Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Exhibit Fabricators Rob Brown and Kent Ehrle carefully removed the chandelier arms after Electrician Paul Desana disconnected electrical power to the arms. The center portion of the chandelier was then lowered into the lift and handed to a group of waiting staff who moved it to the conservation labs on a custom-made cart.

In 2014 conservation, facilities and exhibit staff members removed two English crystal chandeliers from the museum shop in Henry Ford Museum in preparation for the upcoming renovation. The chandeliers, which were made in Birmingham, England between 1860 and 1880, had been in the shop for many years and were showing signs of age. The silver portions were heavily tarnished and the metal wires that held the crystals were corroded and brittle. We decided to conserve them prior to their move to a new home in a rather dark lounge just outside of the Lovett Hall Ballroom, where their glittering, cut-glass elegance would be appreciated. Continue Reading

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One popular line of inquiry received by the Benson Ford Research Center involves Henry Ford’s interest in ensuring a constant and affordable supply of rubber for Ford Motor Company by establishing rubber plantations in Brazil, first at Fordlandia, and then at Belterra. Not surprisingly, our collections hold quite a bit of related material.  W.L. Reeves Blakeley led the expedition to find the site that would later become Fordlandia, and, after Ford purchased the tract of 2.5 million acres, supervised the team that did the initial clearing. The W.L. Reeves Blakeley collection at The Henry Ford contains documentation of experiments, test papers, printed material, a few tools, and plant samples—the latter of which we’ve just digitized, including this sample of “maleo caetano” collected in 1931.  Visit our digital collections to see all 15 plant samples, along with additional photos of Fordlandia and Belterra.

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

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Earlier this year I introduced readers to a small collection of artifacts unofficially known as Henry Ford Tributes. As I mentioned earlier, a few of these objects have some pretty amazing backstories. The wall hanging, shown above, is one such example. One may not think that Henry Ford and the subject of reincarnation could appear together in the same sentence but the fact is Henry Ford was an advocate of transmigration, stating in many interviews that he became a believer at the age of 26. He had earlier been given a copy of Orlando J. Smith’s book A Short View of Great Questions, originally published in 1899. The theories expressed therein regarding reincarnation and the tenets of a religion the author termed Eternalism seemed to answer some of the life questions that had begun to occupy the automaker’s thoughts. It also curiously coincides with the work ethic of Henry Ford as well as his definition of greatness. Continue Reading

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I have a cool job here at The Henry Ford. Once a month I climb 75 steps up to Henry Ford Museum's Tower Clock to inspect and lubricate the Seth Thomas clock. Above is my view of the Greenfield Village entrance from opening week in April of this year.

And here’s what it looked like now with the trees leafed-out in July. These shots are from a “porthole” window about 15 steps up from the clock itself. Continue Reading

Water had dripped from the ceiling onto the right corners of the back and seat, leaving water stains with dark tidelines at the edges.

In August 2014, the metropolitan Detroit area experienced heavy rains and flooding, and several artifacts in Henry Ford Museum’s furniture display were damaged by water and debris. Two of the artifacts were upholstered, and required extensive conservation treatment to stabilize them and make them suitable for continued exhibit. A generous grant from The Americana Foundation enabled conservators to accomplish this work.

Our “Turkish Settee” is part of a suite of furniture dating from 1885-1895. Its elaborate original fabrics and trimmings are faded and somewhat fragile, but it makes an important statement about the style of the times, so preserving them is important. Continue Reading

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Something that may not be widely known outside the museum world is how much collaboration and cooperation goes on between cultural heritage institutions. As an example, Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford, was recently approached by the Petersen Automotive Museum about a 1952 Ferrari 212 Barchetta originally given to Henry Ford II by Enzo Ferrari, now in the collections of the Petersen. The Barchetta served as one of the design inspirations for the 1955 Ford Thunderbird, and was exhibited from time to time in the past at special car shows in Henry Ford Museum. When our staff dug into our archives, they found more than two dozen vintage photographs of the car, including this shot showing the sleek lines of the vehicle from the side. We provided these images to the Petersen, which will enhance their curation of this fine vehicle, and in addition have posted them to our digital collections for anyone to access and enjoy.

If you’d like to know more about the Barchetta, you can watch an interview with Petersen chief curator Leslie Kendall and a road test of the car in this episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, or you can check out all of our digitized Barchetta images by visiting our collections website.

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

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We do a lot of preparatory research in our collections for each episode of our television series, The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.  Sometimes, we find things that we weren’t expecting. That happened recently, when in investigating material related to food wagons, our registrar Lisa Korzetz recalled an image in our collection of a chuck wagon.  Accompanying the chuck wagon photo, we found about a dozen more photographs of the American West in the 19th century, many in the Wyoming Territory, taken by the Dalgliesh Photo Studio and given to The Henry Ford in 1930 by George Dalgliesh, one of the photographers.  The photos are an amazing record of everyday cowboy and ranch life in the West, so we’ve digitized all of them, including this image of the romantically named “Robbers Roost Road Ranch.” View all these newly digitized Western images by visiting our collections website.

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

Our Betty Belly Tank Lakester stands out among the Bonneville streamliners -- and portable speed shop -- at the 2015 Concours d'Elegance of America.

Concours d'Elegance automobile events seem to be popping up all over the country these days. More prestigious that standard car shows, these “competitions of elegance” generally feature automobiles that come by invitation only and include scrupulous judging by experts in automotive mechanics, design and history. We are fortunate to have a top-tier concours here in our own backyard: the Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s, held in Plymouth, Michigan, each July.

Our 1928 Cleveland joined other two-wheelers in the motorcycle class.

This year’s show, on July 26, did not disappoint. More than 270 cars from as far away as California, Montana, Texas and Florida made their way to St. John’s to thrill visitors under perfectly sunny skies. As in the past, The Henry Ford was there -- this time with two vehicles from our collection. Tom Beatty’s 1951 Belly Tank Lakester had an honored place among the class of Bonneville Streamliners while our 1928 Cleveland 4-61 motorcycle joined a group of other bikes from 1918-1929. Both vehicles were much appreciated by the crowds -- particularly the Cleveland, which had not been on view for a few years. Continue Reading

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John Gunsolly operated what is now known as the Gunsolly Carding Mill in Plymouth, Michigan, beginning around 1850.  Henry Ford reportedly remembered childhood visits to the mill with his father, delivering wool, and in 1929 he moved the building to Greenfield Village.  We’ve just digitized 60 images of the building on its original site and throughout its history in the Village, like this one, showing power loom operation in the building (then called the Plymouth Carding Mill) in 1935.  Today, visitors to The Henry Ford can see traditional weaving in action in Liberty Craftworks’ Weaving Shop, itself a former cotton mill.  See more images of Gunsolly by visiting our digital collections.

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

The Mothership at its home base in the North End of Detroit. Image courtesy of ONE Mile/akoaki.

At Maker Faire Detroit 2015, the “Mothership” will descend into The Henry Ford Museum. Created by the Detroit collaborative group, ONE Mile, the Mothership looks like a lunar lander, acts as a mobile DJ booth—but is also so much more. Kristen Gallerneaux, our Curator of Communications and Information Technology, caught up with the group to ask them a few questions about their project.

Can you explain what the Mothership is?

The Mothership is a Parliament-Funkadelic inspired mobile DJ booth, broadcast module, and urban marker designed to transmit cultural activity from Detroit’s epic North End. Channeling Ancient African material culture and Afrofuturist aesthetics, the deployable pod energizes underused sites, creates a sense of place, and helps signal that Detroit’s creative prowess is powerful and uninterrupted. But most simply it’s an object, one that people can identify with. Stationed without programming, it’s a mini-monument. Ajar and pulsating with music, it reveals a DJ and accompanies a broad spectrum of public events, performances, and community gatherings. Add smoke machines and colored lighting, and the Mothership creates the impression of having “just landed”. Continue Reading