In a typical day at The Henry Ford I find myself answering patron questions or assisting with research. Then, there’s the not-so-typical day when I’m coordinating and work on the Special Access team.
July 13, 2015, was one of those not-so-typical days. I found myself face to face with someone people may call one of the most fascinating inventors in history, Nikola Tesla. You might be asking, how does one find herself in this position? Well, let me show you.
The Special Access Program is designed to allow for closer examination of artifacts in storage, access to artifacts beyond visitor barriers, or filming behind the scenes at The Henry Ford. It allows patrons (film crews, enthusiasts, model makers, etc.) access to our collections that can’t be accommodated in the usual ways such as viewing exhibits and items on display, searching collections online, or viewing material in the public reading room.
In fact, the artifacts from the collection are some of the biggest stars of our television show, The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, so the Special Access team is very busy during filming. The first episode of season 2 – filmed in part on this day in July – features the work of Nikola Tesla. I brought several objects to “center stage” for the shoot, including the death mask of Nikola Tesla, shown above. I worked with our Exhibits team to move the electroplated copper mask and its beautifully designed pedestal (which together weigh more than 50 pounds!) from a case in the Made in America exhibition to a sturdy table. It joined several objects that I had moved temporarily from collections storage to the museum for filming:
Museums have a habit of collecting “first, last and only” artifacts. Think of things like the ceremonial “First Stone” of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad at the B&O Railroad Museum. Or the 1966 Cruiser, the last Studebaker automobile ever built, at the Studebaker National Museum. Or the singular airplane Spirit of St. Louis at the National Air & Space Museum. Generally, The Henry Ford’s collection is not marked by “firsts, lasts and onlys.” Don’t get me wrong, we have many unique items (there’s only one Wright Cycle Shop, after all), but Henry Ford concentrated on collecting objects of everyday life. It’s a trait that carries over into our automobile collection. Yes, there are things like the “Sunshine Special” presidential limousine, but ordinary cars like the 1984 Plymouth Voyager or the 1986 Ford Taurus are more typical in the museum – because they were more typical on the road.
A date, and a place, written by hand: 10.-22.-38. Centered underneath: Astoria. The letters are composed of bold strokes, defined at the edges and flaking towards the center. The whole arrangement seems to be crumbling towards the bottom of the page, like it is made of dust that could be wiped away by the backstroke brush of a hand. Its purpose uncertain, this is not a “note to self” to be in a place, on a certain date—this is the first successful Xerox copy ever made.
The inventor of the modern photocopier, Chester Carlson, began thinking about mechanical reproduction and the graphic arts at a young age. His first publishing effort was a newspaper called This and That, circulated among family members when he was ten years old. The first edition was handwritten, with later issues composed on a Simplex typewriter given to him as a Christmas present in 1916. In high school, Carlson was forced to work multiple jobs in order to support his impoverished and ill family; one of these jobs found him sweeping floors at a printing shop. Working around printing machinery inspired him to publish a science journal, but the tedium of setting type by hand, line by line, led him to give up on this idea quickly. The machines did not support the quickness of his mind. It was in these frustrations with printing equipment—the fussiness of equipment that reproduced documents during his youth—that motivated Carlson to create the instantaneous printing process that would eventually be central to the creation of the Xerox photocopier.
The Henry Ford receives inquiries from around the world and from all types of individuals and organizations about the contents of our collections. Recently, we were approached by Christian Dior Couture about the Dior garments, accessories, and drawings we hold. As we investigated and located these items, we digitized many of them, including this 1950s pillbox hat owned and worn by Elizabeth Parke Firestone. Now anyone can view dozens of Dior-related artifacts on our collections website. And while we’ve digitized all the Dior design drawings that relate to specific garments in our collections, we hold dozens more Dior drawings, which we’ll be digitizing over upcoming months—so be sure to check back for even more high fashion in our digital collections.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
In the era before photography, masks — cast from molds taken directly from an individual's face or hands — were a means of making a portrait without resorting to the services (and perhaps shortcomings) of an artist. By the mid-twentieth century it was far easier to make a photographic portrait than to go to the trouble of making a mask. The detailed and lifelike quality of masks — taken from living or recently deceased individuals — ensured the survival of the process.
This copper mask captures the likeness of electrical pioneer and experimenter Nikola Tesla. It was made immediately upon the latter's death in 1943, at the request of publisher and writer Hugo Gernsback, a friend of Tesla's.
One of the most dramatic displays in Henry Ford Museum is the “exploded” Model T—a 1924 Model T touring car with its constituent parts suspended by wires. Located at the entrance to the Made in America exhibition, it invites visitors to take a different look at an iconic American product.
Henry Ford’s Model T automobile is one of the most significant technological devices of the 20th century. Its clever engineering and low price allowed it to do what could only be done once—make the automobile widely popular. The Model T spawned mass automobility, altering our living patterns, our leisure activities, our landscape, even our atmosphere. The Model T’s influence is so pervasive and lasting that even people who know little about old cars or automotive history know the name “Model T.”
But the way the Model T was produced is as iconic as the car itself. When Ford Motor Company introduced the Model T in October 1908, firearms, watches, and sewing machines were already being assembled from interchangeable parts made on specialized machines. Ford successfully adapted these techniques to the much more complex automobile, and then crowned this achievement with the development of the moving assembly line in late 1913.
"If you really have a good thing, it will advertise itself." - Henry Ford
Introduced in the fall of 1908, Ford Motor Company's Model T was the right car for a newly developing market. It was affordable, efficient and reliable. Almost immediately the Ford Model T became the standard by which other reasonably priced cars were judged. By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. By the time that the company finally ended the model's production in 1927, more than 15 million Model Ts had been produced.
The very endurance of this single model offers an intriguing look at how the Model T was advertised over the nearly 20 years it was in production. Model T advertisements show the changes in print ads in general and the Ford Company's marketing policies in particular. These advertisements also reflect the company's response to changing market conditions.
The Tripp Sawmill was moved to Greenfield Village in 1932, in part to process timber for various on-site construction projects. Originally built in 1855 in Tipton, Michigan, and owned and operated by Reverend Henry Tripp, this building is a steam-powered up-and-down sawmill. Before the end of the 19th century, more efficient circular sawmills had become prevalent, but the building remains in Greenfield Village today, along with two other sawmills built in Greenfield Village (Spofford, another up-and-down sawmill, and Stoney Creek, featuring a circular saw), giving our visitors a taste of this important 19th century industry. For an even deeper immersion, check out the photographs we’ve just digitized of Tripp Sawmill on its original site before its move to Greenfield Village, including this interior shot. Visit our digital collections website to view all the Tripp Sawmill images, as well as images of many other Village buildings in their original locations.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Henry Ford established the plantations of Fordlandia and Belterra in Brazil with the hope of mass producing rubber for Ford Motor Company vehicles at a fraction of the cost of American factories. Although deep in the Amazon jungle, Ford was essentially attempting to recreate his successful company town of Dearborn, Michigan for his Brazilian workers. Fordlandia came first in 1930, but was not nearly as prosperous as Ford had hoped. In 1940, Ford opened a second plantation, Belterra. Although both plantations were eventually closed, Belterra found some moderate success before Henry Ford abandoned the project. Belterra set out to solve problems created or brought harshly to light by Fordlandia. In many ways, Belterra more closely aligned with Ford’s vision, epitomizing the ideal small Midwestern town better than Fordlandia ever had.
Much has already been written about Henry Ford’s ill-fated Amazonian experiment, Fordlandia. In 1927, Ford acquired land in Northern Brazil, and envisioned creating a booming rubber plantation and town. He anticipated a new revenue stream that would produce enough rubber to make tires for 2 million tires every year. Ford knew that in order to ensure Fordlandia’s economic success, he needed a workforce that was healthy and contented with their lives.In addition to the rubber plantation, Fordlandia had a school, workers’ homes, a railroad, hospital, dance hall, golf course, community pool, sawmill, recreation center, and many other things Henry Ford viewed as cornerstones of a productive and morally righteous society. As author Greg Grandin wrote in Fordlandia, this new plantation offered Henry Ford, “a chance to join not just factory and field but industry and community in a union that would yield, in addition to great efficiency, fully realized men.” Henry Ford initially offered Brazilian workers 35 cents a day, as well as food, lodging and healthcare, well beyond the wages any laborers had been offered up until now in this part of the world. However, these amenities came with massive strings attached, such as the imposition of an American 9 am - 5 pm working schedule, and the requirement that all laborers eat food from the American Midwest. These habits were foreign to the workers and they quickly grew resentful of the behavioral restrictions imposed by Ford and rioted in December 1930. After the riot, Fordlandia was never able to fully recover, and it was clear that this experiment was not functioning effectively, efficiently or, and most important, profitably. However, Henry Ford was anything but a quitter. He had committed himself to the idea of a rubber plantation deep in the heart of the Amazon, and he was not going to give up on his dream that easy.