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Photograph of man wearing glasses and a suit reading a book
Portrait of William Holmes McGuffey reading a book, circa 1860. /
THF110186

William Holmes McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers were both successful and influential. Between 1836 (when the readers were first introduced) and 1850, seven million copies of them were sold. During the second half of the 1800s, they became the most widely circulated textbooks in the United States, influencing the outlooks and perspectives of such luminaries as Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, and the Wright brothers. How did the readers come to be, and why did they have such tremendous appeal?

Typewritten, hand-signed letter on letterhead
A letter from President Taft to Henry Ford testifying about the importance of McGuffey Readers in his life, 1924. / THF96603

McGuffey’s Influences


Many factors contributed to the creation and content of McGuffey’s readers, including his heritage, family background, and experiences growing up.

William Holmes McGuffey’s family was part of a group of immigrants to America who were often referred to as Scots-Irish (or Scotch-Irish). These people were Presbyterians from the Scottish Lowlands who had migrated to Ulster, in northern Ireland, over several centuries into the early 1700s. Religious restrictions and economic conditions had motivated members of this group to emigrate to America during the 1700s, and many of them settled in Pennsylvania—a colony that offered affordable land for settlement and the assurance of religious freedom. As land became increasingly unobtainable in the East, many Scots-Irish immigrants headed west and south to the edges of European settlement. In these scattered frontier communities, the Presbyterian Church remained a stabilizing force, and its tenets would become a major influence on the later McGuffey Readers.

The McGuffey family followed a similar pattern of migration to other Scots-Irish. William Holmes McGuffey’s paternal grandparents, William (“Scotch Billy”) and Ann McGuffey, landed in Philadelphia in 1774, then moved farther west to York County, where they purchased land for a small farm. In 1789, they moved again, to Washington County in western Pennsylvania—then considered the edge of the settlement or the western frontier. There, cheap land had recently become available to white settlers (see “William Holmes McGuffey’s Birthplace” for more on this). William’s maternal grandparents, Henry and Jane Holmes, had also moved to Washington County about this same time. Their farmstead, named Rural Grove, was close to the McGuffey place. This was undoubtedly how William’s parents, Alexander McGuffey and Anna Holmes, met.

Small log cabin with shingled roof and stone fireplace, surrounded by grass and other buildings
The McGuffey birthplace as it stands today in Greenfield Village. / THF1969

Alexander and Anna were married just before Christmas 1797. Their first home was the log house now in Greenfield Village. This house, situated on the Holmes farmstead, had likely been Henry and Jane Holmes’s initial home before they constructed a larger frame house. Alexander and Anna’s first three children were born here: Jane (1799), William Holmes (1800), and Henry (1802).

William’s parents played a particularly significant role in young William’s life. His restless father, Alexander, embodied the values of individualism, adventure, risk-taking, and making one’s own way in the world. His mother, Anna—who was serious, pious, intelligent, and literate—enjoyed the stability of the Scots-Irish community in which they lived.

Black-and-white print of log cabin in a forested area with people, chickens, and logs stacked outside; also contains text
This 1870 Currier & Ives print of a settler’s family and their log home gives an impression—albeit a romanticized one—of what living on the sparsely settled frontier might have been like. / THF200600

In 1802—only two years after William Holmes was born—Alexander’s restlessness spurred the young family to move west into the Ohio Territory, to a sparsely settled area known at the time as the Connecticut Western Reserve. Here, the family settled on 160 wooded acres and established a small farm. Five more children were born there: Anna (1804), Catherine (1807), Elizabeth (1809), Asenath (1811), and Alexander Hamilton (1816). William spent his youth on this fairly isolated farmstead on the Ohio frontier.

At the time, the Ohio frontier was considered the edge of settlement—for white settlers, anyway. Although travelers and white settlers at the time described this area as a “howling wilderness” or the “solitary wilds,” in fact Native Americans had inhabited the region for thousands of years. By the time Europeans (primarily French and British fur traders) arrived in the 1700s, several Native American tribes had recently moved into the area. These included the Shawnee, Delaware, Wyandot, and Seneca-Cayuga—who had all migrated or been forced to settle there during that time from other places in the north, east, south, and west.

Black silhouette of person's head and shoulders, oval-matted and in ribbed gold frame
A hand-cut silhouette of George Washington, created around the time of his presidency. / THF142004

The influx of American settlers into Ohio with the passage of the Land Ordinance Act (1785) and the Northwest Ordinance (1787) spurred the American government—which had never truly recognized Native rights of land ownership—to evict the Native Americans from these lands. In the 1780s, a series of treaties was attempted. When these proved essentially unsuccessful, a frustrated President Washington decided to use brute force instead. He commanded a successive series of military generals to drive the Native tribes out of Ohio. Eventually, General Anthony Wayne declared victory in 1794 at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. (William’s father, Alexander, had been involved in this and previous battles in what became known as the Ohio Indian Wars of the 1790s.) The resulting Treaty of Greenville in 1795 pushed Ohio’s Native tribes into a demarcated section of northwest Ohio, until they were forced out of Ohio completely in the early 1800s.

In 1795 (the same year as the Treaty of Greenville), Connecticut, which had been deeded the strip of land in northeast Ohio Territory known as the Western Reserve back in 1662, sold this land to a group of speculators. They surveyed the land, neatly dividing it into townships and then assigning land agents who sold individually marked lots to incoming white settlers. Within about ten years, Ohio essentially shifted from “Indian Country” to a territory rapidly filling up with white settlers. In 1803, Ohio became the 17th state admitted to the United States, though the Western Reserve area in northeastern Ohio remained fairly sparsely settled until after the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825. Though only some of William Holmes McGuffey’s neighbors were—like him—Scots-Irish Presbyterians from western Pennsylvania, many shared the similar experience of adapting to the Ohio frontier from more settled communities farther east.

McGuffey’s Readers


Blue book cover with illustration of children reading at the base of a tree; also contains text
McGuffey’s Newly Revised Eclectic First Reader, 1848. / THF289925

As part of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, schooling and education had been encouraged, but the ordinance charter did not create a system for establishing or funding schools. The children of more well-to-do families paid tuition to attend private schools, called academies, where both boys and girls received rudimentary training in classics, reading, writing, and arithmetic.

While education was considered a high priority by New Englanders and Scots-Irish Presbyterians settling in Ohio, many farm families—especially those migrating to the area from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky—often lacked the money and inclination to ensure that their children received a formal education. In 1818, a traveler remarked that the schools in Ohio were very few in number and “wretched” in conditions.

William Holmes McGuffey received a better education than most children raised on the Ohio frontier. In his early years, his mother taught him basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, but she was always attempting to find ways for William to receive more education. She eventually succeeded in finding a school for him to attend in Youngstown, six miles away, run by Presbyterian minister Rev. William Wick, and William quickly developed a passion for learning. At the completion of his studies, Rev. Wick informed William that he had now received enough education to teach others and encouraged him to open a school. As a result, in September 1814, 14-year-old William McGuffey held his first “subscription school” at Calcutta, Ohio, for 48 students. His students, whose parents paid a fee for their instruction, brought their own books, with the Bible being the most common.

Two years later, and for the next four years, McGuffey attended the Old Stone Academy in Darlington, in western Pennsylvania. He then enrolled in Washington College, a Scots-Irish Presbyterian school located in Washington, Pennsylvania—ironically only a few miles from where he had been born. For the next six years, William alternated between working on his family’s farm in Ohio, teaching school, and attending classes at Washington. As he tried to educate others in the scattered and isolated settlements of the western frontier, he got a true sense of how desperately children needed an easy, standardized way of learning to read and write.

Blue book cover with image of three people reading a book; also contains text
McGuffey’s Eclectic Second Reader, 1836. / THF289931

William completed his formal schooling at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, a Presbyterian school, then taught there for the next 10 years (1826–36). By the 1830s, Ohio’s population had grown tremendously, and many public schools were opening. McGuffey saw a great need for a system of standardized education, especially for children of immigrants and those living in the scattered settlements of the West (now the Midwest) and South. In the mid-1830s, Truman & Smith, a Cincinnati publishing company, invited him to prepare a new series of textbooks to be marketed in the Midwest.

McGuffey worked to make his Eclectic Readers interesting and accessible to children, based on his observations while he was a teacher. An important difference from the few earlier textbooks that existed in America was that these were purposefully developed as a series, with each reader intended to be progressively more difficult and challenging than the one preceding it. He completed his first and second readers in 1836 and the primer, third, and fourth readers in 1837. William’s younger brother, Alexander, compiled the fifth reader in 1844 and the sixth in 1857.

Page with text
Cover page of McGuffey’s Newly Revised Rhetorical Guide; or Fifth Reader, 1853, owned by Bishop Milton Wright, father of Orville and Wilbur Wright. / THF250428

McGuffey’s Eclectic Readers were called “eclectic” because they included stories, poems, essays, and speeches drawn from a variety of sources. The primer and the first two readers consisted mainly of brief, simple tales and lessons. The more advanced readers included excerpts from orations, scripture, and English literature.

When students completed a reader, they moved on to the next level. With time off for harvest and farm chores, rural pupils might get no further than the second reader before completing their education in their mid-teens, which would provide reading skills equal to about a third- or fourth-grade level today.

Blue book cover with image and text and book opened to two-page spread with image and text
Inside pages and outside cover of McGuffey’s New Second Eclectic Reader, 1865. / THF59806

The McGuffey Readers had a huge impact on American society, especially in the Midwest and South. The books not only taught youngsters to read; they were also often their primary source of information about history, philosophy, and science. For many schoolchildren, the excerpts in the readers from the works of authors like Shakespeare and Wordsworth were the closest they would get in their lifetimes to the Western world’s great literature. The stories in the readers also helped establish common understandings, heroes, values, and even expressions among a wide group of Americans. For example, when President Theodore Roosevelt claimed that he did not wish to be a “Meddlesome Matty,” everyone knew what he meant. He was referring to a character in McGuffey’s fourth reader who snooped and meddled in other people’s affairs.

The kind of practical morality that McGuffey advocated in these books was based on his own upbringing and Scots-Irish Presbyterian background. The ideal character traits that were emphasized in the readers—industry, thrift, temperance, kindness, virtue—all reflected Presbyterian values. As the series was updated in 1841, 1844, 1857, 1866, and 1879, the publishers gradually muted its overt religious messages. But they never lost McGuffey’s original emphasis on moral instruction.

Over time, critics have attacked McGuffey’s readers for such flaws as not addressing the injustices of slavery, referring to Native Americans as “savages,” having anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic overtones, and reinforcing the traditional role of women as homemakers. McGuffey himself revised some of his text over successive editions. Still, the readers are of their place, their time, and the background and life experiences of their author.

Henry Ford and McGuffey’s Readers


Man wearing suit sits in a chair by a fireplace, reading a book
Henry Ford perusing a McGuffey reader inside the McGuffey Birthplace, Greenfield Village, 1940. / THF126110

Henry Ford was among the last generation of children to be educated by the McGuffey Readers. Ford considered McGuffey one of his great heroes because of his ability to spark young imaginations. He believed that the books were successful because they used a narrative approach that spoke to the time and place of readers like himself.

Book cover with text and image of children reading with a dog
Henry Ford had this reader, originally published in 1885, reprinted in 1930 for use in his Edison Institute Schools. / THF288332

McGuffey Readers had a deep and lasting influence on Henry Ford. They were among the earliest objects reflecting the American experience that Henry Ford collected, beginning in the 1910s. Ford bought every copy that he could find—amassing, by the 1930s, a collection of 468 copies of 145 different editions. A strong believer in McGuffey’s educational principles, Ford perpetuated these beliefs by founding the Edison Institute Schools. He even had the readers reprinted so that the children in the schools could use them.

Group of children walk out of a log cabin door
Edison Institute schoolchildren exiting McGuffey School, 1937–40. / THF286354

Ford commemorated McGuffey’s role in educational reform by rebuilding his birthplace in Greenfield Village and constructing a school out of barn logs from the original farmstead where McGuffey was born. William Holmes McGuffey School served as the second-grade classroom for the students attending Edison Institute Schools from 1934 until the school system was closed in 1969.


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

Henry Ford, childhood, school, education, books, William Holmes McGuffey Birthplace, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, by Donna R. Braden

Page with large printed text "I WILL LISTEN AND TAKE ACTION"

Protest Poster, "I Will Listen and Take Action," 2020 / THF610765

In every issue of The Henry Ford Magazine, staff from The Henry Ford suggest books, podcasts, apps, television shows, and websites that have caught their eye (or ear). For the January–May 2021 issue, the selections reflected the issue’s theme of “connecting with community,” with our staff interpreting this theme through the lenses of social activism, social justice and injustice, and diversity. Check out our picks below.

No! My First Book of Protest by Julie Merberg and illustrated by Molly Egan


Book cover with black starry background and hands holding a sign, rattle, pacifier, and sippy cup; also contains text

I remember sitting on my mom’s lap reading my childhood favorite, Dr. Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle. Today, I appreciate how books for the youngest readers distill complex stories into compelling images and clear, action-oriented ideas.

My latest read is No! My First Book of Protest. Little ones will enjoy saying “No, No!” with each activist. They will learn that a “No!” followed up with collective action can change the world.

Many social innovators featured on these pages have a home in our collections, programs, and exhibits, including Frederick Douglass, Alice Paul, and Rosa Parks. Judith Heumann, a disability rights activist, is someone I knew less about and was glad to discover. Greta Thunberg has influenced some of our recent collecting, including signs made by students for the climate marches of 2019–2020.

I hope all of us take this book’s message to heart: “Great people made big changes when they said ‘No, No!’ Someday you can protest too (when you’ve had time to grow).”

--Cynthia Jones, Director, Museum Experiences & Engagement

Make Change: How to Fight Injustice, Dismantle Systemic Oppression, and Own Our Future by Shaun King and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi


Book standing up on two identical books; contains blue and black text on an orange-and-pink graphic background

The COVID-19 quarantine has allowed me to spend time with family and revisit some of my favorite stress-relieving hobbies, like guitar and Chinese martial arts. But the current political climate has stirred my inner community activist.

Friends recommended the following books to me: Shaun King’s Make Change along with Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. Both reads are very timely and offer insights to solutions and alternatives during this wake-up call for racial and social reform in America.

--Brent Embry, Senior Graphic Designer

black-ish, ABC-TV

This American TV sitcom series chronicles the complexities of raising an upper-middle-class Black family in Los Angeles’ white suburbia. While rooted in comedy, the show addresses hard-hitting cultural and social topics that Black Americans face on a daily basis. It is presented in a way that doesn’t lose its significance and provides multiple vantage points on Black culture.

I find the show to be very timely and poignant during a time when an overconsumption of political news can be discouraging.

--Anita Davis, Program Manager, Corporate Professional Development

Driving the Green Book, Macmillan Podcasts

Image with text and hazy car headlights seen through darkness and rain

The Negro Motorist Green Book has been at the forefront of the cultural psyche for the last three years, but the Macmillan podcast, Driving the Green Book, brilliantly journeys into its roots, from the Underground Railroad to firsthand accounts of racism today, by highlighting Black female entrepreneurship, civic pioneers, and communities, both physical and social.

--Sophia Kloc, Historical Resources Administrator

Community Deconstructed: Recommendations from Our Library


Grow your knowledge about community making, the power of an organized voice, and the role of farming, past and present with these book suggestions from our library collection. For help with access, contact the Research Center.

Farmers’ Markets of the Heartland by Janine MacLachlan

Making Local Food Work: The Challenges and Opportunities of Today’s Small Farmers by Brandi Janssen

The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South by Dylan C. Penningroth

Thinking Small: The United States and the Lure of Community Development by Daniel Immerwahr

Historical Roots of the Urban Crisis: African Americans in the Industrial City, 1900-1950 edited by Henry Louis Taylor Jr. and Walter Hill

The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace by M. Scott Peck

My Community: Then and Now by Lynn Bryan

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky

Preserving the Family Farm: Women, Community, and the Foundations of Agribusiness in the Midwest, 1900-1940 by Mary Neth

Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest by Zeynep Tufekci

Frontier Settlement and Market Revolution: The Holland Land Purchase by Charles E. Brooks


This post was adapted from an article first published in the January–May 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

African American history, popular culture, TV, The Henry Ford Magazine, books

Red and yellow book cover with text "Mother Goose" and image of person in purple hat and clothing reading a book to three children and a goose
Mother Goose Rhymes, 1920–1940 / THF278523

How much do you know about children’s books? Earlier this year, The Henry Ford’s librarian, Sarah Andrus, shared some highlights from our children’s book collection on our Instagram channel as part of our History Outside the Box series, which features material from our library and archives. If you missed that installment, you can watch it below, as Sarah discusses everything from Mother Goose and Aesop’s fables to Horatio Alger and Disney books.

Continue Reading

History Outside the Box, by Ellice Engdahl, by Sarah Andrus, childhood, books

Do you ever wonder what treasures our collections might be hiding? What’s one thing you never really associated with The Henry Ford? Is it poetry? Then you are in luck. In November, our Instagram story for History Outside the Box focused on poetry within the collections of The Henry Ford and we are here now to dive a bit deeper into those holdings.

While you probably associate our research library with wonderful texts related to what you see on the museum floor, you may be surprised to learn we also have a small but mighty collection of poetry. Some of these rhyming collections found their way to The Henry Ford by way of some of our favorite people, like this collection of John Milton poems owned by the Wright family.

Blue book cover with text and images of winged horse and foliage, with swirling pattern in the background
Book Used by the Wright Family, The Poetical Works of John Milton, 1888. / THF241725

We’ve also collected poetry surrounding some of our Greenfield Village mainstays, such as the Robert Frost Home. This house was used by none other than poet Robert Frost during his time in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It now lives in Greenfield Village and offers a lasting connection to the poet who still remains in our hearts and syllabi today.

Front of two-story wooden house with porch with columns
Robert Frost Home on Original Site, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1923. / THF235307

White, two-story wooden house with porch with columns
Robert Frost Home in Greenfield Village. / THF1883

Frost is not the only poet that has a lasting connection with The Henry Ford—Henry Ford and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have a lot more in common than meets the eye. Longfellow wrote one of his best-known collections, Tales of a Wayside Inn, about the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. This same inn was then bought by Henry Ford with the intention of starting a living history village, similar to Greenfield Village, the one he eventually started here in Dearborn, Michigan.

Page with text and a man playing a violin in front of a fireplace as several people around a table listen
From Tales of a Wayside Inn by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863. / THF149892

Black-and-white photo of man and woman standing on the porch of a building
Henry Ford and Clara Ford at the Wayside Inn, Sudbury, Massachusetts, circa 1923. / THF98987

But we are more than Longfellow and Frost. The Benson Ford Research Center’s collection of American poetry is a who’s who of everyone you remember from your high school English class. This includes the master of the macabre himself, Edgar Allen Poe. Our copy of The Raven is extra moody, with illustrations by Gustave Doré.

Gray book cover with text and image of angel or winged person with gold wings and halo, holding a candle and a key
The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, Published 1884. / THF274358

Just like the rest of the research center’s collection, our poetry tries to cover all facets of the American experience. We collect some contemporary words by Black poets, as well as big names of the Harlem Renaissance and a former Poet Laureate.

Page with text and image of man holding up his head with one bent arm
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, 1995. / THF278643

Green book cover with white text and black floral pattern
Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, 1963. / THF149899

While we are very much an American history museum, sometimes we find things from across the pond in our stacks. A favorite from our collection is an illustrated copy of Shakespeare's work, complete with sonnets!

Green book cover with brown band reading "SHAKSPERE" and other text as well as decorations in black and gold
The Works of William Shakspere [sic], 1868. / THF149886

Not to be outdone by the masters, ordinary people would send Henry their poems about his cars.

Lined sheet of notebook paper with handwritten cursive text on it
Poem, "The New Ford Car," Sent to Henry Ford by Ethel Cooper, December 12, 1927. / THF274498

And last but not least…. Henry even gave the pen a try as well. Here he has written a sweet poem to his soon-to-be wife, Clara.

Sheet with handwritten cursive poem
Poem, Written by Henry Ford for Clara Bryant, 1886-1888. / THF95972

Please visit our Digital Collections to check out even more artifacts from our collection related to poems and poetry.


Sarah Andrus is Librarian at The Henry Ford.

archives, by Sarah Andrus, books, History Outside the Box

Young boy pulls at the front of a wooden rowboat in a grassy field, while four girls sit inside
Children play in a boat in this turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York image from the Jenny Young Chandler collection. / THF38259

In every issue of The Henry Ford Magazine, staff from The Henry Ford recommend books, websites, apps, and archival collections that we are enjoying. In the June-December 2021 issue, the recommendations centered around the idea of “play.” Read on to find out what we recommended, and why.

The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids by Alexandra Lange


Book cover with text and graphic red line drawing

Have you ever noticed how design influences our lives? The Design of Childhood by Alexandra Lange provides an in-depth look into how design and the things and items around us throughout our lives have a direct influence on our development and the way we see and think about the world.

From early childhood, the items we play and learn with—like wooden blocks and LEGO bricks—and the way our homes and cities are designed influence and shape the development and interactions of all of us. As a designer myself, I am fascinated by how things such as simple toys or architecture, from the development of planned communities to the differences between local versus government-built play spaces, can shape our learning and behavior. Now as a parent, I try to give my daughters the best opportunities to learn and grow, allowing them as much free play as I can—even when I am thinking in my head that’s not the way to do it.

Lange shines light on the things that we often take for granted and experiences that we don’t always realize are working to shape us every day. This book gave me insight into how my kids are seeing the world and how simple things are helping to mold them, from collaborative learning spaces in schools to the evolution of playgrounds in the United States. As Massachusetts Emergency and Hygiene Association’s Kate Gannett Wells is quoted in Lange’s book as saying, “Playing in the dirt is the royalty of childhood.”

The Design of Childhood is one of those texts that has rapidly become a coffee-table book for me, enticing me to pick it up, randomly open it to a page, and dive in.

—Matt Elliott, Head of Creative and Digital Experience

The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and Death by Colson Whitehead


Red-and-white book cover with text and heart, spade, diamond, and club icons in red and black

Colson Whitehead’s fiction covers topics ranging from the zombie apocalypse and slavery to elevator maintenance. In this nonfiction book, the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner recounts his unlikely adventures competing in the 2011 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t win anything, but the reader is rewarded by Whitehead’s droll look into the world of high-stakes poker.

—Ellice Engdahl, Manager, Digital Collections & Content

ARTLENS Gallery, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and the ArtLens App (available on Google Play and the App Store)


Image of white smartphone with screen showing several artworks with text about each

Playing in museums isn’t always allowed, but at The Cleveland Museum of Art’s ARTLENS Gallery, play isn’t just encouraged—it’s how you engage with art. Guests can play immersive multisensory games with original artworks and even create their own masterpieces.

 DID YOU KNOW?
The Cleveland Museum of Art’s ArtLens for Slack, the channel-based messaging platform, was a finalist for a 2020 Fast Company Innovation by Design Award. The first rapid-response art exhibition app, ArtLens for Slack is designed for remote workspaces, letting coworkers create team-building exercises from their home offices using the museum’s collections for inspiration.


Although not everyone lives within easy reach of Cleveland, you can still experience the ArtLens App, which allows you to explore on-view works in the permanent collection both at the museum and elsewhere.

—Olivia Marsh, Program Manager, Educator Professional Development

The Way Things Work (1988) by David Macaulay


White book cover with title rendered out of screws, buildings, corkscrews, zippers, and more

My copy of this wonderfully whimsical adventure into the inner workings of our most fundamental inventions is 33 years old now. While the newest edition reveals smartphones and drones, some things never change. The Way Things Work will make the mechanics of a zipper fun again and perhaps help you explain, with fascination, how a differential works during your next kid-sponsored LEGO session.

—Wing Fong, Head of Experience Design & Senior Project Manager

From Our Library and Archives


The Benson Ford Research Center has a number of books, resources, and archival content with playful undertones—from books on carousels, doll quilts, and car games to a collection of coloring books. For help with access, contact the Research Center.

Books

The Carousel Keepers: An Oral History of American Carousels by Carrie Papa

Here Today and Gone Tomorrow: The Story of World’s Fairs and Expositions by Suzanne Hilton

Once Upon a Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920-1975 by Brenda Biondo

Coney Island: The People’s Playground by Michael Immerso

From Playgrounds to PlayStation: The Interaction of Technology and Play by Carroll Pursell

The Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the New World of Crafters, Hackers and Tinkerers by Mark Hatch

Archival Collections

Sheet with images of man in smoking jacket or long robe and woman in dress standing in stylized house or structure; also contains text
"I Love Lucy" Cut-Out Dolls, 1953, from The Henry Ford’s Paper Doll Collection. / THF94403

Paper Doll Collection, 1850-2008, consisting of both commercially produced and handmade dolls featuring fictional characters, celebrities, politicians and more.

Coloring Book Collection, 1894-1990, consisting of books containing line drawings, primarily for children to paint or color. Many are souvenirs of tourist sites or museums.

Exhibitions and World’s Fair Collection, 1848-1986, consisting of a variety of ephemeral materials related to expositions and exhibitions, which were often forums for introducing new ideas.


This post was adapted from an article first published in the June–December 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

archives, childhood, design, art, technology, The Henry Ford Magazine, books

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