Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

American type 4-4-0 locomotives, like the “Sam Hill,” are quintessential symbols of 19th century progress. THF.91567

Chances are that, when you hear the phrase “steam locomotive,” you picture an engine like the 4-4-0 “Sam Hill.” No technology symbolized 19th century America’s industrial and geographical growth better than the railroad, and no locomotive was more common than the 4-4-0.

In the 70 years from 1830 to 1900, rail lines grew from separate local routes connecting port cities with the interior to a dense and interconnected network that linked cities and towns across the continent. Likewise, locomotives grew from diminutive four-wheelers capable of five miles per hour to eight and ten-wheeled engines able to reach 100 miles per hour. But the 4-4-0 offered a special blend of performance and ability that made it particularly popular on American rails.

The 4-4-0 takes its name from the arrangement of its wheels. The four small leading wheels, located in front under the cylinders, help guide the locomotive through curves. The four large driving wheels, connected by rods to the cylinders, move the engine along the track. There are no (or zero) trailing wheels on a 4-4-0, but on larger locomotives trailing wheels help support the weight of the firebox. Continue Reading

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

2011.125.16

The John Clark Racing Photographs collection at The Henry Ford is made up of 35mm color slides taken by John Clark between 1994 and 2000, and covers a number of types of racing, including Indy cars, stock cars, off-road trucks, and motocross motorcycles.  Digital Processing Archivist Janice Unger updated and published the finding aid for this archival collection last year, and as part of that effort, selected some representative images from the collection for digitization.  One particularly dramatic example is this photo of Rod Millen driving a Toyota Tacoma during the 1998 Pikes Peak Hill Climb.  To see some of the other highlights from the John Clark collection, visit our collection website.

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

Racing In America

“Fordillac” – it’s a 1940 Ford powered by a Cadillac V-8, and it represents everything that makes the Detroit Autorama so great.

The snow is melting and the weather is warming (after a particularly frigid February), but the surest sign of spring in the Motor City is the arrival of the Detroit Autorama, the annual gathering of the best in hot rods and custom cars. From March 6-8, more than a thousand vehicles filled Cobo Center. It was exciting, inspiring, and maybe even a little overwhelming.

Greeting visitors at the exhibit hall’s main door were the “Great 8” – the eight finalists for the show’s big Ridler Award. The Ridler honors the best first-time Autorama entry, and the judges’ task is never easy. This year, their choices included everything from a 1937 Ford woody wagon to a 1965 Dodge Dart. Their winner was “The Imposter,” a fantastic 1965 Chevrolet Impala designed by the legendary Chip Foose and owned by Don Voth of Abbotsford, British Columbia. Why the name? This Impala was an imposter – the ’65 body sat atop a 2008 Corvette chassis. Continue Reading

Wheels, Women and Song

March 9, 2015

The 1962 Ford Thunderbird, the perfect car for a young woman in search of “fun, fun, fun.” (Object ID: P.833.122703.226)

Late last year, I was invited to present to students at Wayne State University in Detroit. Their seminar, “Women Who Motor,” examined the many connections between American women and the automobile industry, whether as the producers who design and build cars, or as the consumers who buy and drive them. The class also studied depictions of women and their autos in popular culture, from literature, to film, to music. That’s where I came in – with a look at the relationship between women and automobiles in popular song.

It’s no great revelation that the automobile is fertile inspiration for pop music. The car is a rolling metaphor for social status, wealth, style and any of a hundred other things. Sing about someone in a Cadillac, and you paint a picture of an affluent sophisticate; sing about someone in a Chevrolet, and you describe someone more down-to-earth or – if that Chevy is old and tired – someone down on her luck. In other words, the car is a spectacular lyrical shortcut. (And I’ve said nothing about the car as a metaphor for romantic activities… but I will.) In sharing some examples with the students, I broke female-focused car songs into three general groups: 1.) those about using the car to attract a mate, 2.) those about the car as a setting for romance, and 3.) those about women behind the wheel. Continue Reading

Racing In America

56-chevy-engine

1956 Chevrolet Bel Air

V-8 cylinder engine, overhead valves, 265 cubic inches displacement, 205 horsepower.

56-chevy

It’s the most enduring 8-cylinder American automobile engine. Chevrolet introduced its “small block” V-8 in 1955 – and kept on building it until 2003. Nearly every General Motors division used some variant, and total production is over 100 million, including later development generations. Not bad for an engine designed in 15 weeks. The compact unit is all but swallowed up by the Chevy’s engine bay. Note the relatively small-sized radiator, too. Efficient cooling was one of the small block’s many advantages.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Engines Exposed

ae-jacket

Amelia Earhart. We know her as a famous aviatrix—the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932 and the daring pilot who disappeared attempting an around-the-world flight in 1937.

But long before the celebrity fashion brand frenzy of more recent decades—think Jaclyn Smith, Jessica Simpson, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Jay Z and countless others—Amelia Earhart had her own fashion line.

Yes, the motivation was to make money. Not to support a lavish lifestyle, but to finance her true passion—the adventure of flying. Continue Reading

John Burroughs' Album

March 4, 2015

THF233600

Artifact: John Burroughs' Album of Pressed Wildflowers, gathered during the Harriman Alaska Expedition, 1899

To tell the story of this artifact, we have to take a journey. A journey back in time and then a journey into nature. We have to visit a time in U.S. history when western land expansion had reached its near completion and U.S. citizens had only just begun to realize the natural wonders that these lands encompassed. To begin this journey, let’s explore what it means to innovate with a question:

When you think of historical innovators, who do you think of?

Henry Ford? Thomas Edison? These two historical titans of industry shaped the 20th century with technology that they endlessly, feverishly, worked on to improve. How about John Burroughs? Continue Reading

Rediscovery With Ryan

2013.150.373

John Margolies spent decades traveling the United States and photographing roadside attractions, restaurants, shops, and motels, with a particular focus on interesting or quirky shapes and signage.  Many of the places he photographed are in varying states of abandonment and decline, but harken back to the excitement of the golden era of road trips and the unique commercial designs they spawned.  Last year, The Henry Ford acquired about 1500 slides by John Margolies, and a little later this year, we will be putting on an exhibit of selected material, transformed from 35mm slide format into art prints.  If you’d like to get a jump on the exhibit, you can currently view over 120 recently digitized Margolies slides on our collections website (including, in most cases, the slide mounts with John Margolies’s hand-written notes).  Some of these images—perhaps this dinosaur offering up live music and a really good deal on a large t-bone—will be featured within the exhibit.

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

DOC112814-11282014164919

In reference work you never know where your search might lead you. Simply looking for information on Fordson tractors for a patron one day, I came across some amazing photos of women riding, repairing, and learning about tractors and I wondered what the story was behind these photos. So, armed with subject information gathered from our collection database EMu, I dug into our archival holdings of publications, articles of association, and corporate papers to see what I could find out about these Land Girls of Boreham.

In 1930, Henry Ford was traversing the English countryside by train, when one morning, as he, Clara, and Lord Perry stopped to breakfast, he noticed an old estate near Chelmsford, Essex.  Taking a keen interest in the land and buildings, he bought Boreham House and the 2,000 acres of land surrounding it. Things being in a dilapidated condition, he immediately set about to fix the place up in characteristic Ford fashion, bringing it into usable condition, fixing houses, and making the land profitable once again. Continue Reading

African American community parade celebrating Emancipation Day in Richmond, Virginia, on April 3, 1905. (P.DPC.018421/THF118868)

This lively scene from 1905 documents African Americans proudly parading through the streets of Richmond, Virginia, in celebration of Emancipation Day. The well-dressed marchers include many elders who were formerly enslaved, as well as many of their children and grandchildren born after the end of slavery. In 1905, forty years after the American Civil War ended, this life-changing event—Emancipation—continued to have deep, emotional meaning for African Americans.

During the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to take effect on January 1, 1863. This Executive Order, aimed at the secessionist states of the fledgling Confederate States of America, declared their slaves to be free. (However, this proclamation did not include all enslaved people—slaves were not freed in slave states that had remained loyal to the Union. In December 1865, the 13th Amendment completed Emancipation by declaring slavery illegal everywhere in the United States.) Continue Reading