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Rachel Carson devoted her early career to studying and writing about the ocean. During the 1950s, her poetic books about the sea brought her recognition and fame as an author.

Carson’s books helped build a new awareness about the environment. Her most important book, Silent Spring, released in 1962, asked Americans to examine the negative effects of widespread chemical pesticide use.

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Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, linked human action to environmental destruction and ignited a national conversation. THF110029

During World War II, a chemical called DDT protected troops by killing disease-spreading insects. After the war, numerous products containing DDT became commercially available to American consumers for pest control.

In Silent Spring, Carson urged the public to live in harmony with nature and cautioned against the overuse of DDT, which destroyed insect populations and threatened other wildlife species. America reacted. The government banned DDT in 1972. The environmental movement—sparked in part by Carson’s book—continues today.

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An interactive digital experience in Henry Ford Museum features the stories of Rachel Carson, Luther Burbank, and George Washington Carver.

Learn more about Carson’s life and work in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where a new digital experience in the Agriculture & the Environment exhibit explores

  • The post-WWII “chemical craze” that prompted Carson to act
  • The long-term environmental effects of pesticide misuse
  • Books and magazines from the beginning of the environmental movement
  • Carson’s influence on the evolution of environmental activism
  • Pesticide use today

Rachel Carson, women's history, technology, nature, Henry Ford Museum, environmentalism, books

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One of the comic book titles that came under attack in the 1950s
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The popularity of comic books has always ebbed and flowed.  But there was a time when their very survival was at stake.  Back in the 1950s, Cold War hysteria and the fear of Communist infiltration into American society led to a deep concern about, and intense scrutiny of, comic books.  This was the one medium at the time that went directly from manufacturer to child, bypassing adult supervision. 

An American psychiatrist named Fredric Wertham fanned the flames of adult concern at the time.  Dr. Wertham worked with juvenile delinquents and found that the one thing they all seemed to have in common was their devotion to comic books.  Beginning in 1948, he went on an anti-comic book crusade, writing and speaking out against the detrimental effects that he claimed comic book reading had on young people.  

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Dr. Wertham’s
Seduction of the Innocent book, 1954 THF277193

Dr. Wertham summed up his arguments in his 1954 opus, Seduction of the Innocent.  This 400-page indictment of the comic book industry warned parents and educators that comic books were not only a harmful form of popular literature but also a serious cause of juvenile delinquency.  In the book, as in his lectures, he cited examples of violence, sexual themes, drug use, and other adult fare that he had found within the pages of actual comic books—asserting that reading this material encouraged similar behavior.  According to Dr. Wertham, these examples were especially evidenced in the extremely popular crime and horror titles published by the EC comic book company at the time. 

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Comic books with covers like this one, showing violence and scantily clad women, were among those that Dr. Wertham denounced. THF141552

Seduction of the Innocent created a sensation, as Dr. Wertham put forth a potent combination of professional expertise and moral outrage.  It confirmed the growing fear by many parents that their children’s attachment to comic books was permanently harming their willingness to conform to societal rules and hindering their ability to become law-abiding citizens in America’s democratic society.

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1951 Superman comic book predating the Comics Code Authority’s stamp of approval THF141569

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1965 Superman comic book with its Comics Code Authority stamp of approval in the upper right corner THF305329

The national attention focused upon the comic book industry led to a simultaneous U.S. Congressional inquiry in 1954.  As things were looking bleak for the comic book industry, the publishers decided to band together and self-censor their own titles by adopting a new Comics Code Authority (or CCA).  According to CCA regulations, each company was required to include a Stamp of Approval on the cover of every one of its issues as a sign that it had met compliance with the Code.

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December 1954 issue of Mad when it was a comic book, just before it was converted into a magazine THF141567

As a result, EC titles were soon taken off the shelves.  In fact, this company would have been completely wiped out except for its popular Mad magazine, which became highly successful in its own right.  Even though the other comic book companies honed their stories closely to the guidelines of the Code, the damage had been done.  Comic books were held in disdain for years to the point that, by the early 1960s, their very survival was at risk.  We can thank, in large part, Marvel Comics’ new approach to stories and superheroes for their remarkable comeback.    

Dr. Wertham was later discredited for “manipulating, overstating, compromising, and fabricating” evidence.  And, before long, parents found that comic books were minor in their concern about harmful influences on America’s youth, as they seemed like nothing compared to the new Hollywood teenage films, paperback novels, and rock ‘n’ roll music!  Only later did people better understand that teenage angst and rebellion were very normal parts of growing up.

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Teenage movies like the one shown in this 1959 poster made comic books seem tame by comparison. THF109455

Through the ensuing decades, few comic books dared veer from the Code’s regulations that forbade depictions of graphic violence, advocated alignment with societal norms, and dictated that all comic book stories end on an upbeat note.  But by the late 20th century, these norms had changed enough that the earlier regulations had lost much of their relevance.  The two major comic book companies—Marvel and DC—finally dropped the CCA in favor of their own rating systems—in 2001 and 2011, respectively.

For a time, comic books went on trial.  But they managed to survive and adapt.  Ironically, later studies revealed that comic books actually played a positive role in enhancing literacy, inspiring imagination, providing new career outlets, and leading to lifetime hobbies.

Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.  See her other blog posts, Hooked on Comic Books and Battle of the Superheroes: DC vs. Marvel.

books, popular culture, by Donna R. Braden, comic books

sunshinespecial“Sunshine Special,” the 1939 Lincoln limousine modified for official use by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as it appeared circa 1942. (THF208669)

Editor’s Note: In connection with the exhibit Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms, now showing at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, the following excerpt is adapted from The Sunshine Special: FDR’s 1939 Lincoln K Series Presidential Limousine by Brody Levesque. The complete book is available at the Benson Ford Research Center.

A Unique Car Built Expressly for a President
One of the first things that a visitor notices when viewing the presidential vehicles at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is the size of the 1939 Lincoln K Model limousine custom built for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The car is massive. In fact, it weighs in at over 9,300 pounds and has an impressive wheelbase of 160 inches.

In 1937, Ford Motor Company president Edsel Ford lobbied to obtain a government contract to provide a presidential limousine for FDR’s use.  He wanted to regain a presence in the White House Garage and particularly to have Ford Motor Company’s prestige Lincoln division as the primary choice for presidential conveyance. Edsel Ford also knew that FDR liked his company’s cars.

Roosevelt, who was beginning the second of his four presidential terms, personally owned a 1938 Ford V-8 convertible coupe for his use at The Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, along with a 1936 Ford V-8 Phaeton convertible at his home in Hyde Park, New York. Both cars were equipped with special hand-operated controls so that FDR, whose paralytic illness prevented the use of his legs, could drive the cars himself.

Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln division delivered, in November 1939 and at a cost of $8,348.74, a current model K series chassis, to the Buffalo, New York, coachworks firm of Brunn & Company. There the four-door convertible, equipped with a 150-horsepower 414-cubic inch V-12, was further modified to meet U.S. Secret Service requirements. Brunn’s modifications added another $4,950 to the limo’s total cost.

The car was built with forward-facing jump seats, wider opening rear doors, reinforced extra-depth running boards and a pair of step plates above the rear bumper. It had strategically-placed handles for the Secret Service agents, as well as a Federal Electric Company police red light and siren combination with dual driving lamps and flag staff holders on the front. Another feature was that the roof was made extra tall so that the President, who had limited mobility and used a wheelchair, could enter and exit the car without difficulty.

Although coachbuilder Herman A. Brunn, owner of Brunn & Company, thought the car looked terrible with that extra tall top, the limo was finished and sent to Washington as ordered. In the end, it seems Mr. Brunn was right. According to Ford Motor Company internal memoranda and telegram communications, the car was returned to Brunn & Company’s Buffalo plant in the summer of 1941 to have its top replaced with one of standard height. Global events forced even more significant changes to the limo that December.

sunshinespecial2President Roosevelt preferred open cars whenever the weather permitted – and sometimes when it didn’t. (THF208655)

The First Presidential Car to Acquire Its Own Personality
Within a few weeks after the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the White House Garage delivered the 1939 Lincoln K series limousine to Ford Motor Company’s plant in Alexandria, Virginia, on the waterfront across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. The car was shipped to the Lincoln plant on West Warren Avenue in Detroit and, upon its arrival, Lincoln workers began to disassemble the limousine, readying its wartime armor and additional modifications requested by the Secret Service.

Workers removed the Brunn body and altered the car’s chassis. Its suspension was beefed up with heavy-duty shock absorbers and additional leaves in the springs – to handle the added weight of armor plating and thick bullet-resistant glass. Likewise, a modified windshield frame was installed to accommodate the thicker windshield glass. When the Brunn body was reinstalled, it received a new 1942 model H series Lincoln front end clip (fenders, grill, and front nose cap piece), which gave the car a crisp, more modern look.

A more powerful generator was installed, with new wiring harnesses. Cooling was improved by making the radiator tank top an inch thicker, adding three-and-one-half inches more to the core than was standard, and a larger fan was put in for additional engine cooling capacity. The cowling also had wider side vents installed to let more of the engine’s heat escape.

The whitewall bias-ply tires were replaced with the first generation of what are now referred to as “run flat tires,” which enabled the big limousine to continue to travel a short distance to safety if the tires were shot out. The two spare tires were put into reworked special front fender wells, in painted metal tire covers that didn’t need to be bolted into place and allowed for rapid tire changes.

Other body modifications included one-and-one-eighth inch thick nine-ply glass; a special rear-mounted antenna for radio equipment; and steel plating in the doors, firewall, kick and quarter panels, floor, transmission hump, and gas tank. The doors received three-sixteenths inch steel armor plating. Including the weight of the armor and the bullet-resistant glass, each modified door weighed almost 200 pounds. Stronger latches and striker plates were installed to handle the heavier door weight.

A bullet-resistant divider was installed between the front and rear seats. It included fold out bullet-resistant side glass screens for use when the convertible top was down. Another bullet-resistant screen could be added behind the rear seat when the top was lowered, and then stored in the trunk when not in use. When the door windows were down, a spring-loaded flap covered the slot in the top of the door to stop things from falling inside and jamming the windows.

When the Lincoln originally was delivered in 1940, it was painted a dark midnight blue with russet trim. Now the car was repainted in black, with chrome trim and brightwork. The rear step plates, grab handles, and wider running boards were reinstalled after the repainting was finished.

Detroit plant workers also added new running/fog lights to the front bumper, along with flag staff holders. The Federal Electric Company police red light and siren were reinstalled on the left front fender. By the end of the second week of April 1942, the car was ready to ship back to the Alexandria plant for delivery to the White House Garage where it could resume its presidential duties.

At an unknown time after the car’s 1942 retrofitting, an unidentified member of the White House Press Corps gave the limo the sobriquet it retains today: “Sunshine Special.” Although the exact reason for the nickname is lost to history, it may have been due to FDR’s well-known love of riding with the top down – sometimes even when the weather recommended against it.

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President Harry S. Truman aboard “Sunshine Special” near the end of the car’s service life, circa 1949. (THF208667)

Sunset for “Sunshine Special”
Following FDR’s death on April 12, 1945, “Sunshine Special” served his successor, Harry S. Truman, for another five years. The White House put out bids for a new presidential limousine in the spring of 1949 and, that summer, officials met with representatives from Ford Motor Company to discuss the contract. This would be the largest single order ever placed for the White House fleet.

In the early summer of 1950, nine custom-built enclosed 1950 model Lincoln Cosmopolitan limousines, produced by the Henney Motor Company of Freeport, Illinois, were delivered to the White House Garage. A matching four-door Lincoln Cosmopolitan convertible-bodied limousine, modified at the Grand Rapids, Michigan, shop of master coachbuilder Raymond Dietrich, was also delivered. The Dietrich seven-passenger Lincoln was fitted with a Hydramatic automatic transmission purchased from General Motors and then modified to mate with the 337 cubic-inch V-8 engine. Per the order’s specifications, none of the limousines were armored.

Upon delivery of the fleet of Lincoln Cosmopolitan limousines, older White House Garage vehicles were shipped back to their manufacturers or sold off. “Sunshine Special” was returned to Lincoln and subsequently donated to The Henry Ford.

Adapted from The Sunshine Special: FDR’s 1939 Lincoln K Series Presidential Limousine by Brody Levesque. The complete book is available at the Benson Ford Research Center.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Henry Ford Museum, books, Ford Motor Company, limousines, presidential vehicles, cars, presidents, by Matt Anderson

Tracy K. Smith is the current Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, commonly known as the US Poet Laureate. She is only the fourth African American to hold this post (or its predecessor, the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress) since its establishment in 1937, following Robert Hayden (1976–78), Gwendolyn Brooks (1985–86), and Rita Dove (1993–95 and 1999–2000).

Smith’s term as Poet Laureate comes at a particularly auspicious time, as the current Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden (2016– ), is both the first woman and the first African American ever to hold that post—and she was nominated to her office by the first African American president, Barack Obama.

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Barack Obama 2009 Inauguration Program, Enclosed with Inauguration Invitation

All of these offices had previously been held primarily or solely by white men, and with the new officeholders have come new perspectives. In Smith’s case, this began with her Poet-Laureate project, American Conversations: Celebrating Poems in Rural Communities, an outreach effort where she envisioned “poems might be a way of leaping past small-talk and collapsing the distance between strangers.” It continues in her latest book of poetry, Wade in the Water (Graywolf Press, 2018).

A book of poetry might seem at first glance to be a strange way to bring the past forward, tying historical events to topics at the forefront of our national conversation today. As Smith notes in the introduction to American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time, an anthology of poetry she edited, the very nature of a poem – from the layout of words on a page to the vivid, emotion-inducing language used – can “call our attention to moments when the ordinary nature of experience changes—when the things we think we know flare into brighter colors, starker contrasts, strange and intoxicating possibilities.” Poetry can help us process and make sense of complicated issues, and allow us the empathy to see things from someone else’s perspective.

In Wade in the Water, Smith takes this cultural and historical perspective one step further, with poems that use historical documents, including letters from slaveholders and statements of African Americans enlisted in the Civil War, to shed light on today.  Some of these are “erasure” poems, where Smith relies solely on text from these documents—but removes portions to induce a new perspective for the reader.  “Declaration,” for example, removes words from the Declaration of Independence:

Our repeated
Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.
We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration
and settlement here.
--taken Captive
on the high Seas
to bear—

The words she chooses to include are reminiscent of the forced journey of slaves to America and highlight the day-to-day experiences of African Americans as in contrast to the high ideals of the original document.

poetry2Engraved Copy of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, Commissioned by John Quincy Adams, Printed 1823.

In the lengthy poem, “I Will Tell You the Truth about This, I Will Tell You All About It,” Smith again shares the direct words of African Americans who enlisted to fight in the Civil War, as well as their families, “arranged in such a way as to highlight certain of the main factors affecting blacks during the Civil War….” Excerpts from the letters and documents use the original spelling of the writers (pointing out the literacy levels of African Americans at the time), and shed light on the ways the war impacted African American families—many of which concerns still sound familiar today. The initial section of the poem is drawn from a November 21, 1864, letter from Mrs. Jane Welcome to Abraham Lincoln:

Mr abarham lincon

I wont to knw sir if you please

whether I can have my son relest

from the arme       he is all the subport

I have now       his father is Dead

and his brother that wase all

the help I had      he has bean wonded

twise   he has not had nothing to send me yet

poetry3Wood Engraving, "First and Last Dress Review of 1st Regiment South Carolinian (Negro) Volunteers," 1862.

The poems that use only Smith’s own words also reference the past as a way to understand the present.  In “Refuge,” the narrator tries to create empathy within herself for an immigrant, a refugee, by seeing that person as her mother during the Montgomery Bus Boycott:

Until I can understand why you

Fled, why you are willing to bleed,

Why you deserve what I must be

Willing to cede, let me imagine

You are my mother in Montgomery,

Alabama, walking to campus

Rather than riding the bus. I know

What they call you, what they

Try to convince you you lack.

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Rosa Parks Bus before Restoration, Destination Sign, March 2002.

Empathy is clearly a key theme running through both Smith’s Poet-Laureate project and her poetry. Asked what “the greatest challenge of our time” is in an August 24, 2018, interview with the Financial Times, Smith answered, “Love. Maybe a better word is compassion. In particular, we have to learn a new way of looking at the people we fear; people we have socially acceptable ways of dismissing or condemning for their own misery or misfortune.” She invites us to use our own American history as that new lens in order to better understand others, the world we live in today, and not least, ourselves.

Ellice Engdahl is Manager, Digital Collections and Content, at The Henry Ford.

by Ellice Engdahl, women's history, books, African American history

THF135495Front cover of original edition of book, 1900. THF135495

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a story so familiar to us that it seems to have always been around, like an old folktale passed down from generation to generation. But, in fact, it does have an author—an American one at that—and it isn’t even that old. 

In 1900, L. Frank Baum drew upon real-life experiences to write this strange but compelling fantasy tale for children. Incredibly popular even in its time, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz became known as America’s first fairy tale.

Baum himself admitted that he didn’t know where the story came from. But Wizard of Oz enthusiasts (and there are many of them) have spent a great deal of time tracing the influences in Baum’s life that they claim led to the creation of his endearing characters and fantastic settings.

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Print featuring “The Original General Tom Thumb,” 1860. 
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The story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz starts way back when L. Frank Baum was a child. Baum grew up enchanted by the fantastic and sometimes scary fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. So when the diminutive Tom Thumb came to town as part of P. T. Barnum’s traveling circus, Baum was astounded.  Not only did Thumb seem to come right out of these fairy tales but he made children like Baum feel less small and somehow more important. Thumb may also have provided the inspiration for the Munchkins. 

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Trade card for artificial limbs, 1893-1917. 
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When Baum was just 12 years old, he witnessed Civil War veterans returning home with missing or prosthetic (artificial) limbs. These wizened vets—with their misshapen or missing limbs—also connected to fairy tales Baum had read and are believed to have provided the inspiration for the Tin Man.

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Hallowe’en postcard, 1917. THF56474

Baum had long complained of scarecrows haunting his dreams, coming alive and chasing him. The Scarecrow in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is thought to be related to this ongoing nightmare, as well as a reference to the farmsteads he observed while living out in Dakota Territory as a young newlywed. (This experience, of course, also provided the inspiration for the Gales’ farmstead in Kansas.)

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Hot-air balloon featured on cover of card game box, 1880-1910. THF91796

Hot-air balloons, which existed earlier, had greatly advanced by the time of the Civil War, as a way for the military to observe enemy battle positions. During the 1870s, aeronautical showmen demonstrated their skills with death-defying stunts before crowds of awestruck onlookers. Witnessing these demonstrations inspired Baum to give the Wizard a hot-air balloon in which to help Dorothy return to Kansas.  

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Souvenir Book, Chicago World’s Fair, 1893. THF123529

After trying (and failing) to make a living in Dakota Territory, Baum and his young wife moved to Chicago, just in time for the city’s first great World’s Fair in 1893. This so-called “White City” boasted 200 gleaming white “palaces,” which encircled a series of manicured waterways. Over a period of six months, an astounding 27 million visitors witnessed the fair—nearly 1/4 of the entire American population! Visitors to the fair described it in fantastic terms, like wonderland, dreamscape, and mind-boggling spectacle. Occurring at the same time as one of America’s worst economic depressions, the Chicago World’s Fair was an escape from reality and has been identified as the inspiration for Baum’s Emerald City.

Trade card for Dolly Madison Bread featuring Mother Goose nursery rhyme, 1922. THF286364

While attempting to make a living selling household goods for a department store in Chicago, Baum spent many hours on the road—staring out of railroad cars and staying overnight in nameless hotels.  To pass the time, he started writing stories, drawing from those he recounted to his sons back home.  Among these was a series of stories based upon old Mother Goose nursery rhymes, which was ultimately published.

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Inside cover of original 1900 edition.

While moving in new social circles with other published authors and with artists, Baum met talented illustrator William Wallace Denslow. Denslow, who had also attended the Chicago World’s Fair, created a series of vibrant, wildly imaginative illustrations for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that helped readers visualize Baum’s fantastic descriptions. When Baum attempted to turn his book into a theatrical production soon after its publication, Denslow was again brought in to consult on sets and costumes.

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Theatre program, 1903. 
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A one-time actor himself, Baum could both work within the confines and see the imaginative possibilities of the theater. So, it didn’t take much to convince him to attempt to turn his book into a staged musical extravaganza.  His many ideas for special effects and illusions dazzled crowds (and some were later used in the movie). But he was inevitably unhappy with his choice to hand over the script to an independent theater producer, who changed many parts of the story.

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Record album and cover for original movie, 1961-2. 
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In 1938, MGM, a major film studio, decided to turn The Wonderful Wizard of Oz into a blockbuster musical film. Baum’s story of hard times—based upon the hardscrabble lives of prairie homesteaders in the late 19th century—lent itself perfectly to the hard times that had returned during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Denslow’s drawings again served as the model for the costumes, and many parts of the story and production stuck to the original. But the filmmakers decided to revise a few things—including changing out Dorothy’s silver slippers for ruby red slippers to take advantage of the new technology of Technicolor. 

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Collectible TV Guides, July 2000. THF286370

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The 1939 film was groundbreaking but it was the TV showing of the film that truly catapulted it into Americans’ lives and hearts. In 1956, the uncut Hollywood film was first shown in one evening on commercial TV. Only audiences with color TV’s at the time could witness the drastic transformation from the dreary black-and-white Kansas settings to the full-color spectacle of the Land of Oz. Beginning in 1959, “The Wizard of Oz” film was shown annually on TV and watching it became a beloved family tradition.

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Party centerpiece, 1970-5. THF157517

Today, the continued publication of Baum’s original book, the annual featuring of the film on TV, film festival showings of the classic film on the big screen, several animated versions of the story that were produced later, and scores of related merchandise have kept The Wonderful Wizard of Oz at the forefront of American popular culture. Successive generations of new fans have embraced its fantastic, yet somehow familiar, themes and characters with unabated enthusiasm.

 Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life, is still astounded to see the Land of Oz in all its colorful splendor, as she grew up watching the movie on her family’s black-and-white TV. 

She acknowledges the book, The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum, by Rebecca Loncraine (New York: Gotham Books, 2009), as inspiration for this blog post.

movies, by Donna R. Braden, popular culture, books

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Teaching Black book cover  THF266665

The civil unrest in Detroit, along with violent uprisings in other cities across America during the “long hot summer” of 1967, demonstrated that urban African Americans were angry and frustrated by the lack of progress that had been made in achieving basic rights and equality. Despite the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, such issues as substandard housing, unemployment, low-quality education, lack of access to medical facilities, police brutality, mistreatment by white merchants, shortage of city services, and white indifference to these problems were all cited as root causes of these uprisings. A combination of hopelessness and rage led many African Americans to believe that the only way to effect change was to take things into their own hands “by any means necessary.” This new sense of empowerment formed the basis of what came to be called the Black Power movement.

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Life
magazine cover THF266661

What history tends to remember about the Black Power movement is its more militant aspects—the symbol of the raised fist, the militaristic berets and leather jackets of the Black Panthers, the protesting athletes at the 1968 Olympics. But Black Power was actually an extensive, multi-faceted array of smaller movements and grass-roots attempts to improve quality of life, raise consciousness, and change mindsets.

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Pride
book cover THF266511

Educators, specifically, felt that the key to effecting change within African American communities was through the re-education of its youth—a reshaping of curriculum that would have a long-term impact on reducing racism, instilling pride, and encouraging the kind of self-confidence and self-respect that would equip young African Americans to make a difference in society in ways in which their parents and grandparents could only dream.

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Snapshot of James Buntin THF266955

The Henry Ford has in its collection the papers and personal library of one such educator. James Buntin, born in 1921, came to Ann Arbor in 1969, as a middle school social studies and civics teacher, and soon also became the Director of Personnel Administration at the Ann Arbor Public Schools, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Education, and an Adjunct Professor at Wayne State University teaching in the College Program at Jackson Prison. Throughout his teaching career, Dr. Buntin was an active proponent of desegregation, a prominent advocate of a multi-ethnic curriculum, and a staunch defender of the need to hire more African Americans in the Ann Arbor school system.

The personal library that he accumulated not only reflects his own passions as an African American educator but also provides a unique window into the issues, topics, and debates of the Black Power era during the late 1960s and early 1970s—issues that still deeply resonate today. The following is an annotated selection of books from Dr. Buntin’s library, revealing insights into an era that is often overshadowed by the wider attention paid to the earlier Civil Rights movement.

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Manchild in the Promised Land
book cover, 1965/reprinted 1967 THF266618

The late 1960s brought a new appreciation for black memoirs and autobiographies, some of which were newly published, others—like this book—were reissued as out-of-print classics. These works offered a gritty, sometimes shocking, realism that did not make concessions to white readers or convey stereotypical African American roles. 

Originally published in 1965, this autobiographical narrative recounts Claude Brown’s coming-of-age in 1940s-1950s Harlem, against the starkness of poverty and an astonishing culture of violence. Brown recounts the hopes, dreams, and struggles of the first generation of Northern urban African Americans to establish their place in the “promised land” of both New York City and America itself.

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The Me Nobody Knows
book cover, 1968 THF266651

This collection of accounts of nearly 200 primary- and secondary-school children provides a rare child’s-eye-view into ghetto life. The children were asked to “think about themselves, their painfully limiting surroundings, and the broader world which they often know of only by hearsay.” The intent of the editor, a New York City educator, was to diminish the stigma of the words “ghetto” and “slums” among the broader public. 

The writings in this book reveal that, when given the chance and encouragement to write, these children had a tremendous amount to say. Their writings were, indeed, often at odds with wider perceptions of disillusionment and hopelessness in ghetto neighborhoods, as themes of hope and renewal often emerged. 

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Why We Can’t Wait
book cover, 1963/reprinted 1968 THF266487

By the late 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s long-running campaign of nonviolent direct action was falling out of favor with those who believed that more militant action was necessary. Then, in April 1968, King’s assassination sent shock waves of grief, fear, and anger throughout African American communities, leading to rioting and looting in more than 100 cities. 

This 1963 book, considered King’s most incisive and eloquent work, was reprinted after his assassination with the editor’s hope that its distribution would “help preserve the memory of this wise and courageous America, so that his words may continue to guide the way toward human dignity for all.”  The prophetic quote on the front cover of this edition comes from King’s speech to Memphis sanitation workers the night before he was assassinated.

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Black Power
book cover, 1967 THF266478

At a freedom march in 1966, Stokely Carmichael (then Chairman of SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) set a new tone for the black freedom movement by leading marchers in the chant, “We Want Black Power.” Drawing upon long traditions of racial pride and Black Nationalism, Black Power advocates believed that African Americans could no longer afford to believe their “liberation” would come through non-violent action or traditional political processes. As the authors of this seminal book argued, the poverty and powerlessness of this country’s black population had made it imperative to organize their own political structure and take control over their own communities and lives. 

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Africa in History
book cover, 1968 THF266474

Balancing the more militant aspects of the Black Power era was the doctrine of Black Pride, which including being proud of one’s heritage. Until this time, social studies textbooks had depicted African Americans as either coming from a state of barbarism and savagery or transplanted from a place that simply had no history at all.

Books like this one both helped to remedy this situation as well as contribute to an emerging movement called “Pan-Africanism”—the recognition that the destinies of all people living in or having come from Africa were intertwined. African Americans eagerly shared pride in the recent gains made by African countries to win their independence.  

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To Be a Slave
book cover, 1969 THF266515

Renewed interest in black heritage brought about a growing nationwide effort to develop Black Studies programs, curricula, and textbooks that presented a different and more equal treatment of African Americans. 

James Buntin was a passionate advocate of implementing what was then called a multi-ethnic curriculum in schools—which sought to challenge prevailing Eurocentric curricula by recovering and reconstructing the stories of Americans whom history had traditionally neglected. To Be a Slave, considered a groundbreaking work of the time, included personal accounts of ex-slaves, “described in vivid and often painful detail.”  Some of these oral history accounts had been published before, others were drawn from sources long forgotten.

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The Vanguard
book cover, 1970 THF266507

This book, part of Dr. Buntin’s multi-ethnic curriculum collection, presented a graphic portrait of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The photographs were originally compiled for an exhibit at San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum—a show that proved to be both controversial and highly popular. 

The Black Panther Party, founded in 1966 in West Oakland, California, was one of the more militant groups to emerge out of the Black Power movement. Black Panthers both participated in armed patrols to protect local citizens from police brutality and organized myriad community service programs. At its peak, the Black Panther Party maintained chapters in 48 states in North America and support groups in other countries.

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Black Students
book cover, 1970 THF266492

Amidst the student demonstrations, protests, and disruptions on college campuses during the late 1960s-early 1970s, African-American students demanded a greater voice in administrative policy. Referred to collectively as the Black Student or Black Action movement, these demands sometimes turned into bitter confrontations, including a student protest and strike in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in March 1970. The results of these confrontations varied, but many universities created Black, or Afro-American, Studies programs or departments in the 1970s.

In this book, author Harry Edward, a Sociology Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, places Black student movements within the larger contexts of the human rights struggle and the Black Power movement.

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We Walk the Way of the World
book cover, 1970/3rd printing 1971 THF266637

During this era, a blossoming Black Arts movement advocated a “black aesthetic,” meaning artistic expression rooted in African cultural heritage, incorporating the contemporary black experience, and aimed at Black audiences. 

Poetry as a literary form flourished, as it was intended to be read aloud and often incorporated the direct “call and response” style of black churches. Don Lee, the author of this book of poems and a prominent figure in the Black Arts movement, was instrumental in reinforcing Black-spoken language, the language of familiar experience, in his poems. 

The Black Arts movement helped lay the foundation authors such as Maya Angelou, hip-hop music and culture, and other later black cultural expressions.

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

books, by Donna R. Braden, Michigan, education, African American history

flatland
"Flatland" book image by James Han

When Chris Lauritzen at YouTube in October 2014 to start a book design and publishing studio called Epilogue, he expected to have a working version of his first title — a reissue of Edwin A. Abbott’s cult classic "Flatland" — ready by the holidays. So much for expectations: The launch party was held in April 2016. 

Not that Lauritzen was slacking off in the intervening year and a half. Independently publishing a print book these days, especially one conceived as a beautiful art object, takes a serious, long-term commitment. Lauritzen didn’t just have to design
"Flatland" — to conceptualize it, typeset it, illustrate it and prototype it. He also had to crowdfund it and then look all over the country (plus Canada) for those few remaining specialty shops that would suit his various printing, binding and shipping needs. All of which raises the obvious question: Why? Who would want a meticulously crafted print edition of a 130-year-old public-domain text in 2016? Especially when print is, if not dead, then certainly struggling?

Lauritzen’s answer is to question the question: He believes it’s a glorious, singular time for the print medium.

SMALL BOOK, BIG IMPACT
At one time, everything was printed on paper: ads, fliers, brochures, pamphlets, notes. Or, as Lauritzen characterizes that stuff: “Junk. Ephemeral noise.” But over the years, much of that material has gone digital, clearing the printed world of clutter.

“By choosing to do something in print, you’re saying this thing is worth a damn,” Lauritzen said. “Print is starting to become its own quality filter.”

Lauritzen knew he wanted to apply that filter to something in the public domain, a vast collection of works that anyone can use, print and distribute without permission. But he
wasn’t aware of "Flatland" until a friend suggested he check it out.

Written in 1884 by the English scholar Edwin A. Abbott, "Flatland"
is a small book about a big subject: multiple dimensions. The narrator, a square
named (fittingly) A. Square, lives on a flat 2-D plane, but he’s forced to consider what the 3-D world of Spaceland might look like when a sphere from there pays him a visit.

Ian Stewart, an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick in England who published an annotated version of "Flatland" in 2002, considers Abbott’s book one of the earliest works of popular science. “There’s really nothing
else like it,” Stewart said. “It was completely original and unusual.”

The book wasn’t just about having fun in multiple dimensions, though. Abbott used geometry to challenge Victorian norms about the role of women in society — math as a tool for social progress. Some didn’t get it; many did. The first edition sold out quickly, and it has been in print ever since, a favorite among a wide range of readers who wonder about their place in the world.

Lauritzen was an immediate convert — it was exactly what he was looking for. Given its largely two-dimensional setting, he felt it would play nicely with his skill set as a graphic designer. But more than that, "Flatland" had a following, not huge but passionate, that was rather unhappy with the editions of the book currently available.

NOT JUST FOR SHOW
Because works in the public domain can be accessed for free, there’s not much financial incentive for a publisher to put out nice editions. "Flatland" is no exception. It exists in a variety of terrible formats, from websites and PDFs to cheesy print runs that feel more like pamphlets than books. “It’s really unsatisfying,” Lauritzen said.

So, when he launched a Kickstarter in April 2015, that was his selling point: the chance for a beloved classic to get the makeover it deserved. The goal was $24,000; he raised well over three times that ($81,777, to be exact). Then the real challenge — making
the book — began. Even though Lauritzen intended the reissue to be something of a collector’s item, he didn’t want a finished product that was destined for a coffee table,
untouched and unread.

“It shouldn’t be a fetishized object,” he said. “The sooner you throw it on the ground, the better.”

To that end, he chose to make it softcover, with thick paper and extra-wide margins for writing in. The floating spine means you can bend the pages back as much as
you want and the binding won’t crack. Lauritzen also appended a visual guide, full of exquisite black-and-white illustrations that illuminate various concepts in the text. He’s
now working on a supplementary online library of shapes — “an education/ art experience for students of geometry,” he said. Finally, to add heft, he designed an elegant gray slipcase, stamped with a silver tesseract.

This wasn’t a solo production, of course. At last year’s launch party, held in a small shop in San Francisco, Lauritzen thanked all of the people who helped him along the way — friends, family, the workers in Vancouver and Phoenix and Oakland who printed and bound and shipped the books. Of the 2,000 copies Lauritzen printed, roughly half were sent to Kickstarter backers, and the remainder are now available for $65 each, a price Lauritzen hopes will decrease in subsequent print runs.

You can tell Lauritzen is proud of the result. He flips through it lovingly — though he’s not afraid to bend a corner or mark up a page. The whole point is to get people to read it.

“Time was spent writing this thing, time was spent designing this thing, time was spent producing it, time was spent getting it into your hands,” he said. “That’s contagious. That’s something you can sense. It gives you permission to take time with it, to sit down and really delve in.”

Jason Kehe is a writer for The Henry Ford Magazine. This story originally ran in the March-May 2017 issue of the magazine

design, books, The Henry Ford Magazine, by Jason Kehe

THF251521

We are closing in on the end of our multi-year project to digitize photographs related to the buildings in Greenfield Village, and one of the most recent buildings we’ve tackled has been the William Holmes McGuffey Birthplace.  In the 1830s, McGuffey created a series of textbooks commonly known as McGuffey’s Readers, intended to teach reading and writing to various grade levels of schoolchildren.  Henry Ford used these readers as a child and considered them an important influence in his life, so he moved the Washington County, Pennsylvania birthplace of McGuffey to Greenfield Village in the early 1930s, dedicating it on September 23, 1934, the 134th anniversary of the author’s birth.  Among the several dozen images we’ve just digitized is this 1845 portrait of Harriet Spining McGuffey, who became William Holmes McGuffey’s wife in 1827. 

Visit our Digital Collections to view all of the newly digitized images, or browse through other McGuffey-related artifacts, including a number of McGuffey Readers.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

books, education, William Holmes McGuffey Birthplace, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, digital collections, by Ellice Engdahl

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"I cannot live without books."  - Thomas Jefferson

While most people are celebrating Independence Day, this Fourth of July is the 190th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s death. Thomas Jefferson compiled multiple libraries during his lifetime; one of which he used to restock the Library of Congress in 1815 after it had been destroyed during the War of 1812, and another that was auctioned three years after his death in February 1829. The auction catalog can be viewed in our digital collections and you can learn more about his libraries here.
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presidents, books, by Laura Myles