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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation


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?

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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

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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

Eva Tanguay in Vaudeville Costume, 1910-1919 THF82177

Eva Tanguay was a showstopper—one of vaudeville’s most charismatic stars. Long before performers like Madonna made their mark, Eva Tanguay was wowing ‘em on the vaudeville stage.

The flamboyant singing comedienne was the highest paid performer for over a decade during the heyday of American vaudeville in the early 1900s. Known as the “I Don’t Care Girl” after her most famous song, Eva’s bold, self-confident songs symbolized a new, emancipated American woman. Continue Reading

vaudeville, vaudeville stars

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For a few years starting at age seven, Henry Ford attended a one-room schoolhouse, the Scotch Settlement School, located on Warren Avenue in what was then Dearborn Township, Michigan.  When he was developing Greenfield Village, Henry Ford acquired the school, relocated it to the Village, and opened it as a multi-grade classroom for the Edison Institute Schools in fall 1929.  We’ve just digitized 75 images of the school on its original site, including this well-labeled image of the 1925 funeral of Mrs. Susie Chapman, wife of one of Henry Ford’s favorite teachers, John Chapman. (Chapman himself had died two decades earlier; his family home and another school at which he taught are also preserved in Greenfield Village.)  Henry and Clara Ford appear at the far left. Visit our digital collections to view more images and artifacts related to the school.

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

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Season two of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation is well under way, and we’re doing research within our collections and digitizing material related to some of the upcoming storylines. One we worked on this week involves the Loranger Gristmill and American inventor Oliver Evans. The Gristmill was built in 1832 in Monroe, Michigan, and ground wheat and corn for local farmers into the 20th century; it was moved to Greenfield Village in 1928. The conveyor system that moved grain around inside the building was developed by Evans in the 1700s—but this was not his only creation. In the early 1800s, he developed a dredging machine called the “Oructor Amphibolis,” shown here in an image from our collections, that was powered by a steam engine he also invented. Visit our collections website to browse more artifacts related to Evans and to Loranger Gristmill—and keep an eye out to see the gristmill in action on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation.

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

It’s probably no surprise that Motor Muster, our annual car show celebrating 1933-1976 automobiles, is spotlighting the Ford Mustang for 2014, given all the excitement surrounding the car’s 50th anniversary. Likewise, it’s no great shock that The Henry Ford’s 1962 Mustang I roadster and 1965 Mustang Serial Number One convertible will be in Greenfield Village among the approximately 900 registered cars. What will come as a pleasant surprise is the appearance of a third special Mustang, for one day only, on Saturday, June 14. The Detroit Historical Society is bringing its 1963 Mustang II concept car to the show, making Motor Muster the only chance this year to see Mustangs I, II and Serial Number One together in the same place.

The 1963 Mustang II (not to be confused with the Ford Pinto-based production Mustang II of the 1970s) surely is one of the most unusual concept cars ever built. Industry practice (and common sense) tells us that an automaker builds a concept car as a kind of far-out “dream car” to generate excitement at car shows. Most never go past the concept stage, but a few do make it into regular production. (Chevrolet’s Corvette and Dodge’s Viper are notable examples.) The Mustang II previewed the production Ford Mustang we all know and love, but the concept car was designed and built after the production Mustang project already was well underway! Why? It’s a case of managing public expectations. Continue Reading

Marty McFly's hoverboard -- source of a million crushed hopes today. (THF319315)

This is it – the future is now. For any self-respecting Child of the Eighties, October 21, 2015, has been circled on the mental calendar since November 1989 when Back to the Future Part II hit theaters. I was 13 years old when I first saw Doc Brown and Marty McFly take their time traveling DeLorean to the fantastically futuristic world of Hill Valley 2015 – old enough to realize that we probably weren’t going to get hoverboards and flying cars, but young enough to still hope that we might. The year 2015 seemed impossibly far off (like, as far off as 2041 seems today), and one could imagine that some of those wonderful things in the movie might just come to pass. Well, not so much…

Predicting the future is a fool’s errand. Any movie that tries to imagine future technologies will inevitably miss the mark. Back to the Future Part II’s creative team knew this well, so they chose to go all in and make their 2015 as over-the-top as possible. That tech optimism is a big part of the movie’s appeal. BTTF II gives us happy robots that pump our gas, serve our soft drinks, and welcome us home at the end of the day. They’re a pleasant contrast to the tortured replicants and cyborgs of Blade Runner and RoboCop.

Being a transportation curator, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the transport technologies featured in Back to the Future Part II. Let’s start with those flying cars. The dream of an aircraft in every garage is an old one. It shows up in books, magazines and – on rare occasions – in reality. (Even Henry Ford spent some time and money on the concept.) The flying cars in BTTF II are there because they have to be. It’s the future we all want! Needless to say, we didn’t get them by 2015. Personally, I think flying is well beyond the skills of the average driver (myself included). Flying cars aren’t a good idea until we can take most of the operation and navigation out of the driver’s hands. And that’s the good news here in the real 2015 – driverless cars are edging ever-closer to practical reality. Give me a car that operates itself, and then I’ll start clamoring for it to fly. Continue Reading

In addition to the 150th anniversary of Henry Ford’s birth, this year brings us another important milestone. It was 100 years ago that Ford Motor Company combined the standardization of interchangeable parts with the subdivision of labor and the fluid movement of work to workers to create the world’s most influential assembly line. We are unusually fortunate that two keen observers of industry, Horace Lucien Arnold and Fay Leone Faurote, were there to document it.

Arnold, a correspondent for The Engineering Magazine, grasped the significance in Ford’s work and began a series of articles on the company’s Highland Park factory. After Arnold’s untimely death, Faurote completed and compiled the articles in the 1915 study Ford Methods and the Ford Shops. The book’s detailed descriptions, numerous photographs and careful diagrams give us a vivid window into Highland Park at a seminal moment in technological history.

A century later, the most remarkable aspect of Ford Methods and the Ford Shops is the liberal level of access Ford gave to its authors. It is difficult to imagine Google or Apple opening their doors to today’s press and giving unfettered access to employees, workspaces and sensitive production figures. The company’s cooperation speaks volumes about Henry Ford’s confidence in Highland Park. He knew that his methods were far ahead of his competitors, and there was little fear of them catching up too quickly.

The assembly line came to Ford Motor Company in stages. Around April 1, 1913, flywheel magnetos were placed on moving lines. Instead of one worker completing one flywheel in some 20 minutes, a group of workers stood along a waist-high platform. Each worker assembled some small piece of the flywheel and then slid it along to the next person. One whole flywheel came off the line every 13 minutes. With further tweaking, the assembly line produced a finished flywheel magneto in just five minutes.

It was a genuine “eureka” moment. Ford soon adapted the assembly line to engines, and then transmissions, and, in August 1913, to complete chassis. The crude “slide” method was replaced with chain-driven delivery systems that not only reduced handling but also regulated work speed. By early 1914, the various separate production lines had fused into three continuous lines able to churn out a finished Model T every 93 minutes – an extraordinary improvement over the 12½ hours per car under the old stationary assembly methods.

The incredible time and cost savings realized through the assembly line allowed Henry Ford to lower the Model T’s price, which increased demand for the car, which prompted Ford to seek even greater manufacturing efficiencies. This feedback loop ultimately produced some 15 million Model Ts selling for as little as $260 each.

The peak annual Model T production of 1.8 million in 1923 was still years away when Arnold and Faurote made their study. They did not capture Ford’s assembly line in a fully realized form. In fact, the line never was finished. It existed in a state of flux, under constant review for any potential improvements. Adjusting the height of a work platform might save a few seconds here, while moving a drill press might shave some more seconds there. Several such small changes could yield large productivity gains.

Ford Methods and the Ford Shops captures a manufacturer that has just discovered the formula for previously unimagined production levels. The assembly line is groundbreaking, and Ford knows it. The company’s openness with its methods, and Arnold’s and Faurote’s efforts to document and publicize them, helped make the Model T assembly line the industrial milestone that we still celebrate a century later.