Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Posts Tagged artifacts

October 24, 2013, was a Thursday like any other Thursday in the offices of The Henry Ford—until 5:48 PM rolled around. At 5:48 PM precisely (not that we were counting), we completed digitization of our 20,000th collections item! There was much rejoicing and taking of celebratory screenshots of our collections management system.

Having seen this goal on the horizon, we had already discussed which item should be the auspicious 20,000th. We settled on something both significant and (we felt) celebratory: a photograph of the first industrial robot, Unimate, serving a drink to George Devol, its creator.

Unimate Machine Serving a Drink to George Devol, 1970-1985.

We also arranged to have cake, celebrating the many staff in the institution who work on digitization in large and small ways.


And, we commemorated some of the notable digitization projects we’d worked on over the past few years with stickers created from our digital collections images.

Can-Do Stickers

Long-time photographer Rudy Ruzicska proudly showed off his stickers to Henry Ford.


There is a good reason we made such a big deal out of this milestone. Even though digitization is a relatively new process for The Henry Ford (and for many other museums and archives), the potential of getting our collections online is enormous.

Case in point, only about 9% of all the material we’ve digitized thus far is items currently located in public areas in the Museum or in Greenfield Village. About 60% of our digitized content is located in our archival stacks, previously accessible only through a visit to the Research Library in the Benson Ford Research Center. About half a percent of our digitized collections are items currently on loan to another institution, ranging from a few miles away (this Hudson, for example, is currently on loan to the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Collection) to halfway across the world (as witness this Rolls-Royce hood ornament, currently located in China). The remaining 30% or so of the collections items we’ve digitized are neither on public display nor accessible through the Research Library—they are items the public (and even many of our staff and volunteers!) would never otherwise get to see.

This is where the digital world offers a whole new way for our visitors to learn the stories behind our collections—not just by paying us a visit in person, but by making a virtual visit to the treasure trove of documents, photographs, and objects that we hold in trust for current and future generations.

We hope you enjoy viewing all of our growing digital collections. If you have a suggestion for what we should digitize next, or have thoughts on how we can make these digital collections more useful and meaningful, please let us know in the comments below!

Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford, is already counting down to our next digital collection milestone.

artifacts, digital collections

The Wright Brothers are perennial favorites among our visitors and staff, and so we have just digitized a couple dozen Wright-related photos (including this one showing Orville prepping for a 1908 flight), pamphlets, and other items from our archives, as selected by Chief Archivist Terry Hoover. Explore more Wright Brothers material in our digital collections related to the Wright Brothers, Orville Wright, and Wilbur Wright—or pay a visit to the Wright family home and cycle shop.

artifacts, planes

Taking Up Collections

September 16, 2013
In addition to those many hats, collections managers often have to wear gloves.

Even now, after having interned with the Collections Management department at The Henry Ford for an entire season, it is difficult to come up with one succinct, all-encompassing description of my job and duties. I will say, simply and incompletely, that collections management is the care and regulation of the objects in a museum. Collections managers are asked to do so many different types of work that the job necessitates a variety of skills. In an institution as large as The Henry Ford, there is such a large number of specialized job titles as to warrant an entire Collections Management team. During the course of my internship, however, I learned that even in a specialized department, a historian has to wear a lot of different hats to get the job done.

Even before this summer, I was familiar with The Henry Ford. Besides growing up in the area, I was also an intern at the museum in the fall of 2010, researching automobile specifications for Driving America. As I entered graduate school at Appalachian State University in 2012, I knew that I was required to do another internship; I also knew where I wanted to intern. My first experience at The Henry Ford was so beneficial that I felt compelled to return.

This “Gaudy Welsh” style Coffeepot (left), object ID 28.953.9, and “Boston” Rocking Chair, object ID 24.111.120, are both of the period and were within the means of a Baptist minister's family in Saline, Michigan. We like to call these artifacts "parsonage-worthy."

Together with two other Simmons interns, I was fortunate enough to work on the George Matthew Adams Birthplace in Greenfield Village. About two years ago, employees at The Henry Ford noticed that the house appeared to be sliding down the hillside. This challenged the institution to find a way to halt the slide and preserve the historic integrity and structural stability of the house. Curatorial staff researched the history of this Baptist parsonage and decided that another interpretation provided more compelling stories and was more compatible with the institution's mission. In this new interpretation, the date shifts from the mid-Victorian 1870s to the early Victorian 1840s. This requires replacing furnishings dating from the 1860s and 1870s with those dating from the late 1820s to early 1840s.

That is where I came in. I was hired on as the Collections Management intern for the Adams House project. My duties took me to every storage unit at The Henry Ford, both onsite and off, in order to track down artifacts that curators deemed as possible fits for the new interpretation. After locating the furnishings that appeared on the list, I documented my findings by taking photographs of artifacts and reporting on their condition and location. I then updated their information and added reference photos to EMu, the institution's collections management system. If the objects were selected by the curatorial team, I moved them to conservation, where they are undergoing preparation for eventual installation in the house.

During this internship, my professional and historical skills grew by leaps and bounds. I learned the proper ways to handle, transport, and store artifacts. Just as importantly, I now know how to recognize, update, and store the data that goes along with the artifacts. With a collection as large The Henry Ford's, it is important that details are not lost in the shuffle; EMu is a great tool for keeping collections organized and projects flowing smoothly. Like all professions, the museum field has become increasingly dependent on new technology in recent years. One such example is with the program Sketchup, which allows the user to create 3D renderings of objects and buildings. I used this program to plan the layout of the Adams House, allowing staff members to determine what furniture can fit in the new interpretation.

An early rendering of a possible layout for the parlor and sitting room in the reimagined Adams House. Sketchup allows staff to create a rough floor plan before moving any artifacts.

This internship made me a more well-rounded museum professional. I have had internships filled with research and education in the past, and it was a very welcome change to have an experience with a little more physical work and independence. Most museums are not as large as The Henry Ford. The variety of skills I gained working in this expansive, fast-paced environment can easily transfer to any museum, large or small, when I begin my career.

Jacob Thomas was one of this summer's Simmons Graduate Interns.

artifacts, collections

This is the inaugural post of a new regular feature on The Henry Ford’s blog showcasing an item from the physical collections of The Henry Ford that has been recently added to our digital collections. In addition to an image, we’ll provide a brief bit of background information and links or hints for searching. A lot of the objects we’re digitizing are not currently on display, so in many cases the digital collections are the only way to see them. Please enjoy, and let us know if you have any questions about our digitization efforts.

This week we’ve just added an object that may look familiar to our visitors—this eighteenth-century daybed is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum in the “Fully Furnished” exhibit. View the daybed and over 270 pieces of furniture and related items by visiting our collections website. Let us know if your favorite piece from “Fully Furnished” has been added yet!


Henry Ford 150 year chrome sealAs we digitize the collections of The Henry Ford, we try to find and tell complete stories—for example, we don’t just digitize the race car, but also trophies it won, and photos from some of its most famous races. Because of our broad collecting approach and the resultant depth of our collections, we uncover these stories all the time.

Sometimes fate and/or current events help us out. Though The Henry Ford is an independent institution, we do maintain a warm relationship with Ford Motor Company and often work together on projects. Recently we discovered a series of items in our collection that played a big role in Ford Motor Company’s history, both nearly 90 years ago and again just six years ago.

The items include a number of paintings, magazine advertisement proofs created from those (and other) paintings, and correspondence that formed an impressive ad campaign. The campaign itself consisted of 16 ads that ran in the Saturday Evening Post and other magazines in 1924 and 1925. The ads, two-page spreads that contained both visually arresting artwork and a significant amount of text, explained the backstory of the Ford company at a time when, as Marc Greuther, Chief Curator and Curator of Industry and Design at The Henry Ford, states, the company was at “a certain kind of pinnacle” with their signature product, the Model T, but “the product is slipping.”

1924 Ford Motor Company Institutional Message Advertising Campaign, "Opening the Highways to All Mankind"

As fascinating as it is, this ad campaign might have disappeared into relative obscurity if it hadn’t been rediscovered by Ford Motor Company’s new President and CEO, Alan Mulally, in 2007. In a recent interview with Fast Company, Mulally said, “I was looking for a compelling vision, a comprehensive statement to deliver that strategy.” This ad campaign from the previous century provided just the fundamental sense of purpose that Mulally was after, and allowed him to create a new strategic vision that was embraced across Ford Motor Company.

Blast Furnace, 1924

As we discussed this backstory with Ford Motor Company, both organizations were extremely interested in highlighting the ad campaign. Marc Greuther conducted a one-on-one interview with Alan Mulally about the impact the earlier campaign had on today’s Ford Motor Company (you can view clips from that interview here and here). As discussions continued between our institutions, the Ford Motor Company Fund generously provided a grant to conserve and reframe some of the materials, as well as create videos covering the conservation process and interviews. We made plans to highlight some of the newly conserved paintings within our Driving America exhibit. The new exhibit was officially unveiled on June 24, with Alan Mulally and other luminaries (including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who checked in at the Museum on Foursquare) in attendance.

The new and improved marketing section of our Driving America exhibit.

The interactive kiosk within this section of the exhibit was updated to include new video clips featuring Marc Greuther’s interview with Alan Mulally, as well as additional analysis of the campaign by Marc. It also now features an electronic collections set containing all of the paintings, ad proofs, and correspondence connected to the campaign, as well as other related materials.

1924 Ford Motor Company Institutional Message Advertising Campaign, "From Source to Service"

In case you’ve ever wondered what it takes to pull this kind of historical story together, in both physical and digital formats, here are some of the groups that played a role:

  • Archivists from The Henry Ford combed the stacks, locating the ads and other materials related to the campaign
  • Registrars, archivists, and curators from The Henry Ford researched all of the materials as well as the backstory
  • Ford Motor Company provided access to Alan Mulally, Dean Weber (Manager of the Ford Archives), and other key corporate resources, both for interviews and project planning
  • The Ford Motor Company Fund provided a grant which underwrote conservation and reframing of some of the materials, as well as creation of videos covering the conservation process and interviews
  • Conservators, both at The Henry Ford and outside the institution, examined and conserved the artifacts
  • Curators at The Henry Ford planned the story, materials, and text for the new exhibit
  • Photographers and imaging specialists from The Henry Ford photographed and scanned of all the material
  • Digitization staff at The Henry Ford made sure all artifacts related to the campaign appeared online and on the interactive kiosk within this exhibit section
  • Museum and exhibits staff at The Henry Ford worked with contractors to update the Driving America exhibit with the new material
  • Events staff at The Henry Ford worked with Ford Motor Company to ensure the official unveiling went without a hitch
  • Ford Motor Company created a website to share photos, videos, and a press release relating to this project
  • And it continues to build… Staff at The Henry Ford have already fielded one loan request for some of the paintings and advertisements not used in Driving America (you can see them through October 2013 in the Michigan Modern exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.)
  • It certainly took a lot of time, effort, and funding to put this all together, but we hope you’ll agree that the resulting exhibit in Driving America within the Museum—as well as the digital assets, available to anyone around the world—are worth it. Let us know what you think.

    Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford, is always trying to integrate the physical and the digital.

    artifacts, research, research center

    It’s always a thrill when we get to meet descendants of people connected with our Greenfield Village buildings. A few weeks ago, we hosted five descendants of Dr. Howard, whose Tekonsha, Mich., office is located out in the Village next to the Logan County Court House.

    Numerous Dr. Howard descendants attended the formal dedication of this building in Greenfield Village back on Oct.15, 1963. (1963 – P.B.34298 – THF109613)

    These five knowledgeable and enthusiastic members of the family came from North Dakota, California, and as far away as Australia! The group drove here together from North Dakota, visiting other family sites along the way—including, of course, the original site of Dr. Howard’s office in Tekonsha (near Marshall).

    From left to right: Corey Washburn (North Dakota); Susan Gillies (Australia); Dawn Gunther (California); Fiona Lynton (Australia); and Angela Karaca (Australia). Corey and Dawn are great great great grandchildren of Dr. Howard; Sue, Fiona, and Angela are great great grandchildren. (Photo by Donna Braden)

    All five descendants who came to visit trace their lineage back to Dr. Howard’s second of four children from his second marriage, Letitia Elizabeth (right, born 1864). In 1884, Letitia married Edwin DeMott Washburn and the couple headed out west to North Dakota. Many Washburn descendants still reside there. Letitia and Edwin’s grandson, Howard DeMott Washburn, donated the doctor’s office to Greenfield Village. (86.18.337.1 – THF109605)

    Dr. Howard’s office was brought to Greenfield Village to represent the office of a country doctor. It is particularly unique because virtually everything in the building is original and dates to the time of his practice.

    Dr. Howard's Office

    Dr. Howard Office in Greenfield Village

    Interior shots of Dr. Howard’s office in 1956, just before the building was moved to Greenfield Village.

    Dr. Alonson Bingley Howard (1823-1883) was known to have a keen mind, an earthy sense of humor, and a colorful personality.

    Dr. Alonson B. Howard, about 1858 (P.B.34260 – THF109611)

    From the time he started his practice in the early 1850s until his death in 1883, Dr. Howard used a combination of methods to cure sick patients. These included herbal remedies that he concocted himself and more conventional medicines he had learned about while attending Cleveland Medical College and the University of Michigan for a few years. When he wasn’t in his office in Tekonsha, he was “out tending to patients” in the local area.

    Inside the office today. The rows of medicine bottles and the wooden kegs that had once been filled with botanical extracts reflect the combination of herbal and conventional methods that Dr. Howard practiced. (THF11271; THF 11280)

    When Dr. Howard’s descendants came here a few weeks ago, they were hoping to unearth clues to this long-ago history that would build upon their previous research into family stories and genealogy. They spent a lot of time out in the building, talking to staff and visitors and taking loads of pictures. Then they combed through our archival collections that contained materials about their family and about the office.

    In the Benson Ford Research Center. Foreground, left to right: Fiona, Sue, Corey and Dawn. Angela is at the table in the back. (Photo by Donna Braden)

    We were delighted that they were also willing to let us interview them so they could tell us more about their family history—filling in gaps in our own knowledge, revealing new insights, and truly putting new life back into the Dr. Howard story.

    Thanks, Corey, Dawn, Sue, Angela, and Fiona, for reminding us that people all over the world continue to have deep personal connections to our buildings in Greenfield Village. It was a pleasure meeting you and we hope you come back to visit again soon.

    Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

    artifacts, Doc Howard, Dr. Howard, family, Greenfield Village buildings

    The Henry Ford, like many cultural institutions, has been working on digitizing its collections—i.e., photographing and describing them, and making this information available online. While what we have completed is only a drop in the bucket given the vastness of our collections (25 million archival documents and photographs, and 1 million objects), we have made a lot of progress this year and wanted to share what we’ve accomplished.

    There are two big projects we took on this year (in addition to many smaller ones). The first was digitization of 250 objects in support of the mobile version of our website. This included adding photographs and descriptions for the many Greenfield Village buildings—for example, check out the Menlo Park Laboratory, the Daggett Farmhouse, the Armington & Sims Machine Shop, and even the Firestone Farm Chicken Shed.

    In Henry Ford Museum, we photographed and described objects from each of the permanent exhibits that we considered “can’t miss” artifacts. You’ll see some things you might expect, like the Wienermobile, the Dymaxion House, and the Rosa Parks bus, but have you ever gotten to see some of our lesser-known treasures, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt’s rocking chair, a Brownie camera, flintlock pistols, and a Paul Revere coffeepot?.

    Evening Dress Made by Peggy Hoyt for Elizabeth Parke Firestone, 1928

    The second big project for 2012 was creation of our Curators’ Choice lists. We asked our curators to select the 25 most important objects in our collections in each of 7 categories. (Henry Ford got 50, because, well, his name is on our door—and because 2013 will mark his 150th birthday.) There were three criteria the curators used for their selections: national significance, uniqueness to our institution, and resonance to museum visitors. It tells you a bit about the scope and import of our collections that many of these significant items are not on display—but you can now view them all online. They range from a massive cable strander to a tiny scrap of a poem, from a 17th century horse racing trophy to a 1990s cell phone, from an elegant evening dress

    Lincoln Logs, circa 1960 (Object ID 90.365.13)

    In addition to these two major projects, we also spent 2012 digitizing selections from throughout our collections, many with ties to current exhibits and events. Have you seen our visiting LEGO® exhibit and want more? Check out our digital collection of building toys. Did you make it out to Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village or Holiday Nights? Take a look at some of the vintage greeting cards that help inspire our décor for these events. Were you able to participate in some of our special weekend muster events? Learn more about our collections relating to the War of 1812 or the American Civil War—you may have seen some of these objects on display during your visit!

    In addition to the above, we have digitized selections from the following areas of our collections for your immediate browsing pleasure.

    From our transportation collections, you can review the Morgan Gies collection, wonderful lantern slides from the early 20th century New York to Paris and New York to Seattle races, and classic design drawings from Bill Mitchell and Virgil Exner.

    Circus Trapeze Artist, circa 1890 (Object ID

    If you prefer paper-based artifacts, you might take a look at our digital cabinet cards, cartes-de-visite, and trade cards. These provide a glimpse of many aspects of 19th century life.

    Henry Ford as a Small Child Being Shown a Bird's Nest by his Family, Painted by Irving Bacon, 1936 (Object ID 00.28.17)

    If you are interested in the historical figures who helped shape American history, try our digital collections relating to designer Don Chadwick, racecar driver Lyn St. James, agricultural pioneer George Washington Carver, and a vastly expanded selection of artifacts related to Henry Ford. We also have a variety of personal documents from notables including Abraham Lincoln, Aaron Burr, George Washington, Mark Twain, and Alexander Graham Bell. Read their own words in their own hand from the comfort of your home!

    Hammond Typewriter, Model No. 2, 1895-1900 (Object ID 37.154.2)

    But wait, there’s more! Check out quilts, coverlets, stoves, telephones, lunchboxes, patent models, steam engines, toys, typewriters, and violins, as well as many objects from our World’s Fair and agricultural collections.


    In total, with all of the above objects digitized (and, believe it or not, many more I did not mention), we added about 8,000 new objects to our collections site in 2012! Still, we have much, much more to do. We are still in the process of putting our 2013 list together, but we know we will be tackling areas of our collections related to agricultural, industrial, and technological innovations, as well as automobile racing. In addition, we’ll continue digitizing collections objects to bring some context to several 2013 milestones: the 150th birthday of Henry Ford, the 100th birthday of Rosa Parks, and the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death.

    The single biggest reason we have embarked on this massive digitization project is to provide easy public access to our collections, the vast majority of which are not on display. As we reflect on our efforts last year, I and everyone on our digitization team hope that you are finding our digital collections as fascinating, enjoyable, and informative as we are. If there are areas of our collection you would like to see us digitize in 2013, please let us know in the comments below or via our Facebook page.

    Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford, is very excited by the digitization promise of 2013.

    archives, artifacts, digital artifacts

    Scanning through history

    September 20, 2012

    I spent this summer interning at the Benson Ford Research Center helping the effort to digitize the museum’s enormous collection. When I started working here, I told a friend our collection has more 20 million 2-D objects. They replied, “Wow, that’s a lot of stuff about cars.” Well, we do have a lot of stuff about cars—everything from old concept car drawings to bumper stickers through the ages. But The Henry Ford collection also includes many other objects.The Henry Ford Museum was established in order to collect and preserve pieces of everyday life that would tell the story of America to later generations. In my time as a scanner, I helped to digitize many objects that we are not exhibiting — I helped to prepare these objects for digital exhibition on our website so we could continue to tell stories about the history of America, and not only that, but reach an even wider audience for those stories.

    It’s amazing how advertising has changed in the past 100 years

    The Henry Ford online collection is a 24/7 digital exhibition of various artifacts from American history that the museum has collected over the years, an exhibit that keeps growing, an exhibit that you can visit any time, anywhere, for free — if you have Wi-Fi. Before working here, I knew the museum’s collection was impressive, but I never understood how big the collection really was. If I were to keep scanning images, adding about 60 new artifacts to the website every day, it would take me over 50 years to finish updating the website — and I’d be old enough to retire.

    The collection is not only enormous, it is also incredibly diverse. I have scanned old trade cards, original baseball handbooks, and pictures from events at the Chicago and New York World’s Fairs. This was an awesome opportunity because many of these objects have never been on exhibit in either Greenfield Village or the museum. Working here, I learned more about the museum’s impressive collection, and in the process, more about American history, facts that we often ignore in history courses, the experience of everyday life.

    Letter from The International Chili Society

    For example, I spent some time scanning albums of the Unser family. I did know about Bobby Unser’s career in NASCAR, but I learned more about his day-to-day life and his relationship with his family — I saw him as a person I could relate to instead of a distant historical figure. I learned about his love of travel, his fondness for deer, and his passion for cooking chili.

    Perusing the archives changed the way I think about history — I understand how events and people from the past are similar to my own life. Drawing these parallels makes the past more familiar and helps to explain how and why things have changed. I enjoyed my time working at the museum very much, and I encourage readers to spend some time looking at the online collection, a fun and enriching historical resource.

    Keshav Prasad is a sophomore at University of Michigan, and spent the summer interning for The Henry Ford Digitization Project.

    artifacts, digital artifacts

    Some followers of The Henry Ford’s blog may remember that back in January we told you about our 2012 project to digitize the most “significant” artifacts in our collections. We have been working furiously on getting these artifacts identified and digitized, and while we’re not finished yet, we’ve gotten a lot done, and wanted to share some interesting tidbits about our work thus far.

    The basic assignment we set ourselves was to divide the collection into categories, and ask our curators to select the 25 most significant items at The Henry Ford in each of the categories. Though there are many ways one can group items in our collections, for the purposes of this exercise, we chose these groupings:

  • Home and Community Life
  • Information Technology and Communications
  • Transportation
  • American Democracy and Civil Rights
  • Agriculture and the Environment
  • America’s Industrial Revolution
  • Henry Ford (Since Henry Ford is such a significant personage around here, we decided he gets 50 objects instead of 25.)
  • The curators established lists for each grouping, which was no easy task. Criteria of national significance, uniqueness to our institution, and resonance to museum visitors helped guide selections, but there was still a laborious and sometimes painful process of culling to get down to 25 (or 26 or 27 — a few extras snuck through!) objects in each category.

    We also considered the issue of overlap. In the end, less than 10 objects ended up on lists in multiple categories, and where they did, the rationale was very clear. These include the limousine in which John F. Kennedy was shot (which relates to both Transportation and American Democracy and Civil Rights), the Fordson tractor Henry Ford gave to Luther Burbank (which relates to both Henry Ford and Agriculture and the Environment), and a Westinghouse steam engine, pictured below (which relates to both Henry Ford and America’s Industrial Revolution). Most of the overlaps involve Henry Ford, which is not surprising when you consider the origins of this institution.

    Westinghouse Portable Steam Engine No. 345, made circa 1881, used by Henry Ford

    Another really interesting thing about the lists is that though these are some of our most significant artifacts, not all of the items are currently on public display. The majority of the objects the curators selected are indeed located in the Henry Ford Museum: from George Washington Carver’s microscope, located in our Agriculture exhibit; to the Noyes piano box buggy located in Driving America; to the Jazz Bowl, located in Your Place in Time. A few objects are located in Greenfield Village, including the Edison electric pen, which you can view in Menlo Park Laboratory; and Firestone Barn, which is a building, a working barn, and a significant artifact, all rolled into one!

    Firestone Barn. Photograph by Michelle Andonian

    A number of objects selected live in our archival collections, which may be viewed via a visit to the Benson Ford Research Center. These include two-dimensional objects such as a photograph of the first Highland Park Ford assembly line and Ford Motor Company’s first checkbook.

    Ford Motor Company Checkbook, 1903

    Other objects are just too fragile to be on permanent display or don’t have a spot in our current exhibits, so The Henry Ford’s collections site is the only place you’ll be able to view them. These include an embroidery sampler from 1799, a gold bugle, and a Moog synthesizer.

    Moog Synthesizer, 1964-1965

    One object that made the list, the kinetoscope that Thomas Edison invented to play moving images, is not even in Dearborn at the moment—it is on display at the Epcot theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida. If you have upcoming travel plans that include Epcot, stop by the American Heritage Gallery and say hi to one of our most significant objects!

    Edison Kinetoscope with Kinetophone, 1912-1913

    So what’s next for this project? Well, we still have about 20 percent of these significant objects left to digitize and make available online, and there are a number for which curators are still writing brief descriptions. Once all the objects are online and well-described, we’ll create sets for each category, so you can browse these gems from our collection by the topic they relate to. Watch for a future blog post when this is complete! 

    Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford, would definitely include on her personal list of significant collections objects everything from the Rosa Parks bus to the Monkey Bar.

    artifacts, digital artifacts

    Introduced in the United States in 1984, the Transformers have been among the most popular toy lines ever since. They were robots who could change into sportscars, jets, spaceships, and dinosaurs.  The appeal was obvious.  Cartoons and comic books established a storyline about the heroic Autobots protecting Earth from the evil Decepticons. The above sales brochure was included with boxed Transformers toys in 1984.

    The Henry Ford has a small collection of some of the early Transformers. Most of the toys in our collection have a single image as part of their catalog records, but we wanted to be able to show these “robots in disguise” in all of their configurations.

    Powermaster Optimus Prime (1988) changes from a truck into a robot, and he combines with his trailer to form a larger robot. (THF152304-152306)

    Each configuration needed to be lit differently, because the shadows and reflections would change as the toy’s parts were moved. As many as eight different light sources were used for each shot.

    Dinobot Sludge (1985-1986) changes into a mechanical “brontosaurus.” His reflective chrome surfaces were especially tricky to light. (THF152316-152317)

    We also found that some of the robots’ joints had become extremely tight from age, making them difficult to transform. Other joints had become loose, making the robots difficult to stand.

    Decepticon Triple Changer Blitzwing (1985-1986) changes into a tank and a fighter jet. In robot mode, he topples over easily. (THF152313-152315)

    This is just one example of how having a little insider knowledge (in this case, of the geekier kind) can help better document and display a collection item.

    The rest of the Transformers can be viewed on our collections website.

    Jim Orr did not offer to help photograph the Transformers as a way to spend an afternoon playing with some of his favorite toys.