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As students everywhere settle into a new school year, let’s take a look back at the Henry Ford Trade School, founded in 1916.

Group of nine sitting and standing boys and men, all wearing suits, pose for a photo
The first six boys and three instructors, 1916. / THF626066

The school was formed to give young men aged 12–19 an education in industrial arts and trades. Boys who were orphans, family breadwinners, or from low-income families from the Detroit area were eligible for training and split their time between classroom and shop.

Group of students work at desks in a classroom with a teacher standing in the back
Henry Ford Trade School students and teachers in classroom, October 31, 1919. / THF284497

Group of boys and young men work at machines in crowded room
Students working on machinery at the Rouge Plant, 1935. / THF626060

The school started at the Highland Park plant, expanded to the neighboring St. Francis Orphans Home, and then to the Rouge plant and Camp Legion.

Large, multi-story brick building with many windows
Henry Ford Trade School building, August 1, 1923. / THF284499

Four boys  and young men walk alongside a large factory building
Trade School students on campus at the Rouge Plant, 1937. / THF626062

While students were receiving their education, they were also being paid an hourly wage, as well as a savings balance that was available to them at graduation. Students started off repairing tools and equipment, and as they gained more experience, moved on to working on machinery.

Boy wearing apron and cap holds tool to a pair of goggles; a table nearby holds many additional pairs of goggles
Student repairing goggles, Rouge Plant, 1938. / THF626064

African American boy wearing apron and skullcap works at machine; another boy at another machine in background
Trade School student at the Ford Motor Company Rouge Plant, August 3, 1942. / THF245372

Students also got four weeks of vacation and daily hot lunches.

Group of boys crowd at one end of a dining table with plates and milk bottles on the table in front of them
Students at lunch in the Rouge B Building cafeteria, 1937. / THF626068

The students were trained in a wide range of courses, both shop and academic, using textbooks created by the trade school. Shop courses ranged from welding to foundry work, and academic classes from English to metallurgy.

Blue book cover containing text "Shop Theory / Henry Ford Trade School"
Page with text and two diagrams of tools or machinery
Shop Theory, 1942: cover and page 149. / THF626070, THF626075

When Ford Motor Company participated in various World’s Fairs, top trade school students were selected to demonstrate their unique style of learning.

Boys/young men work at a variety of machinery under a wall containing images and text
Henry Ford Trade School demonstration, California Pacific International Exposition, San Diego, 1935. / THF209775

Students also had time for sports and clubs, including baseball, football, and radio club.

A group of boys and men in baseball uniforms pose for a photo in front of a baseball diamond
Henry Ford Trade School baseball team and manager, August 1927. / THF284507

Group of boys/young men wearing sports uniforms pose with arms crossed, seated and standing, in front of a building
Henry Ford Trade School football team, 1923. / THF118176

Four young men wearing headsets sit at a table with machinery, with additional machinery behind them
Claude Harvard with other Radio Club members, Henry Ford Trade School, March 1930. / THF272856

The Henry Ford Trade School closed in 1952. In its 36 years of operation, the school graduated over 8,000 boys from Detroit and the surrounding area. Students graduating from the trade school were offered jobs at Ford but were free to accept jobs elsewhere; among the graduates who later worked for Ford was engineer Claude Harvard (shown above). Other students went on to work in a wide range of endeavors from the automotive industry to arts and design, and even medicine and dentistry.

You can view more artifacts related to Henry Ford Trade School in our Digital Collections, or go more in-depth on our AskUs page. While the reading room at the Benson Ford Research Center remains closed at present for research, if you have any questions, please feel free to email us.


Kathy Makas is Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford. This post is based on a September 2021 presentation of History Outside the Box as a story on The Henry Ford’s Instagram channel.

History Outside the Box, books, making, Ford Rouge Factory Complex, sports, education, by Kathy Makas, archives

Panoramic image of brick building with many windows behind parking lot completely filled with cars

THF97674

In 1913, Ford Motor Company combined the standardization of interchangeable parts with the subdivision of labor and the fluid movement of work to workers to create the world’s most influential assembly line. We are unusually fortunate that two keen observers of industry, Horace Lucien Arnold and Fay Leone Faurote, were there to document it.

Arnold, a correspondent for The Engineering Magazine, grasped the significance in Ford’s work and began a series of articles on the company’s Highland Park factory. After Arnold’s untimely death, Faurote completed and compiled the articles in the 1915 study Ford Methods and the Ford Shops. The book’s detailed descriptions, numerous photographs and careful diagrams give us a vivid window into Highland Park at a seminal moment in manufacturing history.

Looking back now, the most remarkable aspect of Ford Methods and the Ford Shops is the liberal level of access Ford gave to its authors. It is difficult to imagine Google or Apple opening their doors to today’s press and giving unfettered access to employees, workspaces, and sensitive production figures. The company’s cooperation speaks volumes about Henry Ford’s confidence in Highland Park. He knew that his methods were far ahead of his competitors, and there was little fear of them catching up too quickly.

People work in a factory at a long line containing round parts, with bins of screws or bolts underneath
Workers place magnets on Model T flywheels, 1913. Fittingly, successful experiments with a moving magneto assembly line “sparked” Ford’s adoption of assembly line techniques throughout Highland Park. / THF96001

The assembly line came to Ford Motor Company in stages. Around April 1, 1913, flywheel magnetos were placed on moving lines. Instead of one worker completing one flywheel in some 20 minutes, a group of workers stood along a waist-high platform. Each worker assembled some small piece of the flywheel and then slid it along to the next person. One whole flywheel came off the line every 13 minutes. With further tweaking, the assembly line produced a finished flywheel magneto in just five minutes.

Diagram with numbered shapes and textual key underneath
Flow charts and maps in the book illustrated the logical, sequential arrangement of machine tools at Highland Park. / THF600582

It was a genuine “eureka” moment. Ford soon adapted the assembly line to engines, and then transmissions, and, in August 1913, to complete chassis. The crude “slide” method was replaced with chain-driven delivery systems that not only reduced handling but also regulated work speed. By early 1914, the various separate production lines had fused into three continuous lines able to churn out a finished Model T every 93 minutes—an extraordinary improvement over 12½ hours per car under the old stationary assembly methods.

People work on car bodies in factory
Workers lower an engine into a Model T chassis, 1913. Note that the line is not yet chain-driven. Ford constantly improved the assembly line in search of time and cost savings. / THF91696

The incredible time and cost savings realized through the assembly line allowed Henry Ford to lower the Model T’s price, which increased demand for the car, which then prompted Ford to seek even greater manufacturing efficiencies. This feedback loop ultimately produced some 15 million Model Ts selling for as little as $260 each.

The peak annual Model T production of 1.8 million in 1923 was still years away when Arnold and Faurote made their study. They did not capture Ford’s assembly line in a fully realized form. In fact, the line never was finished. It existed in a state of flux, under constant review for any potential improvements. Adjusting the height of a work platform might save a few seconds here, while moving a drill press might shave some more seconds there. Several such small changes could yield large productivity gains.

Ford Methods and the Ford Shops captures a manufacturer that has just discovered the formula for previously unimagined production levels. The assembly line is groundbreaking, and Ford knows it. The company’s openness with its methods, and Arnold’s and Faurote’s efforts to document and publicize them, helped make the Model T assembly line the industrial milestone that we still celebrate more than a century later.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from a 2013 post in our Pic of the Month series.

research, Model Ts, cars, Ford Motor Company, manufacturing, by Matt Anderson, Henry Ford, books

GIF cycling through toy images: frog in top hat and scarf, pig in dress and bonnet, and blue creature with hooked nose in yellow top hat and holding a book
Muppet Christmas Carol Kids’ Meal Toys, 1993 / THF304874, THF304875, THF304876


Released in 1992, The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first Muppet film produced after Jim Henson’s death in 1990. His son Brian, along with his siblings, had taken over the company. Brian had previously worked on several of his father’s projects, including building the first penguin puppet for The Muppet Show, helping create the bicycle sequence in The Great Muppet Caper, and providing voices for the film Labyrinth (as Hoggle) and the TV series The Storyteller (as Dog).

Bill Haber, the Hensons’ agent, was the first to pitch the idea of creating a version of A Christmas Carol. While Brian—who was interested in continuing his father’s work, but wanted to avoid too much of a direct comparison—considered the idea, Haber took the initiative to sell the rights to ABC TV, who planned to make a television film. When longtime Muppet writer Jerry Juhl submitted his final script for approval, however, executives at Walt Disney Pictures opted to purchase it and make it into a feature film.

Green book cover with gold text and illustrations and black decorative elements
1876 edition of Christmas Stories, which included A Christmas Carol / THF624009

Charles Dickens’s novella A Christmas Carol, first published in 1844, was hugely popular during its time. The first edition, published on December 19th, sold out by Christmas Eve, and four more editions would follow by the end of the year. During his lifetime, Dickens would adapt the piece for public readings, which he himself would perform until his death in 1870. Stage productions would soon follow, and even today it is common to see A Christmas Carol on offer from theater companies during the holiday season. The earliest surviving screen adaptation is Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost, from 1901. Between then and 1992, 14 other adaptations had hit the silver screen, and the plot of A Christmas Carol was familiar to many, even if they had not read the original story.

Man with beard and mustache seated in chair, holding cane and top hat, next to a table with a statue on it and drapery
Portrait of Charles Dickens, 1865-1870 / THF121158

Originally aiming to make The Muppet Christmas Carol into a parody of the original story, in keeping with the irreverence for which the Muppets were famous, Henson and Juhl soon realized that no previous film adaptations had truly captured Dickens’s prose. Rethinking their approach, they decided to cast Gonzo in the role of Charles Dickens, and make him the omniscient storyteller—a device that not only allowed them to include dialogue that was 95% faithful to Dickens’s original work, but also mirrored the earlier public readings of the story. Rizzo the Rat joined in as Gonzo’s sidekick and a form of Greek chorus, interjecting often-humorous commentary throughout the film.

Blue creature with hooked nose, wearing yellow top hat and holding a yellow book
Gonzo as Charles Dickens, Kids’ Meal Toy, 1993 / THF304876

Having decided on this approach, it was time to “cast” the rest of the story’s characters. As Brian Henson explained in a 2015 interview, “Bob Cratchit was a natural role for Kermit. He was almost playing himself.” The role of Mrs. Cratchit went to Miss Piggy, Tiny Tim was assigned to Robin the Frog, Fozzie Bear became Fozziwig (previously known as Fezziwig in Dickens’s original), and Statler and Waldorf served as the ghosts of the Marley brothers (a notably drastic change from the original, where there is only one Marley ghost—yet a necessary one, as you can’t have Statler without Waldorf, or vice versa). Other Muppets filled out the rest of the supporting cast, and brand-new Muppets were created for the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, to detract less from the ghosts’ ominous nature.

Frog wearing blue top hat and jacket and red scarf
Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, Kids’ Meal Toy, 1993 / THF304874

The one principal human actor in the production was Michael Caine, who played Ebenezer Scrooge. Upon accepting the role, Caine said, “I’m going to play this movie like I’m working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me.” This choice continued the tradition of blending the world of the Muppets with the real world, seen in other Henson projects such as Labyrinth, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock, arguably adding to the “realness” and accessibility of the works and worlds Henson created.

Although it opened to mixed reviews, and achieved only modest box-office success, the film went on to become a beloved part of the Muppet filmography. For some, the appeal lies in its faithfulness to Dickens’s original story. Others appreciate the film’s songs, written by Paul Williams (who also wrote “The Rainbow Connection”). For many, though, the best way to sum it up is that the film is simply delightful, marrying the best of the Muppets with the traditions of Dickens. In doing so, The Muppet Christmas Carol serves an example of the power of imagination to transform the familiar into something totally new.

Page with text and image of child with crutch, waving
Tiny Tim’s famous final line in A Christmas Carol, "God bless us every one," featured on the title page of Christmas Stories, 1876 / THF624011


Rachel Yerke is Curatorial Assistant at The Henry Ford.

holidays, popular culture, Muppets, movies, Christmas, by Rachel Yerke, books

Blue book cover with text and image of three men in baseball uniforms

The Base Ball Player's Book of Reference, by Henry Chadwick, 1867 / THF214794

Almost 40 years before Major League Baseball's first World Series, the city of Detroit hosted the "World's Tournament of Base Ball."

On July 14, 1867, the Detroit Free Press carried an announcement of the tournament, which was held at the grounds of the Detroit Base Ball Club from August 14 to August 21. The international tournament attracted teams from Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ontario. When Detroit hosted the World’s Tournament in 1867, it announced it would abide by the rules as published in Henry Chadwick’s book, Haney’s Base Ball Player's Book of Reference. Chadwick and Albert G. Spalding were the two individuals who helped baseball achieve national prominence.

Page with text and images of baseball bats
Trade Catalog, “Black Band” Spalding Bat / THF624007

Chadwick, a New York sportswriter, immigrated to the United States from England as a boy. He reported on baseball games and created a system for scoring games that continues to appear in sports pages today as the box score. Chadwick also authored a number of instructional books on how to play the “national game.” Books such as Chadwick’s helped create a uniform game, and promote baseball as acceptable recreation for men, and appropriate for men, women, and children to watch. Chadwick also authored the annual publication Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide until his death in 1908.

Black-and-white photo of man in early baseball uniform holding baseball bat, leaning on a stone wall in front of a backdrop
Player with Spalding Bat / THF94414

Albert G. Spalding started his baseball career as a player, and later became a manager and president of the Chicago White Sox, which at the time was part of the National League. Spalding also created a popular sporting goods company, specializing in baseball equipment. The popularity of Spalding equipment is represented in photographic images from the late 1800s. The individual player shown above has a Spalding bat, and Spalding bats may be seen in the team photograph below of the Round Oak Club of Dowagiac, Michigan.

Posed photo of group of men wearing early baseball uniforms; also contains handwritten text
Round Oak Club, Dowagiac, Michigan / THF94416

In the early 20th century, Spalding and Chadwick put forth different versions of the origins of the game of baseball. Chadwick had long asserted that baseball developed based on British bat and ball games, such as “rounder." In an era of American nationalism, Albert Spalding hoped to find an American source for the game. He cajoled professional baseball to appoint a commission in 1905 to investigate the origins of the game. Chaired by A.G. Mills, the commission received a letter from a Denver, Colorado, engineer by the name of Abner Graves, asserting that Graves was present when Abner Doubleday developed the game in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. Chadwick responded with evidence detailing the history of English bat and ball games without avail. Spalding’s zeal to establish baseball as a purely American game, and his connections within the commission, compelled the group to recognize the circumstantial evidence and acknowledge Doubleday as baseball’s founder.

If only someone had bothered to research Doubleday’s life, it would have revealed that he was at West Point in 1839, and could not have devised baseball in Cooperstown, as many now believe. In actuality, games of baseball (or “base ball,” as it was spelled into the early 20th century) were reported in newspapers in the 1820s. The Knickerbocker Club of New York is credited with formulating the nine-player team format that eventually led to the formation of the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1858. Pitching was done underhanded and balls caught on the fly or the first bound were outs. The rules continued to evolve into the game that is now America’s pastime.

You can watch Historic Base Ball in Greenfield Village weekends this summer, or attend the World Tournament of Historic Base Ball on August 14–15 in Greenfield Village. The Greenfield Village Lah-De-Dahs and their opponents abide by the rules in our copy of the rare Haney’s Base Ball Player’s Book of Reference, just as the players in the 1867 tournament did. Visit the artifact’s page in our Digital Collections to read the whole book.


Leo Landis is former Curator at The Henry Ford. This article was adapted from the April 2003 entry in our previous “Pic of the Month” online series.

events, books, Michigan, Detroit, sports, Greenfield Village, Historic Base Ball, baseball, by Leo Landis

Detroit native Frederick Birkhill can recount numerous memories of his time at The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village as a child. He can remember riding his bike through the village, taking in all that its history and grounds offered. Truly enamored with Liberty Craftworks, he spent most of his time there, observing the artisans perfecting their crafts.

During one school field trip, his class observed employee Neils Carlson giving a glassblowing demonstration. From five feet away, the students watched Carlson pull and shape a hot, glowing blob into a graceful swan. This was the exact moment that Birkhill fell in love with glassmaking and knew he wanted to learn everything about it. After the demonstration, he bought one of the glass swans for his mother and studied it whenever he could.

Black and white image of young boy sitting on chair looking at camera on a strap around his neck
Frederick as a child with a camera, circa 1959. / Photo by Dr. F. Ross Birkhill, courtesy Frederick Birkhill

Few people can pinpoint the place where they found their passion. Frederick Birkhill can. Anyone who comes to The Henry Ford can find something that excites them and sparks their future passions. That single experience in the Glass Shop stuck with Birkhill and led him on a path to a very successful career as an artist. Because of Neils Carlson, Birkhill's thirst for knowledge took off, leading him to study in England, elsewhere in Europe, and at what is now the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

In the early years of his career, Birkhill was an employee of Greenfield Village and worked in the Tintype Studio. During his tenure, he was able to study and learn about glassblowing, stained glass, photography, daguerreotypes, and tintypes from various artisans around Liberty Craftworks and metro Detroit. At the time, The Henry Ford was one of the only places in the United States where one could learn about tintype photography and other specialized crafts. Birkhill created some of his first daguerreotype photos of scenes at The Henry Ford. One of those early daguerreotypes of Greenfield Village's Farris Windmill was later acquired by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Black-and-white image of windmill in frame"The Windmill at Greenfield Village, 1972,” daguerreotype created by Frederick Birkhill, in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History / Photo courtesy Frederick Birkhill  

In addition to learning about different media during his time working in the village, Birkhill was able to use his skills and artistry to teach an array of subjects at The Henry Ford, including classes he developed on the history of glass and stained glass.

Birkhill also collaborated with David Grant Maul, another former employee. Birkhill acquired a special tool from Maul that allowed him to hold hot glass so he could effectively complete flame-worked glass objects. This tool was the catalyst for a successful career in flame-worked glass and furnace glass. Our Glass Shop includes a furnace that allowed Birkhill to learn both specialties.

Frederick Birkhill is a renowned artist, inventor, educator, and historian whose international career continues to this day. His work can be seen at the Corning Museum of Glass, Museum of Arts and Design, Detroit Institute of Arts, the Mint Museum, the Smithsonian, and the Stamelos Gallery Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, as well as in private collections around the world. Never once has Birkhill forgotten the place that sparked his curiosity and put his ideas into motion—The Henry Ford.

Man in workshop holds glass in a flame, seen in a reflection in a mirror on the wallFrederick Birkhill flameworking in his studio. / Photo by Henry Leutwyler, courtesy Frederick Birkhill

Now, after several decades as a glass artist, an artist's monograph, Glassworks: The Art of Frederick Birkhill, has been published by The Artist Book Foundation. An extensive colorplate section includes the lavish photography of Henry Leutwyler, showcasing Birkhill's work in complex detail as well as his artistic mastery of glass. A copy now resides in The Henry Ford's Benson Ford Research Center. We are honored to have Frederick and his wife, Jeannie, as friends of The Henry Ford.


Caroline Heise is Annual Fund Specialist at The Henry Ford.

Greenfield Village buildings, The Henry Ford Effect, photography, Michigan, making, Greenfield Village, glass, education, Detroit, by Caroline Heise, books, art

What is the first thing you do when you have a question? Is your answer to type it into a conveniently located search bar? What would you do if that were not an option? How would you find reliable answers? Who would you ask? What sources would you trust?

The answer for most previous generations would be: Encyclopedias.

Encyclopedias are collections of large scopes of knowledge that are written by subject experts, vetted by editors, and published for the masses. They have been helping students, parents, and armchair experts for centuries—well before the dawn of the Internet. They also have a unique history all their own.

For the full story on encyclopedias, you have to travel back almost 2,000 years. In the Western world, the trend to document and disseminate knowledge starts with people like Pliny the Elder. Pliny’s Naturalis Historia is the Western world’s first encyclopedia to have survived the ages. Published around 77 CE, the 37 chapters in Naturalis Historia do not resemble a modern-day encyclopedia, but do include a multitude of facts from astrology to zoology.

The Naturalis Historia is only the start of what became a trend to document knowledge. The Middle Ages brought more encyclopedists like Pliny the Elder. These men—and yes, they were always men—were often associated with the church. Their encyclopedias were full of both knowledge and morality. These works, which were handwritten, could only be produced by monks with the time and dedication for such pursuits, and were often flawed. By having a single person attempt to compile the sum of all human knowledge, there were obvious gaps and biases. This, paired with the involvement of the church, meant that information was morally coded and gate-kept, as these early encyclopedias were far too valuable to leave monasteries.

It wasn’t until the 1750s that there was a popular encyclopedia that was widely available.

Page with text in French and decorative image of figure with wings and flowing loincloth
The Encyclopédie aimed to be a one-stop shop for all knowledge for the every-person. / THF620980

To solve the issue of a single contributor, and to make information available for a wide swath of the population, Denis Diderot published a total of 28 volumes of the now-infamous Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (translated to Encyclopedia, or a Systematic Discovery of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts). The Encyclopédie embodies the thoughts of the Enlightenment and was aimed at providing average citizens with knowledge that would not have been available to their ancestors. This was controversial at the time, as it moved access to knowledge away from religious authorities and presented it in a more democratic manner.

Page with chart containing text in French
The Encyclopédie used this knowledge tree for structure. The main branches are History, Reason, and Imagination.  / THF620982

Here, Diderot recruited experts in specific fields to write on topics they were familiar. This allowed a wider scope of information and helped to guarantee the validity of each entry. Diderot was able to recruit well-known thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu to write entries for the encyclopedia, and even took on sections related to mechanical arts, economics, and a smattering of other topics himself.

Diderot’s Encyclopédie laid the groundwork for the next in the line of popular encyclopedias, an encyclopedia that would change the way entire populations accessed information—Britannica.

The Encyclopedia Britannica was devised by Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell, who conceived of, printed, and designed all copper plates for the first edition. Another Enlightenment-inspired project, Britannica was first published serially in pamphlet form. Each edition of Britannica grew in length and scope, and with these changes, it grew in popularity.

Page with text
The 1797 third edition of Encyclopedia Britannica more than doubled the scope of the previous two editions and started Britannica on the path to becoming a household name across the globe.  / THF620752

Britannica is notable for a variety of reasons. It is the first encyclopedia to implement constant revisions to ensure the relevance and accuracy of information. By the 11th edition, it was published in complete sets, instead of serialized as it was written, and an additional index was developed to assist with organization of information. All these changes, plus a shift to American ownership, helped Britannica to skyrocket in popularity. By the 1920s, Sears Roebuck took ownership of Britannica and was able to sell complete sets through their mail-order catalogs.

Page with text and image of glass-fronted bookcase filled with books
This ad for a set of Encyclopedia Britannica grabs readers by informing them they will cost less than a typewriter or washing machine. / THF135870

The mass publishing of encyclopedias opened a whole world of information to the middle class.  People no longer needed to camp out at libraries to finish papers or conduct basic research. Encyclopedias could be bought on installment plans for household and personal use. Other popular encyclopedias, like Americana and World Book, also flourished during this time.

Black man, woman, and child sitting at a table with books in front of them and on a small shelf behind them
Families would store encyclopedia collections on their bookshelves, often in public areas of their homes. This made them a small status symbol to show off for guests. / THF620097

Encyclopedias remained relevant through the advent of the Internet age, but encyclopedias do have one major flaw—they are out of date the moment they are printed. This, coupled with the cost of owning a full set of encyclopedias plus any additional supplements, led companies like Britannica to cease print publication in 2010.

That isn’t to say the idea behind encyclopedias has gone the way of the print publications. Sites like Wikipedia crowdsource information to create a massive Internet encyclopedia. Britannica, World Book, and others have adopted to online models. This method allows for more entries, up-to-date information, and easier access.


Sarah Andrus is Librarian at The Henry Ford.

research, home life, by Sarah Andrus, books

The story of Frederick Douglass’s life is, at turns, tragic and awe-inspiring. He is a testament to the strength and ingenuity of the human spirit. The Henry Ford is fortunate to have some materials related to Douglass, as well as to the many areas of American history and culture he touched. What follows is an exploration of Frederick Douglass’s story through the lens of The Henry Ford’s collection, using our artifacts as touchpoints in Douglass’s life. 

Man with mustache and bushy hair sits in chair and looks at camera
This portrait of Douglass was taken circa 1860, around the time Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States. / THF210623

Early Life & Escape


Born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland, Frederick Douglass was named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey by his enslaved mother, Harriet Bailey. Tragically, Douglass only saw his mother a few times before her early death, when Douglass was just seven years old. Though he had few memories of his mother, he recalled her fondly and was proud to learn that she also knew how to read. He wrote that he was “quite willing, and even happy, to attribute any love of letters I possess” to his mother. Few enslaved people could read at that time—Douglass’s pride in his mother was certainly justified.

In 1826, Douglass was sent to Baltimore, Maryland, to live with the family of Hugh and Sophia Auld—extended family of his master, Aaron Anthony. This move to Baltimore would be transformative for Douglass. It not only exposed Douglass to the wider world, but was also where Douglass learned to read.

Douglass was initially taught to read by Sophia Auld, who considered him a bright pupil.  However, the lessons were put to a stop by Hugh Auld. It was not only illegal to teach an enslaved person to read, but Hugh also believed literacy would “ruin” Douglass as a slave. In a sense, Douglass agreed, as he came to understand the vast power of literacy. Douglass would later remark that “education and slavery are incompatible with each other.”

Douglass was determined to read. He “converted to teachers” some of the friendlier white children in the neighborhood. They showed him a school reader entitled The Columbian Orator, by Caleb Bingham, that he came to rely upon. In 1830, he purchased his own copy for 50 cents. The book—a collection of exceptional oration, poems, dialogue, and tips on the “art of eloquence”—became a great inspiration to Douglass. He carried it with him for many years to come.

Page with text
Page with text
The Columbian Orator” features a discussion between an enslaved person and their master which impressed Douglass. The enslaved person’s dialogue—referred to as “smart” by Douglass—resulted in the man’s unexpected emancipation. / THF621972, THF621973

As recollected in his first memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, published in 1845, Douglass’s teenage years were some of his most challenging. He became viewed as a “troublemaker.” He was hired out to different farmers in the area, including one who had the reputation as an “effective slave breaker” and was especially cruel. Knowing that a larger world awaited and facing a terrible quality of life, Douglass attempted an escape in 1836. The escape failed and he was put in jail.  Douglass was surprised to be released. He was sent not to the deep South as he had feared, but instead, back to Baltimore and the family of Hugh Auld, to learn the trade of caulking at the shipyards. While working there, Douglass was subjected to the animosities of his white coworkers, who beat him mercilessly—and were never arrested for it because a white witness would not testify and the word of a Black man was not admissible. He continuously dreamt of escape.

Book standing on end, open to title page containing text
In this first memoir, Douglass provides great detail into his early life. However, because he was still a fugitive at the time of publication, he omitted details related to his escape. / THF8133

Recalling the ships on Chesapeake Bay, Douglass wrote:

“Those beautiful vessels, robed in purest white, so delightful to the eye of the freemen, were to me so many shrouded ghosts, to terrify and torment me with thoughts of my wretched condition. You are loosed from your moorings and are free; I am fast in my chains and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly before the bloody whip!”

The ships’ freedom taunted him.

On September 3rd, 1838, Douglass courageously escaped slavery. Dressed as a sailor and using borrowed documents, he boarded a train, then a ferry, and yet another train to reach New York City—and freedom. His betrothed, a free Black woman named Anna Murray, followed, and soon after they were married. Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, with hopes that Frederick could find work as a caulker in the whaling port. Instead, he took on a variety of jobs—but, finally, the money he earned was fully his.

The American Anti-Slavery Society & the Abolitionists


While living in New Bedford, Douglass encountered William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, for the first time. Douglass later wrote that the paper “took its place with me next to the Bible.” The Liberator introduced to Douglass the official abolitionist movement.

In August of 1841, Douglass attended an abolitionist convention. In an impromptu speech, he regaled the audience with stories of his enslaved past. William Lloyd Garrison and other leading abolitionists noticed—Douglass’s career as an abolitionist orator had begun. Douglass became a frequent speaker at meetings of the American Anti-Slavery Society. His personal story of life enslaved humanized the abolitionist movement for many Northerners—and eventually, the world.

In 1845, he published his first memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. By 1847, it had already sold more than 11,000 copies! This would be followed by two more memoirs: My Bondage and Freedom in 1855 and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in 1881.

Newspaper page with text and woodcut illustration as masthead
This copy of William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator was published on August 16, 1839—around the time when Douglass first encountered the paper. / THF621979

Women’s Suffrage


Douglass was also supportive of the women’s suffrage movement. He spoke at the famous Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 in support of women’s rights.  In fact, the motto of his newspaper, The North Star, was “Right is of no sex—Truth is of no color—God is the Father of us all, and we are brethren.”

While Douglass forcefully supported women’s suffrage, some of his actions put him at odds with others in the movement. He supported the adoption of the 14th amendment, ratified in 1868, which guaranteed equality to all citizens—which included Black and white males, including the formerly enslaved. It did not include women. He also supported adoption of the 15th amendment, ratified in 1870, which secured Black males the right to vote. Again, the amendment excluded women. Although a dedicated women’s rights activist, Douglass supported the adoption of the 14th and 15th amendments as he believed the matter to be “life or death” for Black people. This put him in disagreement with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, two of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, as well as his friends. Despite this disagreement about timing, Douglass would continue to lecture in support of women’s equality and suffrage until his death.

John Brown’s Raid


Douglass was well-acquainted with famous abolitionist leader John Brown, first meeting him in 1847 or 1848. Brown became known for leading a raid on the armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859, intending to create an “army of emancipation” to liberate enslaved people. Douglass and Brown spoke shortly before John Brown’s raid. Brown had hoped that Douglass would join him, but Douglass declined. He believed that Brown was “going into a perfect steel trap, and that once in he would not get out alive.”

Douglass was right. Brown was captured during the raid and was subsequently tried, convicted, and executed. Brown became seen as an anti-slavery martyr, as the below print shows. Henry David Thoreau remarked about him, “No man in America has ever stood up so persistently and effectively for the dignity of human nature…”

A letter from Douglass was found among John Brown’s belongings, leading to warrants for Douglass’s arrest as a conspirator. He was lecturing in Philadelphia at the time of the discovery. John Hurn, Philadelphia’s telegraph operator, was sympathetic to the abolitionist cause. He received a dispatch for the sheriff calling for Douglass’s arrest and both sent a warning to Douglass and delayed relaying the dispatch to the sheriff. Douglass fled and made it to Canada, narrowly escaping arrest. He then went abroad on a lecture tour, resisting apprehension in the States.

Print of Black woman holding child and kneeling at the feet of standing man in suit; man in uniform stands beside them
The text on this Currier & Ives print reads “John Brown—The Martyr: Meeting a Slave Mother and her Child on the steps of Charlestown Jail on his way to Execution. Regarding them with a look of compassion Captain Brown stooped and kissed the Child then met his fate." This did not actually occur, but became popular lore, as well as the subject of artwork and literature. / THF8053

The Civil War & Abraham Lincoln


In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States. At the time, Douglass was not optimistic about the cause of abolition under Lincoln’s presidency. As tensions between the North and South grew and Civil War loomed, Douglass welcomed the impending war. As biographer David Blight states, “Douglas wanted the clarity of polarized conflict.”

Douglass got involved in the war effort through the recruitment of Black soldiers. Two of his sons, Charles and Lewis, joined the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the second Black regiment in the Union Army. Douglass first met President Abraham Lincoln in August 1863, when he visited the White House to discuss grievances against Black troops. Even without an appointment and a room full of people waiting, Douglass was admitted to see Lincoln after just a few minutes.

Print of Black men in blue uniforms, led by a white man in a blue uniform, clashing with men in gray uniforms
Two of Frederick Douglass’s sons, Lewis and Charles, fought with the 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment. Lewis Douglass was appointed Sergeant Major, the highest rank that a Black person could then hold. / THF73704

Douglass would go on to advise Lincoln over the following years. After Lincoln’s second inaugural address, he asked Douglass his thoughts about it, adding, “There is no man in these United States whose opinion I value more than yours.”

On February 1, 1865, Lincoln approved the Joint Resolution of the United States Congress proposing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution—the “nail in the coffin” for the institution of slavery in the United States. But before the 13th Amendment could be ratified, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth on April 15, 1865. While Douglass and Lincoln certainly disagreed on many topics, Douglass remembered him fondly. In his eulogy, Douglass called Lincoln “the Black man’s president: the first to show any respect to their rights as men.”

After the Civil War and even after Reconstruction, Douglass held high-ranking government appointments—often becoming the first Black person to do so. Douglass was appointed the Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti in 1889.

Page with handwritten text and many signatures at the bottom
While Douglass certainly supported the 13th Amendment’s abolition of slavery, he did not think it went far enough. He remarked, “Slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot. While the legislatures of the south retain the right to pass laws making any discrimination between black and white, slavery still lives there.” / THF118475

Douglass continued to lecture in support of his two primary causes—racial equality and women’s suffrage—until the very end. On February 20, 1895, he attended a meeting of the National Council of Women, went home, and suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 77 years old.

Frederick Douglass remains one of the most inspirational figures in American history. We can still feel the weight of the words he wrote and spoke, more than 125 years after his passing. Douglass said, “Memory was given to man for some wise purpose. The past is … the mirror in which we may discern the dim outlines of the future and by which we may make it more symmetrical.” This work continues.

Ebony magazine cover with text and image of Black man with bushy hair, beard, and mustache
Frederick Douglass remains a powerful symbol of the fight for racial justice and equality. Here, his image graces the cover of Ebony Magazine’s issue celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. / THF98736_REDACTED


Katherine White is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. She appreciated the recently published book by David Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, as she conducted research for this post.

Civil Rights, #THFCuratorChat, Abraham Lincoln, Civil War, education, women's history, voting, by Katherine White, books, African American history

Book standing on end, open to title page, which contains text
"Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass," 1845 / THF8133

“I was born in Tuckahoe…in Talbot County, Maryland,” begins Frederick Douglass, in this, his first of three memoirs. In 1818, he was born into slavery as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, to Harriet Bailey, his enslaved mother, and an unknown white father—likely his master, Aaron Anthony. At the age of twenty, he escaped slavery and changed his name to Frederick Douglass. This first memoir, published in 1845, is foremost an account of Douglass’s early life—from the time of his birth until his daring escape.

But it is also a political text that humanized the enslaved and the cause of abolition. Douglass was a master storyteller—as well as a legendary orator—and this memoir is a compilation of the most moving moments of his young life, including the tragically few memories he has of his mother, the gruesome beatings he both endured and witnessed, the joys and challenges of learning to read, and, of course, his courageous escape from slavery. By 1847, it had already sold more than 11,000 copies and supported the young family he was building with his wife, Anna Murray Douglass. 

Portrait of seated Black man, wearing suit with high collar, with mustache and bushy salt-and-pepper hair
Portrait of Frederick Douglass, circa 1860 / THF210623

Douglass is best known for his long and celebrated career as an abolitionist orator, which began with an impromptu speech at an 1841 antislavery meeting. This would be the first of a lifetime of speeches. Douglass would go on to lecture about racial equality all over the world until his death in 1895. He also advised numerous sitting American presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, and was the first Black man to hold numerous high-ranking governmental posts.

Douglass was both a witness and a catalyst: he exposed the horrors of slavery and inequality, and then made it his life’s work to create a more just America.


This post was adapted from a stop on our forthcoming “Stories of Black Empowerment” tour of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in the THF Connect app, written by Katherine White, Associate Curator, Digital Content at The Henry Ford. To learn more about or download the THF Connect app, click here.

Henry Ford Museum, THF Connect app, by Katherine White, African American history, books

My name is Shannon Rossi, and I’m a Collections Specialist, Cataloger, for archival items. I started at The Henry Ford as a Simmons Intern in 2018, and have been a Collections Specialist since March 2019. Anyone who knows me knows that I love The Wizard of Oz. It is my favorite film. I collect Oz memorabilia and am a member of The International Wizard of Oz Club.

The artifact I’m going to talk about here is related to The Wizard of Oz. But it’s not the artifact you might expect.

Green, red, and beige cover with illustration of lion and text
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, first edition, 1900 / THF135495

On my second day as a Simmons intern in 2018, Sarah Andrus, Librarian at The Henry Ford, showed me a beautiful first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. The little girl who used to dance around the house singing “We’re Off to See the Wizard” rejoiced when I was able to hold that book in my hands. In my own collection of Oz memorabilia, I have a 1939 edition, but this was another experience entirely.

Last year marked the 80th anniversary of the 1939 musical starring Judy Garland. I signed up to do a History Outside the Box presentation to commemorate the anniversary. History Outside the Box allows us to showcase some of our archival items that visitors to The Henry Ford might not otherwise get a chance to see. In addition to the first edition book, I knew we had some fantastic Oz artifacts in our collection. We have copies of the special edition TV Guides that came out in July 2000, each with one of the main characters on the cover. We have sheet music for “We’re Off to See the Wizard” and “Over the Rainbow,” a coloring book from the 1950s, an original 1939 advertisement for the film an issue of Life magazine, and a photograph of Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion) when he visited Greenfield Village in the 1960s.

Older man in hat and sweater with three boys
Bert Lahr Signing Autographs during a Visit to Greenfield Village, August 22, 1966 / THF128032

The artifact I want to talk about isn’t as famous or recognizable as anything I listed above. You pretty much have to be a diehard Oz fan (or have worked on acquiring, cataloging, or digitizing this item—which I did not) to even associate much meaning with it.

While browsing our collections for archival items to use in my History Outside the Box presentation, I found a theater program from the 1903 musical production of The Wizard of Oz at the Boston Theatre. (Be honest, how many of you knew that the 1939 film wasn’t the first musical production of Oz?)

Program cover with text, image of lion, floral border
Theater Program, "The Wizard of Oz," Boston Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts, 1903 / THF93092

We’ve established that I am a huge Oz fan. I knew about this production, as well as several of the early film productions (check them out if you get a chance!), but I had never seen a program from the show. This program is not visually spectacular. It is black and white. The vivid colors and magical illustrations from W.W. Denslow that are featured in the Oz first edition are conspicuously absent. In fact, the only illustration that anyone might associate with Oz is on the cover, which features a beautiful illustration of the Cowardly Lion about to fall asleep among a field of poppies that create a border around the page.

The story and lyrics for this musical adaptation was written by L. Frank Baum, but not all of it would seem familiar. We’d see, of course, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Wizard. The Cowardly Lion, however, cannot speak, as he does in the book and almost every later adaption, nor does he ever befriend Dorothy. Dorothy’s house doesn’t land on any Wicked Witch. Nor does she receive any magical slippers (silver, as in the book, or ruby, as in the movie). Even our favorite precocious Cairn Terrier, Toto, is missing from this story. Toto is replaced by a cow named Imogene, who serves as Dorothy’s Kansas companion.

Two pages with "List of Characters, Act I," and ads with images and text
The cast list for Act I in the program includes Dorothy Gale and “Dorothy’s playmate,” the cow Imogene. / THF141760

The action in Oz has to do with political tensions between the Wizard and Pastoria, the King of Oz (who does appear in later Oz books). In fact, even real-life politicians and notable members of society at the time, including Theodore Roosevelt and John D. Rockefeller, were mentioned in the script.

The Boston Theatre production that audiences saw in November 1903 featured songs by composer Paul Tietjens, who had approached L. Frank Baum about creating an Oz musical as early as March 1901. Tietjens wasn’t exactly famous, but the play did feature some well-known actors of the early 20th century.

Most importantly, there are two names in the program that stand out: Fred Stone and David Montgomery. The two actors were paired on stage in many vaudeville shows. The pair played the Scarecrow and Tin Man in this musical adaptation. Later, when Ray Bolger was cast as the Scarecrow in the 1939 musical, he would credit Stone with inspiring his “boneless” style of dance and movement as the character.

Program with text and ads with text and/or images
Page seven of the program lists actors Fred A. Stone as the Scarecrow and David C. Montgomery as the Tin Woodman / THF141761

I’m grateful that this artifact was digitized. It’s not something you see or hear about very often, but it has a lot of power for Oz fans like me. That’s the power of digitization—the impact of a digitized artifact doesn’t have to reach huge audiences, if it reaches a smaller but enthusiastic audience. Digitization can allow us to marvel (slight pun about Professor Marvel in the 1939 musical definitely intended…) at an object we know exists somewhere out in the world, but have never seen before.

Continue Reading

actors, acting, popular culture, archives, books, #digitization100K, digital collections, digitization, by Shannon Rossi

Man sitting in front of wall filled with books
James A. H. Bell (circa 1890-1915) has his Zoom bookshelf game on point. / THF38607


I’m Sarah Andrus, and I am the librarian at The Henry Ford. The Henry Ford’s library is an extensive resource for our staff, researchers, and scholars to explore our collections, as well as provide all of the background reading you could need for a lifetime. While our reading room has been closed to the public, I’ve been providing book recommendations to my colleagues at The Henry Ford, and I’d like to pass those along to you!

It is now the end of October, and that means two things:

  1. It is National Book Month, and readers around the world get to celebrate their favorite stories.
  2. In 2020 we have all been on way too many video calls.


All of our virtual meetings have led to plenty of office backdrops across Zoom calls, Facetime catch-ups, and virtual happy hours. Here at the Henry Ford we have been keeping an eye on everyone else’s bookshelves, as well as making sure our own are up to snuff for every person we now welcome into our home offices.

So to celebrate the end of National Book Month, I am here to help you spruce up your bookshelves so that they are ready to impress friends, families, coworkers, and even the occasional webinar audience—with the added bonus that you’ll actually want to read them!


These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore

2020 feels like we are all living through a history book, which makes Lepore’s tome chronicling the story of our nation a welcome companion. These Truths is well researched and compulsively readable. As a bonus, at over 900 pages it is sure to stick out on your bookshelf!

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

Readers who are fans of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird will find a new take on Harper Lee. Part biography, part story of a small-town serial killer, and full of Harper Lee, Truman Capote, and the real Macomb (Monroeville), Furious Hours has something for everyone. It is addictive, literary, and full of little facts that will stick with readers well after finishing the last page.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

A timely new release for 2020 from Wilkerson, Caste is an informative read, and perfect to continue a personal education on the events of this year. It is also going to be a hit on your shelves.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat

This has been a year of home cooking. Nosrat’s cookbook is a must-have for new cooks and foodies alike. It teaches technique, not just recipes, and includes beautiful illustrations. The cover isn’t too shabby, either.

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

Traveling may be out of the cards, but with Broom’s memoir you’ll find yourself transported to New Orleans East, an area rarely written about, but full of culture and personality. Broom weaves the history of her hometown with her own life story to create a mesmerizing tale of resilience, community, and family.

The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humbolt’s New World by Andrea Wulf

After a summer of gardening, hiking and generally enjoying the outdoors, there is no better friend than Wulf’s gorgeous biography of environmentalist Alexander Von Humbolt. Chronicling a life both thoughtful and adventurous, The Invention of Nature is a worthy addition to your Zoom bookshelf.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel

Fiction has a big place in 2020. In a time when travel is difficult, socialization has changed and the world feels completely different, there is always comfort in a story. In The Glass Hotel, Mandel takes readers back a decade to the last financial crisis—but also to the Canadian wilderness and out to sea. It is an adventure full of interesting characters living their most flawed lives. It is everything a good story should be, with a cover to stun on your shelves.


Even in 2020, books remain a way we can learn, travel, and expand our world—at a time where it feels harder to do these things outside of our houses. These recommendations will help keep your horizons broad, and your Zoom contacts impressed.


Sarah Andrus is Librarian at The Henry Ford.

by Sarah Andrus, COVID 19 impact, books