Posts Tagged 1930s
Experiments with Radio Facsimile at W8XWJ
In the early 1930s, tensions were running high between two competing news sources: newspaper publishers were feeling the strength of their monopoly slipping away as the public’s appreciation for radio news broadcasts grew. This time of conflict in communications history is known as “The Press-Radio War.”
Publishers felt especially threatened by the nimbleness of radio networks. Broadcasters could share breaking news immediately over the airwaves, rather than having to wait for the next day’s run of newspapers to be printed and distributed. At first, newspaper companies tried to boycott radio’s ability to grow into something more than just an entertainment medium by asking wire services to block the flow of newsworthy information to radio stations. But eventually, the two media formats settled into a truce by the late 1930s, partly owing to the demand for reliable information-sharing as the threat of World War II grew.
The Detroit News “autogiro” aircraft flies over the WWJ transmitter towers on the roof of the Detroit News building. The autogiro used a swiveling camera to take aerial photos of newsworthy events and quickly transported reporters to the sites of developing stories. / THF238502
Some newspapers saw the financial benefit in blending formats and went so far as to cut out the competition by starting their own radio news stations. The Detroit News was one of the first newspapers in the United States to incorporate a commercial radio station into its operations. In August 1920, WWJ (then owned by the Detroit News) launched its program of nightly broadcasts under the call sign 8MK. As of 2020, WWJ has been on-air for 100 years!
In this image, the Detroit News autogiro flies over downtown Detroit. The Penobscot Building—site for the News’s experimental W8XWJ station—appears in the foreground. The original vertical “whip” antenna is just visible on the ball that tops the metal tower. / THF239963
In 1936, the Detroit News launched experimental audio broadcasting station W8XWJ from the 47th floor of the Penobscot Building in downtown Detroit. W8XWJ was formed under the FCC’s ultra-high short-wave “Apex” station program, an experiment designed to provide listeners with higher quality AM signals. The station’s original 100-watt AM vertical “whip” antenna was attached to the beacon sphere that tops the metal tower perched on the roof of the Penobscot Building. The height of the Penobscot—the tallest skyscraper in the city at that point—helped to disperse the radio waves over the entire city. Many people are familiar with the glowing red beacon at the top of the Penobscot, but its connection to the growth of radio in the city is not as well known.
From 1938-1940, W8XWJ ran a fascinating but ultimately short-lived experiment with an emerging technology called “radio facsimile.” Customers would hook a special “radio printer” up to their own radio, which would print the news overnight while they slept. In the morning, the news would be ready to enjoy with morning coffee – no need to deliver a physical newspaper!
One of the original Finch Facsimile Transmitters from W8XWJ, complete with original station badge visible and a sample of a radio fax. / THF160295
At W8XWJ, a Finch Facsimile Transmitter was used to convert images and text into audio tones. These signals would arrive in customer’s home via radio waves, where their “radio printer” would translate the tones into human language. Everything would print out onto continuous rolls of thermal paper.
A Crosley “Reado” Radio Printer. / THF160315
This is a Crosley Reado Radio Printer – the type of device that people would connect to their home radio and would receive their faxed newspapers on. When The Henry Ford conserved this artifact through an Institute for Museum and Library Services grant, our conservators were excited to find an example of a facsimile still on the drum inside the machine. In this image, you can see an original radio facsimile portrait of Boris Karloff, who was famous for his 1931 portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster.
The Henry Ford’s collections also include the original transmitter and amplifier that powered the W8XWJ station.
W8XWJ’s Western Electric 500 Watt Ultra Shortwave Transmitter and Amplifier. These two devices are visible in their original installation here. / THF173159, THF173165
The idea behind W8XWJ’s radio facsimile experiment was revolutionary, but the process was slow and fussy. It could take over 20 minutes to print a single page of news, and signal reception became unreliable beyond a mile or two away from the transmitter. In 1940, W8XWJ ended its radio facsimile project.
While the original “whip” antenna for W8XWJ was replaced by a FM antenna in the early 1940s, if you look toward the top of the Penobscot building today, there is a tangle of communication equipment visible from street level. And in the interesting way that the new and the old can merge and converge within the histories of technology, some of this contemporary equipment fulfills radio facsimile’s promise to provide easily accessible information—the top of the Penobscot now serves as an important hub for Detroit’s wireless Internet network.
Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.
1930s, 1920s, 20th century, radio, printing, newspapers, Michigan, Detroit, communication, by Kristen Gallerneaux, #THFCuratorChat
Inventing America’s Favorite Cookie
Many of us have been baking a bit more than usual while staying at home. So, let’s take look at how America’s favorite cookie, the chocolate chip, was born.
Before we get to chocolate chips, let’s talk chocolate. It’s made from the beans of the cacao tree and was introduced by the Aztec and Mayan peoples to Europeans in the late 1500s. Then a dense, frothy beverage thickened with cornmeal and flavored with chilies, vanilla, and spices, it was used in ancient ceremonies.
Map of the Americas, 1550. THF284540
Colonial Americans imported cacao from the West Indies. They consumed it as a hot beverage, made from ground cacao beans, sugar, vanilla and water, and served it in special chocolate pots.
Chocolate Pot, 1760-1790 THF145291
In the 1800s, chocolate made its way into an increasing number of foods, things like custards, puddings, and cookies, and onto chocolate-covered candy. It was not just for drinking anymore!
Trade Card, Granite Ironware, 1880-1890 THF299872
Today, most Americans say chocolate is their favorite flavor. Are you a milk or dark chocolate fan? My vote? Dark chocolate.
Cookies were special treats into the early 1800s; sweeteners were costly and cookies took more time and labor to make. Imagine easing them in and out of a brick fireplace over with a long-handled peel.
Detail of late 18th century kitchen in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. See the kitchen for yourself with this virtual visit.
As kitchen technology improved in the early 1900s, especially the ability to regulate oven temperature, America’s cookie repertoire grew.
Detail of 1930s kitchen in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. See the kitchen yourself with this virtual visit.
Until the 1930s, baking chocolate was melted in a double boiler before being added to cookie dough. Check out this 1920 recipe for Chocolate Mousse from our historic recipe bank.
Then came Ruth Graves Wakefield and the chocolate chip cookie. Ruth, a graduate of the Framingham State Normal School of Household Arts, had taught high school home economics and had worked as a dietitian.
Image: "Overlooked No More: Ruth Wakefield, Who Invented the Chocolate Chip Cookie" from The New York Times
In 1930, 27-year-old Ruth and her husband Kenneth opened a restaurant in Whitman, Massachusetts called the Toll House Inn. The building had never been a toll house, but was located on an early road between Boston and New Bedford. The restaurant would grow from seven tables to 60.
Toll House Inn business card, 1930s. THF183299
A quick aside: our 1820s Rocks Village Toll House in Greenfield Village. Early travelers paid tolls to use roads or cross bridges. This one collected fares for crossing the Merrimack River.
Rocks Village, Massachusetts toll house in Greenfield Village. THF2033
With Ruth Wakefield’s background in household arts, she was well-prepared to put together a menu for her restaurant. It was a great location. The Toll House Inn served not only the locals, but people passing through on their way between Boston and Cape Cod.
Toll House Inn business card, 1930s. THF18330
Over time, Ruth’s reputation grew, and the restaurant became well-known for her skillful cooking, wonderful desserts, and excellent service. On the back of this circa 1945 Toll House Inn postcard, a customer wrote: “…down here two weeks ago & had a grand dinner.”
Toll House Inn postcard, about 1945. THF183298
Ruth Wakefield, curious and willing to experiment, liked to create new dishes and desserts to delight her customers. The inn had been serving a butterscotch cookie--which everyone loved--but Ruth wanted to “give them something different.”
About 1938, Ruth had an inspiration. She chopped up a Nestle’s semisweet chocolate bar with an ice pick and stirred the bits into her sweet butter cookie batter. The chocolate bits melted--and didn’t spread, remaining in chunks throughout the dough.
Recipe Booklet, "Favorite Chocolate Recipes made with Nestle's Semi-Sweet Chocolate," 1940. THF125196
Legend has it that the cookies were an accident--that Ruth had expected to get all-chocolate cookies when the chocolate melted. One of those “creation myths?” A great marketing tale? Ruth was a meticulous cook and food science savvy. She said it was a deliberate experiment.
The marriage of sweet, buttery cookie dough and semisweet chocolate was a hit--the cookies quickly became popular with guests. Ruth shared the recipe when asked. Local newspapers published it. And she included it in the 1938 edition of her “Tried and True Recipes” cookbook.
The Toll House, Whitman, Massachusetts, circa 1945. THF183297
Nestle’s saw sales of its semisweet chocolate bar jump dramatically in New England--especially after the cookie was featured on a local radio show. When Nestle discovered why, they signed a contract with Ruth Wakefield, allowing Nestle to print the recipe on every package.
Nestle’s truck, 1934. Z0001194
Nestle began scoring its semisweet chocolate bar, packaging it with a small chopper for easy cutting into morsels. The result was chocolate “chips”--hence the name.
Recipe Booklet, "Favorite Chocolate Recipes made with Nestle's Semi-Sweet Chocolate," 1940. THF125194
Nestle included the Toll House Cookie “backstory” and the recipe in booklets promoting their semisweet chocolate.
Chocolate chip morsels were a great idea, so other companies followed suit.
Recipe Leaflet, "9 Famous Recipes for Hershey's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Dainties," 1956. THF295928
Other delectable treats, like these “Chocolate Refresher” bars shown in this 1960 ad, can be made with chocolate morsels. The possibilities are endless.
Nestle's Semi-Sweet Morsels Advertisement, "Goody for You," 1960. THF43907
More from The Henry Ford: Enjoy a quick “side trip” to this blog about more American chocolate classics.
Holiday baking is a cherished tradition for many. Chocolate chip cookies are frequently a key player in the seasonal repertoire. Hallmark captured holiday baking memories in this ornament.
Hallmark "Christmas Cookies" Christmas Ornament, 2004. THF177747
Cookie dough + chocolate chips = America’s favorite cookie! It may have been simple, but no one else had ever tried it before! Hats off to Ruth Wakefield!
After all this talk of all things chocolate, are you ready for a cookie? This well-known cookie lover probably is!
Cookie Monster Toy Clock, 1982-1986. THF318447
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.
Massachusetts, 1930s, 20th century, women's history, restaurants, recipes, food, entrepreneurship, by Jeanine Head Miller, #THFCuratorChat
The Jazz Bowl: Emblem of a City, Icon of an Age
The Jazz Bowl, originally called The New Yorker, about 1930. THF88363
Cowan Pottery of Rocky River, Ohio, was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy in early 1930 when a commission arrived from a New York gallery for a New York City-themed punch bowl. The client -- who preferred to remain unknown -- wanted the design to capture the essence of the vibrant city.
The assignment went to 24-year-old ceramic artist Viktor Schreckengost. His design would become an icon of America’s “Jazz Age” of the 1920s and 1930s.
The Artist and His Design
The cosmopolitan Viktor Schreckengost was a perfect choice for this special commission. Schreckengost (1906-2008), born in Sebring, Ohio, had studied ceramics at the Cleveland Institute of Art in the late 1920s. He then spent a year in Vienna, where he was introduced to cutting-edge ideas in European art and design. When Schreckengost returned to Ohio, he took a part-time teaching position at his alma mater and spent the balance of his time as a designer at Cowan Pottery.
A jazz musician as well as an artist, Schreckengost had firsthand knowledge of New York, where he frequented jazz clubs during visits. To Schreckengost, jazz music represented the spirit of New York. He wanted to capture its excitement and energy in visual form on his bowl. Schreckengost later recalled: “I thought back to a magical night when a friend and I went to see [Cab] Calloway at the Cotton Club [in Harlem] ... the city, the jazz, the Cotton Club, everything ... I knew I had to get it all on the bowl.”
During its heyday in the 1920s and 30s, the Cotton Club was the place to listen to jazz in New York. THF125266
A “Jazz”-inscribed drumhead surrounded by musical instruments symbolize the Cotton Club. Organ pipes represent the grand theater organs that graced New York City’s movie palaces during the 1920s and 1930s. Schreckengost recalled that he was especially fond of Radio City Music Hall’s Wurlitzer organ. THF88363
A show in progress at Radio City Music Hall auditorium, 1936. THF125259
The images on the Jazz Bowl, then, may be read as a night on the town in New York City, starting out in bustling Times Square; then on to Radio City Music Hall to enjoy a show; next, a stroll uptown past a group of soaring skyscrapers to take in a sweeping view of the Hudson River; afterward, a stop at a cocktail party; and finally--topping off the evening with a visit to the famous Cotton Club.
Times Square, circa 1930. THF125262i
The blinking traffic signals, and "Follies" and "Dance" signs on the Jazz Bowl portray the vitality of Times Square at night. THF88358
Schreckengost decorated the punch bowl with a deep turquoise blue background he described as “Egyptian,” since it recalled the shade found on ancient Egyptian pottery. According to Schreckengost, the penetrating blue immerses the viewer in the glow of the night air--and the sensation of mystery and magic of a night on the town.
This is the view of the New York skyline and the Hudson River that Schreckengost saw on his trips to the city and later interpreted in the Jazz Bowl. THF125264g
Skyscrapers, a luxury ocean liner, cocktails on a tray, and liquor bottles represent a night on the town. THF88364
The Famous Client
In early 1931, the finished bowl was delivered to New York. The pleased patron who had commissioned it immediately ordered two additional punch bowls. To Schreckengost’s delight, the patron turned out to be Eleanor Roosevelt, then First Lady of New York State. Mrs. Roosevelt had commissioned the bowl to celebrate her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1930 reelection as governor. She presumably placed one bowl in the Governor’s Residence in Albany, one in the Roosevelts’ home in Hyde Park, and one in their Manhattan apartment. When the Roosevelts moved into the White House in 1933, after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election as President, one of the bowls made its way there as well.
Eleanor Roosevelt commissioned the Jazz Bowl to celebrate her husband’s 1930 reelection as governor of New York. THF208655
Mass Producing the Jazz Bowl?
Immediately after the Jazz Bowl was delivered to Eleanor Roosevelt, the New York City gallery placed an order for fifty identical bowls. Unfortunately, Schreckengost’s process was laborious--it took Cowan Pottery’s artisans an entire day to produce the incised decoration on Mrs. Roosevelt’s version. Cowan Pottery sought to mass produce the punch bowl, simplifying the original design to create a second and third version the company originally marketed as “The New Yorker.”
The Henry Ford’s bowl is the third version, known informally as “The Poor Man’s Jazz Bowl.” It is slightly smaller than the original and the decoration is raised, rather than scratched into the surface. No one knows exactly, but perhaps fifty of the original version, only a few of the unsuccessful second version, and possibly twenty of the third version of the Jazz Bowl were made in total. The whereabouts of many of the Jazz Bowls are not known, though they appear periodically on the art market and are acquired by eager collectors. Even the present location of the bowls made for Eleanor Roosevelt seems to be a mystery.
Jazz Bowl as Icon
The “Poor Man’s Jazz Bowl” didn’t save the Cowan Pottery from the ravages of the Great Depression -- by the end of 1931, the company folded. Viktor Schreckengost moved on, continuing to teach at the Cleveland Institute of Art and pursuing freelance design for several firms. His Jazz Bowl would come to be recognized as a visual icon of the Jazz Age in America.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford. This post originally ran as part of our Pic of the Month series.
New York, 20th century, 1930s, 1920s, presidents, music, manufacturing, making, Henry Ford Museum, furnishings, decorative arts, by Charles Sable, art
A Deeper Look: The Mattox Family Home
The Mattox Home in Greenfield Village THF68734
Through furnishings and presentations, the Mattox Home in Greenfield Village tells the story of one family living in rural Georgia in the 1930s. Read on to discover more about the community in Bryan County (where the house was originally located), learn about the Mattox family, and get an inside look at how they lived.
Amos and Grace Mattox
Amos Mattox, probably born around 1889, grew up in this house during the harsh years of Southern segregation. He and his wife, Grace, married in 1909.
The home in Greenfield Village is shown as it would have been during the 1930s, when the entire country was in the grip of the Great Depression. Low prices and little demand for farm products created a crisis for farmers throughout the country, and many abandoned their land. Amos and Grace Mattox maintained their resourceful lifestyle, keeping up a vegetable garden, livestock, and fowl to feed themselves and two young children, Carrie and Amos, Jr. To supplement the family’s income, Amos worked at various jobs—as a laborer for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and Seaboard Air Line Railway and at the local sawmill, and as a shoemaker, carpenter, and barber. He also served as a deacon at the Bryan Neck Baptist Church. The church had been founded by his grandfather Amos Morel, a formerly enslaved steam engineer who, in the 1870s, purchased the land the Mattox home stood on. Like his grandfather, Amos Mattox sold parts of his family’s land when he needed cash.
Grace Mattox is remembered by her children as a busy and meticulous homemaker. In addition to daily chores, she canned fruits and vegetables, cared and provided for elderly and sick neighbors, crocheted, did “fancy work” embroidery, and made her home as cozy and attractive as possible. A devoted mother, she encouraged and supported the education of her two children, walking a mile to and from their school daily with a “proper hot lunch” for them.
Although life was hard, the Mattox family proudly affirmed that there was "always enough."
A copy of the only known photograph of Amos Mattox, Sr. THF135142
African American Community Life in 1930s Bryan County, Georgia
Sixty-five years after the Civil War, coastal Georgia was a land of sleepy towns, cypress swamps, moss-hung trees, oxcarts, horse-drawn wagons, and a few cars. Among long-abandoned crumbling mansions stood small farmhouses scattered about on what were once extensive holdings of plantation land but were now mostly small individual farms—some privately owned like the Mattox home and property, but most rented on the share system. Following the breakup of the large plantations after the Civil War, members of the same family tended to settle close together on the same land where they had lived when they were enslaved. A generation later, this was still true of the Mattox family. Amos Mattox, Jr., remembers his Uncle Henry living within “hollerin’ distance” and his Uncle Charlie living 5 to 10 minutes’ walk away. In the absence of telephones, close neighbors could be hailed by shouting.
What we know about the Mattox family comes from record searches and oral interviews. When Henry Ford acquired the Mattox home in 1943, there were still many people alive who could recall their youth on the very land on which their descendants lived. Elderly, formerly enslaved neighbors like “Aunt” Jane Lewis were links to the past for children like Carrie and Amos Mattox, Jr.
Henry Ford moved the Mattox Home to Greenfield Village in 1943. He can be seen in this photograph (far right) with Grace Mattox (in the doorway) and others at the home on its original site. THF123296
Like 89 percent of rural homes in 1930, the Mattox home lacked electricity and running water; kerosene lamps provided light. However, the Mattoxes owned a battery-operated radio and a hand-cranked phonograph. Amos, Jr., and Carrie could recall few leisure activities, but many occasions when the family worked together, farming, gardening, canning, and doing the wash. Most work was done outside, with seats provided on porches and under grape arbors. Houses were hot and close inside, and were used mainly for sleeping, bathing, or as shelter from the rain. In the evening the Mattoxes read from the family Bible.
Neighbors allowed their livestock, cattle and hogs, to range freely on common ground in the forest (families notched their animals’ ears with distinctive markings to prove ownership). After butchering a hog, the Mattoxes would smoke the hams for a few months in the chimney of their home. According to Amos, Jr., the chimney, made of clay and sticks, occasionally caught fire. To extinguish the fires, a member of the family climbed on the roof and poured water down the chimney.
Health care was poor and infant mortality high. Grace Mattox gave birth to six children, only two of whom survived past infancy. Often, community members would take shifts caring for a sick person night and day. Grace Mattox was instrumental in organizing home nursing for her local community.
The Mattox family’s social life, like that of their neighbors, centered around the Bryan Neck Baptist Church and the prayer house associated with it. The prayer house was about 150 feet from the Mattoxes’ home. They attended prayer meetings in Bryan Neck Baptist Church every other Sunday morning at daybreak. On alternate Sundays and Sunday evenings, as well as on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, they walked to the prayer house. The whole community was thought of as one family, including mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, and close friends. They celebrated holidays together, cared for one another in times of sickness and crisis, shared their surplus produce, and encouraged and supported one another in their daily lives.
The Mattox Home in Greenfield Village
In 1943 Henry Ford brought the Mattox home to Greenfield Village. After the purchase he agreed to let the Mattoxes continue to live on the property, built the family a new house, and bought new furnishings for it. Since no written agreement was found regarding the continued use of the property after the death of Henry Ford (1947) and his wife, Clara (1950), the Mattoxes were, sadly, evicted by the new owners, the Southern Kraft Timberland Company.
View of the Mattox Home in Greenfield Village, showing the vegetable garden and the birdhouses made from gourds THF45319
Exterior and Grounds
Bryan County, Georgia, lies in a swampy region of the Low Country. People living in this area usually maintained yards of swept dirt to prevent the growth of vegetation and keep mosquitoes and snakes away from the houses. Residents swept fancy designs into the dirt to make the yards more attractive, especially around holidays. People also fashioned birdhouses from gourds to attract purple martins, which feed on mosquitoes and other flying insects. The birdhouses at the Mattox home, as well as the roof repaired with a cast-off sign, are examples of the family’s ingenious use of available resources.
Most of what the Mattox family produced was for their own use. In their vegetable garden the Mattoxes raised corn, sweet potatoes, rice, peas, beans, tomatoes, and okra, as well as collard, mustard, and turnip greens.
Rear view of the Mattox Home in Greenfield Village (the grape arbor is visible at right) THF1967
In the warm climate of coastal Georgia, families spent much of their lives outdoors. The Mattoxes’ grape arbor provided a cool, shady space for household chores like laundering or food preservation. Amos Mattox made wine from the native Southern scuppernong and muscadine grape varieties grown there.
The Mattox family raised chickens, hogs, and goats for their own use. The chickens and goats were confined in the yard near the house, while the hogs were allowed to range freely.
Interior of the Mattox Home in Greenfield Village THF53390
That Mattoxes covered their interior walls with newspaper for both insulation and decoration. Photographs taken in the 1930s and 1940s show that this was the norm rather than the exception in small rural homes in the South.
Much of the furniture now in the home was owned by the Mattox family. The mirror on the wall originally belonged to Amos Mattox’s grandfather, Amos Morel. Needlework scattered through the rooms represent Grace Mattox’s sewing and decorating skills. Over the mantel is a copy of the only known photograph of Amos Mattox, Sr. Pictures and fans with representations of religious themes and the family Bible reflect the strong religious grounding of the family. A checkerboard with bottle caps as game pieces and homemade dolls show how the family overcame the constraints of limited means.
Mattox Home kitchen THF53400
The room attached to the rear of the home contains the kitchen and dining room, often used as the children’s bedroom. On the woodburning cookstove, Grace Mattox prepared meals for her family and dishes to bring to church suppers and community celebrations. The family worked together to prepare canned goods that could be stored on shelves in the kitchen for use throughout the year.
Explore the Mattox Family Home for yourself in the Porches & Parlors district in Greenfield Village.
1930s, home life, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, Georgia, African American history, 20th century
Thomas Edison Goes Hollywood
A scene from the 1940 motion picture, “Young Tom Edison,” starring Mickey Rooney. THF125222
Spencer Tracy portrayed the inventor in the film, “Edison the Man,” released later that same year. THF58062
Thomas Alva Edison is an American “superhero.” It is not surprising, then, that his life story found its way into the movies during Hollywood’s golden age. It is, in fact, quite fitting, since Edison and an associate were instrumental in the development of early movie technology in the 1890s.
In 1940, Edison was the subject of not one, but two, Hollywood films: “Young Tom Edison,” starring Mickey Rooney, and “Edison the Man,” starring Spencer Tracy. These classic motion pictures were filmed in California. But Henry Ford’s well-known collection of Edison-related buildings and artifacts in Dearborn played a supporting role in MGM’s research for script development and set design.
To help prepare for their roles, MGM wanted the actors playing Thomas Edison to visit the Museum and Village to learn more about Edison. Here, Mickey Rooney records his voice on an early Edison tinfoil phonograph. THF125217
In February 1939, MGM scriptwriters Dore Schary and Hugo Butler came to Greenfield Village to see the Menlo Park Laboratory and the Edison-related artifacts in the Museum. (Schary and Butler later received an Academy Award nomination for their script for “Edison the Man.”) MGM also wanted the actors playing Thomas Edison in the films to be inspired by their own visits to Dearborn. Rooney arrived on October 23, 1939, just before filming of “Young Tom Edison” began in Hollywood. Tracy came a few days later.
A few weeks after his visit, Spencer Tracy wrote this letter of appreciation to Henry Ford. THF125214
Tracy was deeply impressed by his visit and wrote a letter to Henry Ford, “I am unable to find words to adequately express the deep and lasting imprint my short visit has made upon me…I shall make a supreme effort to do some small justice and no harm to the memory of your dear friend.”
Henry Ford lent an 1850s locomotive and some railroad cars from his museum for the publicity train that carried special guests from Detroit to Port Huron for the February 1940 premiere of “Young Tom Edison.” THF96236, THF96230
As the train rolled along from Detroit to Port Huron, Mickey Rooney hawked candy and newspapers to the passengers, just as Edison had done as a boy years before. Here, Rooney offers Edison’s widow, Mina Miller Edison Hughes, a newspaper. THF119959
As the special train arrived in Port Huron, fans rushed to greet Mickey Rooney. THF119966
Souvenir from “Young Tom Edison” February 1940 movie premiere. THF96232
Filming began on “Young Tom Edison” in early November 1939. By Christmas, it was complete, and MGM was planning for the film’s February 10, 1940, premiere in Port Huron, Michigan, where Edison had grown up. The festivities included a train ride from Detroit to Port Huron--the same route traveled by Edison in his youth when he sold candy and newspapers on the Grand Trunk railroad. Artifacts from the Museum added authenticity. Henry Ford loaned the 1858 “Sam Hill” steam locomotive and some train cars for the trip. Among the passengers were the film’s star, Mickey Rooney; Edsel Ford; Thomas Edison’s widow, Mina Miller Edison Hughes; and MGM studio executive Louis B. Mayer. In evening, “Young Tom Edison” premiered at three Port Huron theaters, with Rooney appearing at each.
Henry Ford shows Spencer Tracy around the Menlo Park Lab in Greenfield Village during Tracy’s October 1939 visit. THF123498
With the help of photographs and other documentation provided by Greenfield Village staff, MGM built an impressive full-sized version of the Menlo Park laboratory in California for “Edison the Man.” The movie set looked astonishingly like its Greenfield Village counterpart! THF125210
In mid-January 1940, filming began on “Edison the Man.” With the help of photographs and other documentation provided by Greenfield Village staff, MGM built an impressive full-sized version of the Menlo Park Laboratory, with its equipment, furnishings, and rows of bottles on the shelves. The movie set looked astonishingly like its Greenfield Village counterpart.
During the filming, Henry Ford put William Simonds on loan to MGM as a technical assistant. Simonds, a public relations manager for the Village and Museum, had published an Edison biography five years before. During the two-month filming of “Edison the Man” at MGM, Simonds reported back regularly. His letters provide an engaging behind-the-scenes look at the making of this classic Hollywood film.
Simonds told how Rita Johnson’s nervousness at playing her first big role--as Edison’s wife Mary--forced extra takes to complete some scenes. In one instance, Tracy ate five pieces of apple pie during numerous retakes of a scene. Simonds humorously described director Clarence Brown facing a long line of mothers and crying babies to choose an infant to play Edison’s child. He revealed how the stage crew had to scramble to repair the damage when part of the Menlo Park Laboratory set fell over, breaking many of the “chemical” bottles and spilling colored water all over the floor.
The model was sent to Henry Ford as a keepsake. Art director Cedric Gibbons, director Clarence Brown, cinematographer Harold Rosson, and the film’s stars Spencer Tracy and Rita Johnson signed it. THF49762
Filming of “Edison the Man” wrapped up in mid-March 1940 and it premiered May 16, 1940. There had been talk of holding its premiere in Dearborn, but, at the request of Edison’s son Charles, the film premiered in West Orange, New Jersey, where Edison developed many of his later inventions.
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.
California, Michigan, 1940s, 1930s, 20th century, Thomas Edison, popular culture, movies, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, by Jeanine Head Miller, actors and acting
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Sunshine Special”
Editor’s Note: In connection with the exhibit Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms, now showing at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, the following excerpt is adapted from The Sunshine Special: FDR’s 1939 Lincoln K Series Presidential Limousine by Brody Levesque. The complete book is available at the Benson Ford Research Center.
A Unique Car Built Expressly for a President
One of the first things that a visitor notices when viewing the presidential vehicles at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is the size of the 1939 Lincoln K Model limousine custom built for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The car is massive. In fact, it weighs in at over 9,300 pounds and has an impressive wheelbase of 160 inches.
In 1937, Ford Motor Company president Edsel Ford lobbied to obtain a government contract to provide a presidential limousine for FDR’s use. He wanted to regain a presence in the White House Garage and particularly to have Ford Motor Company’s prestige Lincoln division as the primary choice for presidential conveyance. Edsel Ford also knew that FDR liked his company’s cars.
Roosevelt, who was beginning the second of his four presidential terms, personally owned a 1938 Ford V-8 convertible coupe for his use at The Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, along with a 1936 Ford V-8 Phaeton convertible at his home in Hyde Park, New York. Both cars were equipped with special hand-operated controls so that FDR, whose paralytic illness prevented the use of his legs, could drive the cars himself.
Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln division delivered, in November 1939 and at a cost of $8,348.74, a current model K series chassis, to the Buffalo, New York, coachworks firm of Brunn & Company. There the four-door convertible, equipped with a 150-horsepower 414-cubic inch V-12, was further modified to meet U.S. Secret Service requirements. Brunn’s modifications added another $4,950 to the limo’s total cost.
The car was built with forward-facing jump seats, wider opening rear doors, reinforced extra-depth running boards and a pair of step plates above the rear bumper. It had strategically-placed handles for the Secret Service agents, as well as a Federal Electric Company police red light and siren combination with dual driving lamps and flag staff holders on the front. Another feature was that the roof was made extra tall so that the President, who had limited mobility and used a wheelchair, could enter and exit the car without difficulty.
Although coachbuilder Herman A. Brunn, owner of Brunn & Company, thought the car looked terrible with that extra tall top, the limo was finished and sent to Washington as ordered. In the end, it seems Mr. Brunn was right. According to Ford Motor Company internal memoranda and telegram communications, the car was returned to Brunn & Company’s Buffalo plant in the summer of 1941 to have its top replaced with one of standard height. Global events forced even more significant changes to the limo that December.
President Roosevelt preferred open cars whenever the weather permitted – and sometimes when it didn’t. (THF208655)
The First Presidential Car to Acquire Its Own Personality
Within a few weeks after the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the White House Garage delivered the 1939 Lincoln K series limousine to Ford Motor Company’s plant in Alexandria, Virginia, on the waterfront across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. The car was shipped to the Lincoln plant on West Warren Avenue in Detroit and, upon its arrival, Lincoln workers began to disassemble the limousine, readying its wartime armor and additional modifications requested by the Secret Service.
Workers removed the Brunn body and altered the car’s chassis. Its suspension was beefed up with heavy-duty shock absorbers and additional leaves in the springs – to handle the added weight of armor plating and thick bullet-resistant glass. Likewise, a modified windshield frame was installed to accommodate the thicker windshield glass. When the Brunn body was reinstalled, it received a new 1942 model H series Lincoln front end clip (fenders, grill, and front nose cap piece), which gave the car a crisp, more modern look.
A more powerful generator was installed, with new wiring harnesses. Cooling was improved by making the radiator tank top an inch thicker, adding three-and-one-half inches more to the core than was standard, and a larger fan was put in for additional engine cooling capacity. The cowling also had wider side vents installed to let more of the engine’s heat escape.
The whitewall bias-ply tires were replaced with the first generation of what are now referred to as “run flat tires,” which enabled the big limousine to continue to travel a short distance to safety if the tires were shot out. The two spare tires were put into reworked special front fender wells, in painted metal tire covers that didn’t need to be bolted into place and allowed for rapid tire changes.
Other body modifications included one-and-one-eighth inch thick nine-ply glass; a special rear-mounted antenna for radio equipment; and steel plating in the doors, firewall, kick and quarter panels, floor, transmission hump, and gas tank. The doors received three-sixteenths inch steel armor plating. Including the weight of the armor and the bullet-resistant glass, each modified door weighed almost 200 pounds. Stronger latches and striker plates were installed to handle the heavier door weight.
A bullet-resistant divider was installed between the front and rear seats. It included fold out bullet-resistant side glass screens for use when the convertible top was down. Another bullet-resistant screen could be added behind the rear seat when the top was lowered, and then stored in the trunk when not in use. When the door windows were down, a spring-loaded flap covered the slot in the top of the door to stop things from falling inside and jamming the windows.
When the Lincoln originally was delivered in 1940, it was painted a dark midnight blue with russet trim. Now the car was repainted in black, with chrome trim and brightwork. The rear step plates, grab handles, and wider running boards were reinstalled after the repainting was finished.
Detroit plant workers also added new running/fog lights to the front bumper, along with flag staff holders. The Federal Electric Company police red light and siren were reinstalled on the left front fender. By the end of the second week of April 1942, the car was ready to ship back to the Alexandria plant for delivery to the White House Garage where it could resume its presidential duties.
At an unknown time after the car’s 1942 retrofitting, an unidentified member of the White House Press Corps gave the limo the sobriquet it retains today: “Sunshine Special.” Although the exact reason for the nickname is lost to history, it may have been due to FDR’s well-known love of riding with the top down – sometimes even when the weather recommended against it.
President Harry S. Truman aboard “Sunshine Special” near the end of the car’s service life, circa 1949. (THF208667)
Sunset for “Sunshine Special”
Following FDR’s death on April 12, 1945, “Sunshine Special” served his successor, Harry S. Truman, for another five years. The White House put out bids for a new presidential limousine in the spring of 1949 and, that summer, officials met with representatives from Ford Motor Company to discuss the contract. This would be the largest single order ever placed for the White House fleet.
In the early summer of 1950, nine custom-built enclosed 1950 model Lincoln Cosmopolitan limousines, produced by the Henney Motor Company of Freeport, Illinois, were delivered to the White House Garage. A matching four-door Lincoln Cosmopolitan convertible-bodied limousine, modified at the Grand Rapids, Michigan, shop of master coachbuilder Raymond Dietrich, was also delivered. The Dietrich seven-passenger Lincoln was fitted with a Hydramatic automatic transmission purchased from General Motors and then modified to mate with the 337 cubic-inch V-8 engine. Per the order’s specifications, none of the limousines were armored.
Upon delivery of the fleet of Lincoln Cosmopolitan limousines, older White House Garage vehicles were shipped back to their manufacturers or sold off. “Sunshine Special” was returned to Lincoln and subsequently donated to The Henry Ford.
Adapted from The Sunshine Special: FDR’s 1939 Lincoln K Series Presidential Limousine by Brody Levesque. The complete book is available at the Benson Ford Research Center.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Washington DC, 20th century, 1940s, 1930s, presidents, presidential vehicles, limousines, Henry Ford Museum, Ford Motor Company, cars, by Matt Anderson, books
Edsel Ford: A Legacy of Philanthropy
Edsel Ford and Eleanor Ford with Their Children, Henry, Benson, Josephine and William, at Gaukler Pointe, circa 1938. THF99953
Edsel Bryant Ford was born in Detroit to Henry and Clara Ford on November 6, 1893. As their only son, Edsel seemed destined for a career at Ford Motor Company. He began working for Ford after his high school graduation in 1912 and rose through the ranks to President by age 26. Edsel spent 31 years with the organization, but his life was tragically cut short when he passed away from cancer on May 26, 1943 at just 49 years old.
While his career at Ford was extremely important to Edsel, his wife, Eleanor, and their four children – Henry, Benson, Josephine, and William – were most precious to him. During his limited leisure time he enjoyed painting and collecting art, spending time outdoors, and relaxing with his family at their home in Grosse Pointe Shores. Edsel was also a prolific philanthropist, and, 75 years after his death, exploring his extensive philanthropy is a fitting way to honor his life and legacy of good will.
Edsel Ford at Yale-Harvard Boat Races, New London, Connecticut, 1939. THF94864
Edsel Ford is perhaps best-known for his involvement with the arts. Millions have viewed the Edsel Ford-sponsored and funded Detroit Industry murals by Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts or visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, of which Edsel was a trustee from 1935 until 1943. Eleanor became a MoMA trustee in 1948, and the Ford Foundation (which was founded by Edsel in 1936) donated one million dollars to the museum in Edsel’s memory in 1963. He also attended many concerts at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and was a generous patron of the Detroit Symphony Society.
Oil Portrait of Edsel Ford by Diego Rivera, 1932. THF116599
Edsel donated regularly to the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts – which is now the College for Creative Studies – and attended painting classes in the late 1920s. By 1933 the Society had altered its original mission of keeping handmade craftmanship alive in an increasingly industrialized world and was one of the first art institutions to acknowledge the automobile as an art form. In the book “Making the Modern: Industry, Art, and Design,” author Terry Smith describes this new relationship between art and industry in relation to the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts:
“Like the shift from the Model T, like the basic move within design itself, this group negotiated a passage from applying ‘art’ to industrial products (decorative devices, elaborate ornamentation) toward seeing ‘art’ in them (their ‘natural simplicity’, ‘precise’ beauty, their matching of ‘form’ and ‘function’). This implied the possibility of designing art into them, of controlling the matching so skillfully that the result would be ‘a work of art’.”
This emphasis on the intersection of art and design was also reflected in Edsel’s work at Ford. He was instrumental in moving the company beyond the Model T into a new automotive era in which both form and function were equally incorporated into the design process.
Edsel Ford as a Child, Fishing, Lake Orion, Michigan, 1899. THF99836
Edsel Ford, Fishing, 1915. THF130392
Another of Edsel’s lifelong passions was nature. He engaged in many outdoor hobbies, including fishing, golfing, camping, and sailing, and these interests are reflected in his philanthropy. He supported our national parks – “America’s best idea” – through his contributions to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the nonprofit National Parks Association (now the National Parks Conservation Association). In 1931 Congress authorized the creation of Isle Royale National Park in Michigan and Edsel served on the Isle Royale National Park Commission, which managed land acquisition. After the commission acquired most of Isle Royale the land was transferred back to the National Park Service to create the park.
State of Michigan Certificate Reappointing Edsel Ford to the Isle Royale National Park Commission, June 22, 1939. THF256194
Edsel unsurprisingly gave to Henry Ford Hospital, which was founded by his father in Detroit in 1915, but he also donated to many healthcare organizations across the United States and around the world. He contributed to the building fund of King George Hospital in London five years after King George’s son Prince Edward visited Ford Motor Company to learn more about methods of large-scale manufacturing.
Edsel Ford, Edward Albert the Prince of Wales, and Henry Ford at Fair Lane, Dearborn, Michigan, 1924. THF116352
He gave nearly every year to the Frontier Nursing Service, which provided nurse midwifery services to women in rural Kentucky and was one of his mother’s favorite charities. In 1939 he sent the nurses a used Ford station wagon, which they christened “Henrietta," and a second new station wagon in 1941. The American Red Cross, the American Foundation for the Blind, The Seeing Eye, the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now March of Dimes), and many other health organizations also received generous contributions from Edsel.
Fundraising Letter from Mary Breckinridge, Frontier Nursing Service, to Edsel Ford, June 3, 1940. THF130768
Vanda Summers of the Frontier Nursing Service, with Automobile Donated by Edsel Ford, May 1940. THF130772
This list represents a miniscule fraction of Edsel’s charitable career, and the impact of his philanthropy is still felt today through the work of the hundreds of organizations that benefitted from his time and contributions. While remembering Edsel’s career and philanthropy in his 1956 Reminiscences for Ford Motor Company his longtime secretary A.A. Backus stated, “Yes, Mr. Edsel Ford was a swell individual and in my twenty-seven years with the Ford Motor Company I never heard anyone say anything different.”
Edsel Ford on the Beach with Henry Ford II and Benson Ford, 1921. THF95355
Meredith Pollock was formerly Special Assistant to the Vice President at The Henry Ford.
healthcare, Michigan, Detroit, nature, 20th century, 1940s, 1930s, 1920s, philanthropy, national parks, Ford family, Edsel Ford, by Meredith Pollock, art
Ford Radio and Fordlandia
Henry Ford used wireless radio to communicate within Ford Motor Company (FMC) starting after October 1, 1919. This revolutionary new means of communication captured Ford’s interest because it allowed him to transmit messages within his vast operation. By August 1920, he could convey directions from his yacht to administrators in FMC offices and production facilities in Dearborn and Northville, Michigan. By February 1922, Ford’s railroad offices and the plant in Flat Rock, Michigan were connected, and by 1925, the radio transmission equipment was on Ford’s Great Lake bulk haulers and ocean-going vessels. Historian David L. Lewis claimed that “Ford led all others in the use of intracompany radio communications” (The Public Image of Henry Ford, 311).
Ford Motor Company also used radio transmissions to reach external audiences through promotional campaigns. During 1922, FMC sales branches delivered a series of expositions that featured Ford automobiles and Fordson tractors. An article in Motor Age (August 10, 1922) described highlights of the four-month tour of western Oregon:
“The days are given over to field demonstrations of tractors, plows and implements, while at night a radio outfit that brings in the concerts from the distant cities and motion pictures from the Ford plant, keep an intensely interested crowd on the grounds until the Delco Light shuts down for the night.”
The Ford Radio and Film crew that broadcast to the Oregon crowds traveled in a well-marked vehicle, taking every opportunity available to inform passers-by of Ford’s investment in the new technology – radio – and the utility of new FMC products. Ray Johnson, who participated in the tour, recalled that he drove a vehicle during the day and then played dance music in the evenings as a member of the three-piece orchestra, “Sam Ness and his Royal Ragadours.”
Ford and Fordson Power Exposition Caravan and Radio Truck, Seaside, Oregon, 1922 . THF134998
In 1922, Intra-Ford transmissions began making public broadcasts over the Dearborn’s KDEN station (call letters WWI) at 250-watts of power, which carried a range of approximately 360 meters. The radio station building and transmission towers were located behind the Ford Engineering Laboratory, completed in 1924 at the intersection of Beech Street and Oakwood Boulevard in Dearborn.
Ford Motor Company Radio Station WWI, Dearborn, Michigan, March 1925. THF134748
Staff at the station, conveying intracompany information and compiled content for the public show which aired on Wednesday evenings.
Ford Motor Company Radio Station WWI, Dearborn, Michigan, August 1924. THF134754
The station did not grow because Ford did not want to join new radio networks. He discontinued broadcasting on WWI in early February 1926 (The Public Image of Henry Ford, 179).
Ford did not discontinue his intracompany radio communications. FMC used radio-telegraph means to communicate between the head office in Dearborn and remote locations, including, Fordlandia, a 2.5-million-acre plantation that Ford purchased in 1927 and that he planned to turn into a source of raw rubber to ease dependency on British colonies regulated by British trade policy.
Brazil and other countries in the Amazon of South American provided natural rubber to the world until the early twentieth century. The demand for tires for automobiles increased so quickly that South American harvests could not satisfy demand. Industrialists sought new sources. During the 1870s, a British man smuggled seeds out of Brazil, and by the late 1880s, British colonies, especially Ceylon (today Sri Lanka) and Malaysia, began producing natural rubber. Inexpensive labor, plus a climate suitable for production, and a growing number of trees created a viable replacement source for Brazilian rubber.
British trade policies, however, angered American industrialists who sought to establish production in other places including Africa and the Philippines. Henry Ford turned to Brazil, because of the incentives that the Brazilian government offered him. His goals to produce inexpensive rubber faced several hurdles, not the least of which was overcoming the traditional labor practices that had suited those who harvested rubber in local forests, and the length of time it took to cultivate new plants (not relying on local resources).
Ford built a production facility on the Tapajós River in Brazil. This included a radio station. The papers of E. L. Leibold, in The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center, include a map with a key that indicated the “proposed method of communication between Home Office and Ford Motor Company property on Rio Tapajos River Brazil.” The system included Western Union (WU) land wire from Detroit to New York, WU land wire and cable from New York to Para, Amazon River Cable Company river cable between Para and Santarem, and Ford Motor Company radio stations at each point between Santarem and the Ford Motor Company on Rio Tapajós. Manual relays had to occur at New York, Para, and Santarem.
Map Showing Routes of Communication between Dearborn, Michigan and Fordlandia, Brazil, circa 1928. THF134693
Ford officials studied the federal laws in Brazil that regulated radio and telegraph to ensure compliance. Construction of the power house and processing structures took time. The community and corporate facilities at Boa Vista (later Fordlandia) grew. By 1931, the power house had a generator that provided power throughout the Fordlandia complex.
Generator in Power House at Fordlandia, Brazil, 1931. THF134711
Power House and Water Tower at Fordlandia, Brazil, 1931. THF134714
Lines from the power house stretching up the hill from the river to the hospital and other buildings, including the radio power station. The setting on a higher elevation helped ensure the best reception for radio transmissions.
Sawmill and Power House at Fordlandia, Brazil, 1931.
Workers built the radio power house, which held a Delco Plant and storage batteries, and the radio transmitter station with its transmission tower. The intracompany radio station operated by 1929.
Radio Power House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929. THF134697
Radio Transmitter House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
Storage Batteries in Radio Power House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
Delco Battery Charger for Radio Power House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
Radio Power House Motor Generator Set, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
The radio power house is visible at the extreme left of a photograph showing the stone road leading to the hospital (on an even higher elevation) at Fordlandia.
Stone Road Leading to Hospital, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929. THF134709
Radio Transmitter Station, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929. THF134707
Back at FMC headquarters in Dearborn, Ford announced in late 1933 that he would sponsor a program on both NBC and CBS networks. The Waring show aired two times a week between 1934 and 1937, when Ford pulled funding. Ford also sponsored World Series broadcasts. The most important radio investment FMC made, however, was the Ford Sunday Evening Hour, launched in the fall of 1934. Eighty-six CBS stations broadcast the show. Programs included classical music and corporate messages delivered by William J. Cameron, and occasionally guest hosts. Ford Motor Company printed and sold transcripts of the weekly talks for a small fee.
On August 24, 1941 Linton Wells (1893-1976), a journalist and foreign correspondent, hosted the broadcast and presented a piece on Fordlandia.
Program, "Ford Summer Hour," Sunday, August 24, 1941. THF134690
Linton Wells was not a stranger to Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, he and his wife, Fay Gillis Wells, posed for a tintype in the village studio on 2 May 1940.
Tintype Portrait of Linton Wells and Fay Gillis Wells, Taken at the Greenfield Village Tintype Studio, circa 1940. THF134720
This radio broadcast informed American listeners of the Fordlandia project, in its 16th year in 1941. Wells summarized the products made from rubber (by way of an introduction to the importance of the subject). He described the approach Ford took to carve an American factory out of an Amazonian jungle, and the “never-say-quit” attitude that prompted Ford to re-evaluate Fordlandia, and to trade 1,375 square miles of Fordlandia for an equal amount of land on Rio Tapajós, closer to the Amazon port of Santarem. This new location became Belterra. Little did listeners know the challenges that arose as Brazilians tried to sustain their rubber production, and Ford sought to grow its own rubber supply.
By 1942, nearly 3.6 million trees were growing at Fordlandia, but the first harvest yielded only 750 tons of rubber. By 1945, FMC sold the holdings to the Brazilian government (The Public Image of Henry Ford, 165).
The Ford Evening Hour Radio broadcasts likewise ceased production in 1942 after eight years and 400 performances.
Learn more about Fordlandia in our Digital Collections.
Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment; Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication and Information Technology; and Jim Orr is Image Services Specialist at The Henry Ford.
- Relevant collections in the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan.
- Grandin, Greg. Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City. Picador. 2010.
- Lewis, David L. The Public Image of Henry Ford: An American Folk Hero and His Company. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 1976.
- Frank, Zephyr and Aldo Musacchio. “The International Natural Rubber Market, 1870-1930.″ EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. March 16, 2008.
South America, 20th century, 1940s, 1930s, 1920s, technology, radio, Michigan, Henry Ford, Fordlandia and Belterra, Ford Motor Company, communication, by Kristen Gallerneaux, by Jim Orr, by Debra A. Reid
A Piano with a Past
Talented African American jazz pianists played this piano at Detroit’s Club Harlem during the mid-1930s. How did the piano acquire its ivory finish? A few years after Club Harlem closed, the Warblers moved to Allen Park. The piano went with them. Perhaps the ivory lacquer was added by Maurine Warbler—a more appropriate look, perhaps, for a piano that now resided in a suburban home THF166445 (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Allene Warbler in Remembrance of Her Parents Allen and Rene Warbler.)
The quiet ivory exterior of this unassuming little piano belies its jazz-infused past. Hidden beneath the ivory lacquer are glimpses of silver that offer a clue to its former life. Not only did this piano have a “front row seat” at one of the many jazz clubs that dotted Detroit’s Paradise Valley district during the 1930s and 1940s—it was part of the show.
In March 1934, this piano left the Wurlitzer company’s DeKalb, Illinois factory for its new destination—Detroit. It was delivered to a jazz club called Club Harlem, housed in the basement of the Lawn Apartment building on Vernor at Brush. To give the piano an appropriately “jazzy” look, the club’s managers painted over the piano’s rather reserved mahogany factory finish with aluminum paint. The back of the piano—the side visible to the audience—was covered with black velvet, decorated with large glittery musical notes. The piano’s small size—only 61-keys instead of the standard 88—was likely an asset to upstart Club Harlem in what may have been tight quarters filled with patrons in this basement nightclub. Too, its small size made it more affordable than a standard upright piano. Detroit’s economy was only beginning its slow and uneven recovery from the depths of the Depression.
More Alcohol, More Jazz
The timing of this new club’s opening in early 1934 was no accident. Prohibition had ended the previous December—it was again legal to manufacture, sell and transport intoxicating beverages in the United States. During the 13 years that prohibition had been in force, “underground” establishments had continued to discreetly serve patrons liquor, as well as often offering food and live shows. Now they could do it openly.
During the 1920s, jazz, a musical form rooted in the African American experience, had taken America—and the world—by storm. The fresh, lively sound of jazz was different than anything that had come before. It was the perfect “accompaniment”—in fact, helped define—this more modern era. A 1919 song, Take Me to the Land of Jazz, captured things perfectly with these lyrics, “How in every cabaret, it’s the only thing they play.”
Detroit's Paradise Valley
During the 1930s, a commercial center emerged in an area of Detroit (bounded by Gratiot, Vernor, Brush and Hastings streets) that became known as Paradise Valley. Racial discrimination had sequestered the city’s African American population into a tight-knit and vibrant community on Detroit’s near east side. Here, black-owned businesses dotted the streets and Detroit’s African American community could shop, eat, and enjoy their leisure time. Paradise Valley--with its clubs, theaters and dance halls—would become the major entertainment spot in Detroit, as a growing number of nightspots offered places where jazz could be enjoyed. Talented African American musicians and singers, including Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong, lit up the nights. Paradise Valley experienced its most rapid growth after Prohibition ended in 1933, with many jazz clubs--including Club Harlem--added during the following decade.
During the day, Paradise Valley was predominantly Black. At night and into the wee hours of the morning, Paradise Valley became more racially balanced, as many white Detroiters sought the entertainment opportunities found there. A major factor was the development of the black-and-tan nightclub, which catered to both African American and white audiences. Club Harlem, located at the northern boundary of Paradise Valley, was one of these black-and-tan jazz clubs. Many of the black-and-tan clubs in the district were owned by African American businessmen. A few, like Club Harlem, were owned by whites.
Club Harlem’s owner was Morris Wasserman. Wasserman ran a loan business and owned a pawn shop. (It was said that Wasserman also had ties to Detroit’s notorious Purple Gang, criminals involved in the illegal liquor trade during Prohibition.) Wasserman hired Allen Warbler to manage the club. Warbler had previously worked for Jean Goldkette, a prominent band organizer and booking agent, at Goldkette’s popular Detroit ballroom, the Graystone, during its heyday of the 1920s. Warbler's wife, Maurine, who had worked for a theatrical booking agent, designed many of the costumes worn by the chorus performers at Club Harlem.
Among the performers who played Club Harlem was 19-year-old Milt Buckner. Orphaned at the age of 9 and adopted by members of Earl Walton’s band, Milt and his brother Ted were prominent jazz musicians in 1930s Detroit. A few years later, Milt Buckner would join Lionel Hampton’s band as pianist and key music arranger. Bands headed by Monk Culp and Ernest Cooper also played Club Harlem. Other musicians who entertained Club Harlem’s audiences were 23-year-old saxophone player Charles “Tubby” Bowen, who would later lead a band under the name Tubby Bowen and His Tubs, and 25-year-old Sammy Price, a Texas pianist who became the house pianist for Decca Records in New York City in 1938, recording with many of New York’s jazz and blues greats.
Club Harlem had a short run--it operated from just 1934 to 1935. Club Harlem’s piano, once played by musicians like Milt Buckner and Sammy Price, ended its jazz career. Allen Warbler, Club Harlem’s manager, went into the real restate business. Club Harlem’s owner, Morris Wasserman, would open the Flame Show Bar on John R in Detroit in 1949. The Flame Show Bar would become one of the city’s major jazz clubs during the 1950s.
Pianist Sammy Price in a publicity shot from the mid-1930s THF249299. (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Allene Warbler in Remembrance of Her Parents Allen and Rene Warbler.)
These young women were likely dancers in Club Harlem’s “Shim Sham Shimmy” chorus THF249293 (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Allene Warbler in Remembrance of Her Parents Allen and Rene Warbler.)
Farewell to Paradise Valley
From the 1930s into the early 1950s, Paradise Valley bustled. But, in the 1950s and 1960s, urban renewal projects designed to “modernize” the city while eradicating “blight,” along with freeway construction for I-75, erased this vibrant African American community—scattering its inhabitants. Little remained of Paradise Valley and neighboring Black Bottom (named by French explorers for its rich soil), where the majority of Detroit’s African American community resided in rundown clapboard houses built to house the flood of German immigrants who arrived in the 1850s. No efforts were made by the city to support the relocation of the African Americans who had resided there. Detroit’s urban renewal projects—and their devastating effect on this community—helped fuel the growing resentment against racial discrimination that would culminate in the 1967 Detroit civil unrest.
A little of Paradise Valley hung on for a few decades, though. The 606 Horse Shoe Lounge was the last remaining nightclub from the glory days of Detroit’s Paradise Valley. The club was located at 606 E. Adams from the 1930s to the 1950s. It had featured a floor show, an orchestra, and its owner John R. “Buffalo” James as emcee. Construction of the I-75 freeway forced the club to relocate to 1907 N. St. Antoine by the early 1960s. This last vestige of Paradise Valley’s legendary jazz clubs was demolished in 2002, the building razed as part of the Ford Field construction.
The 606 Horse Shoe Lounge was the last remaining nightclub from Detroit’s legendary Paradise Valley THF166450 (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Arthur A. Jadach.)
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.
20th century, 1930s, popular culture, musical instruments, music, Michigan, Detroit, by Jeanine Head Miller, African American history
Exposed Engine: 1930 Ford Model A
1930 Ford Model A
Inline 4-cylinder engine, L-head valves, 201 cubic inches displacement, 40 horsepower
Painting engine blocks is a long-standing tradition among automakers. In the 1960s, Ford favored blue while Chevrolet preferred orange. But green was Ford’s color of choice when this Model A came off the line. The black enameled pipe, running diagonally along the block just below the carburetor, returns surplus oil from the valve chamber back to the crankcase.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Michigan, 20th century, 1930s, Henry Ford Museum, Ford Motor Company, Engines Exposed, engines, Driving America, cars, by Matt Anderson