Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

As Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford, I’m often asked what my favorite artifact is. This is a pretty tough question to answer when I have about 25 million artifacts to choose from—and to be honest, my favorites change all the time. Of the 18,000 or so artifacts added in our digital collections thus far, though, one of the items on my short list would have to be the Monkey Bar.

The Monkey Bar was created by Patrick J. Culhane (or possibly Culinane/Cullinane—correspondence we have related to the artifact contains several variants on his name) in 1914–15, while he was a prisoner at the Massachusetts State Prison at Charlestown, where he’d been sent after a conviction of “larceny from a conveyance.” Culhane crafted an amazingly extensive diorama by hand, out of materials including peach pits and scraps of wood, fabric, metal, cellulose, and plastic—and all on a base measuring about 16” x 20”.

Monkeys playing pool, checkers, and cards, and generally enjoying themselves (THF49089)

Culhane intended the diorama to depict many of the worldly pitfalls that had put him and his fellow inmates on a path to prison. The Bar is chock full of monkeys engaged in all kinds of rambunctious activities—drinking alcohol, gluttonous eating, smoking (cigarettes, cigars, and opium), gambling and gaming in many forms (craps, roulette, checkers, shell game, and cards), playing music, monitoring the stock market via a ticker, and even paying off a policemonkey. Clearly some of the monkeys are ready to check into (or out of) the associated hotel, as they have their suitcases with them and keys and mail are visible behind the desk.

Checking into a monkey motel, and perhaps enjoying a cigar too (THF49107)

Perhaps surprisingly, monkey bars were created by other prisoners in the early part of the 20th century (another one was featured on Antiques Roadshow in 2007, for example), but the one in our collection is truly amazing in its tiny details, from the inlaid wood tables, to the cigar ash piling up wherever monkeys are smoking, to the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkey statuettes on top of the piano. Wherever you look in the great detail shots captured by our photographer, you see something new and striking.

Playing the stock market and eating what must be Chinese food--with chopsticks, of course (THF49090)

The story didn’t end with the creation of this amazing piece, though. Likely working through intermediaries at a Boston-area Ford Motor Company plant, Culhane managed to get the Monkey Bar to Henry Ford. In this time period, Ford was particularly known for hiring those who might not otherwise have an equal shot, including the disabled, the mentally ill, and former convicts. A hand-calligraphed note on the Monkey Bar’s glass case reads “Presented to Mr. Henry Ford / As a token of appreciation and esteem for his many benevolent and magnanimous acts toward, and keen interest in, prisoners / By A Prisoner.”

Monkey roulette (THF49105)

Ford became interested in Culhane, and may even have interceded for his release. In January 1916, Culhane was hired to work at the Ford Motor Company plant in Cambridge, Mass. Ford’s secretary continued to correspond with the Cambridge plant about Culhane, which seems to indicate an ongoing interest on Ford’s part.

Hanging out behind the piano smoking opium, while a waiter brings more drinks and some law-related graft appears to be going down nearby (THF49103)

Over the next 15 years or so, Culhane married, had children, and became owner of his own roofing company, seemingly having turned his life around from his earlier, criminal days. One can only assume Henry Ford, given his views on the rehabilitation of former convicts and his continuing interest in Culhane, would have been overjoyed at this change of fortune.

Nothing like a turkey dinner, carved tableside, with plenty of chilled drinks (THF49094)

Check out additional photos of the Monkey Bar, and the rest of our digital collections, online.

Ellice Engdahl heads up the collections digitization effort at The Henry Ford, so gets many opportunities per day to revise her list of favorite objects. Invaluable assistance with this post was provided by her colleagues Lisa Korzetz, Registrar, and Andy Stupperich, Associate Curator.

bars, cocktails, crafts, jail, prison

Cutting up the Cube

August 29, 2013

Originally published in the January-May 2013 edition of The Henry Ford Magazine.

Ever have an idea that just got away from you? Things started out with the best intentions in mind, and then before you knew it, a perfect storm carried your idea away, along with all of those good intentions? That's the story behind the office cubicle we all love to hate and its underappreciated designer Robert Propst.

Before it was known as the cubicle, it was called the Action Office System. Propst invented the concept in the 1960s after intense study of how "the world of work" operates. The Action Office debuted under the Herman Miller name in 1968 and literally transformed the nation's idea of the workplace.

"The name was intentional," said Marc Greuther, our chief curator here at The Henry Ford (we have an archived collection of Propst's work). "Propst believed in fluidity and movement. He had an active mind and wanted to create a space that wouldn't pen you in."

The Action Office System contained movable walls, shelves, stand-up desks and other modular components, like the Communication Center from our collections, pictured above.

"The idea was that everyone had a unique way of working," noted Greuther, "so Propst created an area that was highly customizable, allowing workers to transform their space in a way that best suited them."

Things started to go awry when the government began offering tax incentives to businesses for office expenses. Since the Action Office System's square cubicle could create the most workspaces in a single area - equating to the biggest tax break - it quickly became the Action Office option that sold best. And Propst became the unintentional father of the office-cube farm we know today.

"Propst attacked the things that attacked him," Greuther added. "He liked solving problems and had his hands in many areas, from toys and playground equipment to hotel carts." Propst, in fact, had more than 120 patented inventions to his name when he died in 2000.

"He is a truly underappreciated and under-recognized designer of our time."

To see more from the collections of The Henry Ford, take a look at this Robert Propst collection set. You can read more from The Henry Ford Magazine here.

cubicles, design, offices

The Henry Ford just returned from the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, on California’s Monterey Peninsula, where our 1950 Lincoln Presidential Limousine took part in this year’s spotlight on Lincoln custom coachwork. As a curator, I was gratified by the strong reaction the crowd had to the limo, used by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy. Pebble Beach regularly features some of the most beautiful cars in the world, so the Lincoln’s popularity speaks highly about the power in that car’s story. (My single favorite reaction was from a man who turned to his friend and, with genuine awe, stated, “The Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force sat in that very seat!” Clearly, he likes Ike.)

While the concours is the centerpiece, Pebble Beach is in fact a week-long celebration of all things automotive. In the days leading up to the show, car makers and insurers host receptions and displays; nearby Mazda Raceway Leguna Seca stages competitions for vintage race cars; and auction houses sell exceptional vehicles at equally impressive prices. (This year a rare 1967 Ferrari sold for a cool $27.5 million – an all-time record for a car at a U.S. auction.)

For me, the highlight of the pre-concours events was a visit to The Quail. This motorsports gathering, which marked its 11th year, brings together the rarest and most exclusive automobiles in the world. While the Pebble Beach concours glitters with Lincolns and Packards, along with Porsches and Ferraris, The Quail adds names like Bugatti, Maserati and Lamborghini to the mix. It’s truly the best of the best.

It is a great treat for any automobile fan to visit the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and even more so to participate with a car. I’m so pleased that we were able to share a part of The Henry Ford’s matchless collection at what may be motoring’s foremost event.

By Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation

antique cars, Car Shows, classic cars

Today, on Aug. 28, 2013, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Of all the events that occurred that day 50 years ago, it is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech that is most often remembered today. That speech—which went far beyond what King had initially planned—has been considered one of the most inspiring and powerful speeches of all time.

But what else happened that day?

Take a closer look at the March on Washington through these five artifacts from the collections of The Henry Ford.

Pennant, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963 (Object ID: 2000.32.4)

As this pennant shows, the March on Washington was not solely a Civil Rights demonstration. It actually started as a march for jobs. This march was the brainchild of A. Philip Randolph, 73-year-old founder of the famous black union for Pullman porters, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. He had talked of staging a march similar to this one back in 1941, to protest the lack of military defense jobs for African Americans. Now, 22 years later, African Americans had still not made much progress, in either employment opportunities or equitable wages. When Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders decided to combine forces with Randolph, the march took on the broader meaning that we associate with it today.

Handbill, "March on Washington, Wednesday August 28," 1963 (Object ID: 2001.48.10)

Once they decided to join forces, several black Civil Rights organizations came together to plan the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington. Each group had different outlooks, agendas, and reasons for being there. But, working together, they created the list of demands on this handbill. While all the leaders could rally around the new Civil Rights bill that President Kennedy had just introduced to Congress, most of them wanted more—more assurance of jobs, reasonable wages, and an end to segregation and discrimination. Handbills like this one were posted in local communities to inspire people to attend the March.

LP Record, "March on Washington: The Official Album," 1963 (Object ID: 2001.142.52)

The organizers of the March had hoped for 100,000 marchers to show up. But, by 11:00 the morning of Aug. 28, some 250,000 marchers had arrived in Washington, D.C., having come by bus, train, foot, bicycle, and even on roller skates. Many had traveled hundreds, even thousands, of miles to get there. Most had paid their own way. The March was held on a Wednesday, so many people had to miss a day or more of work. While most in attendance were African American, there was a strong contingent of white marchers as well. The photograph that appears on the front of this record album depicts just a small segment of the hundreds of thousands of marchers that attended that day. Leaders of the event can be seen spanning the row in the foreground.

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963. Lincoln Memorial Program (Object ID: 2000.32.58)

This program is a fascinating document of the day’s events. Speakers from each of the Civil Rights organizations who had helped plan the March offered remarks, as did labor leader Walter Reuther and members of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish organizations. A “Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” included Rosa Parks. After about two hours of speeches, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech ignited the hot, tired crowd. Then, A. Philip Randolph—the original instigator of the March—read the words of a pledge that the marchers were to agree to, raising their voices in the affirmative. The words of this pledge still ring with the hope and determination that defined that day 50 years ago. The following is an excerpt:

I pledge to carry the message of the March to my friends and neighbors back home and arouse them to an equal commitment and equal effort. I will march and I will write letters. I will demonstrate and I will vote. I will work to make sure that my voice and those of my brothers ring clear and determined from every corner of our land.

I pledge my heart and my mind and my body unequivocally and without regard to personal sacrifice to the achievement of social peace through social justice.

In acknowledgement of the 50th anniversary of the March, a 20-minute film produced by the National Archives featuring historic footage will run on a loop throughout the day by "Your Place in Time" in Henry Ford Museum. From the U.S. Information Agency:

Experience the American Journey through our country's visual heritage in this historical recording provided by the National Archives of the United States. Scenes from the Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C., August 1963 includes footage featuring people walking up sidewalk; gathering on Mall, standing, and singing. It also includes people marching with signs, people at the speaker's podium, men with guitars, and crowds outside of the White House. A number of speakers are featured, including Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Also included are women at the podium singing "We Shall Overcome."

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

Civil Rights

This is the inaugural post of a new regular feature on The Henry Ford’s blog showcasing an item from the physical collections of The Henry Ford that has been recently added to our digital collections. In addition to an image, we’ll provide a brief bit of background information and links or hints for searching. A lot of the objects we’re digitizing are not currently on display, so in many cases the digital collections are the only way to see them. Please enjoy, and let us know if you have any questions about our digitization efforts.

This week we’ve just added an object that may look familiar to our visitors—this eighteenth-century daybed is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum in the “Fully Furnished” exhibit. View the daybed and over 270 pieces of furniture and related items by visiting our collections website. Let us know if your favorite piece from “Fully Furnished” has been added yet!

artifacts

Last November, I made a trip to the Benson Ford Research Library to see a small (8-by-6.75-inch) album of watercolor drawings made by Lewis Miller, a Pennsylvania German carpenter who lived from the time of the American Revolution to the Centennial. I have long been intrigued by his drawings, which have provided me with great material for the history of American landscape design, my specialization as an art historian.

Over the years I had seen hundreds of Miller’s drawings, which are primarily in two collections: the York Heritage Center, York, Penn., and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Museum, Williamsburg, Va. There are about 2,000 of his drawings in these collections. The album, however, is alone in Dearborn and how it got there is an interesting story.

Donald Shelley, former executive director of Henry Ford Museum was himself from York, and knew well “the Chronicler” of his hometown. When Miller’s album appeared on the market in New York in the 1960s, Shelley purchased it for The Henry Ford collection. In his introduction to the only major work on Miller, (Miller, Lewis. Lewis Miller, Sketches and Chronicles: The Reflections of a Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania German Folk Artist. York, Pa: Historical Society of York County, 1966) Shelley said Miller’s work was unmatched by that of any other American folk artist.

Woman on Horseback, Page 12, THF221830.

When the opportunity arose to write an online article for Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, my colleagues, Kathryn Barush, Emily Pugh, and I immediately saw that Miller, whose large body of work had not been seriously studied in almost fifty years, was an ideal topic. The Dearborn album is a guide to Central Park, the greatest public urban park in America. It offered a focused entry into both Miller’s worldview and into the study of the most important landscape undertaking of the nineteenth century, New York City's first public park. The 54 leaves are filled with watercolors of the park’s earliest features and structures and inscribed with English and German poems and commentary.

"Outlet and Gate." Note the German text and the figure sketching, perhaps a self-portrait, Page 45, THF221863.

Upon seeing the album, my first reaction, after delighting in its bright colors and charm that are lost in reproductions, was to query, what is this object? Why did this folk artist make it? How does it relate to the rest of his work? Kathryn Barush undertook the identification of all the texts that filled the sketchbook, English and German. That was the first breakthrough in terms of understanding the breadth of Miller’s literary appetite: William Cullen Bryant, Shakespeare, Martin Luther--a miscellany of poems, fiction, and travel literature as well as botanical lists. Then the images, once analyzed, compared and decoded, revealed a wealth of pictorial sources that drew from newspapers, magazines and again, travel literature. Miller was not the naive folk artist we took him to be, but rather a man of his times, and his works were an omnium-gatherum of visual culture.

"Bridge Over the Lake, In the Central park." Page 28, THF221846.

"Bridge near Gate – 59th Street, 7th Avenue." Note the figure sketching, again, perhaps a self portrait, Page 33, THF221851.

This study has taught us a great deal about the penetration of the new pictorial press, especially in the middle decades of the 19th century, when innovations in printing and photographic technology revolutionized popular publishing. It is fitting that today’s innovations in online publishing has made it possible to bring the Miller album to the Web in a multifaceted digital facsimile. The online article designed by Emily Pugh unifies traditional scholarly interpretation with new tools and links to rich digital resources. Thus, the Dearborn album is important for two reasons. First, its study provided a model for how digital humanities can be a tool to enhance scholarly communication. More significantly, it has provided a key to writing a new interpretation of Miller’s lifetime of drawing and writing, one which sees him not as an exponent of a closed tradition but as a person partaking very much in contemporary life, where the deluge of visual and textual culture impressed and shaped his worldview. This is just the beginning of a new history of Lewis Miller.

"The Musical Temple." Page 47, THF221865.

Therese O'Malley is associate dean at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. She oversees the Center's publications and scholarly programs. Her scholarly publications have focused on the history of landscape architecture and garden design, from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, concentrating on the transatlantic exchange of plants, ideas, and people.

Her recent publications include Keywords in American Landscape Design (Yale University Press), The Art of Natural History, co-edited with Amy W. Meyers (National Gallery of Art), and several articles on aspects of the early profession of landscape design and the history of botanic gardens.

Central Park, drawings, guidebooks

How can historians use the clues hidden in the floor plans of houses to piece together the past?

The Adams House floor plan in 1937 (left) at the time of The Henry Ford’s purchase, and the layout depicting 1878 (right), The Henry Ford’s chosen date of interpretation, are similar but have noticeable differences.

Every home is a reflection of the people who once resided there, at once a testament to the past and a projection into the future. In few cases is this more evident than in the George Matthew Adams House in Greenfield Village. Originally built in Saline, Michigan, in 1846, the house was moved to the Village in 1937 and reconstructed on the crest of a hill, not unlike many other houses in Greenfield Village. Fast forward to the 21st century, and it became apparent that the home was slowly sliding down. This of course signaled the beginning of a battle against time and gravity to save the Adams House; every problem that arises, however, brings with it new opportunities to try different approaches and put the latest scholarship into practice.

The recent work on the Adams House (also called the Adams Family Home) has given researchers a chance to look at the old house from a fresh perspective. When houses are renovated, historians do their best with the available sources to ensure the house in question is as close to the original plan as possible. Precision can prove to be difficult, as some important information is often absent from the written record. This is when logic and deduction come into play, much like detective work. Historians can use photographs and floor plans to discover the truth and uncover the mysteries hidden in the house.

This 1937 picture of the Adams House before relocation is exhibitive of changes to the house, including a stucco covering, a rear addition, and the window to the far left. The window’s lack of uniformity with the others suggests that it was added at a later date. This image and others shown here come from The Henry Ford's Greenfield Village buildings records collection (http://bit.ly/18Mx2qw), accumulated records documenting the history of each individual building in Greenfield Village, and colloquially known as the "Building Box collection."

Houses are rarely static objects. As the years go by, people change, families grow, and structures pass into different ownership. Homes are adapted to meet the needs of their residents, and in doing so, those same dwellings are able to share their secrets with those that have a discerning eye. Consider, for example, this picture of the front entryway of Adams House, looking into the kitchen. The way to the kitchen is open, just as it is at Greenfield Village, but what about the opening to the left, immediately in front of the kitchen door? When we study the blueprint, it appears that this passage would lead into the sitting room, although it is not depicted in the 1876 interpretation of the Adams House in the Village. It is entirely possible that this passage was open, and the doorway to the kitchen solid wall, when the home was built in 1846, more than three decades before George Matthew Adams. The kitchen of the 1840s was a far cry from the kitchen of today. While modern kitchens are open and inviting, often combined with or indistinguishable from the dining room, antebellum kitchens were usually cut off from the rest of the house, a place that the family never exhibited and where guests were rarely allowed. In fact, it was more likely to have a passage from the main hallway lead into the sitting room than the kitchen. It might be the case that the door to the kitchen was added many years later, when homeowners insisted on a greater degree of convenience and changing domestic patterns made the kitchen into more of a social and familial gathering place.

From the hall. The openings to the kitchen (straight ahead) and to the sitting room (to the left) may not have been built at the same time.

Looking into the kitchen from another angle, even more interesting features can be spotted. The wall with the doorway in the picture below shows a division in the kitchen, which in all likelihood was a pantry. So while it is unclear if the pantry wall in the picture is original to the house, there are several clues to help scholars determine a rough chronology. Many kitchens in the early Victorian era had no need for a pantry. After the Civil War, however, mass production and an increase in commercial products led to a need to store food and keep it organized. The Adams House as it stands today does indeed have a pantry, although not in the same location as the one depicted here. Like the other walls in the picture, the wall in question is made using plaster applied to strips of lath. This is the 19th-century equivalent of the beams and drywall system of today. All of the strips in the house are split laths rather than sawn laths, indicating that the interior wall is close to the rest of the house in terms of construction date. Laths that were sawn off of logs rather than stripped would illustrate a date closer to the 20th century and an increase in sawmill technology, when there was greater uniformity both in the form of houses and the materials that were used to make them. The pantry wall, with its construction indistinguishable from the rest of the original structure, could be original to the house or, if not built right away, a very quick addition afterwards.

The laths in this interior wall help to show its age relative to the rest of the house.

Using the evidence discovered from viewing old photographs and other floor plans, historians at The Henry Ford outlined this conjectural layout of the George Matthew Adams House at the time of its construction in 1846.

Like the foundation of the Adams House, the floor plan has shifted and fluctuated. The great gap in years, as well as the gap in the written and photographic record, makes piecing together the layout of the Adams House a daunting task. By using a combination of photographs, blueprints, and oral histories, employees at The Henry Ford have been able to conjecturally construct the history of the George Matthew Adams House. With this fresh and logical outlook, it is easier than ever to see the changes in the home between its construction in 1846, George Matthew Adams’ birth in 1878, and the purchase of the house by The Henry Ford in 1937. These changes over the years show how the role of the house evolved to meet the needs of new families and domestic ideals. The recent study on the Adams House layout has helped uncover not only what features of the house had been modified, but also how and why those alterations took place when they did.

Jacob Thomas is one of the 2013 Simmons Graduate Interns at The Henry Ford.

Greenfield Village buildings

Dennis Hoyt is a wood sculptor who lives in Oregon and specializes in automotive art. He starts with a large trunk from a native basswood tree and carves until, as he puts it "finds a car." At this year's Automotive Fine Art Society exhibit in the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, Hoyt exhibited "Seven," a tribute to Michael Shumacher's seven Formula 1 racing World Championship titles.

Schumacher started his career with Benetton and the suggested rear of the car is reminiscent of the United Colors of Benetton brand in 1994, the same year he won his first World Championship. The rest of the intricately carved sculpture dynamically turns into a red Formula 1 car, which illustrates his years with Ferrari up to his seventh World Championship title in 2004. Hoyt captures the flow, rhythm and harmony of Schumacher's driving and the performance of Formula 1 racing. As Hoyt says, "he found Schumacher and his car in the wood."

Car Shows

Dawn patrol.

Dawn patrol waiting for the arrival of the Pebble Beach Concours cars at The Lodge on the 28th Fairway

At The Quail Motorsports Gathering one of our favorite pre-war sports cars was this 1911 Hudson Speedster.

Car Shows

Our team at Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance is capturing some of their favorite moments from this weekend's events. Today the team enjoyed the sights at The Quail Motorsports Gathering. Executive Vice President Christian Overland checks in.

The Henry Team just arrived at The Quail Motorsport Gathering in Carmel, Calif.

Our final car of the day at The Quail is a Bugatti T57G the same model that won the 24 Hours at Le Mans in 1937 and 1939.

Car Shows