According to the 2010 Census, more than 56 million Americans, or over 20% of the U.S. population, have some type of disability. These numbers are likely to grow in the years ahead, as the U.S. population ages and as developmental disorders and diseases, such as autism and Alzheimer’s, affect an increasing number of people. When family members and companions of people with disabilities are included in these numbers, this becomes a significant audience – one that may have the desire and means to visit museums, but may not have their needs addressed sufficiently.
While the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provided guidelines for museums to become more physically accessible, there has been a growing trend in museums across the country recently to go beyond the legal obligations of ADA. This has led to an increasing variety of innovative new opportunities and programs for people with different physical, developmental and cognitive abilities.
How did a shirt pocket lead to a feat of engineering?
The origins of Hewlett Packard’s HP-35 Scientific Calculator began with a challenge. In 1971, William Hewlett dared his engineers to prove their engineering prowess by miniaturizing the company’s 9100A Desktop Calculator—a forty-pound machine—into a device small enough to fit into a shirt pocket. The calculator’s target size of approximately 6x3 inches was supposedly arrived at by measuring one of Hewlett’s own shirt pockets.
The twelve or so experimental HP-35s that began as "company hacks" soon proved useful beyond the prototype stage. They were popular among the staff who built and tested them, and were presented for marketing studies. Despite a high manufacturing cost driving a retail cost of $395 (equivalent to $2200 in 2015), and research that warned of a limited market, Hewlett-Packard decided to proceed with production. The company’s 1972 sales goal of selling 10,000 calculators was quickly exceeded: they sold 100,000. Its rapid success made the slide rule obsolete practically overnight, as engineers, scientists, and mathematicians abandoned their analog calculating devices in favor of embracing the digital future.
The HP-35 (named for its 35 keys) was the world’s first handheld scientific calculator. This advanced machine, with its full suite of features, was capable of processing more complex mathematical functions than any other calculator on the market at the time. It was also the company’s first product to use both integrated circuits and an LED display, which eased communication between the screen and keys. The HP-35 inspired others too—it caught the attention of a young Hewlett Packard engineer named Steve Wozniak. During the day, he worked at designing follow-up models of the calculator; in the evening, he developed his own electronic projects at home. All the while, he was percolating ideas towards the beginnings of the Apple 1 computer.
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How did a weaving loom lead to one of the greatest technology innovations of the 21st century?
The Jacquard Loom was a significant breakthrough in the history of textile production, an essential manufacturing tool of the Industrial Revolution. Joseph Marie Jacquard, a silk weaver from Lyon, France, first demonstrated his improved drawloom at an industrial exposition in Paris in 1801. By 1803, a spark of genius inspired him to make another improvement to this loom—the “Jacquard attachment.”
This mechanism, mounted above the loom, uses a continuous chain of punch cards to control the lifting of individual threads. Each card on the loom corresponds to a hook, which can be raised or stopped depending on whether the hole is punched out or solid. The cards are mounted on a rotating cylinder and pressed against pins, which detect the presence of holes. The loom’s hooks are raised or lowered by a harness, which guides the thread to form a pattern in the fabric.
In the 1920s, the African American population in Detroit tripled as the automobile industry drew workers from southern states. Housing options in a segregated city were limited, however, and many African Americans found themselves living in the poor and crowded neighborhood of Black Bottom. In the adjacent Paradise Valley area, some residents of Black Bottom were able to make a living working in the many nightclubs and theaters providing entertainment options for audiences of multiple races. Urban renewal projects and freeway construction in the 1960s almost completely razed both neighborhoods. Archivist Brian Wilson, intrigued by this story as one factor setting the scene for later race riots in Detroit, discovered some related photos in The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation, which we’ve just digitized. They depict various performers at Club Harlem in Paradise Valley in the 1930s, such as this group of finely costumed dancers.
It was eye-catching, lightweight, and easy to care for. There was none of the fuss and muss of a real tree because the needles were attached. You could store it compactly in a box and reuse it year after year. It was completely safe unless you foolishly strung it with electric lights—potentially causing a fire hazard.
No, to make your aluminum Christmas tree shine with a dazzling brilliance, you didn’t use strings of electric lights. You turned a four-color, revolving color wheel onto it. And maybe added a few shiny blue or red balls to heighten the silvery aluminum effect. Any way you looked at it, the aluminum Christmas tree was a perfect symbol of the modern Jet-Age lifestyle people were dreaming about in the early 1960s.
The reviewers thought it had no chance of becoming a hit. Even writer-director George Lucas wasn’t sure about it. Sure, he’d had a hit with “American Graffiti”—a film deeply rooted in nostalgia and American popular culture. But this was different. Maybe a little too wacky for the general public, he thought.
But moviegoers thought differently. They turned out in record numbers to see “Star Wars” over the summer of 1977. Lines stretched for miles outside movie theaters. Tickets sold out as soon as their box offices opened. This first “Star Wars” movie (later subtitled “Episode IV - A New Hope”) went on to not only win six Oscars but to become one of the most popular and highest-grossing films of all time.
It’s an old museum-related joke: You don’t feel old until you see your toys exhibited as historic artifacts. Okay, so I felt a bit aged the first time I saw that Star Wars lunchbox in Your Place in Time, but I never questioned its right to be there. For us Gen X types, few things are so much of our time as Star Wars.
While I was around when all three of the original films were in theaters, most of my viewings came via videotapes recorded from HBO airings. (Heh, a Star Wars viewing still doesn’t feel quite right to me unless it starts with this.) Not until Return of the Jedi arrived in 1983 was I old enough to see one of the movies on the big screen. I still remember being thrilled by the sarlacc pit battle and the speeder bike chase, being saddened at Yoda’s death, and being generally grossed out by Jabba the Hutt. Disgusting or not, it was satisfying to finally see that vile gangster after hearing his name dropped ominously in the first two movies. All in all, it was a magical experience, and the reason that I don’t personally rate Jedi as a lesser work than its predecessors.
Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford contains many homes associated with famous people: the Wright family home, the Robert Frost home, the Noah Webster home—and the Edison homestead, the Canadian farmhouse owned by Thomas Edison’s grandparents. Henry Ford wanted his historical village to feature not only Menlo Park Lab, the fabled workplace of his friend and hero, but also to trace his upbringing with this home that young Thomas visited as child, where his parents had been married. We have just digitized over 50 images related to the Edison homestead on its original site, including this photo of Edison family gravestones taken in 1933.
Dressing Goodfellows dolls has been a Christmas tradition in Detroit since 1924, and the Ford Motor Company Girls’ Club was a major participant in dressing Goodfellows dolls for underprivileged children in Detroit for many years. Starting in 1946 by dressing 65 dolls, the club’s peak donation was 3,000 dresses in 1967, 1969, and 1970, and they averaged between 1,500 to 3,000 dolls most years.
The Ford Girls’ Club was started in 1946 under the Recreation Section of Ford Motor Company. Every female employee – salaried, or hourly – was automatically a member (though active membership did cost $1.00 per year). Any immediate female family member of a club member could join, as could the wives of Ford male employees. The club was primarily social, meeting once a month in addition to dinners, picnics, dances, lectures, and workshops. Members were also service oriented - they held dances for returning veterans, gave gifts and visited veterans in hospitals, and each Christmas they participated in clothing dolls for the Goodfellows to distribute, making thousands and thousands of handmade dresses over the years.
Dolls were usually handed out at the annual November service meeting. The club’s first foray into dress making was in 1946, when women of the club made 65 handmade dresses for dolls. The next year they jumped up to 290, with the dresses being displayed in the Administration Building cafeteria before being sent to the Goodfellows. As more women joined the club, interest grew in this Christmas service project and the club dressed more and more dolls each year, with their finished projects being displayed in various Ford Motor Company buildings’ lobbies, and offices, as well as the Dearborn Virginia Dare storefront window in 1949. The number of dresses made continued to climb each year reaching to almost one thousand in 1954, and the dolls were displayed for the first time at the Rotunda Christmas Fantasy. The next few years were dress-making bonanzas, and in 1957 2,500 dolls were dressed and displayed at the Rotunda for visitors to view before they were distributed to girls in the Detroit area on Christmas Eve. The Girl’s Club maintained a high production rate in the years to come - between 1,750 and 2,000 dresses were made annually and displayed at the Rotunda or Ford Motor Company buildings. In 1966 production saw another jump when the club made almost 3,000, a number they reached the next year and continued to reach or come close to for the next four years.
The handmade dresses were made of all kinds of fabric, from cotton to organdy, satin and lace. Women also knit and crocheted dresses, from wool to angora. Dolls dressed as nurses, astronauts, drum majorettes, hula dancers, Girl Scouts, flying nuns, ballerinas, and ice skaters complete with skates, graced the displays, as did brides, baby dolls, and all kinds of different ethnic dresses. Women could make any type of dress they wanted, but prizes were given by the Goodfellows, and later Ford, in specific categories:
Knit and crocheted
Goodfellows prizes ranged from $1 for a dress placing in a particular division to a grand prize of $10. Ford soon began judging the Girls’ Club’s work and awarding prizes as well, with the dresses usually judged by the wives of the Goodfellows’ president and executive officers. Early on prizes were cash, but when the displays headed to the Rotunda the stakes were raised. Grand prize in the 1950s and early 1960s was a sewing machine and console, second prize being a portable sewing machine, and third prize was a sewing cabinet.
The prizes, of course, were always of secondary importance in the Girls’ Club work with the Goodfellows' goal of “no child without a Christmas.” Over a 27-year period, 1946-1972, the Ford Girls’ Club donated over 45,000 hand-made dresses to the Detroit Goodfellows' organization to distribute to area children. The Ford employee newsletter The Rouge News and later Ford World carried stories and photos of the club’s donations every year, urging members of the club and others in the Ford organization to participate. We lose track of the Ford Girls’ Club here in the archive at about 1973, when Ford World ceased publishing stories on the yearly donation of dolls. However, judging from the 1972 output of 2,000 dolls, it seems likely the club continued the annual service drive for some years after.
The Goodfellows still distribute dolls and people in the metro Detroit area continue to provide dresses each year.
Kathy Makas is Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford.
The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation contains such a breadth and depth of artifacts that rediscovering and sharing its treasures often involves a number of our staff working together. Assistant Curator Saige Jedele was recently investigating our collections in support of Curator Kristen Gallerneaux’s story on the Jacquard loom featured on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, and turned up a woven silk image of a baseball game. Conservator Fran Faile noted we had a number of similar artifacts in the collection, which our digitization team then imaged and cataloged. These pieces, like this bookmark featuring George Washington, are known as “Stevengraphs,” after the man who built on the punchcard technology of the Jacquard loom to create the intricate fabric pictures.