Although medical history is not currently a focus of The Henry Ford’s collections, we do have numerous medical artifacts because they relate in some way to a different area of our collections, such as public life, transportation, buildings and architecture, or design. New Associate Curators of Digital Content, Katherine White and Ryan Jelso, combed through The Henry Ford’s collection looking for artifacts that were medically innovative, either as physical innovations or as representations of innovations in the medical profession. The objects they found were initially acquired for their relation to a different collections area, but they tie closely to the development of today's medical technologies and practices.
A Civil War surgeon used this government-issued Field Operating Kit, initially acquired by The Henry Ford as a public history artifact, at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863. It contains all the tools needed to perform the most common Civil War medical procedure – amputation.
New Weapons Technology Leads to New Surgical Techniques In 1849, French military officer Claude-Etienne Minié invented a hollow-based cylindrical bullet, which was more accurate over long distances than its predecessors and more quickly loaded into a rifle barrel due to its slightly smaller size. The minié bullet provided a significant advantage to those on the offensive; however, the bullet was immensely destructive to those on the defensive. Due to its hollow nature, the projectile became misshapen upon impact and its ragged edges caused significantly more internal damage than the solid bullets used previously.
Both the Union and Confederate Armies utilized the minié bullet extensively during the American Civil War. The damages wrought by this particular bullet surely contributed to the war’s astronomical death count, but also contributed to the advancement of amputation surgery. While amputation had been used throughout the ages, Civil War surgeons innovated numerous surgical advancements. Immediate amputation of an injured limb before infection spread to healthy tissue became standard and drastically decreased battlefield mortality rates.
The Henry Ford's broad transportation collection covers the motorization of ambulances during World War I. Take a look at a few archival photographs that document the Model T's role in this important part of ambulance history, here.
The Motorization of Medical Care The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries spurred technological innovations that would change how wars were conducted in the decades to come. By the beginning of World War I in the early 20th century, military units had become increasingly motorized, replacing the horses and wagons of past wars. Armies employed mechanized military vehicles like tanks, airplanes and submarines along with new forms of chemical warfare to inflict mass casualties during what became known as "The Great War." With a surge in casualties, quick transportation of the wounded away from the battlefronts to safer hospitals became a life-saving priority. To meet this need, volunteer services and individual armies experimented with and developed motor ambulance corps, eventually making them commonplace.
The torn up roads, heavily shelled areas, and muddy terrain of the war-torn European continent made lighter vehicles preferable. While other makes and models were present, lightweight Ford Model Ts made up a large percentage of the ambulances in service during World War I. The vehicles’ ability to traverse the war environment along with their easy maneuverability made them popular among ambulance drivers. Other advantages of Model T ambulances included their low cost, economical fuel usage, and ease of operation for the average solider or volunteer. The standardization of Model T parts also meant that maintenance for these ambulances could be performed readily, extending each vehicle's service life and allowing medical professionals to tend to the wounded quicker than ever before.
As a part of the historic building collection in Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford, Doc Howard's office serves as an example of the 19th century origins from which modern American medicine would evolve.
A Snapshot of Mid-19th Century Medicine Representative of a typical early rural doctor's office, this mid-19th century building is where Dr. Alonson Bingley Howard (1823-1883) practiced an eclectic combination of conventional, botanical, and homeopathic medicine. Born in New York, Howard moved to Tekonsha, Michigan, and began his career as a farmer, eventually deciding that he wanted to become a physician. He first attended Cleveland Medical College from 1850-1851, later entering the University of Michigan's School of Medicine, where he took classes from 1851-1852. Although medical school records list him as a non-graduate, Howard moved back to Tekonsha and went on to practice medicine until his death in 1883.
In the 19th century, medical professionals had a limited understanding of illnesses and often relied on bloodletting or other purging methods to "balance" the body and keep diseases at bay. Along with minor surgery, these common practices were available to Dr. Howard as he traveled across his community attending to pregnancies, chronic diseases, tuberculosis, dental problems, and various wounds. To aid him in treating his patients, he relied on the early pharmaceutical medicines that could be found on the market during this period. However, he also kept a laboratory in his office where he could experiment with developing his own medicines through a wide personal stock of plants and minerals.
Experimentation with Plywood Provides Medical Solution The Museum of Modern Art held a design competition in 1940 entitled Organic Design in Home Furnishings, which aimed to spur development of modern furniture that adequately addressed the era’s changing way of life. Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen, friends and peers at Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art, entered multiple molded plywood chair designs into the competition and won two of the six categories. At the time, molding or bending plywood was still a quite progressive process and molded plywood was not yet commonly used in mass-produced goods for the public. Along with his wife, Ray, Charles Eames continued experimentation with molded plywood after the competition.
America’s entry into World War II brought shortages of many materials, including metal. Splints for broken limbs had historically been produced of metal, although metal splints were not ideal for military use due to their weight and inflexibility. Charles and Ray Eames, perpetual problem-solvers, designed a lightweight, strong, and flexible leg splint produced through their innovative method of molding plywood. The Eames molded leg splint became a highly effective solution for the military as well as a highly sculptural design object.
Represented in The Henry Ford's large American public life collection is the late 19th- and early 20th-century phenomenon of patent medicines, over-the-counter drugs that consumers used to self-medicate.
Consumerism Helps Standardize Early Medicines In the late 19th century, an increasing body of medical knowledge had begun to revolutionize the practice of medicine. However, a lack of scientific understanding of early medical drugs meant that drugs used in treatment were often inadequate and could even exacerbate illnesses. At a time when disease was still widespread, Americans sought cures for any number of maladies and tried nearly anything to get relief. Entrepreneurs took advantage, using advertising to make claims and promise cures with manufactured patent medicines. Such patent medicines rose to popularity in the last quarter of the 19th century, but the industry was unregulated and manufacturers were secretive about their recipes.
Some of these concoctions contained harmful ingredients or ingredients used in unsafe quantities. Cocaine, alcohol, opium, and heroin were some of the common ingredients that could be found in early patent medicines. These examples, as well as other additives, could result in addiction or even death, prompting national legislation that prohibited misleading health claims and required manufacturers to list their product's contents. In the United States, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 helped stop the manufacture of drugs and products considered poisonous, adulterated or mislabeled.
Some of the patent medicines in our collection were analyzed in 2013 through a partnership between The Henry Ford's conservation staff and the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department at University of Detroit Mercy. Their findings, as well as more information on patent medicines can be found here in our Digital Collections.
An artifact, especially an innovative artifact, often has multidisciplinary significance. An object that is distinctly medical in nature may be equally as significant, or even more significant, as a public history or design history artifact. The Henry Ford’s collections boast countless significant artifacts with histories that reach across subject matter boundaries, such as this grouping of medically innovative artifacts.
By Katherine White and Ryan Jelso, Associate Curators, Digital Content at The Henry Ford. This post was made possible in part by our partners at Beaumont. Beaumont is a leading high-value health care network focused on extraordinary outcomes through education, innovation and compassion. For the latest health and wellness news, visit beaumont.org/health-wellness.
Strange sounds will soon float through the air at The Henry Ford. Ghostly, warbling, hypnotic sounds. Reverberations that might be described as pure science fiction—as seeming “out-of-this-world.” These provocative sounds will rise out of an instrument called the theremin, developed in 1920 by Russian and Soviet inventor Léon Theremin. Famously, it is one of the only instruments that is played without physically touching it, and is considered to be the world’s first practical, mass-produced, and portable electronic instrument. These instruments offer a deep range of sonic possibility; learning to play one is a stirring experience.
At Maker Faire Detroit, July 30-31, 2016, Dorit Chrysler will provide several theremin workshops with KidCoolThereminSchool, a workshop program “dedicated to inspire and nurture creative learning and expression through innovative music education, art and science.” On Saturday, youth workshops (ages 4-13) will be held on a first come-first served basis at 11am and 1pm, followed by an adult workshop (ages 14 and above) at 4pm. On Sunday, youth workshops will be held at 1pm, followed by an adult workshop at 4pm. Maker Faire attendees are encouraged to arrive early to guarantee a place in the workshop, as each session is limited to ten participants. Additional guests are welcome to observe the workshop and test a theremin afterwards. Workshops typically run 45mins to 1hour, and will be held in the upper mezzanine area in the Heroes of the Sky exhibit.
Dorit Chrysler is rarity in the realm of musical performance: she is one of the few theremin players in the world who is considered to be a virtuoso of the instrument. She has accompanied an impressive list of bands including The Strokes, and Blonde Redhead, Swans, Cluster, ADULT., Dinosaur Jr., and Mercury Rev. Additionally, as part of her visit to Maker Faire, Dorit will give a performance each day at 3:15pm in The Henry Ford’s Drive-In Theatre, followed by a short Q&A session.
Kristen Gallerneaux, our Curator of Communications and Information Technology, had the opportunity to speak with Dorit Chysler about theremins, her music career, and the importance of collaboration.
Can you explain, using a few key words or phrases—as fanciful as you want them to be—how the theremin sounds? The granddaughter of the Lev Termen, the theremin's inventor once told me, you have to play the theremin with your soul - to me the sound at its best translates your slightest physical motions into a haunting & delicate soundscape, like weaving winds, tickled butterflies or howls to the moon, and yes, a theremin can sound exquisitely lyrical, but—at its worst, it can also sound like stepping on a cats tail.
How did your introduction to and love of the theremin as an instrument begin? What was your creative background before committing to the theremin? Having studied musicology in Vienna, I had been an active composer and also played guitar and sang in a rock band - when encountering the theremin at a friend’s house, I was instantly touched by its unusual interface, dynamic potential, the quixotic efforts necessary in controlling its pitch -why had the theremin not been more popular? It clearly deserved more attention.
How can the presence of a theremin influence the structure of a song? A theremin is surprisingly versatile - it can be applied in solo voicing (just like violin or guitar) or looping monophonic voices atop of each other, which creates a very unique weaving effect or dynamically in swoops and other gestural movements generated through its unique interface of motion translating into sound.
Are there any “quirks” to playing this instrument live? Playing a theremin live can be a challenge, as circuitry, wind (outdoors) or Hearing Aid ‘Loop’ T-coil Technology in concert halls, just to name a few, can interfere with the instrument. In addition, if you don't hear yourself well onstage, it is impossible to play in tune—so if playing with other instruments, such as an orchestra or a band with drummers, it is a challenge that can only be mastered with your own mixer and an in ear mic. Needless to say, all of this does not contribute in making the theremin a more popular instrument, the technical challenge playing live is real but can be mastered.
While commercial theremins are available via Moog Music, Inc., the theremin you sometimes play in your live shows doesn’t look like a commercial model. Is there a story behind who built it? Any special skills that creator may have had to work hard to learn in order to make the instrument a reality? I own several different theremin models and sometimes play a Hobbs Theremin, created by Charlie Hobbs. This prototypes has hand-wound coils and a very responsive volume antenna which permits very dynamic playing.
What is the strangest setting in which you have played the theremin? Many diverse settings seem to offer themselves to a thereminist. Some of my favorite ones have been: playing in front of Nikola Tesla's ashes, resting inside a gold ball sitting on a red velvet pillow at the Tesla Museum in Belgrade, or inside an ancient stone castle ruin, atop a mountain in Sweden, or on a wobbly boat off Venice during sunset and with creaming ducks, at the Carnival in Brazil on a busy street filled with dancing people, and finally, a market place in a small town in Serbia, when an orthodox priest held his cross against the theremin to protect his people from "the work of the devil."
Could you talk a little about the importance of collaboration, and perhaps talk about a project that you are especially fond of where collaboration had a key role? I strongly believe in collaboration—its challenges and the new and unforeseen places it may take you. My biggest challenge this year has been playing with the San Francisco Symphony orchestra, to be surrounded by a sea of acoustic instruments sounded incredible and was a great sonic inspiration. We all had to trust each other and some of the traditional classical musicians of the ensemble eyed the electric theremin with great suspicion! Also I enjoyed playing with Cluster, stone cold improvising together onstage, or with a loud rock ensemble, filling the main stage at Roskilde festival with Trentemoeller, looking at a sea of thousands of people. This Fall I am committed to projects in collaboration with a project in Detroit with the band ADULT., a French band called Infecticide (they remind me of a political French version of Devo), a children’s theremin orchestra, and a theremin musical production for Broadway. Stylistically a theremin can fit in nowhere or anywhere, which opens many doors of collaboration
Can you tell us a little bit about how KidCoolTheremin school began? What other sorts of venues have you travelled this program to? KidCoolThereminSchool began very organically, when children and adults were so eager to try the theremin themselves after concerts. I developed a curriculum and started classes at Pioneerworks, a center for art and science in Red Hook, NY. We were supported by Moog Music in Asheville, NC, where I had been teaching students over the course of six months. KidCoolThereminSchool has been going global ever since, we have had sold out classes in Sweden, Switzerland, Detroit's MOCAD, Houston, NYC, Moogfest, Vienna, and Copenhagen. This fall, KidCoolThereminSchool will go to Paris and Berlin as well as free classes in Manhattan as part of the "Dame Electric" festival in NY, Sept. 13-18th.
Why is it important for young people and new adult audiences to have the chance to try a theremin? Ever since its inception, the theremin as a musical instrument has been underestimated—it merely hasn’t found its true sound as of yet. In this age of technology, a theremin's unique interface of motion to sound, seems contemporary and accessible. Amidst a sea of information, the very physical and innovative approach to different playing techniques can allow each player to find their own voice of expression, learning to listen and experiment, to train motorics and musical skills in a playful and creative way.
What can people expect to learn at the KidCool workshops at Maker Faire? Due to time restrictions, we will offer introductory classes on the theremin. We will go through the basics of sound generation—and ensemble playing is sometimes all it takes for someone to get inspired in wanting to dive further into the sonic world of the theremin.
Is there anything you are particularly excited to see at the museum? Yes, the collection apparently holds two RCA theremins. They are currently not on display but we (the NY Theremin Society, which I cofounded) would very much like to help examine and determine what it would take to operate these instruments one day, and to even play them in concert at the museum in the future. For a long time now I wanted to see the permanent collection of The Henry Ford!
The Theremin, Model AR-1264, Made and Marketed by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) from 1929-1935.
Balloonist Jean Piccard Visiting Menlo Park Laboratory in Greenfield Village, November 1933. THF231520
Earlier this week, Bertrand Piccard, great-nephew of Jean Piccard, finished a team attempt to fly the first solar-powered airplane to successfully circumnavigate the world by landing where the journey started in Abu Dhabi. The Piccard family name is one well known in the collections of The Henry Ford - our collection contains a shortwave radio receiver, custom-built by William Duckwitz for ground communication during the Piccard Stratosphere Flight. The knobs, wires and tubes are typical of a DIY ethos. In 1934, a lightweight metal gondola—carrying the husband and wife exploration team Jean and Jeanette Piccard— rose up from the ground at Ford Airport. The gondola was carried aloft by a hydrogen-filled balloon, (safely) crash-landing over 250-miles away later that day, in Cadiz, Ohio.
Who was manning the gondola below the hydrogen-filled balloon? Jeannette Piccard, a streetwise woman with impressive credentials. She was the first woman to be licensed as a balloon pilot and became the first American woman to enter the stratosphere and, technically speaking, space. Piccard once said: “When you fly a balloon, you don’t file a flight plan; you go where the wind goes. You feel like part of the air. You almost feel like part of eternity, and you just float along.”
To see more artifacts related to Jean and Jeannette Piccard’s stratosphere flight, take a look at our digital collections. You can learn more about Bertrand Piccard’s solar-powered airplane mission here.
Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.
The “Barnstormers” section of the Heroes of the Sky exhibit in Henry Ford Museum covers early 20th century pilots and aerialists who would perform daring airplane stunts to entertain audiences watching below. The Laird Biplane Boneshaker that appears in the exhibit was flown by Katherine Stinson, an aviator in her mid-20s, on international exhibition tours in 1916 and 1917. We’ve just digitized a couple dozen photographs and clippings that relate to Stinson and the various planes she flew, including this image taken at the Tri-State Fair in Memphis in fall 1916—the back of the photo notes that she flew that day wearing this same ensemble, with the addition of a helmet and goggles. View all the Stinson-related materials by visiting our Digital Collections—and to learn even more about Katherine Stinson, watch for her to be featured in a segment of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation later this year.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
1912 Baker Electric Victoria, used by five first ladies of the United States. THF67884
You might imagine that the White House was an early adopter of the automobile. We think of the presidency as being on technology’s cutting edge. Furthermore, when you realize that progressive Theodore Roosevelt’s term (1901-1909) coincided with the automobile’s rise, it seems natural that the Chief Executive would have made prominent use of the day’s foremost invention. But Roosevelt held fast to the reins and refused to give up his horse-drawn vehicles.
It’s not that Roosevelt avoided cars altogether. He certainly took the occasional car ride while in office, but he refused to bring autos into the presidential transport fleet. This was the era when most people still viewed the automobile as a plaything for the wealthy. It would have damaged Roosevelt’s populist image to have him seen barreling down the street in a motor car. And so it was left to his successor, William Howard Taft, to motorize the White House.
William Howard Taft campaign button. THF155488 Taft did so with gusto, converting the mansion’s stables into a garage and filling it with a White steam car, two gasoline-powered Pierce-Arrows and a Baker electric in 1909. It’s interesting to note that Taft played no favorites when it came to fuel. (The question of which fuel – gasoline, steam or electric – was optimal wasn’t quite settled.) And it seems no coincidence that the Ohio-born Taft favored two carmakers, White and Baker, based in Cleveland.
While the President preferred the White steamer, First Lady Helen Taft chose the Baker as her personal vehicle. Mrs. Taft was not content to be chauffeured around Washington – she drove the Baker herself. Her use of an electric car was perfectly in keeping with the trend for marketing electrics toward prosperous, status-conscious women. Three years later, Mrs. Taft traded in the 1909 model for a new 1912 Baker electric valued at $2000. Records indicate that only $809.50 was paid, so either she received a generous trade-in credit or Baker thought the publicity was worth a substantial discount (or, perhaps, a little of both).
That second Baker, a Victoria model with a gracefully curved body, boasted a top speed of about 30 miles per hour and a range near 50 miles. The little car became a White House fixture. When Woodrow Wilson assumed the presidency in 1913, his wife Ellen and their three daughters drove the Baker. And after Ellen Wilson’s death in 1914, President Wilson’s second wife, Edith, also made use of the Baker. When Warren Harding took office in 1921, First Lady Florence Harding inherited the Baker electric. (The Hardings, like the Tafts, were Ohioans and perhaps took a little Buckeye pride in the Victoria.) And after President Harding’s death in 1923, Calvin Coolidge assumed office and new First Lady Grace Coolidge took to the Baker. By this time, though, the 1912 Baker was outdated in appearance and propulsion. The Baker electric was retired in 1928, and soon thereafter made its way to The Henry Ford.
Our Baker has now gone back to Cleveland, its city of manufacture. For the next year, it will be on loan to the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum of the Western Reserve Historical Society. The loan begins just as the nation’s political spotlight turns to Cleveland with the Republican National Convention, scheduled for July 18-21, 2016. It’s quite fitting: the convention is a major milestone on the road to the White House, and that’s a road the Baker has traveled many times before.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
We are about 35% of the way through our 24-month project to digitize 900 artifacts from our electrical distribution collections, thanks in large part to a generous grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and nearly 100 objects from the grant are currently accessible through our Digital Collections.
Outside that project, but on a related note, we’ve just finished digitizing 132 photos of figures associated with the same companies as the objects we’re digitizing in the grant. For example, now you can see images of people associated with Westinghouse Electric Company, and also find objects created by that company, most of which were conserved and photographed through the grant. One intriguing image we found is this 1880 photograph of Thomas Edison associate Charles Batchelor, which notes it is “the first photograph ever taken by incandescent electric lamps.”
Visit our Digital Collections to see all of these portraits of electrical pioneers, and keep an eye out for more artifacts digitized through the grant to be added over upcoming months. Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
At Maker Faire Detroit 2016, Drew Blanke—more formally known as “Dr. Blankenstein”—will arrive, trailing a rolling suitcase full of broken toys and noise-making creations along behind him. Over the weekend of July 30-31, 2016, Blanke will hold workshops to teach people how to “up-cycle electronics into one-of-a-kind 21st century art.” He asks that guests interested in participating in the workshop bring along broken electronics from home—to “open them, inspect them, and learn from them.” He will also have a few of his own creations available for hands-on demonstrations.
This will be Dr. Blankenstein’s first appearance at Maker Faire Detroit, but he is no stranger when it comes to providing engaging circuit-bending workshops. Kristen Gallerneaux, curator at The Henry Ford, first encountered Blanke at Moogfest 2014, where she saw him demonstrate a musical calculator programmed to play a song by the band Kraftwerk. What else could the song have been, but Pocket Calculator? For fans of synthesized music, his homage was a crowd-pleaser. Blanke has also appeared at World Maker Faire in Queens, NY, and returned to Moogfest 2016 to provide a series of all-ages hands-on workshops.
On Sunday, July 31st, at 2:45pm, Dr. Blankenstein will give a talk in the museum’s Drive-In Theatre called “Circuit Bending & the Art of Electronic Discovery: Open It, Inspect It, LEARN IT!”
Our Curator of Communications and Information Technology, Kristen Gallerneaux, caught up with Dr. Blankenstein for an interview.
How did your love of synthesized music begin? Are there any historic innovators that you would say are direct inspirations on what you do, and how you think about sound design?
I am not sure the exact moment when I began to love synthesizers, but I can tell you it most certainly started in the early 1980s. It wasn’t as much a love for the instrument at first as it was the wonderful sounds they were able to make. I think of music from films such as Tron, Close Encounters of the Third Kind & Breakin’, sound effects and theme songs from TV shows such as Nightrider, CHiPs and Star Trek, and 1980s music such as Kraftwerk, New Wave and early Rap all left a huge impact on me. I can’t leave out Michael Jackson and breakdance music either, I was a mini Breakdancer at the time thanks to Mom & Michael Jackson. Older dancers called me Kid Fresh (LOL). All of these elements created a need to know more about how these sounds were created. I knew there was something different about them versus say a guitar, flute or drums etc. Even at the young age of 5, I knew I wanted to know more.
As for inspirational innovators that I have been influenced by in my later years, I would have to point to Bob Moog and Herb Deutsch. The work I do and the work they did (although similar in nature) is much different in style, but I connect deeply with the passion and creativity that was alive between the two of them. It’s almost like the Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of the synthesizer world, both such amazing and inspiring American dream stories. It’s almost impossible to not be inspired by them.
Dr. Blankenstein is pictured here demonstrating one of his creations to Herbert Deutsch, co-inventor of the Moog synthesizer. You have called yourself a “circuit manipulator / designer, artist, and professional Maker”—how do these things work together and influence one another?
That’s a fantastic question! I am a big preacher of the concept of “if you want to know more about it, then jump right into it and try it out”. In my experience it’s more difficult to learn from a chalkboard than by exploring / reading and practicing a new interest you are excited by. I am excited by technology and the power it gives me to express myself. As time has gone on since the early 80s, it has only gotten easier and easier to get involved with whatever evolving technology excited me at the time. Especially now with the Internet and all the fantastic resources available to learn from (YouTube, Instructables, kits and How-To websites, etc.), plus the constantly dropping prices on great development gear such as 3D printers and Arduino /RaspberryPi, it’s never been easier to learn about something new and get involved. I kind of saw this happening early on in the game, say about 1995 or so. This allowed me to really explore many different aspects of technology and art. More importantly it gave me the time needed to make it all fit together nicely as it does now. I started in graphic arts / web design and electronic music performance / production. I later would sell big name instruments for a couple of major retailers. I owned a marketing company which allowed me to hone in on even more technical skills such as video editing, text writing and promotion. In the end, every single part of that comes into play with my work in Dr. Blankenstein. To me, it’s proof that if you don’t know exactly what road will take you where you are going, any and every road you pick will take you there. You just need to be passionate about what you are doing.
A view of Dr. Blankenstein’s workbench
Can you tell us a bit about your journey to learning the electronics end of things—things you learned that help you make/manipulate/creatively “break” the things that you do? Did you learn this formally at a school, or on your own by way of tinkering?
Well, it really started around 1986 or so when my father started doing HeathKits again. HeathKit was a company that started in the late 1940s and went out of business in the early 90s. Their basic idea was, “Why buy something at top dollar, when you can build it yourself for less?” It was a great way to learn about electronics and save some money on a gadget you wanted, but didn’t want to pay a lot for (some of their more popular / famous kits were the “HERO” robot used by Mr. Wizard and reportedly built by Steve Jobs in the early 1970s, a VHS Video Tape Recorder, or a color TV). My father was building the kits again (he was building a programmable analog musical doorbell kit), and he had built them as a child himself. Of course, I wanted in on the fun as well. My father would let me solder a resistor or two into place and explain the color coding system to me. He later would buy me an A.M. (not F.M, only A.M.) radio kit for me to complete myself, which I did (minus a few errors fixed by my father).
That was when my love for wanting to know what was inside machines grew, almost as much love for what the machine did itself was needing to know how it worked. At this point, I remember opening up many of my childhood toys to “see how they worked”. I was not always able to put them back together, but I ALWAYS managed to learn something in the process. This is a very important point to be made, one that I try to drive home in all of my workshops. It’s important if we as humans want to stay creative to make sure to look inside a machine and learn how it works. It connects you even deeper to all the hard work that went into making that device possible, develops a newfound respect for the world around you, and in the best case scenario (for what I do)… gets you excited to learn more about how things work and how to make something / or modify it yourself!
I’m a grassroots engineer, street taught… some would call me a hacker. It’s possible to be all of the above and more (it’s actually likely in many cases)! I am not saying that Engineering isn’t a wonderful thing to go to school for, and to follow as a career… it is and you should! I’m saying, you can be a Doctor, a Plumber or a Pizza maker and still be a fantastic Engineer. The most important part is the will / need to learn and the wonder to experiment and explore the world around and how it works.
A view of Dr. Blankenstein’s workbench. Can you tell us about how you go about being a Maker in your day-to-day life? Do you have a workshop at home, or do you use any kind of organized Maker spaces?
I do have a shop in my Queens, New York apartment. It’s a tight space, but it’s rather amazing what can be done from it. One half is my computer workstation, and the other half is made up of two Maker workbenches. One bench I use mostly for circuitry which has my main soldering iron / rotary tool setup / oscilloscope / drill press etc. The other bench I use more for assembling my final products. So here you will find a lot of screw drivers, wrenches, extra screws / nuts and bolts etc. I try to keep the two areas separated so that my final pieces don’t accidentally get damaged by production tools (hot soldering irons, spinning drills) or metal scraps etc. I don’t use any organized Maker Spaces at this time, I wish there were more in my area. In New York, a lot of them seem to be in the Brooklyn area. Maybe I should start one for Queens!
Collaboration is a key attribute within the Maker community. Do you have a network of friends who are also involved in circuit bending or making sound-based work? Are there any online resources where someone might find such a community?
I wish I was working with more people than I am at the moment, because I do agree with you 100%. Collaboration is key to the Maker movement / community. That being said, it’s something easier said than done. As you get older, and you get more involved in your own work, it sometimes gets more difficult to find the time between your everyday work / life to make the connections one should be making when working on a lot different kinds of projects. I hate to sound like my parents here, but this is why SCHOOL is amazing and SO important. I can say to the younger Makers out there, as an adult… you will never have a better opportunity to connect and collaborate with great like minds than you will in middle / high school and college. So do what your parents say and take full advantage of it, you will thank us for it later. I do work with some other Makers out there from time to time, one of whom is Tim Sway… the amazing woodworker / instrument maker. We have collaborated on a few projects to date you can find out there if you search the web. There are a few other people I have been talking to lately that I hope to be working with in the near future as well. Lastly, that is why Maker Faire is such an amazing concept. All of us who work on our projects day after day, week after week, month after month, can finally come out in the daylight, meet follow Makers and show off ( and check out other people’s work) our hard work and collaborate.
Dr. Blankenstein’s “GoogaMooga”—his submission to the “Circuit Bending Challenge” at Moogfest 2012. Can you talk about an especially challenging project, where the outcome was totally worth all of the effort you put in to it? Have you had any amazing accidental discoveries or spectacular failures?
It’s hard to talk about challenging projects and massive learning experiences without talking about the GoogaMooga (a 30min video of me building it can be found on my YouTube channel), my submission for the Moogfest 2012 “Circuit Bending Challenge” hacking contest. I had just gotten back into circuitry full time as was determined to be picked as part of the Top 3 to go to Asheville and compete. Did I have the skill level need to do so? Well, that was an entirely different story all together.
The idea was to use three 10 second voice recorders used to say Happy Holidays to Grandma and Grandpa in a custom greeting cards and turn them into an epic (contest winning) sampler / synthesizer. No problem, right!?! ;) Well I knew what I wanted to do, but the hard part was figuring out how to make it all work together. First I tried to etch a custom PCB mixer I planned on running all 3 sample units through. That was a total failure, a waste of sensitive time (the contest deadline was in days) and money. Plus, I had no idea how to run three separate 4.5volt samplers off one 9V power supply. The concept of a voltage divider chip / components hadn’t been revealed to me yet. So, I wound up running each of the mini voice sampler units off their own power supplies. Which pretty much meant loading the piece with NINE AA batteries and a 9V power supply to run the pile of LED lights I added and an FX section. Sounds crazy right? Later I would find out, even though I did just about everything completely wrong... I followed rule #1 in engineering, MAKE IT WORK! First and foremost, it must work… it may not look amazing on the inside, but make it work. In case you are wondering what rule #2 is, it’s always try to learn something new from your mistakes… I most certainly did as well. Guess what? I was picked to be part of the Top 3 of the contest and a relationship that still exists to this day was forged between Moogfest and myself. There isn’t much in life that will be easy or work perfectly when you first start doing it, just remember that everyone goes through it… and keep pushing through to your goals.
What is the benefit of making your own instruments, rather than exclusively playing commercially-purchased instruments? Are there any “quirks” to playing these types of things in front of an audience?
As for benefits, I suppose that depends on the artist who is using the instrument. I would guess the same can be said about “quirks” when performing with them. It really depends on the artist using it, how they are using it and what their final vision for their sound is. Meaning, an instrument can be built perfectly… in a way that it performs perfectly next to a commercially purchased instrument, but some would say, “Where’s the fun in that?” Some people look for pieces that are one-of-a-kind or unpredictable on purpose, it really depends on how the piece was built, and who is using it in what way. Playing a circuit bent piece live on the spot in front of a crowd, versus sampling cool sounds from it and using it in a computer written composition will get MUCH DIFFERENT results from the same exact instrument. I think someone who realizes that, will get the most out of a boutique instrument or something they built themselves.
Dr. Blankenstein is pictured above giving one of his custom guitar pedals to musician Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz of the Beastie Boys. Do you think it is important for young people and new adult audiences to know about the “guts” of what powers everyday technology? What can we learn by taking things apart?
I think it’s beyond important. I’m a big believer that modern culture has people in the mode of “get the newest model” without really thinking about if their current model still does the trick for them. It seems to be a harmless habit to be in, but I don’t believe it’s harmless at all. Besides creating an amazing amount of exponentially growing yearly e-waste and wasting money… maybe even worse is that it makes us solely consumers. We need to be makers, innovators and thinkers… like the men and women whose devices / creations fill the halls of the Henry Ford Museum. Each one of them wanted to make it better than the last one, and with good reason… not just because they HAD TO have the newest model.
When we think about how things work, when we look inside and see what we can learn / recycle or reuse from it… or if nothing else take a look inside at all the hard work that goes into creating these devices. We gain respect for the item, we are amazed by it, we learn more from it… we are less impressed by the company who made it and if it’s the newest model and we are more impressed by what it does. We are impressed by what it does, and that we (the human race) have been able to make it happen in the last 80 years or so! We are amazing, we build amazing things!
What can people expect to learn at your Maker Faire workshop?
I love to show people how simple it is to get involved in circuitry! I like explaining to folks that with the knowledge of just a few easy to follow electronic principles, Circuit Bending very low cost battery powered electronics is actually rather easy, educational and rewarding (changing resistance to modify pitch, swapping out speakers for audio outputs, adding colorful LEDS, changing power sources etc.).
Most people have stuff laying around their house that would be thrown / given away that can easily be modified into one-of-a-kind Circuit Bent creations. The best part is, you have no choice but to get better and better at it and learn more about electronics as you go along. So, I hope to show folks some good examples of what that looks like when you are done with it, what it sounds like, and how they can get started to do the same thing at home (on a very small project budget).
Is there anything you are particularly excited to see at the museum?
There are so many things I am excited to see at the museum, in fact the entire concept of a museum like The Henry Ford excites me beyond belief. Talk about a museum that a Maker like me can really enjoy! Not that I don’t love my native fine art, science centers, or natural history museums here in New York, but a museum dedicated to invention, ingenuity and inspiration… that’s a place I can spend an entire week at. I will actually be staying a few days after the Maker Faire to make sure I don’t miss anything great. From what I see online, it’s just not possible to see the entire campus in 2 days (most certainly when the Maker Faire is going on).
What I am MOST EXCITED to see? It’s hard to have to pick, but I would have to say the communications and information technology artifacts in the museum. I just HAVE TO see the original Apple 1 computer and of course my friend Herb Deutsch’s original Moog Synthesizer prototype! I get goose bumps just typing that sentence. I’m excited to come see you Michigan—see you at the Detroit Maker Faire 2016!
The Ford GT40 race car celebrates some big anniversaries this year and next. In 1966, GT40s finished 1-2-3 at the French endurance race 24 Hours of Le Mans, and in 1967, the Ford Mark IV now on display at The Henry Ford won an all-American victory at the same race, driven by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt. In honor of these milestones, we’ve just digitized about 800 color images from the Dave Friedman Collection showing races where GT40s competed, including this lineup from the 24 Hours of Daytona race in February, 1969. Visit our Digital Collections to browse the images by race, including the 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1969 12 Hours of Sebring; the 1966 and 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans; and the 1967, 1968, and 1969 24 Hours of Daytona—and if you want even more GT40, check out the video we just produced telling the dramatic story of our Mark IV and its fabled 1967 win. Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
The Fumes to Fuel program at Ford Rouge Complex strives to make process of adding color onto cars more environmentally friendly
Take the Ford Rouge Factory Tour, and a number of sustainable, environmentally conscious manufacturing practices and processes jump out at you right away. You’ll see the Dearborn Truck Plant’s massive living roof and purposeful use of natural light. You can even walk the surrounding outdoor sanctuary where birds nest, flowers bloom and honeybees flourish.
“What really impresses me is Ford’s continued commitment to tackle big issues and figure out new processes and ways of doing things that not only make it better for the product but also address air and water issues,” said Cynthia Jones, general manager of the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. “Ford is pushing the paint industry to make paints better, and it is also pushing to make its own processes better.”
Solvents in the paint used to coat vehicles wind up in the exhaust system, and what’s left is “nasty stuff,” according to David Crompton, a senior environmental engineer at Ford Motor Company. “A lot of countries will not permit the discharge of it into the atmosphere,” he added, “so our early work focused on developing ways of abating those solvents.”
The Fumes to Fuel process, which has been refined over several years, pushes solventladen exhaust air through a carbon bed. The carbon removes the solvents from the exhaust, leaving behind clean exhaust that can be safely discharged into the atmosphere. The carbon is then swept with nitrogen, heating it up and removing the solvents. The carbon returns to the absorption stage, and the solvent-laden nitrogen is condensed into a liquid form.
The entire process ends up being more environmentally friendly than producing waterbased coatings, because less energy is required and the potentially harmful solvents are abated.
“Some of our competitors chose waterbased coatings,” Crompton said. “We believe that solvent-born technology provides the best overall environmental performance because the technology requires less energy consumption, which translates into lower CO2 emissions. It also allows lower facility and operating costs, so there’s a smaller overall footprint.”
Another added benefit, the solvent-born coatings give Ford vehicles a best-in-class finish in terms of durability and chip and scratch resistance.
Did You Know? The Ford Rouge Factory Tour’s Manufacturing Innovation Theater received a 2016 Thea Award for outstanding achievement for a brand experience. The Thea awards program honors creative excellence in theme parks, museums and other attractions, and is considered one of the attraction industry’s greatest honors.
This story originally ran in the June-December 2016 edition of The Henry Ford Magazine.