Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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1956 Chevrolet Bel Air

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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Henry Carter Johnson (1908–96) created tiny glass animals and other figures in western Michigan, on and off from the 1950s through the 1990s. His business was officially called “Fine Miniatures in Glass,” but many of his young fans, who could watch him shape the glass into his creations, knew it better as “The Glass Menagerie.” If you’ve looked in the cases that line the Promenade of the Henry Ford Museum, you’ve seen some of this collection, but we’ve just digitized close to 140 of these unique and charming figurines, such as the crane shown here. If you’d like to browse the whole menagerie, including (among many others!) fish, walruses, bears, mice, and rabbits, visit our digital collections.

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

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1978 Dodge Omni

Inline 4-cylinder engine, overhead valves, 105 cubic inches displacement, 75 horsepower.

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Small cars pack a lot into tight spaces. The Omni makes the most of its engine bay by mounting the unit transversely, with the crankshaft parallel to the front bumper. It’s a layout not widely used in American cars since the early 1900s, but particularly well-suited to compact front-wheel drive vehicles. Power is sent to the Omni’s front wheels via the transaxle, a combination gearbox-differential, on the driver’s side.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Engines Exposed

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The IMLS (The Institute for Museum & Library Services) Project team is plugging along, cataloging, conserving, and rehousing artifacts from our collections storage building, as we mentioned in our blog a few months ago. Thus far we have worked on radios, phonographs, computers, adding machines, and their components. We have found some interesting objects in our collection, like this Motorola Radiophone, pictured above, ca 1950.

While conserving these objects from our storage facility, we are discovering cadmium corrosion on many objects, including the Radiophone. Cadmium is a bluish gray metal and was first used as a pigment (cadmium yellow, red, and orange) in paint, plastics, and glass. It was also used as a stabilizer in plastics, a component in batteries, and as a plating to prevent corrosion. Even though it is used to prevent corrosion of an underlying metal such as steel or aluminum a cadmium coating will corrode in the presence of organic acids, sulfur compounds, and atmospheric pollutants. Organic acids and sulfur compounds are emitted as a result of the deterioration of many materials from which objects in our collections are made, such as rubber, wood and the plastic cases of radios and phonographs. Cadmium corrosion products can range from brown to bright yellow. In our case, we are often finding plates, screws, brackets, and other plated metal components coated in bright yellow powdery cadmium sulfide corrosion.  Continue Reading

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If you watched Episode 10 of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, you may have learned a bit about the Logan County Courthouse, where a young Abraham Lincoln practiced law. Though the building now resides in Greenfield Village, we’ve just digitized about 70 images of the interior and exterior of the Courthouse on its original site, as well as related people, including this group posed outside the building. Visit our collections website to see all our digitized collections related to the Logan County Courthouse.

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

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation