Before the Age of Steam, American farmers hand-threshed wheat or oats with a flail. Threshing machines powered by horses or portable steam engines increased daily production of threshing by a hundred times.
In the 1800s, the large number of horses required for farming consumed a lot of grain. Starting in the 1860s, farmers began threshing grain to feed those horses with a cousin of the "iron horse" - a steam traction engine like the Port Huron Thresher shown above.
As a Michigan farm boy, Henry Ford recorded his first sight of a traction engine: "I remember that engine as though I had seen it only yesterday, for it was the first vehicle other than horse drawn that I had ever seen. It was intended to drive threshing machines and power sawmills and was simply a portable engine and a boiler mounted on wheels." The steam traction engine inspired Ford to design and manufacture automobiles. To other rural people it represented a grand transition in American agriculture, and a new community activity.
Many people know that The Henry Ford has in its collection the rocking chair in which President Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated. This chair is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum.
But our Lincoln-related collections encompass much more than this rocker. They include materials that relate to such topics as his two presidential campaigns, life before his Presidency, his efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War, his assassination, the public mourning after his death, and the ways in which he has been remembered over time.
The 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination gave us the unique opportunity to assess, study and organize these collections into digital galleries we call “Expert Sets.” Links to these are included below, along with links to five essays written by curators that delve more deeply into some of these topics.
Over the last couple of months, we’ve digitized a couple of groupings from the John Margolies Roadside America collection: slides and travel-related pennants, both documenting the strange and interesting sights one would have found along the American roadside in the mid-20th century. This week we’ve added one more category from the same collection: do-not-disturb signs from hotels and motels, collected by John Margolies and mostly dating between 1920 and 1970. The example shown here, likely from the late 1930s or 1940s, advises hotel staff to “go ‘way and let me sleep.” Selections from this collection will be featured in the upcoming Margolies exhibit in the Henry Ford Museum a bit later this year. In the meantime, visit our collections website to browse additional “do not disturb” signs.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
It was time once again for four days of education and fellowship as the National Association of Automobile Museums (NAAM) convened for its annual conference from March 17-20. Our host this year was the wonderful National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio, some 50 miles southeast of Cleveland. Approximately 65 volunteers, administrators, curators and board members, representing institutions from Maine to California, gathered to discuss the state of the automobile museum world.
Session topics covered most aspects of museum management. There were presentations on grant research and writing, exhibit planning, marketing and merchandising, and non-profit tax codes. Few talks could match the session on disaster planning for pure drama, though. Wendell Strode, Executive Director of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, updated us on his institution's infamous sinkhole disaster of February 2014. Though five vintage Corvettes were damaged beyond repair, the museum was featured in more than 2,000 media outlets around the world, and visitation jumped astronomically due to the coverage. I continue to be impressed by the speed and style with which Wendell and his staff responded to the crisis.
Rediscovery with Ryan: Letter and Drawing by George Washington Carver
Sent to Henry Ford, 1941
One of the themes discussed during #MuseumWeek was that of architecture, challenging participants to “explore the history, architectural heritage, gardens and surroundings of museums” you have visited. Here at the The Henry Ford, our venues provide nearly unlimited potential for you to creatively capture our stunning grounds and architecture. I believe that this potential highlights the inspirational aspect of human creativity. The same creativity that resulted in our beautiful architecture and grounds, now inspires your own personal creativity when you visit. Whether you are trying to get that perfect picture of the village or you are simply sitting back and admiring the grandeur of the museum, it’s hard to ignore the fact that creativity is a key component in what The Henry Ford represents.
As custodians of American innovation, we are guardians of creativity. Inventiveness and innovation would not exist if it wasn’t for the creative spirit. So for this theme, I chose to talk about someone who is represented in our archives, on our beautiful grounds, and is also an ideal example of using that creative spirit: George Washington Carver.
We are more or less three-quarters of the way through the two-year timeframe on our “Museums for America” grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to conserve, catalog, photograph, and rehouse some of our communications collections. We’re pleased to report that as of now, we are on track with digitization of these objects, with 743 of 1,000 grant-related artifacts from our collections available online, and for many of these, we’ve been able to track down their specific origin. The insulator shown here, for example, was originally used on telegraph lines running along the Oregon Trail. Visit our collections website to see more of the insulators we’ve uncovered in our collection through this project. You can also learn more about the grant and see some of the behind-the-scenes work it entails on our blog, or peruse some of Curator of Communication and Information Technology Kristen Gallerneaux’s favorites here.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
In tribute of today’s #MuseumWeek theme, #souvenirsMW, I thought I'd share with you one of the many special moments I have had working in the Benson Ford Research Center. You see, today’s theme encourages you to “share your souvenirs and memories of visits: photos, mugs, books, postcards, encounters and special moments” that you have had at a museum. In a broader sense, this theme focuses on the memories you’ve created and how you have documented those memories. It’s in this broader theme of memory, that I would like to point out the significance that museums and archives have in not only creating memories for you, but also preserving the memories of the past.
Today marks the first day of #MuseumWeek, a week-long global celebration of culture in which The Henry Ford is taking part in. This celebration will channel the power of social media to raise greater awareness and appreciation for the world’s cultural resources. With the use of social media, #MuseumWeek is inherently taking advantage of the abilities that we now take for granted. We can capture sound, video, and still images, as well as be electronically connected to almost anyone in the human family. All in the palm of our hand. In mere seconds, you can see what I see, you can hear what I hear, and you can know what I know. It’s this knowing, which I believe, is the most important part for museums. I think that the simple act of learning about something new, broadens your perspective. It allows you to reanalyze the world you experience to incorporate what you’ve learned. It allows you to reflect. Museums sharing this ability to know over social media can help expand everyone’s perspective. That’s why museums and the cultural resources they protect are crucial to our society.
I thought it was only right that I use this blog post to talk about someone who played a major role in making our social media connection possible: Thomas Edison. Pioneer in electricity, sound, and video. His inventions laid the groundwork for the digital age we know today and the social media network that we increasingly rely upon. The objects I chose to represent him give us an inside look at the story of a man who redefined what it meant to “work.”
Race car driver, commentator, author, motivational speaker. Competed in seven Indianapolis 500 races in nine years, including six consecutive years. Two-time competitor in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s oldest endurance sports car race. Nine-time participant in the 12 Hours of Sebring race. Two wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona race. Owner of over 30 national and international speed records over a 20-year period. A courageous, determined, hardworking, record-breaking, and inspirational race car driver. A woman.
Are you surprised? We're describing Lyn St. James, one of the most influential female race car drivers in history. From her first professional race in 1973, to her last in 2000, Lyn St. James continually showed the motor sports world that not only could women compete with men on the race track, but that they would outlast them, outsmart them, and outrun them. Lyn St. James was a pioneer who embodies the saying that sometimes “it takes a woman to do a man’s job.”
Throughout her career, Lyn helped other female athletes build successful careers just like she had. She serviced as the President of the Women’s Sports Foundation for 3 years, and established her own charitable foundation, Women in the Winner’s Circle, in 1994. Her work with the foundation even led to the formation of a traveling museum exhibit about female drivers, created with The Henry Ford, in 2010.