Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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A little over a year ago, The Henry Ford embarked on a project to digitize material related to John Burroughs (1837–1921), an American naturalist who was good friends with Henry Ford and a member of the Vagabonds (along with Henry, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone). As often happens with our collections, we found more material than we were expecting. Last summer, we reported on the 250 or so items we had digitized at that point; we’re now happy to share that we’ve just wrapped up the project, with nearly 400 total items from our collections digitized. One of the last additions was this photograph of the statue of Burroughs that was installed at Henry Ford’s estate Fair Lane—a sure sign of the esteem in which the naturalist was held by the auto magnate.  Browse all of these items—mainly photographs and letters, but also essays, poetry, scrapbooks, periodicals, notebooks, and postcards—on our collections website.

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

The Rocket Motel, in Joplin, Missouri, was once a stop on Route 66.  Sign photographed 1979 by John Margolies.  THF115692

As the pre-Interstate American roadside has slowly disappeared, why has it taken on such meaning for us? Historical geographer David Lowenthal tried to explain it in his book with the unusual title, The Past is a Foreign Country. He said it has to do with our desire to re-establish a sense of place in an increasingly rootless world. Old buildings, old signs, old lampposts and fences—those genuine pieces of evidence that prove to us that an earlier, almost mythic time once existed—provide a sense of stability and permanence lacking in our present lives.

Today, we appreciate the buildings, signs, and landscapes of the American roadside for many different reasons: their pre-Modernist artistry; their funky and humorous attempts to beckon motorists during the Golden Age of road trips; or perhaps the entrepreneurial spirit of the many Mom-and-Pop establishments that tried to make a go of it before national chains and franchises took over. No matter what the reason, our appreciation inevitably relates to a respect for—even a reverence of—what once was but is no more. Continue Reading

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From 1895 to 1924, the Detroit Publishing Company (DPC) created images that helped Americans see the world’s wonders from the comfort of their own homes. They used consumer desire for these images, coupled with determined sales tactics and the technical advantage of the Photochrom process that made lithographs look like color photographs (which did not yet exist), to sell up to 7 million prints annually at the company’s peak. As new technologies developed, DPC lost its competitive edge, and finally declared bankruptcy in 1924. The Henry Ford’s collection of DPC material includes 30,000 vintage photographic prints, 15,000 postcards, and 5,000 color and sepia lithographic prints. We’ve just digitized a representative sampling of these materials, based on selections made by former Curator of Photographs and Prints Cynthia Read Miller and others. The retouched photograph seen here can be compared to the unretouched version and the retouched and colorized version to gain an understanding of the DPC’s multistage process in preparing these images. If you’d like to browse more than 500 items from our DPC collection, including the vivid and visually arresting Photochroms, visit our digital collections.

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

Sarah's Doughnut

June 5, 2015

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Just days before her 12th child is born, 43-year-old Michigan farmwife Sarah Faught makes doughnuts for her family.  Sadly, Sarah dies soon after giving birth. Mourning her loss, the Faughts left behind decide to save, rather than eat, Sarah's last batch as well as the cutter that formed it. It's January 1890.

For the next 122 years, Sarah's descendants pass down the remaining doughnuts, cutter and story of their loved one. Food for fodder forever memorializing the enormity of a mother lost yet never forgotten.

This story originally appeared in the June-December 2015 edition of The Henry Ford Magazine. You can read the current issue here.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

 

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Now that it’s June, amusement park season is really ramping up. In doing some related research in our archives for an upcoming post, Curator of Public Life Donna Braden turned up several folders of Detroit Publishing Company photos, shot around 1905, showing various views of Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York. We were so taken by these photos that we digitized all 80. You can now browse through photos of Coney Island at night (like the one shown here), the beach at Coney Island, and dozens of others. Visit our digital collections to see these images and other items related to Coney Island.

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

Jim McCabe, Curator of Agriculture and The Environment

This year The Henry Ford has been very excited to be collaborating with the Detroit Institute of Arts, and other Detroit-area community organizations, to provide additional context for their current exhibit, "Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit." This year we've been digitizing parts of our collection that directly relate to Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, their relationship with Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company, and the creation of the well-known frescos found in the DIA's Rivera Court.

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Because of the close involvement of Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company in the project, our archives contain documents, photographs, and correspondence related to these subjects.

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Earlier this year a group of curators spent time in Rivera Court thinking about how their areas of expertise here at The Henry Ford connect in some way to Diego's murals. From agriculture to communications, each of our curators found an instant connection.

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Take a look at our curators' reflections in this series of videos shot on location at the DIA.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

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The weekend of May 15-17, 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of Maker Faire Bay Area, a flagship festival of the Make movement. I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend the Faire in order to speak about The Henry Ford’s recent acquisition of the Apple 1 computer. On Saturday morning, as I climbed the Make:Live Stage to present images and stories gathered from the auction, its arrival to the museum, and video of the computer operating—I was happy (okay, I’ll admit, even a little nervous)—to see a crowd of over 100 enthusiastic people gathered. The appeal of the Apple 1 and the museum’s excitement about its acquisition was well-understood by the extremely attentive audience.

After the presentation, I had time to take in a little of the festival, and am happy to report that the Maker movement is alive and very well in the world. Here are a few of my favorite moments from the weekend: Continue Reading

Dario Franchitti pilots the Lotus-Ford 38/1 around Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- 50 years after Jim Clark drove it to victory.

We’ve already made much about the 50th anniversary of Jim Clark’s win, with his rear-engine Lotus-Ford, at the 1965 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. But it is a big deal. History generally unfolds in a gradual process, but Clark’s victory was a singular turning point for the race. We were delighted that the folks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway agreed and, with generous assistance from the speedway's Hall of Fame Museum, invited us to take the car down for this year’s event.

We kicked off race weekend on Thursday with a great panel discussion open to the media. I was honored to sit with fellow panelists Clive Chapman, proprietor of Great Britain’s Classic Team Lotus and son of Colin Chapman – designer of our car; Leonard Wood, co-owner of Wood Brothers Racing – the oldest active team in NASCAR – and a member of Jim Clark’s 1965 pit crew; and Dario Franchitti, a three-time Indy 500 winner and four-time IndyCar Series Champion – and a certified Clark-ophile. Continue Reading

Photo by KMS Photography

What's on this weekend's episode of The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation? Take a look!

 

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

In a current TV series celebrities donning white cotton gloves view documents and rare books as they learn about their family history. But is this really the way that professional museum and archives staff handle the hundreds or thousands of artifacts that are entrusted to their care?

What is the logic behind this practice?

The fact is that moisture, salt and dirt on human hands can damage artifacts and embed particles of dirt onto the surface of artifacts, this can permanently harm some artifacts. In the case of uncoated metals the human hand provides the perfect combination of salt and moisture in the form of sweat to cause damage in the form of corrosion. The image below shows a fingerprint on a brass plate. Continue Reading