I have always had a love for history— though, as an Anthropology major focused in Classics, my interests were initially focused on more ancient times. Interning at The Henry Ford, with its vast collections of objects relating to the American experience, has definitely broadened that love! Each day, I have the opportunity to “walk though” nearly 400 years of American history, whether represented in Greenfield Village, with all of its historic buildings, or Henry Ford Museum, with its historic objects. Here, history sits “side-by-side,” offering objects and stories from different eras. And all of the objects here have a story. As an intern working in the curatorial department, I am able to help bring these stories to the public and share my passion for history in a different way.
The Henry Ford’s collection is so vast that we can’t display all of our artifacts all at one time. Yet, with the advancements in digital technology, we can bring these objects and stories to the public through the use of the internet. Currently, we offer images and information for about 20,000 of The Henry Ford’s historic objects on our collections website. But there are additional opportunities to share our collections on the web. That’s what my work as an intern has focused on.
I have been preparing information about many of the quilts in our collection for The Quilt Index, an internationally-known online database of quilt construction and history. This database is comprised of information about hundreds of thousands of quilts owned by museums and individuals. It's the single largest source of information on quilt construction and quilt history resources on the web.
My internship project involves working with others on our staff to gather additional information about each of our quilts and its quilt maker, if known. Since I seem to have a flair for computer programs, my efforts were chiefly focused on learning The Quilt Index’s software system, and then adding information about The Henry Ford’s quilts to this database. Information on nearly 120 of our quilts can now be found on The Quilt Index.
Applique Quilt by Susan McCord, 1880-1890 (Object ID: 72.140.1).
While The Henry Ford’s collections webpage has allowed people who come to our website learn about our quilts, The Quilt Index broadens our reach. Through The Quilt Index, people all over the world can readily find information on many of our quilts—even if they were unaware that we have a quilt collection. Too, The Quilt Index allows researchers to examine our quilts “side by side” with quilts from other sources—even though the quilts themselves may be thousands of miles apart.
We have so many great quilts in our collection. When I first started working with the quilts, I could tell you which one was my favorite. Yet now that I have spent a great amount of time learning each quilt’s story, I have a hard time choosing just one! But there are some that do stand out more for me. These include the 1880s Vine Quilt by Susan Noakes McCord and the 1980s Indianapolis 500 Quilt by Jeanetta Holder. These two quilts are quite different in feel and are almost 100 years apart in age. Yet both of these quilts interest me. Susan’s appliqué quilt is so intricately detailed with many thousands of pieces, all sewn by hand. And I love the story surrounding Jeanetta’s 1980s quilt, made to celebrate race car driver Bobby Unser’s three Indianapolis wins.
The thought that I am able to share the information I have learned about our quilt collection with people all over the world is a very humbling experience. It really hits home for me, though, because I had to use The Quilt Index to complete a class assignment during my undergraduate studies. Now, here I am adding information to the site for others to use just like I did just over a year ago!
When you look at wool, have you ever stopped to think about how it takes on its rich, vibrant colors? The practice of dyeing wool dates back centuries and was an important part of the work of Sam and Anna Daggett.
On the Daggett Farm in 1760 Connecticut, Sam and Anna raised sheep and owned a loom for the weaving of wool in their home. Dyeing was a big part of the process.
Today’s synthetic dyes hadn’t been invented when the Daggetts would have been dyeing wool. Instead, they used a natural process using the materials found in nature.
Various colors can be obtained through plants. For example, logwood, which is imported from the rainforest, produces beautiful purple colors, whereas madder root, which is actually grown in Greenfield Village, creates red and orange variations.
“Many of the dyes used back then are of ancient origin, some are imported; others can still be grown in the new world. Here, we use a combination of new and old world dye matter,” explains Cathy Cwiek, our Manager of Historic Foodways and Domestic Life programs.
What kind of materials can be used to create different colors?
Woad: an ancient plant dye that we use to create the color blue
Pokeberry: a weed that creates a pink dye
Osage Orange heartwood shavings: create a fluorescent yellow
Cochineal: a small insect that feeds on prickly pear cacti and gives off a red color. (A favorite of Cathy’s, it’s used as a natural dye in food products, too)
How do we dye wool in Greenfield Village?
First, we have to shear the sheep. This takes place once a year, usually in the spring.
Next, we pick and wash the fleece.
Then, the wool fibers are pulled in one direction by small hand cards (brushes) to help soften and untangle the wool. This process would take families months. Carding machines were later invented to mechanize the process.
The wool is then spun and turned into yarn on a spinning wheel.
Before dyeing, the yarn is wound into skeins.
Skeins are soaked in a mordant, a chemical that helps set colors to fabrics. We use vinegar and alum as a mordant for most plants, and spectralite for indigo plants. This can be done prior to dyeing or the mordant can be put in the dyeing pot.
To prepare the dye pot, put plant matter in a loose cloth and simmer until the color is extracted. Simmer wool in dye pot until the desired color is reached.
Rinse the wool.
The time required for this process varies depending on the kind of plant material being used and desired color. After that’s done, the wool is ready for a variety of uses.
“We knit hats, mittens, socks, scarves and anything else families would wear in that time period. It’s really a rewarding process,” Cathy said.
As you think about dyeing your own wool, look around you for inspiration.
“Experiment. Recently, I found a bright orange/yellow fungus growing on a tree. I dried it out and now I’m excited to see what color it will produce!” Cathy said.
Take a look at this video to see the dyeing process in action here at The Henry Ford.
Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.
It lasted only nine years, from 1953 to 1961. Yet, many long-time Dearborn residents remember the Ford Rotunda’s Christmas Fantasy with nostalgia and a fierce sense of pride. After all, this great extravaganza of all things Christmas was staged in their own community by the company that Henry Ford—their favorite hometown-boy-made-good—had founded.
What was the Christmas Fantasy and why was it so memorable? The story starts back in 1934, at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago.
When Henry Ford decided that his company needed to have a showy building at the 1934 Century of Progress Exposition, he turned to Albert Kahn, his favorite architect. Kahn had designed Ford’s Highland Park Plant, Rouge Plant, and the classically-styled Dearborn Inn. But, for this exposition building, Kahn broke completely from traditional architectural styles and designed an imposing cylindrical structure that simulated a graduated cluster of internally-meshed gears.
By the time the Century of Progress Exposition closed its doors in 1934, Henry Ford decided that the central gear-shaped structure would be perfect for displaying industrial exhibits back home in Dearborn. He intended to re-erect the structure in Greenfield Village, but his son Edsel persuaded him that it would serve a far better purpose as a visitor center and starting point for the company’s popular Rouge Plant tours. The newly named Ford Rotunda found a suitable home near the Rouge Plant, across from the Ford Administration Building on Schaefer Road.
In 1953, as part of its 50th anniversary celebration, Ford Motor Company executives decided to give the Rotunda and its exhibits a complete renovation. The new industrial exhibits and changing car displays were popular. But its biggest draw became the annual Christmas Fantasy.
A Walk through the Christmas Fantasy
Just inside the entrance to the Rotunda, the holiday mood was immediately set by an enormous live Christmas tree. This 35-foot-tall tree glistened with thousands of colored electric lights.
Stretching along one wall was the display of more than 2,000 dolls, dressed by members of the Ford Girls’ Club. These would later be distributed by the Goodfellows to underprivileged children.
The Rotunda’s Christmas Fantasy became perhaps best known for its elaborate animated scenes. These were created by Silvestri Art Manufacturing Company of Chicago, who specialized in department store window displays. Santa’s Workshop—an early and ongoing display—featured a group of tiny elves working along a moving toy assembly line.
Over the years, these scenes became ever-more numerous and elaborate. Life-size storybook figures like Hansel and Gretel, Robin Hood, Wee Willie Winkie, and Humpty Dumpty pivoted back and forth in atmospheric Christmas and winter settings. In 1957, two animated scenes were added to the doll display: a Beauty Shop, where two beauty-operator elves “glamorized” a pair of dolls and a Dress Salon in which mechanical elves operated a sewing machine and iron. More displays were added in 1958. In the Pixie Candy Kitchen, animated workers turned out large chocolate-covered delicacies. A Bake Shop featured animated bakers kneading dough, trimming pies, mixing cakes, and baking bread and cookies. An animated fiddler and banjo player accompanied a group of square-dancing elves in a barn dance scene. In 1960, jungle animals in cages with peppermint-stick bars joined the other animated scene
An “outstanding new attraction” in 1958 was the 15,000-piece miniature animated circus, created as a hobby over a 16-year period by John Zweifel, from Evanston, Illinois. This hand-carved circus came complete with performing animals, a circus train, sideshow attractions, carnival barkers, and bareback riders. Larger-size animated circus animals and a clown band provided the backdrop for this popular attraction.
In the Rotunda’s walled-off inner court, the mood became more reverent. At the entrance to this court, visitors passed through a cathedral façade, with carillon music ringing from 40-foot spires. Inside the court was a Nativity scene with life-size figures. During an era in which stores and other businesses were closed on Sundays, this scene was considered “so beautifully and reverently executed” that the Detroit Council of Churches allowed Ford Motor Company to keep the Christmas Fantasy open on Sundays during the Christmas season. An organ set alongside the Nativity scene provided Christmas music while Detroit-area choral groups gave concerts here periodically.
Of course, visiting Santa was a highly anticipated activity for children at the Rotunda. Santa awaited each eager child high up inside a colorful multi-story castle, accessible by a curved ramp.
Finally, a visit to the Christmas Fantasy was not complete without a viewing of Christmas cartoons in the Rotunda’s newly renovated auditorium and a stop to see Santa’s live reindeer.
Up in Flames
Tragically, the Ford Rotunda burned down on November 9, 1962, when a waterproofing sealant of hot tar accidentally caught the roof on fire. The intense heat caused the building to collapse and burn to the ground in less than an hour. Fortunately, a wing housing the Ford Motor Company Archives survived.
Most of the already-installed Christmas Fantasy became a charred ruin. The doll display and miniature circus had not arrived yet. To help local residents come to terms with this tragic loss, Ford Motor Company invited the public to a tree-lighting ceremony that year in front of its Central Office Building on Michigan Avenue (now Ford World Headquarters). A Press Release for the event announced that Santa would be on hand to turn on the 70,000 lights that decorated the 75-foot Christmas tree—the tallest tree they could find for the occasion.
The Ford Rotunda’s Christmas Fantasy was never revived. But it lives on in vivid memory to the many people who had seen it. In fact, to hear long-time Dearbornites talk about it, you’d think that it had happened only yesterday!
Check out this short film to catch a glimpse of the 1955 Rotunda Christmas Fantasy.
Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.
Reflecting upon Nelson Mandela’s death on December 5, journalist and former news anchor Dan Rather remarked, “Mandela’s legacy is on a line with those of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King—both of whom inspired him...”
The Henry Ford owns important historical objects that convey meaning and provide relevance for this line of courageous freedom fighters.
Mahatma Gandhi—champion for Indian nationalism in British-ruled India—gave Henry Ford this spinning wheel in 1941. Gandhi’s gift represented a commitment to world peace that he and Ford shared. Mandela often called Gandhi a role model.
Mandela acknowledged others in the long struggle for human rights. He once said, “Before King there was Rosa Parks. She inspired us…to be fearless when facing oppressors.” Mandela claimed that Rosa Parks’ courageous act sustained him while in prison. He was overjoyed to meet her in 1990, soon after his release from prison. The bus in which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in 1955 to a white man represents a decisive moment in the American Civil Rights movement.
In noting Mandela’s passing, President Obama recounted that his first experience in political activism was a protest against apartheid, and Mandela became a personal inspiration to him. Obama reflected, “Never discount the difference that one person can make.” Such perspective may have been present as he sat on the Rosa Parks bus during a 2012 visit to Henry Ford Museum.
With humility and respect for these extraordinary leaders, we hope that these objects and stories can both remind us of all that Mandela stood for and help contribute to ongoing conversations about social justice in our country and the world.
Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. Photo by Ted Eytan.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water… er, dealership… Chevrolet’s iconic Corvette Stingray* is back. The seventh-generation Corvette just received Automobile Magazine’s “Automobile of the Year” award. It’s a great honor, and it affirms the car’s right to wear the hallowed “Stingray” name – not seen on a Corvette since 1976.
Given Corvette’s long-established status as America’s sports car, it’s easy to forget that the first models lacked a performance image. The 1953-54 cars featured inline six engines and two-speed automatic transmissions – not exactly scream machines. That began to change with the 1955 model year when a V-8 and a three-speed manual shift became options. Production figures climbed steadily thereafter, but the Corvette arguably didn’t come into its own until the 1963 model year when General Motors styling head Bill Mitchell shepherded the magnificent Sting Ray into production.
Mitchell’s car was a radical departure from previous Corvettes. The gentle curves of the earlier cars (readily seen on The Henry Ford’s 1955 example) were replaced with sharp edges. The toothy grille gave way to an aggressive nose with hidden headlights, and the roof transitioned into a racy fastback. The car was a smash in its day and continues to be perhaps the most desirable body style among collectors.
The 1963 Sting Ray was inspired by two of Mitchell’s personal project cars. The 1959 Stringray Special was built on the chassis of the 1957 Corvette SS race car. When American auto manufacturers officially ended their racing programs in the summer of 1957, the SS became surplus. Mitchell acquired the car, rebuilt it into a racer, and sidestepped the racing ban by sponsoring the car personally. The rebuilt Stingray Special’s unique front fenders, with bumps to accommodate the wheels, became a prominent part of the 1963 production car.
The second inspiration was the Mako Shark concept car introduced in 1961. While fishing in Bahamas that year, Mitchell caught an actual mako shark which he mounted and displayed in his office. The shark’s streamlined body and angular snout, combined with elements from the Stingray race car, produced a show car that turned heads wherever it was displayed.
Fifty years later, some believe that the mid-1960s Sting Rays are still the Corvette’s styling peak. Clearly, the 2014 model had much to live up to if it was to carry the Stingray name. The honors from Automobile Magazine suggest that the latest Corvette is worthy indeed.
UPDATE 01/13/14: The 2014 Corvette Stingray just took top honors as "North American Car of the Year" at the North American International Auto Show. It's further proof that the car has earned its legendary name!
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford
* Stingray nomenclature is a confusing business. Bill Mitchell’s 1959 race car was “Stringray” – one word. The 1963-1967 production cars were “Sting Ray” – two words. The 1968-1976 and 2014 cars reverted to “Stingray.” For what it’s worth, the fish itself is “stingray.”
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
By 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.
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.
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.
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.