Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

History is often defined as a continuous, typically chronological record of important or public events or of a particular trend or institution. To this, Henry Ford would say “History is bunk.” Why would he say that? Because to him, history was more than stories or dates in books, famous pieces of artwork or even collections of the wealthy. History was much, much more. He felt, as many of us do today, that history is how people live and work every day and connect to the world around them, and that it can be kept in many different formats, from written to oral traditions.

With this mindset, Henry Ford sought a way to teach about everyday life. He did so by not only collecting the objects you can see in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation or Greenfield Village but by setting out to collect memories. This was done by instructing museum assistants H.M Cordell and J.A. Humberstone to create a questionnaire. In 1929, this questionnaire would be sent to people who were 75 years or older, Ford being 65 years of age himself at the time.

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Japanese design was a major influence in the development of American modernism, often referenced as inspiration for architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius and other early modernists. But it wasn’t just Japanese motifs that were influential. Many prominent Japanese American designers were active in the 20th century and were responsible for designing everything from the World Trade Center in New York City (Minoru Yamasaki) to the monitors kept in a child’s bedroom (Isamu Noguchi).

The following highlights a few of the Japanese American designers whose work is held in The Henry Ford’s collection.

Isamu Noguchi

 IN-50 table for Herman Miller, designed by Isamu Noguchi

IN-50 table for Herman Miller, designed by Isamu Noguchi / THF186033

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To celebrate the completion of another six months of work on our 2022-2024 IMLS Museums for America Collections Stewardship Program, the Conservation staff are showcasing some standout objects we have conserved. We are now in the second year of a two-year project to conserve, rehouse, relocate and create fully digital catalog records for 1,800 objects related to agriculture and the environment that have resided in the Collections Storage Building. Many of these objects will be used to support our Edible Education and Green Museum initiatives.

The conservation lab at the Henry Ford Museum.

Stop by the back of the museum, near the steam engines, to peek through the Conservation lab windows and see what staff are conserving.

Advertising artifact for Dr. W.E. Coomer Dog and Cat Hospital, circa 1920. Dr. Ward E. Coomer.

The first object is a declaratory or advertising artifact for Dr. W.E. Coomer Dog and Cat Hospital, circa 1920. Dr. Ward E. Coomer (1883-1963) was a veterinarian in Bay City, Michigan.

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 Henry Ford Trade School students eating lunch, May 24, 1937

Henry Ford Trade School students eating lunch, May 24, 1937 / THF626068

Feeding students. It sounds like a one-way street. Food arrives. Cooks prepare it. Students consume it. But evidence in The Henry Ford collections confirms that students played an active role in growing food, planning menus and preparing lunches. They assumed the responsibility for feeding themselves.

The following overview of student-food interactions confirms the central role that school gardens played in educating students about food. The German province of Schleswig-Holstein engaged teachers and students in hands-on, garden-based agricultural education as early as 1814. The Swedish parliament called on teachers to establish and maintain gardens with their students in 1842.

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Relevancy Remains

May 7, 2024

Relevancy Remains

In Your Place in Time, guests explore past technology, examining how it connects generations both present and absent

By Kristen Gallerneaux, curator of communications & information technology and editor-in-chief of digital curation at The Henry Ford.

Since 1999, visitors to Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation have experienced the Your Place in Time exhibit — and have increasingly found it challenging to find their place within it. The original concept for this exhibit was to use artifacts and immersive vignettes in such a way that our guests could learn how everyday technologies shaped the social and cultural values of various generations that came of age in the 20th century. Your Place in Time addresses five such moments: the Progressive or “Greatest” Era, the War or “Silent” Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and the Next Generation — now more commonly referred to as millennials.

But how does this exhibit remain relevant, given the fact that we are now almost two-and-a-half decades into the 21st century? And how does it serve visiting Gen Y millennials and Gen Z “zoomers,” born on the cusp of the two centuries? Or even more so, the current generational cohort — born between the early 2010s and mid-2020s — that social researchers have dubbed Generation Alpha?

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Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, a member of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Tribes of Montana, should turn 23 this year. Like many other Indigenous women and girls nationwide, Kaysera went missing and was found murdered, with no one held accountable after almost five years.

Kaysera Stops Pretty Places grew up in Big Horn County, Montana, and on August 14, 2019, she celebrated her 18th birthday. Ten days later, Kaysera was reported missing. Her body was recovered on August 29. However, her family was not notified until September 11. There are still many questions concerning Kaysera’s disappearance and death.

In 2018, the Urban Indian Health Institute released an extensive study on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis. As of 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women. Still, only 116 were logged into the Department of Justice’s database, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. The study examines various factors that led to the MMIW crisis, an issue within reservations and urban Indian populations.

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On April 30, 1789, 235 years ago, in the nation’s first capital of New York, George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the newly formed United States of America. From that moment on, many aspects of Washington’s legacy would be built on myth, leaving out important parts of history that would help us understand the man and tell a fuller story. This isn’t to say that Washington didn’t do extraordinary things in his lifetime. Still, when we peel away the layers, we find that he was an ordinary man who lived in exceptional times and wasn’t as perfect as he is often portrayed.

Washington was born on February 22, 1732, on Popes Creek Plantation, (also known as Wakefield) in Westmoreland County, Virginia. In 1734, the Washington family moved to another property they owned, Little Hunting Creek Plantation, which was later renamed Mount Vernon. While Washington never received a formal education, he did have access to books and a private tutor. At the same time, he studied geometry and trigonometry on his own, for his first job as a surveyor.

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From Dayton to Dearborn

April 23, 2024

A rare collection of correspondence reflects the process of relocating the Wright brothers' buildings to Greenfield Village.

By Jennifer LaForce, Managing Editor, The Henry Ford Magazine

Both the Wright brothers’ cycle shop and family home in Greenfield Village are popular spots for the thousands of guests that visit The Henry Ford each year. During spring and summer, it’s not uncommon to see crowds surround the structures as they listen to presenters talk about Wilbur and Orville Wright, their bicycles and aircraft.


Letter from Orville Wright to Fred Black about Acquiring Wright Home for Greenfield Village, November 3, 1936 / THF714291

The Henry Ford recently acquired correspondence that helps bring to light how the buildings came to be in Greenfield Village in the late 1930s. It’s a collection of letters and other materials from former The Henry Ford staffers Fred Black and Fred Smith. Close liaisons to Henry Ford, Black and Smith are considered legendary in The Henry Ford’s early leadership, both acting in varying managing and director roles.

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These Pure-Pak® paper cartons entered The Henry Ford’s collections in 1971 as part of a donation from David Gwinn, president of Pennbrook Milk Company. They document a type of disposable paper packaging for liquids that has a long history and current significance as manufacturers rethink their products in light of environmental stewardship.

Pennbrook Carton and carton

Penn Brook carton and Dinsmore Dairy carton / reference photos

The earliest milk containers were metal, ceramic or glass. Urban consumers concerned about product purity and without a dairy cow purchased milk in mass-produced glass bottles starting after 1883. The inventor of these glass milk bottles, Hervey D. Thatcher, embossed them with “Absolutely Pure Milk” and “The Milk Protector” to reinforce the utility of the reusable glass containers. You can read more about the Thatcher Glass Manufacturing Company Collection at the Corning Museum of Glass here. Milk delivery services delivered full glass bottles and picked up empties so dairies could sanitize and reuse them.

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Gathered on the Green

April 10, 2024

Greenfield Village’s “commons” is a careful creation by founder Henry Ford

By Jennifer LaForce

It’s true that one of Henry Ford’s earliest visions for his historic Greenfield Village was to create a “commons,” an open piece of land within a village or town designed for flexible use by everyone in the community. It’s often a green space — known as a “village green,” in fact — that townspeople use for gatherings and celebrations.

Enamored with the village greens he had seen in New England, Ford envisioned Greenfield Village’s commons to be flanked by structures meant for public gatherings, such as a place of worship and a town hall. And if an example of an existing building ready for transport to Dearborn, Michigan, couldn’t be found, he just had originals designed and built on site.

Photo by Roy Ritchie

Photo by Roy Ritchie

Greenfield Village’s Martha-Mary Chapel and Town Hall are both examples of original-built structures on the Greenfield Village village green. The chapel, which is based on a Universalist church from Bedford, Massachusetts, has been holding wedding ceremonies since 1935. Patterned after New England-style public meeting halls of the early 1800s, the Town Hall is often the site of crowd-pleasing theatrical vignettes.

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