Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Prominent architect Andrew Jackson Downing—a big fan of the Gothic Revival—offered house designs in this picturesque style for middle-class Americans in his 1842 book, Cottage Residences. This illustration has the most self-conscious gothic elements—in the chimneys, windows, and the “gingerbread” detail in the central gable. (THF.110992)

Today when we think of gothic, we picture people dressed in dark clothing sporting dyed jet-black hair and best-selling vampire-themed novels like the Twilight series. America has had an on-and-off love affair with this offbeat, alternate style for the past two hundred years. Yet, what began as deliciously gloomy in 18th-century England took hold in Victorian America as romantic and picturesque.

Gothic as Mystery and Delicious Gloom

The idea of the gothic began with 18th-century Englishman Horace Walpole, who created the concept of the romantic-gothic in his fantasy castle, Strawberry Hill, located just outside of London. Walpole’s medievally-inspired “little gothic castle” included battlements, pinnacles, a round tower, fan vaulted ceilings, and pointed gothic arches. Like today’s Goths, Walpole saw mystery in the “dark.” In designing Strawberry Hill, Walpole looked to create an otherworldly—and rather theatrical—environment through the use of mysterious shadows of dark and light. Word spread as others learned of Walpole’s unique creation and gothic elements began to find their way into stylish design—not quite medieval, but not of its time, either.

Gothic as Romantic and Picturesque

By the mid 19th century, a popular trend that came to be known as Gothic Revival emerged from Walpole’s vision. For Walpole, the gothic was a personal fantasy world. For those who embraced it decades later, it was an emotionally–infused alternative to the rational Classical design so in vogue in the early decades of the 19th century. The Classical taste was about symmetry and order. The Gothic taste was about emotion, whimsy, and the spiritual. Many Americans thought the Gothic style pretty and charming—so picturesque—and by the mid-19th century, popular American taste was all about the “picturesque.”

What constituted the Gothic Revival? The kinds of decorative elements one would find on a medieval cathedral like tall spires, pointed arches and trefoils (a stylized three-part leaf design). Where did these design elements appear? On newly-built churches, houses, stoves, furniture, glassware, silver—and even industrial machinery.

Gothic Sofa

This elegant sofa is covered with quatrefoil carvings (a stylized four-part leaf design) derived from medieval stained glass windows. This massive, imposing piece was intended to make a fashion statement in a Victorian parlor.

Cast Iron Andirons

These tall cast iron andirons—with their double “stack” of church spires—are the very definition of the Gothic Revival. They appear to be lifted from a medieval cathedral—although nothing like them ever existed in the Middle Ages.

Covered Casket Jewelry Box

This jewelry box—made of mold-pressed, shimmering, “lacy” glass— features rows of cathedral-inspired, stained glass windows. It was made in the 1830s by the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company in Sandwich, Massachusetts.

Side Chair, Made by Joseph Meeks & Son, 1835-1860

New York City furniture maker Joseph Meeks added pointed arches and trefoils (three-part) cutouts to form the back of this simple, yet elegant, side chair in the Gothic style. Made between 1835 and 1860, this chair is perfect for a picturesque cottage.

Brewster & Ingraham of Bristol, Connecticut between 1844 and 1852.

This mass-produced “cottage” clock, made by Brewster & Ingraham of Bristol, Conn., between 1844 and 1852, merely hints at the Gothic style with its pointed top and simple spires. Thousands of clocks like this one found a place in American homes during the mid-19th century.

1840-1860 washstand was purchased by Mary Todd Lincoln.

Even simple washstands could be adorned with gothic arches. This 1840-1860 washstand was purchased by Mary Todd Lincoln for her Springfield, Illinois home.

Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.

gothic, Victorian

As every visitor discovers, The Henry Ford is about more than cars and trucks. But if its other exhibits are its heart, The Henry Ford’s world-class automobile collection might be its soul. For the first time, that collection is captured in one major book – Driving America: The Henry Ford Automotive Collection.

Showcasing 100 historically-significant vehicles spanning a century-plus, Driving America puts a spotlight on the collection’s perhaps unexpected diversity. While it reflects Henry Ford’s fascination with American progress, the collection combines vehicles from nearly every major (and a few not-so-major) automaker, both foreign and domestic.

Indeed, one of the collection’s most famous vehicles, the 1931 Type 41 Bugatti Royale, was born in Europe. In an essay, Bob Casey, The Henry Ford’s former Senior Curator of Transportation, explains that after its original owner fled Hitler’s Germany, the Royale was abandoned in a New York junk yard.

Eventually rescued by Buick’s Charles Chayne, the Royale was donated to The Henry Ford in 1957, where it still delights a half-century on.

Driving America is filled with such trivia, providing a greater close-up than is possible on a museum floor. Across nearly 300 pages, vivid illustrations capture details such as the 1957 De Soto Fireflite’s pushbutton transmission, and the 1980 Comuta-Car’s label-maker dashboard. Technical specifications for each vehicle are also included.

But like the collection itself, Driving America tells as much a story of those who’ve designed, built and driven across two American centuries as of the vehicles themselves. Innovation and ingenuity reflect in Oldsmobile’s 1903 Curved Dash Roundabout, and the 1997 General Motors EV1; family and adventure in the 1984 Plymouth Voyager minivan and the 1959 Volkswagen Westfalia camper; triumph and tragedy in the 1987 Ford Thunderbird Stock Car, and in President Kennedy’s 1961 Lincoln Continental limousine.

In this regard, Driving America, like the collection it beautifully, thoroughly documents, honors not only The Henry Ford’s focus on the everyday extraordinary, but the automobile’s defining role in life as it’s known, or might someday be.

Driving America from The Henry Ford

Driving America, featuring a forward by Jay Leno and an introduction by Edsel Ford II, is available at The Henry Ford’s on-site gift shops and online shop. Special collector’s editions are also available.

Justin Mularski is a writer based in Detroit. He occasionally forsakes his laptop to read of times long past, cheer for the Tigers, or make lists of home improvement projects he’ll never actually complete.

car books, cars, Driving America

During the first weekend of September, Greenfield Village celebrated the exciting sounds, scents, and sights of hundreds of vintage vehicles from the 1890s through 1932 during the 63rd annual Old Car Festival, America’s longest running antique car show. Many proud antique vehicle owners not only bring their cars, but get into the spirit of the event by dressing to match their car’s era which adds to the special ambience of this particular weekend long event.

Annually on the Saturday night of the festival, many visitors gather at the reviewing stand near the Thomas Edison statue to listen the talented Hotel Savarine Society Orchestra perform many of the popular songs of the 1920s while watching a group of energetic and enthusiastic dancers outfitted in elegant mid-1920s period clothing perform such dances as the Charleston, foxtrot and tango. Just as all the reproduction clothing and accessories in Greenfield Village are researched, designed and created on sight by The Clothing Studio of The Henry Ford, so are the vintage looks worn by the dancers.

This year, The Clothing Studio team worked collaboratively with the Creative Programs staff to create a more formal, “dressed up” head-to-toe 1920s look for the Old Car Festival dancers than in years past. The Roaring Twenties represented a break with traditions and the start to the modern age. It was a prosperous and exuberant time in history and, of course, the fashions of the time reflected this vibrancy. One of our challenges with creating these period accurate looks was that the clothing and accessories were not just for show – they also needed to be functional and durable since the dancers would be strolling through the village prior to spending two very active hours dancing outside.

Dancers pose in 1920s formalwearSince men’s formal wear has generally changed little in over a hundred years, male dancers were elegantly dressed in a mix of black tuxedo styles which were appropriate for that era and remain stylish today. For formal occasions in the 1920s, men wore their tuxedos with white gloves and (when outdoors) top hats or even bowler hats. Special classically inspired touches such as suspenders, French cuffs with cufflinks and shoe spats helped to create an authentic look for each of our gentleman dancers.

As for the ladies, The Clothing Studio focused on many of the fashionable trends of the era celebrating new-found freedoms women enjoyed in the 1920s ranging from the right to vote to more relaxed fashions which finally freed women from the constraints of the corset. Bare arms and the appearance of bare legs with nude colored seamed stockings as well as shorter skirt lengths were visible signs of new celebrated relaxed attitudes. Some of the trends featured in the stunning outfits worn by our Old Car Festival female dancers included beaded fabrics, tiered shirts, drop waists, straight simple silhouettes and embellished shoes.

If you missed the vintage cars and fashions featured at this year’s Old Car Festival in Greenfield Village, be sure to mark your calendar for next year’s 64th annual Old Car Festival in September. Every year there is always a different mix of amazing vintage cars (and fashion) to enjoy.

Written by Tracy Donohue, General Manager, The Clothing Studio at The Henry Ford. Photos by Lindsey Grudnicki.

Old Car Festival, vintage clothing

I’m keenly interested in the move toward self-driving cars, so an article in USA Today caught my eye last week: “Self-driving cars? They’re (sort of) already here.” As the headline suggests – apart from the parenthetical hedge – the autonomous auto isn’t a far-off fantasy anymore. The odds are that some of us will be playing Michael Knight before the end of the decade.

While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the exciting things Google is doing with its fleet of autonomous Prii, just as earlier generations were wowed by Norman Bell Geddes vision of automatic cars in his Futurama at the 1939 World’s Fair, it seems that self-driving cars aren’t going to arrive in a technological flash. Rather, they’ve been sneaking up on us bit by bit for a century.

One might trace their development all the way back to Charles Kettering’s electric starter on the 1912 Cadillac. Sure you had to flip the switch, but that car cranked itself. If not to 1912, then maybe you trace the self-driving car to 1940 and the practical Oldsmobile Hydra-Matic transmission. Surely a car that shifts its own gears is a forerunner to a self-driver. And if not GM, then you might credit Chrysler and its “Auto pilot” feature introduced in 1958. Sure, the marketing folks who named it may have over-promised a bit, but that early cruise control system certainly was an essential step toward autonomy.

Much more sophisticated systems entered the market in the last decade or so. Lexus gave us “Dynamic Laser Cruise Control” with the 2000 LS 430. This device not only maintained a regular driving speed, it also automatically slowed or stopped the car in reaction to traffic ahead. (It also proved that fancy marketing names were still very much in style.) Adaptive cruise control, like the technologies before it, made its way from luxury marques to more modest models and is now a rather widely available option. The same is true of parking assist systems, in which the car can steer itself into a parking space. They first appeared in Lincoln and Lexus models, and then migrated to Ford and Toyota offerings.

“Active lane keeping” appears to be the big story for 2014. We’ve had passive systems, in which an alarm sounds if the driver weaves or drifts, for ten years, but “active” systems are just that – active. Infiniti’s Q50 will steer itself should the driver let go of the wheel while at speed, even through broad curves. The feature is a combination of camera and radar units that “read” the road and a “drive by wire” setup through which the front wheels are steered by motors wired to the steering wheel. (There’s no mechanical connection between the front wheels and the steering wheel.) Granted, it’s up to you to get the car on and off the freeway but, while there and with the cruise control and lane keeping engaged, the Q50 essentially drives itself.

Infiniti stresses that its active lane keeping is a driver assist system. It’s meant to ease the burden rather than take it all, but that’s no different than any of its technological predecessors. All of these devices seem destined to meld into a fully functional autonomous car some day, and that day might just be sooner than any of us think.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford

Over time, people have marked the deaths of their loved ones in many ways. One popular method in the 18th and 19th centuries was the wearing of mourning jewelry, which often incorporated the hair of the deceased. We’ve just added close to 50 more stunning examples of mourning jewelry and other memorial items to our digital collections, including the mourning brooch depicted here, a ring dating to 1716, and a doll’s coffin.

funerals, vintage jewelry

Hallowe’en is one of our favorite times of the year here at The Henry Ford and although we’re suckers for tradition, guests should expect some surprises on the horizon at this year’s spooky celebration.

You see, for us, it’s not about the scream-inducing theatrics, but the history and background of Hallowe’en. That’s why the aesthetics we use to transform Greenfield Village are inspired by the 20th century to the early ‘60s.

Wondering how we know so much about what Hallowe’en was like more than 100 years ago? Well, let’s just say we know how to do our research; it’s not an easy or short process, though.

Our creative team works on Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village 365 days a year.

“We are constantly researching and looking into anything that triggers our thought process. Additionally, new technology that can we can incorporate is always emerging,” says Jim Johnson, our Senior Manager of Creative Programs.

Dennison's Bogie Book: Suggestions for Halloween & Thanksgiving, circa 1925 (Object ID: 90.228.474).

Our most inspirational and useful sources of information regarding Hallowe’ens past come from party guides and pamphlets ranging from the early 20th century to the 1960s and Dennison’s Bogie Books.

Surprisingly, Hallowe’en was a much different holiday when it first began, as compared to the terror-ridden night of horror we are accustom to nowadays.

Hollows Eve actually started as a night of romance, even more so than Valentine’s Day. It was a night of finding your future companion by way of a fortune teller or completing a special list of activities at midnight so the face of your true love would be revealed.

In fact, the trick-or-treating tradition we all know and love did’nt come into play until the 1930s and was not prominently practiced until the ‘50s.

This year, we’ve decided to implement a masquerade theme, featuring a nod to some classic literature and Frankenstein circa 1820s, complete with new visual, lighting and sound effects, fresh characters and a twist on some of our program staples. (Sounds pretty cool to me.)

“Although we will have a few new elements,” Jim explains, “It’s not about what’s new, it’s about what’s ‘cool’. We’re more focused on ‘looking back’. This year’s program is very cool and definitely sparks the imagination of people of all ages.”

Well, there you have it. History buffs we may be, but we’re nothing if not cool. We believe it’s all about continuing to evolve and that is exactly what we intend to do through our Hallowe’en event and beyond.

Brianna Garza is a media relations intern at The Henry Ford.

Halloween, halloween costumes

Last week the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong announced the 12 finalists for this year’s class of inductees. Just two lucky toys will make the cut on Nov. 7 to join the ranks of other beloved honorees, such as LEGO toys, Barbie, Lincoln Logs and Hot Wheels. It’s a tough call: is My Little Pony more worthy than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?! This year’s finalists are:

  • Clue
  • Bubbles
  • Rubber duck
  • My Little Pony
  • Toy Army Men
  • Magic 8 Ball
  • Scooter
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Chess
  • Fischer-Price Little People
  • Nerf toys
  • Pac-Man
  •  

    Which two toys would you nominate for the Toy Hall of Fame? Is there a toy you’re hoping someday will make the list?

    We have a variety of toys in our collection here at The Henry Ford, spanning current-day favorites to primitive playthings, including several of this year’s finalists.

    From our collection, here are some of this year’s finalists.

    My Little Pony, Brush 'n Grow Pony: "Ringlets," 1987-1988 (Object ID 2000.71.1).

    My Little Pony

    Hasbro introduced its My Little Pony line of toys in 1983. It was a big seller. The Ponies were not dolls but they did feature two long-important aspects of doll appeal: hair care and fashion. The ponies' hair was a silky mane that could be twisted, braided, and styled. A matching ribbon and comb came with each pony. These toys combined "friendship" and grooming play. In 1986, My Little Pony got her own cartoon series, My Little Pony 'n Friends. In the series, the Ponies, together with the wise little Moochick, the Bushwoolies, and human friends Megan, Molly, Danny, and Spike, kept Ponyland safe from witches, trolls, and the like.

    Magic "8 Ball" Fortune Teller, 1965-1975 (Object ID 96.83.3).

    Magic 8 Ball

    This is novelty version of a crystal ball was introduced in 1946, at a time when forecasting the future was a popular pastime. How it worked: The ball is actually two separate halves glued together (then polished to help make the seam disappear). Inside is a plastic vial, affixed to one end and standing upright. About the size of a juice glass, the vial is filled with a blue liquid, which is made up of a combination of water, blue coloring, and propylene glycol, an antifreeze to keep the solution from turning solid during shipping. Floating in the liquid is a polyhedron, whose 20 sides bear 20 different answers in raised letters. The clear plastic cap that seals the cylinder not only assures that the blue solution won't leak out, but doubles as the little window through which you view your answers.

    Toy Army Men, 1950-1960 (Object ID 2000.0.38.20).

    Toy Army Men

    In the 1950s, toy makers began producing military toys that celebrated World War II as a historical event. Along with Civil War and Robin Hood playsets, catalogs featured playsets that allowed children to reenact World War II battles. Ship models were advertised as a way for boys to relate to their veteran fathers. Bags of cheap hard plastic army men, two or three inches tall, were a common toy to 1950s boys, allowing them to restage World War II battles. This type of war play continued into the 1960s and culminated with the introduction of Hasbro's GI Joe doll in 1964. While initially inspired by a television show, GI Joe came to represent the average soldier, evoking memories of fathers' experience in World War II and the Korean War. The point was to imitate the real world of adults in the military and connect fathers with sons.

    Chess Set and Storage Box, 1800-1850 (Object ID 29.1359.49).

    Chess

    Chess is one of the oldest and most popular board games. It is played by two opponents on a checkered board with specially designed pieces of contrasting colors, commonly white and black.

    Play Family Farm, 1968-1975 (Object ID 96.86.1).

    Fisher-Price Little People

    Often play sets were miniaturized sets of household items, like dishes and kitchen appliances, or real-life settings like farms or circuses. The "Play Family Farm" (Fisher-Price #915) has been produced continually since 1968. When the barn door is open, a mooing sound can be heard. The silo is designed for storing accessories.

    Lish Dorset is the social media manager for The Henry Ford. She’s pulling for My Little Pony and Fischer-Price Little People to take the National Toy Hall of Fame honors this year.

    toys, vintage toys

    50-year-old canned mushrooms? You might be inclined to pass if someone offered these to you—understandably. But despite the age of the contents, food (and other) packaging can provide a wealth of information about an era, from design standards to daily habits. We’ve just digitized about two dozen food boxes, cans, bottles, and jars dating from the 1920s to the 2000s. Check out exotic anchovies, oyster sauce, and truffles, or see hundreds of examples of all types of containers (food and otherwise), on our collections site.

    (FYI, thanks to our Conservation Department, the contents of the food packages have now been disposed of, leaving clean artifacts for long-term preservation.)

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

    To put it simply – The Henry Ford is the reason I became a history teacher! As an 8-year old boy, I visited Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village with my family in the 1970s. I was immediately hooked by the awesome power of the historical artifacts, buildings and stories. Suddenly, history came alive. I saw the past not just as dates and events in a stuffy textbook, but as a link to where we are right now, and where we are going in the future.

    When I learned about The Henry Ford’s Teacher Fellow Program, it was a no-brainer for me to apply. I hoped that my years of experience as a public high school history teacher would be enough to convince The Henry Ford to accept me into the program. Fortunately, it was.

    Living almost two hours away from Dearborn, Mich., I wound up making close to 10 round-trips during a six-month time period. The funny thing was, I hardly noticed the drive! Often times I spent the drive brainstorming ideas and different plans to help The Henry Ford really connect with teachers in the classroom.

    The Henry Ford is a treasure chest full of so many awesome ideas, programs, primary sources, artifacts, and stories that teachers can use each and every day in their classrooms to make history come alive. History is just that – a STORY! The story is ongoing and never ends. When teachers can make real, concrete links to the past that are hands-on, suddenly students begin to grasp the emotions behind the events – people, who are just like them, experienced history with emotions that are real and identical to those we have right now. The materials at The Henry Ford are just that powerful!

    One of our projects was raising awareness to teachers on the “outside” who cannot make it to Dearborn with their classes. So, why not bring The Henry Ford to them? We created a series of videos (I have never shied away from an audience!) to help teachers realize all that The Henry Ford has to offer for in-class use. Teachers can now access so many materials and programs online to use in their own classrooms. It truly is awesome.

    Another project was the Digital Curator Kit. We wanted to have something hands-on for students of all ages to utilize while both in their classrooms and during a field trip. It places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the students and allows them to find artifacts that relate to an area of their choosing. In a way, the students are now making their own personal museum!

    The Henry Ford’s Teacher Fellow Program allows a group of teachers, who would not otherwise work together, to collaborate in a way that benefits not only themselves, but other teachers as well. It empowers them to have a lasting effect, together, on the future students and teachers coming to, and using, the resources of The Henry Ford.

    The Teacher Fellow Program was an opportunity for professional development unlike any other. Teachers collaborate on-site at America’s Greatest History Destination. We are given the unique ability to be hands-on, behind the scenes, at The Henry Ford. We are given access to every possible resource we could imagine. While that can seem overwhelming at first, once the purpose and direction of the Fellows becomes clear, there is no limit to the impact the group can have on the hundreds of thousands of students and teachers who use The Henry Ford each year.

    I have made contacts with teachers from both Ohio and Michigan that I wouldn’t have met. We can now collaborate, as Fellows, on future projects in our classrooms and continue the work we have done as 2013 Teacher Fellows at The Henry Ford.

    I am truly looking forward to Graduation Day on Oct. 26. To see the finished product of our hard work – and to show others for the first time our vision – is very exciting.

    An image from the last Teacher Fellow Program graduation in Lovett Hall Ballroom.

    Over the past several months I have become a member of a large group of professionals with the dedication to bring history to life for everyone of any age. I am so honored to be a part of The Henry Ford’s family. The little 8-year old boy has now turned a passion for history into a life-time dedication of helping others see that the past is a link to the present and future. You could easily say, I have always been a part of The Henry Ford – or better yet, it is a part of ME!

    Todd Edmond is a member of The Henry Ford’s 2013 Teacher Fellow Program. He hails from Tiffin, Ohio and teaches U .S. History and AP U. S. History at Tiffin Columbian High School.

    One of the most distinctive features of Greenfield Village is the period-authentic clothing worn by the presenters, all created on site by our Clothing Studio. Many of the designs they create are based on objects from our own costume collection, including clothing, shoes, hats, and other accessories. We’ve just digitized a selection of bonnets, including this delicate 19th century example. See detail shots of two dozen bonnets, ranging from the very simple to the very ornate, on our collections website.