Posts Tagged 19th century
The Hitchcock Chair: An American Innovation
Side Chair, Created by Lambert Hitchcock, 1825-1835. / THF81928
Many people believe that mass production started with Henry Ford and the Model T. But the ideas that led to this breakthrough were already being put into practice back in the early 1800s, in mills and manufactories dotting the countryside across New England.
It was there that Lambert Hitchcock applied early mass-production techniques to turn out chairs by the thousands — uniform, durable, attractive, affordable and, for a time, wildly popular.
Julia Barton Hunting of Pine Plains, New York, sat on a Hitchcock chair while posing for this portrait by Ammi Phillips, about 1830. / THF95303
Invention was in the air in New England during the early 1800s. Burgeoning industries like firearms, clocks and textiles were experimenting with new machinery — to increase production and make up for labor shortages — and with new factory arrangements that integrated materials and activities under one roof.
Furniture making had a long tradition of handcraftsmanship, and manufacturers varied in their adoption of machine production over generations-old hand processes. Handcrafted pieces were made to order, resulting in low production and fairly high costs. With water- or steam-powered machines to rough out the pieces, furniture makers could turn out more products at lower costs to sell to a wider market. Neither of these processes was right or wrong — the choice was essentially a business decision.
Lambert Hitchcock chose machine over hand production, inspired by the bustling firearms and clock industries in his home state of Connecticut. He had started out learning the craft of fine furniture making. But Hitchcock dreamed of manufacturing affordable furniture, using uniform parts that were quickly and cheaply made by machine and easy to assemble.
In 1818, Hitchcock chose a site in northwestern Connecticut where two fast-moving rivers came together. There, using the rivers’ power to operate his machinery, Hitchcock produced a line of chairs that was so affordable he basically created a brand-new market. Before long, Hitchcock’s chair factory — in the newly named village of Hitchcocks-ville — was turning out some 15,000 chairs per year.
The price, ranging from 45 cents to $1.75 (about $10.15 to $39.40 today), certainly appealed to people. Also appealing was the idea that machines could be harnessed to produce sturdy, functional chairs that everyone could enjoy. But Hitchcock did not ignore aesthetics. His characteristic stenciling across the back chair rails served as an attractive substitute to the hand carving on more expensive custom-made chairs.
In 1825, Hitchcock went one step further. He erected a three-story factory, arranged into sections, in which specific tools and materials were associated with logical steps in the assembly process. The ground floor held areas for rough-cutting work, like sawing, turning and planing. On the second floor, the chair parts were bonded together with glue, then dried in a kiln until their joints were firm. On the third floor, the chairs were painted and decorated, using precut stencils and prearranged patterns. Each of these stencils, designed to create a different part of the overall composition, was positioned on the chair back, then carefully rubbed with bronze powders to achieve the special tone and shading.
Lambert Hitchcock’s innovative factory in Hitchcocks-ville (now Riverton), Connecticut, as depicted in a 1955 Hitchcock Chair Company trade catalog. / Detail, THF626707
Professional male stencilers probably cut the stencils and lent their expertise, but women did much of the actual stenciling at Hitchcock’s factory. Many had learned this skill as young women at female academies that were popular in New England at the time. There they practiced the art of theorem painting — that is, creating stylized pictures of fruits and flowers that similarly used precut stencils, metallic powders and prearranged patterns.
An example of a theorem painting, created in 1835 by Caroline Bennett, a young woman who would have attended a female academy. / THF119757
Women also worked as seat rushers and caners, while children often did the painting and striping. At its peak of production in the late 1820s and early 1830s, Hitchcock employed over 100 workers.
Lambert Hitchcock was innovative in his manufacturing techniques: integrated work processes, division of labor, and application of fast and inexpensive, yet still attractive, decorative techniques. Hitchcock was also an assertive salesman, opening retail stores in Hitchcocks-ville and Hartford (the state capital), selling chairs wholesale to dealers and store owners and distributing his chairs far and wide through the network of itinerant Yankee peddlers.
Unfortunately, Lambert Hitchcock also made some costly mistakes. He located his factory in a very isolated area, with deplorable roads to Hartford and other markets. In 1844, Hitchcock moved his factory to a town called Unionville, banking on the construction of a new canal. But, alas, the canal construction was halted, and a new railroad bypassed the town. For his tremendous contributions, Hitchcock died at the age of 57 with few assets to his name.
But Hitchcock’s name and his chairs lived on. The chairs were so popular during their heyday that many competitors tried to imitate both their aesthetics and production techniques. To this day, chairs of this general style are referred to as Hitchcock (or Hitchcock-type) chairs. Hitchcock chairs were also painstakingly reproduced by succeeding generations of artisans, a tribute to the genius and foresight of Lambert Hitchcock, a true American innovator.
Generations of artisans continued producing Hitchcock chairs and a range of other furniture, as shown in this 1955 brochure. / THF626710
Donna R. Braden is senior curator and curator of public life at The Henry Ford. This post originally ran in March 2008 as part of our Pic of the Month series.
decorative arts, Connecticut, 1830s, 1820s, 1810s, 19th century, manufacturing, home life, Henry Ford Museum, furnishings, entrepreneurship, by Donna R. Braden
Tinsmiths: American Entrepreneurs
Tinsmiths pose with hand tools, machines, sheets of tinplate and examples of tinware, circa 1875. / THF228486
In early America, most tin shops were small family businesses. As the popularity of tinware grew, so did its production. Connecticut became the earliest tin manufacturing center. From there, the craft spread south and westward as skilled tinsmiths and their trained assistants brought tools, patterns and know-how to establish shops in new places.
The tinsmith held an important position as an artisan in the 19th century. Successful tinsmiths were enterprising and ambitious. As entrepreneurs, their goal was to make items that customers wanted, through means that saved as much time and labor as possible. Tinsmiths produced a vast array of utilitarian wares to meet a range of consumer needs. In addition to new goods, they offered repair services. Customers might bring their local tinsmith an article of tin or another material, such as pottery or glass, with a broken part to be repaired with a tin replacement.
Tinsmiths repaired these glass items during the second half of the 19th century. The glass portions are original; the tin portions are later replacements. / THF174369, THF174614, THF174041
Whenever possible, tinsmiths used machines in addition to hand tools to help them produce more of the same goods in less time and at a lower cost. Individual artistry was important – an item or its decoration might have a unique variation, either created by the tinsmith or arising out of the traditional or popular aesthetics of that particular region (e.g., Pennsylvania German hearts, tulips and birds). However, if that item proved popular, a tinsmith would produce it by the dozen.
This 1874 image depicts tinsmiths at work. Tinware and other metal goods are displayed for sale in the store adjacent to their shop (upper right), where a salesperson assists a customer considering a cast-iron stove. / THF626434
Tinsmiths came up with ingenious ways to sell their wares. They might retail them in their shops or at the local general store. But to meet and stimulate demand outside the areas in which they worked, tinsmiths made use of traveling peddlers.
Some peddlers worked directly for or under contract to a tinsmith. But, especially in New England, the most successful peddlers were independent. They bought stock from tin shop owners and sold it in open markets or from portable carts or wagons. These peddlers not only sold standard tinware but also took custom orders and stocked a variety of items beyond tinware, like brooms, dry goods and sewing notions. They primarily accepted barter in trade for their stock. Items accepted in barter — like hides, tallow, spun yarns, rags, wood ashes and feathers — came with standard price equivalents, which the peddler would resell to dealers for a profit. The barter system lasted well into the 19th century because peddlers actually made more profit from reselling these items to dealers than from selling tinware and other goods to customers for cash.
This 1868 illustration of a peddler selling his wares includes tinware as well as brooms, textiles and other items. / THF705605
Decline of the Tinsmith
By the 1870s, large tin manufactories turning out dozens of items had evolved into full-fledged tinware factories using steam-driven presses. It became no longer economical for most tinsmiths (except in the remotest of areas or because of longtime customer loyalty) to make or repair simple items, as factory-made goods were so much less expensive. Into the 20th century, some tinsmiths stayed in business by producing gutters, downspouts and furnace ducts. But even these were replaced later in the 20th century by galvanized steel and aluminum, which were more durable and easier to maintain. By the end of the 20th century, handmade tinware had come to be considered a heritage craft or folk art.
Donna R. Braden is senior curator and curator of public life at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted for the blog by Saige Jedele, associate curator, digital content.
Tinsmiths pose with hand tools, machines, sheets of tinplate and examples of tinware, circa 1875. / THF228486
Until the first decade of the 19th century, tinsmiths in both Europe and America manufactured virtually all tinware by hand, using a wide range of specialized tools. But as tinware became more popular, American tinsmiths developed a unique set of equipment that included patented cast-iron geared machines.
American tinsmithing began in the 18th century, but the production of tinware really took off after the War of 1812, when American tinsmiths could finally obtain a constant supply of tinplate (or tin-coated iron, the material tinsmiths use to make their wares) from England and Wales. (These countries dominated the tinplate industry through most of the 19th century.) The influx of imported tinplate, as well as the immigration of skilled English and Welsh tinsmiths, contributed to the tremendous popularity of tinware in 19th-century America.
This circa 1840 lithograph depicts the hand process of producing tinware, as well as several hand tools and examples of finished goods. / THF626375
Tinplate was a stiff but pliable material, shaped by cutting, bending, crimping (to create folds or pleats), hammering and soldering joints together. Tinsmiths needed training and skill to accomplish these tasks. Overheating could destroy the tin coating. Over-hammering could break the coating. Joints had to be carefully soldered with soldering irons heated over charcoal stoves or braziers. Tinsmiths generally developed their own wooden patterns to help reduce variation and error, but handwork still took much practice.
Increasing American demand for tinware led to the development and enthusiastic embrace of numerous patented hand-powered machines that saved time and labor, making it possible for tinsmiths to produce the same items in quantity in less time and at a lower cost. When they could afford them, American tinsmiths eagerly added these machines to their more traditional sets of hand tools.
This 1874 image depicts a tin shop that utilized traditional hand tools as well as at least one hand-cranked machine, visible just behind the tinsmith at center. / THF626434
A unique American characteristic of many crafts and trades in 19th-century America — tinsmithing being no exception — was the preference for speed and uniformity over European traditions of personal, individualized workmanship. Hand-cranked machines revolutionized American tinsmithing by replacing old hand methods — like crimping, bending and locking edges, cutting, forming, slitting, cutting circles, stamping and rolling — with quicker, more efficient steps to produce greater quantities of uniform pieces in less time. And as American tinsmiths embraced machines, their assistants required less training.
The manufacturer of Burton’s Double Seamer, patented in 1859 and illustrated here sealing the bottom of a round pan, advertised it as “the only one of any value to the tinware manufacturer.” Early hand-cranked machines led to a plethora of patented machines developed by American blacksmiths, toolmakers and machinists throughout the 19th century. / THF626369
This hand-cranked circle shear, patented in 1860, allowed tinsmiths to cut circles of tinplate up to 20 inches in diameter. / THF705411
Tinsmiths used hand-cranked forming machines, like this one depicted in a circa 1895 Peck, Stow & Wilcox Co. trade catalog, to create cylindrical shapes. / Detail, THF626395
By the 1850s, a range of patented geared machines could be found in an increasing number of tin manufactories, which employed up to 30 people and turned out dozens of uniformly made items. The longtime use of precut patterns or templates led, by the late 19th century, to the use of published pattern books, further helping to ensure uniformity. Small tin shops, which persisted into the early 20th century (particularly in rural and remote areas), could order parts – such as lids or bucket handles – from these establishments and pair them with or attach them to their own forms, to avoid purchasing the expensive specialized equipment needed to produce them. See our blog for more on the history of tinsmithing and tinware.
Donna R. Braden is senior curator and curator of public life at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted for the blog by Saige Jedele, associate curator, digital content.
Tin, the Dominant Material of 19th-Century America
This circa 1840 lithograph depicts several examples of tinware as well as some of the tools and processes used to make it. / THF626375
During the 19th century, tinplate or tin (actually iron coated with tin) was the dominant material for utilitarian items, both in American homes and in public spaces like offices and stores. Tin was lightweight, inexpensive, easy to clean, nontoxic and durable. As long as its coating remained intact, it resisted corrosion and had a pleasing silvery appearance. Tin goods, known as tinware, could be decorated to further enhance their appearance through japanning (coating with a resin to produce a dark, glossy finish), painting or pierced designs. Middle-class Americans happily purchased articles made of tin in place of equivalent housewares made of earlier materials: heavy cast iron, old-fashioned wrought iron, hard-to-clean wood, dull pewter and breakable pottery.
A range of japanned tinware sold by Herr & Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, circa 1926. / THF704030
The range of tinware made in local tin shops was almost endless. Most were highly utilitarian articles including kitchen utensils, bakeware, containers, lighting devices, stove piping, food safes and foot warmers. Customers also brought in broken items, whether made of tin or another material, to have them repaired. For example, they might have the tinsmith replace the broken handle of a piece of pottery with a newly fashioned tin one, as this was much less expensive than purchasing a new piece of pottery.
A tinsmith replaced the broken handle of this pitcher, dated 1839-1846. / THF174611
Tinware’s dominance persisted until the late 19th century, when it began to be superseded by goods made of materials that were considered even more attractive. These included speckled graniteware (steel with a porcelain-enamel coating) and, for showier items like teapots and coffeepots, Britannia (a combination of tin and antimony with small amounts of zinc, brass and copper) and silver plate (silver-coated iron). By the early 20th century, more durable materials – aluminum and galvanized or stainless steel – were becoming the new standards for utilitarian items. But tin, ever resilient, persists in modern-day products as a coating in aluminum cans and in combination with lead as a solder to join metal pieces together.
Donna R. Braden is senior curator and curator of public life at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted for the blog by Saige Jedele, associate curator, digital content.
Carnegie Libraries: Democratizing Knowledge
The Carnegie library depicted on this ceramic vase was built in Syracuse, New York, in 1905, with a $200,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie. Designed by Syracuse architect James Randall, it still boasts its original spacious marble vestibule and grand curved marble staircase. / THF192213
When I was growing up, I loved to visit the library. My local library, in a repurposed 1920s-era mansion in an eastside suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, was a magical place — complete with niches, mysterious cupboards and a grand staircase. I had no familiarity with Carnegie libraries until the 1980s when, as a young museum curator, I visited the Port Huron (MI) Museum of Arts and History to consult on a log cabin located on the museum’s grounds. When the director showed me around the main museum, he proudly told me that it had once been a Carnegie library. The interior space was delightfully laid out in a rotunda shape with staircases and balconies.
The Carnegie library in Lebanon, Ohio — funded by a $10,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie and supplemented by locally raised funds — opened in 1908. A large addition was built in the 1980s. / Photograph by the author.
I later encountered Carnegie libraries in other towns — like Traverse City, Michigan (where the library was also repurposed as a museum) and Lebanon, Ohio (where it is still used as a library). The townspeople in these places similarly spoke with pride about the fact that these were Carnegie libraries.
Andrew Carnegie’s own bookplate, circa 1915, bears the biblical phrase “Let There Be Light,” which symbolized to him the illuminating qualities of books and knowledge. Carnegie sometimes requested that a rising sun and the phrase “Let There Be Light” be engraved near the entrance of a library that he funded. / THF291248
Carnegie libraries were the vision of Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), a Scottish immigrant who was born poor but amassed an immense fortune from railroads, oil and steel. By the time he sold his Carnegie Steel Company for $250 million and retired, he was one of the wealthiest men in the world — perhaps the wealthiest.
As a youth working for a telegraph company in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (now part of Pittsburgh), Carnegie was introduced to a Colonel James Anderson, who generously opened his private library to young workers wishing to borrow and read books. This inspired Carnegie so much that he promised himself that if he ever became wealthy, he would provide similar opportunities to eager and deserving workers.
In 1910, Denver, Colorado, opened its Central Library building, an elegant Greek temple design made possible by a grant from Andrew Carnegie. Between 1913 and 1920, Carnegie also underwrote the construction of the city’s first eight branch libraries, which came to a grand total of $230,000. This building was decommissioned in 1956 when a new Central Library opened. / THF628038
Indeed, when Carnegie retired a wealthy man, he devoted the rest of his life to philanthropy, giving away some $350 million — nearly 90% of his fortune — to a variety of charities. At the same time, he developed a philosophy about wealth and philanthropy, which he described in an 1889 essay entitled, “The Gospel of Wealth.” In this essay, he asserted that the wealthy should use their riches for “lasting good” to society. They should live without extravagance, provide moderately for their dependents and distribute the rest of their riches to benefit the welfare and happiness of the common man — meaning not just anyone, but those who helped themselves, those who were interested in improving their own lot in life.
This free public library, which was designed by McKim, Mead & White and opened in 1904, was located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It was aimed at the varied immigrant populations — German, Italian, Jewish, Polish and Ukrainian — who inhabited that part of the city. / THF38047
This philosophy paralleled that of Progressive-era reformers of the time, who attempted to “remedy” the challenges inherent in the tremendous increase of immigrants arriving in America. These reformers believed that libraries were important to arming the new immigrants with knowledge to help them rise in society, become better voters by resisting the lure of dishonest politicians and avoid such unwholesome pursuits as drinking and gambling.
Wealthy, educated citizens often amassed private libraries for their own use. In this photograph, William J. Carr, justice of the Supreme Court of Kings County, New York, poses in front of his massive book collection. / THF38611
Free public libraries began to spread during the early 20th century, coinciding with new town developments. Before that time, most book collections were either privately owned, accessible by paid subscription or haphazardly stored in such public buildings as churches, post offices or city halls. But, although townspeople were high on ideals and ambition, these public libraries usually lagged behind in development, as money was tight, book collections were lacking and establishing places for reading just seemed to be a lower priority than such essential city services as public transportation, sanitation and schools.
When the citizens of Canton, Ohio, received Carnegie funding for a new library building, they enthusiastically held a design competition. Canton architect Guy Tilden won the competition and designed a stately new library, which opened in 1905. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. / THF289036
Enter Andrew Carnegie, armed with happy memories of times spent as a youth in Colonel Anderson’s library and committed to helping those who wanted to improve their own lives. The first of his funded libraries opened in 1889, in Braddock, Pennsylvania, home to a Carnegie steelworks. This was followed by a library in Carnegie’s own hometown of Allegheny.
Between 1886 and 1919, Andrew Carnegie donated more than $40 million to 1,679 new library buildings in communities of all sizes across America. Carnegie libraries were constructed in 46 states — with Indiana leading the way (165), followed by California (142), Ohio (111), New York (106), Illinois (106) and Iowa (101). Carnegie also funded libraries in other countries — the first being in his birthplace of Dunfermline, Scotland.
As Detroit grew by leaps and bounds in the early 20th century, the existing library building quickly outgrew its capacity. In 1910, the city accepted funds from Andrew Carnegie to build a new library to be situated along rapidly expanding Woodward Avenue. New York City architect Cass Gilbert (designer of the famed Woolworth Building) won the design competition for the new building, which opened in 1921. North and south wings were added in 1963. / THF119073
Towns had to apply to receive funding for a Carnegie library. In their applications, townspeople had to promise that their town owned the land on which the library would be built and that they would commit to the library’s ongoing maintenance and staffing. The architectural styles of the buildings typically followed popular building styles of the time and were often the result of local design competitions. In many small towns, the Carnegie library stood out as the most imposing structure, symbolizing that community’s dreams of prosperity and hopes for the future.
Although a free public library had existed in Newark, New Jersey, since 1884, this building, which opened in 1901, featured the new innovation of open stacks. / THF38387
A unique feature inside these libraries was "open stack" shelving that encouraged browsing. (Before, a clerk or librarian would retrieve requested books from “closed stacks.”) The libraries also tended to be open in design so that a librarian stationed at a central desk could keep a watchful eye over the entire library. Unfortunately, over time, staffing and maintenance did become an issue in many towns, as city planners were thrilled to receive a grant to build their library but then found themselves strapped for funds to support and maintain it.
In 1905, Andrew Carnegie donated an initial $260,000 to build a central library and three branch libraries in Springfield, Massachusetts (with enthusiastic contributions from local citizens, he increased his donations twice). An Italian Renaissance Revival-style design was chosen for the building, which opened in 1912 and featured a bronze bust of Andrew Carnegie in the central rotunda. In 1974, the library was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. / THF628058
Some people questioned Andrew Carnegie’s motives in funding these libraries. In 1892, Carnegie refused to end violence caused by strikebreakers at his company's Homestead Steel Works, forever staining his reputation. People criticized him for being ruthless, for funding libraries as a personal monument, for funding institutions that focused on the poor, or for focusing myopically on libraries as a panacea to society’s ills. Black activists criticized him for reinforcing Jim Crow (segregationist) policies while white racists accused him of potentially forcing integration into towns that strictly adhered to Jim Crow laws.
Iowa City, Iowa, was undergoing extensive growth at the turn of the century, and the Library Board of Trustees saw the wisdom of building a permanent home for its library. The board sent an inquiry to Andrew Carnegie during the summer of 1901 and was awarded a $25,000 grant (with an additional $10,000 the following year) for the library’s construction. The library opened in 1904. / THF628004
In the end, despite questions and criticism, large cities and small towns alike could not resist the lure of outside funding for a public library. To those who did get Carnegie funding to build a free public library, their libraries were, and have remained, sources of civic pride, epitomizing the sort of democratizing spirit that pervaded American communities in the early 20th century.
Donna R. Braden is senior curator and curator of public life at The Henry Ford.
The Grand Army of the Republic and Memorial Day
Members of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Visiting Mount Vernon, September 21, 1892 / THF254036
The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) was a fraternal society founded in 1866 for Civil War veterans from the Union Army. Earlier this year, Collections Specialist Laura Myles shared some artifacts from our collections related to the G.A.R., and also explained their relationship with Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day), as part of our History Outside the Box series on The Henry Ford’s Instagram channel. On the first Friday of every month, our collections experts share stories from our collection on Instagram—but if you missed this particular episode, you can watch it below.
20th century, 19th century, veterans, holidays, History Outside the Box, Grand Army of the Republic, Civil War, by Laura Myles, by Ellice Engdahl
Western Interactions with East Asia in the Decorative Arts: The 19th Century
Western Europe and its former colonies in the Americas were long fascinated with the Eastern cultures Europeans depicted as “mysterious”—specifically their exotic and luxurious trade goods. This is the second of two blog posts that examine this European and American fascination with Asia and the way that was expressed in the decorative arts. In the first post, I discussed the China trade in the 17th and 18th centuries, specifically Chinese export porcelain and the related tea trade. This post focuses on the 19th century, with the decline of the China trade, the opening of Japan to the West, Western eclecticism in the decorative arts, and the beginning of Western understanding of Asian design.
The China Trade in the First Half of the 19th Century
By the early 19th century, Europe and America had learned the secret of “hard paste” or true porcelain, so Westerners could produce their own high-quality wares. In the early American republic, porcelain factories popped up as early as the 1820s. This is not to suggest that that trade in Chinese porcelains declined; rather, it entered a new phase.
Canton Ware Serving Bowl, 1800–1850 / THF160724
The serving bowl above would have been a prized possession of an American family in the first half of the 19th century. Part of a dinnerware set, this Canton ware, or “Blue Willow,” pattern appealed to middle-class Americans as an example of the exoticism of a faraway place, and implied the owners’ good taste and sophistication. Compared with the expensive and highly prized 18th-century wares, Canton china was inexpensive. This porcelain was shipped from Guangzhou, then called the Port of Canton by the English, to serve as a ship’s ballast under the more valuable tea chests.
Canton Ware Serving Bowl, 1800–1850 / THF160723
These wares usually depict a landscape with Chinese buildings and a bridge in the center and have a decorated rim. This pattern was widely copied by English makers in the late 19th and 20th centuries and became so inexpensive that it was sold at five-and-ten cent stores in the 20th century. This example is interesting as it broke at some point during its working life and was mended with visible staples, indicating that it was indeed a valued possession.
Watercolor Painting, Two Rooms of a Chinese Painter's Studio, circa 1865 / THF119916
The remarkable image above shows the interior of a Chinese porcelain studio, with craftspeople decorating ceramics for the Western market. Visible on the wall on the left are prints or drawings supplied by Western agents, which were then copied by the artists in the foreground. The table on the right is filled with finished pieces of decorated ceramics. This piece itself was a souvenir intended for the Western market.
While the China trade continued throughout the 19th century, imports to America declined with the Civil War in the 1860s and never rebounded. After the Civil War, the United States and Europe became fascinated with another Asian nation, Japan.
Japan and the West
Japan, like China, traded with the Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch beginning in the 15th century. However, by the middle of the 17th century, Japanese authorities closed their doors to Europeans, primarily due to the undue influence of Catholic and Protestant missionaries. In 1853, the American Commodore Matthew Perry, under the direction of President Millard Fillmore, arrived in Yokohama harbor with a fleet of steam ships, which impressed the Japanese with their high degree of technology. The Japanese grudgingly agreed to open their markets to the Americans and the West. During the next few decades, traditional Japanese arts flowed to the West, where they profoundly influenced European and American fine and decorative arts.
Japanese River Scene Wood Block Print, 1900–1929 / THF292625
Japanese Travelers in a Snow Storm, Wood Block Print, 1900–1929 / THF292633
The wood block prints above are good examples of Japanese exports that excited Western artists and designers. The compositions were like nothing ever seen in Europe or America. The use of flat, unmodulated colors laid down next to each other, combined with diagonals, provided a sense of depth. This influenced the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists in France and designers everywhere.
Folding Side Chair, 1880–1885 / THF92166
The influence of images from Japanese prints on Western decorative arts can be seen in the carved cranes on the side chair above, painted in black to imitate ebony, an expensive wood that late Victorians associated with Japan. This is known as Anglo-Japanese style, which began in England in the 1870s and spread to America by the 1880s. Like many of the Asian imports, this Western style had little to do with Japan itself; rather, it suggested the “exoticism” of the Far East.
Pitcher, 1870–1875, Made by Tiffany and Company, New York, New York / THF190746
Like the side chair, Tiffany and Company’s elegant silver pitcher uses stylized images of birds and foliage done in the Anglo-Japanese style.
Floral Wallpaper Sample, 1860–1880 / THF190058
Floral Wallpaper Sample, 1860–1880 / THF190057
Wallpaper Sample, 1880–1890 / THF190054
The highly stylized wallpapers shown above were derived from the floral patterns of Japanese prints. European and American designers called these abstracted patterns “conventionalized” ornament. These wallpapers appealed to those interested in what was called the “aesthetic” taste. This taste tended to be high style, although by the 1880s, middle-class Americans applied elements of it in their interiors. For example, the sample above was found in the middle-class Firestone Farmhouse, now in Greenfield Village. The date of our interpretation is 1885.
Eclectic Design in the Late 19th Century
What we’ve looked at so far has imagery directly linked to either Chinese or Japanese originals, but there is another category of decorative objects that contain more interpretive elements derived from Chinese, Japanese, or other Asian designs. Some of these pieces contain imaginary elements that the designer created out of thin air.
“Crown Milano” Vase, 1888–1893, Made by the Mount Washington Glass Company, New Bedford, Massachusetts / THF163595
“Burmese” Caster, 1885–1895, Made by the Mount Washington Glass Company, New Bedford, Massachusetts / THF167758
The ornate and elegant glass pieces above are clearly influenced by Japanese designs but have been transformed by late-19th-century American glassmakers into something unique. They are highly decorative and distinctly of their time.
Silver Tea Caddy, 1875, Made by the Gorham Manufacturing Company, Providence, Rhode Island / THF190070
Tea and Coffee Service, 1883–1884, Made by Gorham Manufacturing Company, Providence, Rhode Island / THF154882
In the late 19th century, wealthy Americans demanded ornate silver sets, and above are notable examples of just how wild they could get. The tea caddy references Asian design elements—as perceived by Americans, who had little true understanding of Asian cultures. Likewise, the full tea set picks up on the Anglo-Japanese style, but takes it much farther, into something truly Victorian—and, like the glass examples, totally unique.
Attempts at Understanding Asia
Vase, 1896–1908, Made by Hugh Robertson at the Dedham Pottery, Dedham, Massachusetts / THF176707
By the beginning of the 20th century, there were several designers looking for true sources of inspiration in Asian design. One of the most interesting of these was the English-born potter Hugh Robertson (1845–1908). During his time at the Dedham Pottery in Massachusetts, Robertson was obsessed with recreating the well-known Chinese oxblood glaze, seen on the vase above. He spent decades experimenting and perfecting the glaze, first at his family's Chelsea Keramic Art Works and later at Dedham. He was also interested in recreating the forms of Chinese porcelain made for domestic production rather than for export.
I hope you have enjoyed this quick journey through The Henry Ford's collection of Asian-influenced decorative arts. All of these artifacts, as well as many more, are available for browsing online in our Digital Collections.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.
Europe, 19th century, Asia, paintings, glass, furnishings, design, decorative arts, ceramics, by Charles Sable, art
For decades, many Americans shared a common misperception that Indigenous people feared the geysers at Yellowstone. / THF120298
Until recently, much of the American public has shared a common misperception that few Indigenous people had ever ventured within the boundaries of what became Yellowstone National Park. Story had it that these people were afraid of the geysers, or that they felt that the hissing steam vents were signs of angry gods or evil spirits. In fact, the presence of Indigenous Americans was purposefully erased from the story of Yellowstone National Park, beginning with the first white “scientific” expedition there in 1871. This erasure, which lasted through most of the park’s history, is only recently beginning to change.
Some Indigenous people, in their pursuit of the large herds of bison to the east, created a trail that passed near what is now known as Mammoth Hot Springs. / THF120351
Archaeological evidence now indicates that as far back as 10,000 years ago, several bands of Indigenous people regularly passed through this area, primarily hunting bison, bighorn sheep, elk, and deer. In historic times, the area continued to serve as a crossroads for many Indigenous groups—including Crow, Shoshone, Bannock, Blackfoot, Nez Perce, and Flathead—who followed the Yellowstone River and other waterways through what eventually became the boundaries of the park. They tracked small buffalo herds, elk, and deer in the mountains and forests during the summer months and followed these animals to the warmer geothermal area of the Yellowstone Basin during the bitter winter months. Some of these groups crossed through the area to pursue the great herds of bison in the plains farther east, creating a trail that passed through the area now known as Mammoth Hot Springs and stretching eastward across what is known today as Lamar Valley. Early white hunters, trappers, and explorers not only followed the trails that Indigenous people created, but it is from these people that they first heard the fantastic stories of geothermal wonders in the Yellowstone Basin.
Many early photographs of the wonders of Yellowstone, like this “Grand Group” of geysers, were probably taken by William Henry Jackson, one of the people who accompanied Ferdinand Hayden on his 1871 expedition through what would become the park. / THF120369
The process of Indigenous erasure in Yellowstone began in earnest with the Hayden expedition of 1871—a large, government-funded expedition led by geologist Ferdinand Hayden to study, collect specimens in, and map out the confines of the Yellowstone “wonderland” that had been receiving so much recent attention. Hayden and members of his expedition were able to observe firsthand the places that had been described primarily in stories told by Shoshone and Bannock people—astonishing places like “The White Mountain” (which became known as Mammoth Hot Springs) and the spectacular geysers, bubbling mud pots, and hissing steam vents situated within the geothermal area of the Yellowstone Basin. As a result of this expedition, Hayden laid claim to this unique landscape on behalf of the United States government and the American people, choosing to ignore the longstanding use of the region by Indigenous people. Instead, the expedition report pointed to Yellowstone’s wonders as proof of the country’s “exceptionalism”—that is, Americans’ long-sought evidence that the United States was unique and exceptional when compared with other nations of the world.
Photo of "Sheepeater" Shoshone, William Henry Jackson, 1871. / Public domain photo from National Park Service
By the time of the Hayden Expedition, the only Indigenous people still known to inhabit the area were a by-then considered poor and lowly band of Eastern Shoshone called Sheepeaters (Tukudeka or Tukadika). A wealth of recent archaeological information has pointed to the conclusion that this band had inhabited and roamed this area for thousands of years—not the mere 200 years that early white explorers surmised (a story that then became widely accepted). These people had developed a remarkably sustainable way of life, taking advantage of the once-large population of bighorn sheep for food, clothing, blankets, tools, and bows. Early white trappers observed this band’s self-confidence, intelligence, friendliness, and willingness to trade their fine-quality hide clothing, horn bows, and obsidian arrowheads. Unfortunately, the bighorn sheep population plummeted as the result of diseases brought by white settlers’ domestic sheep. White hunters and settlers also decimated other game and polluted the streams in which these people had fished. No wonder, then, that by the 1870s white explorers of the area described these people as starving and miserable.
In 1903, this monumental stone gateway was completed to mark the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The words “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” inscribed above the arch, are taken directly from the legislation that created Yellowstone back in 1872. / THF120280
The widely publicized and highly celebrated Hayden report rapidly led to the creation of a bill to set the area aside as a national park, a “resort for all classes of people from all portions of the world,” a democratic landscape of tourism. When the question of Indigenous claims to the area under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie was raised, the argument was made that the land was simply too hostile for Indigenous people to live there. Though this was not true, Hayden’s expedition report had already justified the removal of Indigenous people from the area. The bill passed easily, with the help of aggressive lobbying by the Northern Pacific Railroad and the strong desire by members of Congress to use the bill as a way to help unify a Civil War-torn nation. The Yellowstone National Park Protection Act (or, simply, the Yellowstone Act) was placed on President Ulysses S. Grant’s desk on March 1, 1872. President Grant signed it without fanfare. During the 1870s, the Sheepeaters were easily rounded up and exiled to the Wind River (Wyoming) and Fort Hall (Idaho) reservations to live with other bands of Shoshone, along with Bannock and Arapaho people.
Early tourists typically boarded horse-drawn carriages to view the sites at Yellowstone National Park. / THF200464
When Yellowstone became a national park, no funds were allotted to administer or manage it. But an 1877 incident involving an encounter between another Indigenous group and two groups of tourists in the park changed that. The incident involved a group of Nez Perce (Nii mi’ipuu) crossing through the park in an epic flight to avoid the U.S. Army, who was pursuing them to force their removal from their ancestral homeland in eastern Oregon to a tiny reservation in Washington. This incident, which unfortunately involved violence and hostage-taking, created a national media sensation. Many personal accounts of the episode emerged afterward, with some indication that those who were involved sympathized with the plight of the Nez Perce. The Nez Perce group managed to successfully evade the army until the soldiers finally caught up with them 40 miles south of the Canadian border—in an attempt to join Sitting Bull’s Lakota band.
As a result of the widespread publicity and furor raised by this incident, Congress finally committed some money to managing the park. As tourism increased, Congress pressured Yellowstone park administrators to control the “savages” because it was assumed that they would endanger the park’s visitors. After that time, park administrators aggressively downplayed any presence of Indigenous people, not wanting the park’s well-heeled guests to risk crossing paths with them, or to even be worried that they might. By 1882, all Indigenous groups had been banned from the park.
Sheepeater Cliff was named after the only Indigenous people that lived on in public memory as having inhabited the Yellowstone area. / Photo by NPS/Jim Peaco
Once the real presence of Indigenous people had been erased from the landscape, park superintendents, railroad publicists, and tourists alike could look back—safely, nostalgically, and romantically—on the one-time presence of Indigenous people there. For example, when park administrators came across the remnants of wickiups (temporary shelters made from poles leaned and tied together, covered with brush or grass) eight miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs, they assumed these were made and used by the Sheepeaters. Since this was the only group still in the public memory as having inhabited Yellowstone, they felt that they were honoring their one-time presence by naming the natural feature near there “Sheepeater Cliff”—though this band did not live in that area and likely did not build these shelters. Once established, the perception that no Indigenous people had ever set foot inside the current boundaries of Yellowstone National Park (except for the Sheepeaters) persisted for decades.
In recent years, however, archaeologists, historians, and Indigenous activists have begun to correct the narrative of Indigenous presence and habitation on this land. In addition, administrators at Yellowstone National Park have also been making a concerted effort to elevate Indigenous voices and incorporate Indigenous knowledge systems into their research and programs (see, for example: https://roadtrippers.com/magazine/yellowstone-150-native-american-voices/ and https://www.nps.gov/yell/getinvolved/150-years-of-yellowstone.htm). Today, they recognize at least 27 distinct American tribes that have historic and present-day connections to the land and resources of the park. As champions of ecological connectivity, Indigenous people have been galvanizing action to protect Yellowstone’s wildlife, helping to relocate bison culled from the park, raising awareness on living with bears and wolves in the wider landscape, and enlightening administrators and the public on other aspects of environmental conservation related to the Yellowstone ecosystem. For the 150th anniversary of the park in 2022, administrators have been “shining a light” on Indigenous people whose past, present, and future are an essential part of Yellowstone’s story. As Cam Sholly, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, proclaims, “This isn’t just about the last century and a half. We also want to use this anniversary to do a better job of fully recognizing many American Indian nations that lived in this area for thousands of years prior to Yellowstone becoming a park…. The engagement we’re doing now will help set a stronger foundation for collaboration well into the future.”
As erasure shifts toward inclusion—through published materials, behind-the-scenes collaboration, and public programming—the historic and present-day connections of Indigenous people to Yellowstone National Park will continue to play an important role in the park’s future.
Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. For recent books aimed at greater inclusion of Indigenous people in Yellowstone’s history, she recommends Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America by Megan Kate Nelson (2022) and Wonderlandscape: Yellowstone National Park and the Evolution of an American Cultural Icon by John Clayton (2017).
Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park, nature, national parks, Indigenous peoples, by Donna R. Braden, 21st century, 2020s, 19th century
Alert Hose Company of Big Rapids, Michigan
Unidentified Member of Alert Hose Company. / THF212048
Sometime during the late 1870s, members of the Alert Hose Company in Big Rapids, Michigan, posed for the local photographer. Arms crossed and standing tall, each of the firefighters wears a uniform—typical of those worn when competing in a local or regional firemen's tournament. The men had won several tournament prizes by the time they posed for these photographs—perhaps the prize money helped pay for the cartes-de-visite that became a remembrance of the company's victory. But these images offer more than just a glimpse at the Alert Hose Company's participation in a sporting event. They document the culmination of the company's years of hard work protecting Big Rapids against the ravages of fire, the pride in their company and their community, and their connection with the greater fraternity of 19th-century firefighters.
Fires in Big Rapids
Big Rapids, located in Mecosta County, Michigan, was incorporated in 1869. Like many 19th-century cities, it was susceptible to fire. The wood used to construct early homes and businesses offered ready fuel to the flames of an unwatched candle or lamp or a stray ember from a stove or fireplace. According to the 1883 Mecosta County history [p. 645], "Big Rapids has been a sufferer from fire at various times… The first fire of any consequence in the place was… in the year 1860." It was not any better in 1869 when another disastrous fire occurred [p. 645]: "No water supply or engines for extinguishing fires were here at that time, and common pails or buckets were the only appliance afforded. Lines of men were formed to supply water with buckets from wells in the vicinity, and even from the river, but without avail. The Mason House... was only saved by tearing down a small building [nearby] belonging to Harwood & Olds, and then hanging carpets and bed-clothes from the roof and windows, and keeping them saturated with water."
Finally, in 1871, men in Big Rapids organized volunteer fire companies, and the citizens and the city government discussed creating a local water supply for fire protection and private use.
Unidentified, Charles Gore, Jack Shaw, and W. E. Drew. / THF212050, THF212054, THF212056, THF212058
Volunteer Fire Companies in Big Rapids
Volunteer firefighters needed to work as a unit when it came time to fight a fire. Nineteenth-century fire companies usually consisted of men from similar class divisions, backgrounds, or ethnic groups and kinships. This sense of fraternity cemented the unit's cohesion. The camaraderie and kinship of fighting fires and their unique status as protectors in the community bound the firefighters together.
The Alert Hose Company was one of several volunteer firefighting companies to organize in Big Rapids in the early 1870s. The volunteers' job was to get to a burning structure as quickly as possible—pulling a hose cart or carriage—and attach hoses to an available water source so they could begin controlling the conflagration. By 1876, the growing city of Big Rapids had at least two other hose companies (Defiance and Protection) and the Pioneer Hook and Ladder company. (Hook and ladder companies employed hooks to tear down parts of buildings to limit a fire's spread and ladders to fight fires and rescue individuals in multi-story buildings.)
Little is known about the men who made up the Alert Hose Company, though names written on the back of some of the photographs provide a start. A quick review of census records from 1870 and 1880 and a city directory from 1884 give a few clues about a small subset. They were young working men mostly in their mid-20s and a couple in their 30s, though one was in his late teens. Several were related in some fashion. Their occupations included laborers, clerks, and a drayman (teamster)—none of the known men owned a business, though a few may have owned farms. Being part of the local fire company provided connections to businesses in the community to help guide their careers. A more thorough search of records (outside the scope of this blog) would provide more information on why this group of men came together to form the Alert Hose Company.
Henry Shaw, Charles Ellis, "Zip" Hammond, and Thomas Shaw. / THF212060, THF212062, THF212064, THF212066
By the 1870s, fire companies tested their firefighting skills against other companies at various regional, state, and national firemen's tournaments. Local companies usually competed against one another on holidays or community fair days. State and national associations sponsored large competitions and set tournament rules and dates. Companies invited to participate usually competed in hose cart races, hook and ladder competitions, and pumping contests (to see how far a company could spray water from a hose), among other activities.
Training for and participating in firemen's tournaments tested and sharpened a company's firefighting skills, promoted a sense of pride in competition, and strengthened the sense of teamwork and fraternity. Participation in these tournaments by fire companies also engaged the local community. Government officials, business leaders, and ordinary citizens supported fire companies by cheering them on and providing monetary support through donations and prize money. Finally, friendly competitions between local companies broadened the sense of fraternity by creating a larger brotherhood of firefighters.
Arthur Webster, "Louie" Goulette, Angus McLelland, and Fred Marble. / THF212068, THF212070, THF212072, THF212074
The Alert Hose Company in Tournaments
The men of the Alert Hose Company in Big Rapids, Michigan, began participating in hose cart races at various tournaments in the mid-1870s. In a hose cart race, a fire company ran a set distance pulling a cart reeled with hoses. Men in the company unwound the hoses, attached them to a water source, and then sprayed water. The fastest time won the prize. A review of articles from the Detroit Free Press highlights the successes of the fire company and the support of its community.
In 1875, the Alert Hose Company (along with the Pioneer Hook and Ladder company) made an appearance at the State Firemen's Tournament held in Jackson, Michigan. Reports mentioned no prizes, but, according to the papers, when they returned home, the men were met "with an enthusiastic reception and dinner[.]" On July 4, 1876, the Big Rapids' firefighting companies competed against one another for prize money. The "Alerts" won the champion belt and a cash prize of $50 offered by the mayor. The other firefighting companies took home lesser amounts funded by the citizens. The following year at the Mecosta County Fair, the "Alerts" took home a $100 purse in the hose cart race.
A bigger prize awaited in 1878. In September, the "Alerts" headed off to Chicago to compete in a national competition. Their teamwork paid off; they finished second within a long list of competitors. The prize this time was noteworthy—$300 in cash and a nickel-plated hose cart made by Silsby Company of Seneca Falls, New York. Citizens of Big Rapids turned out to greet their heroes when they returned home. Evergreens, flags, and banners decorated the local hall, the women of the town prepared a dinner, and, of course, there were speeches. A final mention from this period came in an 1882 article that reported the men of the Alert Hose Company had won a special prize of $10 at the State Firemen's Tournament for the "best appearing company."
Throughout the 1870s, local fire companies organized in the newly formed city of Big Rapids, Michigan. These volunteer firemen worked to protect their homes and community against the ever-present danger of fire. Each company needed to work as a cohesive unit when fighting flames and smoke. Similar backgrounds, ethnicities, and economic status—and the desire to protect their community—brought these men together. And local and regional firefighters' tournaments provided a way to hone the skills needed to become an effective team. The small images shown here, taken by a local photographer, point to the unity and pride that the men of the Alert Hose Company had in their avocation and the fraternity they represented.
See all 14 members of the Alert Hose Company (including one member not in uniform) in The Henry Ford's Digital Collections here.
Andy Stupperich is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
19th century, 1870s, 1860s, photographs, Michigan, by Andy Stupperich
Ackley Covered Bridge in Pennsylvania
Few visitors to Greenfield Village cross Ackley Covered Bridge realizing the significance of the structure surrounding them. It is one of the oldest surviving covered bridges in the country, and considerable thought went into its overall design. Covered bridges have long been stereotyped as quaint, but the reason behind their construction was never charm or shelter for travelers. The sole function of the “cover” was to protect the bridge’s truss system by keeping its structural timbers dry.
Built in 1832, Ackley Covered Bridge represents an early form of American vernacular architecture and is the oldest “multiple kingpost” truss bridge in the country. This structural design consists of a series of upright wooden posts with braces inclined from the abutments at either end of the bridge and leaning towards the center post, or “kingpost.” It is also a prime example of period workmanship and bridge construction undertaken with pride as a community enterprise.
This map of Washington County, Pennsylvania, shows the original site of Ackley Covered Bridge (bottom left). / THF625813
Ackley Covered Bridge was constructed across Wheeling Creek on the Greene-Washington County line near West Finley, Pennsylvania. The single-span, 80-foot structure was built to accommodate traffic caused by an influx of settlers. Daniel and Joshua Ackley, who had moved with their mother to Greene County in 1814, donated the land on which the bridge was originally constructed, as well as the building materials. More than 100 men from the local community, including contractor Daniel Clouse, were involved in the bridge’s construction. Like most early bridge builders in America, they were little known outside their community. But their techniques were sound, and their work stood the test of time.
Initial community discussions about the bridge included a proposal to use hickory trees, which were abundant in the region, in honor of President Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson. Instead, they settled on white oak, which was more durable and less likely to warp. The timber came from Ackley property a half mile south of the building site. It was cut at a local sawmill located a mile south of the bridge. Hewing to the shapes and size desired was done by hand on site. Stone for the abutments was secured from a quarry close by.
Ackley Covered Bridge replaced an earlier swinging grapevine bridge, and it may soon have been replaced itself if settlement and construction in the region had continued. Instead, the area remained largely undeveloped for several decades. This, along with three roof replacements (in 1860, 1890, and 1920), helped ensure the bridge’s survival.
Ackley Covered Bridge at its original site before relocation to Greenfield Village, 1937. / THF235241
Plans to replace the more than 100-year-old structure with a new concrete bridge in 1937 spurred appeals from the local community to Henry Ford, asking him to relocate Ackley Covered Bridge to Greenfield Village. Ford sent representatives to inspect, measure, and photograph the bridge before accepting it as a donation from Joshua Ackley’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Evans. She had purchased the well-worn structure from the state of Pennsylvania for $25, a figure based on the value of its timber. Evans had a family connection to one of Ford’s heroes, William Holmes McGuffey. McGuffey’s birthplace, already in Greenfield Village, had stood a mere seven miles from the original site of Ackley Covered Bridge—an association that likely factored in Ford’s decision to rescue the structure.
Dismantling of Ackley Covered Bridge began in December 1937. Its timbers were shipped by rail to Dearborn, Michigan, and the bridge was constructed over a specially designed pond in Greenfield Village just in time for its formal dedication in July 1938.
Ackley Covered Bridge after construction in Greenfield Village, 1938. / THF625902
This post was adapted by Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford, from a historic structure report written in July 1999 by architectural consultant Lauren B. Sickels-Taves, Ph.D.
Michigan, Dearborn, Pennsylvania, 1830s, 19th century, travel, roads and road trips, making, Henry Ford, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, by Saige Jedele, by Lauren B. Sickels-Taves, Ackley Covered Bridge