Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Thomas Edison Perfecting His Wax Cylnder Phonograph, 1888 (Object ID: P.B.34600).

What's new on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation this weekend? Host Mo Rocca shows us the hardware store robot; the incredible patent models from Thomas Edison that show us the beginning of our electronic world; how the USG Corp. is leading the way with grooming the next generation of engineers and mathematicians; the Israeli inventors of a printer that fits in your pocket. Learn more here and see a sneak peek below.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

Newcomen Engine, circa 1750 (29.1506.1)

 

The broad iconic power of steam engines is maintained by the continued appeal of steam locomotives—an appeal kept fresh no doubt by Thomas the Tank Engine or the Hogwarts Express of the Harry Potter series. The visual impact of the earliest stationary steam engines, while less defined in the popular imagination, is undeniable when encountered in person: early beam engines exert a powerful presence, whether through their immense scale, exposed mechanical elements, or general complexity. And there is often a note of recognition—they are often identified by visitors as distant relatives of the familiar bobbing pumps found in oilfields. Continue Reading

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

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The Henry Ford has an active program through which we loan artifacts from our collection, particularly those that we are not actively displaying, to other museums and institutions. We currently have more than 200 objects out on loan, and we digitize each object before it leaves our campus. This week, we’ve digitized a couple of renderings of the Lincoln Futura, including this one. These drawings will be included in a short exhibition at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich., along with an already-digitized scale model of the Futura from our collections, beginning in mid-April. If you’re in the metro Detroit area, be sure to check out these artifacts at Lawrence Tech, and if you’re not, keep an eye on our collections website to see what other treasures from Henry’s attic are going on loan.

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

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Before the Age of Steam, American farmers hand-threshed wheat or oats with a flail. Threshing machines powered by horses or portable steam engines increased daily production of threshing by a hundred times.

In the 1800s, the large number of horses required for farming consumed a lot of grain. Starting in the 1860s, farmers began threshing grain to feed those horses with a cousin of the "iron horse" - a steam traction engine like the Port Huron Thresher shown above.

As a Michigan farm boy, Henry Ford recorded his first sight of a traction engine: "I remember that engine as though I had seen it only yesterday, for it was the first vehicle other than horse drawn that I had ever seen. It was intended to drive threshing machines and power sawmills and was simply a portable engine and a boiler mounted on wheels." The steam traction engine inspired Ford to design and manufacture automobiles. To other rural people it represented a grand transition in American agriculture, and a new community activity. Continue Reading

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, by Alexander Gardner, November 8, 1863. THF 99129

Many people know that The Henry Ford has in its collection the rocking chair in which President Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated.  This chair is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum.

But our Lincoln-related collections encompass much more than this rocker.  They include materials that relate to such topics as his two presidential campaigns, life before his Presidency, his efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War, his assassination, the public mourning after his death, and the ways in which he has been remembered over time.

The 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination gave us the unique opportunity to assess, study and organize these collections into digital galleries we call “Expert Sets.”  Links to these are included below, along with links to five essays written by curators that delve more deeply into some of these topics. Continue Reading

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Over the last couple of months, we’ve digitized a couple of groupings from the John Margolies Roadside America collection: slides and travel-related pennants, both documenting the strange and interesting sights one would have found along the American roadside in the mid-20th century. This week we’ve added one more category from the same collection: do-not-disturb signs from hotels and motels, collected by John Margolies and mostly dating between 1920 and 1970.  The example shown here, likely from the late 1930s or 1940s, advises hotel staff to “go ‘way and let me sleep.” Selections from this collection will be featured in the upcoming Margolies exhibit in the Henry Ford Museum a bit later this year. In the meantime, visit our collections website to browse additional “do not disturb” signs.

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

"Old Pacific II," a 1903 Packard Model F in the National Packard Museum. The car's name is an homage to the original "Old Pacific," in the collections of The Henry Ford.

It was time once again for four days of education and fellowship as the National Association of Automobile Museums (NAAM) convened for its annual conference from March 17-20. Our host this year was the wonderful National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio, some 50 miles southeast of Cleveland. Approximately 65 volunteers, administrators, curators and board members, representing institutions from Maine to California, gathered to discuss the state of the automobile museum world.

Session topics covered most aspects of museum management. There were presentations on grant research and writing, exhibit planning, marketing and merchandising, and non-profit tax codes. Few talks could match the session on disaster planning for pure drama, though. Wendell Strode, Executive Director of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, updated us on his institution's infamous sinkhole disaster of February 2014. Though five vintage Corvettes were damaged beyond repair, the museum was featured in more than 2,000 media outlets around the world, and visitation jumped astronomically due to the coverage. I continue to be impressed by the speed and style with which Wendell and his staff responded to the crisis. Continue Reading

Thomas Edison Perfecting His Wax Cylnder Phonograph, 1888 (Object ID: P.B.34600).

On this week's episode of The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation you'll learn about Thomas Edison and his patent models. Want to learn even more? Visit OnInnovation to read more about his work.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

Object ID: 64.167.285.27

Rediscovery with Ryan: Letter and Drawing by George Washington Carver

Sent to Henry Ford, 1941

One of the themes discussed during #MuseumWeek was that of architecture, challenging participants to “explore the history, architectural heritage, gardens and surroundings of museums” you have visited. Here at the The Henry Ford, our venues provide nearly unlimited potential for you to creatively capture our stunning grounds and architecture. I believe that this potential highlights the inspirational aspect of human creativity. The same creativity that resulted in our beautiful architecture and grounds, now inspires your own personal creativity when you visit. Whether you are trying to get that perfect picture of the village or you are simply sitting back and admiring the grandeur of the museum, it’s hard to ignore the fact that creativity is a key component in what The Henry Ford represents.

As custodians of American innovation, we are guardians of creativity. Inventiveness and innovation would not exist if it wasn’t for the creative spirit. So for this theme, I chose to talk about someone who is represented in our archives, on our beautiful grounds, and is also an ideal example of using that creative spirit: George Washington Carver. Continue Reading

Rediscovery With Ryan

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We are more or less three-quarters of the way through the two-year timeframe on our “Museums for America” grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to conserve, catalog, photograph, and rehouse some of our communications collections.  We’re pleased to report that as of now, we are on track with digitization of these objects, with 743 of 1,000 grant-related artifacts from our collections available online, and for many of these, we’ve been able to track down their specific origin.  The insulator shown here, for example, was originally used on telegraph lines running along the Oregon Trail.  Visit our collections website to see more of the insulators we’ve uncovered in our collection through this project. You can also learn more about the grant and see some of the behind-the-scenes work it entails on our blog, or peruse some of Curator of Communication and Information Technology Kristen Gallerneaux’s favorites here.

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