Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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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

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Curator of Public Life Donna Braden has used the phrase “bottomless pit of wonderfulness” to describe The Henry Ford’s collections, because they are so vast and so full of significant artifacts. One downside of the amazing quantity and quality of our holdings is that only a very small percentage are on display on our campus at any given time. However, we are often able to get some of these artifacts out of storage and on public display by loaning them to other museums and institutions. We currently have over 200 artifacts on loan, and about 60 of these can be viewed through our digital collections as well. One such item is this radiation portal monitor, used at Enrico Fermi Atomic Power Plant (Fermi 1), which is on loan to Monroe County Community College in Monroe, Mich., for an exhibit about the plant. See more artifacts related to Fermi 1 (a number of them also on loan), and view thousands of objects, documents, and photographs not currently on public display, by visiting our digital collections.

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

Copper corrosion on a typewriter ink reel.

Our IMLS Grant Conservation staff uses scientific and aesthetic training to conserve, clean and repair a large number of Communications collections. A familiar problem we often encounter is copper “rust” that disfigures objects. Conservators call these damages “corrosion products”. The corrosion is actually “eating” the metal as it forms on a range of object types. Copper corrosion products form on copper and copper alloys (like brass) through chemical reactions that are initiated by contact with various materials nearby and from the air pollution. Nearby materials that corrosion include fatty acids in waxes and leather dressing, sulfur in rubber products, or salts in water or human sweat. Copper corrosion products vary greatly. They can be very waxy or hard and mineralized or soft and powdery, depending on what caused it. Continue Reading

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One of the most beloved areas of Greenfield Village just celebrated an anniversary: June 29, 2015, marked 30 years since Firestone Farm (both the farmhouse and the barn) was dedicated at The Henry Ford, with luminaries like Gerald Ford, seen here, speaking at the ceremony.  Built in 1828, this Ohio farmhouse was where businessman Harvey Firestone was brought up.  Today in Greenfield Village, it is a key living history destination, where visitors can see crops being grown, food preparation following 19th century methods, and livestock being raised.  As part of our continuing project to digitize material related to Village buildings, we’ve just digitized 185 images from our collections related to Firestone Farm—the cornerstone ceremony, the dedication, and over 100 images of the farm on its original site.  View all Firestone Farm–related items by visiting our collections website.

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

Jonathan Lewandowski holds up one of the first E.T. cartridges excavated from the Atari Tomb. Deb Lewandowski looks on. THF122249

Every year, as we plan for Maker Faire Detroit behind the scenes, The Henry Ford’s curators think about what items from their collections might be brought out for special display during the event. At this year’s Faire, a new acquisition will make its public debut—items retrieved from the infamous “Atari Tomb of 1983” in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

As any good folklorist will tell you, urban legends usually prove to be fabrications of truth that have gone awry and gained their own momentum, spread by word of mouth and media publicity. But sometimes—urban legends turn out to be true. In April 2014, excavations at the Alamogordo, New Mexico landfill unearthed every video game fan’s dream: physical evidence that the legend of the “Atari Video Game Burial” of 1983 was indeed a very real event. Continue Reading

Elizabeth Parke Firestone in her wedding dress, 1921 THF119879

Elizabeth Parke was a trim, blue-eyed beauty. The daughter of a prosperous merchant in Decatur, Illinois, she was full of life and adventure. Elizabeth loved to dance and enjoyed parties. Good thing, too; she met her handsome, intelligent, wealthy husband-to-be at a dance at Princeton about 1920. Young Harvey S. Firestone, Jr., the son of the founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, must have found her to be a spirited partner. He learned to fly airplanes during World War I and she did not seem to mind climbing in one with him. The Firestones often traveled for business and pleasure. Elizabeth enjoyed trekking through jungles and sleeping in grass huts in exotic locales as much as she relished dining in sumptuous hotels with royalty.

Elizabeth had a fine eye for fashion. As a teenager, she attended school in Europe , studying French and learning about applied and fine arts. Family notebooks include some early costume sketches in her hand for theatrical presentations. Family members recall that young Elizabeth designed and sewed many of her own fashions before her marriage in Decatur on June 25, 1921.

But did she make her own wedding dress? Continue Reading

The Shelby Mustang GT350R, distinguished by its fiberglass front apron, races in the Bahamas in December 1965. (Dave Friedman Collection)

We’ve said much on this blog about the Mustang, Ford vice-president Lee Iacocca’s sporty, affordable little pony car that targeted baby boomers and scored a direct hit. In the words of Ford’s memorable advertising campaign, the Mustang was “designed to be designed by you.” Depending on how you optioned it, your Mustang could be a cool-looking economy car, a Thunderbird-like personal luxury coupe, or a V-8 powered factory-built hot rod. It was a recipe for success, and customers bought more than 680,000 Mustangs in the initial 1965 model year.

With the Mustang racing up the sales chart, it was only natural that Lee Iacocca would want the Mustang literally racing. The car’s launch came in the midst of Ford’s “Total Performance” racing initiative, through which the company scored impressive victories in NASCAR, in endurance races, at drag strips, on rally courses, and even in the exalted Indianapolis 500. A few Mustang wins would add nicely to the publicity bonanza.

Iacocca turned to one of the foremost figures in American motorsport, Carroll Shelby, to make the Mustang into a credible race car. The good news was that Ford had a productive working relationship with Shelby already. His Shelby American shop was busy reworking Ford’s budding GT40 race car into a winning machine. The bad news was… that Shelby American was busy with the GT40. His hands already full with a prestige project, Carroll Shelby was reluctant to take on the Mustang. But Iacocca - ever the salesman - talked Shelby into the assignment.

At the time, in mid-1964, the most powerful engine available for the Mustang was Ford’s 289-cubic inch, 271-horsepower “Hi-Po” V-8 – known to fans as the “K-code” engine for its designation in the Mustang serial numbering scheme. These surely were impressive figures when compared to Mustang’s standard 170-cubic inch, 101-horsepower 6-cylinder engine – or even the basic 210-horsepower V-8 – but Shelby American did even better, modifying the “Hi-Po” engine to produce more than 300 horsepower. Having added power, Shelby’s team next subtracted weight by removing the Mustang’s rear seat and replacing the steel hood with a fiberglass unit. With the suspension suitably beefed up, the Shelby Mustang GT350 was born.

Even in its "street" configuration, the 306-horsepower Shelby GT350 was a formidable machine. (Dave Friedman Collection)

That name, incidentally, is a big part of the car’s lore. The “GT” came from “Grand Tourer” -- strictly speaking, a luxury performance car suitable for long-distance races, but simply associated with racing by the general public. The “350” was much more random. Apparently, Carroll Shelby grew tired of Ford’s long deliberations over his modified car’s name. He asked an associate to pace off the distance to a nearby building. It was about 350 steps, so a GT350 the car became!

Carroll Shelby had one more trick up his sleeve. If the Mustang was going to compete in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) races, it was going to have to hold its own against more powerful Corvettes and more agile Jaguars. Thirty-six GT350s were further modified exclusively for competition. The GT350R (“R” for racing) had window glass replaced with lighter plexiglass, carpet removed, steel door panels traded for aluminum, and the front bumper replaced with a distinctive fiberglass apron to improve airflow to the radiator and reduce weight. The already potent engine was further refined to churn out better than 360 horsepower.

The GT350R dominated its class in SCCA’s 1965 racing season, taking five of six divisional championships, as well as the national championship. With the mission accomplished, and Iacocca satisfied, Shelby pulled his team out of competition for 1966, but other teams continued to win with the GT350R.

Fifty years later, the Shelby GT350 remains, to many fans, the ultimate Mustang. Given their low production numbers (only 562 GT350s were built for 1965, and just 36 of those were R competition vehicles), the cars command premium prices on the auction block -- on the rare occasions when they even cross the block. But they make for a fascinating sidebar in the history of Ford’s premier pony car.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.