Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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The Background

The decorative arts collections at The Henry Ford are unique for their breadth and depth. These vast resources span more than 300 years of American history, allowing us to explore developments in the design and use of items as people’s lives, values, and tastes changed over time. The Henry Ford Museum’s furniture collection is particularly evocative of historic changes, and these objects are central to discussions of design innovations, new manufacturing methods and materials, new ways of buying and selling, and new ways of living. Consisting of more than 6,000 pieces, the furniture collection is acknowledged as one of the best in the nation.

In the late 1990s our staff reinterpreted the furniture exhibit into themes such as Showing Off, Storage, His and Hers and others that we felt would prove relevant to our audience. Studies with visitors in the years since show that although they liked the thematic approach, our visitors also wanted to see a chronological development of American furniture. In 2010 we refined the installation, now called Fully Furnished, including a timeline of American furniture, arranged through broad thematic sweeps. Called In the Latest Fashion— the chronology is divided into loose historical periods, such as Fashion for a New Nation, for the early nineteenth century or Embracing Gentility for the mid-eighteenth century—the display takes visitors on a journey through the entire span of American furniture history.  Should a visitor wish to delve into a particular history or style, information is available on the text panels. Because it provides a panorama of American furniture, we selected many stellar examples from the collection to share with the public. Continue Reading

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One of the gems to be found in The Henry Ford’s archives is the Dave Friedman auto racing collection, particularly covering racing from the 1960s through 1990s. The collection came to us with about 100,000 images in already-digital format, and we’ve been adding these to our digital collections over time. We’ve just added 600 images documenting the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race, including the one seen here, showing not only the racecars in motion, but also the more general racetrack environment of fans in the stands and corporate logos/mascots in the background. With the addition of this latest race, 11,518 items from the Friedman collection are now available on our collections website. Browse just the latest set added, or peruse all the Dave Friedman imagery, by visiting our digital collections.

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

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The Henry Ford's 1929 Packard 626 Speedster on the show field at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

For car fans, there is no more prestigious show than the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Each August, some 200 automobiles and 15,000 people gather on the 18th fairway at the Pebble Beach Golf Links to honor the most beautiful automobiles ever built. We were honored to be among them, with our 1929 Packard Model 626 Speedster, on August 16.

Built before conventions were established, the pedal layout on this 1912 Pope-Hartford would throw off any modern driver.

Specific makes and models are honored each year, and 2015 had the spotlight focused on Pope, duPont, Ferrari (in particular, Ferraris that competed in the Pebble Beach road races of the 1950s), Lincoln Continental (celebrating its 75th anniversary) and Mercury custom cars, among others. It was a somewhat eclectic group of featured cars that suggests Pebble’s widening circle of interests. Continue Reading

Car Shows, Pebble Beach

Exhibit Fabricators Rob Brown and Kent Ehrle carefully removed the chandelier arms after Electrician Paul Desana disconnected electrical power to the arms. The center portion of the chandelier was then lowered into the lift and handed to a group of waiting staff who moved it to the conservation labs on a custom-made cart.

In 2014 conservation, facilities and exhibit staff members removed two English crystal chandeliers from the museum shop in Henry Ford Museum in preparation for the upcoming renovation. The chandeliers, which were made in Birmingham, England between 1860 and 1880, had been in the shop for many years and were showing signs of age. The silver portions were heavily tarnished and the metal wires that held the crystals were corroded and brittle. We decided to conserve them prior to their move to a new home in a rather dark lounge just outside of the Lovett Hall Ballroom, where their glittering, cut-glass elegance would be appreciated. Continue Reading

chandeliers

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One popular line of inquiry received by the Benson Ford Research Center involves Henry Ford’s interest in ensuring a constant and affordable supply of rubber for Ford Motor Company by establishing rubber plantations in Brazil, first at Fordlandia, and then at Belterra. Not surprisingly, our collections hold quite a bit of related material.  W.L. Reeves Blakeley led the expedition to find the site that would later become Fordlandia, and, after Ford purchased the tract of 2.5 million acres, supervised the team that did the initial clearing. The W.L. Reeves Blakeley collection at The Henry Ford contains documentation of experiments, test papers, printed material, a few tools, and plant samples—the latter of which we’ve just digitized, including this sample of “maleo caetano” collected in 1931.  Visit our digital collections to see all 15 plant samples, along with additional photos of Fordlandia and Belterra.

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

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Earlier this year I introduced readers to a small collection of artifacts unofficially known as Henry Ford Tributes. As I mentioned earlier, a few of these objects have some pretty amazing backstories. The wall hanging, shown above, is one such example. One may not think that Henry Ford and the subject of reincarnation could appear together in the same sentence but the fact is Henry Ford was an advocate of transmigration, stating in many interviews that he became a believer at the age of 26. He had earlier been given a copy of Orlando J. Smith’s book A Short View of Great Questions, originally published in 1899. The theories expressed therein regarding reincarnation and the tenets of a religion the author termed Eternalism seemed to answer some of the life questions that had begun to occupy the automaker’s thoughts. It also curiously coincides with the work ethic of Henry Ford as well as his definition of greatness. Continue Reading

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I have a cool job here at The Henry Ford. Once a month I climb 75 steps up to Henry Ford Museum's Tower Clock to inspect and lubricate the Seth Thomas clock. Above is my view of the Greenfield Village entrance from opening week in April of this year.

And here’s what it looked like now with the trees leafed-out in July. These shots are from a “porthole” window about 15 steps up from the clock itself. Continue Reading

Water had dripped from the ceiling onto the right corners of the back and seat, leaving water stains with dark tidelines at the edges.

In August 2014, the metropolitan Detroit area experienced heavy rains and flooding, and several artifacts in Henry Ford Museum’s furniture display were damaged by water and debris. Two of the artifacts were upholstered, and required extensive conservation treatment to stabilize them and make them suitable for continued exhibit. A generous grant from The Americana Foundation enabled conservators to accomplish this work.

Our “Turkish Settee” is part of a suite of furniture dating from 1885-1895. Its elaborate original fabrics and trimmings are faded and somewhat fragile, but it makes an important statement about the style of the times, so preserving them is important. Continue Reading

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Something that may not be widely known outside the museum world is how much collaboration and cooperation goes on between cultural heritage institutions. As an example, Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford, was recently approached by the Petersen Automotive Museum about a 1952 Ferrari 212 Barchetta originally given to Henry Ford II by Enzo Ferrari, now in the collections of the Petersen. The Barchetta served as one of the design inspirations for the 1955 Ford Thunderbird, and was exhibited from time to time in the past at special car shows in Henry Ford Museum. When our staff dug into our archives, they found more than two dozen vintage photographs of the car, including this shot showing the sleek lines of the vehicle from the side. We provided these images to the Petersen, which will enhance their curation of this fine vehicle, and in addition have posted them to our digital collections for anyone to access and enjoy.

If you’d like to know more about the Barchetta, you can watch an interview with Petersen chief curator Leslie Kendall and a road test of the car in this episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, or you can check out all of our digitized Barchetta images by visiting our collections website.

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

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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.