Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

89.492.1139

The Henry Ford receives inquiries from around the world and from all types of individuals and organizations about the contents of our collections. Recently, we were approached by Christian Dior Couture about the Dior garments, accessories, and drawings we hold. As we investigated and located these items, we digitized many of them, including this 1950s pillbox hat owned and worn by Elizabeth Parke Firestone. Now anyone can view dozens of Dior-related artifacts on our collections website. And while we’ve digitized all the Dior design drawings that relate to specific garments in our collections, we hold dozens more Dior drawings, which we’ll be digitizing over upcoming months—so be sure to check back for even more high fashion in our digital collections.

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

hats, vintage hats

Nikola Tesla Death Mask

September 14, 2015

Death mask of electrical pioneer, Nikola Tesla, made in 1943. THF49159

In the era before photography, masks — cast from molds taken directly from an individual's face or hands — were a means of making a portrait without resorting to the services (and perhaps shortcomings) of an artist. By the mid-twentieth century it was far easier to make a photographic portrait than to go to the trouble of making a mask. The detailed and lifelike quality of masks — taken from living or recently deceased individuals — ensured the survival of the process.

This copper mask captures the likeness of electrical pioneer and experimenter Nikola Tesla. It was made immediately upon the latter's death in 1943, at the request of publisher and writer Hugo Gernsback, a friend of Tesla's. Continue Reading

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

Exploded Model T

September 10, 2015

Mo Rocca, host of "The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation," poses with the exploded Model T in Henry Ford Museum during filming. (Event Photography by KMS Photography)

One of the most dramatic displays in Henry Ford Museum is the “exploded” Model T—a 1924 Model T touring car with its constituent parts suspended by wires. Located at the entrance to the Made in America exhibition, it invites visitors to take a different look at an iconic American product.

Henry Ford’s Model T automobile is one of the most significant technological devices of the 20th century. Its clever engineering and low price allowed it to do what could only be done once—make the automobile widely popular. The Model T spawned mass automobility, altering our living patterns, our leisure activities, our landscape, even our atmosphere. The Model T’s influence is so pervasive and lasting that even people who know little about old cars or automotive history know the name “Model T.”

But the way the Model T was produced is as iconic as the car itself. When Ford Motor Company introduced the Model T in October 1908, firearms, watches, and sewing machines were already being assembled from interchangeable parts made on specialized machines. Ford successfully adapted these techniques to the much more complex automobile, and then crowned this achievement with the development of the moving assembly line in late 1913. Continue Reading

model ts, Old Car Festival

This full-page advertisement announcing the introduction of the Ford Model T is rich with text and technical detail—a rational approach to selling the product. The text reinforces the theme of "Ford: High Priced Quality in a Low Priced Car" throughout the ad. This advertisement appeared in Life and Saturday Evening Post magazines on October 1, 1908. THF122987

"If you really have a good thing, it will advertise itself." - Henry Ford

Introduced in the fall of 1908, Ford Motor Company's Model T was the right car for a newly developing market. It was affordable, efficient and reliable. Almost immediately the Ford Model T became the standard by which other reasonably priced cars were judged. By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. By the time that the company finally ended the model's production in 1927, more than 15 million Model Ts had been produced.

The very endurance of this single model offers an intriguing look at how the Model T was advertised over the nearly 20 years it was in production. Model T advertisements show the changes in print ads in general and the Ford Company's marketing policies in particular. These advertisements also reflect the company's response to changing market conditions.  Continue Reading

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The Tripp Sawmill was moved to Greenfield Village in 1932, in part to process timber for various on-site construction projects. Originally built in 1855 in Tipton, Michigan, and owned and operated by Reverend Henry Tripp, this building is a steam-powered up-and-down sawmill.  Before the end of the 19th century, more efficient circular sawmills had become prevalent, but the building remains in Greenfield Village today, along with two other sawmills built in Greenfield Village (Spofford, another up-and-down sawmill, and Stoney Creek, featuring a circular saw), giving our visitors a taste of this important 19th century industry. For an even deeper immersion, check out the photographs we’ve just digitized of Tripp Sawmill on its original site before its move to Greenfield Village, including this interior shot. Visit our digital collections website to view all the Tripp Sawmill images, as well as images of many other Village buildings in their original locations.

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

Fordlandia Houses on Riverside Avenue, Boa Vista, Brazil, 1933. THF109235

Benson Ford School washroom showing advanced sanitary conditions, Belterra, Brazil, 1942. THF240223

Henry Ford established the plantations of Fordlandia and Belterra in Brazil with the hope of mass producing rubber for Ford Motor Company vehicles at a fraction of the cost of American factories. Although deep in the Amazon jungle, Ford was essentially attempting to recreate his successful company town of Dearborn, Michigan for his Brazilian workers. Fordlandia came first in 1930, but was not nearly as prosperous as Ford had hoped. In 1940, Ford opened a second plantation, Belterra. Although both plantations were eventually closed, Belterra found some moderate success before Henry Ford abandoned the project. Belterra set out to solve problems created or brought harshly to light by Fordlandia. In many ways, Belterra more closely aligned with Ford’s vision, epitomizing the ideal small Midwestern town better than Fordlandia ever had. Continue Reading

School Building, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1933. THF115500

Much has already been written about Henry Ford’s ill-fated Amazonian experiment, Fordlandia. In 1927, Ford acquired land in Northern Brazil, and envisioned creating a booming rubber plantation and town. He anticipated a new revenue stream that would produce enough rubber to make tires for 2 million tires every year. Ford knew that in order to ensure Fordlandia’s economic success, he needed a workforce that was healthy and contented with their lives.In addition to the rubber plantation, Fordlandia had a school, workers’ homes, a railroad, hospital, dance hall, golf course, community pool, sawmill, recreation center, and many other things Henry Ford viewed as cornerstones of a productive and morally righteous society. As author Greg Grandin wrote in Fordlandia, this new plantation offered Henry Ford, “a chance to join not just factory and field but industry and community in a union that would yield, in addition to great efficiency, fully realized men.” Henry Ford initially offered Brazilian workers 35 cents a day, as well as food, lodging and healthcare, well beyond the wages any laborers had been offered up until now in this part of the world. However, these amenities came with massive strings attached, such as the imposition of an American 9 am - 5 pm working schedule, and the requirement that all laborers eat food from the American Midwest. These habits were foreign to the workers and they quickly grew resentful of the behavioral restrictions imposed by Ford and rioted in December 1930. After the riot, Fordlandia was never able to fully recover, and it was clear that this experiment was not functioning effectively, efficiently or, and most important, profitably. However, Henry Ford was anything but a quitter. He had committed himself to the idea of a rubber plantation deep in the heart of the Amazon, and he was not going to give up on his dream that easy. Continue Reading

This mid-20th century phonograph by Zany Toys, Inc., was one of the artifacts treated by Conservation for cadmium corrosion.

Many reading this post will remember that in 2013, The Henry Ford was awarded a two-year, $150,000 Museums for America: Collections Stewardship grant by the United States Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  In this grant, The Henry Ford set out to identify, clean, treat, rehouse, and create digital catalog records for more than 1,000 communications-related artifacts related to photography, data processing, printing, telecommunications, sound communication, and visual communication.  We’re pleased to announce that with about a month left to go in the grant period, we have put more than 1,000 objects through almost every step of the process, and expect to finish up a number of additional objects before we run out of time.

Given how close we are to the end of this project, I asked a few of the staff who’ve spent time working with these objects to weigh in with their thoughts on what was interesting, what was challenging, or what they’ve learned through this process. Continue Reading

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Though the Wright Brothers first successfully flew their heavier-than-air flyer in 1903, it wasn’t until August 8, 1908, that Wilbur Wright offered the first official public demonstration of their creation. In a series of flights between August and the end of the year, Wright quashed many skeptics by showing the flyer’s maneuverability. Images of those flights remain today in the archives of The Henry Ford in a series of glass plate negatives in the Bollée Collection, named after Leon Bollée, a French automaker and aviation enthusiast. We’ve just digitized all of these glass plate negatives, including documentary images of the flyer before, during, and after these flights, as well as many images covering the personal and business interests of Leon Bollée.  The fascinating image shown here depicts the Wright Flyer being transported along a narrow road in France—an endeavor that must have had its challenges. View over 150 more newly-digitized Bollée images by visiting our collections site.

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

planes

pier-table

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