Almost exactly two years ago, The Henry Ford embarked on a project to identify, conserve, photograph, catalog, rehouse, and make available online at least 1,000 items from our communications collections. This project was made possible through a generous $150,000 Museums for America grant (MA-30-13-0568-13) from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, or IMLS. Though we will continue to work on some straggler artifacts that have not yet made it through the entire process, the grant officially ended on September 30, with a total of 1,261 artifacts available online. One of the very last artifacts to be added during the official grant period was this computer trainer, used in the metro Detroit area in the 1960s to teach students to operate computers, a skill increasingly needed in the American workforce. You can see some of the other artifacts that worked their way through the IMLS grant process by browsing our digital collections for such communications-related artifacts as typewriters, radio receivers, phonographs, amplifiers, cameras, motion-picture cameras, mimeographs, and magic lanterns, among many others. We extend our thanks once again to IMLS for enabling us to make these significant collections accessible to everyone.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Over the weekend of September 26-27, 2015, the 6th annual World Maker Faire was hosted at the New York Hall of Science. Much like Maker Faire Detroit at The Henry Ford, New York’s Faire benefited from an added sense of shared history that comes from producing such an event on the grounds of a museum. Maker demonstrations, workshops, and displays were set up outdoors, on the former grounds of the 1964 World’s Fair—an event that was full of technological spectacle. And inside the Hall of Science, modern-day Makers found communal space alongside the museum’s interactive demonstrations about space exploration, biology, mathematics, and much more. The continuum of the importance of the technology of the past—in tandem with the anticipative futures of the Maker Movement—was substantial and exciting to witness.
The Douglas DC-3 ranks with the Model T Ford and the Volkswagen Beetle as one of the great engineering designs of the twentieth century. The aircraft was safe, reliable, economical, and did more than any other single airplane to make commercial aviation a viable industry.
Ironically, the story of the DC-3 began with a famous airline crash. In 1931, a Fokker tri-motor operated by Transcontinental & Western Air (TWA) went down, killing all seven people on board, including famed University of Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne. When an investigation of the crash revealed that the wood wing of the Fokker was weakened by rot, airlines began scrambling to replace wood-framed planes with all-metal ones. TWA asked several manufacturers for proposals for a new, all metal airplane, with two or three engines, weighing no more than 14,200 pounds, able to carry at least 12 passengers at 150 miles per hour, with a range of 1,080 miles. Douglas Aircraft, which had previously concentrated on military planes, proposed a twin-engine aircraft that they called the Douglas Commercial Number 1, or simply DC-1. TWA chose the Douglas design, but before it went into production an improved version was developed, called the DC-2.
Today organizations across the country are honoring manufacturing with Manufacturing Day, a day celebrating modern manufacturing. There are more than 2,000 events to choose from. We tell the story of manufacturing through our Ford Rouge Factory Tour experience and the artifacts within our collections. If you're curious to learn more about Henry Ford and manufacturing, take a look at this collection of blog posts and videos.
Another car show season drew to a close with our Old Car Festival on September 12-13. It’s always disheartening for car fans – and warm weather fans – to see summer go, but the festival makes for a great climax. This year we had more than 900 cars, bicycles and commercial vehicles registered for the event. Every one of them dated from the 1890s to 1932, a time of innovation, evolution and variety. Visitors to Greenfield Village saw everything from the ubiquitous Ford Model T to the downright obscure Havers (only a handful of these cars, built in Port Huron, Michigan, from 1911-1914, are thought to survive).
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.
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.
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.
July 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:
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.
A 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.