Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

The Henry Ford’s 1965 Mustang Serial #1 and 1962 Mustang I concept car were honored guests at a pair of simultaneous events honoring the pony car’s golden anniversary in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Las Vegas, Nevada. The four-day celebrations, hosted by the Mustang Club of America with close cooperation from Ford Motor Company, brought together cars, owners and fans from around the world to commemorate one of the most influential and enduring automobiles.

The Charlotte event, held at Charlotte Motor Speedway, opened in grand fashion on April 17. Fifty years to the day after Henry Ford II introduced the Mustang at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, current Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman Bill Ford unveiled the 50th Anniversary Edition 2015 Ford Mustang. Limited to 1,964 units, the 50th Anniversary car comes fully loaded but available in just two colors: Kona Blue and Wimbledon White – the latter something of a nod to Serial #1’s paint.

The 50th Anniversary Edition 2015 Ford Mustang. There’s a definite family resemblance to Serial #1.

Other distinguished guests in Charlotte included Ford Board Member Edsel Ford II, Ford Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, the 1965 Mustang Design Chief Gale Halderman, and current Mustang Chief Engineer Dave Pericak. Retired Chicago-area school teacher Gail Wise enjoyed a unique fame at the event. On April 15, 1964, she purchased a Skylight Blue Mustang convertible – making her the first Mustang buyer in the United States. She still owns the car today, which also makes her the senior-most original owner. Gail and her convertible posed for countless photos with Mustang fans over the four-day party.

The Henry Ford’s Mustang Serial #1 (left) sat next to Gail Wise’s Skylight Blue convertible in Charlotte. The “Mustang Garage” display area included pony cars from every generation.

I had the privilege of joining Serial #1 in Charlotte. As I spoke with visitors, nearly every one of them was familiar with the car’s story. In fact, many had seen Serial #1 before, either at The Henry Ford or at a previous show. My favorite reaction was from members of the Montreal Mustang Club. Upon seeing Serial #1 with its Newfoundland license plates, they immediately shouted “Captain Tucker! Captain Tucker!” – referring to their fellow Canadian, the airline pilot who inadvertently purchased the car in April 1964.

The sister celebration at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was even more international in tone. While Ford has never directly sold the Mustang overseas (until the 2015 model, that is), this hasn’t stopped the car from winning fans abroad. Our Mustang I concept car brought smiles to the faces of Mustang club members from Sweden, France, Switzerland and Brazil, among other nations. Special guests in Las Vegas included Ford Sales Zone Manager Henry Ford III, Ford COO Mark Fields (yes, the busy Fields visited both celebrations), and former Ford Special Projects Assistant Hal Sperlich. Along with Ford Vice-President Lee Iacocca and Ford Product Manager Don Frey, Sperlich is one of the key people who brought the Mustang into being 50 years ago. He was given a hero’s welcome by the fans gathered in Nevada.

Members of the Mustang Club of Switzerland pose with our 1962 Mustang I concept car in Las Vegas.

Mustang owners and enthusiasts at both events enjoyed various activities. Souvenir stands sold Mustang merchandise of all descriptions. Vendors and swap meet participants sold parts for Mustangs from every vintage. Mustang historians gave presentations on the car’s debut and evolution. Owners with performance cars took laps around the tracks. And then there were the cars themselves – thousands of Mustangs filled and surrounded the venues in Charlotte and Las Vegas.

By the time each event wrapped up on April 20, new friendships were formed, the latest version of the pony car was revealed to the world, and a passion for the Mustang had been ignited in the young visitors who will take the car into its next generations. I’ll bet a few of them are already dreaming about 2064!

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford

You may not realize it, but there are about 300 artifacts in the With Liberty & Justice for All exhibit in Henry Ford Museum, ranging in size from a George Washington inauguration button to the Rosa Parks bus. Over the past couple of years, we have been digitizing these artifacts, and we're very happy to announce that almost all of these artifacts are now available digitally, as well on physical display in the Museum. Two of the last stragglers to go online this week are a woman's suffrage poster and this Civil War bayonet. Explore our collections website to find more artifacts demonstrating the exhibit's themes of independence, freedom and union, votes for women, and the Civil Rights movement.

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

One day in 1948—or maybe ’49—a beat-up Ford pulled up outside a workshop in Arcadia, California. John Wills, the boat builder who owned the workshop, was about to play host to a then largely unknown architect and designer—a visitor on a mission related to an industrial process that Wills had developed. This battered fiberglass chair shell, perched on a trash can, was made as a result of that day’s visit. It represents an early single step in a lengthy design and production process. The result was an enduringly popular landmark design, a chair design you’ve likely sat on, a chair mass-produced to the point of invisibility.

John Wills’ visitor was none other than Charles Eames. Eames was attempting to solve a design problem that had been absorbing him and his wife Ray for the better part of a decade: how to use modern, inexpensive materials to make furniture of extreme simplicity and affordability. Charles, his wife, and a number of close collaborators had become adept at molding plywood through work undertaken for the United States Navy in World War II. After the war their plywood experiments continued, leading to their work with the Herman Miller Company of Zeeland, Michigan, who began to market the Eameses’ designs.

The profitable industrial production of single-piece plywood chair shells proved to be impractical—but what about other materials? The pursuit of a solution to this basic design dilemma led Charles and Ray to investigate other materials such as stamped metal—which proved too heavy—and fiberglass-reinforced plastic. Which is where John Wills comes in: he had developed a fiberglass-plastic formula that could harden at room temperature, without the use of pressure. To the Eameses, manufacturability was a fundamental and necessary component of any good design. By reducing the production steps—not having to heat the shells to harden the material, not having to construct the chair’s shell out of multiple parts, and by adopting a process that reduced production failures—the design could be made more cheaply and profitably. Consequently the resulting design would offer, as Ray put it, “the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least.”

Prototype chair by Charles Eames. (Object ID.95.167.1)
Charles Eames had brought Wills a craft paper mockup of the chair he wanted to prototype. Wills told him that the cost of the experimental finished shell would be $25 and that it would be ready in a week or so. Charles Eames returned to the workshop to find that Wills had in fact made two shells: each was examined and sat in, raised to a convenient sitting height by way of a makeshift base made from corrugated metal. Finally however, Eames could only afford to pay for one of the shells, leaving this example behind in Wills’ workshop where it remained, perched on a garbage can for almost fifty years.

The development and refinement of the design continued, first with Zenith Plastics of Gardena, California, and then at the Herman Miller Company. It went into production in 1950 and proved to be an instant success, spawning all manner of variants and a great many imitations. In the 1990s, environmental concerns led to the cessation of its production, pending the development of suitable recyclable plastics. In 2000, the chair, now made from a new polypropylene blend, was returned to the market by Herman Miller.

This battered-looking artifact was a very early step in this design and production story. And it is a reminder that messiness and tentative first steps are a part of every design process: the sleek Eames-designed plastic chairs that have found their way into homes, meeting rooms, cafes—indeed anywhere where affordable and durable seating is required—had to start somewhere.

Marc Greuther is Chief Curator at The Henry Ford.

Easter greeting card, circa 1885. Featuring a spray of lilies, a Bible quotation, and the Christian cross, the greeting reads, "A Happy Easter to You. (THF114187)

After a long winter, we all naturally welcome the signs of spring! I've selected these greeting cards and photographs from our collections that represent a return to warm weather and new growth in nature.

Easter greeting postcard, circa 1920. Artwork shows biblical story of three women and angel at the tomb of Jesus Christ. The message reads, "May this Easter be for you A time of Joy and Gladness." (THF114197)

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Many people celebrate the Easter holiday as a time to attend church followed by a family gathering. Easter, a Christian ceremony observing the resurrection of Jesus Christ, has also become popular as a secular celebration of the arrival of spring.

Trade card advertising Rosenbloom Brothers business establishment of Providence, Rhode Island, 1882. The artwork features children playing around a gigantic egg, decorating it with a flower garland, ribbons and a U.S. flag. (THF114209)

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Mailing family and friends Easter greeting cards and children waking up the morning of Easter to eggs and candy brought by a rabbit are two examples of activities that became popular in the United States by the 1880s.

Oval-shaped photographic print mounted onto gray cardboard, circa 1895. The photo depicts two young children, probably a sister and brother, holding Easter baskets full of candy in rabbit and egg forms. (THF114216)

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Snapshot photograph printed April 1957. Featuring a man and baby girl, probably dad and daughter, dressed in their Easter best with a fancy Easter basket. They are outdoors in a yard with daffodils in bloom. (THF114228)

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Publishers made greeting cards with themes of a religious nature, but many cards reflected less spiritual, earthly themes of flowers, eggs, rabbits, baby animals and birds that signaled the return of spring.

Easter greeting card, used April 12, 1936. Artwork shows a rabbit holding a radio script and talking into a broadcasting microphone. The message (starting on the front and continuing onto the inside) reads, "I'll Tell the World / I'm Wishing You a Real Happy Easter!" (THF114175)

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Easter greeting card, made circa 1950. Featuring an Easter basket overflowing with spring flowers and a sleeping kitten, the greeting reads, "From Friend to Friend an Easter Wish." (THF114172)

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For more examples of Easter images, go to our online collections and search Easter. I hope this brief journey through time with Easter-related images brings you a breath of springtime!

Cynthia Read Miller is Curator of Photographs and Prints at The Henry Ford

It’s ironic – like, in the actual “opposite of what you’d expect” way as opposed to the “merely coincidental” way in which the term is often misused. The Ford Mustang is revered as one of the most “American” of all cars. Its name conjures up images of the Wild West. Its early logo incorporated red, white and blue stripes. The car’s very look is based on our country’s obsessions with speed and style. And yet Mustang Serial Number One, sold 50 years ago this month, went to a Canadian. Yeah, that’s irony.

On April 14, 1964, Eastern Provincial Airlines pilot Stanley Tucker walked into George Parsons Ford, a dealership perched on the eastern edge of the continent in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It was love at first sight. The sharp-looking Wimbledon White convertible jumped out at the 33 year-old pilot, and he knew he had to have it. We don’t know the name of the person who sold the car to Tucker – but the pilot must have been quite a salesman himself. Somehow, he convinced Parsons Ford to break street date and sell him the car three days before April 17, when Ford officially released Mustang to the world. He took serial number 5F08F100001 home and, for a short time, was the general public’s only Mustang owner.

Mustang Serial Number One should not have been sold on that early date. In fact, it shouldn’t have been sold at all. The car was one of approximately 180 pre-production cars built at the Rouge between February 10 and March 5, 1964. These initial cars served two purposes: 1.) They eased Ford into full production by familiarizing workers and supervisors with the build process, and 2.) They formed a batch of physical cars that could be shipped to every major Ford dealer in time for the April 17 launch. Logically, the first cars built were sent to the farthest dealers – hence Serial Number One wound up 2,180 miles from Dearborn in St. John’s. (Twelve of these pre-production cars, incidentally, went to the New York World’s Fair for use in Ford’s Magic Skyway ride.)

Serial Number One’s stamped vehicle identification number. (THF90611)

Being a pre-production or, if you will, “practice” car, Serial Number One has a few quirks not seen in regular Mustangs. Careful observers will notice that the hood’s fit is a little crooked. The door lock knobs have no grommets at their bases. The front grille’s color tends more toward gray than the bluish hue seen on regular production cars. The engine block is painted gray instead of the black on later Mustangs. Little details like these changed after full production began on March 9.

Not long after Capt. Tucker made his purchase, Ford tracked him down and asked to have Serial Number One back. Not surprisingly, Tucker declined the request. He spent the next two years putting some 10,000 miles on his pony car. By early 1966, when nearly one million Mustangs had been sold and the car’s status as a Ford landmark was secure, the Blue Oval called again. This time, Ford offered Tucker a worthy trade: in exchange for returning Serial Number One, he could have the One Millionth Mustang, equipped to his specifications. Tucker agreed and, when filling out the order, covered the entire option sheet with single large “X.” The only extra he didn’t take was the High Performance 289 engine – it carried a shorter warranty period.

Tucker came to Dearborn on March 2, 1966, met Ford vice-president (and Mustang father) Lee Iacocca, and posed for photos with his new Silver Frost 1966 Mustang convertible. Meanwhile, Ford reclaimed Tucker’s much-loved Serial Number One and soon donated it to The Henry Ford. Seventeen years after the trade, when Mustang Monthly magazine caught up with Tucker, the pilot expressed some understandable regret that he’d let go of Serial Number One. As we celebrate 50 years of Mustang, though, we can be grateful that 5F08F100001 is preserved for all to enjoy. Many of our visitors, upon seeing the car in Henry Ford Museum, get that same gleam in their eyes that Stanley Tucker must have gotten all those years ago.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford

Jens Jensen (1860–1951) was a Danish-born landscape architect who did a large amount of design work for the Ford family and Ford Motor Company. This included Ford Motor Company pavilion landscaping for the 1933–34 Chicago World’s Fair, landscape design for multiple residences of Edsel Ford, and complete landscaping for Fair Lane, the Dearborn estate of Henry and Clara Ford. We’ve just digitized 29 blueprints from the Jens Jensen Drawings Series showing planting plans, grading and topographical plans, and water feature plans for the Fair Lane estate, such as this one for a bird pool. View all related material in our digital collections.

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

The Henry Ford, like other older, long-established museums, can only display a very small percentage of its artifacts at any given time. The remainder is kept in storage for future generations. In recent years, The Henry Ford has begun to digitize its collections, and put them online. This effort has helped expand what we can say about what is on exhibit, and importantly, has made it so that people don’t have to wait decades to be able to find out about artifacts that are in storage.

Thanks to a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services’ (IMLS) “Museums for America” program, The Henry Ford has an opportunity to digitize over 1,000 artifacts that tell the story of changing communications technologies from the late 1800s to the late 1990s. The project is focused on communications collections that are stored in a large, tightly-packed warehouse on The Henry Ford campus. Many of these artifacts have been in this building for many decades, with limited cataloging. This project will inventory, catalog, preserve, re-house and digitize for online access these computers, radios, telephones and televisions, cameras, printing presses, teletype and telegraph machines and other artifacts, making them available to The Henry Ford staff and the public to a degree never before possible.

Our computer collections have been the focus of the early work. This work has reminded us of how rapidly technological change has occurred with computers. Check out the (not so mini) DEC PDP-11/20 Minicomputer, 1970 mini-computer.

The challenges presented by this densely-packed storage area has meant that the project staff has really needed to live up to our mission of innovation. Before any work can be done on the artifacts, decades of accumulated dust, dirt and mold needs to be removed. Collections Specialist (and in-house McGyver) Jake Hildebrandt fashioned a downdraft table, complete with HEPA and charcoal filter, out of a portable ventilator, steel shelves and leftover grid for overhead lights. A downdraft table quickly pulls away dust and dirt as the artifact is cleaned, making the cleaning process faster and more effective.

Conservation specialist Cayla Osgood utilizing the downdraft table.

We look forward to highlighting some of our exciting “re-discoveries” as we work on this project; collections digitization projects in museums around the world have led to new “re-discoveries.” We expect to add the tremendous collections of The Henry Ford to this ever-expanding resource of artifacts online.

Mary Fahey is Chief Conservator at The Henry Ford.

Those of us who work at The Henry Ford often remark that our collections are so vast that we surely must have something relevant to almost every topic. For example, while we might not be the first place that would jump to your mind for the topic of tattooing, we’ve just digitized a couple dozen tattoo flash, sketches, stencils, and related materials, some of it with Detroit area connections. This sheet of stencils, dating between 1910-1950, displays a variety of tattoo designs. Watch for an upcoming post about this material by Kristen Gallerneaux, Curator of Communication & Information Technology, elsewhere on our blog, but in the meantime, you can view this material in our digital collections.

Spring means many things to many people: an end to cabin fever, swapping the snow blower for the lawn mower, or getting the car out of winter storage and ready for the summer cruising season. For car museum folks, though, spring means the annual conference of the National Association of Automobile Museums. This year’s meeting, hosted by the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California, was particularly special. For the first time in many years, it was a joint conference with the World Forum for Motor Museums.

NAAM conferences traditionally provide three important opportunities. First, there is the chance to network with auto museum colleagues from around the country (or, this year, the globe). You find that many of us share the same joys – the thrill of sharing our collections with the public, the fun in working with incredible automobiles – and the same challenges, like the long-term preservation of complex machines, or writing informative but engaging label text with a limit of 60-odd words.

Second, and central to the NAAM conference, is the chance to hear presentations from curators, archivists, conservators and administrators from the car museum world. Standout sessions this year included a talk on the peculiarities of corporate car collections and museums; strategies for dealing with the media (this session included comments from Wendell Strode of the National Corvette Museum, who worked masterfully with the press during that museum’s recent sinkhole crisis); and ideas on incorporating “visible storage” into your museum’s plan, in which visitors are able to view cars “behind the scenes” as a part of special tours. I should note that Robert Coyle, our Conservation Specialist for Automobiles, Gary Martin, of Dan Gurney’s All American Racers, and I spoke together about our project to conserve the 1967 Le Mans-winning Ford Mark IV.

Finally, NAAM brings the chance for special tours of public and private collections near the host institution. This year’s itinerary did not disappoint. Attendees were treated to tours of the Mullin Automotive Museum, the Toyota USA Automobile Museum, the Nethercutt Collection, and the Pasadena-based Art Center College of Design. It should be no surprise that Southern California, nexus of American car culture, is home to so many incredible automobile and auto-related collections.

A familiar, three-eyed face. Tucker #40 at the Nethercutt Collection.

There is one additional NAAM highlight: the annual NAAMY awards! These prizes, given at each conference, honor the best in publications, exhibits, programs and events at nonprofit automotive museums. I’m pleased to report that our new book, Driving America: The Henry Ford Automotive Collection, took first place in our division for books and exhibit catalogs. Accolades are always special, but particularly so when they come from your colleagues in the field. With the 2014 meeting barely over, I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford

In February I took my first visit to the Pottery to learn about the studio challenge our potters were given at the beginning of the year. It’s been a few busy weeks for the team as they work on both their challenge pieces and get ready for the opening of Greenfield Village on April 15.

It should come as no surprise that the pieces are all looking fantastic and completely different from one another, as they should be. Vessels now look like teapots, hand-crafted stamps have been busy stamping and over-the-top sculptures continue to be developed. For anyone who enjoys art and design, it’s a welcomed sight.

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Taking my tour through the shop I visited Alex’s station first. He’s experimenting with some special stains for his collection. These pieces are covered in wax and when fired the wax burns away to reveal the true colors. Like the other potters, Alex isn’t worried about uniformity this time around.

“It’s been really interesting to work outside my comfort zone,” he said. “This is a learning process, but I’m feeling really optimistic about it.”

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Melinda Mercer has been focusing on incorporating bold patterns and textures to her pieces, which is a new creative direction for her work. She’s also been focusing part of her project on hand building, a technique that’s a bit different for her.

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To create her patterns and textures, Melinda decided to make her own custom stamps. To achieve the look she was going for she hand carved the designs into porcelain and then fired them in a kiln to make them permanent.

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John Ahearn has added a few additional pieces to his artistic roundup of work for the challenge since I saw him last. While his pieces aren’t meant to be functional, he did create a cake stand that you can’t help but imagine holding a delicious, huge cake in the coming weeks.

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“This project, in whole, has made me realize the power of art,” John said. “Doing something over and over is how we show guests what the production techniques from the past were. But the power of art is more than just production work. Now I understand what potters during this movement were doing at the time. They were being different on purpose.”

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As the team agrees across the board, it’s been a lot of fun to see how their individual projects have been developing; and that includes being very different in size, scale and approach, which is the complete opposite direction of their daily production work and responsibilities. While initial sketches helped define the origins of each of their pieces, they haven’t kept themselves too married to those original ideas as the project takes shape.

“These pieces allow our personalities to come through,” Melinda said.

John agreed.

“These pieces really reflect who we are as people. Our styles have really influences our interpretations of the challenge.”

Check back soon for a final update from the team as they show off their finished pieces.

Lish Dorset is social media manager at The Henry Ford.

Greenfield Village