Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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Though The Henry Ford has had a dedicated digitization program for about the last five years, we have been doing a lot of the same work (e.g. conservation, cataloging, and imaging) for much longer. We often mine our archive of existing collections images to add interesting groupings to our digital collections. One group of artifacts Registar Lisa Korzetz recently ran across was about ten bootleg liquor bottles. According to the donor, this Canadian alcohol was likely smuggled into Detroit during Prohibition (1920–33) to be served in a family member’s speakeasy, also known as a blind pig.  The geography of the Detroit River lent itself so well to smuggling alcohol from Canada, and was used so frequently for this purpose, that national Prohibition director Roy A. Haynes said of it: “The Lord probably could have built a river better suited for rum-smuggling, but the Lord probably never did.” View the collection of bootleg booze, including this paper-wrapped “Coon Hollow Bourbon Whiskey” bottle from Amherstburg, Ontario, in our digital collections.

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

liquor bottles, prohibition

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Yesterday Atlas Obscura shared a post about the Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) and it caught Brian Wilson's, our Digital Access & Preservation Archivist, eye. Brian took a look at our archives and found slides from our Sundberg-Ferar Collection. (You might remember this collection from a post Brian wrote about sketches for a manned space station in the 1980s.) Sundberg-Ferar worked on a number of public transit and rapid transit projects, and our collection contains material dating from the 1960s into the 1980s. Among those projects are the BART system in San Francisco, and the Morgantown, West Virginia, transit system which is illustrated by these four images. Different exterior and interior design concepts are shown, along with a scale model of a vehicle between two station platforms. You can see a portion of those concept drawings there in the background of the scale model photo.

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This isn’t Brian’s first detective-like hunt through our archives. Last fall he found out why Edsel Ford’s 1934 Detroit Lions season pass was cancelled after a questions was asked about it on Twitter.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

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In a typical day at The Henry Ford I find myself answering patron questions or assisting with research. Then, there’s the not-so-typical day when I’m coordinating and work on the Special Access team.

stephanie-artifactJuly 13, 2015, was one of those not-so-typical days. I found myself face to face with someone people may call one of the most fascinating inventors in history, Nikola Tesla. You might be asking, how does one find herself in this position? Well, let me show you.

The Special Access Program is designed to allow for closer examination of artifacts in storage, access to artifacts beyond visitor barriers, or filming behind the scenes at The Henry Ford. It allows patrons (film crews, enthusiasts, model makers, etc.) access to our collections that can’t be accommodated in the usual ways such as viewing exhibits and items on display, searching collections online, or viewing material in the public reading room.

In fact, the artifacts from the collection are some of the biggest stars of our television show, The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, so the Special Access team is very busy during filming. The first episode of season 2 – filmed in part on this day in July – features the work of Nikola Tesla. I brought several objects to “center stage” for the shoot, including the death mask of Nikola Tesla, shown above. I worked with our Exhibits team to move the electroplated copper mask and its beautifully designed pedestal (which together weigh more than 50 pounds!) from a case in the Made in America exhibition to a sturdy table. It joined several objects that I had moved temporarily from collections storage to the museum for filming: Continue Reading

inventors, The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

#1 Cars at The Henry Ford

September 22, 2015

Records don’t survive to tell us whether our 1965 Ford Mustang was actually the first off of the assembly line, but there’s no question that its VIN ends with “00001.”

Museums have a habit of collecting “first, last and only” artifacts. Think of things like the ceremonial “First Stone” of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad at the B&O Railroad Museum. Or the 1966 Cruiser, the last Studebaker automobile ever built, at the Studebaker National Museum. Or the singular airplane Spirit of St. Louis at the National Air & Space Museum. Generally, The Henry Ford’s collection is not marked by “firsts, lasts and onlys.” Don’t get me wrong, we have many unique items (there’s only one Wright Cycle Shop, after all), but Henry Ford concentrated on collecting objects of everyday life. It’s a trait that carries over into our automobile collection. Yes, there are things like the “Sunshine Special” presidential limousine, but ordinary cars like the 1984 Plymouth Voyager or the 1986 Ford Taurus are more typical in the museum – because they were more typical on the road. Continue Reading

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The world’s first xerographic image made by Chester Carlson and Otto Kornei (Image courtesy of Xerox Corporation, Xerox Images Library).

imls_logo_2cA date, and a place, written by hand: 10.-22.-38. Centered underneath: Astoria. The letters are composed of bold strokes, defined at the edges and flaking towards the center. The whole arrangement seems to be crumbling towards the bottom of the page, like it is made of dust that could be wiped away by the backstroke brush of a hand. Its purpose uncertain, this is not a “note to self” to be in a place, on a certain date—this is the first successful Xerox copy ever made.

The inventor of the modern photocopier, Chester Carlson, began thinking about mechanical reproduction and the graphic arts at a young age. His first publishing effort was a newspaper called This and That, circulated among family members when he was ten years old. The first edition was handwritten, with later issues composed on a Simplex typewriter given to him as a Christmas present in 1916. In high school, Carlson was forced to work multiple jobs in order to support his impoverished and ill family; one of these jobs found him sweeping floors at a printing shop. Working around printing machinery inspired him to publish a science journal, but the tedium of setting type by hand, line by line, led him to give up on this idea quickly. The machines did not support the quickness of his mind. It was in these frustrations with printing equipment—the fussiness of equipment that reproduced documents during his youth—that motivated Carlson to create the instantaneous printing process that would eventually be central to the creation of the Xerox photocopier. Continue Reading

photocopiers, imls grant

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The Henry Ford receives inquiries from around the world and from all types of individuals and organizations about the contents of our collections. Recently, we were approached by Christian Dior Couture about the Dior garments, accessories, and drawings we hold. As we investigated and located these items, we digitized many of them, including this 1950s pillbox hat owned and worn by Elizabeth Parke Firestone. Now anyone can view dozens of Dior-related artifacts on our collections website. And while we’ve digitized all the Dior design drawings that relate to specific garments in our collections, we hold dozens more Dior drawings, which we’ll be digitizing over upcoming months—so be sure to check back for even more high fashion in our digital collections.

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

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Nikola Tesla Death Mask

September 14, 2015

Death mask of electrical pioneer, Nikola Tesla, made in 1943. THF49159

In the era before photography, masks — cast from molds taken directly from an individual's face or hands — were a means of making a portrait without resorting to the services (and perhaps shortcomings) of an artist. By the mid-twentieth century it was far easier to make a photographic portrait than to go to the trouble of making a mask. The detailed and lifelike quality of masks — taken from living or recently deceased individuals — ensured the survival of the process.

This copper mask captures the likeness of electrical pioneer and experimenter Nikola Tesla. It was made immediately upon the latter's death in 1943, at the request of publisher and writer Hugo Gernsback, a friend of Tesla's. Continue Reading

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

Exploded Model T

September 10, 2015

Mo Rocca, host of "The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation," poses with the exploded Model T in Henry Ford Museum during filming. (Event Photography by KMS Photography)

One of the most dramatic displays in Henry Ford Museum is the “exploded” Model T—a 1924 Model T touring car with its constituent parts suspended by wires. Located at the entrance to the Made in America exhibition, it invites visitors to take a different look at an iconic American product.

Henry Ford’s Model T automobile is one of the most significant technological devices of the 20th century. Its clever engineering and low price allowed it to do what could only be done once—make the automobile widely popular. The Model T spawned mass automobility, altering our living patterns, our leisure activities, our landscape, even our atmosphere. The Model T’s influence is so pervasive and lasting that even people who know little about old cars or automotive history know the name “Model T.”

But the way the Model T was produced is as iconic as the car itself. When Ford Motor Company introduced the Model T in October 1908, firearms, watches, and sewing machines were already being assembled from interchangeable parts made on specialized machines. Ford successfully adapted these techniques to the much more complex automobile, and then crowned this achievement with the development of the moving assembly line in late 1913. Continue Reading

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Advertising the Model T

September 9, 2015

This full-page advertisement announcing the introduction of the Ford Model T is rich with text and technical detail—a rational approach to selling the product. The text reinforces the theme of "Ford: High Priced Quality in a Low Priced Car" throughout the ad. This advertisement appeared in Life and Saturday Evening Post magazines on October 1, 1908. THF122987

"If you really have a good thing, it will advertise itself." - Henry Ford

Introduced in the fall of 1908, Ford Motor Company's Model T was the right car for a newly developing market. It was affordable, efficient and reliable. Almost immediately the Ford Model T became the standard by which other reasonably priced cars were judged. By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. By the time that the company finally ended the model's production in 1927, more than 15 million Model Ts had been produced.

The very endurance of this single model offers an intriguing look at how the Model T was advertised over the nearly 20 years it was in production. Model T advertisements show the changes in print ads in general and the Ford Company's marketing policies in particular. These advertisements also reflect the company's response to changing market conditions.  Continue Reading

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The Tripp Sawmill was moved to Greenfield Village in 1932, in part to process timber for various on-site construction projects. Originally built in 1855 in Tipton, Michigan, and owned and operated by Reverend Henry Tripp, this building is a steam-powered up-and-down sawmill.  Before the end of the 19th century, more efficient circular sawmills had become prevalent, but the building remains in Greenfield Village today, along with two other sawmills built in Greenfield Village (Spofford, another up-and-down sawmill, and Stoney Creek, featuring a circular saw), giving our visitors a taste of this important 19th century industry. For an even deeper immersion, check out the photographs we’ve just digitized of Tripp Sawmill on its original site before its move to Greenfield Village, including this interior shot. Visit our digital collections website to view all the Tripp Sawmill images, as well as images of many other Village buildings in their original locations.

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