Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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John Margolies has spent decades traveling the roads of America and photographing roadside attractions, restaurants, shops, and motels. Many of them are in varying states of abandonment and decline, but harken back to the excitement of 20th century road trips and the unique commercial designs they spawned. The Henry Ford recently acquired about 1,500 slides by John Margolies, and is digitizing selections by Chief Curator and Curator of Industry & Design Marc Greuther, including this drive-in cleaners’ sign photographed in 1987 in Oregon. View more selections from the Margolies collection on our collections website.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford.

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Visitors to Henry Ford Museum will see a new vehicle in Driving America. Edsel Ford’s 1941 Lincoln Continental convertible is now in the exhibit’s “Design” section, located just behind Lamy’s Diner. The original Lincoln Continental, built between 1939 and 1948, is regarded as one of the most beautiful automobiles ever to come out of Detroit. It’s an important design story that we’re delighted to share.

The Continental’s tale began in the fall of 1938 as Edsel Ford returned from a trip to Europe. While overseas, Ford was struck by the look of European sports cars with their long hoods, short trunks and rear-mounted spare tires. When Ford got home, he approached Lincoln designer E.T. “Bob” Gregorie and asked him to create a custom car with a “continental” look. Using the Lincoln Zephyr as his base, Gregorie produced an automobile with clean, pure lines free of superfluous chrome ornaments or then-standard running boards. Continue Reading

Charles Francis Jenkins and the Radio Facsimile

Descending on a flight to Portland, Maine, via Detroit, I see spotty islands and stacked heaps of stone blocks forming cliffs below. Boats slice through the butter sea, raising triangles of white foam in their wake. The plane banks sharply north, angling toward a half-round castle structure, secluded on its own island--a prison, a sanctuary, a quarantine bunker--or perhaps just an old garrison fort whose presence is rendered ominous by its utter inaccessibility. Fort Gorges, as I would later come to know it, was in fact part of a triangulated defense line active during the American Civil War, working alongside Fort Preble and Fort Scrammel, a sod-roofed sneak camouflaging itself as a hillside. These two stone guardians of Casco Bay likewise emerge into view as the commuter plane lurches through a patch of turbulence and aligns itself with the landing strip. Continue Reading

Ford's 1963 Mustang II, the car that bridged the gap between the concept Mustang I and the production 1965 Mustang.

It’s probably no surprise that Motor Muster, our annual car show celebrating 1933-1976 automobiles, is spotlighting the Ford Mustang for 2014, given all the excitement surrounding the car’s 50th anniversary. Likewise, it’s no great shock that The Henry Ford’s 1962 Mustang I roadster and 1965 Mustang Serial Number One convertible will be in Greenfield Village among the approximately 900 registered cars. What will come as a pleasant surprise is the appearance of a third special Mustang, for one day only, on Saturday, June 14. The Detroit Historical Society is bringing its 1963 Mustang II concept car to the show, making Motor Muster the only chance this year to see Mustangs I, II and Serial Number One together in the same place.

The 1963 Mustang II (not to be confused with the Ford Pinto-based production Mustang II of the 1970s) surely is one of the most unusual concept cars ever built. Industry practice (and common sense) tells us that an automaker builds a concept car as a kind of far-out “dream car” to generate excitement at car shows. Most never go past the concept stage, but a few do make it into regular production. (Chevrolet’s Corvette and Dodge’s Viper are notable examples.) The Mustang II previewed the production Ford Mustang we all know and love, but the concept car was designed and built after the production Mustang project already was well underway! Why? It’s a case of managing public expectations.

Most Mustang histories start with the 1962 Mustang I, but devoted pony fans know that Mustang I was an entirely separate project from the production car. Ford built the “Mustang Experimental Sports Car” (its original name – the “I” was a retrospective addition) to spark interest in the company’s activities. Ford was going back into racing and looking for a quick way to create some buzz about the exciting things happening in Dearborn. The plan worked a bit too well. When Mustang I debuted at Watkins Glen in October 1962, and then hit the car show circuit, the public went crazy and sent countless letters to Ford begging the company to put the little two-seater into production.

At the same time Mustang I was being built, another team at Ford was working on the production Mustang that would debut in April 1964. Mustang I’s popularity created a problem: Everyone loved the two-seat race car, but would they feel the same about the four-seat version? The solution was to build a new four-seat prototype closely based on the production Mustang’s design.

Enter the 1963 Mustang II.

The new concept car wasn’t just based on the production Mustang’s design – it was actually built from a prototype production Mustang body. Ford designers removed the front and rear bumpers, altered the headlights and grille treatment, and fitted Mustang II with a removable roof. While the car looked different from the production Mustang, a few of the production car’s trademark styling cues were retained, including the C-shaped side sculpting and the tri-bar taillights. Mustang II also consciously borrowed from Mustang I, employing the 1962 car’s distinct white paint and blue racing stripes. Conceptually and physically, the four-seat Mustang II formed a bridge linking the 1962 Mustang I with the 1965 production car. Mustang II was a hit when it debuted at Watkins Glen in October 1963, and when the production version premiered six months later, there were few complaints about the four seats instead of two.

Fortunately, Mustang II is one “link” that isn’t “missing.” The Detroit Historical Society acquired the car in 1975 and has taken great care of it ever since. We’re grateful to them for sharing it at our 2014 Motor Muster, where visitors can see first-hand the Mustang’s evolution from I to II to Serial Number One.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford

Race Days in Detroit

June 5, 2014

While others might welcome the start of summer with the Memorial Day weekend, those of us in the Motor City know that the season begins when racing returns at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. The early-June event just completed a successful third year since its 2012 revival, and the drivers, venue and city all shined. Several races took place over the three days, giving fans a chance to see IndyCars, sports cars, and even Baja-style trucks compete on the 2.36-mile, 13-turn Belle Isle circuit.

The Cadillac V-Series Challenge, a part of the Pirelli World Challenge Series, pitted production-based cars against each other in two races. Fans saw some of Detroit’s best compete with foreign marques. The Grand Touring Sport class featured Camaros and Mustangs against Nissans, Kias, and Aston Martins. The Grand Touring class put Cadillacs against legendary names like Audi, Ferrari, Lambroghini, McLaren and Porsche. The “home” cars did well this year. Dean Martin won the GTS events in a Ford Mustang Boss 302S, while Johnny O’Connell took the GT events in a Cadillac CTS-V.R. Continue Reading

Racing In America

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It’s with much excitement today that I announce that The Henry Ford has partnered with Litton Entertainment, a leading independent production and distribution company, on a new national television series. The show will be called The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation and it will premiere on CBS this coming fall.

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation will be a weekly half-hour news magazine hosted by Mo Rocca, of CBS News broadcasting, and two correspondents. The show will present inspiring and often untold stories using The Henry Ford’s archive of American Innovation to showcase present-day change-makers and the possibilities for future progress. Continue Reading

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

Toy automobiles have been around since the very early days of the automobile, though trends in these toys have changed over time. One category that reached a peak of popularity in the 1960s and 1970s is slot cars, scale vehicles run on a slotted track that both guides them and provides electrical current to power them. The Henry Ford received a donated collection in the early 1990s that contains about a dozen and a half slot cars, plus supplies, track pieces, and other accessories. We’re in the process of digitizing these, including this Indy slot car. Visit our collections website to view the remainder of the recent additions, and watch for more to come over upcoming weeks!

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford.

In this late 1800s trade card, a young girl in her Sunday best demonstrates the ease of operating a Chadborn & Coldwell Manufacturing Co. lawn mower. (Object ID.89.0.541.430).

A large expanse of manicured lawn was once something only the wealthy could afford. It was necessary to have full-time gardening help to cut the grass evenly by hand with a scythe and then roll the grass flat to achieve a perfect look.

An automatic sprinkler, like this one shown in an 1877 Beardsley & Co. catalog, would have appealed to those living in large cities rather than in smaller towns and on farms. In the 1870s, few American communities had the municipal water systems needed to operate a device like this. (Object ID: 88.423.2)
The introduction of a practical automatic lawn mower in the 1870s made it much easier for the average homeowner to maintain his or her own neatly trimmed lawn with minimal labor. Soon, a flawless lawn became a sign of the arrival into the middle class.

Keeping a lawn lush and green in the hot summer months could be accomplished with a range of sprinkling devices. Sprinklers were very popular when they first became common in the late 1800s. Of course, only people living in cities and towns that had water systems could use these “lawn fountains,” since they required constant water pressure to operate. By the 1930s, lawn sprinklers came in a variety of imaginative shapes. The iron figures helped to anchor the device, while being amusing as well as decorative.

This American fascination with a well-kept, velvety green lawn would develop into a near-obsession after World War II, as suburban homeowners spent many weekend hours and much money on fertilizers and herbicides—trying to create the perfect lawn.

By Henry Prebys, Former Curator at The Henry Ford.

Summertime is fast approaching, and that means it is ice cream season. The Henry Ford’s collections contain ice cream containers, ice cream makers, sundae dishes, and more related to this icy treat. We’ve just digitized some of our holdings related to ice cream, including this mid-20th century tub intended to hold Velvet ice cream.

The first complete Moog Synthesizer with modules, built by Robert A. Moog, 1964 (Object ID: 82.68.1).

What does a Moog synthesizer sound like? The word itself is often mispronounced. Moog sounds nothing like the moo-ing of a cow. I was guilty of this faux-pas myself for many years until I was chastised by a musician friend: “No! Not like the cow! Moog rhymes with vogue!” When the experimental composer Herbert Deutsch first met Bob Moog, he told him that he wanted an instrument that didn’t exist. He said he wanted something that could “make these sounds that go wooo-wooo-ah-woo-woo.” Moog’s electrical engineering skills and openness to collaboration played well alongside Deutsch’s musical engineering talents. And so, as they developed the instrument together, the short version of the story is that Deutsch began to hear the first signs of his “wooo”’s and “ah”’s in July of 1964. By October, Deutsch was composing electronic music on the first complete Moog prototype – the very same synthesizer that was eventually acquired for our collections here at The Henry Ford.

Love for the Moog continues today, evidenced by the recent celebration of its 50th Anniversary at Moogfest 2014: The Synthesis of Technology, Art & Music. I was privileged to be able to attend this festival, and to meet the foundational members behind the history of synthesized music, to hear presentations by people influenced by Bob Moog and his legacy, and to participate in demonstrations alongside current visionaries in the field of technology and sound.

Music to the engineering world’s ears would align the Moog synthesizer’s best qualities as coming from its feats of interior technology: electronically generated sounds, driven by voltage-controlled transistor technology, organized into standardized modules, oscillators, and a keyboard. I promise I won’t go too far down this technical rabbit hole, because while this history was absolutely crucial to its invention, I believe that the legacy of the Moog synthesizer is rooted in what it can do, and what is has done, rather than what it is. In a world that is saturated by creative invention (and equally rapid obsolescence), it is often difficult to imagine there being enough space left for something truly original and lasting. But Bob Moog’s synthesizer was pure innovation: no one had ever heard anything like the sounds it produced.

So while I’m doing a roundabout job of describing what the Moog sounds like, I’m comfortable in assuming that you have probably heard it, and perhaps not realized it. While Wendy Carlos’ 1968 classical application of the instrument in “Switched on Bach” is considered to be the first commercially successful Moog recording, its use quickly branched into popular music: The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, and Giorgio Moroder’s production on Donna Summer’s disco hit “Love to Love You Baby.” Musicians working today love the Moog because it supports organic experimentation and seemingly limitless sound potential, distilled down into a portable instrument with a physical interface. In spite of the widespread availability of computer-based music programs, many performers are choosing to return to analog instruments. Clicking buttons on a laptop is simply less satisfying than making a physical patch with a cord. Signals travel from one patch port to the next, travelling over wires, producing otherworldly sounds.

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Moogfest attendees logged many hours of play on UM Projects’ theremins (left); thereminist Dorit Chrysler kicks off the festival at Pack Place Lobby, April 23, 2014 (right).

Daily performances by Dorit Chrysler were played out among the custom-built theremins by François Chambard of Odd Harmonics / UM Projects. In addition to being considered one of the world’s preeminent thereminists, Chrysler is also one of the founding members of the New York Theremin Society. Attendees were welcome to try their hand at playing the theremins during the open play hours. Most people (this curator included) were shocked to find out how difficult it was to get any sense of control out of the oddball instrument.

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Mark Frauenfelder, editor-in-chief of Make Magazine, introduces the creative powerhouses that will appear in Make Magazine’s day-long panel (right); Nic Collin’s Tall Poppies film showed how simple contact microphones could be used creatively, to amplify the sound of the metal rods of fireworks sparklers. Watch (and listen!) here.

Make Magazine’s lineup for a day-long session did not disappoint. Tom Zimmerman, Master Inventor working within IBM’s Research Division, opened the floor by discussing his career in the foundations of human-machine interaction. His first patent was for the Data Glove, the same technology that helped to support early efforts in the Virtual Reality arena. His recent inventions have included digital tracking devices that alert a control center when endangered sea-turtle eggs are hatching, and Project Autobahn, a system to convert the mechanical data of a Ford automobile into music. Zimmerman’s passion for the importance of STEAM (that’s STEM + Art) education is clear, as he shared his mantra: “Hands-on wins, hands down.”

Jay Silver of Joylabz and Intel demonstrated the abilities of his creative platforms Makey Makey and Drawdio. With these devices, the world essentially becomes an electrical, interactive playground: you can turn your kitchen sink into a theremin, or make a working video game controller out of Play-Doh.

Nic Collins, author of the influential book Handmade Electronic Music, spoke about his career trajectory through the avant-garde music scene of New York in the 1970s to his current position as Professor in the Department of Sound at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. When he first arrived at SAIC, he realized that his students were “digitally saturated,” and that they were hungry to learn about the messiness of analog circuitry. Collins shared his knowledge of circuitry, ultimately sparking off a riotous revolution in sound-making and art at his popular workshops. A favorite moment was Collins’ description of his Tall Poppies project in which he built microphones to capture the sound of sparkler fireworks burning down and cooling – from the inside.

Forest Mims III has written over 60 books, many of them well known to Makers and electrical enthusiasts. His books Getting Started in Electronics and the Engineer’s Mini-Notebook series for Radio Shack have sold millions of copies and sparked off generations of garage workbench tinkerers in the process. Mims recounted his work over the years: the “Jokes That Bomb” noisemaker for the Johnny Carson Show, the Atari Punk Console, and infrared travel aid glasses to safely direct the blind. In 1975, Mims also wrote the very first manual for a home computer, the Altair 8800, manufactured by his company, MITS.

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The vocoder began as a room-sized interface called SIGSALY, equipped with two turntables that are suspiciously reminiscent of the performance setups that hip-hop DJs would later use (left, image courtesy of the Audio Engineering Society); Douglas Vakoch (right) of the SETI Institute spoke as part of the Science Fiction & Synthesized Sound workshop presented by OMNI Reboot.

The overwhelming amount of incredible speakers to choose from found me session-hopping for the remainder of the festival. Favorites included hearing the history of the vocoder unfold through the captivating and humorous expertise of Dave Tompkins. His book, How to Wreck a Nice Beach, traces the vocoder from its beginnings as the behemoth SIGSALY, a WWII-era speech encrypting device, to its diminutive (but no less impactful presence) into its days of being harnessed for science-fiction film and television, and eventually bleeding over into robotically-inflected effects used in hip hop and electronic music.

Douglas Vakoch, Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute, spoke in depth about the history and content of “goodwill messages,” those inscribed pictorial plaques sent into space onboard Pioneer and Explorer spacecraft. The Institute continues this type of highly coordinated communication through their Earth Speaks project. Using crowd-sourced contributions, SETI invites people to submit pictures and text to be broadcast in the event that an extraterrestrial civilization is ever detected. The themes they ask contributors to respond to related to what it means to be human, and the provocation: “Should we reply, and if so, what should we say?”

Module synthesizers continue to be designed and crafted by hand at the Moog Factory in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. In a surprise unveiling, the factory wowed the crowd with a painstakingly recreated version of Keith Emerson’s iconic instrument. This engineering feat took three years to complete, and is a powerhouse of workmanship and commitment to the vintage synth spirit, from hand-soldered circuit boards to photo-etched aluminum designs.

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The new Emerson Moog Modular System, unveiled at the Moog Factory (left); Herbert Deutsch and Kristen Gallerneaux talk about all things Moog (right).

I was also honored to be able to spend some time talking to Herbert Deutsch himself in his down time between performances. Suffice to say, Deutsch’s role as collaborative advisor in the development of the synthesizer meant that he was well-armed with amazing stories and information about our artifact. I will look forward to revealing some of these in a future blog post. At his lecture, “From Moog to Mac,” Deutsch performed early compositions from the heyday of Moog experimentation, including music that was originally created on The Henry Ford’s own synthesizer.

When Deutsch played a recording of a correspondence tape from 1963, sent to him by Bob Moog, the audience fell silent. Above the stunned hush, we heard the first sounds of the synthesizer, and Moog himself, jokingly calling his invention “the old Abominatron,” warning Deutsch, “It doesn’t sound like much when I play it, but maybe somehow, someone with a bit more musicianship and imagination can get some good things out of it…”

Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology at The Henry Ford. Be on the lookout for sound and synthesis-related events at this year’s Maker Faire Detroit, July 26-27!