Every week, guests and researchers visit The Henry Ford’s Reading Room, either physically in the Benson Ford Research Center, or virtually, via our remote research program. The researchers (or our staff, for remote requests) pore through boxes and folders of photographs and documents, and sometimes select key items for imaging. With so much material in our collections, these can be intriguing items we might not have realized were there, and we make many of these digitized images available online so future access becomes even easier for anyone, anywhere.
One great example is this recently digitized, researcher-requested Ford Motor Company image of a Model T modified with traction to act as a snowmobile.
It's human to want to leave a legacy — some small impact on the world that will outlive us. For the Roddis family of Wisconsin, that legacy comes partially in the form of generations’ worth of clothing, now a part of The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation.
“What’s absolutely wonderful about this collection is it’s from one family and spans many decades and several generations,” said Jeanine Head Miller, curator of domestic life for The Henry Ford. “Often, people don’t save things to this degree — they get dispersed and their stories are lost.”
The Roddis family was a successful middleclass family living in Marshfield, Wisconsin, from the 1890s to the 2010s. William H. Roddis moved to this small town from Milwaukee with his wife, Sara, and his son Hamilton and daughter Frances in 1894. There, he turned a struggling veneer business into the thriving Roddis Lumber and Veneer Company. His son Hamilton continued this success. And there, Hamilton Roddis and his wife, Catherine Prindle, raised a family of five daughters and one son.
Though living in a small town away from urban centers, the well-educated Roddis family was in touch with the larger world. The Roddis women loved stylish clothes and found ways to keep up with fashion. “Their closets held garments available in the stores of Milwaukee, Chicago, New York or Paris — as well as stylish garments made by Catherine,” Miller said.
Though the family was prosperous, they didn’t have an unlimited clothing budget, stocking their closets very wisely. “Their clothing was tasteful, beautifully designed and constructed, but not pretentious,” Miller added.
Hamilton and Catherine’s daughter Augusta played a key role in preserving the generations of the family’s garments acquired by The Henry Ford, storing items in her family home’s third-floor attic for decades.
“Now that The Henry Ford is the custodian of the collection, it is our responsibility to preserve these garments for the future,” said Fran Faile, textile conservator at The Henry Ford. “We do that by housing them in specialized storage areas, exhibiting them only for limited periods of time and ensuring that the materials used for display are safe for the delicate fabrics. We are committed to providing the best possible care for the artifacts entrusted to us.”
Even the most delicate of repairs are considered carefully, she added.
“In the end, what the family appreciated about The Henry Ford was that we valued the context,” noted Miller. “The garments are lovely and interesting to look at, yet they take us beyond, into broader stories of America. So the collection is about more than just fashion. It’s about people — and the American experience spanning more than 130 years.”
The original paint surface on the 1967 Ford Mark IV race car is very unstable. The Stringo helps us move the car with minimal handling.
Moving cars can seem like a no-brainer – they are designed to move, and they are at the core of our modern understanding of mobility. Much of our modern infrastructure, from roads and bridges to GPS satellites, is designed around getting cars to move from place to place quickly and efficiently. Cars that drive themselves seems a likelihood that is just around the corner.
So moving cars that are part of museum collections shouldn’t be a big deal, should it? Well, you’d be surprised.
The Henry Ford has over 250 cars, trucks, and other motorized vehicles in its collection, and each presents its own special set of problems when it comes moving them. To start, we keep only a handful of cars operational at any one time, and even those that are operational can’t be run indoors. So we have to push cars, which has the effect of making every little detail about the cars a big deal.
Do the tires hold air? Do the wheels roll? Do the brakes work? Does the transmission and drivetrain move freely, or is the engine stuck in gear? What kind of transmission does it have? How heavy is the car? Is it gas, electric or steam powered? Does the car need electric power to release the steering or move the transmission? What parts of the car body can be touched? Is the paint stable or flaking; is it original or was the vehicle repainted? Is the interior original or replaced? Can you sit on the seats or hold the steering wheel? All of these questions and more go into our decisions about how were go about moving one of our historic vehicles.
We make use of a variety of tools to help us move cars: dollies, rolling service jacks, Go-Jaks ®, flat carts or rolling platforms, slings, and forklifts. Some cars are easy, and move into place with one person steering and a few pushing. We use dollies or rolling jacks to move the car in tight quarters, or if the wheels don’t roll properly. Other cars are more problematic – we’ve even removed body sections of cars with fragile paint, to avoid having to push on those surfaces. Others have fragile tires which can’t even support the weight of the car. Moving a car like that is more like moving a large sculpture than a vehicle.
Recently, we’ve added a new tool to our car-moving toolbox. Thanks to a generous gift from the manufacturer, we’ve acquired a Stringo ® vehicle mover. It’s a bit like an electric pallet jack for cars – it picks up and secures two wheels of a car and then pulls or pushes the car where ever it needs to go. We can make car moves now with just one or two people, instead of as many as six, and can do it almost without touching the car at all.
We moved this 1901 Columbia Electric Victoria on floor jacks. The tires were old and brittle, so they rolled poorly.
The Goldenrod, a 1965 land speed racer, had its own set of rolling gantries for moving.
This 1950 Chrysler New Yorker can roll on its own tires.
To get this 1959 Cadillac up onto an exhibition platform, we needed to get it on dollies, and roll it up a ramp.
Our Stringo captures the front wheels of the 1964 Mustang and moves it, so a car can be moved by one person.
With hundreds of car moves ahead of us in the not-too-distant future, we are looking forward to making good use of our new Stringo ®.
Jim McCabe is former Special Projects Manager at The Henry Ford.
The exhibit features generations of clothing discovered carefully tucked away in a Wisconsin family’s attic. Rarely does one family preserve so many articles of clothing, spanning so many decades. And so often, family clothing that has been saved has lost its personal story. But not these garments.
This special collection of clothing from the Roddis family, with stories presented through photographs and heirloom objects, not only provides a glimpse into the lives of the Roddis family, it also connects us with stories of American life.
"Story Book Ball," Prom Dance Card, 1932. THF254843
Like the garments found in the Roddis family attic, clothing has meaning in our own lives.
Throughout the duration of the exhibit, we will continue adding links to this post that reveal more stories and show how clothing can provide a lens to the past.
The Henry Ford’s digitization and digital content teams get together for a 10-minute stand-up meeting every morning, and those meetings consistently spawn intriguing conversations about the amazing, rare, awesome, and significant items in our collections. Sometimes our discussions turn to objects that make sense within the context of their time and place, but which might seem strange or unsettling today.
In honor of the Halloween season, we’ve put together an Expert Set of some of our favorite such artifacts, selected by our staff. For example, Curator of Communication & Information Technology Kristen Gallerneaux selected this poster, shown above, featuring magician Howard Thurston and a bevy of supernatural figures.
Visit the Expert Set in our Digital Collections to see more—if you dare... Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Modern-day Americans who enjoy experiences like Cirque du Soleil may only get an inkling of the complex behind-the-scenes work that comes together in the seamless, awe-inspiring production they see. This was also true of traveling circuses of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which brought a variety of support staff and performers together to produce spectacles and entertainments around the United States.
We’ve just digitized a number of materials related to the Walter L. Main Circus, collected by a young man who worked there in the late 1800s. The collection includes materials like this Songster, which would have been available for purchase by the public attending an after-hours musical concert, but also includes meal tickets, route maps, business cards, and special admissions passes that would have been used by circus employees.
"Rose Hips Diptych C8" by Paul Stankard, 1994. THF163681
Paul Stankard is one of the founders of the Studio Glass movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Most early Studio Glass artists began their careers creating paperweights and moved on to other forms. Stankard concentrated on creating the most technically sophisticated and beautiful paperweights he could imagine. Today, Stankard is acclaimed for his miniature worlds, consisting of imaginary botanicals, bees and sometimes human figures.
"Cylinder with Native Flowers, Honeybees, and Figures" by Paul J. Stankard, 2002. THF165042
When asked “What is your definition of design?” Bill Stumpf, co-designer of the Herman Miller Aeron Chair, replied: “A means of creatively sustaining the arts of daily living in a technological world.”
Herman Miller’s Aeron Chair has been called the most comfortable chair in the world and the most privileged chair in the office. In a 1994 interview, co-designer Bill Stumpf shared his thoughts: “A chair is our third life after sleeping and standing… As an object, it’s alive and intimate, not static. It’s 10 times more interesting than a building and 10 times more difficult to design.” Three years earlier, when the designers Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick first entered into their collaboration, their goal was to design a chair that supported a person in any position, at any task their office job served up.
The Aeron took an iconoclastic approach to chair design: Stumpf’s deep knowledge of ergonomics, combined with Chadwick’s curiosity for materials use, they built it from the ground up. The design team conducted anthropometric studies across the country, using a specially designed measuring device to examine the relationship between sizes of people and their preference for chair size. Their studies proved that the “one size fits all” chair model was inaccurate, and so the Aeron was made available in three sizes to conform to different body types.
Over the course of three years of research and design, as the Aeron Chair came to life, so did fourteen unique patents. The Pellicle mesh fabric, developed specifically for the Aeron, was breathable, and unlike the foam cushioning of the typical office chair, allowed heat and moisture from the body to pass through. Interwoven Hytrel fibers conformed to the sitter while seated, distributing weight and pressure upon the body—but always returned to their neutral position when vacated.
The Aeron prototypes housed in the collections of The Henry Ford—from the earliest design explorations to pre-production examples—represent a physical timeline of Propst and Chadwick’s achievements. The prototype seen on this page is “wired” for testing—once connected to strain gauges to measure load and stress. Every individual component of the Aeron Chair was sent through a rigorous engineering process, from aerated suspension to posture-fitting tilt mechanisms; recycled aluminum alloy structures to the way the mesh seating was encapsulated in the frame.
This summer, The Henry Ford hosted Meredith Pollock as our 2016 Edsel B. Ford Design History Fellow. Her work here investigated the materials in our collections related to Edsel Ford’s philanthropy, and turned up a great deal of information on the kinds of charities to which Edsel donated.
One thing that caught our eye, particularly in light of this year’s National Park Service centennial, is Edsel’s ongoing relationship with America’s national parks. We’ve just digitized a number of letters, photographs, and other artifacts that help explain how Edsel supported the park system, including this certificate reappointing Edsel to the Isle Royale National Park Commission.