Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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Even though I have been actively involved in the maker movement for the last six years, I learned a new definition of maker from Dale Dougherty when he said, “A maker is one who takes ownership around what he/she is passionate about, tries it, and creates a sense of agency around that idea.” 

Read more from our Chief Learning Officer Paula Gangopadhyay after visiting the National Maker Faire and IMLS' panel discussions surrounding the topic of making over on the IMLS blog, Up Next.

First-Aid Hospital at Ford Motor Company Highland Park Plant, 1913. THF97148

From “a bottle of liquid soap, a few bandages, and a pair of scissors” in a small wooden box by the timecards, the Ford Motor Company Medical Department grew to include over 100 physicians, assistants, and other employees. In 1914, Ford Motor Company instituted the five dollar day and with it a number of improvements to their programs for workers. One such program, was to expand and build up the Medical Department, first at Highland Park, where a 23-room state-of-the-art medical facility was built, and then expanding to the Rouge and other factories across the Ford empire. Let’s take a look at what the Medical Department looked like around 1916.

By 1916, the Medical Department included six divisions: Tuberculosis, Roentgenology, Dermatology, Dentistry, Corps. of the First Aid, and Ophthalmology, as well as various surgeons and support staff, counting over 100 people in all. It was headed up by Dr. J.E. Mead, who was assisted by Dr. N.L. Woodry, and Dr. W.R. McClure, and included ten other physicians, mainly from Detroit College of Medicine. In the twelve months before July 1917, these doctors were kept busy handling 558,869 cases including: 278,692 surgical cases, 120,309 medical cases, 5,044 minor operations, 2,473 x-rays, and 1,111 dental exams.

The Emergency Medical Hospital, situated between the Paymaster’s Office and Employment Office at Highland Park, was prepared for all manner of medical needs with x-ray machines, dressing tables and chairs for injuries to the head and “uppers;” and benches, foot rests, and tubs for “foot cases;” a well-supplied stock of pharmaceuticals; and a full operating room (as well as an additional operating room in the Blast Furnace area). There were also six first aid stations around the factory that functioned 24 hours a day manned by assistants who provided basic first aid and referred any cases such as infections, foreign bodies in the eye, or those requiring minor surgery, to the main hospital.

Any injury, no matter if it was just a scratch, was expected to be reported and had to be attended to at a first aid station, and if it warranted further attention, at the Emergency Hospital. Bulletins, posters, articles in the factory papers and Ford Times, as well as lectures, and on the job coaching alerted men to the danger of leaving an injury untreated. Images portraying infected eyes and hands alerted employees to the importance of proper medical attention. A booklet of “Helpful hints” issued to employees included medical tips such as: “All foreign bodies lodged in the eye should be removed by the doctor or first-aid man, and not by a fellow employe, because serious complications may result and probably cause blindness,” and “Do not try to lift anything beyond your strength, as you are liable to rupture yourself,” as well as “Do not wear loose-fitting or ragged clothing, as you are liable to be caught and pulled into a machine and seriously injured” (to say the least).

The Medical Department also played a large role in the hiring process and job placement of employees. Each new hire at Ford had to undergo a medical examination, and doctors determined what jobs they were physically and mentally best suited for, in 1916-17 they examined 13,055 applicants. The doctors would then turn their reports over to the employment office to process. The employment office kept detailed records of the exact physical requirements needed for jobs in the factory, and matched a new hire to a suitable job. Ford boasted that this method allowed them to hire many workers with disabilities in their factories, “there are probably 5,000 jobs at the Ford factories that do not require full physical capacity, and a surprisingly large number of these may be performed by men for whom steady work was at one time considered physically impossible.” Even workers with tuberculosis were hired and put to work, active cases in a separate “Lungers camp” on Oakland Avenue where they sorted and reclaimed scrap outside in fresh air (in line with the prevailing treatment method of the time). In fact, even when workers were convalescing in hospital they were given whatever light work was possible in the form of occupational therapy. There was also a Medical Transfer Division within the department that examined men and recommended transfers or certain adaptions to their workflow after an injury or illness.

Hangar Hospital, Willow Run Bomber Plant, 1942. THF93728

As you can see from the above photo from Willow Run in 1942, the Medical Department continued to expand to include hospitals at the Rouge, Northern Michigan operations, and beyond. The department worked, in its own words, “solely for the aid and benefit of the employees; to see that they are in proper physical condition for their work and, if not, to do all that can be done in order that they may be in the best condition possible for the fulfillment of their duties.”

More resources on the Medical Department:

  • Accession 611. Norman L. Woodry Papers, 1916-1919
  • Accession 1660. Photographic Vertical File series, 1860-1980
  • Factory facts from Ford Full content in Accession 951. Ford Motor Company Non-Serial Publications Collection
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    To learn even more about the Ford Medical Department, visit our Benson Ford Research Center. Its open Monday-Friday 9:30 am to 5:00 pm. You can set up an appointment in our reading room or ask us a question here.

    Kathy Makas is Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford.

    The Plymouth Barracuda, seen here in its 1964 form, could be made into a muscle car by 1967, when Chrysler’s big 383-cubic inch V-8 became an engine option.

    If it’s summer, it’s car show season. And if it’s Father’s Day weekend, then it’s time for Motor Muster at The Henry Ford. Some 850 cars, bikes, commercial and military vehicles gathered in Greenfield Village for our annual celebration of automobiles built from 1933 to 1977. This year, we paid special attention to muscle cars, those massive-engine, intermediate and full-sized cars that reined for about ten years before rising insurance premiums and gas prices – to say nothing of tighter emissions regulations – put them out to pasture. Formally, the muscle car’s beginning is traced to Pontiac’s GTO performance package, first offered for the 1964 model year. But 2014 was the year of the Mustang at Motor Muster (and besides, our own GTO is a 1965 model) so 2015 seemed like a perfect opportunity to salute Detroit’s horsepower heavies. Continue Reading

    Motor Muster

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    Over about a decade in the early part of the 20th century, a quartet including Henry Ford, inventor Thomas Edison, businessman Harvey Firestone, and naturalist John Burroughs took a series of summer camping trips, sometimes inviting others along for part or all of the journey.  The group, calling themselves the Vagabonds, took trips that might not exactly qualify as “roughing it”—they travelled with a caravan of vehicles, a full contingent of service staff, and many comforts of home including furniture and china tableware. We’ve just digitized dozens of photos of the Vagabonds in action, including this photo of the group having breakfast at a large lazy susan–equipped wooden table. View more than 100 photos and artifacts related to the Vagabonds by visiting The Henry Ford’s digital collections.

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

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    Automobiles powered by electricity have been around almost as long as there have been automobiles. In fact, in 1900, battery-powered electric cars outsold cars with gasoline-fueled internal combustion engines. But there is far more energy in a pound of gasoline than in a pound of storage batteries, meaning that gasoline-powered cars could travel farther on a tank than electric cars could on a single charge. Largely because of this, electric cars had virtually disappeared from the market by the late 1920s. By the end of the 20th century concerns about air pollution and imported oil caused people to look once again at alternatives to the internal combustion engine.

    In 1997 General Motors introduced the EV1, probably the best electric car ever produced. The car was in part a response to California laws requiring the sale of a certain percentage of vehicles that emitted no pollutants. General Motors went to great lengths to overcome the limited range offered by storage batteries. Continue Reading

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    Premier event photography by KMS Photography

    While our annual Motor Muster weekend takes us back to an era of classic cruisers, this year's Saturday night Record Hop USA! dance party is focusing on one particular year and a moment in music history: 1964 and the arrival of the Beatles in America.

    As pictured in this February 21, 1964 "Life" magazine article, screaming fans followed the Beatles wherever they went. THF 231546

    While we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the British Invasion in 2014, the recent induction of Ringo Starr into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Paul McCartney hitting the road for the summer festival circuit remind us that we don't need an official anniversary to honor The Fab Four whenever we want.

    Premier event photography by KMS Photography

    This Saturday you can join us for a night of dancing and and favorite 1960s hits in Greenfield Village during Motor Muster. For those who can't join us for dance lessons on Main Street, you can learn more about 1964 and the Beatles' first trip to America thanks to our collections and this blog post from Curator of Public Life Donna Braden.

    Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

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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

    doughnut

    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.