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Black-and-white photo of man standing with arms crossed, wearing white long-sleeved shirt, white tights (?), and dark velvet shorts with fringe

Unidentified Member of Alert Hose Company. / THF212048

Sometime during the late 1870s, members of the Alert Hose Company in Big Rapids, Michigan, posed for the local photographer. Arms crossed and standing tall, each of the firefighters wears a uniform—typical of those worn when competing in a local or regional firemen's tournament. The men had won several tournament prizes by the time they posed for these photographs—perhaps the prize money helped pay for the cartes-de-visite that became a remembrance of the company's victory. But these images offer more than just a glimpse at the Alert Hose Company's participation in a sporting event. They document the culmination of the company's years of hard work protecting Big Rapids against the ravages of fire, the pride in their company and their community, and their connection with the greater fraternity of 19th-century firefighters.

Fires in Big Rapids


Big Rapids, located in Mecosta County, Michigan, was incorporated in 1869. Like many 19th-century cities, it was susceptible to fire. The wood used to construct early homes and businesses offered ready fuel to the flames of an unwatched candle or lamp or a stray ember from a stove or fireplace. According to the 1883 Mecosta County history [p. 645], "Big Rapids has been a sufferer from fire at various times… The first fire of any consequence in the place was… in the year 1860." It was not any better in 1869 when another disastrous fire occurred [p. 645]: "No water supply or engines for extinguishing fires were here at that time, and common pails or buckets were the only appliance afforded. Lines of men were formed to supply water with buckets from wells in the vicinity, and even from the river, but without avail. The Mason House... was only saved by tearing down a small building [nearby] belonging to Harwood & Olds, and then hanging carpets and bed-clothes from the roof and windows, and keeping them saturated with water."

Finally, in 1871, men in Big Rapids organized volunteer fire companies, and the citizens and the city government discussed creating a local water supply for fire protection and private use.

GIF cycling through four black-and-white photos of men standing with arms crossed, wearing white long-sleeved shirt, white tights (?), and dark velvet shorts with fringe
Unidentified, Charles Gore, Jack Shaw, and W. E. Drew. / THF212050, THF212054, THF212056, THF212058

Volunteer Fire Companies in Big Rapids


Volunteer firefighters needed to work as a unit when it came time to fight a fire. Nineteenth-century fire companies usually consisted of men from similar class divisions, backgrounds, or ethnic groups and kinships. This sense of fraternity cemented the unit's cohesion. The camaraderie and kinship of fighting fires and their unique status as protectors in the community bound the firefighters together.

The Alert Hose Company was one of several volunteer firefighting companies to organize in Big Rapids in the early 1870s. The volunteers' job was to get to a burning structure as quickly as possible—pulling a hose cart or carriage—and attach hoses to an available water source so they could begin controlling the conflagration. By 1876, the growing city of Big Rapids had at least two other hose companies (Defiance and Protection) and the Pioneer Hook and Ladder company. (Hook and ladder companies employed hooks to tear down parts of buildings to limit a fire's spread and ladders to fight fires and rescue individuals in multi-story buildings.)

Little is known about the men who made up the Alert Hose Company, though names written on the back of some of the photographs provide a start. A quick review of census records from 1870 and 1880 and a city directory from 1884 give a few clues about a small subset. They were young working men mostly in their mid-20s and a couple in their 30s, though one was in his late teens. Several were related in some fashion. Their occupations included laborers, clerks, and a drayman (teamster)—none of the known men owned a business, though a few may have owned farms. Being part of the local fire company provided connections to businesses in the community to help guide their careers. A more thorough search of records (outside the scope of this blog) would provide more information on why this group of men came together to form the Alert Hose Company.

GIF cycling through four black-and-white photos of men standing with arms crossed, wearing white long-sleeved shirt, white tights (?), and dark velvet shorts with fringe
Henry Shaw, Charles Ellis, "Zip" Hammond, and Thomas Shaw. / THF212060, THF212062, THF212064, THF212066

Firemen's Tournaments


By the 1870s, fire companies tested their firefighting skills against other companies at various regional, state, and national firemen's tournaments. Local companies usually competed against one another on holidays or community fair days. State and national associations sponsored large competitions and set tournament rules and dates. Companies invited to participate usually competed in hose cart races, hook and ladder competitions, and pumping contests (to see how far a company could spray water from a hose), among other activities.

Training for and participating in firemen's tournaments tested and sharpened a company's firefighting skills, promoted a sense of pride in competition, and strengthened the sense of teamwork and fraternity. Participation in these tournaments by fire companies also engaged the local community. Government officials, business leaders, and ordinary citizens supported fire companies by cheering them on and providing monetary support through donations and prize money. Finally, friendly competitions between local companies broadened the sense of fraternity by creating a larger brotherhood of firefighters.

GIF cyling through four black-and-white photos of men standing with arms crossed, wearing white long-sleeved shirt, white tights (?), and dark velvet shorts with fringe
Arthur Webster, "Louie" Goulette, Angus McLelland, and  Fred Marble. / THF212068, THF212070, THF212072, THF212074

The Alert Hose Company in Tournaments


The men of the Alert Hose Company in Big Rapids, Michigan, began participating in hose cart races at various tournaments in the mid-1870s.  In a hose cart race, a fire company ran a set distance pulling a cart reeled with hoses. Men in the company unwound the hoses, attached them to a water source, and then sprayed water. The fastest time won the prize. A review of articles from the Detroit Free Press highlights the successes of the fire company and the support of its community.

In 1875, the Alert Hose Company (along with the Pioneer Hook and Ladder company) made an appearance at the State Firemen's Tournament held in Jackson, Michigan. Reports mentioned no prizes, but, according to the papers, when they returned home, the men were met "with an enthusiastic reception and dinner[.]" On July 4, 1876, the Big Rapids' firefighting companies competed against one another for prize money. The "Alerts" won the champion belt and a cash prize of $50 offered by the mayor. The other firefighting companies took home lesser amounts funded by the citizens.  The following year at the Mecosta County Fair, the "Alerts" took home a $100 purse in the hose cart race.

A bigger prize awaited in 1878. In September, the "Alerts" headed off to Chicago to compete in a national competition. Their teamwork paid off; they finished second within a long list of competitors. The prize this time was noteworthy—$300 in cash and a nickel-plated hose cart made by Silsby Company of Seneca Falls, New York.  Citizens of Big Rapids turned out to greet their heroes when they returned home.  Evergreens, flags, and banners decorated the local hall, the women of the town prepared a dinner, and, of course, there were speeches. A final mention from this period came in an 1882 article that reported the men of the Alert Hose Company had won a special prize of $10 at the State Firemen's Tournament for the "best appearing company." 

Conclusion


Throughout the 1870s, local fire companies organized in the newly formed city of Big Rapids, Michigan. These volunteer firemen worked to protect their homes and community against the ever-present danger of fire. Each company needed to work as a cohesive unit when fighting flames and smoke. Similar backgrounds, ethnicities, and economic status—and the desire to protect their community—brought these men together. And local and regional firefighters' tournaments provided a way to hone the skills needed to become an effective team. The small images shown here, taken by a local photographer, point to the unity and pride that the men of the Alert Hose Company had in their avocation and the fraternity they represented.

See all 14 members of the Alert Hose Company (including one member not in uniform) in The Henry Ford's Digital Collections here


Andy Stupperich is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

photographs, Michigan, by Andy Stupperich

Pop-up greeting card featuring Santa playing a guitar and two reindeer on a stage holding a banner; also contains text

THF188409

Karl Koehler printed, folded, scored, and snipped paper to create three-dimensional Christmas cards and decorations. His post–World War Two pop-up designs added an unexpected dimension to Christmas holiday greetings at a time when most American card companies produced flat, center-folded Christmas cards. Koehler's paper engineering followed in a line of other creative pop-up designs—only he applied it to Christmas cards. Eventually, others would come to see the joy in three-dimensional Christmas cards.

Page with text and photo portrait of man wearing glasses
Karl Koehler is pictured in this advertisement piece from the early 1950s. / THF621157

Karl Koehler


Karl Koehler (1913–2000) was born in Hennepin County, Minnesota. When Koehler was fourteen, his father died, and the family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to live with his uncle. Koehler trained at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia, and by 1940 was employed at the Pictograph Corporation in New York City. Working under Rudolf Modley, Koehler designed pictorial symbols used in business, corporate, and government publications to communicate statistical data.

During the Second World War, Koehler directed artwork for military training manuals, and in 1942, co-created two award-winning posters for the National War Poster Competition. He returned to Pennsylvania after the war and settled in Coopersburg. There he began designing Christmas cards and holiday decorations.

Page with text, image of three-dimensional paper Christmas tree, and graphics of ornaments and other tree decorations as well as a banner
In 1950, Koehler dreamed up a Christmas tree that people could construct from the flat pages of the December 25th issue of Life magazine—a holiday surprise for the whole family. / THF624861

Koehler's whimsical three-dimensional, hand-assembled decorations and cards delighted children and adults alike. He made traditional folded holiday greeting cards for businesses and corporations, but none rivaled the depth-filled creations Koehler handcrafted in his studio. He trademarked the name "Mantelpiece"—where better to display pop-up Christmas greetings?—and sold his holiday creations in high-end department stores and museums. His list of clients included Nelson Rockefeller, Greer Garson, and Benson Ford. Koehler's artwork was fresh, colorful, and bright, incorporating a bit of fantasy and fun into the traditional symbols of the seasons. And his cards literally added an unexpected dimension to holiday greetings. One European design journal stated, "Karl Koehler has … swept clean the dusty structure of greeting card design."

Blue doors that open to reveal a Christmas tree with four angels floating around it holding signs with text
THF188412 and THF188411

Christmas and Pop-up Design Influences


Christmas cards, as we know them today, first appeared in England in the early 1840s. Historians note that the first card showed a happy scene of holiday feasting flanked by images depicting acts of charity. The custom of sending Christmas cards, though not initially widespread, grew slowly and by 1850, Americans had joined the holiday tradition. By the late 1800s, more and more Americans began giving inexpensive and colorful cards—made possible by low-cost postage and new printing technologies—to friends, family, and acquaintances.

GIF cycling through three images of greeting cards featuring intricate lacy cutouts, honeycomb tissue paper, and other three-dimensional elements
Many valentines in the 19th and early-20th centuries contained layers of embossed paper or other materials. Others had a pop-up element that made the valentine three-dimensional. / THF99091, THF166622, and THF313817

While Karl Koehler focused on crafting high-end Christmas cards, he appears to have drawn much of his card design and construction from late-19th- and early-20th-century valentines. Most 19th-century Christmas cards tended to be relatively flat and remained so well into the 20th century. Valentines, however, had greater dimensionality. English and American manufacturers produced elaborate valentines constructed of highly embossed paper, layered with colorful inserts and, more importantly, pop-up elements that made the valentines three-dimensional. One clue that valentines played a role in Koehler's Christmas card production is a listing from the estate auction advertisement after his death in 2000: "100 old pop-up/pull-out mechanical Valentines."

Three-dimensional blue and white paper card with cut-out circle in middle revealing two children, Christmas ornaments, and holiday greenery
THF188403

Other influences, such as pop-up and movable books, may have played a part in Koehler's designs. Movable and pop-up books usually included flaps, revolving discs (volvelles), pull tabs, and other mechanical devices that made elements on the pages move. By the late 1800s, publishers and designers produced these books—some with elaborate works hidden between the pages—mainly for children. New York-based McLoughlin Brothers began producing movable books in the late-19th century in the United States—one of the first American companies to do so. One of McLoughlin's earliest efforts contained colorful illustrations that folded or popped out into three-dimensional displays. While there is no documented connection with these types of books, several of Koehler's Christmas cards created a three-dimensional stage-like quality reminiscent of movable or pop-up books.

Three-dimensional paper card with a frame and angel surrounding a scene of houses and a Christmas tree in snow
THF188405

After Christmas Cards


In the late 1950s, Koehler applied for a patent for a collapsible and expandable pyramid structure design used for "greeting cards, calendars, containers, advertising novelties, displays, geometric educational devices, etc." But a few years later, in November 1961, the last printed mention of his Christmas card production appeared. That same year, Koehler traveled to Ireland to help create an industrial design course at that country's National School of Art. He made other trips to Europe and later traveled to Brazil and wrote of his excursions. Existing documentation suggests that Koehler did not create any new three-dimensional holiday cards during the last decades of the 20th century.

Three-dimensional Christmas card with a cityscape of buildings, a Christmas tree, and banners with text
THF188402

Today, card companies such as Graphics3, LovePop, Hallmark, and others create an array of elaborate holiday pop-up cards meant to delight both giver and recipient. Few have probably ever heard of Karl Koehler, but they would appreciate his designs and revel in his amusing creations.

View more Christmas cards designed by Karl Koehler in our Digital Collections.


Andy Stupperich is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

popular culture, holidays, entrepreneurship, design, correspondence, Christmas, by Andy Stupperich

Blue book cover with text and image of children in Halloween costumes in a pumpkin field, watching a dog dancing on a pumpkin

THF610382

For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of Charles Schulz's comic strip Peanuts. And It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is one of my favorite animated holiday specials. Each year, I set aside time to relive the experiences of the Peanuts characters—and it doesn't grow old. Maybe because it first aired the year I started grade school, or because I also loved Halloween when I was growing up, my memories have kept It's the Great Pumpkin fresh and alive. It could also be the imaginative story, animation, and music encapsulated in a simple format that draws me back year after year, now that I am sadly well beyond the age of trick-or-treating. Or maybe it is a combination of all of these, the artistic creativity playing off deep-seated childhood memories, that makes me look forward to watching this animated classic every autumn.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, written by Charles Schulz, is a simple story of imagination, belief, and the joys of childhood. The main story centers on Linus, whose faith in and devotion to the Great Pumpkin reminds us of the fragile childhood innocence we all experienced—and hopefully still resides in us in some form. Within this larger story, Schulz weaves scenes reminiscent of his multi-framed comic strips. Each of these reminds us why we love his characters. The dismay of Linus at watching Lucy carve the pumpkin he brought home into a jack-o-lantern. The attempt by Charlie Brown to kick a football held by Lucy, who we all know will pull it away at the last minute. The help Snoopy gives to Charlie Brown with putting leaves in a pile. The eagerness of Linus to jump into that same pile of leaves—later philosophizing that he should not have done it holding a wet sucker. The joy of trick-or-treaters discovering what they got after dashing from house to house on Halloween night. Or the imagination of Snoopy concocting an epic battle with the Red Baron and his escape through no man's land. Childhood, even with its setbacks, never seemed better.

Cartoon drawing of children in Halloween costumes holding out bags at the door of a house
THF610396

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is masterfully animated by Bill Melendez. Melendez made Schulz's static comic strip characters move. And it is Melendez who made Snoopy fly. His color palette reminds me of the clear October days when I played in the backyard. And the backgrounds of blotchy blue and purple skies are reminiscent of those blustery Halloween nights when my cousins and I tromped through the neighborhood trick-or-treating.

Finally, where would the Peanuts gang be without the score by Vince Guaraldi? His somber, flute-accompanied themes instill a sense of eerie-ness as trick-or-treaters glide through the streets, Snoopy maneuvers through no man's land, and Linus waits in anticipation in the shadowed pumpkin patch.

Schulz, Melendez, and Guaraldi (along with producer Lee Mendelson) were the same talented team that helped make A Charlie Brown Christmas so successful the year before, 1965. Learn more about that Peanuts animated holiday classic in this 2015 blog post, Good Grief! "A Charlie Brown Christmas” Turns 50.


These colorful impressions, these musical moods, these familiar storylines—these snippets of autumnal life—still resonate with me 55 years after the program first aired.


Andy Stupperich is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. You will find him on Halloween night watching this animated classic on DVD before he heads out to wait for the Great Pumpkin in the sincerest pumpkin patch he can find. 

childhood, popular culture, holidays, TV, Halloween, by Andy Stupperich

The 26th Amendment

The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.


In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. The U.S. Congress passed the legislation in March and sent it to the states. In less than four months, the requisite number of states had ratified it—the fastest ratification of any amendment to the Constitution.

Though this constitutional victory may seem relatively quick, it wasn't. The idea of lowering the voting age to 18 had been an almost perennial topic in Congress since World War II, nearly 30 years before the 26th Amendment's ratification. Only in the 1960s, with the confluence of the civil rights struggle, American involvement in the Vietnam War, and the coming of age of the baby boom generation, would lowering the voting age finally become a reality.

Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote


In 1942, the U.S. Congress amended the Selective Training and Service Act, lowering the military draft age to 18. With passage of this revision, several members of Congress also proposed lowering the voting age. They argued that if 18-year-old Americans could fight and die for their country, they should also be given the right to vote. Though nothing came of the proposal in Congress, numerous states debated the issue. In 1943, Georgia became the first state to lower the voting age, but no other states followed.

Large room with small tables lined up along one side, each with people sitting on either side, and a line of people snaking around the other side of the room
Ford Motor Company employees line up to register for the draft, April 1942. Soon after America declared war in 1941, Congress required all American men 18 to 64 years old to register for the draft—though men 18 and 19 years old were not liable for military service. That changed when Congress lowered the draft age to 18 in 1942. / THF624578

The debate continued after the war, though it was largely unsuccessful. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower advocated for the measure in his State of the Union speech, but little action came from his plea. Kentucky did lower its voting age to 18; Alaska and Hawaii, upon entering the union, established voting ages at 19 and 20, respectively. But again, the movement stalled, and no other states expanded the franchise to those 18 years to 21 years old.

The push to lower the voting age, however, gained momentum in the 1960s. Many in the baby boom generation—those born after the end of World War II and now of draft age—began to protest and voice their opposition to some of the country's social, political, and military policies.

Round button with green border and white center; contains text
THF166830

This activism countered the prevailing argument that 18-year-olds were not mature enough to vote. Proponents also noted that America's educational system had more than prepared young Americans to enter the political sphere at 18. More importantly, supporters cited the inequity of many draft-age Americans being sent to fight in Vietnam who were unable to vote. Young Americans latched onto the phrase "Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote"—a popular slogan used during World War II. Songwriters also incorporated these injustices into the lyrics of protest songs.

Let Us Vote (L.U.V.)


Record cover featuring a group of people and text, sitting next to a single record
THF185716

By the late 1960s, youth and student-led organizations lobbied for an extension of voting rights. These grassroots groups found support from influential politicians, celebrities, veteran groups, and larger national organizations. In late 1968, the "Let Us Vote" (L.U.V.) campaign, headquartered at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, gained national recognition when its leader appeared on The Joey Bishop Show. The group expanded, and by March 1969, L.U.V. claimed to have chapters on 200 college campuses and in 1,500 high schools throughout the country. More recognition followed when the singer-songwriter duo "Tommy" Boyce and Bobby Hart (famed for writing songs for The Monkees) composed the song "L.U.V. (Let Us Vote)" in late 1969. The work became the official song for the L.U.V. campaign.

Voting Rights Act and the 26th Amendment


While America's youth continued to demand the vote, key congressional leaders passed legislation to make it a reality. In the spring of 1970, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came up for reauthorization. Senators Edward Kennedy, Warren Magnuson, and Majority Leader Mike Mansfield added a proposal to the reauthorization bill that would lower the voting age in all elections (local, state, and national). The Senate passed the bill and sent it to the House. There, members of the House faced a quandary. Some representatives believed Congress did not have the authority to lower the voting age but were concerned that by not passing the bill they would endanger the extension of the Voting Rights Act. Fearing to risk the loss of the landmark civil rights legislation, House members passed the bill with scattered dissent. President Richard M. Nixon, who supported lowering the voting age but was also uncomfortable with making the change through congressional decree, nevertheless signed the reauthorization.

It appeared a constitutional amendment was unnecessary. However, a court challenge to the section of the Voting Right Act lowering the voting age (something urged by President Nixon and others) put an amendment back into the mix. In the fall of 1970, Supreme Court justices ruled by a narrow margin that Congress did have the right to lower the voting age, but only for federal elections—Congress could not mandate it for state or local elections. States now faced an administrative nightmare. If state legislatures could not change their constitutions before the 1972 presidential election, they would need two voting lists—one including voters 18 to 21 years old for federal elections, and another excluding those voters for state and local elections. Two voting lists would also have an unwelcome economic impact. State elections officials would need to purchase new or additional voting equipment to deal with this logistical problem. Something needed to be done.

The solution became the 26th Amendment. In March 1971, Congress quickly passed the amendment and sent it to the states. Less than four months later, by July 1, the requisite 38 states had ratified it—the fastest ratification of any amendment to the Constitution. On July 5, 1971, in a White House signing ceremony, the 26th Amendment was certified. An estimated eleven million new voters were added to the rolls, ensuring their voices would be heard when they showed up at the polls.


Andy Stupperich is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

by Andy Stupperich, voting

Colorful image of woman raking hay in a field, with other people, horses, and wagons nearby

Lantern slide based on one of Joseph Boggs Beale's drawings. / THF622550

Joseph Boggs Beale produced illustrations used to create slides for magic lantern shows from the 1880s until about 1920. He was both artistic and prolific. During his career, Beale sketched over 2,000 images used in over 250 lantern slide sets. Beale's education and background led him to create illustrations that demonstrated a high level of cinematic quality for screen-projected images at a time before motion pictures. Ironically, it would be motion pictures that would end his career as a lantern slide illustrator.

Beale before Lantern Slides


Joseph Boggs Beale was born in 1841 to a well-connected Philadelphia family. His father was a prominent dentist, his late great-aunt was Betsy Ross (the seamstress whose family claimed she sewed the first United States flag), and his uncle Edmund Beale was a professional panorama showman. Entertainment opportunities abounded in one of the largest cities in the U.S.—and the Beale family took advantage of them. The Beales enjoyed theatrical productions and concerts, watched animal menageries pass by on the street, went to minstrel shows and panorama displays, and, of course, they saw magic lantern shows.

Wooden box, strips of translucent images, and small metal and glass machine
Magic lanterns use optical lenses and a light source to project images from glass slides onto a screen. / THF160397

Beale was an artistic child, and his family encouraged his talent. He attended Philadelphia's Central High School, where his artistic skills flourished. Later, he took classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Upon graduation from Central High School in 1862, the 21-year-old Beale became the school's professor of drawing and writing.

During the Civil War in 1863, as the Southern army invaded the quiet Pennsylvania farmlands west of Philadelphia, Beale joined the 33rd Pennsylvania Volunteers as the regimental artist. After a short stint with the military, he returned to teaching.

In 1865, Beale submitted a drawing of a baseball game to the editors of Harper's Weekly. The editors published it in the November issue. It was the beginning of his professional artistic career. Beale began submitting drawings to other major national periodicals, and soon his illustrations appeared in Frank Leslie's Weekly and Daily Graphic.

Illustration of a crowd of people around a grassy area where baseball is being played
"Base-Ball Match" illustration in 1865 Harper's Weekly by J.B. Beale. / THF621986

Beale married Marie Taffard of Philadelphia in 1868. The couple moved to Chicago, Illinois, where Beale worked for Baker and Company, a firm that provided wood engraving to its clients. After his wife died, Beale returned to Philadelphia. There he met Caspar Briggs, owner of C.W. Briggs & Company, one of the country's premier lantern slide firms. Briggs originally hired Beale on a freelance basis. It was the beginning of a nearly 40-year career creating lantern slide illustrations.

Caspar Briggs


Caspar Briggs's father, Daniel, started a lantern slide business in Massachusetts in the 1850s and transferred the company to his son in 1868. Caspar moved the company to Philadelphia in 1872—the city was rapidly becoming a hub for lantern slide production. Two years after the move, Briggs bought out Langenheim Brothers, a company noted for developing the process for photographic lantern slides.

Well-dressed man and woman walk toward an open carriage door, with other people and a dog nearby
One of the drawings created by Beale for a set of slides illustrating the hymn "Tell Me the Old, Old Story." / THF124495

Instead of using photographic images for his slides, Briggs decided to photograph illustrated works—wash drawings or paintings—made by his company’s artists to create lantern slides. Photographed onto glass, then usually hand-colored, these images recounted well-known stories and poems, chronicled history, and illustrated songs. Briggs's vision built an impressive body of work, making his company one of the leading producers of lantern slides in the country. Presentations using slides purchased from Briggs's company thrilled audiences and inspired political, religious, and fraternal organizations throughout America. The artistic and creative works of Joseph Beale would be central to Briggs's production of lantern slides.

Beale as a Lantern Slide Artist


Briggs first hired Beale on a freelance basis around 1880, one of several artists that Briggs employed. But Beale's artistic hand outshone the other illustrators at Briggs's company—or any other lantern slide company. Beale understood the storytelling power his illustrations could convey when projected onto a screen in a darkened room or theater.

Man in suit with right arm upraised, in front of man sitting at desk on dais, with additional people at tables behind them
A pivotal moment depicted by Beale from one of his illustrations for the "Life of Benjamin Franklin" series. / THF289382

Drawing on his childhood experiences, education, and early work, Beale created lantern slides that have been described as cinematic. He brought an artistic and dramatic continuity to the story and song sets he created. His detailed illustrations depicted defining moments of a story—moments that had to be conveyed in one slide, rather than in multiple moving images. And while his works are detailed, they are not distracting—organized images focus the viewer's gaze on important action. His illustrations are highlighted and shaded to provide a tonal range that, when transferred to glass and hand-painted by Briggs's colorists, imparted a quality rarely produced by other lantern slide artists. Beale knew how to tell a story using projected images and is considered one of the first great screen artists.

Black-and-white portrait of man in suit with white hair, beard, and mustache; cursive text on one side
Portrait of Joseph Boggs Beale late in life. / THF289386

Magic lantern slide shows were in decline by 1900. The invention of motion pictures in the 1890s slowly began to displace lantern slide entertainment. Beale continued to work for Briggs but was laid off in 1909. He freelanced for Briggs until about 1920. By then, motion pictures dominated the screen entertainment industry. Beale died in 1926 and his illustrations were dispersed. Many found a home in museums and educational institutions across the United States, including The Henry Ford.

You can view original illustrations by Beale, and lantern slides based on his drawings, in The Henry Ford's Digital Collections.


Andy Stupperich is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

drawings, popular culture, home life, art, by Andy Stupperich, #THFCuratorChat

Man in suit and tie

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States / THF118582

March 4, 1861: Inauguration Day. Abraham Lincoln, the President-elect, takes the oath of office to become the 16th President of the United States. It was an uncertain time. The country was torn over the issue of slavery. For years, a tenuous arrangement had been maintained between free and slaveholding states, but now many Americans—on both sides—seemed unwilling to compromise. The Democratic Party had fractured over the issue. Two Democrats and a former Whig, each with differing views, vied to become president in 1860. This left the Republican Party, which wanted to limit slavery, with an opportunity for an electoral victory.

Lincoln, the Republican Party candidate, was elected by a minority of eligible voters, winning mainly Northern and Western states—enough for an electoral majority—but receiving little or no support from the slaveholding South. Since Lincoln's election in November 1860, seven Southern states had seceded from the Union, and many Americans feared the other eight slave states would follow. Americans anxiously waited to hear from their new president.

Gold colored button with text "Abraham Lincoln 1860" and portrait of man in center
Campaign Button, 1860 / THF101182

In his inaugural address, Lincoln tried to allay the fears and apprehensions of those who perceived him as a radical and those who sought to break the bonds of the Union. More immediately, his address responded to the crisis at hand. Lincoln, a practiced circuit lawyer, laid out his case to dismantle the theory of secession. He believed that the Constitution provided clear options to change government through scheduled elections and amendments. Lincoln considered the more violent option of revolution as a right held by the people, but only if other means of change did not exist. Secession, Lincoln argued, was not a possibility granted by the founders of the nation or the Constitution. Logically, it would only lead to ever-smaller seceding groups. And governing sovereignty devolved from the Union—not the states, as secessionists argued. Finally, if the Constitution was a compact between sovereign states, then all parties would have to agree to unmake it. Clearly, President Lincoln did not.

Lincoln did not want conflict. His administration had yet to govern, and even so, he believed that as president he would have "little power for mischief," as he would be constrained by the checks and balances framed in the Constitution. Lincoln implored all his countrymen to stop and think before taking rash steps. But if conflict came, he would be bound by his presidential oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” the government.

Lincoln concluded his case with the most famous passages in the speech—a call to remember the bonds that unify the country, and his vision of hope:

"I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Lincoln's appeal, however, avoided the cause of the onrushing war—slavery. Failing to take this divisive issue head-on only added to its polarizing effect. Many Americans in the North found Lincoln's speech too conciliatory. Southerners thought it threatened war. And the nation had little time to stop and think. Immediately after his inauguration, Lincoln had to decide whether to resupply Fort Sumter, the U.S. military post in Charleston harbor, the heart of secession. In April, the "bonds of affection" broke.

Lincoln had hoped that time and thoughtful deliberation would resolve this issue—and in a way it did. The tragedies of war empowered Lincoln to reconsider his views. His views on slavery and freedom evolved. No longer bound, Lincoln moved toward emancipation, toward freeing enslaved Americans, and toward his "better angels."

Group of men sit and stand around a table filled with papers and books, with additional papers and books around the room
Engraving, "The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet" / THF6763

To read Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, click here.


Andy Stupperich is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

Civil War, presidents, Abraham Lincoln, by Andy Stupperich

The Henry Ford reached a digitization milestone recently, adding the 100,000th artifact to its Digital Collections website. The digitization team at The Henry Ford began a little over ten years ago to update and add to this site. Early on, we developed data standards that guided our progress. Certain required information -- a title, an object name, dimensions, creator, and searchable keywords, to name a few -- accompanies each object record. And every object that goes online must have an image that meets our standards.

Page with text; "Write a Summary" is highlighted
This graphic shows the various tasks in The Henry Ford's digitization workflow, and where writing a summary fits in.

But have you noticed that many of The Henry Ford’s online collections records have a small label-like paragraph -- something called "Summary"? As staff at The Henry Ford looked at other institutions' collections webpages, we noticed many contained standard descriptive information, but few explained the importance of the object. Some collections webpages added a detailed (sometimes dry) physical description, or maybe text from an old exhibit label, or sometimes long academic articles. The digital collections staff at The Henry Ford wanted something more reader-friendly, something informative, and perhaps even enjoyable. After a series of discussions, we decided that a short 60-word paragraph -- a Summary -- was the solution. A Summary would answer the question, “So what?” -- why is this object important for The Henry Ford to collect and preserve? -- and hopefully spur viewers to explore our digital collections more deeply.

A GIF scrolling down a webpage with car photo and text
A Summary is one of the first things you see when you go to a Digital Collections record page. This GIF shows the Summary for
Mustang serial number one, along with much other information about the car.

When staff originally conceived of the idea, a Summary was viewed as a vital part of the online data, but not a requirement. Finding the right words for some object Summaries takes time, and the 60-word limit is constricting -- though we do allow a few more words when needed. An object usually can tell multiple “So what?” stories, and curators -- the primary authors of a Summary -- would like to share them all. What one “So what?” story would you choose to tell if you were writing a Summary about the rocking chair used by President Lincoln on the night of his assassination, a Ford Model T, or the home (or cycle shop) of Orville and Wilbur Wright?

Even seemingly mundane objects offer interesting insights. Curators thoroughly research these objects then carefully choose words that will convey a coherent idea--while at the same time working within the prescribed word limits. Our research into an object's history and use provides viewers with a deeper understanding of our online collections.

Piece of equipment with dials
What could be more mundane than a wattmeter -- a device used to measure electricity usage? Learn more about how electric companies found ways to measure electricity usage and charge customers appropriately in the Summary for this c.1907 Type C Wattmeter. / THF168572

Standing man.
The man in this carte-de-visite was originally identified as an acrobat in our collection records. But while researching the image to write the Summary, the curator discovered that this "acrobat" was Henry Brown, a well-known long-distance walker. / THF210533

Though a Summary may not be perfect, we hope that it gives viewers an insight into our collections that will spark an "a-ha" moment. And staff at The Henry Ford have created well-researched blog posts, Expert Sets, What If stories, and Connect 3 and other videos for those viewers who want more in-depth stories about our collection.

So, how are we doing? Currently, more than 65,000 of the 100,000 Digital Collections objects have a Summary, and curators continue to add more. We have plenty of work in the future.

Do you want to give it a try?

Find an object in your home (or go to our Digital Collections website and find an object without a Summary) and write a 60-word Summary to answer the question, "So what?" -- why is this object important? Some objects may be easy to write about; others, not so much. Remember that readers should understand the concept you are trying to convey, and perhaps be inspired to want to know more.

The Henry Ford is facing unprecedented financial challenges due to the impact of our 16-week closure and reduced operations. We need your help in securing our future. Love the Henry Ford? Please support all that we treasure—including our digitization program. Longtime supporters of The Henry Ford will match your donation dollar for dollar, so your contribution will have double the impact.
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#Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, digitization, research, digital collections, by Andy Stupperich

Crowd of people outside a building
A crowd gathers outside the news office of the San Francisco Examiner to await the outcome of the 1920 presidential election.  Reporters used loudspeakers to announce the results to the throng of voters and spectators. / THF610502


On Election Day, November 2, 1920, Americans waited anxiously for news of who would be the next President of the United States.  In the evening, many voters milled around newspaper and government offices waiting to hear from election officials and reporters the latest results that were streaming across telephone and telegraph wires; others waited to read about the outcome in the next day's newspaper. But in 1920, a growing number of Americans could stay at home and listen to election returns announced over the expanding wireless media -- radio.  During the next decades, radio would become an essential link in the political life of Americans -- not only for Election Day results, but for news of campaigns, conventions, and inaugurations; reports on the life of the President; and for the calm reassurance of leadership articulated in fireside chats.

Equipment with dials and wires on table in windowed room
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, radio station KDKA broadcast the election returns in between musical interludes to hundreds of listeners on Election Day.  The station was the first federally licensed commercial radio station in America. This photograph shows the studio in 1920. / THF120670


Andy Stupperich is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

communication, radio, voting, by Andy Stupperich

"Today" show commentator Dick McCutcheon and museum curator, H. S. Ablewhite, discuss Henry Ford's race car "999," while Ken Schwartz waits patiently in the driver's seat. (THF116080)

As most of you who follow The Henry Ford know, television crews have begun filming the Saturday morning educational show, The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation. Some visitors also may have actually seen the production crews in Henry Ford Museum or Greenfield Village several weeks ago as they shot footage for upcoming episodes. This has not been the first time The Henry Ford has played host to national television aspirations. Nearly 60 years ago in 1955, television crews invaded our campus on three separate occasions to broadcast live remotes. And like today The Henry Ford staff was there to help things run smoothly. Continue Reading

#Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, cars, music, Greenfield Village buildings, popular culture, Greenfield Village, by Andy Stupperich, TV, The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation