In an era of extreme automotive styling, the Mark II was elegantly understated. Its advertising slogan, “the excitement of being conservative,” confirmed that Mark II’s appeal depended not on chrome, but rather on flawless quality control, extensive road testing, shocks that adjusted to speed, and power steering, brakes, windows, and seats. Not understated was the $10,000 price. Owned by VIPs like Frank Sinatra and Nelson Rockefeller, it was the most expensive American car you could--or couldn’t--buy.
William Clay Ford (left) reviews a clay model of the Mark II in 1953. He inherited a passion for styling from his father, Edsel Ford, and directed the Mark II’s design and development. / THF112905
The dashboard--luxurious in 1956--featured an instrument panel inspired by airplanes, with a pushbutton radio, watch-dial gauges, and throttle-style climate control levers. /THF113250
Like the car, advertising was understated. This Vogue magazine ad links the car with classic design in architecture and fashion. / THF83341
This post was adapted from an exhibit label in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.
The 1953 Ford Sunliner, Official Pace Car of the 1953 Indianapolis 500. (THF87498)
As America’s longest-running automobile race, it’s not surprising that the Indianapolis 500 is steeped in special traditions. Whether it’s the wistful singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” before the green flag, or the celebratory Victory Lane milk toast – which is anything but milquetoast – Indy is full of distinctive rituals that make the race unique. One of those long-standing traditions is the pace car, a fixture since the very first Indy 500 in 1911.
This is no mere ceremonial role. The pace car is a working vehicle that leads the grid into the start of the race, and then comes back out during caution laps to keep the field moving in an orderly fashion. Traditionally, the pace car’s make has varied from year to year, though it is invariably an American brand. Indiana manufacturers like Stutz, Marmon, and Studebaker showed up frequently, but badges from the Detroit Three – Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors – have dominated. In more recent years, Chevrolet has been the provider of choice, with every pace car since 2002 being either a Corvette or a Camaro. Since 1936, the race’s winning driver has received a copy of pace car as a part of the prize package.
Amelia Earhart rides in the pace car, a 1935 Ford V-8, at the 1935 Indianapolis 500. (THF256052)
Likewise, honorary pace car drivers have changed over time. The first decades often featured industry leaders like Carl Fisher (founder of Indianapolis Motor Speedway), Harry Stutz, and Edsel Ford. Starting in the 1970s, celebrities like James Garner, Jay Leno, and Morgan Freeman appeared. Racing drivers have always been in the mix, with everyone from Barney Oldfield to Jackie Stewart to Jeff Gordon having served in the role. (The “fastest” pace car driver was probably Charles Yeager, who drove in 1986 – 39 years after he broke the sound barrier in the rocket-powered airplane Glamorous Glennis.)
Ford was given pace car honors for 1953. It was a big year for the company – half a century had passed since Henry Ford and his primary shareholders signed the articles of association establishing Ford Motor Company in 1903. The firm celebrated its golden anniversary in several ways. It commissioned Norman Rockwell to create artwork for a special calendar. It built a high-tech concept car said to contain more than 50 automotive innovations. And it gave every vehicle it built that year a commemorative steering wheel badge that read “50th Anniversary 1903-1953.”
Henry Ford’s 1902 “999” race car poses with the 1953 Ford Sunliner pace car on Ford’s Dearborn test track. (Note the familiar clocktower at upper right!) (THF130893)
For its star turn at Indianapolis, Ford provided a Sunliner model to fulfill the pace car’s duties. The two-door Sunliner convertible was a part of Ford’s Crestline series – its top trim level for the 1953 model year. Crestline cars featured chrome window moldings, sun visors, and armrests. Unlike the entry-level Mainline or mid-priced Customline series, which were available with either Ford’s inline 6 or V-8 engines, Crestline cars came only with the 239 cubic inch, 110 horsepower V-8. Additionally, Crestline was the only one of the three series to include a convertible body style.
William Clay Ford at the tiller of “999” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (THF130906)
Ford actually sent two cars to Indianapolis for the big race. In addition to the pace car, Henry Ford’s 1902 race car “999” was pulled from exhibit at Henry Ford Museum to participate in the festivities. True, “999” never competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But its best-known driver, Barney Oldfield, drove twice in the Indy 500, finishing in fifth place both in 1914 and 1916. Fittingly, Indy officials gave William Clay Ford the honor of driving the pace car. Mr. Ford, the youngest of Henry Ford’s grandchildren, didn’t stop there. He also personally piloted “999” in demonstrations prior to the race.
As for the race itself? The 1953 Indianapolis 500 was a hot one – literally. Temperatures were well over 90° F on race day, and hotter still on the mostly asphalt track. Many drivers actually called in relief drivers for a portion of the race. After 3 hours and 53 minutes of sweltering competition, the victory went to Bill Vukovich – who drove all 200 laps himself – with an average race speed of 127.740 mph. It was the first of two consecutive Indy 500 wins for Vukovich. Sadly, Vukovich was killed in a crash during the 1955 race.
Another view of the 1953 Ford Sunliner pace car. (THF87499)
Following the 1953 race and its associated ceremonies, Ford Motor Company gifted the original race-used pace car to The Henry Ford, where it remains today. Ford Motor also produced some 2,000 replicas for sale to the public. Each replica included the same features (Ford-O-Matic transmission, power steering, Continental spare tire kit), paint (Sungate Ivory), and lettering as the original. Reportedly, it was the first time a manufacturer offered pace car copies for purchase by the general public – something that is now a well-established tradition in its own right.
Sure, the Sunliner pace car is easy to overlook next to legendary race cars like “Old 16,” the Lotus-Ford, or – indeed – the “999,” but it’s a special link to America’s most important auto race, and it’s a noteworthy part of the auto racing collection at The Henry Ford.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Rachel Carson devoted her early career to studying and writing about the ocean. During the 1950s, her poetic books about the sea brought her recognition and fame as an author.
Carson’s books helped build a new awareness about the environment. Her most important book, Silent Spring, released in 1962, asked Americans to examine the negative effects of widespread chemical pesticide use.
Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, linked human action to environmental destruction and ignited a national conversation. THF110029
During World War II, a chemical called DDT protected troops by killing disease-spreading insects. After the war, numerous products containing DDT became commercially available to American consumers for pest control.
In Silent Spring, Carson urged the public to live in harmony with nature and cautioned against the overuse of DDT, which destroyed insect populations and threatened other wildlife species. America reacted. The government banned DDT in 1972. The environmental movement—sparked in part by Carson’s book—continues today.
An interactive digital experience in Henry Ford Museum features the stories of Rachel Carson, Luther Burbank, and George Washington Carver.
Learn more about Carson’s life and work in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where a new digital experience in the Agriculture & the Environment exhibit explores
The post-WWII “chemical craze” that prompted Carson to act
The long-term environmental effects of pesticide misuse
Books and magazines from the beginning of the environmental movement
Carson’s influence on the evolution of environmental activism
One of the comic book titles that came under attack in the 1950s THF141540
The popularity of comic books has always ebbed and flowed. But there was a time when their very survival was at stake. Back in the 1950s, Cold War hysteria and the fear of Communist infiltration into American society led to a deep concern about, and intense scrutiny of, comic books. This was the one medium at the time that went directly from manufacturer to child, bypassing adult supervision.
An American psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham fanned the flames of adult concern at the time. Dr. Wertham worked with juvenile delinquents and found that the one thing they all seemed to have in common was their devotion to comic books. Beginning in 1948, he went on an anti-comic book crusade, writing and speaking out against the detrimental effects that he claimed comic book reading had on young people.
Dr. Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent book, 1954 THF277193
Dr. Wertham summed up his arguments in his 1954 opus, Seduction of the Innocent. This 400-page indictment of the comic book industry warned parents and educators that comic books were not only a harmful form of popular literature but also a serious cause of juvenile delinquency. In the book, as in his lectures, he cited examples of violence, sexual themes, drug use, and other adult fare that he had found within the pages of actual comic books—asserting that reading this material encouraged similar behavior. According to Dr. Wertham, these examples were especially evidenced in the extremely popular crime and horror titles published by the EC comic book company at the time.
Comic books with covers like this one, showing violence and scantily clad women, were among those that Dr. Wertham denounced. THF141552
Seduction of the Innocent created a sensation, as Dr. Wertham put forth a potent combination of professional expertise and moral outrage. It confirmed the growing fear by many parents that their children’s attachment to comic books was permanently harming their willingness to conform to societal rules and hindering their ability to become law-abiding citizens in America’s democratic society.
1951 Superman comic book predating the Comics Code Authority’s stamp of approval THF141569
1965 Superman comic book with its Comics Code Authority stamp of approval in the upper right corner THF305329
The national attention focused upon the comic book industry led to a simultaneous U.S. Congressional inquiry in 1954. As things were looking bleak for the comic book industry, the publishers decided to band together and self-censor their own titles by adopting a new Comics Code Authority (or CCA). According to CCA regulations, each company was required to include a Stamp of Approval on the cover of every one of its issues as a sign that it had met compliance with the Code.
December 1954 issue of Mad when it was a comic book, just before it was converted into a magazine THF141567
As a result, EC titles were soon taken off the shelves. In fact, this company would have been completely wiped out except for its popular Mad magazine, which became highly successful in its own right. Even though the other comic book companies honed their stories closely to the guidelines of the Code, the damage had been done. Comic books were held in disdain for years to the point that, by the early 1960s, their very survival was at risk. We can thank, in large part, Marvel Comics’ new approach to stories and superheroes for their remarkable comeback.
Dr. Wertham was later discredited for “manipulating, overstating, compromising, and fabricating” evidence. And, before long, parents found that comic books were minor in their concern about harmful influences on America’s youth, as they seemed like nothing compared to the new Hollywood teenage films, paperback novels, and rock ‘n’ roll music! Only later did people better understand that teenage angst and rebellion were very normal parts of growing up.
Teenage movies like the one shown in this 1959 poster made comic books seem tame by comparison. THF109455
Through the ensuing decades, few comic books dared veer from the Code’s regulations that forbade depictions of graphic violence, advocated alignment with societal norms, and dictated that all comic book stories end on an upbeat note. But by the late 20th century, these norms had changed enough that the earlier regulations had lost much of their relevance. The two major comic book companies—Marvel and DC—finally dropped the CCA in favor of their own rating systems—in 2001 and 2011, respectively.
For a time, comic books went on trial. But they managed to survive and adapt. Ironically, later studies revealed that comic books actually played a positive role in enhancing literacy, inspiring imagination, providing new career outlets, and leading to lifetime hobbies.
Smallness was not attractive in itself, so Nash -- which competed for the same narrow slice of the market with small cars like the Crosley, the Willys, the Hudson Jet, and Kaiser’s Henry J -- pitched the Rambler as a small car that seemed big.
Nash tried to make the Rambler appeal to everyone by giving it a little bit of everything—even seemingly contradictory things: economy and luxury, convertible and hardtop, small enough to park and big enough to seat five, as safe as a sedan and as sexy as a sports car.
"Partio" Cart Used by Dwight Eisenhower, circa 1960. THF151438
This upscale Partio outdoor kitchen is an eye-catching icon of America’s postwar prosperity during the Eisenhower era (1953-1961)—and was owned by none other than President Dwight D. Eisenhower himself. America enjoyed unprecedented prosperity as the economy soared to record heights. As people moved to the suburbs, they rediscovered the pleasures of outdoor cooking and eating.
In the 1950s--after the material deprivations of a decade and a half of economic depression, and then war--Americans were ready to buy. The number of homeowners increased by 50 percent between 1945 and 1960. Americans filled their homes with consumer goods that poured out of America’s factories—including televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, electric mixers, and outdoor grills.
Advertising fueled their desire for materials things; credit cards made buying easier. Newsweek magazine commented in 1953 that, “Time has swept away the Puritan conception of immorality in debt and godliness in thrift.” Even President Eisenhower suggested that the American public “Buy anything,” during a slight business dip.
President Eisenhower used this Partio portable kitchen cart at his Palm Springs, California home. The Partio performed surface cooking (burners and griddle), oven cooking (roasting and broiling), and charcoal cooking (grilling and rotisserie). As mentioned in the article, “The Cottage the Eisenhowers Called Home,” published in the February 1962 issue of Palm Springs Life Magazine, the Partio appears pictured with the following caption: “Chef Eisenhower shows Mamie and Mary Jean the patio barbecue cart—‘It’s the most fantastic things you ever saw.’”
GE Partio Cart User's Manual, circa 1960. THF112534
Designed and built by General Electric, the Partio offers both a seductive glimpse of mid-century southern California outdoor living and hints at trends that become pronounced five decades later. This unit, essentially a cart-mounted range, married with a charcoal grill and rotisserie, combines a vivid 1950s turquoise palette with that decade's angular "sheer" look, forecasting styling trends of the early 1960s. The high-end Partio prefigures the lavish outdoor kitchen barbeque/range units that became popular at the end of the 20th century. At the same time, along with the more familiar Weber charcoal grills, it speaks to an increased leisure and love of outdoor entertaining.
The Henry Ford acquired the Partio in 2012; currently the artifact is out on loan to the Atlanta History Center as part of its current exhibit, "Barbecue Nation," an exploration of the history behind one of America's greatest folk foods.
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. Marc Greuther is Chief Curator and Senior Director, Historical Resources, at The Henry Ford.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a soft-spoken African American seamstress, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This led to a city-wide bus boycott by the African American community that was so successful many consider Rosa Parks’ act to be the event that sparked the Civil Rights movement.
It’s a powerful story: one person’s simple act of courage can change the world. Today it’s difficult to imagine the real risks that Rosa Parks faced and the tremendous amount of courage she possessed in refusing to give up her seat that day. To get a better sense of this, we must explore the nature of segregated travel in the Jim Crow South.
Separate and Unequal Jim Crow laws -- first enacted in the 1880s by angry and resentful Southern whites against freed African Americans -- separated Blacks from whites in all aspects of daily life. Favoring whites and repressing Blacks, these became an institutionalized form of inequality.
Jim Crow was a character created for a minstrel-show act during the 1830s, the date of this sheet music. The act -- featuring a white actor wearing Black makeup -- was meant to demean and make fun of African Americans.THF98689
In the Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states had the legal power to require segregation between Blacks and whites. Jim Crow laws - now legally enforceable - spread across the South virtually anywhere that the two races might come in contact. Many of these practices lasted into the 1960s, until outlawed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Through separate (and inferior) public facilities like building entrances, elevators, cashier windows, and drinking fountains, African Americans were reminded everywhere of their second-class status. THF13419andTHF13421
Travel in the segregated South was particularly humiliating for African Americans, beginning with railroads back in the 19th century. Traveling in or between southern states by railway, African Americans of all economic classes were generally relegated to primitive, uncomfortable "Jim Crow cars." Located just behind the locomotive, these were also the most dangerous cars should a collision or boiler explosion occur. Any Black railway passenger who complained or refused to comply with the rules could be forcibly removed from the train, beaten, or even killed. Conductors in some states were given policing power to enforce the rules or they could summon local police at station stops to back them up.
Southern states established segregated railroad station facilities for Blacks, with separate (and often inferior) ticket agent windows and restrooms, and often lacking the eating facilities available to whites. This sign was installed in a Louisville & Nashville Railroad station. THF93445
The coming of affordable automobiles seemed to provide southern Blacks with a way to get around the indignities of long-distance rail travel. However, as soon as Black motorists stopped along the road, Jim Crow laws returned in force. Service station and roadside restrooms were usually closed to African Americans, so they often resorted to stashing buckets or portable toilets in their trunks. Diners and restaurants regularly turned away Black customers, who took to bringing food along with them. Roadside motels often refused to admit Blacks, so they had to depend on the hospitality of their own people or chance the discovery of a "Negro" rooming house.
To avoid Jim Crows laws while travelling in the South (and unwritten Jim Crow practices followed in the North), Black motorists created their own tourist infrastructure, with specially published guides steering them to safe accommodations. This is the 1949 edition of "The Negro Motorist Green Book," produced by postal employee Victor H. Green, of Harlem, New York, from 1936 until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. THF77183
Physically separating Blacks and whites was most difficult on city transit systems. By 1905, every southern state had outlawed Blacks from sitting next to whites on trolleys and streetcars, while individual conductors usually ordered black patrons to move from this or that seat. Middle-class Blacks were particularly indignant about these laws and organized numerous long-forgotten boycotts and protests. But, like railroad conductors before them, streetcar conductors were given policing power - and even weapons - to enforce the laws. Any Blacks who challenged the rules of behavior were dealt with swiftly and harshly.
As buses replaced trolleys and streetcars on city streets, Jim Crow laws continued. Each state and city had different requirements and customs to signal how Blacks and whites were to be separated on the buses. But, as with earlier modes of transportation, individual drivers had great latitude in determining where people sat and the power to enforce their decisions.
By the 1950s, as many as 40,000 African Americans regularly rode the city buses in Rosa Parks’ home town of Montgomery, Alabama (compared with about 12,000 whites). Officially, 10 seats in the front of each bus were reserved for whites. These spaces were reserved no matter what. Often this meant Black riders were jammed in the aisle, standing over empty seats. If the white section filled up and more white riders came in, an entire row of Black passengers had to get up and move back. Bus drivers could demand more seats for whites at any time and in any number. Furthermore, drivers often forced African American riders, once they had paid their fare, to get off the bus and re-enter through the back door-sometimes driving away without them. (Rosa Parks had actually experienced this.) Those who didn’t comply with these rules could be not only verbally abused but also slapped, knocked on the floor, pushed out the door, beaten, or even killed (which did occur in a few little-publicized cases).
A Courageous Act As stories of abusive drivers and humiliating incidents continued to spread, anger in the black community grew. However, most of the time, the indignities went unchallenged. Expecting African Americans to resist these long-established laws and traditions meant asking them to risk great harm and to summon an extraordinary amount of personal courage.
By 1955, inspired by attempts in other cities, Black community leaders in Montgomery explored the idea of a city-wide bus boycott - an organized refusal to use the buses. But they would need the united support of the city's African American bus riders, a notion that was unprecedented, untested, and likely to fail given past experience. And, after some fits and starts in trying to find an appropriate test case, they realized that a successful boycott would require the determined action of someone who possessed a flawless character and reputation and, at the same time, could ignite the action of an entire community.
That person, it turned out, was Rosa Parks. Her action on December 1, 1955, was unplanned and spontaneous, although her life experiences had undoubtedly prepared her for that moment. She was not the first African American to challenge the segregation laws of the Montgomery city bus system. But her sterling reputation, her quiet strength, and her moral fortitude caused her act to successfully ignite action in others.
This Montgomery city bus, acquired by The Henry Ford in 2001, is the actual bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat back in 1955. It now resides in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation's With Liberty & Justice For All exhibition.THF134576
Sparking a Movement Rosa Parks’ arrest for defying the Jim Crow law of segregation on Montgomery buses led to an immediate city-wide bus boycott, during which the Black community shared rides, walked, or worked out carpools-despite burnings, bombings, gunshots, and arrests. The Montgomery bus boycott lasted more than one year - 381 days to be exact -until the U.S. Supreme Court finally declared segregation on Alabama buses to be unconstitutional.
Rosa Parks' simple, courageous act gave African Americans everywhere a new sense of pride and purpose, and inspired non-violent protests in other cities. Because of this, many consider her singular act of protest on the bus to be the event that sparked the Civil Rights movement.
Unfortunately, the impact of her act took its toll on Rosa Parks herself. She lost her job, her marriage became strained, her quiet life was gone, and she received threatening phone calls and letters. In 1957, she left Montgomery, moving to Detroit and eventually working for Congressman John Conyers.
How did Rosa Parks summon the courage to defy decades of established rules and traditions about segregated travel? A few months after her arrest, she explained it like this:
The time had just come when I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed, I suppose. I had decided that I would have to know, once and for all, what rights I had as a human being, and a citizen, even in Montgomery, Alabama.
Rosa Parks was not a civic, political, or religious leader. She was just an ordinary person. And she well knew the risks of her actions. But, through her example, she showed others what was possible. Her uncommon courage shines through as an inspiration to us today.
Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. This post originally ran as part of our Pic of the Month series.
"Seedy Weeds," Fabric Sample Designed by Ruth Adler Schnee, 1953. THF169002
Walking through the House Industries "A Type of Learning" exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation you're sure to notice the attention given to printed textiles, from kitchen tea towels to handmade dolls.
The textiles created by the House Industries team are just one of their popular offerings and make us think about other well-known textiles that reside within our collections.
Another set of bold textiles that have broad appeal are those created by pioneering modern designer Ruth Adler Schnee. Her furnishing and drapery fabrics were favorites of the everyday consumer and leading architects alike, including Minoru Yamasaki, Paul Rudolph, and Buckminster Fuller. Adler Schnee’s textiles, which feature vivid color and abstracted organic forms, added whimsy and depth to the sleek, minimal aesthetic popular in the mid-century period.
Take a look at a few of Adler Schnee's pieces in The Henry Ford collections in this expert set.
“Where Will You Stay Tonight?” Freedom. Independence. Hitting the open road without a care in the world. After years of being tied down to railroad schedules, motorists in the early 20th century used words like these to describe the joys of cross-country travel by automobile.
African Americans were as eager to purchase automobiles as anyone, to escape the indignities of “Jim Crow” laws that dictated segregated waiting rooms and railroad cars in the South, and to avoid more subtle—yet equally humiliating—forms of discrimination elsewhere. But the joys of motoring without care did not apply to them.
Sign from segregated railroad station, 1921. THF93445
For, once they stopped along the road—anywhere along the road in virtually any part of the country—segregation, discrimination, and humiliation returned in force. It was at hotels and tourist cabins that denied them lodging for the night; at restaurants, where they were turned away for meals or a cup of coffee; and at service stations, where requests to fill up with gasoline, repair a vehicle, or use the restroom were denied. According to Civil Rights leader Julian Bond, “It didn’t matter where you went—Jim Crow was everywhere.” Constantly alert to situations that might be humiliating, African-American motorists took to packing food, blankets, pillows, portable containers with gasoline, and old coffee cans or buckets to use as toilets. They made prior plans to stop overnight with relatives or friends, sometimes driving miles out of their way.
Even worse than segregation laws and customs, Black travelers had to constantly navigate a minefield of uncertainty and risk on the road. Would this place be safe to stop? Could my children use the bathroom here? African-American motorists faced the potential of physical violence, racial profiling by police (targeting individuals for crimes based upon their race), or forcible expulsion from whites-only “sundown towns” in both the North and South, with their laws insisting that non-whites leave city limits by dusk or face the consequences. Some African-American travelers did not make it to their destinations, they just disappeared. It is no wonder that the question, “Where Will You Stay Tonight?” was always top of mind.
Victor Green Addresses a Need “The Negro Motorist Green Book” was the brainchild of Victor H. Green, a black postal carrier in Hackensack, New Jersey, who later moved to Harlem in New York City. As Green tells it, the idea for this guidebook came to him in 1932, when he decided to do something about his own frustrating travel experiences as well as the constant complaints he heard from friends and neighbors about difficult and painfully embarrassing experiences they had while traveling by automobile. Green modeled the guide after those created for Jewish travelers, a group that had long experienced discrimination at vacation spots. The first edition of The Green Book, produced in 1936, was limited to listings in New York City. But the demand for the guide was so great that, by the following year, it became national in both scope and distribution.
Although often including longer editorial features, at its heart The Green Book was a directory of safe places for African-American travelers, including hotels, motels, tourist homes (the homes of private individuals who were willing to offer a room for the night), restaurants, beauty and barber shops, service stations, garages, road houses, taverns, and nightclubs. The most prolific listings were in metropolises with large populations of black Americans, like New York, Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Perhaps more valuable to travelers were the listings in smaller towns far removed from these cities.
The Los Angeles listings in the 1949 Green Book were quite extensive compared to other California towns and cities.THF77190
Green collected the listings through his contacts in the postal workers’ union, as well as by asking Green Book users to submit suggestions. As the book became more popular, Green commissioned agents to solicit new business listings as well as to verify the accuracy of existing ones.
From his small-scale publishing house in Harlem, Green distributed the books by mail order, to black-owned businesses, and at Esso (Standard Oil) service stations—a rare gasoline distributor that franchised to African Americans. He sold copies at black churches, the Negro Urban League, virtually anywhere that African Americans were bound to encounter them.
The Michigan listings in the 1949 Green Book were most extensive in Detroit and the black resort of Idlewild. THF77203
Rise and Decline Publication of The Green Book was suspended between 1942 and 1946, because of World War II, but it started up again in earnest with the postwar travel boom in 1947. Ever the entrepreneur looking for ways to aid African American travelers, Green branched out that year to create a Vacation Reservation Service, a travel agency that booked reservations at any hotel or resort listed in the book. That same year, he also issued a supplementary directory of summer resorts that welcomed black vacationers, called the Green Book Vacation Guide.
Left: An ad for The Green Book Vacation Guide in the 1949 Green Book. THF 77185
In 1952, Green retired from the postal service and became a full-time publisher. He renamed the guidebook “The Negro Travelers’ Green Book” to reflect the increasing popularity of international travel by ship and airplane. By 1955, the book was endorsed and in use by the American Automobile Association and its hundreds of affiliated clubs throughout the country, as well as travel bureaus, bus lines, airlines, travelers’ aid societies, libraries, and thousands of subscribers.
The market for The Green Book began eroding in the 1960s, especially after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that legally prohibited racial segregation. Increasing numbers of middle-class African Americans began to question whether the book was actually doing more harm than good because it continued to encourage Jim Crow practices by steering black travelers to segregated businesses rather than encouraging integration. New, interstate-highway hotels, which were integrated, became preferable to detouring to black-owned lodgings in remote locations. The Green Book continued until 1966, published by Victor Green’s family after his death in 1960. Until the last year of publication, the book maintained that listing black-friendly businesses guaranteed hassle-free vacations for African-American families.
For 30 years, The Green Book protected African Americans from difficulties, indignities, and humiliation during their travels. Green charged only enough to make a modest profit. He never became rich; it was really all about helping out. In publishing this book, Green not only helped thousands of African Americans take more enjoyable vacations but also gave a tremendous boost to black-owned businesses across the country during the challenging Jim Crow era.
Peruse the entire 1949 “Negro Motorist Green Book” in our digital collections.
1949 Mercury Convertible, “kustomized” by George and Sam Barris. Few names loom as large in the world of custom cars as that of George Barris. Mr. Barris, who passed away last November, will forever be associated with the many television and movie cars built by his Los Angeles shop – none more famous than the 1966 Batmobile, adapted from the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car. But these high-profile cars were just one part of his work. Before Hollywood came knocking, George and his brother Sam had already built a reputation for their imaginative work with other cars, particularly the 1949-1951 Mercury models so loved by first-generation customizers. Indeed, just months before George Barris’s death, several Barris Mercurys were featured at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
We are fortunate to have a Barris Mercury custom – or “kustom,” as Barris invariably spelled it – in the collections of The Henry Ford. Our 1949 Mercury features a chopped windshield; a padded, removable Carson top; frenched headlights and taillights; dechromed surfaces; and prominent “Barris” crests on the front fenders. For a Barris job of the 1950s, the modifications are mild, but sometimes less is more. The color is a deep metalflake purple, with lavender scallops. The scheme continues in the interior, upholstered in purple and white. In the “anything goes” spirit of the custom car hobby, there’s even a little Chevrolet in our Merc – the grille is out of a 1957 Corvette.
Our Barris ’49 Mercury isn’t all Blue Oval. There’s a bit of Bow Tie in that grille. The 1949-1951 Mercurys, in stock form, were styled a bit behind the times. Their fenders and small windows looked dated next to other postwar cars – especially alongside their sister 1949 Fords. But those old lines appealed to southern California customizers. Lower the roof and suspension, and you turned a staid sedan into a head-turning – almost intimidating – street machine. Mercury customizers were also fond of removing chrome (famously excessive on production cars of that era), substituting parts from other cars, and applying deep, dark paints to the dramatic bodies. Radical or outlandish modifications hadn’t yet caught on in the field. Customizers essentially tweaked their cars to bring out a natural beauty that they already saw.
Our Mercury, then, is a classic example of these influential custom cars. It’s the perfect symbol for the customizer’s craft in Driving America, and a fitting tribute to one of the best-known “kustomizers” in the business.