was a diner, from such a recent era, significant enough to be in a museum?

lamys-2

Happily, times have changed. Diners have gained newfound respect and appreciation, as innovative and uniquely American eating establishments. A closer look at Lamy's diner reveals much about the role and significance of diners in 20th-century America. Continue Reading

diners, food trucks, The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

1949 Mercury Customized Convertible

A museum presenting America’s ideas and innovations mourns the passing of George Barris, “The King of Kustomizers.”

George grew up building models of cars and then working on cars during his youth. He had a spark of ingenuity in the way he looked at the world as well as in the world that he built. In the mid 1960s Barris Kustom City acquired a Lincoln Futura prototype that was built for the Ford Motor Company in Turin, Italy in 1955. George had been given a contract in August of 1965 by television show producers to build a batmobile for their upcoming television show. As the legend has been told many times, he had only three weeks to build the “winged mammal” car before filming started. George had the winged-like Futura in his shop and saw the possibilities immediately, and of course the result was the most iconic movie car ever built, the Batmobile. George’s ingenious creation appeared on January 12, 1966 to millions of television viewers experiencing the spoof and kitsch of Batman. Continue Reading

Driver Graham Hill, Winner of the United States Grand Prix, October 3, 1965 THF116676

When you hear the phrase “Triple Crown,” the sport of horse racing generally comes to mind.  However, the world of motorsport also has its own, unofficial Triple Crown title. To achieve this feat, a driver must win three specific titles during their career. Some enthusiasts contend the three titles are the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Monaco Grand Prix, while others replace the race in Monaco with the Formula One World Championship.

The Triple Crown of Motorsport has been possible since 1929, when the last race, the Monaco Grand Prix, was first run through the streets of the principality. (If you are using the Formula One World Championship title instead, the Triple Crown became possible in 1950.) In the last 86 years, many drivers have won one or two components of the Triple Crown, but only one man, Graham Hill, completed either trifecta. This accomplishment attests to Hill’s immense skill on the track, as each race or title corresponds to a different discipline of the sport. Continue Reading

racers, racing

2014.68.X.66.1

In 2014, the Detroit News donated over 220 photographic negatives to The Henry Ford. They depict photos of and taken from various News aircraft between the mid-1920s and mid-1930s, including a Lockheed Orion and a Lockheed Vega.  A substantial number relate to the 1931 Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro, which has been in The Henry Ford’s collection for over 80 years and is currently on display within Henry Ford Museum in the Heroes of the Sky exhibit. The image shown here includes a hand-written note on the envelope: “Airplanes to ship newspapers.” We have just digitized the complete set of negatives, so you can now visit our online collections to browse the Autogiro-related images, or everything related to the Detroit News, including all of these images.

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

airplanes, negatives, vintage airplanes