Past Forward

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Detroit Autorama 2016: Hot Rods, Customs and Classics at Cobo
"Jade Idol II,” built as a tribute to master customizer Gene Winfield’s original, is typical of the Detroit Autorama’s top-tier cars.

Even in the dead of winter, it’s never a long wait around here for the next car show. Soon after the North American International Auto Show closes its doors, we look forward to the Detroit Autorama, the annual show featuring the best in custom cars and hot rods. The 2016 show, held February 26-28, did not disappoint with some 800 vehicles spread over 750,000 square feet in Cobo Center.

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Concept cars of the 1950s were spotlighted. This ’54 Chrysler La Comtess came from FCA’s Walter P. Chrysler Museum. The show car was designed expressly to appeal to women.

Autorama always draws participants from throughout the United States and Canada, but its international reach is growing. This year’s show included a 1976 Ford Falcon from Australia. (The Falcon nameplate survived Down Under long after its U.S. demise in 1970.) Aftermarket performance parts companies, like Summit and Edelbrock, are long-time fixtures at the show, but the Detroit Three are now established exhibitors, too. No, you won’t find the latest models at Cobo, but the 2016 show did include a Chrysler Turbine from Fiat Chrysler’s Walter P. Chrysler Museum, a selection of concept Cadillacs from the GM Heritage Center, and the 1995 Lincoln L2K roadster from Ford Motor Company.

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Rat rodders reject the immaculate presentations favored by most customizers. They don’t get much rattier than this “1940ish” “Chevyish” beast.

Some participants describe Autorama as “the Oscars of the car show world” – a fitting comparison given that Sunday’s Autorama award ceremony took place on the same night as the Academy Awards. This year’s Ridler Award, Autorama’s top prize, went to a gorgeous 1939 Oldsmobile owned by Billy Thomas of Georgetown, Texas. The Ridler, named for early Autorama promoter Don Ridler, may be the most prestigious honor in the custom car hobby. It’s only given to vehicles that are being shown publically for the first time. If you don’t win, there’s no second chance. Winners enjoy a certain immortality. Their names are engraved on the trophy for all time, and photos of their cars enter the online Winner Archive where they inspire new generations of Autorama contestants. The $10,000 that comes with the prize isn’t too shabby, either.

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Not every Autorama entrant is a hot rod. There are a few straight restorations, like this 1966 Chevy Chevelle convertible, in the mix.

As in past years, The Henry Ford awarded its own trophy at the Autorama ceremony. Our Past Forward Award honors the vehicle that best combines the inspirations of the past with the innovative technologies of the present. We also look for a vehicle that exhibits the highest craftsmanship and, in the end, is simply a lot of fun.

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B.J. Boden’s 1985 Ford Ranger, a take on a scaled-down semi tractor, won The Henry Ford’s Past Forward Award.

Our Past Forward winner this year was B.J. Boden of Temperance, Michigan. Inspired by the ever-present semi truck, Boden took a 1985 Ford Ranger and fashioned it into his own little big rig. Boden’s extended cab, complete with suicide doors, came from two donor Rangers and a Chevy Suburban roof. His grille is from a 1952 Ford F2 pickup, while the dashboard came from a 1962 Ford Falcon. True to form, Boden replaced the Ranger’s engine with a turbocharged four-cylinder Cummins diesel. The wood-lined bed features a functional exhaust stack (that belches black smoke when Boden fires up the engine) and a suitably-scaled hitch ball in place of a fifth wheel. It’s a beautiful job, all the more so because Boden did much of the work himself.

All in all, it was another fantastic year at Cobo Center. Warmer weather means it won’t be long before we start seeing some of these great cars back out on the streets.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Car Shows

leap year

Leap year--when an extra day is added to the calendar as February 29--offered a special "opportunity" for women. In folk tradition, it was only then that women could propose marriage. Nowadays, marriage proposals are fair game for either gender. In the early 1900s, postcards like this one were an inexpensive and novel way to send colorful greetings to family and friends.

Dated 1908, this leap year postcard was sent in April of that year and created by the Paul C. Koeber company.

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Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life.

 

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When Henry Ford acquired a small house located just a few miles from his winter residence at Richmond Hill, Georgia, he believed it was either a tenant farmer’s house or the house of a plantation overseer. Later research revealed it was in fact the home of the African American Mattox family, built in 1879 on their own land. Visit Mattox Family Home in Greenfield Village today, and you’ll learn about Amos and Grace Mattox and the children they raised in the house during the 1930s. We’ve just digitized some images related to the house, such as this contact sheet from the opening celebration held on August 8, 1991. View more Mattox-related images by visiting our digital collections.

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

The Noah Webster Home in Greenfield Village. THF 1882

Many of the homes of Greenfield Village are often admired for their architectural design and the historic furnishings displayed within them, but the really true connections are made when all of this can be combined with the stories of the people who actually lived there. The Noah Webster House, originally from New Haven, Connecticut, is no exception.

Portrait of Noah Webster, painted by Samuel Morse in 1823, and Rebecca Greenleaf Webster, painted by Jared Bradley Flagg, c. 1835.

This was home to Noah Webster’s family, and their descendants for nearly 100 years. It was purchased by Henry Ford in 1936, dismantled and shipped to Dearborn to become part of his collection of historic buildings. Greenfield Village combines the homes and workplaces of both notable Americans and those that lead everyday lives. Most show life as it was before fame. In the case of the Webster House, the opposite is true.

By the time Noah had the house built in 1822, the American Revolution was nearly 50 years past and he was among the last of the old patriots. He was viewed as one of the great American scholars and intellectuals, and a true celebrity. The Websters' New Haven home, through the 1820s and well into the 1830s, was essentially an American salon, welcoming notables in the worlds of politics, art, education, and literature. According to recent biographer Harlow Giles Unger, during the early 1830s “the Webster home was a center of social activity-for the Yale faculty, for visiting clergymen, the old Federalists, and for noted figures.” In a letter written by Rebecca Webster to her daughter she states, “I have had a large party with as many of the faculty as we could cram in. The party went off well, for all seemed happy.” In addition to notable guests, a growing brood of Webster grandchildren (20 by 1836) came for frequent and extended visits. When the oldest grandsons attended Yale starting in the early 1830s, Rebecca entertained them and their friends with musical parties, “old-time frolics”, and at least one costume ball. Continue Reading

 

A Swell Head,” ca. 1855 THF 126861

There is no other day like Valentine’s Day. It is a day in which we are strongly encouraged—by tradition, by our peers, by merchandisers and greeting card manufacturers—to express our positive feelings for another person. Generally, these feelings relate to love, affection, friendship.  Valentine’s Day cards are an easy way to communicate one’s feelings, preventing the sender from having to say these things in person. Often we find—in the plethora of cards available today ranging from humorous to “hot”—that the sentiment written in the card expresses exactly what we want to say better than if we’d said it in person.

Valentine’s Day cards have long served this purpose. During the late 1800s, most of these cards were frilly, draped with images of cherubs, birds, and flower garlands, and dripping with sweet sentimental verses. Intended to be sent to family members or sweethearts, these fit the moral tone and maudlin sentimentality of the era. Continue Reading

valentine cards, vinegar Valentines

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Many of the buildings that Henry Ford collected to create Greenfield Village are presented to match their original function—the Wright Home, for example, is set up as it might have been when the Wrights lived there. One building that has had multiple functions within the Village, though, is a machine shop built in Lapeer, Michigan, in 1888. Henry Ford met William and John McDonald, the two brothers who ran the shop their father started, and collected their building for the Village, where it now sits near the Glass Shop in Liberty Craftworks. For much of its history in the Village it has been a functional or maintenance space, but there are plans in the works to give it a bold new presence. We’ve just digitized several dozen photos that show the machine shop on its original site, including this exterior shot—visit our digital collections to see all of these images, and watch for news about this building’s future.

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

 

Chest of drawers after conservation.

This beautifully embellished chest of drawers was made between 1800 and 1810 in New England, probably New Hampshire. The decorative quarter fan motif, the nicely figured mahogany and birdseye maple veneer make this an elegant example of the Federal style.

On August 11, 2014, six-plus inches of rain fell in Dearborn over several hours, causing a backup of the drainage pumps on Henry Ford Museum’s rooftop.  Water infiltrated the museum’s furniture storage area damaging many artifacts. With generous financial assistance from the Americana Foundation we have been able to direct resources to the conservation of this and other treasures that were damaged during the flood. Continue Reading

Part of the virtual visit you can now make to the Ford Rouge Factory Tour within Google Cultural Institute.

We're very pleased to announce that we are launching a new partnership between The Henry Ford and the Google Cultural Institute, available to anyone with Internet access here. The Google Cultural Institute platform features over 1,000 cultural heritage institutions worldwide, and more than 6 million total artifacts, “putting the world’s cultural treasures at the fingertips of Internet users and … building tools that allow the cultural sector to share more of its diverse heritage online” (in Google’s own words). Continue Reading

prius-toyota

When we look at an automobile, we are moved by what we see on the outside – its styling. But what moves the car is on the inside – its engine. Please join us for a rare look under the hoods of some of the finest automobiles at Henry Ford Museum. More than 40 cars have their engines exposed for you.

Here, Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford, describes some of his favorites.

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Engines Exposed: 2002 Toyota Prius

Gasoline Engine: Inline 4-cylinder engine, double overhead cam, 91 cubic inches displacement, 76 horsepower

Electric Motor: AC, permanent magnet, 33 kilowatt, 44 horsepower

Hybrid cars are an old idea, but their moment arrived with the Toyota Prius. The car’s gas and electric power plants sit side-by-side. The electrical inverter, on top of the electric motor, converts DC current from the batteries into AC used by the motor. That motor becomes a generator during braking, turning kinetic energy from the car’s momentum into electricity fed back to the batteries.

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It’s February, and with Valentine’s Day around the corner, many people’s thoughts turn to expressions of undying love and devotion delivered via beautiful and touching cards.  However, from the mid-19th through the mid-20th centuries, some cards took a different slant.  Known commonly as “vinegar valentines,” these satirical cards delivered insults ranging from the mild to the extremely offensive.  We’ve just digitized about 10 examples of vinegar valentines from our collection, including this highly unflattering rejection note.  Watch for an upcoming post on our blog from curator Donna Braden for more information about this phenomenon, or peruse the digitized vinegar valentines now by visiting our digital collections.

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

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