Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

"You know me, Barney Oldfield," was the classic catchphrase of one of America's earliest celebrity sports figures, and during the nascent period of the automobile, most every American knew Berna Eli Oldfield. He became the best-known racecar driver at a time when the motor buggy was catching the imagination and passion of a rapidly changing society. Oldfield would cut a populist swath across turn-of-the century American society and in the process help define an emerging cult of celebrity.

One of the consistent themes of Oldfield's early life was a restlessness and desire for bigger, brighter, and better things in life. As a teenager, Oldfield worked odd jobs in Toledo, Ohio earning money to buy his own bicycle to ride in local and regional road and endurance races. An attempt at professional boxing ended after contracting typhoid fever and Oldfield returned to racing for company-sponsored bicycle teams and selling parts in the off-season. Throughout the 1890s, Oldfield was part of a team of riders barnstorming across the Midwest and racing in the new "wood bowl" tracks that were sprouting up across the region. Oldfield quickly realized the need to appeal to the audience beyond the track, promoting himself as the "Bicycle Racing Champion of Ohio" and promoting a "keen formula for winning" by wearing a bottle of bourbon around his neck during races but telling reporters the liquid inside was vinegar.

Endorsement for Kitchel’s Liniment showing Barney Oldfield riding a bicycle, 1896 (Object ID 2005.108.11)

Barney Oldfield’s Tribune “Blue Streak” bicycle, 1898. (Object ID 35.738.1, http://collections.thehenryford.org/Collection.aspx?objectKey=233344)

Americans were fascinated with the quirky and expensive auto cars, and the boxy, carriage-like vehicles appealed to American’s desire for new, loud, audacious, and fast entertainments. During the winter of 1899, Oldfield reconnected with an old racing companion, Tom Cooper, who had just returned from England with a motorized two-wheeler (an early motorcycle). Cooper was going to demonstrate the vehicle at a race in Grosse Point, Michigan, in October 1901 and asked Oldfield to come along. Cooper and Oldfield were a preliminary exhibition before the main event: a race between local "chauffeur" Henry Ford and the most well-known and successful automobile manufacturer of the day, Alexander Winton.

Barney Oldfield and cyclist on Orient Motorized tandem bicycle, 1902, (Object ID 2005.108.10, http://collections.thehenryford.org/Collection.aspx?objectKey=362939)

After the Grosse Point event, Oldfield and Cooper's attempt at mining in Colorado ended in failure and Cooper headed back to Detroit to pursue working with automobiles. Oldfield took the motorized cycle on a circuit of Western bicycle tracks, setting records along the way before returning to Detroit in the fall of 1902 at the request of Tom Cooper to drive his racecar. "The Race" between Cooper's 999, recently purchased from Henry Ford and driven by Oldfield, and Alexander Winton's "Bullet," captured the imaginations of not only Detroit's automotive elite, but the general population as well. When Oldfield piloted the 999 to victory over Winton's sputtering Bullet, the news spread like wildfire across Detroit, the Midwest, and eventually the nation. Beyond the immediate thrill of the race itself, Barney Oldfield, the "everyman" bicycle racer from the heartland, appealed to a much wider, less elite segment of American society rushing to embrace the motor car. As the Detroit News-Tribune reported after the race, "The auto replaced the horse on the track and in the carriage shed. Society sanctioned yesterday's races. And not only society, but the general public, turned out until more than five thousand persons had passed the gatekeepers.” Barney Oldfield became the face of racing for the "general public" and helped to democratize not only racing entertainment, but also automobiles in general, as the vehicles moved out of the carriage house and into backyard sheds.

Barney Oldfield driving the Ford “999” race car, 1902-1903, (Object ID P.188.5252, http://collections.thehenryford.org/Collection.aspx?objectKey=104160)

Notarized 1902 Automobile Speed Records, on Display at Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago, Illinois, 1934, (Object ID 64.167.232.568, http://collections.thehenryford.org/Collection.aspx?objectKey=370992)

Tom Cooper and Barney Oldfield seated in race cars, ca. 1902, (Object ID 2009.103.52, http://collections.thehenryford.org/Collection.aspx?objectKey=368495)

Over the next 15 years, Barney Oldfield established multiple world speed records and gained notoriety wherever he went. He added an iconic unlit cigar to his racing persona and perfected the roguish image of a daredevil everyman. After a brief stint driving for Winton, Oldfield took the wheel of the Peerless "Green Dragon" and established himself as America's premier driver.

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cars, bicycles, Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win, archives, by Peter Kalinski, racing, race cars, race car drivers

football_64.167.6.45.1

On Friday, a new traveling exhibition will open at The Henry Ford—Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Hall of Fame.  As an online supplement to the exhibit, we have digitized selections from our collections related to football, including photos of football playing students from the Edison Institute Schools as well as Henry Ford Trade School; Mercury advertising photographs with a football theme; and assorted other items.  One hidden gem that we uncovered during this project is Edsel Ford’s 1934 season pass to home games of the Detroit Lions, which will be on display along with the exhibition.  Check out all of our digitized football collections in our Digital Collections, then come visit Gridiron Glory in Henry Ford Museum.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections and Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

Henry Ford Museum, digital collections, football, sports, by Ellice Engdahl

roundhouse

This week on "The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation" you'll learn about our Detroit Toledo & Milwaukee Roundhouse, found in Greenfield Village. Want to learn more about railroads and trains? Take a look below. Continue Reading

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

innovationnationpromo

The very first episode of our new television show, "The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation" airs tomorrow morning during CBS' Dream Team lineup. We can't wait for you all to see the first episode, "Microscopic Windmills," featuring our own Menlo Park Laboratory in Greenfield Village. You can see a sneak peek below. Continue Reading

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

Sikorsky_P.833.78778.2

You may know that the Sikorsky VS-300A helicopter on display in Heroes of the Sky in the Henry Ford Museum was the first practical helicopter in the United States.  Inventor Igor Sikorsky piloted this craft for about an hour and a half on May 6, 1941, setting a world endurance record.  In 1943, as shown in this photograph, Sikorsky demonstrated the machine on the front lawn of the Henry Ford Museum just before donating it.  Attendees at the event included Henry and Clara Ford, Henry Ford II, Charles Lindbergh, and Les Morris, Sikorsky’s chief test pilot.  We’ve just digitized a number of photos related to the ceremony, Sikorsky, and helicopters in general—view them all in our digital collections.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections and Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

inventors, digital collections, by Ellice Engdahl, flying, Henry Ford Museum

Objects pulled from just two shelves.

The Henry Ford is busy with many projects right now, including an ongoing two-year grant awarded to us by The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to digitize and rehouse our communication collections - things like TVs, radios, phonographs, computers and typewriters. We have about 1,000 artifacts to process. With a project of this size, it’s important for the many people contributing to this project to coordinate and organize each step to make sure every artifact is processed correctly. Here is an overview of the steps that we are using:

Discovery: The artifacts are currently stored in our Collections Storage Building, so the team must first pull all the objects off of shelves systematically. Once that is done, our Curator of Communication and Information Technology, Kristen Gallerneaux, determines which objects are considered part of the grant using our proposal for reference. Continue Reading

Campaign Lantern for Democrat George McClellan running against Republican Abraham Lincoln, 1864. (Object ID: 72.31.53)

The Henry Ford holds an extensive collection of late 19th century political campaign lanterns, dating from the 1860 to 1900.  These paper, accordion-folded lanterns usually held candles and were used in processions and rallies in support of the candidates. They are screen printed in patriotic colors - some contain images of the candidates and/or slogans.  In an age before television and radio, processions were a method of attracting attention for a political race.  As paper objects these are truly ephemeral objects.  Their survival for more than 100 years is remarkable.   Continue Reading

Thomas Edison Perfecting His Wax Cylnder Phonograph, 1888 (Object ID: P.B.34600).

All eyes have been on Menlo Park in Greenfield Village recently, both here at The Henry Ford and across the nation. Menlo Park kicks off the first episode of our new television series, “The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation” on September 27 as Mo Rocca tours the building to learn more about Thomas Edison and the work he researched in that very space. This weekend members of the American Chemical Society (ACS) will be joining staff from The Henry Ford to bestow a special honor upon the building: National Historic Chemical Landmark. Continue Reading

inventors, events, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, Edison, by Lish Dorset, The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

Boyer_68.160.1.25

Lillian Boyer (1901–89) was a young waitress in 1921 when two customers took her for a ride in their airplane.  The same week, she took another ride and climbed out of the cockpit onto the wing, thus beginning a career as an aerial exhibitionist.  In her eight-year career, she was featured in 352 shows throughout the United States and Canada, performing stunts including wing walking, parachuting, and transferring herself from moving automobiles to flying planes.  We’ve just added a selection of photos of Boyer to our collections website, including this one-handed hang from around 1922.  View more death-defying photos of Lillian Boyer by visiting our Digital Collections.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections and Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

women's history, digital collections, airplanes, by Ellice Engdahl

Daggett_EI.1929.348

Though Molly Malcolm’s summer internship with the Historical Resources department at The Henry Ford has sadly ended, we are continuing with the project she initiated and digitizing materials related to some of our historic buildings.  This week, we’ve digitized over 80 photographs of Daggett Farmhouse on its earlier sites.  Daggett wasn’t moved to Greenfield Village until 1977—so this photo depicts a television and mid-century furnishings from the house’s stay in Union, Connecticut, from 1951 through 1977.  Visit our collections website to view all the recently added material related to Daggett Farmhouse, and keep an eye out for additional photos to be added soon.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

Daggett Farmhouse, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, farms, digital collections, by Ellice Engdahl