Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

If you’ve ever been to Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village, you know what a massive event it is, with performances, shopping, dining, bonfires, Santa and his reindeer, and even fireworks. What you might not know is that every year we add hundreds of artifacts, including toys, silverware, and china, from our vast collections to the houses to lend some authentic Christmastime cheer. We’ve recently digitized a few of the toys you’ll see during Holiday Nights this year, including this set of puzzle blocks on display at Susquehanna Plantation. If you’re visiting us this year, you can also keep your eyes peeled for this toy horse, toy lamb, and toy stork at Smiths Creek Depot. If you can’t get enough toys, our collections website currently features nearly 500.

If you’ve visited Henry Ford Museum, you may know that Corning Glass Works’ patented ribbon machines manufactured incandescent bulb blanks faster than ever before. But did you know that these machines could also mass-produce Christmas ornaments?

By the 1950s, a retrofitted glass ribbon machine at Corning’s Wellsboro, Pennsylvania plant could turn out 1,000 glass ornament bulbs per minute! Read on to discover how a bit of innovative engineering, a world war, and some prodding from industry leaders helped Corning become America’s primary glass ornament supplier. (To see our 1928 Corning Glass Ribbon Machine, look here.)

Left: Corning glass ribbon machine #3 demonstrates incandescent lamp bulb manufacture at Henry Ford Museum
90.349.1 (THF88991). Right: A retrofitted ribbon machine shapes glass ornament bulbs at Corning’s Wellsboro, Pennsylvania plant in 1940. “Popular Science,” January 1941, Benson Ford Research Center.

Americans flirted with imported glass Christmas tree ornaments before the Civil War, and by the 1890s, it seemed they were in love. European artisans turned out huge quantities of shiny glass ornaments for the American market—glassblowers in Lauscha, Germany produced 600 ornaments per day! The affair even outlasted the blockades and embargoes of World War I, although American consumers nearly exhausted huge quantities of German ornaments stockpiled before the war. A few domestic manufacturers tried, but could never quite master the intricate glassblowing techniques or silvered lacquers that made European ornaments so popular. As postwar production ramped up overseas in the 1920s, European imports grew to 99% of the 50 to 80 million ornaments sold in the United States each year.

Left: This shiny bauble – called an indent because of its concave floral design - is representative of the German ornaments exported to the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. Its detailed form and silvered finish were nearly impossible for American glassmakers to replicate. 2004.87.26 (THF155292), Gift of family of Joseph & Helen (Szczepaniak) Lyk. Right: An American Christmas tree laden with imported glass ornaments served as a backdrop for this holiday snapshot taken around 1935. 96.119.1 (THF43930)

Stateside importers and retailers had a great deal to lose should anything impede the lucrative European-American ornament trade. One major stakeholder was the F.W. Woolworth Company. F.W. Woolworth first imported European glass ornaments in the 1890s, and by the 1930s, consumers depended on Woolworth stores nationwide for their yearly Christmas decorations. Max Eckardt, a German immigrant, also relied on the success of the ornament industry. Eckardt—who began importing ornaments around 1907, opened his own German ornament factory in 1926, and oversaw product distribution from his offices in New York City—had extensive knowledge of the German-American Christmas trade. In the late 1930s, as World War II rumbled ominously on the European horizon, he set out to secure the future of his ornament business on American soil.

In the summer of 1939, just as an Allied blockade of threatened to sever the German ornament supply, Eckardt and a representative from F.W. Woolworth Company visited Corning Glass Works, a large American glass manufacturer headquartered in New York. Corning had only experimented briefly with ornament manufacture before this meeting, but the two businessmen urged the company to begin full-scale production. It was a calculated choice—the company owned high-speed ribbon machine technology that could be converted to mass-produce ornament bulbs. Armed with this patented machinery and the promise of large orders from Eckardt and Woolworth, Corning agreed to enter the glass ornament business. Within a few months, Corning Glass Works was manufacturing more than half of the Christmas tree decorations sold in the United States.

Left: Corning’s machine-blown round ornaments were absolutely spherical and had a stout neck, which made them stronger and less fragile than the hand-blown variety. Right: In mere minutes, the Wellsboro, PA ribbon machine turned out as many ornaments as a full day of glassblowing. Here, a Corning worker searches for broken pieces in a fresh batch of cooled bulbs. Both images from “Popular Science,” January 1941, Benson Ford Research Center.

Wartime Ornament Decoration

Though Corning converted just one ribbon machine to manufacture ornament bulbs, production was staggering. In 1940, Corning produced 40,000,000 clear glass ornament bulbs at its Wellsboro, Pennsylvania plant. About 1/3 of these were decorated in-house. The remainder was sold to outside decorating companies.

The first domestically-produced ornaments mimicked European imports. The inside of each bulb received a coat of silver lacquer; the outside was tinted with colored dye. Then, after any desired hand decoration, the shiny baubles were topped with tight metal caps.

But in 1941, when the United States entered World War II, decorators were forced to rethink the American ornament. Popular lacquers became impossible to import, and most metals were diverted to the war effort. Despite material restrictions and wartime shortages, many innovative companies used available paints, sprays of tinsel, and even cardboard to decorate ornaments throughout the war.

Max Eckardt, who’d been instrumental in securing blank bulbs from Corning for his four New Jersey decorating plants before the war, produced some of the most popular domestic ornaments under the name Shiny Brite. Examples of Shiny Brite ornaments from The Henry Ford’s collection document the development of American ornaments through World War II.

1942-1945: This ornament was not silvered, as metallic lacquers were hard to come by early in the war, but resources still allowed for a thin metal cap, 2000.99.3 (THF155288)

1943-1945: When nearly all American metal was diverted to the war effort in 1942, Shiny Brite responded with folded cardboard hangers, 96.8.2 (THF155289).

1943-1945: Soon, the company replaced metal caps and hooks with a combination of cardboard, string, and glue, 2000.99.14 (THF155287).

1946-1955: Silver lacquer and metal caps reappeared after the war ended in 1945, 2003.120.5 (THF155294).

Popular Science images from “Birth of a Bauble,” pp. 110-115, Volume 138, Number 1. Find it at the Benson Ford Research Center.

Saige Jedele is a Curatorial Assistant at The Henry Ford.

Christmas, Christmas decorations, Christmas lights

If you’ve visited the Ford Home during Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village, you’ve no doubt felt your mouth water as you gazed upon the beautiful Charlotte Russe cake on the Fords’ dining room table. The cake has been a must-bake dessert for us for years and a guest favorite. Beyond knowing that it’s pretty in appearance and tastes heavenly, what do you know about this centuries-old dessert?

A Charlotte Russe is a hot or cold cake with a filling of fruit and custards formed in a molded pan; if you had to select a similar dessert, a trifle would be your best bet. Invented by French chef Antonin Carême in the 1800s, the cake was named in honor of George IV’s daughter Princess Charlotte and then-employer Czar Alexander. You can learn more about Anontonin in Ian Kelly’s book, “Cooking for Kings.”

Adding grape jam to the Charlotte Russe mold inside of the Fords' kitchen in Greenfield Village.

By the late 1800s the cake had made its way to American tables, like that of the Fords. This layered cake would have been a very fancy presentation during the holidays and could have contained a number of fruit/filling combinations. In the colder months when fresh fruit wasn’t as available, families could have added preserved fruits and jams to make up the filling and stored it in a cellar to set. For a family living on a farm, all the ingredients you’d need were most likely in your backyard and in your pantry.

Charlotte RusseBy the early 20th century, a variation of the Charlotte Russe became very popular as a street food in Brooklyn. The larger cake was scaled down to an individual size and presented in a push-up-pop fashion.

Today, the Charlotte Russe is limited only by your imagination and ingredients on hand. Molds can be found in antique stores or online. While the Fords might have filled their cake with strawberries or other preserves, how does a strawberry-kiwi-grape Charlotte Russe sound?! Pretty tasty, if you ask us.

Try making your own Charlotte Russe at home and let us know how you make it your own. Need more inspiration? Use the “Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink,” a favorite resource among staff at The Henry Ford, for ideas, or visit Greenfield Village during Holiday Nights.

Charlotte Russe

2 tablespoons gelatin
1 cup sweet milk
1 cup cream
2 eggs (separated)
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ cup granulated sugar

Beat egg yolks thoroughly with ½ cup granulated sugar. Heat 1 cup milk. When hot, add gelatin and mix until dissolved. Cool down some and strain through colander into egg/sugar mixture. Flavor with vanilla. Whip 1 cup cream; fold into egg/milk mixture. Put a thin layer of jam or jelly on the bottom of the mold. Cut sponge cake into pieces to fit mold. Fill the center with custard. Harden in refrigerator.

Sponge Cake for Charlotte Russe

3 eggs
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 lemon
1 teaspoon soda
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
2 cups sifted flour
½ cup cold water

Mix together sifted flour, cream of tartar and soda. Grease a dripping pan. Separate the eggs. Set egg whites aside. In a separate bowl, add powdered sugar to egg yolks. Beat thoroughly. Squeeze half a lemon and add juice to ½ cup of water; add to sugar/yolk mixture. Beat egg whites to a froth; stir into egg and sugar mixture. Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Stir without beating only long enough to get the flour well mixed. Pour into the pan and bake in a moderate oven.

Pick up everything you need to make these recipes at Meijer. For more recipes and inspiration, visit THF OnLiving.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

cakes, desserts, Food

With the holiday season firmly upon us, many people’s thoughts are turning to presents, and what present is more classic than a doll? This week’s collections object is a doll handmade from a woolen sock sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Though it may look a bit less friendly now, with its painted-on face having mostly faded away, it was no doubt a child’s beloved possession. Visit our collections site to find more than 140 dolls and related items, including more than 20 just-added dolls of bisque, cloth, papier mache, and wood, as well as dolls that walk and talk.

dolls, toys

Friends Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison, and John Burroughs went on camping trips together for a number of years, calling themselves the Vagabonds. Their trips were quite luxurious, by camping standards, involving a sizable caravan of staff and equipment. Why eat off tinware, for example, when one could use china instead? The Henry Ford’s collection includes a selection of the early 20th century Tudor Rose china that these august figures used on their wilderness trips, including the bouillon cup shown here. View photos and artifacts related to the Vagabonds on our collections website.

dishes, plates, vintage dishes

This year’s holiday season is definitely special. The first day of Hanukkah (25 Kislev, 5774) overlaps with Thanksgiving Day (November 28, 2013). Call it Chanksgiving; call it Thanksgivukkah; call it what it is: a rare intersection of the Jewish and Gregorian calendars. Unless either or both calendars change, 25 Kislev won’t intersect with the fourth Thursday of November until the year 79,811! To commemorate this extraordinary meeting of two holidays closely associated with food traditions, let’s look at a Hanukkah staple: latkes.

Although deep-fried turkey achieved some popularity on American Thanksgiving tables over the past decade*, foods fried in oil are much older and more symbolic traditions for many Jews during Hanukkah.

Hanukkah celebrates a 165 B.C.E. victory over Syrian-Greeks who had seized the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. According to Rabbinic tradition the Jewish victors, a rebel army known as the Maccabees, set out to purify and rededicate the defiled temple but could only find one day’s worth of ritual oil. Miraculously, the small amount of purifying oil burned in the temple’s lamp stand, or menorah, for eight days!

Remembering the Miracle of the Oil

Lighting the menorah is another Hanukkah tradition that plainly commemorates the miracle of the oil. Many Jewish families light a branch of this special candelabrum each night of Hanukkah in remembrance of the Temple’s historic rededication.

Left, James Levi, who donated this family heirloom to The Henry Ford, recalled Hanukkah evenings spent admiring the menorah’s candles while enjoying latkes with his family. (2005.121.62, Gift of Constance & James Levi). Right, This box of Manischewitz menorah candles depicts several Hanukkah traditions. The company, America’s largest manufacturer of processed kosher food products, also sells latke mix! (2010.2.176, Gift of Susan Wineberg).

Many foods, especially desserts, are prepared with or fried in oil during Hanukkah to commemorate this miracle. But perhaps no recipe is more closely associated with the holiday than the latke – whose name can be translated to mean “little oily.”

By the mid-19th century, when German immigrants brought latkes to America, the little potato pancakes were a product of centuries of transformation. Hanukkah pancakes probably began in southern and central Europe as dairy treats: cakes of soft cheese fried in butter or oil and accompanied by sour cream. In other areas, where cooking oils were scarce and expensive, fried foods were usually prepared with animal fat. Cheese and butter were also hard to come by in these regions—besides, Jewish dietary laws forbid mixing meat and dairy products. Innovative cooks fried cakes of batter or vegetable patties instead.

Then, slowly, the potato took root in European cuisine. French and German cooks incorporated the starchy South American transplant into existing dishes around the turn of the nineteenth century. Some German Jews fried cakes of grated potato in schmaltz, or rendered poultry fat, to serve alongside a Hanukkah goose.

In the coming decades, as Europe’s population boomed and other crops failed, the inexpensive and abundant potato became an important staple across the continent. Eastern European Jews borrowed potato recipes from their German coreligionists, and the potato latke – along with applesauce, its newest consort – became the most widespread Hanukkah pancake.

Jewish Americans continued the potato latke tradition. In the early 20th century, when vegetable shortening – and, later, vegetable oil – became available, fried latkes with sour cream were once again a kosher dairy option. The versatile latke, already a cornerstone of Hanukkah tradition, only grew more popular in the United States as the holiday transitioned from a modest occasion to an elaborate domestic celebration throughout the 1900s. Not unlike fine olive oil, you’d be hard pressed to find a twentieth-century Jewish cookbook that doesn’t include latkes among its Hanukkah recipes.

Check out The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center for books that help document and preserve the latke’s traditional place on the Hanukkah table. And for more on these storied little pancakes, see Gil MarksEncyclopedia of Jewish Food.

Hanukkah in Postwar America

Holidays numbered among the many changes Americans experienced after World War II. In this “baby boom” era, American families celebrated with new traditions and more decorations, gifts, and parties than ever before. Jewish organizations published books and manuals that suggested ways to maintain centuries-old domestic religious traditions, and the 1950s saw a revived and enhanced American Hanukkah. In addition to preparing special foods, families might light several menorahs, exchange gifts for eight nights, decorate their homes, and host gatherings.

A 1955 edition of "Jewish Home Beautiful," published by the National Women's League of the United Synagogue of America, provided instructions for a Hanukkah dessert supper party. Along with decorations, gifts, and sweets, the author calls for “two large platters of lotkes.” (Object ID 91.352.1) (THF111653)

This 1953 Union of American Hebrew Congregations publication included a recipe for potato latkes served with applesauce.
2005.29.32 (THF111662 and THF111669).

Saige Jedele is a Curatorial Assistant at The Henry Ford and lover of most things potato.

*Frying has been a popular turkey preparation in areas of the Southern United States since at least the early 20th century.

holidays

Remembering President Kennedy

November 22, 2013

When tragic death strikes a president, memorials help us to understand and cope with such an unthinkable event.

As an elementary schoolgirl, I vividly recall hearing the news of President Kennedy's death and the shock of seeing my parents cry. I also recall my surprise that my dad turned on the television set for the entire long weekend. But I only cried while watching the funeral coverage, when I realized that Caroline and John-John Kennedy had lost their dad.

The memorial that helped me deal with this personal feeling of sadness was the illustrated children's book that I later found in my school library, Six White Horses. A poem written by an Ann Arbor, Michigan, teenage girl and illustrated by a local artist, it is from the viewpoint of John-John during President Kennedy's funeral. As a child, this memorial book connected me to a child directly touched by this tragedy.

This children's book is part of a gift to the museum from the estate of Dr. and Mrs. Martin A. Glynn and their daughter, Kathleen Glynn Seymour, of materials related to President Kennedy — his life, accomplishments, and legacy. The Glynns, a second-generation Irish-American Catholic family, felt a deep affinity for President Kennedy and his family.

On left: Thank-You Note Card from Jacqueline Kennedy, 1964. (Object ID 2013.51.2) On right: Memorial Card for John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1963. (Object ID 2013.50.24)

They gathered and carefully preserved dozens of memorials surrounding President Kennedy's life and death. Kathy Glynn, then a high school student, gave her hard-earned savings to the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library in honor of the president. She received a thank-you card from Jacqueline Kennedy and carefully kept the card and the envelope. In addition to feeling many strong emotions about receiving this card, she recalls being astonished that the U.S. Postal Service accepted Mrs. Kennedy's engraved signature in place of a postage stamp. These small pieces of paper held much personal meaning for Kathy.

"Life Magazine," November 29, 1963, "President John F. Kennedy, 1917 - 1963". (Object ID 2013.50.5)

Kathy's dad, Marty, a long-time dentist, subscribed to many newspapers and magazines for his office waiting room and his home. Reading the many accounts of the President's assassination, the orderly succession of Lyndon Johnson to the presidency and the lengthy investigation probably helped him come to grips with this tragedy.

Kathy's mother, Georgia, preserved these ephemeral publications, rereading many of the articles. Her children also reread the articles and were drawn to the colorful magazine photographs. She judiciously allowed a few clippings for school projects of a baseball player and an astronaut, but not of President Kennedy. In addition to these magazines and newspapers, she kept mementos including a memorial card from services held the day of the president's funeral, a book of quotations and photos and a color memorial portrait. She had also saved some magazines from the President's inauguration in 1961. She may have gathered and kept these items to help her remember both the happy and the sad memories about President Kennedy.

On left: Book, "The Shining Moments: The Words and Moods of John F. Kennedy," by Gerald Gardner with a memorial tribute by Adlai E. Stevenson 1964. (Object ID 2013.50.20) On right: Offset lithograph print with facsimile signature of John F. Kennedy, probably made in 1964. Fabian Bachrach made the original color photograph in 1960 of Senator Kennedy. It was often used during Kennedy's presidential campaign. Later this image became a popular memorial portrait of the slain President. (Object ID 2013.50.22)

Leslie Seymour Mio, granddaughter of Marty and Georgia and daughter of Kathy, aided us in acquiring this material to honor the memory of President Kennedy. She told us, "I think my grandparents connected to the Kennedys not only because they were Irish and Catholic, but also because my grandfather was a World War II veteran, they had young children, and had suffered the loss of a baby. I think they saw themselves in the most powerful couple in the world and they felt proud."

The materials preserved by the Glynn family are only a handful of what was available to Americans during Kennedy's presidency and during this national tragedy. I have had the privilege of being part of The Henry Ford's curatorial team to research and acquire objects in remembrance of President John F. Kennedy. It has not been an easy task to set aside personal emotions while selecting these Kennedy-related items. I believe the team has succeeded in taking a longer view of history and making strategic choices for our object collections. Our selections help to convey President Kennedy's legacy as an American leader and the national mourning following his untimely death, and to place our presidential limousine within the context of the President's time.

At this moment of remembrance, my emotions run much deeper than what I felt 50 years ago as a child. In 1963, I witnessed my parents' shock but only felt personal sadness when viewing the Kennedy children on television. Today, I am fully aware of the magnitude of the tragedy and the huge impact it has had on our national history. For my present emotional and intellectual understanding, I am truly thankful.

By Cynthia Read Miller, Curator of Photographs and Prints. Cynthia was 11 years old when President Kennedy was assassinated. She would like to thank Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life, Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts, and Leslie S. Mio, Assistant Registrar, for their assistance in writing this blog post.

JFK, limousines, presidential limousines

The Henry Ford Museum has hundreds of pieces of silver and pewter on display. We’ve recently been making upgrades to the cases and labels in this exhibit, and as this work has progressed, we’ve also taken the opportunity to clean, conserve, photograph, and update our documentation for this material. We currently have about 50 of these beautiful objects available for you to peruse on our digital collections site—everything from this early 18th century tankard to a complex mid-19th century compote—and we will be adding more over the coming months.

pewter, silver

Turning Point

November 18, 2013

How one day in history transformed presidential travel from an open-air exchange into a defensive exercise

November 22, 1963, was a warm, sunny day in Dallas, Texas. President John F. Kennedy was in town as part of his early re-election campaign.As his motorcade passed through downtown, the president and first lady Jackie Kennedy waved to the crowds from their open-top Lincoln convertible. Though the Secret Service was alert, agents didn’t perceive any special threat.

In the following car was Clint Hill, one of two Secret Service agents assigned to protect Mrs. Kennedy. “We knew that Dallas was a somewhat conservative area and that President Kennedy might not be as popular there as he was other places, but it didn’t seem to be a bigger problem than going anywhere else,” said Hill.

The crowds were large, and Hill was busy making sure that he remained close to the first lady as the president’s car negotiated the streets — especially when the crowds came close or when the car stopped so the president could shake hands with bystanders.

“The situation was always the same,” said Hill. “Big crowds, open windows, people on balconies and rooftops. It was standard procedure.”

Then, at 12:30 p.m., the first shot rang out, and Hill rushed toward the president’s car. His memories of the next few moments are vivid nearly 50 years later.

“I heard these noises that came from the rear of the motorcade, and I started to look toward that noise. But I only got as far as the back of the car when I saw the president react when the bullet hit him in the neck. When he grabbed his throat, I knew he was in trouble, and I jumped and I ran. My objective was to get up on the top of the car and lie there between the president and Mrs. Kennedy and anybody who was trying to do them harm. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the car, the third shot had been fired and hit the president in the head. It was too late to do anything except protect Mrs. Kennedy and the other occupants of the car.”

President Kennedy was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital four miles away and declared dead at 1 p.m.

“All the advantages went to the shooter,” recounted Hill. “We didn’t have any. I did everything I could do, but it wasn’t enough.”

Then and Now

Hill’s firsthand recollection of that tragic day in Dallas is also seared in the American collective memory. We talk of turning points, but this truly was one for the United States. Even the immediate aftermath showed how unfathomable such an event was as the Secret Service scrambled to get the vice president, President Kennedy’s body and the first lady back to Washington, D.C., as quickly as possible.

“We really didn’t know how elaborate the situation was,” said Hill. “We didn’t know if it was a lone gunman or a coup d’etat.”

With 2013 marking a new presidential term and the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, how things have changed is obvious if you just conduct a simple comparison of presidential cars then and now.

1939 Lincoln Presidential Limousine Used by Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Object ID: 50.11.1)

Consider, for example, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Sunshine Special. The first “official” presidential limo, this Lincoln got its nickname in the 1930s because, when President Roosevelt was in it, the top was almost always down. In similar fashion, Kennedy’s 1961 Lincoln Continental X-100 was a large luxury convertible modified for a longer wheelbase. It wasn’t bulletproof. It had a removable plexiglass top. In addition, a metal rail gave the president the ability to securely stand upright and be exposed when the vehicle was moving. Plus, the rear seat could be raised hydraulically for better visibility.

In today’s lexicon, such accessibility to a world leader — in an uncontrolled, open environment — is both shocking and would even be considered by some as point-blank reckless. But, at that time in history, there was logic and a certain naivete behind it. From Roosevelt to Kennedy, an important duty of the president was to be seen by — be accessible to — the people who elected him.

The current presidential limousine, affectionately called “the Beast” by the Secret Service, fails miserably in the accessibility department. A tank-like machine with leather upholstery, the Beast has armor-glass windows that make it difficult to get even a small glimpse of the president from within.

Neither the Secret Service nor General Motors will comment on the Beast’s presidential specs for security reasons, but Mark Burton, CEO of International Armoring Corp. in Utah, which turns luxury cars into armored vehicles, said that GM took technology to the point of “overkill” with this vehicle. The Beast can not only withstand armor-piercing bullets but gas, explosives, fire, bioweapons and just about any other threat to national security you can think of.

Common sense tells us the Beast’s technological overload is still in direct response to what happened in Dallas a half century ago. According to Hill, the X-100 also got its own bit of technological excess when it was decided that the vehicle should be rebuilt rather than retired after the assassination. “The car was sent back, redone completely and didn’t return until 1964,” noted Hill. “It was armored and bulletproof glass installed and was used then on a limited basis by President Johnson.”

The Secret Service also received a total overhaul after November 22, 1963. “The organization was completely reorganized from that point on,” said Hill. “The entire headquarters staff was revamped. A great many things were done and changed completely.”

Symbols of the Presidency

Since then, security around the president has been airtight, and all presidential limousines have followed the example of the revamped X-100, which is now on display in Henry Ford Museum, along with four other presidential rides (see sidebar at right).

Unfortunately, the Beast and future presidential vehicles will never be seen in a museum collection or elsewhere for that matter. Although the government once leased the cars for a nominal fee and returned them at lease end, it now purchases each vehicle outright and keeps them, but not as historical artifacts. Instead, the Secret Service, looking to keep the secrets of these high-tech cars confidential, uses the retired vehicles for security tests, which end with the vehicles’ destruction.

Hard to feel sorry for a machine, but the demise of these presidential wheels is tinged with a little regret, according to Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford. Anderson sees these vehicles as symbols of the American people’s relationship with the automobile and of the presidency itself.

“They tie in beautifully with the automobile in American life,” said Anderson. “They’ve become a symbol of the presidency. Most people don’t see the president in the White House; they see him when he comes to visit their town in his armored limousine. It’s a connection between the people and the president himself.”

The security measures now in place after Kennedy’s assassination equate to a safer president when en route, but they also signify an impenetrable distance between a leader and those he serves.

To see more of The Henry Ford's presidential limousines, take a look at this expert set from our online collections.

By David Szondy. The story originally appeared in the June-December 2013 edition of The Henry Ford magazine.

JFK, limousines, presidential limousines

October 24, 2013, was a Thursday like any other Thursday in the offices of The Henry Ford—until 5:48 PM rolled around. At 5:48 PM precisely (not that we were counting), we completed digitization of our 20,000th collections item! There was much rejoicing and taking of celebratory screenshots of our collections management system.

Having seen this goal on the horizon, we had already discussed which item should be the auspicious 20,000th. We settled on something both significant and (we felt) celebratory: a photograph of the first industrial robot, Unimate, serving a drink to George Devol, its creator.

Unimate Machine Serving a Drink to George Devol, 1970-1985.

We also arranged to have cake, celebrating the many staff in the institution who work on digitization in large and small ways.

celebrationcake

And, we commemorated some of the notable digitization projects we’d worked on over the past few years with stickers created from our digital collections images.

Can-Do Stickers

Long-time photographer Rudy Ruzicska proudly showed off his stickers to Henry Ford.

rudy-henry

There is a good reason we made such a big deal out of this milestone. Even though digitization is a relatively new process for The Henry Ford (and for many other museums and archives), the potential of getting our collections online is enormous.

Case in point, only about 9% of all the material we’ve digitized thus far is items currently located in public areas in the Museum or in Greenfield Village. About 60% of our digitized content is located in our archival stacks, previously accessible only through a visit to the Research Library in the Benson Ford Research Center. About half a percent of our digitized collections are items currently on loan to another institution, ranging from a few miles away (this Hudson, for example, is currently on loan to the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Collection) to halfway across the world (as witness this Rolls-Royce hood ornament, currently located in China). The remaining 30% or so of the collections items we’ve digitized are neither on public display nor accessible through the Research Library—they are items the public (and even many of our staff and volunteers!) would never otherwise get to see.

This is where the digital world offers a whole new way for our visitors to learn the stories behind our collections—not just by paying us a visit in person, but by making a virtual visit to the treasure trove of documents, photographs, and objects that we hold in trust for current and future generations.

We hope you enjoy viewing all of our growing digital collections. If you have a suggestion for what we should digitize next, or have thoughts on how we can make these digital collections more useful and meaningful, please let us know in the comments below!

Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford, is already counting down to our next digital collection milestone.

artifacts, digital collections