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Red beanie with symbol for female with a heart inside it on the front
Hat, 2016-2017 / THF185075

Some called her a dissenter. Others called her “notorious.” 

But one thing is for certain.

She was one of a kind. 

At The Henry Ford, we mourn the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993, she was only the second female Supreme Court Justice (after Sandra Day O’Connor) and the only Jewish woman to serve on the court. 

During her tenure, Justice Ginsburg became known for her powerful and unyielding commitment to the rule of the law and equal justice under the law. She was a tireless advocate for women’s rights but in truth championed equality for all people. In her creative and strategic use of the law, she opened doors for countless people. She was fearless, tenacious, brilliant, and visionary.

She will be deeply missed.


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

by Donna R. Braden, women's history

Black and white cover sheet featuring title “Female Suffrage: Song and Chorus”
This 1867 music sheet (00.4.183) was dedicated to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, George Francis Train, Lucy Stone, and other “advocates of female suffrage.” / THF93144

We often hear the names of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in connection with the early struggle for “woman’s suffrage,” which we know more commonly today as “women’s suffrage”—the right of women as American citizens to vote. What is lesser known is that the early women’s suffrage movement began within the context of the broader struggle for women’s rights and it involved many more people—men as well as women, Black as well as white.

Printed family scene with man reading newspaper in a chair, woman holding little girl at his feet, and another little girl at the other side of his chair, all around a metal heating stove
This scene of domestic bliss from an 1880 trade card (89.0.541.1270) for parlor stoves belies the fact that women at this time lacked basic rights. / THF224913

Women’s Rights, Denied

Into the early 20th century, women were not considered entities with rights separate from men. They could not vote, serve on a jury, testify in court, or hold public office. If married, it was illegal for women to sign contracts, inherit property, keep or invest their own earnings, have automatic rights to their children (even after a divorce or if their husband died), or make a will without their husband’s consent. It was very difficult for them to get divorced from an abusive husband or have a profession other than that centered around home and children. Furthermore, they were expected to stay out of public matters—centering their lives around family and home, obeying their husbands, and behaving at all times in a refined, polite way.

Yellowed cover with image of two white men in suits holding an African American man in chains and title reading in part “The American Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1840”
Abolitionist literature like The American Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1840 (2005.0.17.1), produced by and for northern abolitionists, often featured provocative covers depicting the brutality of slavery. / THF7209

Breaking Early Barriers

During the early 19th century, a few strong women began expressing their views about the rights of women as separate from men. Many of the early women who spoke out were white, educated, middle-class members of the Society of Friends, or Quakers. Members of this religious sect not only accepted women as equals to men but also saw it as their duty to seek justice for all. Lucretia Mott, one of the organizers of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, was Quaker. Susan B. Anthony, who joined the movement a bit later, also had a Quaker upbringing.

Many of these women had also long championed the abolition of slavery. In this they found allies in men as well as Black women. It was as advocates for this movement that these women got practice attending and speaking out at meetings. They paved the way for other women.

Man with quill in his hand over a document on table labeled “Pledge,” with woman over right shoulder pointing at the document and red devil creature with cup in hand at the man’s left shoulder
The title of this ca. 1851 oil painting (59.124.1) is “The Temperance Pledge,” referring to an important component of the temperance movement that involved signing a document in public promising to abstain from alcohol. / THF119917

Some of the early women’s rights advocates also championed temperance reforms—that is, an organized effort to encourage abstinence from, or at least moderation in, the consumption of intoxicating beverages—especially hard liquor. Excessive drunkenness, especially by men, was threatening the stability of many families (in 1830, consumption of alcohol was three times the current norm) and women led the charge to battle this. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were both temperance movement reformers before they became women’s rights advocates.

Black-and-white portrait of woman with light-colored hair and clasped hands wearing elaborate lace dress.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a leader in the struggle for women’s rights and an early advocate for women’s suffrage (98.94.18). / THF6584

A Few Voices Lead to Many

The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 was the first official public forum for discussing women’s rights. But suffrage was never the main or the only goal there.

Lucretia Mott met Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who had recently married abolitionist Henry Stanton) at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in Great Britain in 1838, just as that country had ended slavery. They found they shared similar views and kept in touch after that. During a conversation when Mott visited Stanton’s hometown of Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, Stanton’s feelings of oppression as a wife and mother came tumbling out. The two decided to call “a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious conditions and rights of Woman.”

In July 1848, Mott, Cady Stanton and nearly 300 other attendees—men as well as women—gathered in Seneca Falls, including well-known self-emancipated orator and editor Frederick Douglass. James Mott, Lucretia’s husband, chaired the meeting, as women felt they lacked the experience as well as the knowledge of parliamentary procedure. Cady Stanton, possessing a gift for writing, had drafted a Declaration of Sentiments for the meeting, not unlike those presented and discussed at anti-slavery conventions at the time. But it was her genius to use the language and legitimacy of the Declaration of Independence, modifying the phrase “all men are created equal” to “all men and women are created equal.”

Sepia image of African American man in a suit seated in a chair; “Fred Douglas” handwritten along bottom
Self-emancipated abolitionist Frederick Douglass was an early champion for women’s suffrage (96.68.1). / THF210623

At the meeting, the attendees discussed the 18 grievances and 11 resolutions that Cady Stanton had drafted in her Declaration. But it was the resolution “that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise,” that led to the longest debate and greatest opposition. To most people at the meeting—women as well as men—the idea of women voting seemed far-fetched, ludicrous, even illogical. Cady Stanton defended it, claiming (what seems so obvious to us today) that women needed political rights to be able to make other gains through legal means. The resolution almost failed, until Frederick Douglass spoke fervently in its favor. It passed by a small margin—the only resolution adopted that was not unanimous.

Sepia portrait of African American woman in a dress and shawl seated in chair, knitting, with text at bottom “I sell the shadow to support the substance – Sojourner Truth”
Emancipated orator Sojourner Truth championed women’s rights along with abolition (96.72.1). / THF121160

The Seneca Falls Convention gave rise to numerous other women’s rights conventions that emerged over the next decade, in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Massachusetts. It was in Akron, Ohio, in 1851 that emancipated orator Sojourner Truth—best known for speaking out against slavery—gave her first known speech on women’s rights. She would continue to appear at many women’s rights conventions and give valiant service to the movement. It was also during this time that Susan B. Anthony assumed a leadership role in the women’s rights movement.

These conventions gave women practice in airing grievances, building consensus, and establishing alliances and friendships. Abolitionist support dominated these discussions, as the slavery issue heated up through the decade. There was no consensus about women’s suffrage. In fact, women’s suffrage was barely an issue on the table at convention after convention.

Colored print showing an African American man in a cream-colored patched suit adding a token to one of two jars under a red and white striped awning with a line of other African American men behind him
This 1867 cover of Harper's Weekly (2005.16.2) shows Black freedmen lining up to cast their ballots. Congress had recently approved measures allowing African Americans the right to vote—a right later ratified in the 15th Amendment. / THF11673

An Unfortunate Split

Only after the Civil War did women’s suffrage become the primary goal of the women’s rights movement. However, two factions split over how to achieve it. According to Angela P. Dodson in “Remember the Ladies”: Celebrating Those Who Fought for Freedom at the Ballot Box (2017), this “fissure” sundered alliances, strained relationships, diffused energies, squandered resources and stalled progress, and it took decades to heal.

Three-column newspaper page with title “The Revolution” at top, with two poems in left column and article “The Born Thrall” by Alice Cary in the two right columns
The Revolution (2005.14.1), a newspaper distributed by the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, featured essays supporting NWSA’s agenda. / THF277269

Although many women’s rights advocates supported the passage of the 13th Amendment formalizing emancipation, the dissension started with passage of the 14th Amendment (guaranteeing equality to all “male citizens”) and especially with the passage of the 15th Amendment (giving Black males the right to vote). In retrospect, it seems obvious that Black enfranchisement in the South was in peril if lawmakers didn’t act quickly and it was simply not judicious to fight for two difficult causes at the same time—Black freedmen’s rights and women’s rights. However, some women, including the vocal Elizabeth Cady Stanton, did not see it that way. These women felt they had fought long and hard for both abolition and women’s rights, and they felt they deserved their due.

It was at this time that women realized they needed to advocate for a national amendment calling for “universal suffrage” and began referring to themselves as suffragists. This would have been the perfect time for a national organization to push this agenda, and one was attempted at the 1866 National Woman’s Rights Convention, led by Susan B. Anthony. But there was almost immediately a division in the ranks—leading to two competing organizations. Stanton and Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), working specifically for the enfranchisement of women and opposing the 15th Amendment. At the same time, women’s rights advocate Lucy Stone organized the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) in support of the 15th Amendment and working toward a broader coalition (her group ultimately received more support). These two groups competed for allies and support for the next 25 years, weakening each other’s success and forcing each of them to work harder for state-by-state support rather than working together to fight for a federal amendment.

Round orange button with yellow circle in center, with printed text reading “Vote no on woman suffrage”
During the struggle for women’s suffrage, many men and some women strongly opposed the notion of women voting, as evidenced by this ca. 1910 button (2004.117.1). / THF8518

In 1869 and 1870, respectively, the Wyoming and Utah territories granted women the right to vote (primarily to attract settlers), while an amendment granting women the right to vote was finally brought to Congress beginning in 1878. But none of these actions engendered wider support, and many people (both men and women) continued to oppose women’s suffrage on many fronts.

Button with image of eagle over crossed red, white, & blue American flags and shield, yellow background and blue rim, with text “Votes for Women – Patriotism”
During the early 20th century, suffragists often appealed to potential voters by distributing items with symbolic imagery, such as this ca. 1910 button (2004.116.1). / THF155862

A New Generation Takes Charge

It would take a new generation of women, lacking the painful memories of the reason for the rift in the first place, to take up the fight. These women reunified the group by forming the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890 (NAWSA) and creating new strategies for state and national support. This was also a time for Black women—who had played a modest role in the previous organizations—to form their own organizations that could champion women’s rights and women's suffrage, including the National Association of Colored Women in 1895 and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. Prominent leaders like Ida Wells-Barnett and Mary Church Terrell arose to lead other Black women in support of these causes. Unfortunately, white suffragists did not always welcome their help—in fact, some were willing to sacrifice this support to pacify Southerners and court their support for the ballot.

48-star American flag with red and white stripes and white stars on a blue field in upper left with text "Mr. President, What Will You Do for Women's Suffrage?" on white stripes
Alice Paul’s extremist tactics included aiming strong messages directly at President Wilson, as seen in this small handheld flag (2005.3.1) from about 1916. / THF8533

Two different kinds of leaders emerged during the early 1900s, for the final push to the 19th Amendment—Carrie Chapman Catt, the lobbyist, and Alice Paul, the agitator. Catt and Paul strongly disagreed with each other’s tactics, but neither would have succeeded without the other. Their different strategies offered women from all walks of life a way to get involved—organizing parades, printing flyers, and getting people to sign petitions. Victory was not easy to achieve, but on August 26, 1920—72 years after the Seneca Falls meeting—the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote was added to the Constitution.

Round blue and white button with two stars and diagonal separation of colors, reading “Abolish Poll Tax / 100% Democracy”
During the Jim Crow era, most southern states had adopted poll taxes to keep Blacks from voting. The person who wore this button (2005.9.8) protested the injustice of paying to vote, which was finally abolished with the passage of the 24th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution (1964) and subsequent court rulings (1966). / THF 96541

The Struggle Continues

Unfortunately, the 19th Amendment did not guarantee equal voting rights to women. Racist laws and practices kept African American women as well as women of other disenfranchised groups—including Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian American women—from voting for decades. Voter suppression is, in fact, still an ongoing issue today.

Round white button with green block text reading in part “Support the E.R.A."
The Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.) finally passed both houses of Congress in 1972, but it was not ratified in enough state legislatures for approval (2001.76.1). / THF153507

Returning full circle to the larger issue of women’s rights, an Equal Rights Amendment was drafted in 1923—only three years after the 19th Amendment was ratified. Although it received much attention in the 1970s and early 1980s, it has never passed.

The struggle for women’s rights, including women’s right to vote, continues today.


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

by Donna R. Braden, women's history, voting, African American history

White Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box featuring a green and red rooster, c. 1995
This 1995 Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box (96.34.3.13) features Cornelius Rooster, a popular character logo since the late 1950s. THF302682

Perhaps it could only happen in western Michigan: the combination of religious fervor, fertile soil to grow grains that could be transformed into easily digestible breakfast cereals, and the spirit that one could accomplish anything with hard work and determination. Out of this world came John Harvey (J.H.) and William Keith (W.K.) Kellogg—two brothers who would transform the way that Americans ate breakfast. They were, unfortunately, often at odds. And they didn’t work alone. But, through their persistence and combined efforts, the dry cereal flakes they perfected would start a breakfast revolution.

Into the early 20th century, the American breakfast was often heavy, starchy, salty, and fatty—laden with leftovers from last night’s dinner, like cured meats, day-old biscuits, and lard-fried potatoes. No wonder that one of the most common complaints of the time was “dyspepsia”—a term that applied to a medley of stomach ailments, including constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, and indigestion. For the sick and the elderly, lengthy cooking of porridges or gruels was the only morning-meal alternative.


Postcard showing Seventh-day Adventist Tabernacle, 1914, a red brick building with a steeple and many arched windows.
Seventh-day Adventist Tabernacle, Battle Creek, Michigan, 1914 (99.146.39). THF316219

The Kellogg brothers—John Harvey (1852-1943) and his younger brother Will Keith (1860-1951)—grew up in the close-knit community of Battle Creek, Michigan, a center for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Members of this homegrown Christian religious sect not only believed in the connection between spiritual and physical health, but also that healthy living depended upon maintaining a nutritious vegetable- and grain-based diet.

Seventh-day Adventist leaders Ellen and James White hand-picked J.H. Kellogg to run their medical and health programs in Battle Creek, and ultimately sent him to the prestigious Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City. It was during his morning rush to classes at Bellevue that he began thinking about creating a nutritious, ready-to-eat cereal.

Drab green cover of Dr. J.H. Kellogg textbook, First Book in Physiology and Hygiene embossed with black circular design at top
In 1888, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg authored this book (29.1119.14), aimed at explaining to young people, “in clear and simple language,” the structure and functions of the human body as well as his personal philosophy for healthful living. THF183317

Upon returning to Battle Creek in 1876, Dr. J.H. Kellogg assumed leadership of the Whites’ Western Health Reform Institute. But his vision was much larger than theirs, ultimately leading to his breaking ties with his Seventh-day Adventist backers. With the able (but underappreciated) assistance of his brother, Will, to run the business end of things, Dr. Kellogg turned the Whites’ once-modest institution into the grand Battle Creek Sanitarium. Nicknamed the San, this “university of health” would become a world-famous health resort, catering to the rich and famous (including Henry Ford) as well as the truly ill. At the San, Dr. Kellogg would profess and put into practice his long-held philosophy of “biologic living”—that is, the belief that correct eating and drinking, plenty of exercise, hydrotherapy, and the abstinence of tobacco would lead to a healthy mind, body, and spirit.

Postcard of Kellogg’s corn flakes packing room, c. 1935, with women in white dresses and hair coverings packing corn flakes boxes into large cartons
Corn Flakes loom large in this postcard (94.82.4) showing the packing room at the Kellogg’s plant, about 1935. THF320131

The true origin of corn flakes is difficult to trace, as competing versions of it have been offered by Dr. Kellogg’s wife Ella (whose dedicated assistance was integral to the San’s food operations), his brother Will, other family members, and San employees. All agree, however, that it started with Dr. Kellogg’s correct hypothesis that a grain-based cereal would be easier to digest if the grain’s starch was broken down through a pre-cooking process. (Ironically, nutritionists now agree that easy digestibility is less healthful than the slower-to-digest high-fiber cereals that are so popular today.) Hours of experimentation and a little accidental fermentation finally led to the creation of an easily digestible flaked cereal made of wheat. Patients at the San loved it and mail-order demand (usually by former patients) soon exceeded supply. Dr. Kellogg felt that he had accomplished what he had set out to do.

Recipe booklet cover for “Tested Battle Creek Health Recipes,” 1928, showing a woman and two children cooking in a kitchen
Recipes for health foods that Dr. J.H. Kellogg served his patients at the San were featured in this 1928 booklet (95.174.22) aimed at the general public. THF17004

But his younger brother Will was far from done. Will saw a raft of competitors scrambling to introduce their own—often very similar—flaked breakfast cereals and making money off of their original idea. Whereas his brother, the doctor, was satisfied with continuing to produce healthy, nutritious foods for his niche group of patients, Will saw an opportunity to market a light, healthy breakfast cereal to a much larger public. After helping his brother rebuild the San following a devastating fire in 1902, he bought the rights to the flaked cereal and struck out on his own.

Will immediately made some changes to the initial cereal his brother was serving at the San. He replaced the wheat with cheap, plentiful, better-tasting corn, and added (to his brother’s horror) malt, sugar, and salt to make the cereal more palatable to the general public. In 1906, Will Kellogg founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company and the cereal we know today as Corn Flakes was born.

Postcard of Kellogg’s Toasted Corn Flake Company factory, 1914, showing several red brick buildings, a water tower, and an American flag in the foreground
A postcard (99.146.41) of the Kellogg’s factory in 1914. THF316221

Will’s business acumen kicked in, as he embraced ever more sophisticated forms of advertising and packaging, as well as the most up-to-date machinery, factory practices, modes of communication, and distribution networks. By adding his signature to the front of each cereal box, he guaranteed the quality of his products to the public while also—once and for all—staking his claim to them. By 1909, the company was producing and shipping 120,000 cases of Corn Flakes every day!

Kelvinator ad, 1925, showing a woman in an apron at a refrigerator and text explaining “kelvination”
The popularity of dried cereal flakes for breakfast was in part due to improvements in both safe-to-drink milk and electric refrigerators (as shown in this 1925 ad, 2019.0.3.1) to keep the milk cold. THF290841

During Will’s active years of running the company—from 1906 to 1939—Kellogg’s became a national and ultimately global brand. These years also coincided with the growth of self-service grocery stores—in which name brand products and eye-catching packages were key to customer purchasing decisions. The success of Kellogg’s cereals was also aided by improvements in safe, pasteurized milk and the increasing popularity of electric refrigerators to keep the milk fresh.

Several mailing envelopes and folded fabric showing elf head and torso with “Snap!” printed on chef’s hat
In 1949, consumers who sent in a Kellogg’s Rice Krispies box top and 15 cents could receive this Snap! cloth doll kit (72.177.618.1). THF300027

Through Will’s leadership, the company continued to embrace new methods of advertising—cereal box coupons and giveaways, catchy jingles and character logos, colorful print ads, recipe booklets, and radio advertising. By 1939, Kellogg’s controlled over 40% of the ready-to-eat cereal business in the United States and over 50% of the business outside the U.S.

Gray plastic toy submarine, 1954, along with brown cardboard box with mailing label showing Kellogg’s as sender
The owner of this 1950s U.S.S. Nautilus submarine toy (2015.35.47) remembered sending in 25 cents and a box top from either Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks or Sugar Corn Pops to receive it through the mail. THF183318

After Will stepped down, the company continued the aggressive marketing for which it had long been known. TV commercials and sponsorships replaced those previously on radio. Facing stiff competition from other cereal companies after World War II, Kellogg’s veered from its traditional reputation for healthful cereals and introduced a succession of sugar-loaded cereals for the new Baby Boomer market. Iconic new character logos helped promote them, like Tony the Tiger (introduced with Sugar Frosted Flakes in 1952) and Toucan Sam (introduced with Froot Loops in 1963).

Brown and yellow cover of recipe booklet, Bran for All Occasions, “featuring Kellogg’s bran cereals,” ca. 1982, showing a barn and field
The interest in “natural foods” in the 1970s and 1980s included healthful grains that, ironically, Kellogg’s had initially promoted—like those in the bran cereals featured as ingredients in this circa 1982 recipe booklet (92.256.9). THF296229

For Kellogg’s and other cereal companies, pre-sweetened and classic cereals would dominate the market during the 1950s and 1960s. But, in 1972, following a trend toward more “natural” foods, a little-known company named Pet, Inc., achieved breakout success with its Heartland Natural Cereal. Mainstream cereal companies scrambled to introduce their own versions of “natural” cereals, including Kellogg’s contribution, Country Morning Natural Cereal (1975–80). The trend toward more healthful and nutritious cereals brought Kellogg’s full circle back to its roots and continues to be popular today.

Blue Kellogg's Frosted Flakes Breakfast Cereal box, 1994-1996, with orange-and-white “Tony the Tiger” and picture of racer Bill Elliott
The front of this 1990s Frosted Flakes box (96.34.3.15) both features popular character logo Tony the Tiger and alludes to Kellogg’s sponsorship of NASCAR. In keeping with the times, this pre-sweetened cereal also claims to be fat-free, cholesterol-free, and include nine essential vitamins and minerals. THF302680

Too few people today recall the names of the two Kellogg brothers who started the breakfast revolution with their toasted flake cereal some 120 years ago. But it is impossible to ignore the legacy of their contribution. Through their lifetimes, Dr. J.H. Kellogg promoted healthful living, while his brother, W.K., convinced consumers that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. Meanwhile, the familiar character logos and advertising jingles for which Kellogg’s has long been famous remain in our heads and hearts.

For more reading, see: The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek, by Howard Markel (2017) and The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch, by Marty Gitlin and Topher Ellis (2011).


Donna R. Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford, fondly remembers watching all those Corn Flakes commercials when Kellogg’s sponsored her favorite pre-teen TV show, The Monkees.

Michigan, food, by Donna R. Braden

As Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford, I’ve worked on many Greenfield Village building makeovers since I started here in the late 1970s. Today I’m going to take you behind the scenes to five of my favorites.

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THF237357 / Historical Presenters outside Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village, circa 1982

The 1980s and 1990s were an exciting time here, as we upgraded many Village buildings that had long been unchanged. The history and presentations of many of them were inaccurate, like the presenter outfit and penny candy in this general store image of 1965.

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THF126771 / Historical Presenter and Visitors in the General Store, Greenfield Village, 1965 / Photographed by Philippe Halsman

We looked at sources that many historians used—probate records, census records, local newspapers, old photos (like this one of Firestone Farm). These helped us uncover more accurate stories about the people who had lived and worked in these buildings.


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THF115221 / Firestone Farmhouse at Its Original Site, Columbiana, Ohio, circa 1876, Robert, Harvey and Elmer with Grandmother Sally Anne Firestone

Eagle Tavern, constructed in the 1830s, was one of the first buildings we tackled. In 1927, Henry Ford found this by-then-dilapidated building (see photo) in Clinton, Michigan, brought it to Greenfield Village, and located it on the Village Green.


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THF237252 / Eagle Tavern at Its Original Site, Clinton, Michigan, 1925

Ford enlarged the back of the building to use as a student cafeteria for his Edison Institute schools. You can see the addition behind the carriages lined up for tours, which left from here when the Village first opened to the public in the 1930s.

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THF120768 / Horse-Drawn Carriages outside Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern), Greenfield Village, 1929-1950

When I started working at the museum in 1977, Clinton Inn was still a cafeteria, but for visitors. Here’s a photo of visitors lunching there back in 1958.


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THF123749 / Visitors Lunching at the Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern), Greenfield Village, 1958

The so-called “colonial kitchen” was also used for fireplace cooking classes as part of the museum’s Adult Education Program. I took several of these classes back then—but, alas, I don’t seem to be in this particular photograph!


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THF112256 / Colonial Cooking Class Held at Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern) in Greenfield Village, 1978

In 1981, I joined a new Food Committee, to better align our food offerings with our overall interpretation. We proposed turning this historic building into a sit-down restaurant with period food and drink. Our idea was accepted, and we got to work.


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THF54290 / Server at Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village, October 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

Delving into historical research, we settled on the year 1850 for interpreting the building’s role as a roadside way-station and community hangout (like this 1855 print). In 1850, the place was called Eagle Tavern, run by a farmer named Calvin Wood.

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THF120729 / Mail Coaches Changing Horses at a New England Tavern, 1855

To find out what and how people ate at that time, I looked at travelers’ accounts, etiquette books, and historic cookbooks. The chefs tested historic recipes. We sampled them to create each seasonal menu—like this, one of our first “Bills of Fare.”

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THF123845 / Menu from Eagle Tavern, Greenfield Village, 1982, "Bill of Fare"

Eagle Tavern opened in April 1982, with staff dressed in some of the Village’s first-ever historically accurate clothing. This photo, taken when our dream of establishing a historic restaurant became a reality, still fills me with pride! (You can find more content related to Eagle Tavern on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation episode page and YouTube clip.)

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THF237355 / Historical Presenters outside Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village, 1983

When I started at The Henry Ford in Summer 1977, the far end of Greenfield Village was undergoing a big change. The 18th-century Connecticut home of antiques collector Mary Dana Wells had just arrived and was being rebuilt using hand construction methods.

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THF133332 / Daggett Farmhouse in Greenfield Village, circa 1978

The building was initially called the Saltbox House (an antiquarian’s term referencing its shape, as seen in this photo before the home was moved). Indeed, the early focus here was on interpreting the architecture and Mrs. Wells’ rare antique furniture.

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THF236282 / Daggett Farm House--Earlier Site, Exterior--Item 33

Now that you’ve seen the colonial “saltbox” shape of the exterior, here’s an interior shot of Mrs. Wells’ antiques when she lived there.

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THF236130 / Daggett Farm House at Its Earlier Site, Union, Connecticut, 1951-1977

In 1981, I joined an interdepartmental task force to enliven Village buildings. At the Saltbox House, we decided to highlight colonial-era household activities. The house soon came alive with the sights and sounds of cooking, cleaning, and spinning wool.

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THF136883 / Activities Inside the Connecticut Salt Box House (now Daggett Farmhouse) in Greenfield Village, 1989

Meanwhile, our research revealed that a family named the Daggetts had lived there during the 1760s, the period of our interpretation. From Samuel Daggett’s rare account book, we could reconstruct what the Daggett family did at their farm during that time.

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THF54170 / Presenter Working at Daggett Farmhouse in Greenfield Village, October 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

Over time, the interpretation at the house moved from simple demonstrations of domestic activities to a more accurate recreation of the lives and livelihood of the Daggett family. Eventually, the house was renamed the Daggett Farmhouse.

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THF16439 / Presenter Working at Daggett Farmhouse in Greenfield Village, April 2006

I think of Firestone Farm as our greatest building makeover and I was involved with it from the beginning. In 1983, the museum was first offered Harvey Firestone’s boyhood home, located in Columbiana, Ohio. Here’s a 1965 photo of it on its original site.

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THF115233 / Firestone Farmhouse at Its Original Site, Columbiana, Ohio, 1965

Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone became friends, business associates, and members of a small group called the “Vagabonds,” who traveled around and went camping together. Ford often visited the Firestone family homestead in Columbiana, Ohio.

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THF124714 / Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford at Firestone Farm, Columbiana, Ohio, 1918

Curator of Agriculture Peter Cousins (shown on the right here) proposed that this farmhouse become the nucleus for a year-round, authentically recreated “living history” farm. He was instrumental in thoroughly documenting the farmhouse and barn.

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THF138464 / Construction at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, May 1985

Meticulous research went into furnishing the farmhouse rooms. This dim black-and-white photo of a corner of the parlor from 1898 provided important clues to how this room looked when Harvey’s parents, Benjamin and Catherine Firestone, ran the farm.

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THF242498 / Firestone Farm--Original Site--Interior--Parlor--Item 8

Based upon that photo, other photos of parlors of the period, and actual furnishings from that era, here is how that corner of the parlor was reconstructed when the farmhouse was reconstructed in Greenfield Village.

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THF53032 / Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, September 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

My task was researching the cooking and other domestic activities and supplying the appropriate equipment for the kitchen and pantry. Here’s a glimpse at what that kitchen came to look like later, with presenters getting the midday meal on the table.

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THF53126 / Presenters Working at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, September 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

In June 1985, Firestone Farm was officially “reborn” in Greenfield Village. Here’s a photo of the dedication, with President Gerald Ford speaking. (You can find more content about Firestone Farm on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation’s episode page and YouTube clip.)

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THF242136 / Firestone Farm--Dedication--Item 32

New research in the early 1990s revealed that this rural Georgia home in Greenfield Village had housed several generations of the Mattox family—an African American family who, through determination and hard work, owned and maintained their home and land.

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THF68734 / Mattox Family Home

Reopened in 1991, the Mattox House depicts the 1930s era, when Amos (shown here, ca. 1910) and Grace Mattox—descended from enslaved African Americans—raised their two children. Life was hard but the family proudly affirmed that there was “always enough.”

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THF135142 / Portrait of Amos Mattox

My primary job here was to furnish the kitchen and prepare the space for cooking programs. I used many of the great oral histories that the project team had initially collected, gleaning information about the Mattox family’s cooking and eating habits.

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THF53399 / Mattox Family Home in Greenfield Village, September 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

In 1992, Rosa Parks visited the Mattox House, furnished like similar homes at the time with newspapers covering the front room walls to insulate against cool Georgia nights and winters. (You can find more content about the Mattox Family Home on our The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation episode page.)

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THF123775 / Rosa Parks Visiting Mattox House in Greenfield Village, 1992

My several years of experience with historical research, artifacts, and interpretation came in handy when, in 1990, I became the lead curator on a makeover of the general store on the Village Green.

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THF54366 / J.R. Jones General Store in Greenfield Village, October 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

Henry Ford originally wanted a general store to complete the buildings he had envisioned for his Village Green. He found the perfect store in Waterford, Michigan (as shown here), purchased it, brought it to Greenfield Village, and had it rebuilt in 1927.

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THF126117 / J.R. Jones General Store (Just Before the Move to Greenfield Village), Original Site, Waterford, Michigan, 1926

Ford then sent agents out to obtain historic store stock. One of the items they sent back was a storefront sign with the name Elias A. Brown. Elias Brown had run a store in New York, not Michigan—leading to a lot of confusion for visitors over the years.

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THF138605 / Elias A. Brown General Store in Greenfield Village, October 1958

We began researching the store’s history in Waterford and found that it had changed proprietors nine times! We decided that James R. Jones, the 1880s storekeeper (pictured here), was our best choice to interpret. His name replaced Elias Brown’s out front.

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THF277166 / Portrait of J.R. Jones, circa 1890 / back

Further research led us to specific customers, the choices of goods people might have purchased, and the role of general stores in local communities—as seen by this “community bulletin board” we later created in the store from local announcements and ads.

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THF53768 / J.R. Jones General Store in Greenfield Village, September 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

Wanting the store interior to look like a real working store—filled with lots of duplicate and like-new items—we used both real artifacts and accurate reproductions. By the time we were done, the store was stocked with some 5000 items!

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THF53774 / J.R. Jones General Store in Greenfield Village, September 2007 / Photographed by Michelle Andonian

The J.R. Jones Store opened in 1994, shown here with our first vintage baseball team, the Lah-de-Dahs—named after a team from Waterford back in the 1880s. When visitors walk inside the store today, they’re still blown away by the store’s interior! (Check out more content about the J.R. Jones General Store on our website and a YouTube clip from The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.)

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THF136301 / "Lah-De-Dahs" Baseball Team in Greenfield Village, Spring 1994

Well, this just touches upon the makeover stories of a few buildings in Greenfield Village. We continue to uncover new research and new stories. I hope you enjoyed this brief virtual visit to Greenfield Village and plan to make a real visit soon!

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THF16450 / Presenters Working at Daggett Farmhouse in Greenfield Village, April 2006


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

by Donna R. Braden, Greenfield Village history, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

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Postcard, “Disneyland,” 1975.
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Welcome to Disneyland!

Disneyland was created from a combination of Walt Disney’s innovative vision, the creative efforts and technical genius of the team he put together, and the deep emotional connection the park elicits with guests when they visit there. Walt Disney himself claimed, “There is nothing like it in the entire world. I know because I’ve looked. That’s why it can be great: because it will be unique.” Here’s the story of how Walt created Disneyland, the first true theme park.

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Souvenir Book, “Disneyland,” 1955. THF 205151

Disneyland is much like Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida, but it’s smaller and more intimate. To me, it seems more “authentic.” It’s like you can almost feel the presence of Walt Disney everywhere because he had a personal hand in things.

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Walt Disney posing the Greenfield Village Tintype Studio, 1940. THF 109756

In creating Disneyland, Walt Disney challenged many rules of traditional amusement parks. We’ll see how. But first…since he insisted that everyone he met call him by his first name, that’s what we’ll do. From now on, I’ll be referring to him as Walt!

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Souvenir Book, “Disneyland,” 1955. THF 205155

DISNEY INSIDER TRIVIA: Do you know where Walt Disney’s inspiration for Main Street, USA, came from?

ANSWER:
Born in 1901, Walt loved the bustling Main Street of his boyhood home in Marceline, Missouri. Marceline later provided the inspiration for Disneyland’s Main Street, USA.

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Map and guide, “Hollywood Movie Capital of the World,” circa 1942. THF 209523

After trying different animated film techniques in Kansas City, Walt left to seek his fortune in Hollywood.

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Valentine, 1938. THF 335750

There, he made a name for himself with Mickey Mouse (1927) and—10 years later—the first full-length animated feature film, Snow White. Walt innately understood what appealed to the American public and later brought this to Disneyland.

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Handkerchief, circa 1935. THF 128151

DISNEY INSIDER INFO: Here’s how Mickey Mouse looked on a child’s handkerchief in the 1930s.

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“Merry-Go-Round-Waltz,” 1949.
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Walt claimed the idea of Disneyland came to him while watching his two daughters ride the carousel in L.A.’s Griffith Park. There, he began to imagine a clean, safe, friendly place where parents and children could have fun together!

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Herschell-Spillman Carousel.
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DISNEY INSIDER INFO: That carousel in Griffith Park was built in 1926 by the Spillman Engineering Company—a later name for the Herschell-Spillman Company, the company that made the carousel now in our own Greenfield Village in 1913! Here’s what ours looks like.

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Coney Island, New York, circa 1905 –
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DISNEY INSIDER INFO:
For more on the evolution of American amusement parks, see my blog post, “From Dreamland to Disneyland: American Amusement Parks.”

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1958 Edsel Bermuda Station Wagon Advertisement, “Dramatic Edsel Styling is Here to Stay.” THF 124600

The decline of these older amusement parks ironically coincided with the rapid growth of suburbs, freeways, car ownership, and an unprecedented baby boom—a market primed for pleasure travel and family fun!

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Young Girl Seated on a Carousel Horse, circa 1955. THF 105688

Some amusement parks added “kiddie” rides and, in some places, whole new “kiddie parks” appeared. But that’s not what Walt had in mind. Adults still sat back and watched their kids have all the fun.

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Chicago Railroad Fair Official Guidebook, 1948. THF 285987

Walt’s vision for his family park also came from his lifelong love of steam railroads. In 1948, he and animator/fellow train buff Ward Kimball visited the Chicago Railroad Fair and had a ball. Check out the homage to old steam trains in this program.

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Tintype of Walt and Ward. THF 109757

After the Railroad Fair, Walt and Ward visited our own Greenfield Village, where they enjoyed the small-town atmosphere during a special tour. At the Tintype Studio, they had their portrait taken while dressed up as old-time railroad engineers.

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Walt Disney and Artist Herb Ryman with illustration proposals for the Ford Pavilion, 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. THF 114467

DISNEY INSIDER TRIVIA: Walt Disney used the word Imagineers to describe the people who helped him give shape to what would become Disneyland. What two words did he combine to create this new word?

ANSWER: Walt hand-picked a group of studio staff and other artists to help him create his new family park. He later referred to them as Imagineers—combining the words imagination and engineering. This image shows Walt with Herb Ryman—one of his favorite artists.

DISNEY INSIDER INFO: For a deeper dive on an early female Imagineer, see my blog post, “The Exuberant Artistry of Mary Blair.”

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Postcard viewbook of Los Angeles, California. THF 7376

Walt continually looked for new ideas and inspiration for his park, including places around Los Angeles, like Knott’s Berry Farm, the Spanish colonial-style shops on Olvera Street, and the bustling Farmer’s Market—one of Walt’s favorite hangouts.

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Times Square – Looking North – New York City, August 7, 1948. THF 8840

Walt also worried about how people got fatigued in large and crowded environments. So, he studied pathways, traffic flow, and entrances and exits at places like fairs, circuses, carnivals, national parks, museums, and even the streets of New York City.

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Souvenir Book, “Disneyland,” 1955. THF 205154

Studying these led to Walt’s first break from traditional amusement parks: the single entrance. Amusement park operators argued this would create congestion, but Walt wanted visitors to experience a cohesive “story”—like walking through scenes of a movie.

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Souvenir Book, “Disneyland,” 1955. THF 205152

Another new idea in Walt’s design was the central “hub,” that led to the park’s four realms, or lands, like spokes of a wheel. Walt felt that this oriented people and saved steps. Check out the circular hub in front of the castle on this map.

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Disneyland cup & saucer set, 1955-1960. THF 150182

A third rule-challenging idea in Walt’s plan was the attractor, or “weenie” for each land—in other words, an eye-catching central feature that drew people toward a goal. The main attractor was, of course, Sleeping Beauty Castle.

To establish cohesive stories for each land, Walt insisted that the elements in them fit harmoniously together—from buildings to signs to trash cans. This idea—later called “theming”—was Walt’s greatest and most unique contribution.

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Halsam Products, “Walt Disney’s Frontierland Logs,” 1955-1962. THF 173562

DISNEY INSIDER INFO: This Lincoln Logs set reinforced the look and theming of Frontierland in Disneyland.

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Woman’s Home Companion, March 1951. THF 5540

DISNEY INSIDER TRIVIA: Which came first, Disneyland the park, or Disneyland the TV show?

ANSWER: To build his park, Walt lacked one important thing—money! So, he took a risk on the new medium of TV. While most Hollywood moviemakers saw TV as a fad or as the competition, Walt saw it as “my way of going direct to the public.” Disneyland the TV show premiered October 27, 1954—with weekly features relating to one of the four lands and glimpses of Disneyland the park being built.

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Child’s coonskin cap, 1958-1960. THF 8168

The TV show was a hit, but never more than when three Davy Crockett episodes aired in late 1954 and early 1955.

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Souvenir Book, “Disneyland,” 1955. THF 205153

Disneyland, the park, opened July 17, 1955, to special guests and the media. So many things went wrong that day that it came to be called “Black Sunday.” But Walt was determined to fix the glitches and soon turned things around.

DISNEY INSIDER INFO: For more on “Black Sunday” and the creation of Disneyland, see my blog post, “Happy Anniversary, Disneyland.”

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Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom guidebook, 1988. THF 134722

Today, themed environments from theme parks to restaurants to retail stores owe a debt to Walt Disney. Sadly, Walt Disney passed away in 1966. It was his brother Roy who made Walt Disney World in Florida a reality, beginning with Magic Kingdom in 1971.

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Torch Lake steam locomotive pulling passenger cars in Greenfield Village, August 1972. THF 112228

DISNEY INSIDER INFO: In an ironic twist, a steam railroad was added to the perimeter of Greenfield Village for the first time during a late 1960s expansion—an attempt to be more like Disneyland!

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Marty Sklar speaking at symposium for “Behind the Magic” at Henry Ford Museum, November 11, 1995. THF 12415

In 2005, The Henry Ford celebrated Disneyland’s 50th anniversary with a special exhibit, “Behind the Magic: 50 Years of Disneyland.” The amazing and talented Marty Sklar, then head of Walt Disney Imagineering, made that possible.

DISNEY INSIDER INFO: Check out this blog post I wrote to honor Marty’s memory when he passed away in 2017.

During these unprecedented times, Disneyland has begun its phased reopening. When you feel safe and comfortable going there, I suggest adding it to your must-visit (or must-return) list. When you're there, you can look around for Walt Disney's influences, just like I do.

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

by Donna R. Braden, popular culture, Disney

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June 1955 magazine advertisement for the release of Lady and the Tramp. THF145583

Although this animated feature film received mixed reviews when it was first released on June 22, 1955, Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp has since become a classic.  It is beloved for its songs, its story, its gorgeously rendered and meticulously detailed settings, and its universal themes of love and acceptance—not to mention that scene with the spaghetti!  Numerous story artists and animators contributed their talents to creating this film, but it would take years before Walt Disney would finally give it his nod of approval. 

Unlike other Disney animated films of the time, Lady and the Tramp is not based upon a venerable old fairy tale or a previously published book.  Its origins can be traced back to 1937, when Disney story artist Joe Grant showed Walt Disney some sketches and told him of his idea for a story based upon the antics of his own English Springer Spaniel named Lady, who was “shoved aside” when the family’s new baby arrived.  Walt encouraged Grant to develop the story but was unhappy with the outcome—feeling that Lady seemed too sweet and that the story didn’t have enough action.  For the next several years, Grant and other artists worked on a variety of conceptual sketches and many different approaches. 

In 1945, the storyline took a drastic turn, which ultimately led to its final film version.  That year, Walt Disney read a magazine short story called, “Happy Dan, the Cynical Dog.”  Here, in the story of a cynical, devil-may-care dog, Walt found the perfect foil for the prim and proper Lady.  By 1953, the film had evolved to the point that Walt asked Ward Greene, the short story’s author, to write a novelization of it.  It is Greene—not Joe Grant—who received credit in the final film.  Walt couldn’t resist adding a personal tidbit to the story.  According to his telling of the story, the opening scene came from his own experience of giving his wife a puppy as a gift in a hat box to make up for having forgotten a dinner date with her. 

Interestingly, the spaghetti-eating scene was almost cut, as Walt Disney initially thought it was silly and unromantic.  But animator Frank Thomas had such a strong vision for the scene that he completed all the animation for it before showing it to Walt, who was so impressed he agreed to keep in the now-iconic scene.

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1955 charm bracelet of the dogs in Lady and the Tramp, likely a souvenir obtained at Disneyland. THF8604

Since the dogs were the main characters of the film, it seemed only natural to both show and tell the story from the dogs’ point of view.  The animators studied many real dogs to capture their movements, behaviors, and personalities, while the scenes themselves were shot from a low “dog’s-eye-view” perspective.

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A depiction of Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland from the 1955 Picture Souvenir Book to the park. THF205154

The film’s setting—early 20th century small-town America—referenced Walt Disney’s own return to his roots, particularly his growing up in the small town of Marceline, Missouri.  As the setting was coming to life on film, a real live 3D version of it was being constructed at Disneyland, Walt Disney’s new park in Anaheim, California.  Disneyland opened a mere three weeks after the film was released.

Although the setting hearkened back to the past, the filmmaking technique that Walt chose was typically state-of-the-art.  As Walt marked the growing interest in widescreen film technology, he decided this would be the first of his animated films to use CinemaScope.  To fill in the extra-wide space of this format, the animators extended the backgrounds—resulting in settings that are unusually breathtaking, detailed, mood-setting and, when the story called for it, filled with dramatic tension.  Unfortunately, many theatres were not equipped with CinemaScope, so Walt decided that two versions of the film had to be created, forcing layout artists to scramble to restructure key scenes for a standard format as well.  CinemaScope ultimately proved too expensive and did not last past the early 1960s.  But its influence on Lady and the Tramp lives on—a testament to Walt’s commitment to filmmaking innovation.

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Although souvenirs related to Lady and the Tramp are hard to come by these days, I was thrilled to find these salt-and-pepper shakers and collectible pins over several visits to Walt Disney World.

I saw Lady and the Tramp when it was re-released in theatres in 1962.  I was nine years old at the time and I was completely enraptured.  The details and setting—from the frilly ladies’ dresses, dapper men’s suits, and overstuffed furniture inside Lady’s house to the horses’ clip-clopping down the cobblestone streets—seemed like old photographs come to life.  Taking in these details on the big screen as a girl, I was transfixed.  Is this where my interest in history began?

After seeing Lady and the Tramp at the movies, I also became obsessed with wanting a dog.  Not just any dog.  I wanted Lady, or a cocker spaniel as close to Lady as I could get.  I dreamed of her, drew pictures of her, transferred her personality onto the stuffed dogs I inevitably got as presents.  When I was in eighth grade, my parents finally relented.  One day my Mom surprised us and took us kids down to the animal shelter to get a dog.  It wasn’t a cocker spaniel.  But we did find a little golden-haired puppy that was a fine substitute. 

I don’t know that I thought much of Tramp when I was a girl.  He was wayward, a nuisance, too different.  But from my older perspective, I see that Lady meeting, and ultimately falling for, Tramp was really a symbol of what happens in your life.  Forced out of your comfort zone, broadening your horizons, seeing things from new perspectives, taking life’s curves with grace until, rather than resisting it, you accept it—even embrace it. 

Who knew, when I was a girl, that this movie was not just about dogs but about life? 

Note: The complete story of the making of Lady and the Tramp, including Joe Grant’s contributions, can be found in the bonus feature, “Lady’s Pedigree: The Making of Lady and the Tramp,” in the 50th Anniversary DVD of Lady and the Tramp.

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

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

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Left side of J.R. Jones General Store featuring large grocery “department” and a cigar case on the counter up front. (THF53774)

During the 1880s, proprietor James R. Jones would have welcomed customers to this general merchandise store—now in Greenfield Village but originally located in the rural village of Waterford, Michigan.  Jones sold everything here that townspeople, local farm families, or visiting out-of-towners might want—from groceries to fabrics to farm tools to fishing poles.  The store also served as a community gathering place, for customers to exchange news, socialize, and pick up mail.

Choices between similar products even in country stores like this one were quite plentiful.  Decisions by shoppers depended upon such things as their family background, gender, financial means, and personal values.

Here’s a sampling of some of the products that 1880s customers to the J.R. Jones store might have purchased.

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Sugar barrel (THF176665)

Sugar (approximate price: .08-.12/lb)

In a study of general store accounts from the era, customers purchased sugar more often than any other single product. It was, of course, used in cooking and baking, but large quantities of it were necessary for preserving fresh seasonal produce in the days before refrigeration. 

Sugar was available in many grades, from “A” (the highest) to brown to “X” (the lowest).  Sugar was available in bulk and, unless a storekeeper stocked several grades, customers had little choice in the quality of sugar they obtained at the local store.

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Store canisters for tea (THF176669)

Tea (approximate price: .45-.75/lb)

The Grocer’s Companion (1884) called tea the “foremost of all beverages in reference to its invigorating and restorative qualities.” Tea came in a tremendous variety of grades and types in the late 19th century, and store canisters were often specifically designed to hold the various types. They came from only one species of evergreen shrub or small tree. The differences came in how the tea was grown and how the leaves were treated.  All the tea in the J.R. Jones General Store came from China, which was considered the center of the tea industry at the time. This included:

  • “Black” teas, which underwent a fermentation process before drying.These included Oolong (strong and pungent, made from young leaves) and English Breakfast (in the 19th century, a blend that came from China, but was popularized in England).
  • “Green” teas, which were submitted immediately upon gathering to a high temperature in iron pans.These included Gunpowder (made from young leaves, fragrant and pungent taste with a greenish hue and shaped like round small shot); and Imperial (like Gunpowder but with larger leaves).

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Cans of tomatoes (THF176668)

Canned tomatoes (approximate price: .15/can)

Tomatoes were one of the most popular commercially available canned food products.  By the 1880s, improved manufacturing techniques in canning had raised the production of canned goods to a major American industry, making all manner of fruits, vegetables, and meats available year-round to just about everyone but the very poor.

Canned goods, however, had many critics. Some claimed that the food tasted “tinny,” that it was unhealthy, and that products were adulterated to add weight (this was before the Pure Food & Drug Act of 1906). In some cases, women also could be looked down upon for relying on canned goods rather than canning and preserving themselves.  Nevertheless, the presence of canned goods in store accounts and advertisements attests to their popularity. 

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Packages of Magic Yeast and One Spoon Baking Powder (THF176670)

Magic Yeast and One Spoon Baking Powder (approximate price: .15-.25/box)

Despite the introduction of several different brands of baking powder during this time, yeast still remained the most popular bread-leavening agent. Many women made their own yeast and numerous recipes appeared in cookbooks. As for the commercially processed product, compressed yeast introduced by Gaff, Fleischman & Company in the 1860s, was considered the purest and most dependable form of yeast.

But many brands of packaged yeast cakes and powders, including this Magic Yeast, vied for competition in the market. Critics of these commercial yeast products claimed that their vitality could be easily destroyed by heat, cold or movement, and that they could make bread sour or moldy.  Still, they were much more convenient than the homemade. 

Baking powder, a leavening agent usually made from a proportion of cream of tartar and carbonate of soda, was fairly new on the scene in the 1880s. It saved careful measuring of one or both of these ingredients in baked goods, and saved hours of time over yeast in making bread. Dozens of baking powders, like this One Spoon brand, were available on the market.

But baking powder, more than just about any other cooking ingredient of the late 19th century, raised suspicion and complaints among housekeepers and advice writers alike.  High cost, poor performance, and leaving a bitter taste in foods comprised some of these complaints. But even more alarm was raised by accusations of adulteration—that is, the addition of impure ingredients like lime, earth, or alum, which could actually injure people’s health. Fortunately, most of these problems were worked out in the next decade or so, when the advent of “quick breads” really began. It was the adventurous housewife that tried baking powder in the 1880s. 

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Variety of graniteware coffee boilers (THF176673)

Graniteware coffee boiler (approximate price: 1.00-1.35)

When enamel-coated ironware was introduced in 1874, it was marketed as light (compared to cast iron), handsome (the gray mottled surface was considered picturesque and elegant), wholesome (wouldn’t rust or corrode like tinware and didn’t contain poisonous arsenic, lead, or antimony like cheap imitations), and durable (actually, it chipped easily but 3 out of 4 points in its favor weren’t bad!). Manufacturers of this so-called granite ironware, or graniteware (because of its visual appearance like granite), optimistically claimed that these goods would entirely supplant the “common and unserviceable” stamped tinware. (Actually, it was aluminum that did this in the early 20th century.)  In the 1890s, enamel-coated steel replaced much of the earlier granite ironware.

Coffee, as an accompaniment to breakfast and other meals, was an extremely popular beverage at this time. The most common way of preparing it was in an open boiler on a cookstove.

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Package of Rising Sun Stove Polish (THF176674)

Package of Rising Sun Stove Polish (approximate price: .08-.10/pkg)

This product would have been used in conjunction with blacking to clean and give luster to cast-iron stoves. It was mixed with a liquid agent (e.g., turpentine or soap-suds) for application to the stove. This was a crucial task for cleaning cast-iron stoves, but it was also marketed as necessary to maintaining a tasteful home. Rising Sun Stove Polish was very aggressive in its marketing. Advertisements boasted that it was “the oldest and most reliable stove polish in the world” and that it would “keep stoves looking good and operating efficiently.” 

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Case of boxes of cigars (THF176666)

Cigars (approximate price: .04-.08 apiece)

During the 1880s, cigar-smoking was extremely popular, especially among men who wanted to appear prosperous and ambitious. Unlike smoking tobacco (for pipes) and plugs of chewing tobacco, where production was monopolized by a few large national manufacturers, cigars were still produced at thousands of small, local manufactories across the country as well as in Havana, Cuba. Detroit had several cigar factories. As a result of this great number of producers, cigars came in a daunting array of sizes, colors, grades, and flavors. To the uninitiated, sometimes only the eye-catching images on their boxes in the store’s showcase distinguished one brand from another.

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Packages of Ayer’s Hair Vigor (THF176671)

Ayer’s Hair Vigor (approximate price: .50)

The hairstyles of the 1880s required an abundant supply of healthy hair in order to make it stand up as high and look as natural as possible. Hair dressings and restorers abounded, with Ayer’s Hair Vigor among the best known. 

This product claimed to promote hair growth, restore color and vitality to faded or gray hair, and render the hair soft, youthful, and glossy. It contained cream of tartar (removed the reddish color in hair caused by rust from iron-rich well water); glycerin (a moisturizer); lead acetate (which claimed to remove the gray hair); and a caustic soda (a.k.a. sodium hydroxide or lye), which claimed to be a hair relaxer or straightener. The colorful images of young women with long, luxurious hair on Ayer’s trade cards and packages must have encouraged older women to try this product as well. 

Medical journals attacked Ayer’s Hair Vigor as unsafe and denounced its manufacturer as deceiving the public. But the product’s allure persisted, and certainly J.R. Jones and his customers would have been unaware of any safety warnings from such journals. 

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Jars of Woodworth’s Ursina Bear Grease (THF176672)

Woodworth’s Ursina Bear Grease (approximate price: .12)

Pomades, oils, and dressings for keeping hair in place and sometimes for promoting hair growth were popular men’s grooming aids in the late 19th century. In fact, that is the major reason why ornamental lace tidies and antimacassars were so common—to protect the surfaces of chairs and sofas from these often greasy concoctions. This particular product claimed to be “real bear grease procured from the Rocky Mountains and very carefully refined.” 

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3 varieties of castor sets (THF176678)

Castor set (approximate price: $1.50-2.25)

In the 1880s, silver-plated castor sets frequently formed the centerpiece of the dining table for middle-class families, reflecting the families’ good taste and economic status.  Castor sets would have been a necessity in places like hotels and boardinghouses, where large groups of people dined—each with different tastes in food. They were available in a tremendous variety of styles and prices. Most contained two to six bottles, generally for holding pepper, mustard, oil, and vinegar, and sometimes other spices.

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Boxes of men’s and women’s collars (THF176676)

Men’s and women’s collars (approximate price: .10-.30)

A white shirt with a white collar and cuffs marked the man as someone of means, or at least on his way up. But clean collars and cuffs were always a necessity, no matter what color and style shirt a man wore. Enter replaceable collars and cuffs.

Men’s collars of the 1880s were plain in style and were made of paper, celluloid, or linen. Collars were high and tight, either “standing” (straight up around the neck) or “turned outward” (tips or side edges turned outward or over and slightly down), complementing the coats which buttoned high during this time. Paper and celluloid collars were considered disposable, while linen collars could be washed and ironed and kept fresh for a period of time.

Women’s dresses were time-consuming to make and costly to have someone else make. Purchasing a new collar was an inexpensive way of freshening or updating the look of a dress that had been around for a while. Ladies’ collars were detachable and could be used multiple times on various garments. They ranged in price, from fairly plain linen collars to intricate lace ones.

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Men’s derbies and straw hats (THF176675)

Men’s hats (approximate price: .50-1.75 for straw; $1.00-2.50 for derby)

While top, or silk, hats might have been worn by a wealthy city gentleman going to a fancy affair, Waterford men would have generally worn a bowler hat, supplemented by a low-crowned straw hat for summer occasions. The hard felt bowler (usually referred to as a derby in the United States) was a staple, durable hat that could have been worn all day long—even at work—and was generally considered a symbol of respectability. 

Also during this time, the hat industry aimed to persuade every man to purchase a new straw hat at the beginning of every summer. Straw hats tended to be water-resistant to hold up even on rainy days.

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Bolts of fabric (THF176677)

Fabric (approximate price: .05 for print to 1.30 for silk)

Women’s clothing was not ready-made yet, so all dresses had to be fashioned at home or by a seamstress.  Bolts of fabric and trims lined numerous shelves of general stores like this one.  The bolts of fabric in this store include:

  • “Print”– a general term for a fabric onto which patterns were printed or applied by dyes after it was machine-woven.Available in a huge variety of designs, it was about the cheapest and most durable, but least elegant, dress fabric available.
  • Linen – One of the oldest textile fabrics known, this would have been imported.It was more elegant and fashionable than cotton, but also quite a bit more expensive and harder to maintain.
  • Wool – A very warm and durable fabric, produced in mills in the eastern United States.(In fact, the fleece from sheep raised on farms around Waterford was shipped to these mills.)Wool was very serviceable for winter clothing.
  • Silk – Noted for its resiliency and elasticity, this would have been imported.It was quite a bit more expensive than wool, and dresses made of this material would have been elegant and stylish.

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

Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, by Donna R. Braden, shopping

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Two Sisters Beauty Salon, 1945-50. THF240367

“Jim Crow” laws—first enacted in the 1880s by angry and resentful Southern whites against freed African Americans—separated blacks from whites in all aspects of daily life.  Favoring whites and repressing blacks, these became an institutionalized form of inequality.

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Jim Crow was a character first created for a minstrel-show act during the 1830s.  The act—featuring a white actor wearing black makeup—was meant to demean and make fun of African Americans.  Applied to the later set of laws and practices, the name had much the same effect. THF98689

In the Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states had the legal power to require segregation between blacks and whites.  Jim Crow laws spread across the South virtually anywhere that the two races might come in contact.  In the North and Midwest, segregation became equally entrenched through informal customs and practices.  Many of these laws and practices lasted into the 1960s, until outlawed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. 

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Through separate (and inferior) public facilities like building entrances, elevators, cashier windows, and drinking fountains, African Americans were reminded everywhere of their second-class status. THF13419, THF13421

It took a great deal of courage, resilience, and strength of character for African Americans to maintain their self-respect and battle the daily humiliation of Jim Crow.  The black church, self-help organizations, and men’s and women’s clubs offered refuge, support, and protection, while the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) provided potential legal assistance.

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The NAACP, formed in 1909, emphasized fighting for racial equality through legal action rather than political protest or economic agitation. THF11647

Out of the demeaning environment of Jim Crow arose the opportunity for some African Americans to establish their own businesses.  The more cut off that black communities became from white communities and the more that white businessmen refused to cater to black customers, the more possible it became for enterprising black entrepreneurs to create viable businesses of their own. 

Most of these businesses were local, small-scale, and family-run.  Many black entrepreneurs followed the tenets of Booker T. Washington, who had established the National Business League in 1900 to promote economic self-help.  Washington advocated economic development as the best path to racial advancement and the means to eventually challenging the racial prejudice of Jim Crow.  While Washington’s precepts would become increasingly out of step with the times, especially when the Civil Rights movement gained momentum, the support for his ideas among black entrepreneurs of the Jim Crow era is repeatedly evident in the naming of businesses after Washington. 

The following images from the collections of The Henry Ford provide an intriguing window into the world of black enterprise and entrepreneurship during the Jim Crow era.

Barber Shops

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Rodger Clark’s No. 1 Barber Shop, c. 1950. THF240383

Black barbers had long cut white customers’ hair as part of their traditional second-class status in service to white people.  But, by the early 20th century, white patrons had begun to shift their business to white-owned shops.  A new generation of black barbers proudly established shops within their own communities, catering to a growing black consumer market.  They knew that their white counterparts would offer no competition, as they did not want the close contact with blacks that cutting hair demanded.  Nor could white barbers offer black men the kind of haircut and shave that they themselves knew how to give.

The cost to enter the field was low but black barbers’ status was high.  They generally attracted a regular customer base, akin to church preachers.  Men congregated and felt comfortable in these shops, and conversation flowed freely, both about local goings-on and larger racial matters that concerned them all.  Barber shops remained important spheres of influence during and after the Civil Rights era.

Beauty Parlors

The rise of black female beauty culture paralleled larger trends in society, especially the influence of mass media like movies and popular magazines.  Several black female entrepreneurs spearheaded an emerging beauty culture industry—the most famous of these being Madam C. J. Walker.  Some enterprising black women, initially trained as agents to sell special hair preparation and cosmetic products (so-called “beauty systems”), eventually opened their own beauty shops as permanent spaces to facilitate their work as “beauty culturists.”  With the little capital needed to start their own businesses, they could free themselves from economic dependence on their husbands or on white employers.  It was respectable work, considered doing their part for racial progress and the economic uplift of the black race.

Beauty parlors became places where black women could indulge in moments of pampering, self-indulgence, and relaxation while also letting off steam, gossiping, and speaking their minds.  Increasingly, beauty parlors became vital public spaces that nurtured debate and activism among women within black communities.

Undertakers and Funeral Directors

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Booker T. Washington was depicted on the front of this cardboard handheld fan for the Jacob Brothers Funeral Home, Indianapolis, Indiana, circa 1955.  As advertised on the back, the funeral home promised air-conditioning and an organ in its chapels. THF224305

By the 1920s, funeral homes had emerged across the country as primary locations for carrying out the responsibilities of handling and burying the deceased.  These first emerged in large towns and cities and gradually spread to rural regions.  Funeral homes became a particularly lucrative avenue of entrepreneurship for blacks, which lacked white competition because of the close physical contact that was involved in this work.  When African Americans were excluded from joining the National Funeral Directors Association, they organized their own independent organization in 1925.

People entrusted black undertakers and funeral directors in their local communities with the proper and responsible treatment of their deceased loved ones.  These entrepreneurs offered an appropriate mixture of respect for traditional religious practices, modern American values, and the changing desires of local neighborhoods.  Some black funeral homes flourished through aggressive marketing and modern amenities like spacious limousines.

Cafés, Taverns, and Liquor Stores

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Dixie Liquor Store, St. Louis, Missouri, 1940s. THF240367

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Saratoga Café and Sportsman Lounge, Chicago, Illinois, 1940s. THF240377

During the Jim Crow era, segregation may have been the law in the South but it was just as apparent in northern and midwestern cities.  Restaurants, cafés, taverns, and liquor stores thrived in black neighborhoods, established by local businessmen and geared to local customers.  These two stores—in St. Louis, Missouri and Chicago, Illinois—seem to have been extremely popular gathering places for both men and women.

Roadside Amenities

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The Negro Motorist Green Book, 1949. THF 77183

It was one thing to frequent the businesses in your own neighborhood.  But what happened when you took an out-of-town road trip?  Where might you and your family inadvertently encounter hostility, be turned away, perhaps even risk your lives?  Black postal worker Victor H. Green attempted to help black travelers combat this dilemma by creating The Negro Motorist Green Book.  From 1936 to 1966, the Green Book offered a directory of safe places for African-American travelers.  This included not only the expected roadside amenities of lodgings, service stations, and restaurants, but also listings of many of the classic businesses found in local neighborhoods—like barber shops, beauty parlors, liquor stores, and nightclubs.  [For more on the Green Book, see this blog post.

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A. G. Gaston Motel, 1954. THF 104701, 104700

One of the most difficult and risky aspects of cross-country travel for African Americans was the question of where to stay overnight.  The Negro Motorist Green Book attempted to update its listings as often as possible, while word of mouth helped African Americans learn of safe places—who often drove miles out of their way to get to them.  But the fact remained that the most extensive listings of hotels and motels were in northern metropolises with large populations of black Americans.  In smaller towns, a tourist home or two might be listed—which meant staying in a room in someone’s house.  Many towns lacked even a single listing. 

In 1954, a new kind of black-owned lodging opened in Birmingham, Alabama, coinciding with a black Baptist convention in town.  Billed “The Nation’s Newest and Finest Motel,” it was built, owned, and run by pioneering black entrepreneur Arthur George (A. G.) Gaston.  Gaston also established several other businesses in Birmingham, including a bank, radio stations, the Booker T. Washington Insurance Company, a funeral home, and a construction firm.

Modeled after the groundbreaking Holiday Inns that had recently opened in Memphis, Tennessee, the A. G. Gaston Motel included 32 rooms, each with their own air-conditioning and telephone.  Gaston remarked that opening this motel “means that many persons passing through our city will have a fine place to stay.”  In 1963, the Gaston Motel became the epicenter of Birmingham’s Civil Rights protests and demonstrations. 

Berry Gordy and Motown Records

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This Smokey Robinson and the Miracles 45 rpm record was licensed to and issued nationally by Chess Records because Motown as yet lacked a national distribution network. THF170558

Berry Gordy Jr., founder of Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan, in 1959, created a business that successfully bridged the Jim Crow era and the post-Civil Rights Act era.  He accomplished this by accurately predicting the coming of an integrated market of consumers for black popular music. 

In 1922, Gordy’s father, Berry Sr., moved his family to Detroit from Georgia—an area steeped in Jim Crow laws and practices—because he faced hostility and potential violence from local whites when his food distribution business proved too successful.  Berry Sr. established the Booker T. Washington Grocery Store in the black working-class neighborhood of Detroit, which soon also became highly successful.  All the while, he encouraged his children to be industrious and establish their own business ventures. 

Inspired by the legendary boxer Joe Louis, Berry Jr. first dreamed of becoming a famous boxer but he eventually gravitated to his other interest—music.  From record store owner to songwriter to multi-million-dollar record producer and distributor, Gordy used his business savvy to redefine black music coming out of Detroit as popular music that both blacks and whites would want to hear and buy.  Throughout the monumental success of his career, Gordy claimed that he had continually upheld his family’s business ethic and the self-help ideals of Booker T. Washington.

The Jim Crow Era provided the impetus for a number of black businesses to grow and flourish, instilling a sense of pride within black communities, serving as symbols of racial progress, and promising safe places to do business and socialize.  The conversation and ideas that flowed freely in black business establishments also helped raise consciousness and establish a sense of solidarity within black neighborhoods.  When the Civil Rights movement gained momentum—offering an end to the indignities and disenfranchisement of Jim Crow—many black entrepreneurs did what they could to support the movement.  After the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, and segregation was declared illegal, black entrepreneurs could take pride in the role they had played in the Civil Rights movement despite the fact that the future viability of their segregated businesses were now in jeopardy.

To read more on these topics, check out these helpful books:

  • Cutting Across the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America, by Quincy T. Mills (2013)
  • Style and Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-75, by Susannah Walker (2007)
  • Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women: Race and Beauty in the 20th Century South,(2016)
  • Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit, by Suzanne E. Smith (1999)

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

by Donna R. Braden, entrepreneurship, African American history

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Motown Record Album, “The Great March to Freedom: Rev. Martin Luther King Speaks, June 23, 1963.” THF31935 

Detroit’s Walk to Freedom, held on June 23, 1963, helped move the southern Civil Rights struggle to a new focus on the urban North. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. later called this march “one of the most wonderful things that has happened in America.” 

Organized by the Detroit Council on Human Rights, this was the largest Civil Rights demonstration to date. Its main purpose was to speak out against Southern segregation and the brutality that faced Civil Rights activists there. It was also meant to raise consciousness about the unique concerns of African Americans in the urban North, which included discriminatory hiring practices, wages, education, and housing. The date was chosen to correlate with both the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 20th anniversary of the 1943 Detroit race riots that had left 34 people (mostly African American) dead. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who agreed to lead the march, had by this time become committed to uniting both North and South through his grand vision of achieving racial justice by using non-violent protest.

On the day of the march, about 125,000 people filed down Woodward Avenue, singing freedom songs and carrying signs demanding racial equality. Some 15,000 spectators watched them pass by a 21-block area before turning west down Jefferson Avenue to Cobo Hall. Cobo was filled to capacity to hear the speeches of the march’s leaders while thousands more listened to them on loudspeakers outside. Of the speeches given that day, Dr. King’s was the most memorable. People were riveted while he expressed his vision for the future, sharing a dream that foreshadowed the “I Have a Dream” speech that he would give a few months later at the March on Washington.

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Berry Gordy, founder of the Motown Record Corporation, considered Detroit’s Walk to Freedom to be such a historic event that he offered the resources of his Hitsville studio to produce a record album documenting Dr. King’s impassioned words. Gordy heightened the drama of the event by titling the album, “The Great March to Freedom: Reverend Martin Luther King Speaks.” He believed that this record belonged in every home, that it should be required listening for “every child, white or black.” No one realized at the time, including Gordy, that the August March on Washington would become the more remembered event.    

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dreams of social justice, voiced at Detroit’s Walk to Freedom, would prove elusive.  Despite the fact that Detroit had gained a national reputation for being a “model city” of race relations at the time, in reality the city’s African-American population faced unemployment, housing discrimination, de facto segregation in public schools, and police brutality. Ultimately this disconnect between perception and reality would lead to the violence and civil unrest of July 1967. 

For more on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom held on August 28, 1963, take a look at this post.

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

entrepreneurship, music, Michigan, by Donna R. Braden, Detroit, Civil Rights, African American history

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On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a soft-spoken African American seamstress, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This led to a city-wide bus boycott by the African American community that was so successful many consider Rosa Parks’ act to be the event that sparked the Civil Rights movement.

It’s a powerful story: one person’s simple act of courage can change the world. Today it’s difficult to imagine the real risks that Rosa Parks faced and the tremendous amount of courage she possessed in refusing to give up her seat that day. To get a better sense of this, we must explore the nature of segregated travel in the Jim Crow South.

Separate and Unequal
Jim Crow laws -- first enacted in the 1880s by angry and resentful Southern whites against freed African Americans -- separated Blacks from whites in all aspects of daily life. Favoring whites and repressing Blacks, these became an institutionalized form of inequality.

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Jim Crow was a character created for a minstrel-show act during the 1830s, the date of this sheet music. The act -- featuring a white actor wearing Black makeup -- was meant to demean and make fun of African Americans. THF98689

In the Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states had the legal power to require segregation between Blacks and whites. Jim Crow laws - now legally enforceable - spread across the South virtually anywhere that the two races might come in contact. Many of these practices lasted into the 1960s, until outlawed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

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THF13421Through separate (and inferior) public facilities like building entrances, elevators, cashier windows, and drinking fountains, African Americans were reminded everywhere of their second-class status. THF13419 and THF13421

Travel in the segregated South was particularly humiliating for African Americans, beginning with railroads back in the 19th century. Traveling in or between southern states by railway, African Americans of all economic classes were generally relegated to primitive, uncomfortable "Jim Crow cars." Located just behind the locomotive, these were also the most dangerous cars should a collision or boiler explosion occur. Any Black railway passenger who complained or refused to comply with the rules could be forcibly removed from the train, beaten, or even killed. Conductors in some states were given policing power to enforce the rules or they could summon local police at station stops to back them up.

THF93445Southern states established segregated railroad station facilities for Blacks, with separate (and often inferior) ticket agent windows and restrooms, and often lacking the eating facilities available to whites. This sign was installed in a Louisville & Nashville Railroad station. THF93445

The coming of affordable automobiles seemed to provide southern Blacks with a way to get around the indignities of long-distance rail travel. However, as soon as Black motorists stopped along the road, Jim Crow laws returned in force. Service station and roadside restrooms were usually closed to African Americans, so they often resorted to stashing buckets or portable toilets in their trunks. Diners and restaurants regularly turned away Black customers, who took to bringing food along with them. Roadside motels often refused to admit Blacks, so they had to depend on the hospitality of their own people or chance the discovery of a "Negro" rooming house.

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To avoid Jim Crows laws while travelling in the South (and unwritten Jim Crow practices followed in the North), Black motorists created their own tourist infrastructure, with specially published guides steering them to safe accommodations. This is the 1949 edition of "The Negro Motorist Green Book," produced by postal employee Victor H. Green, of Harlem, New York, from 1936 until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. THF77183

Physically separating Blacks and whites was most difficult on city transit systems. By 1905, every southern state had outlawed Blacks from sitting next to whites on trolleys and streetcars, while individual conductors usually ordered black patrons to move from this or that seat. Middle-class Blacks were particularly indignant about these laws and organized numerous long-forgotten boycotts and protests. But, like railroad conductors before them, streetcar conductors were given policing power - and even weapons - to enforce the laws. Any Blacks who challenged the rules of behavior were dealt with swiftly and harshly.

As buses replaced trolleys and streetcars on city streets, Jim Crow laws continued. Each state and city had different requirements and customs to signal how Blacks and whites were to be separated on the buses. But, as with earlier modes of transportation, individual drivers had great latitude in determining where people sat and the power to enforce their decisions.

By the 1950s, as many as 40,000 African Americans regularly rode the city buses in Rosa Parks’ home town of Montgomery, Alabama (compared with about 12,000 whites). Officially, 10 seats in the front of each bus were reserved for whites. These spaces were reserved no matter what. Often this meant Black riders were jammed in the aisle, standing over empty seats. If the white section filled up and more white riders came in, an entire row of Black passengers had to get up and move back. Bus drivers could demand more seats for whites at any time and in any number. Furthermore, drivers often forced African American riders, once they had paid their fare, to get off the bus and re-enter through the back door-sometimes driving away without them. (Rosa Parks had actually experienced this.) Those who didn’t comply with these rules could be not only verbally abused but also slapped, knocked on the floor, pushed out the door, beaten, or even killed (which did occur in a few little-publicized cases).

A Courageous Act
As stories of abusive drivers and humiliating incidents continued to spread, anger in the black community grew. However, most of the time, the indignities went unchallenged. Expecting African Americans to resist these long-established laws and traditions meant asking them to risk great harm and to summon an extraordinary amount of personal courage.

By 1955, inspired by attempts in other cities, Black community leaders in Montgomery explored the idea of a city-wide bus boycott - an organized refusal to use the buses. But they would need the united support of the city's African American bus riders, a notion that was unprecedented, untested, and likely to fail given past experience. And, after some fits and starts in trying to find an appropriate test case, they realized that a successful boycott would require the determined action of someone who possessed a flawless character and reputation and, at the same time, could ignite the action of an entire community.

That person, it turned out, was Rosa Parks. Her action on December 1, 1955, was unplanned and spontaneous, although her life experiences had undoubtedly prepared her for that moment. She was not the first African American to challenge the segregation laws of the Montgomery city bus system. But her sterling reputation, her quiet strength, and her moral fortitude caused her act to successfully ignite action in others.

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This Montgomery city bus, acquired by The Henry Ford in 2001, is the actual bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat back in 1955. It now resides in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation's With Liberty & Justice For All exhibition. THF134576

Sparking a Movement
Rosa Parks’ arrest for defying the Jim Crow law of segregation on Montgomery buses led to an immediate city-wide bus boycott, during which the Black community shared rides, walked, or worked out carpools-despite burnings, bombings, gunshots, and arrests. The Montgomery bus boycott lasted more than one year - 381 days to be exact -until the U.S. Supreme Court finally declared segregation on Alabama buses to be unconstitutional.

Rosa Parks' simple, courageous act gave African Americans everywhere a new sense of pride and purpose, and inspired non-violent protests in other cities. Because of this, many consider her singular act of protest on the bus to be the event that sparked the Civil Rights movement.

Unfortunately, the impact of her act took its toll on Rosa Parks herself. She lost her job, her marriage became strained, her quiet life was gone, and she received threatening phone calls and letters. In 1957, she left Montgomery, moving to Detroit and eventually working for Congressman John Conyers.

How did Rosa Parks summon the courage to defy decades of established rules and traditions about segregated travel? A few months after her arrest, she explained it like this:

The time had just come when I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed, I suppose. I had decided that I would have to know, once and for all, what rights I had as a human being, and a citizen, even in Montgomery, Alabama.

Rosa Parks was not a civic, political, or religious leader. She was just an ordinary person. And she well knew the risks of her actions. But, through her example, she showed others what was possible. Her uncommon courage shines through as an inspiration to us today.

Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. This post originally ran as part of our Pic of the Month series.

by Donna R. Braden, travel, Rosa Parks, women's history, African American history