Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Take a look at some of our favorite segments from The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation highlighting social transformation.
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Travel has changed a lot over the past 150 years, from something that only the wealthy could afford to something for everyone. This post looks at the relationship between forms of luggage and methods of transportation, from stagecoaches through airline travel.

THF206455 / Concord Coach Hitched to Four Horses in Front of Post Office, circa 1885.

In the 19th century, travel was relatively uncommon. People who traveled used heavy trunks to carry a great number of possessions, usually by stagecoach and rail. The traveler didn't usually hand his or her luggage, porters did all the work. As late as 1939, railway express companies transferred trunks to a traveler's destination.

THF288917 / Horse-Drawn Delivery Wagon, "Express Trunks Transferred & Delivered, We Meet All Trains"

A typical 19th century American trunk, this example was used by Captain Milton Russell during the Civil War.

THF174670 / Carpet Bag, 1870-1890

People used valises or other types of lighter bags in the 19th century. This is a carpet bag made of remnants of "ingrain" carpet.

THF145224 / Trunk Used for File Storage By Harvey S. Firestone, circa 1930

In the 19th and 20th centuries, "steamer trunks" were used on ocean-going vessels in your state room. It was literally a closet in a box. This example was used by Harvey Firestone to hold important papers.

THF105708 / Loading Luggage into the Trunk of 1939 Ford V-8 Automobile

With the rise of automobile travel, more people had access and suitcases (as we know them) became the norm. Much easier to manager than steamer trunks, they fit a car trunk.

THF166453 / Oshkosh "Chief" Trunk, Used by Elizabeth Parke Firestone, 1920-1955

This is a standard 1920s/1930s suitcase made by the Oshkosh Suitcase Co. of Oshkosh, Wisc. This was for auto travel, etc. It was for everything! This belonged to Elizabeth Parke Firestone.

THF285021 / Passengers Entering Ford Tri-Motor 4-AT Airplane, 1927

With the rise of air travel, passengers were limited to lighter-weight bags due to weight restrictions.

THF169109 / Orenstein Trunk Company Amelia Earhart Brand Luggage Overnight Case, 1943-1950

Famed aviator Amelia Earhart licensed her own line of luggage beginning in 1933. It was marketed as "real 'aeroplane' luggage." It was lightweight and made to last. (Learn more about the famed aviator as an entrepreneur in this expert set.)

THF318431 / Postcard, Plymouth Savoy 4-Door Sedan, 1961-1962

By the 1960s, fashionable Americans bought luggage in colorful sets, like this lady directing the porters. Notice she also has a steamer trunk!

THF154923 / Travelpro Rolling Carry-On Suitcase, 1997

With the explosive growth of air travel in the '80s & '90s, & the growth of airports, travelers needed light and portable bags. Roller bags were the answer. They could be carried on or checked.

THF94783 / American Airlines Duffel Bag, circa 1991

Flight attendants need to carry extremely light bags. This American Airlines tote bag was used by a flight attendant in the 1990s.

How have your luggage choices and preferences evolved over time?

Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford. These artifacts were originally shared as part our weekly #THFCuratorChat series. Join the conversation! Follow @TheHenryFord on Twitter.

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Henry and Clara Ford bird-watch near the Rouge River in Dearborn, Michigan. THF96013

Over the course of a few short weeks, our daily lives have been disrupted in an unprecedented way. For most of us, our daily schedules no longer require moving from place to place — from our homes to our workplaces, miles away.

In our rush to get to the next location, did we ever stop to think about the space we traveled through to reach our destination? Did we ever stop to admire the natural world that envelops our civilization?

We hastily moved through the world. Now, while many of us are temporarily stationary, the natural world continues its movement around us. This presents a unique opportunity. With less demand on where you have to be, take this chance to enjoy the beauty of that motion. All it takes is a look out the window or a step out the door.

Here are the stories of a few makers and doers from The Henry Ford’s collection whose connection to the natural world might just help you step back, admire, reconnect and recharge:

- Learn more about the life of naturalist and writer John Burroughs in this Google Arts & Culture digital exhibit. Or take a look through pressed wildflowers Burroughs collected on an 1899 trip to Alaska in this album.

- Agricultural scientist George Washington Carver was committed to teaching, serving the community and making a difference. Learn more about his work in this blog. Or take a read through one of his publications used by educators to teach kids about gardening.

- Glass artist Paul Stankard, considered one of the fathers of the studio glass movement, drew upon a deep connection with the natural world to intricately replicate flowers and other botanicals in his acclaimed paperweights. Learn more about Stankard’s life, work and inspiration through his own words in this Visionaries on Innovation interview.

- Before starting a national conversation on the use of pesticides, author Rachel Carson found success with her poetic book  The Sea Around Us. A New York Times bestseller for nearly two years and winner of the John Burroughs Medal for nature writing, Carson's work can be checked out virtually for those who can’t make it outdoors.

Whether it’s a new flower blooming or the birds singing outside your window, find solace in the simple beauty of the world around you. Who knows, maybe the inspiration you find will lead you to spark a change in your own way.

Ryan Jelso is an Associate Curator at The Henry Ford.


Take a look at a collection of clips showcasing design and making within the collections at The Henry Ford.

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Welcome to week two of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Learning Virtual Series. Were you inspired to create or invent something this week? We want to see what you’re making! Please share your photos with us on #WeAreInnovationNation. If you missed the series last week, check out the recordings by clicking on the links at the bottom of this post. We hope that you will join us this week to explore our theme of Design & Making. Keep reading for more details about what’s in store.

What We Covered This Week
Theme: Design & Making — How do we collaborate and work with others?

STEAM Stories
This week is all about sand and glass. Join us for a reading of The Sand Castle Lola Built by Megan Maynor and then get hands-on activity ideas from our early childhood curriculum, Innovate for TotsRegister here. 

#InnovationNation Tuesdays
See our design and making segments here.

Innovation Journeys Live!
How do artists use glass to create delicate works of art? Watch the story of studio glass unfold in a live innovation journey. Practice making your own journey using the Model i Primer activity. Register here.

#THFCuratorChat: Design & Making
Learn more about the evolution of luggage design from Curator of Charles Sable.

Kid Inventor Profile
Listen to serial inventor Lino as he discusses his three inventions: Kinetic Kickz, the String Ring and the Sole Solution. Then explore some Invention Convention Curriculum activities to keep your child innovating. Register here.

Resource Spotlight: Model i Primer+ Design Lesson
In our continued efforts to help parents, students and educators during these times of uncertainty, The Henry Ford is providing helpful tips to help parents adapt its educational tools for implementation at home. Last week we highlighted our Model i Primer, a facilitator’s guide that introduces the Actions of Innovation and Habits of an Innovator through fun, learn-by-doing activities.

This week we are highlighting the Model i Primer+. These five lesson plans, named after the Actions of Innovation, are designed as opportunities for students to practice the Actions and Habits introduced in the Model i Primer. Each lesson includes age-appropriate versions for grades 2-5, 6-8 and 9-12. In keeping with this week’s theme of Design & Making, we’ll focus on the Design lesson today. All you need for the lesson are some colored pencils or markers and paper.

We define designing as brainstorming solutions to a defined problem or need. This is one of the trickiest parts of any innovation journey for all inventors. In trying to solve a problem or need, kids can feel overwhelmed by a blank page, or they can get stuck on unfocused ideas. In order to help kids navigate these challenges, the Design lesson introduces two brainstorming techniques: the Zero Drafting technique and the Wishing technique.

Zero Drafting is an ideation technique that encourages kids to get their initial creative solutions out of their heads and on to paper, using information they already know. The Wishing technique encourages kids to frame solutions as wishes, making them more comfortable sharing ideas without pressure of producing real ideas. Combining Zero Drafting with Wishing, students focus on features of their creative ideas to trigger new, more realistic concepts to develop. By ideating feasible concepts, kids will be able to choose one solution to develop further.

When trying the Design lesson in your home, consider these adaptations for each of the lesson’s three parts:

Prep Activities: Begin by suggesting a problem that your kids may want to solve. This can be something simple, like a problem they have during their morning routine or always growing out of their shoes.

Core Activities: Use the Zero Drafting and Wishing techniques to brainstorm fantastical solutions, and then analyze these ideas to generate new, more realistic concepts. You can choose to just use one of the techniques. Brainstorm solutions along with your child.

Follow-Up Project: Have your child pick one of the solutions they came up with, and have them begin to write or draw ideas about how they would make that solution come true. You might be surprised by how your child begins to solve their own problems.

Take it further: Ask your child what Actions and Habits they practiced.

Please share your experience and follow others as they engage in our digital learning opportunities using the hashtag #WeAreInnovationNation.

Olivia Marsh is Program Manager, Educator Professional Development, at The Henry Ford.

Look for the Helpers

April 6, 2020

Red Cross Volunteer Nurse's Aides, May 1942.

In uncertain times, it can be useful to stop and reflect on the ways in which others have overcome or responded to challenges. The passage of time can be a cushion, allowing us to use the lens of history to reach back and remember that remarkable creativity, kindness and courage have often pushed through fear in times of uncertainty.

Opportunities for compassion and ingenuity abound, even for those of us not on the front lines—be it the front lines of a hospital, of the food supply chain, or of municipal services. Perhaps your opportunity might be painting rocks to hide in your neighborhood to make a neighbor smile or sewing a mask for a health care worker. It could be putting groceries in your little library as well as books. Maybe it is inventing a vaccine or building new ventilators.

Let’s absolutely “look for the helpers,” as Mister Rogers said, but let’s also look for the makers, the inventors, the doers, the innovators—past and present—and be inspired to become more like them too.

helpers-communityEncouragement from sidewalk chalk and painted rocks in a Michigan neighborhood.

THF Resources

The Henry Ford's Blog: Uncovering Medical Innovations in the Collection
New surgical techniques and motorized medical care are just a few of the ingenious responses to medical demands featured in this blog post.

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation: UpSee Walking Device
When Debby Elnatan’s son was unable to walk due to cerebral palsy, she invented a walking device to help him and other children with the disorder. In this clip from The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, she explains, “I believe there is no such thing as special needs, that we all have the same needs. What’s special are the solutions.”

The Henry Ford's Blog: A Technological Assist
Today, assistive devices and technology are increasingly common, but this wasn’t always the case. Empathetic design and inventiveness were required to create devices which allowed people like Shari, introduced in this blog post, to wake up on time, watch television, or chat with a friend.

Katherine White is an Associate Curator at The Henry Ford.


"Fixing Cars, a Peoples Primer," 1974. THF103464

The concept of resourceful living is nothing new. Many people have been reducing, reusing and recycling for years. But now that we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, it seems that “conspicuous consumption” is out and “conscious conservation” is in.

"How to Fix Your Bicycle". THF206623

As we all learn to make do in our new world of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, here’s a look at how Americans have practiced resourceful living in the past. Whether it’s fixing the family car yourself, being proactive in your family’s health and well-being, or simply taking advantage of your extra at-home time to finally get organized, you’ll find much to inspire you in the collections of The Henry Ford.

In the Garage
The Railroad Roundhouse
“Fixing Cars, a People's Primer”
FIXD Car Diagnostic Sensor (as seen on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation
“Anybody’s Bike Book”
“How to Fix Your Bicycle”
“A Rough Guide to Bicycle Maintenance”

Improvisation & Fixing Things
Whole Earth Catalogs
Quilt Maker Susana Hunter
Susana Hunter (as seen on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation)

Revisit the Break, Repair, Repeat: Spontaneous & Improvised Design exhibit, on view Summer 2019
Video Tour of the Exhibit
Expert Set (Highlight Artifacts from the Exhibit)
Press Coverage by The Detroit News

Staying Healthy & Keeping Germs at Bay
Phone Soap (as seen on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation)
Anti-Germ Sponge (as seen on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation)
Historic Soap and Household Detergent Packaging
Braniff International Airways Bar Soap
For Health, Food and Fun Keep a Garden

An Organized Workspace
Julia Child’s Kitchen
Overhead Drawing of Julia Child's Kitchen
L. Miller & Son Store Displays of Hardware
Hoosier-Style Kitchen Cabinet
Handy Helper Utility Cabinet

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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Home Entertainment

March 30, 2020
Portrait of Young Girl with Hoop and Stick, 1868-1870. THF226622

The challenges posed by COVID-19 have inspired us to figure out new ways of working — and also of playing. Our entertainment is now focused on what can be enjoyed in and around our homes.

The past century saw an explosion of entertainment choices to enjoy in our leisure time, and plenty of these remain accessible to help lift spirits and put smiles on our faces. Favorite music, movies and television shows are at our fingertips. Video and board games can be enjoyed. Craft projects await. Reading material surrounds us —found online, downloaded on tablets or discovered on our own bookshelves. Weather permitting, outdoor activities like walking, riding a bicycle or even barbecuing remain accessible — all while maintaining social distancing, of course!

Right now, for many, there is little physical or mental separation between work and leisure. Taking time to savor leisure activities while remaining at home helps renew energy and focus. There are so many ways to stay engaged. Enjoy!

Perhaps the close quarters many of us are currently experiencing may even inspire more face-to-face communication, creativity — and play.

Home Media Entertainment
Sesame Street 50th Anniversary
The Real Toys of Toy Story
Is That from Star Trek?
Star Wars: A Force to Be Reckoned With
Immersit Game Movement (as seen on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation)
Travel Television with Samantha Brown's Passport to Great Weekends"
A TV Tour of the White House" with Jacqueline Kennedy

Edison Kinetoscope with Kinetophone
Allan McGrew and Family Reading and Listening to Radio

Staying Busy with Games
Games and Puzzles
Board Games
McLoughlin Brothers: Color Printing Pioneers
Playing Cards
Girl with Hoop and Stick
Alphabet Blocks and Spelling Toys
CBS Sunday Morning with Mo Rocca: Piecing together the history of jigsaw puzzles

Crafting at Home
Leatherworking Kit
Paragon Needlecraft American Glory Quilt Kit
Carte de Visite of Woman Knitting

Video Games
History of Video Games (as seen on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation)
Player Up: Video Game History
Unearthing the Atari Tomb: How E.T. Found a Home at The Henry Ford

Reading for Pleasure
Comic Books Under Attack
Commercializing the Comics: The Contributions of Richard Outcault
The "Peanuts" Gang: From Comic Strip to Popular Culture
It All Started with a Book: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Woman Reading a Book
John Burroughs in His Study

Staying Engaged & Family Activities
Partio Cart Used by Dwight Eisenhower
Connect 3: Guided Creativity

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

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We Are Innovation Nation

March 29, 2020

To help parents, students and educators during these times of uncertainty, The Henry Ford is unleashing its educational tools for people everywhere. While our venues are temporarily closed, access to our digital learning content is wide open. To help you connect with these tools and resources, we’re launching an Innovation Learning Virtual Series starting Monday, March 30. It will highlight our digital learning resources for all ages, including live engagement and hands-on activities.

Look for a new blog post every Friday to check out the theme and virtual experiences planned for the coming week and to find a spotlight on one of our resources. These 20- to 30-minute virtual experiences will take place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

We believe innovation can be something completely new, but it also can be a significant improvement to an existing product, process or service. To be innovative, the contribution must address a true need and change the way we behave.

Drawing on the authentic objects and real-life stories we have collected, our Model i Innovation Learning Framework provides an interdisciplinary approach to learning based on the Habits of an Innovator and Actions of Innovation. These habits and actions come together, expressing any unique innovation journey. This framework underpins every innovation learning resource that we will showcase in the coming weeks.

What’s Coming Up Next Week?
The theme for the week of March 30 is MOBILITY. How do you get to where you’re going?

Monday, March 30 at 10 a.m.
Pre-K-Grade 2
Join us as we read How Trains Work and learn how to access a lesson from our early childhood curriculum,Innovate for Tots that includes a lesson plan, activities, reading lists and coloring pages of The Henry Ford's artifacts.

Registration Link:

Innovation Journeys Live!
Wednesday, April 1 at 1 p.m.
Grades 3-12
Ever wondered how our Allegheny Steam Locomotive came to be? Hear and see the story unfold in a live innovation journey.Practice making your own journey using the Model i Primer activity.

Registration Link:

Supportive Resources
"What if a Locomotive Powered by Fire and Water Could Haul More Freight Than Ever Before?"
1884 Locomotive Roundhouse and 1941 Allegheny

Kid InventorDay
Friday, April 3 at Noon
All Ages
Hear from kid inventor Ariana as she discusses her face mask invention. Then explore some Invention Convention Curriculum activities to keep your child innovating.

Registration Link:

Resource Spotlight: Model i Primer
This week’s resource spotlight focuses on our Model i Primer, a facilitator’s guide that introduces the Actions of Innovation and Habits of an Innovator through fun, learn-by-doing activities that are easily implemented at home. You can download the free Model i Primer here.

How do I use the Primer?
Page 4: Begin by discussing what innovation means with your children. What everyday household objects could you change or adapt?

Page 5: Show your children the Model i framework, and talk about the Actions of Innovation and Habits of an Innovator. What do they mean? Which ones do they already use? Which ones do they want to work on? Work together to learn and practice them — consider documenting your progress in an innovation journey.

Page 6: Send your kids on a digital scavenger hunt. How many items can they find? Are they inspired by any of the innovators’ stories they found? Why?

Pages 9-10: Get inspired by reading the innovation journey of the Wright brothers, and then create your own. Have your children ever invented something? Solved a problem? Have them grab some markers and paper to draw their own journeys.

Check out the links to The Henry Ford’s digital collections and resources that are embedded in the primer, including digitized artifactsInnovation Nation video clips and stories written by our expert curators

Feel free to share your experience and follow others as they engage in our digital learning opportunities using the hashtag #WeAreInnovationNation.

Did you find these resources of value? Consider making a donation to The Henry Ford.

thf288950Members of the Woman's National Farm and Garden Association, 1918. THF288950

Most Americans rely on grocery stores today. Few remember the time when there was constant demand on people to produce and preserve the grain, vegetables and meat they needed to feed themselves.

Over the last few weeks, self-isolation and social distancing have brought into sharp focus the need to plan for your next meal. Do you do it yourself, heading to your cellar to extract the last potatoes or turnips from the bins, or lift the lid off the sauerkraut crock, or pull down a cured ham from the rafters? Probably not. Do you head to the local market or the grocery store and stock up on fresh supplies to see you through for a few days? Or do you dig into the back of your cupboard and pull out a boxed mix or canned goods.


There’s never been a greater time to be resourceful than now. Last week, we donated food from The Henry Ford’s restaurants and cafeteria to Forgotten Harvest to help support our community after our campus closed this month because of COVID-19.

Looking for inspiration to be resourceful in your kitchen? We've dipped into resources and stories from The Henry Ford's collections to try to help. Explore the differences between home cooking and food resourcefulness today and in the past — from farm fresh and family raised to preserved and prepackaged. These digital resources will help you find inspiration whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. Sort through recipe books, dig out that potato — is it a Burbank?! — and season with that essential preservative, salt, reflect and enjoy.

What are you doing in your kitchens right now to make the most of what’s in your cabinets? Share your examples of resourcefulness by tagging your photos and ideas with #WeAreInnovationNation.

Resilient Foods, Resourceful People
Women and the Land: Agricultural Organizations of WWI
Freedom from Want
Mattox Home

A Versatile Ingredient (Salt)
What If A Potato Could Change the World of Agriculture?
Summer Staples: Tomato and Corn
Eggs (as seen on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation)
Historic Recipe Bank
Bread & Biscuits

Preservation & Processing Foods
Henry J. Heinz: His Recipe for Success
Fresh Paper (as seen on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation)

Supply Chains
Horse-Drawn Deliveries
Lunch Wagons: The Business of Mobile Food
Tri-Motor Flying Grocery Store

Alternative Eating & Home Cooking
Food Huggers (as seen on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation)

Individual Artifacts
Swanson Frozen Dinners, 1967
Waffle Iron
Victory Gardens
Bean Pot

Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment. Did you find this content useful? Consider making a gift to The Henry Ford.