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"The Theremin Played by Vera Richardson” Program Issued for Her Concert Series at the Dearborn Inn, c. 1935. (Object ID: 86.12.2.149).

Vera Richardson Played Out-of-This-World Instrument at the Dearborn Inn

Owosso, Michigan, native Vera Richardson (born 1891) was a musician of considerable talent, evident from an early age, and by age 10 she was singing and playing the piano publicly. Formative performances took place in the neighboring Shiawassee County city, Corunna, where she appeared as part of the entertainment assembled for club gatherings held in local residences. She attended Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) and was the pianist for her own graduation ceremony in 1914. She continued her education after college, including an advanced piano course in New York. In August 1919, she married fellow Owosso native Leigh H. Simpson, a high school teacher, and the couple settled in Detroit.

Though the young Vera was obviously gifted, her modest early years gave little indication of the unique path her life would take.

It wouldn’t be long into her professional career before Vera Richardson was known as a highly skilled musician and performer. In the June 7, 1922, edition of The Detroit News, the paper could barely contain their praise of her “in all departments of the difficult art of piano playing,” noting her “ready facility which makes a technical achievement seem quite simple,” adding, “life and vigor are in the tones she achieves,” and “a real sincerity makes her work vital.” She was backing singers for the WWJ broadcast, but listeners responded so strongly to her playing—lighting up the station’s switchboard with requests for more—that the pianist closed out the evening with three solo pieces.

In addition to her piano virtuosity, Richardson was also a composer, arranger, and recording artist, laying down piano rolls for the Duo-Art player piano in the mid-to-late 1920s. At an April 1930 event held at the Women’s City Club in Detroit, she seemingly concluded the performance by turning on a Weber Duo-Art baby grand, which started to play one of her own piano rolls—but she wasn’t done yet. For the conclusion, she sat at another piano and began playing as the automated Duo-Art rolled on. The audience, blown away by such an unusual duet, insisted on an encore. Once again, she obliged.

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Ford Tri-Motor Airplane Flying over Dearborn Inn, 1931. (Object ID: P.833.56398.1).

In the mid-1930s, Richardson began a weekly residency at the Dearborn Inn. Envisioned by Henry and Edsel Ford, the hotel incorporated design elements from New England inns built during the colonial period. A stone’s throw from the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, the inn opened in 1931 and quickly gained a stellar reputation for its elegance and colonial charm. It was in this environment that Vera Richardson performed her Sunday concerts, which were likely held in the hotel’s cocktail lounge. This time, though, it wasn’t her piano skills that she shared with the audience. Instead, the instrument she manipulated was unfamiliar to most. It was a device that didn’t exist in the not-too-distant past, and was seemingly from a world that did not yet exist. With just a wave of her hands, Richardson was able to produce otherworldly sounds, both beautiful and frightening.

theremin

The Theremin, Model AR-1264, Made and Marketed by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) from 1929-1935. (Object ID: 68.62.4).

The theremin was the world’s first electronic instrument. Invented in 1920 by Russian-born Lev Sergeyevich Teremen (better known as Leon Theremin), it is the only instrument played without ever being touched. The theremin consists of oscillators, housed in a wood cabinet, which stands on four legs. A vertical metal rod is to the right, a metal ring to the left. Once turned on, the theremin emits an electromagnetic field, so when a person enters that field the unit produces noise. Moving one’s right hand near the metal rod influences the pitch, while gesturing with the left hand near the ring controls the volume. When operated by a skilled player, the sound of the theremin is similar to such string instruments as the cello and violin, while the musical tone emanated can vary significantly. A piece might begin in a soothing or lovely fashion and then escalate into moods that are alternately haunting, suspenseful, or hair-raisingly alarming. During performance, the musician operating the instrument—depending on the spectator’s perspective—might resemble a conductor or even a magician.

RCA began manufacturing the instrument in 1929. Though the company boasted that “anyone can play” the theremin, it is actually quite difficult to master. So much so that even a musician as capable as Vera Richardson felt she could learn a thing or two about the instrument and returned to New York in the mid-1930s to study theremin development and technique with Leon Theremin himself.

The theremin was featured in the popular radio program, The Green Hornet. The instrument was used in the show to create an ominous buzz, representing a monstrous bee that sounded like it was about to fly right through the speakers. It marks the first time most of the public heard the theremin used in such a way—if at all. The thereminist, from day one in 1936 until the series ended in 1952, was none other than Vera Richardson.

Around the time of her Dearborn Inn concerts, she opened her music studio in Detroit. Located on Ferry Avenue west of Woodward, in the apartment she shared with her husband, she offered demonstrations of the theremin and taught piano. Richardson continued performing with the theremin, including such notable dates as her return to Owosso for a solo performance on July 3, 1936, as part of her hometown’s centennial celebration; and the October 25, 1936, appearance at the Women’s City Club, where she was backed by the Detroit String Ensemble. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, she had a radio show on WWJ, playing the organ and the Novachord, an early synthesizer. She was also the organist at the Detroit Institute of Arts every Sunday morning from 1935 to1950, and beginning in 1946 she performed monthly organ recitals at veteran’s hospitals across Michigan. Her last known public appearance took place on September 17, 1957, at a home in Grosse Pointe. Performing as one of four pianists at a “get acquainted tea” social for a local organization, the event was similar to her humble beginnings in show business over fifty years prior.

lounge

The cocktail lounge at the Dearborn Inn, c. 1930s, the area in the hotel where Vera Richardson likely performed her theremin concerts in the mid-1930s.

Vera Richardson Simpson died in September 1977 in Santa Barbara, California. She is buried near her hometown of Owosso, in Corunna, the same city where those youthful performances took place.

In July 1986, the Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor received Richardson’s theremin from her estate. In January of the following year, the Vera Richardson Simpson Memorial Scholarship was announced. The scholarship was to benefit 18-to-22 year-old college students majoring in music. In this way, Vera Richardson’s legacy as a community-minded individual, musician and pioneering electronic music performer continued for new generations.

Bart Bealmear is a research support specialist in the Archives & Library at The Henry Ford.

The collections of The Henry Ford contain several hundred quilts. As an earlier blog post noted, 120 of these can be cross-searched with other quilt collections on The Quilt Index. We have also been adding our quilts to our own collections website, including this striking red and white Lady of the Lake patterned version from around the turn of the century. View our quilts on the Quilt Index or our collections website, and watch for more to be added!

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

Advertising Poster, "Lilith Fair," 1998 (Object ID: 2010.35.4).

If you've kept an eye on our Flex Gallery in Henry Ford Museum the past few weeks you've likely seen the "coming soon" signage for our latest exhibit, "Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power." In just a few days the exhibit, presented to us from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, will open to the public and we couldn't be more excited. With a diverse collection of artists and genres, a visit to "Women Who Rock" will surely inspire you to flip through your collection of records, rummage through a stack of mixtapes or have your scrolling through your favorite playlists.

I asked Jeanine Head Miller, our curator of domestic life, to speak to two concert posters in our digital collections. Both created by concert poster artist Mark Arminski in the 1990s, the posters' artwork captures important moments in both popular culture and the musicians' lives.

Singer Sarah McLachlan was frustrated by conventional wisdom—concert promoters and radio stations had long refused to feature two female musicians in a row. McLachlan took action, organizing a concert tour and traveling music festival called Lilith Fair (poster picture above). Featuring only female artists and female-led bands--including well-known performers and emerging artists--the hugely successful Lilith Fair took place the summers of 1997 through 1999.

Patti Smith Poster

Advertising Poster, "The Ark Welcomes Patti Smith," April 4, 1995 (Object ID: 2010.35.3).

Patti Smith was one of the pioneers of hard-edged punk rock in the 1970s. In 1995, when she performed this concert, Smith was reentering the music scene after the unexpected death of her husband, MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith. Patti Smith was on the cusp of artistic rebirth—fueled by her ability to reshape her music to speak to new generations.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford. Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power is at Henry Ford Museum May 17-August 17, 2014.

Riders began their journey on the Magic Skyway by passing through a glass tunnel around the outside of the Ford pavilion (lower left), affording a unique bird's-eye view of the fairground. (THF201987)

Some people called the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair the greatest fair ever, while others denounced it as a nostalgic look backward. Either way, no one could miss the mega-attractions that were staged by American corporations. Among these display “giants” was Ford Motor Company, who brought in Walt Disney to ensure that its corporate pavilion would be a blockbuster hit at the fair.

A Partnership is Formed

Ford and Disney both had their reasons for making a big splash at the New York World’s Fair.

Ford Motor Company executives wanted to tell their corporate story, showcase their products—including a special highlight on the new Ford Mustang—and provide a “unique and memorable entertainment adventure” that would outshine their competitors at the fair.

Walt Disney, by now internationally recognized for his success at Disneyland, was planning for the future. He looked to the fair as a place to try out new ideas and refine new technologies, obtain corporate funding to create new attractions, and test the receptiveness of East Coast audiences to his most recent dream—building a spacious new theme park in Florida. The Ford pavilion was one of four major attractions that Disney and his Imagineers at WED Enterprises would produce for the New York World’s Fair. (The other three attractions were Progressland for General Electric; Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln for the State of Illinois; and it’s a small world for Pepsi-Cola.)

Henry Ford II and Walt Disney in 1962 with Model of the Ford Pavilion for the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair

Using this detailed model, Walt Disney shows Ford Motor Company CEO and Chairman of the Board Henry Ford II some of the features that he and his Imagineers had dreamed up for the Ford pavilion. (THF114505)

Ford recognized that Disney represented not only “the greatest pool of creative talent available” but also had years of experience with crowd movement and control. Indeed, when Walt Disney brought in architect Welton Becket from Los Angeles to design the Ford pavilion, he directed Becket to provide space for two simultaneous shows, queuing areas, and product displays—allowing for a capacity of 4,000 guests per hour. Ford Motor Company executives were particularly interested in their pavilion taking on a rotunda form, in keeping with their previous structures at world’s fairs and to commemorate the loss of their beloved, recently-burned-down Ford Rotunda in Dearborn.

Brochure Promoting the Ford Pavilion at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, "Ride Walt Disney's Magic Skyway"

This page from a souvenir brochure shows the two distinct structures that made up the Ford pavilion: the so-called “Wonder Rotunda,” inspired by previous Ford world’s fair buildings, and the building that housed most of the Magic Skyway ride. (THF114832)

A Ride on the Magic Skyway

Disney Imagineers brought to the Ford pavilion all the experience they had gained in developing attractions at Disneyland.

As guests entered the Ford pavilion through the monumental Rotunda building, they encountered a series of colorful exhibits focusing on Ford’s history, global influence, and current products. The topics were Ford-related, but the treatment of virtually every element had the unique Disney touch. For example, the miniature villages of the International Gardens display were reminiscent of the miniscule settings at the Storybook Land Canal Boats attraction in Disneyland. Great moments in Ford Motor Company history were represented by several humorous, Disney-designed dioramas as guests took moving “speed ramps” to the upper level for the Magic Skyway ride. Near the ride queue, a Disney-created “animated orchestra” was comprised of ingeniously rigged Ford automobile parts.

International Gardens Display at the Ford Pavilion, New York World's Fair, 1964-1965

Representing Ford Motor Company’s global reach, the Disney-designed International Gardens display featured miniature buildings, landscapes, and settings of 12 countries. (THF114465)

Auto Parts Harmonic Orchestra

The “Auto Parts Harmonic Orchestra”—comprised of Ford automobile parts—really played music! (THF115025)

The climax of the Ford pavilion was, of course, the Magic Skyway ride—billed as “an exciting ride in a Company-built convertible through a fantasy of the past and future in 12 minutes.” It is quite possible that the idea of using real cars for the ride was Ford Motor Company’s, inspired by the “Road of Tomorrow” feature at its 1939 New York World’s Fair pavilion. There, guests had ridden in current car models along a “highway of the future.” But, this time, the cars were fixed in place, attached to a track that moved them along at evenly spaced intervals. Perfecting this ride track technology was, in fact, a major goal for Disney and his Imagineers at the fair.

Convertibles were chosen for the ride because they were easy to climb into and out of and because they afforded the greatest visibility for the show. Through most of the planning process, the choice of convertibles had included examples from all the regular Ford and Lincoln-Mercury lines—Falcon, Ford, Comet, Mercury, Lincoln-Continental, and Thunderbird. But, with mere months to spare before the fair’s opening on April 22, Ford realized the marketing potential in adding several of its new Ford Mustangs to the ride track as well.

Once settled inside their cars, guests used the push buttons of their car’s radio to hear sounds, music, and—after a brief welcome from Henry Ford II—the narration for the show in a choice of four different languages.

The ride began with the cars slowly gliding along outside the Rotunda building through a transparent glass tunnel. This idea, conceived by legendary Disney Imagineer John Hench, both afforded riders a perfect view of the fairground from the upper level of the pavilion and allowed fairgoers to glimpse the new Ford models from below.

Loading Area for the Magic Skyway Ride at the Ford Pavilion, New York World's Fair, 1964-1965

Twin tracks can be seen here in the loading area of the Magic Skyway ride, where friendly attendants helped guests quickly and efficiently get into the next available convertible. Story has it that the Ford Mustang was so popular that guests would wait out their turn until a Mustang came along. (THF114475)

Entering the Transparent Tunnel of the Magic Skyway Ride, Ford Pavilion, New York World's Fair, 1964-1965

Guests enter the glass tunnel overlooking the fairgrounds in anticipation of their “Adventure through Time and Space.” (THF67946)

Back inside the pavilion, the cars picked up speed and the ride truly began. Rainbow-hued strobe lights flashed past while sound effects created the illusion that riders were hurtling through a “time tunnel,” racing across millions of years toward a far distant past.

Emerging from this time tunnel, guests found themselves in “a dim primeval place of strange sounds and sights.” Their cars moved past several gatherings of “prehistoric monsters”—some engaged in mortal combat, others combing the rugged and swampy terrain for food. But, within moments, climate and plant life shifted and Man made his appearance. Groups of cavemen could be seen discovering fire, painting on cave walls, fighting off vicious beasts, using stone as a tool, and—in a final vignette—using the wheel.

Primeval Earth Diorama on the Magic Skyway Ride, Ford Pavilion, 1964-1965 New York World's Fair

Riders on the Magic Skyway intently watch this primeval scene from the comfort of their Ford convertible. (THF114507)

For the scenes of the primeval past, Walt Disney had wanted to create an adventure “so realistic that guests will feel they have lived through a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience.” To accomplish this, Disney Imagineers “brought to life” both the prehistoric creatures and the cavemen with their newest storytelling technology, Audio-Animatronics®. They had introduced this technology only recently—at the Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland in 1963, and they had much they wanted to refine on its details here at the fair.

Guests left these scenes behind and entered a second time tunnel, speeding past flashing, spinning, and twirling wheels that symbolized the progress of thousands of years. After their journey through time and space on a “Highway in the Sky,” they were dropped off at “Space City”—a “spectacular, impressionistic city of tomorrow.” Guests disembarked here, as the voice of Walt Disney—speaking through the car radio—invited them to enter a world “where tomorrow is created today.”

Returning to the real world of corporate exhibits, guests encountered five “Adventures in Science” displays, which highlighted Ford’s and Philco’s (a Ford subsidiary at the time) current research in the fields of space, electronics, power sources, fuel, and new materials.

Taking moving “speed ramps” back down to the first level, guests were encouraged to explore on their own the many Ford products and presentations on display in the elegant Product Salon. A final Disney-produced exhibit—featuring moving scenes of city and countryside—provided the backdrop for a Ford “Product Parade”—an “endless stream” of current Ford-built cars, trucks, and tractors.

After the Fair

The Ford pavilion and its Magic Skyway ride were, as hoped, a huge hit with the public and an unqualified success for both Ford and Disney.

For Ford Motor Company, millions of people riding the Magic Skyway experienced a ride in a Ford car for the first time. In addition, Ford’s idea to introduce the Mustang at the fair was a stroke of marketing genius, as the Ford Mustang would go on to become one of the best-selling automobiles in American history.

Advertisement for the 1965 Ford Mustang, "Exciting New Car from Ford Motor Company"

With its sporty look, reasonable price, and endless number of options, the Mustang hit a sweet spot in the market—appealing to a wide range of buyers. Ford was able to boast that it was a “show stopper” at the New York World’s Fair in this August 14, 1964 Time magazine advertisement. (THF77007)

With four top-ten attractions at the New York World’s Fair, Walt Disney established an impressive record working with large corporations. His Imagineers achieved in record time what might have otherwise taken years to accomplish. Their experiments with ride track technology would be further refined at Disneyland to become the WEDway People Mover, while their refinements with Audio-Animatronics® would find their way into many new attractions. inally, Disney knew that his dream for a new theme park in Florida could proceed as planned. But for now he was happy to bring back all three non-Ford attractions from the New York World’s Fair back to Disneyland.

The Ford pavilion almost came back to Disneyland too. Walt Disney proposed to Ford Motor Company a re-envisioned attraction that would house a 1,000-seat theatre with a new, product-oriented stage show employing Audio-Animatronics® techniques, as well as a showroom for corporate products. The real cars of the Magic Skyway ride would be replaced by the new WEDway People Mover, circulating through the interior of the pavilion on its route around Tomorrowland. Ford Motor Company debated the pros and cons of Disney’s proposal but, in the end, declined his offer.

Ironically, only the dinosaurs of the Magic Skyway ride survived “extinction,” taking up residence in the Primeval World diorama along the Disneyland Railroad in July 1966.

Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

Earlier this month, I had the honor of serving as a guest judge at the 2014 Keels and Wheels Concours d’Elegance in Seabrook, Texas. As the name suggests, the event features vintage watercraft alongside automobiles. It’s a rare combination on the concours circuit, but one that works well in this balmy resort community on Galveston Bay. More than 160 cars and 60 boats registered for this year’s show, and the sunny skies ensured big crowds at the two-day event.

Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg, represented by this 1929 Auburn 120, were the featured marques.

Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg were the featured marques for 2014, and fine examples from each were present. The celebrated Cord L-29 and Duesenberg Model J were both represented, but I was most taken by a 1929 Auburn 120 Cabriolet. It characterized Auburn’s glory years, when owner Errett Loban Cord brought the company to prominence by offering technically sophisticated cars at – for Auburn at least – comparatively modest prices.

The rakish 1971 Alfa Romeo Montreal.

Keels and Wheels always includes a nice selection of foreign makes. This year was no exception, with Ferraris, Porsches, Aston Martins and Jaguars all in attendance. Nothing was quite so exotic, however, as the show’s 1971 Alfa Romeo Montreal. The futuristic coupe debuted as a concept car at Expo 67 in its namesake Canadian city. So great was the crowd reaction that the Italian automaker put the car into production. Some 3,900 units were built between 1970 and 1977.

Who can say how many 1968 Mustang fastbacks were repainted Highland Green in homage to Frank Bullitt?

The Mustang’s big five-oh was commemorated with no fewer than six ponies. The one that turned the most heads was a 1968 fastback repainted, reupholstered, and fitted with a 390 cubic inch engine, all in tribute to Steve McQueen’s iconic ride in Bullitt.

Some cars remind us of movies. Others, like this 1981 DeLorean DMC-12, are defined by movies.

If the Mustang is a car that reminds us of movies (Goldfinger, Bullitt, and Gone in 60 Seconds for starters), then the DeLorean DMC-12 is a car that’s remembered primarily because of a movie. John DeLorean’s stainless steel sports car may have lacked horsepower, but its pop culture staying power is certain. Just ask the five year-old boy I overheard saying, “Look dad, it’s McFly’s car!”

"Woody II Shoes," a 1958 Chris-Craft Custom Sportsman. Not a car, but Michigan made!

Wheels, of course, are only half the story at this concours. The Lakewood Yacht Club’s inner harbor was awash with classic watercraft, from sporty wooden runabouts to luxurious yachts. My favorite was a 1958 Chris-Craft 17-foot Custom Sportsman named Woody II Shoes. The boat was beautiful, but my choice was purely sentimental – Woody II Shoes was built at the Chris-Craft plant in my hometown of Cadillac, Michigan.

It's a La Salle... a 1684 La Salle.

The most unique vessel at Keels and Wheels was La Petite Belle, a one-half scale replica of a ship used by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (1643-1687). The French explorer built the first sailing vessel on the Great Lakes, explored the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and met an untimely death by his own crew during an expedition to the Gulf of Mexico. Gearheads (and All in the Family fans) will recognize La Salle as the namesake of General Motors’ similarly ill-fated companion car to Cadillac.

Classic cars, wooden boats and beautiful weather. It’s a formula that’s made Keels and Wheels a success for almost 20 years. And really, what more could you ask?

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford

An always-popular spot in Greenfield Village is the working Firestone Farm House, where visitors can observe daily chores similar to those of an American farm in the 1880s. However, Firestone Farm House has a history that elevates it above the ordinary—it was where Harvey Firestone, who would later found Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, was born. We’ve just digitized some of our materials about the Firestone family and the farm, including this photo of the house on its original site, with young Harvey and his family on the front porch. Visit our digital collections to explore our Firestone materials from a number of angles: objects related to Harvey Firestone himself, objects related to the extended Firestone family, or objects related to the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company.

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

How We Grow

May 2, 2014 Think THF

This story originally ran in the June-May 2013 edition of The Henry Ford Magazine.

Greenhouses on rooftops in city centers, next to supermarkets, on hospital campuses, in Antarctic research centers, on golf resorts and on space stations.

I continue to see new applications and extensions of hydroponic growing popping up in nontraditional spaces around the world, especially as populations increase and arable land declines. For me, I consider it my privilege that I have been able to help design cropping systems in some of these spaces — from the British West Indies and downtown Montreal to a suburb of Detroit — that are maximizing production while using less energy and natural resources.

Hydroponics, or growing plants without soil, isn’t a new science, but it is a versatile one.

Almost all commercial greenhouse vegetable production is grown hydroponically. Some of the largest growers in the U.S. and Canada, such as Village Farms, Windset Farms, Eurofresh Farms and Houweling’s Tomatoes, have hydroponic greenhouse operations equaling 200 or more acres in size, with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, lettuce and various herbs growing.

One of my most recent challenges was designing a small greenhouse for Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in a suburb outside Detroit. The objective was to produce vegetables hydroponically to increase production in the limited area of the greenhouse. At the same time, they wanted to grow an assortment of vegetables.

To do this, we designed a number of different hydroponic systems to meet the specific needs of each crop. Plant towers increased production of various herbs, as greenhouses have vertical space that must be optimized in its production systems. A water culture system called nutrient film technique (NFT) was the choice for lettuce and basil. Tomatoes, peppers and other vine crops are grown in buckets of perlite with a drip irrigation system feeding the plants with a nutrient solution.

The versatility of hydroponics applied at its simplest best.

Better by design, hydroponic operations, whether they are large and commercial or smaller scale like the hospital’s greenhouse, require less space, less energy to run and consume less water. And, without the presence of soil, they don’t have to rely on artificial pesticides. Instead, they can use Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a biological procedure powered by natural predators and bioagents (pesticides made from natural sources), to control pests.

For the end consumer, that equates to crops free of disease, improved food safety and even increased nutritional value.

Howard Resh is the manager of the hydroponic farm at CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa in Anguilla, British West Indies, where fresh salad crops are grown for the guests of the resort. Dr. Resh is also an international consultant on the development of hydroponic operations. He has written five books, with Hydroponic Food Production in its seventh edition, and also has a website.

Did you really think we wouldn't pick May flowers?

Trade cards (also known as advertising cards) were produced in enormous numbers during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Following the Civil War, America was inundated with an unprecedented volume of advertising. Simultaneous with this was the prolific publication of newspapers and magazines. However, these publications offered limited advertising space for most businesses. Newspapers usually reserved space for only their local merchants and national magazines devoted only a few pages to advertising. A full-page advertisement was almost nonexistent in periodicals of the time and certainly almost no advertisement appeared in color.

Hence, the advertising void was answered by the poster and the trade card. The trade card became the format of choice for many different reasons. First, unlike posters, trade cards could be printed on both sides often giving greater detail of the product on the reverse. The trade card was relatively inexpensive to manufacture and distribute, and as lithographic technology improved during the 1870s and 1880s, beautiful full-color trade cards began to be produced by even the smaller companies, and subsequently collected by the eager public. (Lithography is the process of putting designs with a greasy material on stone, zinc, aluminum, or another substance and then producing a printed impression from there.) Trade cards were most commonly distributed through local retailers and wholesalers where they reached even the most remote towns. Oftentimes they were packaged with product, and companies began campaigns, much like the incentives common in today's cereal boxes, in which customers were urged to collect all the different designs in a series.

New postal regulations in late 1880s may be the single greatest cause for the end of the trade card. A reduced cost for mailings allowed for a number of new periodicals on the market, and the publishers began to add more pages to their magazines making room for more advertisements. The full-page advertisement began to appear, as well as heavily illustrated mail order catalogs such as Sears & Roebuck. Another competitor for the trade card was the post card which allowed companies direct communication to specific consumer markets. After the tremendous volume produced from the 1870s through the 1890s, the trade card had all but disappeared by the beginning of the twentieth century.

By Judith E. Endelman, former Curator of Special Collections at The Henry Ford.

Early American settlers depended on corn as a sustaining food crop, but also tried to utilize every part of the plant. Out of this desire to make the most of existing material was born the cornhusk doll, a toy made from soaked and shaped husks. We’ve just digitized nine cornhusk dolls from the collections of The Henry Ford, dating from the late 19th century through the early 20th, including this one, tagged with the name “Bonnie.” As an added bonus, between May 5 and June 13, 2014, visitors to the Luther Burbank Birthplace in Greenfield Village will be able to see these dolls on display, and for $4 can make their own cornhusk girl or boy to take home. View the cornhusk dolls in our digital collections, or come make your own this spring!

"Call of the Wild" on cover (Object ID 2014.0.5.1).

As part of The Big Read Dearborn’s focus on The Call of the Wild, I was recently asked to speak on Jack London and the Nature Faker controversy. During the first decade of the 20th century, this widely publicized literary debate shone a spotlight on the differences between science and sentiment in popular nature-writing. Although the actual controversy is long past, the issues at its root are still relevant today.

Proponents of the scientific approach to nature-writing accused the sentimentalists of creating stories that overly humanized animals, misleading readers by taking the animals’ point of view, and often concluding their stories with far-fetched happy endings. The worst offenders—the so-called “nature fakers”—went so far as to claim that their often fictional accounts were completely true-to-life.

The Nature Faker controversy had its roots in Americans’ growing appreciation for nature during the late 19th century. Natural areas suddenly seemed to offer a rejuvenating respite from the chaos, crowds, and machine-age clatter of urban life. This led to the creation of America’s national parks (Yellowstone being the first in 1872) as well as public parks and nature preserves closer to home.

Typical Camp at Camp Iroquois, Glen Eyrie, Lake George, New York, 1911

Camping, Lake George (P.DPC.031757).

Children's Museum Nature Study Club in Bedford Park, New York, 1890-1915

Photo of Nature Study Club (32.351.136).

During the heyday of this “cult of nature,” nature writing became immensely popular. One particular genre that emerged was the so-called “realistic” wild animal story. For the first time in popular literature, wild animals were depicted in a positive light—as compassionate creatures with which readers could sympathize.

Jack London was one of many authors at this time who wrote in this genre. In his book The Call of the Wild (1903), London revealed the thoughts and emotions of his dog-hero, Buck, with such sophistication and literary skill that it was easy for readers to become convinced that London was truly revealing Buck’s innermost self.

Bookplate of Author Jack London, circa 1905

Jack London’s bookplate (2013.0.3.1).

Enter naturalist John Burroughs—in his 60’s by this time—who was known far and wide for his many essays. These received praise in both literary and scientific circles, as Burroughs believed in both reporting the objective facts of nature and describing one’s subjective feelings. But he was adamant that these should remain clear and separate.

John Burroughs on the Steps at Wyndygoul, Cos Cob, Connecticut, August 1905

Framed picture of Burroughs (29.1764.3).

Naturalist John Burroughs with a Duck on her Nest, circa 1910

Burroughs in field (93.205.36).

Burroughs was incensed by the glowing reviews of the new wild animal stories. He felt that some them blurred the line between fact and fiction. Furthermore, he believed that the authors of these stories were deliberately misleading the public for their own financial gain.

In 1903, he submitted a scathing essay to Atlantic Monthly, entitled “Real and Sham Natural History.” In this essay, Burroughs denounced the perception that many of these stories were true. He claimed that the “sham nature writers” deliberately attempted to “induce the reader to cross into the land of make believe.”

After Burroughs’ essay appeared, incendiary responses both supporting and attacking the “sham nature-writers” frequently appeared in the press. This went on for a good four years—until President Theodore Roosevelt publicly joined the debate.

Roosevelt had long been a nature-enthusiast known for his grand hunting expeditions. In fact, the Teddy Bear, introduced in 1903, originated from stories about his reputation as a hunter.

'Teddy and the Bear' Mechanical Bank, 1907-1928

Teddy and the Bear bank (58.100.31).

After years of corresponding with John Burroughs, he went public with an interview that appeared in Everybody’s Magazine, entitled “Roosevelt and the Nature Fakirs.” In this article, he noted many of the same issues that Burroughs had raised, then singled out several authors by name—including, for the first time, Jack London. This also marked the first time that the term “nature fakir” (soon to be changed to “nature faker”) was used.

London was justifiably hurt by President Roosevelt’s accusations and tried to defend himself in an essay published in Collier’s Weekly:

I have been guilty of writing two books about dogs. The writing of these two stories, on my part, was in truth a protest against the “humanizing” of animals, of which it seemed to me several “animal writers” had been profoundly guilty….

I endeavored to make my stories in line with the facts of evolution; I hewed them to the mark set by scientific research and awoke, one day, to find myself bundled neck and crop into the camp of the nature-fakers.

In the end, however, how could anyone truly argue with the President of the United States? The Nature Faker controversy soon died down. After that, authors and publishers were more likely to check their facts while the public became more skeptical of what they were reading. But few of the people involved in the actual controversy changed their views.

While Jack London unfortunately died at the young age of 40, John Burroughs lived a long productive life into his 80’s. As his legendary status increased, he often entertained luminaries at his home in the Catskills. Among these luminaries was Henry Ford, who admired his writings and invited him to join his group of Vagabonds (consisting of himself, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone) for several lavish camping trips.

Henry Ford and John Burroughs at Woodchuck Lodge, Roxbury, New York, 1915

Burroughs and Ford (P.O.364).

Thomas Edison, John Burroughs, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone on a Vagabonds Camping Trip, 1918

Vagabonds (P.O.6151).

What do you think? Were John Burroughs and President Roosevelt onto something? Was Jack London really a “nature faker”? Or was he just a good storyteller?

Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.