Tailfins, like those sprouting from this 1956 Ford Fairlane, were in the spotlight for 2019.
Gearheads descended on Greenfield Village again this June for our popular Motor Muster car show, featuring more than 600 automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, and military vehicles from the 1930s through the 1970s. By our count, this year marked our 30th time presenting this one-of-a-kind event. Based on the crowd, Motor Muster is as popular – and as active – as ever.
Our theme this year was “Fabulous Fins,” those towering tailfins that defined 1950s American automotive design. After several years marking golden anniversaries for 1960s muscle and pony cars, we were overdue for a return to the decade that gave us rock and roll, hula hoops, Corvettes, and Thunderbirds.
A pair of CCC recruits at work in front of the McGuffey School.
Once again we staged a series of historical vignettes around Greenfield Village that complemented each of the five decades represented in the show. The Depression years of the 1930s were recalled at the McGuffey School, where we staged a 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps camp. The three million young men who participated in the program over its nine-year run helped to plant forests, build parks and roadways, manage floodwaters and erosion, and stock streams and rivers with fish.
Nothing says “1950s suburbia” like a well-trimmed lawn.
We remembered the war years of the 1940s with a victory garden, a scrap drive, and a live radio drama staged in front of visitors. There was food, too, with few menu items more popular than the spam sandwiches made with everyone’s favorite spiced canned ham. The postwar boom brought an exodus to the suburbs as returning GIs bought new homes for their young families. We saluted the proverbial “crabgrass frontier” with a display of vintage lawn mowing equipment. (If you think cutting in the hot sun with a gasoline mower is tough, try doing it with a genuine ’50s push mower!)
Far out ’70s rock, courtesy of the band Classic Gold, livened up the gazebo near the Ackley Covered Bridge.
For the 1960s, we remembered the classic kids-in-the-station-wagon cross-country family road trip, with an American nuclear family camped around their travel trailer. Interstate highways and economic prosperity opened the country to many families longing to see the U.S.A. in their Chevrolets (or Plymouths, or Fords) that decade. Those looking for a little pre-Fourth of July patriotism had only to wander over to the gazebo near the Ackley Covered Bridge, where we staged a bicentennial-themed picnic straight out of 1976 – complete with a classic rock concert.
This 1959 Corvette lured customers into Bill Fold’s Chevrolet, our vintage dealership vignette.
Perhaps the most immersive vignette this year was another set in the 1950s. For one weekend only, the Village Pavilion became home to Bill Fold’s Chevrolet, a period dealership showcasing Chevy’s new models for 1959. Entering the showroom, visitors encountered a classic family car in the form of an Impala, a tantalizing “new for ’59” model in the form of an El Camino (generously loaned to us from our friends at the GM Heritage Center), and a dreamy halo car in the form of a Corvette. The showroom was complete with a dedicated staff including a receptionist and two eager – make that too eager – salesmen. If those new cars were beyond your budget, Bill Fold’s also had a nice selection of “used” 1955, ’56, and ’57 models parked out front.
Visitors to The Henry Ford’s tent were treated to (left to right) a Ford Mustang II, a pair of one-of-a-kind Budd Company concept cars, and a 1957 Chevrolet Nomad wagon.
Every year, Motor Muster gives us a chance to display some treasures from The Henry Ford’s own automotive collection. This year we pulled out a pair of concept cars built by the Budd Company in the early 1960s. The XT-Bird was pitched by Budd to Ford Motor Company as a possible revival of the beloved two-seat Thunderbirds of 1955-57. (Though the XT-Bird has a back seat – barely.) Budd took the XR-400 to American Motors Corporation, hoping the company might bite on the idea of a sporty car built on a Rambler chassis. Both were intriguing ideas – each anticipating Ford’s Mustang – but neither went beyond these singular prototypes.
Given our Fabulous Fins theme, we had to have at least one pair of tailfins in our tent alongside the Budd cars. Our friends at the GM Heritage Center came through for us again with a beautiful 1957 Chevrolet Nomad. The sporty two-door station wagons weren’t popular enough to sell in big numbers at the time, but they’re certainly popular with collectors today. We also had one more little jewel from our collection on view, our 1977 Ford Mustang II. It’s one of those cars with no middle ground – you either love it or you don’t. The car received many wide-ranging reactions over the weekend.
Another look inside Bill Fold’s Chevrolet, with its eager – and slightly smarmy – sales staff.
All in all, a fantastic Motor Muster for everyone who participated – whether they brought a vehicle or just brought themselves. We’ll look forward to seeing you at show number 31 next year.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
We recently got together a number of our curators and staff, who are Star Trek fans and frequent visitors to our current exhibit "Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds," to brainstorm the many connections we might make between the collections of The Henry Ford and the media empire that is Star Trek. During that discussion, someone threw out an example of a name shared across both—but as we dug deeper, we also discovered the artifact had an interesting parallel to (or contrast with) the ship or character. Locating more of these seemed a fitting tribute to Star Trek’s characteristic combination of humor and seriousness.
Below are some similar examples we came up with. What other artifacts can you think of from our collection that share a name with—and perhaps a philosophical tie to—Star Trek
Chrysler boldly went where no carmaker had gone before when it introduced the minivan for 1984. With taller interiors and flatter floors (front-wheel drive eliminated that pesky driveshaft tunnel), minivans generally had more interior room than station wagons, and soon supplanted them as the ideal family car. And, at around 20 miles per gallon, the Plymouth Voyager probably got better fuel mileage than the U.S.S. Voyager of the eponymous series! –Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
Four hundred thirty years before Captain Jean-Luc Picard would command the U.S.S. Enterprise, Jean and Jeannette Piccard engaged the stratosphere in a metal gondola attached to a hydrogen balloon. –Jim Orr, Image Services Specialist
Star Trek’s half-Vulcan, half-human science officer, Spock, represented the polar opposite of the Roman god of fire, Vulcan. While the Roman god served as a harbinger of volcanic destruction, Spock modeled cool composure. In 1905, Vulcan Brand Appliances embraced the Roman mythology and marketed their toasters and curling-iron heaters as handy things for every home. What would Spock think? –Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment
It didn’t sweep you into an extra-dimensional fantasy realm like the Nexus that trapped Kirk and Picard in Star Trek Generations, nor did it use omnipotent powers to tease your crew like the meddlesome Q of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the Google Nexus Q could keep you entertained for hours on end with music, movies, and TV shows. –Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
Montgomery Scott, known as "Scotty," is the Chief Engineer aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise in the original Star Trek series. The heavy Scottish accent adopted for the role by Canadian actor James Doohan became one of Scotty's hallmarks, as did his intense pride in the Enterprise, his sense of humor, his complaints when the ship encounters yet another tight spot, and the way he always tells Captain Kirk repairs will take longer than they actually will. Still, like this roll of Scot Towels in our collection, which would have facilitated quick and easy cleanup of mid-20th-century messes, Scotty always comes through when the 23rd-century Enterprise is in need of a quick fix. –Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections and Content Manager
James S. Kirk was born in Scotland (not Iowa, like Enterprise captain James T. Kirk) and established his soap company in Utica, New York. He relocated the business to Chicago in 1859 and, by 1900, had built it into one of the largest soap manufacturers in the world, producing 100 million pounds of the cleaner each year. –Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
Gene Roddenberry (1921–1991) considered the United Space (or Star) Ship Enterprise as the main character of Star Trek. But why the name "enterprise"? In response to 1960s counterculture, veterans of World War II, including Roddenberry, did not want anyone to forget the need to ally against evil. The name "enterprise" conjured up associations with action that changed the course of human events. Decades before Star Trek, companies used the term to imply initiative and progress. The Enterprise Manufacturing Company produced an endless-belt tread power, on which a dog, goat, or sheep walked to generate power for myriad uses on family farms. –Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment
Andrew L. Riker was a pioneer builder of both electric and gasoline-powered automobiles. He may not have served as first officer aboard a starship like Will Riker of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but Andrew Riker did serve as first president of the Society of Automotive Engineers! –Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
Star Trek's Leonard McCoy would remind you that he's a doctor, not a locomotive fireman. This steam engine lubricator was patented by African-American mechanical engineer Elijah McCoy, who may have had more in common with Bones' shipmate Scotty. –Jim Orr, Image Services Specialist
The Latin root, excello, meaning "to rise," inspired many companies with aspirations. Excelsior Botanical Company marketed cure-all preparations and "excelsior" became the synonym for packing material made from wood chips or pine needles. All of this happened more than a century before the release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, in which Hikaru Sulu commanded the U.S.S. Excelsior starting in 2290. –Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment
Though the various series and movies of Star Trek are set in the future, those crews and characters sometimes ended up crossing paths with historical figures familiar to those of us stuck here in the 21st century. Image Services Specialist (and Trekkie) Jim Orr shares some objects from our collection that tie to those notables, and explains each Star Trek connection as we continue to celebrate our latest exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, "Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds."
In the 1966 Star Trek episode "The Savage Curtain," Captain Kirk and Commander Spock become unwilling participants in an alien experiment to determine which is stronger—good or evil. Their allies included a doppelganger of Kirk's hero, President Abraham Lincoln.
In the 1969 Star Trek episode "Requiem for Methuselah," Kirk encounters an ancient, immortal being who claims to have been many notable figures from history, including Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci. Another version of Leonardo da Vinci would appear in the 1997 Star Trek: Voyager episode "Concerning Flight," in which alien arms dealers steal the U.S.S. Voyager's holographic equipment.
In the 1992 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Time's Arrow," Lieutenant Commander Data finds himself stranded in the year 1893 after an encounter with time-traveling aliens. There, he befriends hotel bellhop (and aspiring writer) Jack London.
While attempting to rescue a time-traveling Data from 1893 San Francisco in the 1992 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Time's Arrow," the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise accidentally returns with author Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain).
Data played a hand of poker against holographic representations of "three of history's greatest minds" in the 1993 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Descent." Sir Isaac Newton's works include Opticks: or a Treatise on Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colours of Light.
Data's poker game with "three of history's greatest minds" also includes a holographic representation of Albert Einstein. Ford Motor Company executive E.G. Liebold posed for this photograph with the real Albert Einstein in 1941.
Amelia Earhart's mysterious fate has figured into the plots of TV shows ranging from Night Gallery to The Love Boat. Star Trek: Voyager featured Earhart in the 1995 episode "The 37's," explaining her 1937 disappearance as—what else—an alien abduction. (Thanks to Curator of Transportation and fellow Trekkie Matt Anderson for this contribution!)
Jim Orr is Image Services Specialist at The Henry Ford and has seen all 732 episodes (and counting) of every series of Star Trek.
Lighting and Communications Exhibits at Henry Ford Museum, 1979. THF112161
Home Arts Exhibit at Henry Ford Museum, 1979. THF112157
Transportation Exhibit at Henry Ford Museum, 1979. THF112159
Inaugural Run of the Torch Lake Steam Locomotive and Passenger Train in Greenfield Village, August 9, 1972. THF133929
With an unmatched treasury of America’s past already at their fingertips, the staff at Henry Ford Museum continued Henry Ford’s vision as they began to add to the collection.
1939 Douglas DC-3 after Move from Ford Proving Ground to Henry Ford Museum, June 2, 1975. THF124077
In 1974, North Central Airlines (known today as our partner Delta after a series of mergers) donated a 1939 DC-3 Douglas airplane that, at the time of its donation, had flown more than 85,000 hours, more than any other plane. In 1978, the Ford Motor Company donated the limousine President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy rode in when he was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. The car, leased by the government from Ford Motor Company, was extensively rebuilt and then used by four presidents after Kennedy. The Ford Motor Company donation stipulated that the car could not be displayed until the Kennedy children reached adulthood.
Decorative Arts Gallery in the Henry Ford Museum Promenade, 1976. THF271166
In the 1970s, museum staff began to place more emphasis on collection decorative and fine arts, such as furniture and paintings. The museum’s research library began to acquire engravings, rare books, and documents associated with the early history of the country, such as an original Paul Revere engraving of the Boston Massacre and a copy of the famous “Stamp Act,” published in London in 1761. In the early 1970s, the museum purchased an extraordinary collection of 19th century quilts made my Susan McCord, an Indiana farmwife.
Fire Damage, Henry Ford Museum, August 9, 1970. THF111720a
As the museum staff worked to make significant improvements to the museum experience, they faced another challenge. In August 1970, as more than 1,000 visitors toured the exhibits, a fire broke out in the museum. It was one of the worst fires to ever hit an American museum, destroying hundreds of artifacts, including major portions of the textile collections. Though the museum reopened to the public in just two days, it was a full year before the building was completely repaired.
Torch Lake Locomotive at Main Street Station in Greenfield Village, July 1978. THF133933
Let Freedom Ring Parade, Greenfield Village, 1976. THF112250
This decade witnessed a flurry of planning and construction, with a steady stream of improvements designed to broaden the appeal and educational impact of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. (Attendance at historic sites was climbing during the early 1970s as the nation moved toward the bicentennial of its founding.) The expansion was intended to attract new audiences and set the institution on a path to self-sufficiency. In Greenfield Village, the most dramatic changes were the new railroad and period amusement park. The railroad line, completed in 1972, circled the village perimeter. Visitors rode in open cars, pulled by a steam locomotive. The train quickly became a visitor favorite.
Suwanee Park and Steamboat, Greenfield Village, 1975. THF95455
Suwanee Park, located alongside the Suwanee Lagoon, opened in 1974 as a recreation of a turn-of-20th amusement park. The complex was designed to be a “focal point fun,” offering a “nostalgic look at how American amused themselves in bygone days.” The centerpiece of the new amusement park complex was a restored, fully operational, 1913 Herschell-Spillman Carousel.
The village received an important new building in the 1970s, a mid-18th-century rural Connecticut saltbox house (now Daggett Farmhouse). In Henry Ford Museum, the vast Hall of Technology underwent a total redesign. New restaurants and gift shops further improved the visitor experience. In 1972, the museum opened its first professional conservation lab and staffed it with trained conservators. A year later, the Tannahill Research Center (now incorporated into the Benson Ford Research Center) opened and held the institution’s remarkable collection of historical manuscripts, books, periodicals, maps, prints, photographs, music, and graphic collections.
Additions Made to the Collections: 1970s
“Brewster” Chair, 1969 In 1970, the Museum purchased what was believed to be a rare and remarkable 17th century armchair. In 1977, a story broke about a woodworker who attempted to demonstrate his skill by making a similar chair that would fool the experts. Analysis proved the Museum's chair was the woodworker's modern fake. Today we use this chair as a teaching tool in understanding traditional craft techniques. - Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts
Susan McCord Vine Quilt In 1970, a fire in Henry Ford Museum destroyed many objects on exhibit and in storage--including much of the quilt collection. Curators soon began to fill the void. An exceptional acquisition in 1972 brought ten quilts made by Indiana farmwife Susan McCord--an ordinary woman with an extraordinary sense of color and design. This distinctive vine pattern is a McCord original, made by sewing together fabric scraps to create over 300 leaves for each of the thirteen panels. McCord’s quilts remain among the most significant in the museum’s collection. - Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life
1961 Lincoln Continental Presidential Limousine For years, the White House leased Lincoln parade limousines from Ford Motor Company. When the leases ended, Ford Motor reclaimed the cars and generously gifted them to The Henry Ford. This arrangement enabled our unmatched collection of presidential vehicles. None is more significant than the 1961 Continental that carried President Kennedy through Dallas in November 1963. Following the assassination, the open car was rebuilt with a permanent roof, armor plating, and other protective features and put back into service. The Henry Ford acquired the limo in 1978 and first exhibited it -- alongside its 1939 and 1950 Lincoln predecessors -- in 1981. - Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
Black & Decker Type AA Circular Saw, 1930-1931 In the 1970s, curators worked to bring Henry Ford Museum’s considerable tool collection into the 20th century. As part of that effort, staff wrote to power tool manufacturer Black & Decker for information about its history and most important products. The company responded with a donation of five electric power tools, including this example of Black & Decker’s first portable circular saw. -Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Self-Propelled Cotton Picker, 1950 John Rust invented a wet-spindle system for mechanically picking cotton in 1928. By 1933 his machine picked five bales per day (2,500 lbs). Peter Cousins, Curator of Agriculture, wanted one of Rust’s machines, and Allan Jones agreed to donate his 1950 picker, named "Grandma," in 1975. Twenty years of life intervened before the picker arrived at The Henry Ford in January 1995. -Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment
When it came time to name a new model, or even a new company, automakers often found inspiration in the stars. Astronomical phenomena, planets, and whole galaxies have all found their way onto fender badges and hood ornaments. Here are just a few examples.
Great Britain’s Sunbeam Motor Car Company traces its roots to a bicycle manufacturer founded in 1887. Sunbeam cars raced in Grand Prix events and competed for land speed records. Harry Grant finished seventh in a Sunbeam at the 1914 Indianapolis 500. The company closed during the Great Depression, but the Sunbeam name survived a while longer under new ownership.
After being driven out of General Motors for a second – and final – time, Billy Durant founded Durant Motors in 1921. He christened his low-priced model Star and set his sights on Ford’s Model T. While Star never seriously threatened the T, it did introduce the first factory-built station wagon.
Strictly speaking, the Moon Motor Car Company of St. Louis was named for its founder, Joseph W. Moon, but a crescent Moon logo turned up in its advertisements from time to time. The automaker remained in business from 1905 to 1930. Its name is proudly featured on this motometer – a device for measuring engine coolant temperature.
1960 Ford Advertisement, “The Silver Curve of Success – Galaxie by Ford.” 188.8.131.52
When the Russians launched Sputnik – the first artificial Earth satellite – in 1957, it kicked off a “Space Race” between the Soviet Union and the United States. In turn, that competition inspired a series of space-inspired car names like Ford’s Galaxie. When introduced for 1959, Galaxie was the company’s top trim level for its full-sized models.
For 1961, Ford introduced a fastback version of the Galaxie, appropriately named Starliner. Studebaker had previously used the Starliner name on a series of striking coupes designed by Robert E. Bourke of Raymond Loewy Associates and produced from 1952 to 1954.
1961 Mercury Meteor Advertisement, “Priced to Compete with Low-Price Field!” 184.108.40.206
Mercury (itself a celestial name – though inspired by the Roman god and not the planet) introduced its Meteor model for 1961. Never a strong seller, Meteor was discontinued after the 1963 model year. The name enjoyed a longer life in Canada, where Ford used it to denote a distinct brand of cars – not just a model – from 1949 to 1976.
Ford introduced the Comet – initially a distinct brand – for 1960 as an upscale version of the compact Falcon. For 1962, Comet became a Mercury model. In the mid-1960s, Comets were offered with special options packages tailored for NHRA drag racing.
Corona – named for the plasma aura surrounding the Sun – was the perfect name for the first truly successful car imported to the United States from Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun. Unlike Toyota’s first attempt for the American market – the overpriced and underpowered Toyopet – the Corona did well with stateside buyers.
Like the Dodge Polara before it, the Plymouth Satellite brought cosmic lexicon to Chrysler’s product line when introduced for 1965. Satellite denoted the top trim level for Plymouth’s mid-sized Belvedere line until 1967, when the GTX designation superseded it. The Satellite name was phased out completely after 1974.
Chevrolet Nova Dashboard Emblem, 1968-1972. 2011.291.3
To astronomers, nova refers to a star that shows a sudden, temporary increase in brightness. To gearheads, it’s a compact car built by Chevrolet from 1962 through 1979. Initially, Nova was merely the top trim-level designation while the model itself was called Chevy II. Nova replaced Chevy II as the model name in 1969.
1990 Saturn Advertisement, “A Different Kind of Company. A Different Kind of Car.” 91.83.13
In 1985, General Motors launched a new automobile division intended to compete with Japanese imports. To GM executives, the ambitious project was akin to NASA’s venerable Apollo program, so they named their new division Saturn in homage to the Saturn V rockets that launched American astronauts toward the Moon. After some early success, GM dissolved Saturn in 2010.
Subaru Sales Brochure, “The Beauty of All-Wheel Drive,” 1996. 2000.16.3
In the United States, stargazers refer to the Pleiades star cluster as the Seven Sisters, after the seven sisters of Pleiades in Greek mythology. In Japan, it’s called Subaru – namesake of the carmaker known for its boxer engines and rugged wagons. According to mythology, one of the seven sisters is invisible, so you’ll count just six stars in Subaru’s logo.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
The Budd Company approached American Motors Corporation in 1962 with this concept car, which placed a sporty body and a powerful V-8 on an inexpensive Rambler Ambassador chassis. Fearing it would fail, AMC decided against putting the car into production. Two years later, Ford's Mustang became a massive hit using the same idea of a sporty body on an existing chassis.
Learn more about getting this car ready for the 30th Motor Muster, then see it for yourself June 15-16 in Greenfield Village.
As Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, part of my job is to select items related to entrepreneurs within our collection to be digitized. Sometimes this calls for additional research to provide context and significance. Searching for the significance of an object or photograph can often feel like detective work. Sometimes we are able to do some sleuthing and find what we are looking for and other times we run out of leads. Recently, while working with the H. J. Heinz Company Records – the first archival collection selected for this project – we had the opportunity to dig deeper into the significance of a notebook and learn more about its owner.
This notebook containing hand-written recipes from the H. J. Heinz company has been on display at the Heinz House in Greenfield Village for the past several years. Upon getting a closer look, we discovered that there was a name written on the outside: Jn Koehrer.
The cover of the notebook states that it belongs to Jn Koehrer.
Who was this Jn (John) Koehrer? Unaware of any immediate connections to H. J. Heinz, we turned to Ancestry.com, where we discovered that John Koehrer (1871-1945) was listed as a foster son of Heinz’s cousin, Frederick Heinz. Census records noted that he worked for a “Pick Co.” – which we assumed was supposed to say “Pickle Co.” – and that his occupation was that of a “pickler” or a “foreman.” So now we have a connection to H. J. Heinz, but what does his notebook have to do with the company history?
A Google search for “‘John Koehrer’ Heinz” led us to our answer. An Architectural and Historical Survey of Muscatine, Iowa, noted that, “On January 29, 1893, the Muscatine Improvement and Manufacturing Company closed the contract with Heinz to build its first plant outside of Pittsburgh… The three-story brick building… Opened in 1894 under the management of John Koehrer.” There it was! – the reason he had a notebook of recipes, and why it was significant to company history, was because he was to manage the new Heinz factory and needed to make sure he could replicate the products.
Handwritten recipe from the notebook for “Chilli Sauce.” Half-way down the page you’ll notice that the recipe calls for “1/2 pound of xxx.” The three x’s can be found in other recipes too and represent a secret ingredient.
Additional research from online newspaper articles allowed us to discover what was primarily produced at the plant – sauerkraut, horseradish, pickles, ketchup, and other tomato products – and we inferred that the recipes within the notebook would have been fairly simple to produce at the factory. From previous conservation and cataloguing reports, we had dated the notebook to around 1890, which fit perfectly into the timeline for John to have used these recipes in Iowa.
With this new information we are now able to more accurately describe the notebook on display and the research we uncovered can be added to our records for future use. When it comes to historical research, you never truly know what you’re going to find. In this digital age, and with more resources at our fingertips than ever before, more hidden gems like this one can be uncovered – a joy to behold in the history field.
Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford. Special thanks to Aimee Burpee, Associate Registrar – Special Projects, for helping us uncover the mystery behind this notebook!
Characters Wembly and Boober in a pickle-shaped vehicle Happy Meal toy, 1988. This tie-in dates back to the Fraggle Rock with Jim Henson’s Muppets TV show that debuted in 1983, but more specifically to the Fraggle Rock Saturday morning animated cartoon series that premiered in 1987. THF308669
The Under 3 (year old) toy from the Happy Meal Mac Tonight promotion, 1988. THF319269
Spring-loaded Mario from the Happy Meal tie-in to the Super Mario Brothers Nintendo video game, 1990. THF340965
On June 11, 1979, McDonald’s introduced its first national Happy Meal promotion. Called Circus Wagon, it included six different cardboard boxes designed to look like festively decorated circus wagons. Each box, topped with handles shaped like the familiar golden arches, held a kid-sized meal and included a small toy, or premium, inside. The toys, depicting McDonald’s characters, were simple: erasers, decals for plastic ID bracelets, and “doodler” rulers incorporating different shapes with which to draw along with the measured ruler. Who knew at the time what a phenomenon Happy Meals would become? As of this month, they have been with us for 40 years!
These rubber “Space Aliens,” featured in a 1979 Happy Meal promotion and made by Diener Industries, were also sold at retail stores as novelty pencil erasers. THF175125
Origins This plastic “McWrist” wallet was part of a 1977 regional test promotion for the Happy Meal concept. THF175122
Although the origins of Happy Meals are a bit murky, McDonald’s officially credits their “invention” to Missouri-based advertising executive Bob Bernstein. After noting the success of a kid-sized meal introduced by a McDonald’s operator in Guatemala and market testing several variations in different cities, Bernstein opted for the Kansas City, Missouri, test version: “a hamburger, fries, soft drink, packet of cookies, and a surprise inside the happiest box you ever saw.”
At the time, Bernstein was convinced that the container for the meal was the most important component. So, he engaged nationally known children’s illustrators to design the graphics, jokes, games, and stories that appeared on the boxes. Who knew back then that it was the “surprise,” the little toy inside, that would be the key to Happy Meal’s success?
One of six stunningly designed boxes from the Star Trek Meal, 1979. THF Z0064838
The Star Trek Meal The 1979 Star Trek Meal marked a turning point in Happy Meal history, with the first Happy Meal designed to cross-promote a mass media feature, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In the style of early Happy Meals, the boxes were striking, while the toys inside were still small and innocuous—a space ring, an iron-on transfer, a wrist bracelet, and a paper fold-out board game.
Navigation Bracelet and Starfleet board game from the Star Trek Happy Meal promotion, 1979. THF174603
All Aboard the Birthday Train!
Ronald McDonald driving the locomotive for the 15th-anniversary Happy Birthday Happy Meal train, 1994. THF319287
As McDonald’s began to focus on the toys rather than the boxes and to seek media tie-ins with their promotions, the popularity of Happy Meals grew by leaps and bounds.
In 1994, McDonald’s celebrated the 15th anniversary of its Happy Meals with a special promotion of 15 premiums, each reflecting a different promotion from the previous years. These premiums could be interlocked to create a 15-car circus train—harkening back to the first national Circus Wagon Happy Meal promotion of 1979. Kids were surprised, then delighted, to find that when they moved the train along, each of them would spin, jump, or rotate on its own little train car. The Happy Birthday Happy Meal birthday train, part of The Henry Ford’s large collection of early kids’ meal toys, is featured here in its entirety. So hop aboard for a ride through the first 15 years of McDonald’s Happy Meals!
Barbie and Hot Wheels, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319277 and THF319286.
These date back to a Barbie-Hot Wheels Mattel tie-in from 1991. The pairing of Barbie and Hot Wheels proved so popular that it returned three times in the early 1990s. This promotion was the first to feature 16 different premiums and the first to offer separate premiums for both girls and boys (though sometimes girls preferred the Hot Wheels to the Barbie). Each original premium came with a coupon for purchasing the full-size toy in retail stores. As part of the birthday train, this Barbie twirled around, while the Hot Wheels car revolved inside the drum.
ET, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319284
This figure references the 1985 re-release of the 1982 movie ET, The Extra Terrestrial. The 1985 Happy Meal promotion featured four four-color posters that had to be hand-rolled by employees and secured with rubber bands as they would not fit into Happy Meal boxes. All royalties for the original promotion were donated by McDonald’s to the Special Olympics. As part of the birthday train, ET’s neck rose up and down.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319276
This 1994 promotion was a tie-in to both the release of Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog 3 videogame (Sonic was created to compete with Nintendo’s mascot, Mario) and the Saturday morning Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon which premiered in 1993. As part of the birthday train, the paper “screen” revealed different scenes as it revolved inside the “television.”
This birthday train car commemorates the 1990 Peanuts promotion that featured different Peanuts characters in a farm setting. That series marked the 40th anniversary of the Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles M. Schulz. When pushed along, the organ “pipes” on this train car—shaped like a pack of French Fries—rose and fell. THF319292
These figures represent the 30th anniversary re-release of the popular 1961 Disney film, 101 Dalmations. The original 1991 Happy Meal promotion featured four poseable figures, including Cruella de Vil. When this birthday train car was moved, the gift box lid opened and closed.
Cabbage Patch Kids and Tonka, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319288 and THF319289
These two figures harken back to the Hasbro tie-in from 1992 that featured both 5 poseable Cabbage Patch kids with “real” yarn hair and 5 heavy-duty mini-Tonka utility vehicles. On the birthday train, the Cabbage Patch Kid’s horse rocked while the Tonka truck’s open-box bed lifted and dumped the present out.
This birthday train car relates back to the 25th anniversary promotion (1987) of the beloved Berenstain Bear book series created by Stan and Jan Berenstain. Stories about Mama, Papa, Brother, and Sister were also featured on a Saturday morning cartoon beginning in 1985. As part of this train, the seesaw went up and down.
Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies first appeared in a flashback sequence in the 1984 film, The Muppets Take Manhattan, then were featured in their own Saturday morning cartoon series. The original Happy Meal promotion, with four Muppet characters each on a moving wheeled vehicle, dated from 1987. As part of the birthday train, babies Kermit and Piggy twirled around.
Little Mermaid, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319283
A Little Mermaid Happy Meal promotion appeared in 1989, tied in with the release of the Disney animated film. The original promotion featured four Little Mermaid-related tub/bath toys. The first Disney tie-in actually appeared in 1987, featuring four activity books of classic Disney films. When this birthday train car moved, Flounder “swam” in circles around Ariel.
Tiny Toons and Looney Tunes, Happy Birthday Happy Meal promotion, 1994. THF319285 and THF 319279
These two birthday train cars represent Warner Brothers promotions from 1991: Tiny Toon Adventures based upon the Saturday morning cartoon of that name and Super Looney Tunes—in which five different Looney Tunes characters came with add-on super-character suits. When the Tiny Toons car was moved, Babs Bunny placed a candle on and off the top of the birthday cake. On the Looney Tunes car, the pair of cymbals that Bugs is holding closed in and out around Daffy Duck’s head.
The “Happy Meal guys” bought up the rear on the Happy Birthday Happy Meal caboose, 1994. When pushed along, the French Fry’s party horn moved in and out.
Teenie Beanies Conquer All By 1997, McDonald’s had sold over 100 million Happy Meals. They seemed successful and popular. But then, between the short window of April 11 and May 15 of that year, Teenie Beanies were introduced, taking advantage of the Ty Beanie Babies craze. This promotion blew all previous ones out of the water. Families who had never even visited McDonald’s were suddenly waiting in long lines to order Happy Meals. For many kids who grew up in the 1990s (and their parents), it was the most memorable Happy Meal promotion ever.
1997 Ty Teenie Beanie Babies in their original packages: Patti the Platypus, Pinky the Flamingo, Chops the Lamb, Chocolate the Moose, Goldie the Goldfish. THF175081
This promotion also firmly established the adult hobby of collecting Happy Meal toys. So many adults came in to purchase Happy Meals just to collect the Teenie Beanies—and so much food was wasted as a result—that McDonald’s began, from then on, to charge separately if customers just wanted to buy the toy.
1997 Ty Teenie Beanie Babies in their original packages: Seamore the Seal, Speedy the Turtle, Snort the Bull, Quacks the Duck, Lizz the Lizard. THF175082
While several series of Teenie Beanies were released after 1997, the 10 mini-versions of Beanie Babies from that year were the most successful.
Still Going Strong Though many other fast food establishments have offered kids’ meals and related premiums, McDonald’s Happy Meals have remained the most enduring and popular. They have not been immune to attack, especially by parents and healthy eating advocates, and there has been recent talk of repurposing kids’ meal toys into apps and digital downloads. Despite these trends, there is no denying the visceral quality of pulling out, unwrapping, and playing with a new Happy Meal toy. For 40 years, they have made kids happy, let parents enjoy their own meals, reflected popular trends, and become an inescapable part of our culture.
Donna R. Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life, was one of those Moms who actually enjoyed waiting in long lines at McDonald’s for the thrill of getting the latest Teenie Beanies.
Congratulations to all winners from the 2019 Invention Convention U.S. Nationals, presented by United Technologies! See the award ceremony for yourself above, and then read our complete list of winners here.
As we were excited to announce last December, What We Wore offers us the opportunity to continually display objects from The Henry Ford’s rich collection of clothing and accessories. What’s on exhibit currently in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation? Wedding dresses, highlighting the fact that the “traditional” white wedding dress wasn’t always traditional...
For much of American history, brides simply wore the best dress they had. Most wedding celebrations were at-home, informal events. The formal white wedding dress—and the more elaborate celebration to go along with it—is a relatively new concept.
Queen Victoria’s choice of a white dress for her 1840 wedding to Prince Albert inspired the fashion. Over the next century, the custom would gradually spread from the very wealthy to those of more modest means. By the 1950s, the formal white wedding with all the trimmings had become a widespread tradition.
Whether simple or elaborate, classic or trendy—for most brides, the white wedding gown has staying power. Some brides prefer a practical choice for their bridal attire—others search for the perfect, “fairy princess” dress.
Whatever the choice of wedding apparel, it reflects the bride’s values and taste.
Mollie Herrington wed Reverend William Canfield on a summer evening in the mid-1880s. Like most brides, this 26-year-old schoolteacher was married at her family’s home in a dress that was not white. Brides wore their best dress—whether newly made or already owned—and continued to wear it after the wedding. Few could afford to invest in a white dress meant to be worn only once. Mollie’s stylish dress was probably made for her wedding by a local dressmaker.
Gift of American Textile History Museum, donated to ATHM by Shirley Parish.
Shirley Powell was married in her great-aunt Mollie’s wedding dress—a choice both practical and sentimental. This 23-year-old bride loved the cherished family heirloom—and didn’t think she would find anything more finely made or beautiful at a price she was willing to pay. Having a traditional wedding wasn’t all that important to Shirley and David, but they realized the celebration would be as much about family bonds as about them.
Wedding Party at the Marriage of Cecelia Wall and Anthony Denisevich, 1935. THF274683
For her morning wedding, 22-year-old Cecelia Wall walked down the aisle in an ivory silk velvet dress. Afterwards, the bridal party and immediate family enjoyed a wedding breakfast at her parents’ home and, in the evening, a reception at the home of the groom’s parents. The Great Depression required some brides to plan simpler weddings than they might have wished. Cecelia was among the fortunate brides who could afford a formal wedding gown.
Rose Pecchia was a practical woman who wanted a simple wedding. She and her husband-to-be chose a wedding date—just two weeks away. A secretary at a downtown Detroit television station, 28-year-old Rose ran out on her lunch hour to nearby Hudson’s department store. She then headed for the racks of cocktail dresses. Rose knew it as soon as she saw it—the perfect dress! It was minimal and stylish—in the 1960s, shorter skirts were “in.” A friend’s mother made the simple headpiece.
Recently, Rose had the chance to see her wedding dress on exhibit. Take a look at her reaction below.
Diane Osgood at Her Wedding, Tempe, Arizona, June 2, 1990.
Diane Osgood’s choice was traditional. She got married in white—though the 22-year-old bride had at first preferred a blush pink gown, a trendy choice at the time. Diane bypassed white flowers, though, opting for a colorful bridal bouquet instead. The bride and groom didn’t want to miss any of the reception—so they posed for wedding photographs before the ceremony on that 101-degree Arizona June day.