Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

THF231106Pete Henderson, #16 Duesenberg, Ora Haibe, #14 Sebring, John Aitken, #2 Peugeot, Sheepshead Bay, 1914. THF231106

If you’re a fan of the Disney musical Newsies, you may remember the character Racetrack singing about obtaining "a permanent box at the Sheepshead races" in the song King of New York. While Racetrack was referring to a horse racing track located in Sheepshead Bay, New York, that same facility was later converted to a board track for automobile racing. While board tracks around the country had a limited lifespan, they set the stage for the eventual creation of modern paved oval racetracks and the expansion of automobile racing across the United States.

THF111772Barney Oldfield riding the "Blue Streak" on the Salt Palace Board Track, Salt Lake City, Utah, circa 1900. THF111772

The earliest oval board tracks in the United States, commonly known as motordromes at the time, were constructed around 1910. With designs based on the velodromes used for bicycle racing in Europe, they utilized thousands of small, wooden boards in their construction. For the one mile long track at Playa del Rey, California, over 300 miles worth of boards were used to create the racing surface.  Many of the board tracks also included steep banked corners, adding to the excitement. The wooden surface was cheaper to install than a paved one at the time, although the upkeep did create additional costs over the years.  

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Board track racing on the track in Playa Del Rey, California. THF228751

Over the next 20 years, board tracks were constructed in cities around the country, including Chicago, Tacoma, Omaha, and Brooklyn. Smaller communities also had tracks: Valley Junction, Iowa; Hopwood, Pennsylvania; Sharonville, Ohio; and Salem, New Hampshire, to name a few.  They ranged in length from half a mile to 2 miles, with thousands of people attending races. The American Automobile Association (AAA), which had established its Contest Board in 1908, sanctioned championship level races on these tracks. From 1920 through 1931, 82 of the group's 123 championship events were staged on wooden raceways. Early motor racing stars, such as Joe Nikrent and Louis Disbrow, found success on the boards as well as paved tracks.

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Joe Nikrent and Louis Disbrow racing in Oakland, California. THF229073

There were some drawbacks to the board tracks though. Safety issues, including high rates of speed in corners, extreme G-forces on the drivers, flying splinters and debris, and the basic tire technology of the time, led to accidents and fatalities on the tracks. Spectators, especially those at motorcycle races, were vulnerable to out of control vehicles veering off the track. Track upkeep was extremely expensive, with the tracks needing to be resurfaced every five years or less. Stories remain of repairs being made to the tracks as cars raced overhead. Lack of competition with the increase overall speeds was another drawback; generally the fastest car at the start of the race crossed the finish line first.

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Dave Lewis's Race Car Stopped on the Board Track at Altoona Speedway, Tipton, Pennsylvania, in 1925. THF73131

Major races ceased to be held on boards after 1932, although a few tracks prolonged their lives by hosting midget racing competitions. In the end, the majority of the tracks were torn down, the land utilized for other purposes. Alas, this was the fate of the Sheepshead Bay Speedway. The track, built in 1915 on the site of the old horse racing facility, only operated until 1919. The land was sold four years later and redeveloped for residential purposes, with no trace of the facility remaining today. Relegated to memory, it is important to remember the integral role that this board track and others like it played in the expansion of automobile racing across the United States.  

Janice Unger is Processing Archivist , Archives & Library Services for the Benson Ford Research Center, at The Henry Ford.

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The Grand Army of the Republic (often known by its abbreviation, GAR) was an organization of U.S. Civil War veterans who had served for the Union.  In existence from 1866 through 1956, it peaked in 1890 at over 400,000 members and 7,000 posts.  The GAR scheduled meetings and other gatherings for members, provided charitable donations to the needy, supported the construction and maintenance of Civil War memorials and sites, and became a powerful political lobbying group.  In 1868, the group’s commander-in-chief initiated an observance known as Decoration Day, which we still commemorate today as Memorial Day.

We’ve just digitized over 30 GAR badges, medals, and insignia from our collections, including
this badge from a 1908 encampment at Toledo, Ohio.  Browse all of the digitized GAR-related artifacts by visiting our Digital Collections.

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

medals, Civil War, digital collections

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From November 20, 2016, through March 5, 2017, our colleagues at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) are presenting an exhibition called Bitter|Sweet: Coffee, Tea & Chocolate. The exhibit will trace the impact of these beverages in Europe, beginning in the late 16th century. One set from The Henry Ford’s collections—this late 18th century tea service—will be on loan to the DIA, helping visitors understand what a formal tea setting would have looked like.

As we learned more about the exhibition, we saw additional parallels between the DIA’s goals and our own collections’ artifacts and themes, and ways our collections can extend the messages of the exhibit. The DIA will help explain how these new tastes spawned a design revolution and entirely new industries devoted to creating specialized tableware; our Made in America exhibit in Henry Ford Museum covers how British innovations in power and production machinery made way for the increasingly precise manufacture of porcelain and other mass-produced goods to support these needs, beginning the Industrial Revolution. Bitter|Sweet will focus on Europe, but The Henry Ford’s collections explore how the craze for these new beverages spread to America—including the tale of early American artisan and entrepreneur Paul Revere. 

The exhibit will be interactive, allowing guests to explore via all five of their senses, which is similar in approach to Greenfield Village—for instance, being able to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of historic chocolate-making in our Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village program. And last, coffee, tea, and chocolate all remain popular today, allowing us to bring the past forward and show how these historic drinks fit into life in modern America.

Over the course of the exhibit, we’ll be adding links to this post that explore some of these themes in our collections. We hope these will provide a deeper understanding of the impact these three once-exotic drinks have had, from the earliest days of our country’s history right on through to the takeout coffee in your hand.

Drinking Chocolate, American-Style
Chocolate beverages in the collection
Coffee in the collection
Tea in the collection
Paul Revere and The Henry Ford's Tie to Tea

Made in America

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The Wawona Tunnel Tree was a popular early tourist attraction at Yosemite National Park. THF130220

At the dawn of the 20th century, horseless carriages were still untested novelties.  They were prone to mechanical breakdowns over long distances and likely to get mired in the muck of bad or non-existent roads. Yet, despite these challenges, the lure of taking them out to view the scenic wonders of America’s national parks was irresistible. 

The first adventurous motorists showed up at Yosemite National Park in 1900 and at Yellowstone two years later. They shocked everyone and were promptly ordered to leave. For more than a decade afterward, automobiles were banned from the parks.  After all, these newfangled contraptions endangered park visitors, spooked the horses who regularly pulled tourist carriages and wagons, and seemed out of keeping with the quiet solitude of the parks.  It would take the creation of the National Park Service in 1916 and the vision of its first director, Stephen Mather, to wholeheartedly embrace automobiles as an asset to the parks. And perhaps no other single decision would have more impact on both the parks themselves and on Americans’ attitudes toward them. 

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Stagecoach loading well-to-do tourists in front of Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel at Yellowstone National Park, part of a package tour offered by the Northern Pacific Railroad. THF120284

Slowing down acceptance of automobiles in the parks was the control of the railroads, who early on realized the profits that could be made by providing exclusive access to the parks. Railroad companies not only brought tourists from distant cities and towns but also financed many of the early park hotels and operated the horse-drawn carriage tours inside the parks. The long railroad journey, hotel stays, and park tours were all geared toward wealthy tourists who could afford such extended and expensive pleasure trips.

Despite the railroad companies’ lobbying efforts and park managers’ arguments that they spoiled the experience of being in nature, automobiles entered the parks in increasing numbers. Mount Rainier National Park was the first to officially allow them in 1907. Glacier allowed automobiles in 1912, followed by Yosemite and Sequoia in 1913. Motorists to the parks still faced long lists of regulations: written authorization to enter, time restrictions on the use of their vehicles, strict attention to speed limits, and rules about pulling over for oncoming horses and honking at sharp turns.

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Advertising poster promoting Metz “22” automobiles, winner of the American Automobile Association-sponsored Glidden Tour of 1913—a 1,300-mile endurance race from Minneapolis to Glacier National Park. THF111540

As automobile clubs exerted increasing pressure on local and state governments, Congress slowly began taking steps to improve park roads to make them safer for motorists. The advent of World War I—sharply curtailing travel to Europe—coupled with an aggressive “See America First” campaign by highway associations like the Lincoln Highway Association encouraged more Americans than ever to take to the open road. By 1915, so many motorists stopped at Yellowstone National Park on their way to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco that in August of that year, automobiles were finally officially allowed entrance to that park.

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The scenic Cody Road to Yellowstone National Park, which opened in 1916, offered eastern motorists a more direct route into the park than the original north entrance used by tourists arriving by the Northern Pacific Railroad and the west entrance used by those taking the Union Pacific Railroad. THF103662

In just 15 years, automobiles in the national parks had grown from a trickle to a steady stream. But the real turning point came with the creation of the National Park Service on August 25, 1916, and the vision of its first director, Stephen Mather.  Mather wanted all Americans to experience the kind of healing power he himself had found in the national parks. So he aligned himself with the machine that was dramatically transforming people’s lives across the country—the automobile.  Mather knew how to appeal to motorists, promising them “a warm welcome, good roads, good hotels, and public camps.” Furthermore, he innately understood that the point-to-point travel of horse-drawn carriage tours would not work for motorists, who wanted to travel on their own schedule and stop where they wanted. Scenic highways with turnouts, lookouts, and trailheads would be oriented to the understanding that, as Mather’s assistant Horace Albright maintained, “American tourist travel is of a swift tempo. People want to keep moving [and] are satisfied with brief stops here and there.”

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So many early motorists arrived at the parks prepared to camp that public campgrounds were soon created to ensure safety, order, and control. THF128250

Mather’s ceaseless promotion worked.  In 1918, the number of tourists coming to Yosemite by automobile outnumbered those arriving by train by a ratio of seven to one.  In 1920, for the first time, the number of people visiting the national parks exceeded one million during a single year.  Mather could happily declare that the American people “have turned to the national parks for health, happiness, and a saner view of life.”  And the automobile, he concluded, “has been the open sesame.” 

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As the parks officially opened to automobiles, motorized touring cars rapidly replaced horse-drawn vehicles—in 1917 for both Yellowstone and Yosemite and in 1919 for Rocky Mountain National Park. THF209509

Numbers rose dramatically from that time on.  In 1925, yearly visitation to the parks exceeded two million and in 1928, three million.  With increased visitation came more willingness by Congress to support the parks.  Annual appropriations went toward improvements geared to motorists, including campgrounds, picnic areas, parking lots, supply stations, and restrooms.  Newly paved roads were designed to harmonize with the landscape and offered plenty of scenic turnouts and vistas.  At the same time, the majority of land would remain wilderness for backcountry hikers and campers. 

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Roads for motorists were designed to heighten the experience of the parks’ scenic wonders, as shown by this view next to the Three Sisters Trees in Sequoia National Park. THF118881

When automobiles entered the national parks, the foundation was laid for the ways in which we experience them today.  Mather believed that there was no better way to develop “a love and pride in our own country and a realization of what a wonderful place it is” than by viewing the parks from inside an automobile.  Everyone did not agree, of course.  Some argued that cars were a menace, a nuisance, an intrusion.  Either way, the automobile was destined to become the “great democratizer” of our national parks.

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This 1929 guidebook offered automobile tours not only along the rim of the Grand Canyon but also to the outlying, lesser-known Navajo and Hopi reservations. THF209662

For more on automobiles in the national parks, check out:

Donna R. Braden is the Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.  She’s looking forward to visiting two more national parks on her bucket list soon—Mount Rainier and Olympic.

camping, auto touring, national parks

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We are happy to announce the launch of our second themed release on Google Arts & Culture!  GCI’s “American Democracy” release launched July 13, 2016. 

The American Democracy collection allows anyone with an Internet connection to explore over 60 exhibits and 2500+ artifacts from 44 institutions including the Constitutional Rights Foundation, Monticello, and the National Archives.  The Henry Ford’s presence includes just over 200 artifacts from our collections covering our country’s history from the early 19th century through the 2012 presidential campaign, and consisting of campaign buttons, ballots, lanterns, bumper stickers, and prints, as well as many quirkier items, like campaign-themed bubble gum, cigarettes, top hats, capes, and razors.  We are also featuring three online exhibits as part of the collection: Electing Lincoln, on the presidential campaigns of Abraham Lincoln; Bright Past, Fragile Future, on the conservation of our fragile paper political lanterns; and Bottles, Bobbleheads, and Bubblegum, highlighting some of the most interesting and unique presidential campaign items we hold. 

Visit g.co/AmericanDemocracy to check out all the exhibits and artifacts in this collection, and be sure to visit our own Digital Collections to see even more artifacts from our collection related to political campaigns and presidential elections.

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

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The collections of The Henry Ford contain dozens of bandboxes, 19
th-century containers originally used to store neckbands (the source of their name), but frequently also used to hold hats or other clothing/accessories. These inexpensive containers were made of pasteboard or wood and then covered in paper—in many cases, as with this vibrant example, wallpaper.  Over 70 of these fragile objects can now be viewed in our Digital Collections—and check out the ones that have 360-degree views, showing interiors lined with newspapers of the time.

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

Earlier this year, The Henry Ford launched a brand-new, award-winning institutional website. Part of this project—but a big part!—is a completely reimagined Digital Collections. The Henry Ford has been scaling up its collections digitization efforts since 2010, and you’ll find tens of thousands of artifacts available online (some of the most recent additions here), with many new and enhanced features on the new site. Though we hope the new Digital Collections experience is intuitive and easy to use, we wanted to highlight some of the features for those who might not yet have had a chance to dig in and explore.

One of the best things about our Digital Collections is that they are now fully integrated with the rest of our website. This means that any search you try on our website will return results from our educational resources, our Digital Collections, and the rest of the site, in convenient tabbed format.  

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Digital Collections artifact results from a site search on thehenryford.org.

If you’re specifically interested in our artifacts, you can easily perform collections-specific searches from the homepage of our Digital Collections. By entering a word or phrase in the single box, you will search three kinds of records—individual artifacts, archival collections, and expert sets, with each group of results returning in its own tab. For artifacts, you can limit your search results by date, the type of artifact (objects, photos, documents, videos/film, or audio), the location of the artifact (Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, the Benson Ford Research Center, or not on exhibit), the special multimedia types available for that artifact (360-degree views, audio, or video), and whether there are high-resolution images available for automated download for a service fee. Search results can be sorted by relevance, title, or date.

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Search results from a search from the homepage of our Digital Collections.

If you need to get even more detailed, you can, with one of my favorite new features on the Digital Collections site,
Advanced Search. While the Digital Collections homepage search features a single box and returns results based on relevance, the more sophisticated advanced search lets you combine any of 20 different parameters, such as collection title, color, material, or creator name. Want to find orange automobiles? Or velvet dresses? Or photographs from the Fair Lane Papers collection? With Advanced Search, you can! An online help guide explains the many different fields and provides sample values for each to assist you in constructing your search.

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Once you’ve found an artifact you want to check out, you’ll notice that the look of each artifact record has changed. You will now see more information about each object, and it is easier and faster to flip through the images of each object—or zoom in to see fine details. Some objects may include
360-degree views, audio, and/or video. Each record features a “contact us about this artifact” button, through which you can e-mail our collections experts in the Benson Ford Research Center to ask questions or provide additional information or corrections to our data.

thf-website-3The look of an artifact record in our new Digital Collections.

Many Digital Collections records now display related artifacts, so while viewing something like the record for a historic photo of the Autogiro, you’ll be able to easily jump to the Autogiro itself. “Related content,” such as a story or video we’ve created including that object or other objects from our collection, will also appear where appropriate (see the record for our Apple 1 for examples). Artifacts may be shared via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, or as “artifact cards,” short, portable versions of collections records that you can embed on your blog or website. Social sharing links and instructions for using artifact cards are available via a link on every collections record.

 Archival collection records are brand-new to our Digital Collections. Previously, you needed to use our library catalog in order to find broad information about specific archival collections. Our new site allows us to include information from archival finding aids alongside the records that represent individual items from those collections. We will continue to add these archival records as collections are acquired and processed.

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A record for one of our many archival collections.

Expert sets have been totally overhauled. They still collect groups of artifacts selected by our collections experts on specific themes, but are much more robust and visually appealing. As noted above, they are also searchable directly from the Digital Collections homepage. But you don’t have to be an expert to create your own set… Anyone can! Just click the “Add to Set” button on any artifact record and log in or create an account. It is also easy to share both expert sets and user sets via Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail.

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One of hundreds of artifact Expert Sets created by our collections staff.

Another notable new feature of the site is that many of our collections images are available for immediate high-resolution download for a service fee.  Anywhere you see the BUY icon on an image (or use the relevant search limiter), you can purchase that image for personal or educational use in accordance with the terms of service listed on the site. We will continue to add more purchasable images to our Digital Collections over time. Lower-res images may be downloaded without a fee.

Lastly, if you ever tried to use our old Digital Collections site on a smartphone or tablet, you might have found it a frustrating experience. The new Digital Collections site is completely responsive, and all features will work equally well on your phone, tablet, or desktop computer.

Please try out our Digital Collections, if you haven't already, and feel free to contact us if you have any questions or comments about your experience. Our hope is that our new Digital Collections makes it easier and more fun for you to find, enjoy, and share the many treasures of The Henry Ford!

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

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“Opening the Door” is an unusual and large ( 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide) painting that recently received some much-needed conservation here at The Henry Ford. 

Painted in the 1840s by self-trained artist George W. Mark, it depicts a young girl holding a flower. She stands in an elaborately-painted open doorway. Behind the girl a bust and lamp are visible on the table in a very shadowy room. The intent is to present a life-size vision that fools the eye into thinking that we are looking into a real space. 

If you have the opportunity to take part in a VIP or Special Access tour of our Benson Ford Research Center storage, you will see this painting. It is greatly admired and it is positioned in a prominent location in the state-of-the-art storage facility here at The Henry Ford.

The painting needed conservation attention because it was not in stable condition after years of storage and many moves. Some of the damages were due to the challenges of handling – the painting is not framed, so corners got crushed when it was set down with too much force. And past attempts to hang it resulted in old patched holes near the top.

Take a look behind the scenes to see some of our work conserving "Opening the Door." This project was made possible by the generous support of The American Folk Art Society and Susan and Henry Fradkin.

thf-conservation-teamCurator of Decorative Arts Charles Sable, Conservator Celina Contreras de Berenfeld, and Senior Conservator Clara Deck examine the work in progress.

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This image shows the last old, yellowed varnish as it was removed from the paint surface.

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This is a microscopic image of the thick varnish, before and during removal. The cracks (which are actually quite small!) are expected in a painting of this age and type.

Many paintings suffer over time due to the natural aging that darkens the once-clear protective varnish coat. As the varnish darkens, it shifts colors that were originally intense and bright; they become murky and brownish. Varnish removal restores the painting’s original colors. It is not unusual for old varnishes to require renewal, and this was done as part of an extensive conservation treatment completed last year.

Old patches were also redone so that they are invisible from the front and the whole painting was lined with stable backing material to support its large size. The restoration of damaged areas of the paint was done by “in-painting” only the small areas of lost paint. Finally a new, reversible varnish was applied overall.

The final result is a stronger, stable painting that can survive for at least another 171 years in the care of The Henry Ford.


Clara Deck is Senior Conservator at The Henry Ford.

conservation

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We are closing in on the end of our multi-year project to digitize photographs related to the buildings in Greenfield Village, and one of the most recent buildings we’ve tackled has been the William Holmes McGuffey Birthplace.  In the 1830s, McGuffey created a series of textbooks commonly known as McGuffey’s Readers, intended to teach reading and writing to various grade levels of schoolchildren.  Henry Ford used these readers as a child and considered them an important influence in his life, so he moved the Washington County, Pennsylvania birthplace of McGuffey to Greenfield Village in the early 1930s, dedicating it on September 23, 1934, the 134th anniversary of the author’s birth.  Among the several dozen images we’ve just digitized is this 1845 portrait of Harriet Spining McGuffey, who became William Holmes McGuffey’s wife in 1827. 

Visit our Digital Collections to view all of the newly digitized images, or browse through other McGuffey-related artifacts, including a number of McGuffey Readers.

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