Thanks to Walter Dorwin Teague’s design, Texaco service stations projected a clean, modern and – perhaps most importantly – instantly recognizable image. (From the Collections of The Henry Ford.)
Walter Dorwin Teague’s Texaco Stations Gasoline is a fiercely competitive business. We’ve all seen intersections with two, three, even four rival gas stations clumped together. Standing out from the crowd is a must. Over the years, retailers developed any number of ways to set themselves apart, including everything from unusual architecture to ultra-clean restrooms. Brand identity – in whatever form it might be – was an essential part of the business.
The Texas Company, better known by the portmanteau Texaco, had its origins in the great Spindletop, Texas, oil strike of 1901, which suddenly had the United States awash in cheap petroleum. Unlike its competitors, which focused on regional markets, Texaco was determined from the start to build itself into a national brand. By 1942, the company had 40,000 outlets spread across the country.
One of Teague’s Texaco stations in use – appropriately enough, in Texas. (John Margolies Roadside America Transparencies. From the Collections of The Henry Ford.)
In 1934, Texaco hired industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague to create a fresh, unified look for the company’s service stations. Teague came up with a boxlike building covered in white porcelain enamel. Evocative of the then-popular streamlined look, Teague’s design simultaneously suggested speed, modernity and cleanliness. (And, with that porcelain exterior, it was easy to clean.) The gleaming white surface contrasted sharply with its surroundings, wherever the station was located, and readily caught motorists’ eyes. It was easy to illuminate at night, too – a significant benefit for retailers operating around the clock. In time, some 10,000 Teague stations were built across the United States, giving Texaco outlets a consistent appearance and identity.
The basic box building became popular with many of Texaco’s competitors, too. Eminently practical, the design provided space for an office/service counter, automobile service bays, storage, and the all-important restrooms. Furthermore, it could be expanded (or reduced), as business conditions warranted, without harming the building’s overall appearance.
By the 1970s, porcelain enamel was out and darker concrete, brick and wood surfaces were in. (John Margolies Roadside America Transparencies. From the Collections of The Henry Ford.)
But what was fresh and modern in the 1930s was, inevitably, dull and outdated within a few decades. In the 1960s, oil companies began to move away from bright porcelain boxes in favor of more subdued brick facades and gabled roofs. By the 1980s, the box plan itself was superseded by the larger convenience stores we still see today. But Walter Teague’s design lives on in the Driving America exhibit. Our Texaco station was built and operated in Kingston, Massachusetts, before it came to Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in 1987. The station may not be selling gas anymore, but the its gleaming porcelain still attracts plenty of visitors!
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
First portable “superhet” radio receiver, made by Edwin Armstrong in 1923. THF 156549
Edwin Armstrong’s First Portable Superheterodyning Receiver
A far cry from today’s pocket-sized MP3 players, the radio pictured above nonetheless advanced the idea of “portable radio.” This device was created in 1923 by Edwin Howard Armstrong—an inventor and pioneering electrical engineer. As the world’s first portable “superhet” radio receiver, this set is powered by six vacuum tubes, has a compartment for a battery, and a detachable horn for amplifying sound. It can be latched shut and conveniently carried by its handle, like a suitcase.
Armstrong’s legacy is rooted in three essential advances in radio history: regenerative circuits, superheterodyning, and frequency modulation (known to us today as FM radio). Individually, each of these concepts acted as some of the most important discoveries in radio history. Together, they helped to raise radio up to a new level. These concepts amplified radio waves, allowing voices to be carried rather than the dots and dashes of Morse code, and by extension, turned radio into an accessible and collective experience.
Superheterodyning The superheterodyning principle discovered by Armstrong is embedded within the radio receiver above, and has carried over to virtually every modern radio created since. Heterodyning involves mixing two different radio frequencies to create a third frequency, which could be used to tap into very sensitive high-frequency radio waves. Modern radio as well as televisions and cell phones owe a lot to the “superhet” concept.
Edwin and Marion Armstrong, on the beach, 1923. THF 120661
Tunes for the Honeymoon Not only was Armstrong an intrepid inventor, he was also a daredevil. His shy persona was a contrast to his bold innovations and daring publicity stunts. Before he married his wife Marion, he climbed to the top of the RCA tower in New York City to impress her. Apparently, it worked—because we soon see Marion and Armstrong on their honeymoon, sitting on the shore of Palm Beach in Florida. Armstrong built the portable radio in this image as wedding gift to Marion, and it is the same radio in the collections at The Henry Ford.
Marion Armstrong at The Henry Ford, 1967. THF 131774
Armstrong’s Legacy Armstrong was well known in his own time, and was highly respected. His story is also tragic, because he spent decades of his career in legal battles over patents that other inventors raised against him. Even though he would receive credit for his contributions to radio, much of that vindication came after his 1954 death. In the image above, we see Marion Armstrong donating her husband’s radio to The Henry Ford in 1967.
Although today’s radio formats are shifting towards satellite and subscription services, if you’ve ever listened to a car radio where you a spin a dial to tune in to a station—you’re listening to Armstrong’s FM radio.
The sonic imprints of his legacy continue to bleed into our everyday lives: from voices on the airwaves, to entertainment on the road, to enlivening a relaxing walk with headphones—or a summery day with music at the beach.
Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology at The Henry Ford.
As we look forward to the Greenfield Village opening of 2017, our guests and staff alike enjoy reconnecting with our amazing array of historic buildings. Each of them not only represent different periods of American history, they also hold so many fascinating stories. Among the more interesting, are how they came to have new lives here in Greenfield Village. The Logan County Courthouse’s story is among my favorites.
Abraham Lincoln featured prominently in Henry Ford’s plans for Greenfield Village which revolved around the story of how everyday people with humble beginnings would go on to play important roles in American history. Henry Ford was a “later comer” to the Lincoln collecting world, but with significant resources at his disposal, he did manage to secure a few very important items. The Logan County Courthouse is among them.
Logan County Courthouse as it stands today in Greenfield Village.
Authenticated objects, related to Lincoln’s early life, were especially scarce by the late 1920s.There seemed to be an abundance of items supposedly associated and attributed to Lincoln, especially split rails and things made from them. But very few of these were the real thing. For Henry Ford, the idea of acquiring an actual building directly tied to Abraham Lincoln seemed unlikely.
Logan County Courthouse September of 1929.
But, in the summer of 1929, through a local connection, Henry Ford was made aware that the old 1840 Postville/ Logan County, Illinois courthouse, where Lincoln practiced law, was available for sale. The 89-year-old building, was used as a rented private dwelling, and was in run down condition, described by some as “derelict”. It was owned by the elderly Judge Timothy Beach and his wife. They were fully aware of the building’s storied history, and had made several unsuccessful attempts to turn the historic building over to Logan County in return for funding the restoration, and taking over its on-going care and maintenance.
View of rear section of building with shed addition, September 1929
Seeing no other options, the Beaches agreed to the sale of the building to Henry Ford via one of his agents. They initially seemed unaware of Henry Ford intentions to move the building to Greenfield Village, assuming it was to be restored on-site much like another historic properties Ford had taken over. The local newspaper, The Courier, even quoted Mrs. Beach as saying “she would refund to Mr. Ford if it was his plan to take the building away from Lincoln, as nothing was said by the agent about removal”. By late August of 1929, the entire project in West Lincoln, Illinois, had captured the national spotlight and the old courthouse suddenly had garnered a huge amount of attention, even becoming a tourist destination.
View of side currently adjacent to Dr. Howard’s Office, September, 1929. This view shows evidence of filled in window openings. The window currently behind the judge’s bench was restored.
By early September, local resistance to its removal was growing, and Henry Ford felt the need to pay a visit to personally inspect the building and meet with local officials, and the Beaches. He clearly made his case with the owners and finalized the deal. As reported, “Ford sympathized with the sentiment of the community but thought that the citizens should look at the matter from a broader viewpoint. He spoke for the cooperation of the community with him in making a perpetual memorial for the town at Dearborn, where the world would witness it. My only desire is to square my own conscience with what I think will be for the greatest good to the greatest number of people.”
Views of partitioned first floor, summer 1929.
The courthouse would indeed be leaving West Lincoln, and by September 6, Henry Ford’s crew arrived to begin the process of study, dismantling, and packing for the trip to Dearborn. Local resistance to the move continued as the final paperwork was filed, and the newly purchased land was secured by Ford’s staff. By September 11, the resistance had run its course and the dismantling process began. It was also revealed that the city, county, several local organizations, and even the state of Illinois had all been offered several opportunities to acquire the building and take actions to preserve it. They all had declined the various offers over the years. It was then understood that Judge & Mrs. Beach, in the end, had acted on what was best for the historic building and should not be “subjected to criticism.” Judge Beach would die a week later, on September 19th.
The dismantling and discovery process was closely covered by the local newspapers, and as the building came apart, its original design was revealed.
Beginning as early as the late 1840s, changes had taken place on both the exterior and interior of the building. By 1880, the building had been converted from a commercial building into a dwelling and that was the state in which it was found by Ford’s crew in 1929. The doorway and first floor interior had been radically changed and eventually, a covered porch was added to what is now the main entrance, and a shed addition to the rear. But, the most significant change, was the move off its original foundation, 86 feet forward on the lot.
In 1848, the county seat moved from Postville, to Mount Pulaski. At that time the courthouse was decommissioned, and after a legal battle between the County, and the original investor/builders of the building, it was sold to Solomon Kahn. None other than Abraham Lincoln successfully represented the County in the matter. Mr. Kahn converted the building into a general store, and ran the local post office within. It was he who moved the building to its new location. In doing so, the old limestone foundation was left behind, and the original limestone chimney and interior fireplaces were demolished. A new brick lined cellar and foundation was created, along with updated internal brick chimneys on each end of the building, designed to accommodate cast-iron heating stoves. This took place before 1850.
The oldest know photograph of the Logan County Courthouse c.1850-1880. The original door arrangement remains in place.
Photographs taken in September of 1929, show the outline of the original chimney on the side of the building where it has been re-created today. Further discoveries revealed the original floor plan of a large single room on the first-floor, and the original framing for the room divisions on the second. Second floor photographs show the original wall studs, baseboards, chair rails, window, and door frames, all directly attached to the framing, with lath and plaster added after the fact. The framing of the walls on the first floor were all clearly added after the original build. The oldest photograph of the courthouse shows it on its second site with its original window and door arrangement still in place, but with new brick chimneys. The photo dates from between 1850 and 1880.
It was some of the older inhabitants of the area that alerted Henry Ford’s staff as to the original location of the foundation. Once located, the original foundation revealed the dimensions of the original first-floor fireplace. All the stones were carefully removed and shipped to Dearborn. The courthouse rests on this foundation today. The local newspaper also reported that while excavating the foundation, a large key and doorknob were found at the edge, aligned where the front door would have been located.
View of side that currently faces Scotch Settlement School, September, 1929. Shadow of original stone chimney is visible. Patched sections of siding show that originally, the stone would have been flush with the siding until approximately the top third, which would have extended out from the building like the entire chimney currently does. The window and door are late additions.
By September 20th, the building, consisting of two car loads of material, was on its way to Dearborn. Reconstruction in Greenfield Village began almost immediately at a frenzied pace. Finishing touches were still being applied right up until the October 21st dedication of Greenfield Village. Edward Cutler oversaw the final design elements needed to restore the building along with the actual work of reconstructing it. All the first- floor details, including the fireplace, mantle, and judges bench had to be re-created. The first-floor interior trim was reproduced in walnut, and was based on the original trim that survived on the second floor. The second floor, using a large amount of original material, including flooring, was also restored to its original appearance. Even the original plaster was collected, re-ground, and used to re-plaster the interior walls.
Views of the excavated original foundation, located 86 feet back from building’s second location. Lower view shows foundation for the original fireplace. September, 1929.
Based on the oldest of the original photographs, all new windows and exterior doors were also reproduced. Where possible, the original exterior walnut siding was also restored, and re-applied to the building and secured with brass screws.This was not a period technique, but rather a solution by Cutler to ensure the original siding with its worn nail holes, would stay in place.
The result was a place where Henry Ford could now display, and share his collection of Lincoln associated artifacts, including the most famous of all, the rocking chair from the presidential booth in Ford’s theater where Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth in April of 1865.
Re-construction well under way in Greenfield Village on October, 2, 1929. The building would be complete for the October 21, dedication. The Sarah Jordan Boarding House can be seen in the distance.
The completed Logan County Courthouse in Greenfield Village as it appeared for the October 21 dedication.
The newly unpacked Ford’s Theater rocking chair in the Logan County Courthouse, January of 1930.
The interior of the completed Logan County Courthouse c.1935. It featured a display of Abraham Lincoln associated objects including Springfield furniture and the rocking chair from Ford’s Theater.
From 1929 until the mid-1980s, the building was left almost untouched as a shrine to Abraham Lincoln.
It was not until the mid-1980s that the research material was re-examined, primarily for preparations for much needed repairs to the now 50 plus year old restoration. In 1980, prior to the restoration work, the Lincoln assassination rocking chair was removed from the courthouse and placed in Henry Ford Museum. In 1984, the building underwent a significant restoration and was re-sided, the first- floor flooring was repaired, and extensive plaster repair and refinishing took place. In addition, a furnace was added (inside the judge’s bench), to provide adequate heat.
The interpretation of the building also was redefined and was re-focused away from the Abraham Lincoln shrine and more toward the stories of the history of our legal system and the civic lives of Americans in the 1840s. Gradually, many of the Lincoln artifacts were removed to appropriate climate controlled storage or display in Henry Ford Museum.
That brings us to the Greenfield Village opening of 2017. The Logan County Courthouse has now stood as long in Greenfield Village as it did in Postville, 88 years. It has had an interesting and storied history in both locations. Both the curatorial team, and the Greenfield Village programs team are excited to continue the process of ongoing research and improving the scholarship of the stories we tell there. We are working on some projects to accomplish just that for the near future and are looking forward to sharing all the details.
Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is the now the permanent home for an object that sets a new standard in both communication technology and fashion - the IBM Cognitive Dress.
The dress originally debuted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala in May 2016 as a stunning custom gown designed by high-end women’s fashion designers Marchesa with the assistance of IBM’s Watson cognitive system. The dress has many layers of collaboration and interactivity: the initial research between IBM and Marchesa, the ability for an audience to influence its color through social media, and the ability for the dress to then communicate and display the data result back to the audience.
So, how does it work?
Watson is a cognitive technology--a form of computing that learns in a similar way to how humans learn. To make the dress interact with Watson, social media-responsive LEDs were sewn into its bodice and skirt. Utilizing Twitter and other social media feeds, Watson analyzes tweets and assigns an emotion based on the hashtags submitted, resulting in shifting color patterns across the garment’s materials.
The IBM Cognitive Dress is truly a smart design and a smart dress. The democratic appeal of social media has allowed the dress to become a significant part of today’s fashion industry. Fashion can now debut globally at an instantaneous rate--some companies go so far as to launch new collections using platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.
This innovative example of fashion recently arrived at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation this spring and will be coming to the museum floor soon. Make sure to look for the dress during your next visit and think about how your social media commentary will be analyzed by Watson.
Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.
The artifacts you see when you visit Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation or Greenfield Village only represent 5-10% of our object collections, and an even smaller percentage of our archival collections. The rest of our collections live in storage, but we try to find ways to make them accessible to the public by means of temporary exhibits, our Digital Collections, and loans to other institutions.
We currently have 233 artifacts, ranging from coffee pots to airplanes, on loan to 39 different institutions around the world, and we’ve just digitized a number of artifacts, such as this circa 1955 hat worn by Elizabeth Parke Firestone, that we have loaned to the V&A Museum in London for their upcoming exhibit Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, about fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga.
A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney, reunited with the Ford Mark IV 50 years after their Le Mans triumph. (Courtesy of Ford/Campbell Marketing)
Fifty years ago, on June 11, 1967, Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt made history by winning the first and – to date – only all-American victory at France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. For Ford Motor Company and race team Shelby American, it was the second consecutive Le Mans win, following the memorable 1-2-3 finish of 1966. But that first victory came courtesy New Zealander drivers Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, and the British-built GT40 Mark II. With Californian Gurney and Texan Foyt behind the wheel of the made-in-Dearborn Mark IV, the 1967 win was as American as the proverbial apple pie.
Gurney and Foyt on the Le Mans podium in 1967. (From the Collections of The Henry Ford)
In conjunction with the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the Road Racing Drivers Club recognized Mr. Gurney, Mr. Foyt and the milestone anniversary in a special ceremony on April 6. The Mark IV left its usual place in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and headed west to join the veteran drivers in California, making for a rare reunion of the men and machine that dominated the Circuit de la Sarthe in 1967 and capped the fiery Ford-Ferrari feud. Gurney and Foyt shared their still-vivid memories of the race, reflected on changes in endurance racing over the past five decades, and resoundingly agreed that June 1967 marked a high point in both of their careers. (Just ten days before the ’67 Le Mans, Foyt won his third Indianapolis 500, and a week later, Gurney won the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix in one of his Eagle race cars.)
Edsel Ford II presents A.J. Foyt with the Spirit of Ford Award. (Courtesy of Ford/Campbell Marketing)
Mr. Foyt received another tribute before the evening was over. Ford Motor Company director Edsel Ford II presented him with the Spirit of Ford Award, the company’s highest honor in auto racing. Foyt is only the 26th recipient since the prize was established 1988, and he joins a prestigious group of past winners like Carroll Shelby, Richard Petty, Denise McCluggage, John Force and Sir Jackie Stewart. (Mr. Gurney is a 1999 Spirit of Ford recipient.)
Foyt and Gurney joined by a new generation of Ford GT drivers (L to R: Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, Richard Westbrook and Sébastien Bourdais). (Courtesy of Ford/Campbell Marketing)
It was an incredible evening, not only because of the chance to reflect on 1967, but also due to the excitement building toward this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Ford will look to defend its 2016 class victory with the current Ford GT. Two of Ford’s 2016 driver teams, Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Sébastien Bourdais; and Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon, were on hand in Long Beach. Past and present came together when the “kids” joined Foyt and Gurney for a group photo with the Mark IV. Fifty years later, A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney continue to inspire – on the track and off.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Many people know Steve McQueen as an actor in such popular 1960s and 1970s films as The Great Escape, Bullitt, and The Thomas Crown Affair. But McQueen was also a racecar enthusiast, to the point where he once reportedly said, "I'm not sure whether I'm an actor who races or a racer who acts.”
To help shed some light on this issue, we’ve just digitized nearly a dozen photos of McQueen visiting designer Carroll Shelby’s Shelby-American shop in Venice, California, in 1963, including this image of both men at the shop.
Visit our Digital Collections to see more images from McQueen’s visit, as well as tens of thousands more artifacts from our vast racing collections. Or, if you’re more interested in McQueen’s acting, check out our 1974 movie poster for The Towering Inferno.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Strategy Manager, Collections & Content at The Henry Ford.
On Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017, a dear friend of The Henry Ford, Bruce Bachmann, passed away. I’ve known Mr. Bachmann since February 2010 when I was welcomed into his Glencoe, Illinois home. Bruce and his late wife Ann invited me to see their spectacular collection of studio glass. I was struck by their gracious hospitality and passion for studio glass. Sociable and gregarious, the Bachmanns loved to talk about their studio glass “family,” a network of artists, collectors, and gallery owners. Over time, the relationship grew into a friendship and ultimately, the donation of the Bachmann’s collection to The Henry Ford in 2015. This collection is the heart of the recently opened Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. A significant portion of the upcoming Davidson-Gerson Gallery of Glass in Greenfield Village, opening this spring, features masterpieces from the Bachmann’s collection.
This piece of studio glass, shown above, from Richard Royal’s Relationship Series, was a favorite of Bruce and Ann Bachmann. It lived in their master bedroom and was one of the first pieces they saw as they awoke every morning, a warm reminder of familial relationships. The artist describes the piece as the abstracted arms of a mother and father holding a child. The Bachmanns were devoted to their four children and grandchildren, likewise they saw their relationship with The Henry Ford as an extension of their own family, and a place where families gather and spend time together.
Bruce will be missed by all of us at The Henry Ford who have worked closely with him over the past seven years. A link to his obituary can be found here. See more pieces from the Bruce and Ann Bachmann Glass Collection in our digital collections.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.
Ford Motor Company devoted its employees and manufacturing facilities to military production during both of the 20th century’s world wars. Ford’s efforts in World War I were slow to start, given Henry Ford’s outspoken opposition to the conflict, but once the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the automaker rose to the challenge. Over the next two years, Ford built passenger cars, supply trucks, aircraft engines, gun caissons, tanks, helmets and body armor. Ironically, one of Ford’s best-known wartime products, the Eagle anti-submarine boats, never saw action before the Armistice. However, the factory that built the Eagle boats subsequently became the core of Ford’s River Rouge plant.
Ford’s efforts for World War II were greater still. Like other American automakers, the company suspended all civilian production in February 1942. Ford famously turned out B-24 bombers at its Willow Run facility, but it also produced a variety of wheeled vehicles including jeeps, amphibious cars, armored cars, trucks and tanks. Ford’s non-vehicle production included military gear of every type, from aircraft engines to guns to helmets to tents.
Red Cross Workers with a Ford Military Ambulance at the Highland Park Plant, 1918. THF 263442
Needless to say, ambulances were among the most crucial vehicles used in both wars. During World War I, Ford personal collaborated with the United States Surgeon General’s Office and frontline drivers to design a Model T-based ambulance ideal for battlefield conditions. The company donated $500,000 to the Red Cross, enabling the humanitarian organization to purchase nearly 1,000 vehicles for wartime use – including 107 ambulances. Beyond those Red Cross units, another 5,745 ambulances were built for the Allied armies.
Red Cross Motor Corps members took classes in auto maintenance. These women are checking under a Ford ambulance’s hood in 1942. THF 265816
Dodge produced most of the frontline ambulances used by American forces in World War II, but Ford units were active on the homefront. The Red Cross’s Motor Corps, established in World War I, rendered important service during the Second World War as well. Corps drivers working in the United States ferried Red Cross staff and supplies, couriered packages and messages, and occasionally stepped in to assist with Army and Navy transportation needs. An estimated 45,000 women were active in the Motor Corps during World War II. Corps members generally drove their personnel vehicles in this service, but Ford-built ambulances were also used in the transport of the sick and wounded.
We’ve all read about Rosie the Riveter, but what about her mother? Over a million women worked in factories in WWI building Liberty engines, airplanes, working in munitions factories, and warehouses. Others volunteered for the American Red Cross driving ambulances, working in canteens, transporting people and supplies in the Motor Corp., and as nurses. Still others set up daycares for working mothers, knitted clothing and medical supplies, and rationed food so that soldiers would have more. With 2017 marking the 100th anniversary of American involvement in WWI, we took a look at how these women contributed to the war effort in the U.S.
Part of the reason little has been said about women factory workers in WWI is that, unlike in WWII, most of the women who worked in wartime industries had already been working in factories prior to the war. It was only in the last few weeks before armistice was signed that middle-class homemakers were being mobilized to work in factories. But the women who did work in the factories manufacturing munitions, airplanes, trucks, and Liberty Engines, were not in these industries prior to the war. Women, during WWI, made a huge shift from traditionally women’s industries such as food processing and textiles to traditionally male industries, such as heavy manufacturing and vehicle production. This came with pushback from their male coworkers, and after the war, many of these women were forced back into traditionally female occupations, but during the war women proved they could perform jobs in these industries in support of the war effort (and also to earn a much better living).
In Detroit, most of the automotive factories were manufacturing items for the war. In addition to providing vehicles, planes, and components, Packard, Lincoln, Ford, and GM all produced the Liberty Engine for airplanes. The factories, short on men during war, employed women to work on the engines. It was said manufacturers preferred women in some of the work as they were more detail oriented and better suited to delicate work requiring a fine touch. Ford Motor Company, who at the time employed almost no women at all, began hiring women in August of 1918, by the time armistice was signed in November they had employed 500 women from one time to another in the factories. From the extant photos, Lincoln Motor Company appeared to have hired even more women, putting them to work at everything from gauging pistons and valves to welding.
Many women worked for the American Red Cross during the war. Detroit had its own chapter of the Red Cross and Ford Motor Company provided ambulances, trucks and cars in a $500,000 contribution. Women of the Red Cross conducted training sessions with their Ford ambulances outside the Highland Park factory. Women also transported sick patients, medical supplies, and doctors and nurses to and from hospitals during the Influenza Epidemic. In addition, volunteers in the Motor Corp used Ford vehicles, and others, to transport supplies to canteens, deliver surgical supplies, knitted garments, and other materials and personnel.
Women also worked from their homes to aid the war effort. Posters of the time encouraged women to volunteer for the Red Cross, asking them if they had a Red Cross service flag in the window of their home, support the YWCA helping women factory workers, join the Women’s Land Army, and to buy war bonds. Women at home were also encouraged to conserve food by using less wheat and meat, growing home gardens, and show children the importance of rationing. Cookbooks giving recipes avoiding wheat included recipes for corn and bran muffins, and potato doughnuts, while other pamphlets instructed housewives in gardening, and home canning and drying. Posters often compared U.S. women to the hard working, hard suffering, women of France, encouraging women to do their part to help out.
While the U.S. was only directly engaged in the war for 19 months, the U.S. industry had long before been manufacturing for the war, and women were engaged in the public and home sectors working in factories, volunteering, and rationing. The shortage of men during the war allowed women to enter jobs they were previously barred from, at the same time the importance of cooking, making, and volunteering took on new proportions for women as well. Though many of the women working in factories had to give up their jobs, and opportunities for women diminished as the men returned from war, women of WWI played a key role in the war effort both in industry and at home.
If you’re looking for more World War I resources, the Benson Ford Research Center can help you find them. We’re open Monday-Friday 9-5, AskUs a question or make an appointment today.
Kathy Makas is a Benson Ford Research Center Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford.