Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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Our new limited-engagement exhibit, Collecting Mobility: New Objects, New Stories, opening to the public October 23, 2021, takes you behind the scenes at The Henry Ford to show you how we continue to grow our vast collection of more than 26 million artifacts. One key question the exhibit asks is why we collect the items we collect. To get more insight on the artifacts on exhibit and future trends that may impact our collecting, we reached out to several of our partners. In this post from that series, our friends at Hagerty tackle questions about trends in mobility and in car collecting—both today and tomorrow.

What aspect of mobility history (artifacts, topics, or themes) preserved at The Henry Ford feels the most significant in the current moment?

The Henry Ford’s amazing collection of self-propelled transportation machinery ranges from the diminutive 1896 Ford Quadricycle runabout that weighs just 500 pounds with an engine making four horsepower, to the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway’s gargantuan 1941 Allegheny steam locomotive weighing in at an unimaginable 1.2 million pounds and making 7,500 horsepower.

Of all these, however, the most powerful is an unassuming lime, white, and gold bus that powered the country out of its dark past of segregation into a future where laws would not discriminate against the nation’s citizens simply on the color of their skin. Especially when viewed through the prism of current events such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the 1948 General Motors (GM) bus where Rosa Parks made her stand against racial discrimination by sitting down is the most significant piece of mobility history in The Henry Ford’s collection.

Angled, aerial view of gold, green, and white bus in museum exhibit
The Rosa Parks Bus, on exhibit in With Liberty and Justice for All in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, is Hagerty’s pick for the most significant artifact from The Henry Ford’s collections in the current moment. / THF14922 

What cars are popular with collectors right now that might eventually make their way into museum collections?

Definitely include the Tesla Roadster as the start of an incredible story about Elon Musk. It’s also the first vehicle to make electrics cool. The McLaren P1 hybrid supercar was important for establishing electrification as a must-have feature in the supercar class, making every other supercar seem outdated. Any current Formula One car, as their complex hybrid powerplants are achieving formerly unheard-of efficiency rates of over 50 percent, which is the future of the internal combustion engine … assuming it has a future. The Chevy Bolt will be remembered as the turning point for General Motors’ reputation and the industry as a whole, transforming GM from the company that notoriously “killed the electric car” (the EV1) to one of the technology’s chief proponents. The same holds true for a Volkswagen diesel, circa 2010—an enormously influential moment in which the world’s largest automaker was forced by its own actions to pivot to fully embracing electric tech, thus spurring the industry as a whole to commit to electrification.

Back view of low black car parked in lot by building
One of Hagerty’s suggestions for cars that might make their way into museum collections is a Tesla Roadster—like this one, photographed in 2008 and owned by Elon Musk himself (photographed by Michelle Andonian). /  THF55832

Are there vehicle(s), innovator stories, or mobility technologies you think The Henry Ford should add to its collections right now? Why?

An early fuel-cell vehicle, either a Honda Clarity or Toyota Mirai or Hyundai Tucson FCEV, would represent how the industry has placed bets on various technologies—and how at that moment in time, it wasn’t clear which would win out (one could debate whether it is clear even now). Obviously, a Tesla Model S with autopilot tells the story of Silicon Valley’s attempt to disrupt the auto industry through fast-paced innovation common in big tech, but unknown in the historically cautious and slow-moving auto industry. A retired Waymo or GM Cruise taxi studded with LiDAR sensors would be an example of the first attempts to commercialize autonomous vehicles.

What mobility artifacts, innovator stories, or technologies do you think The Henry Ford will be collecting in 10 years? 50 years? 100 years?

Batteries are the new frontier, as are electric motors—and the relentless drive for efficiency in both. Nothing else defines this era so aptly. Also, semiconductor manufacturing. We have seen how beholden the industry is to a component that wasn’t even used in cars just a few decades ago. The cars of today and tomorrow are just the boxes that computers come in; every automaker is turning itself into a tech company whose primary competitive advantage will be in software.

Metal box with label with text on top and connection ports on back
By 1990, computer engine controls were nearly universal on American automobiles. This GM computer module controlled a gasoline engine's ignition firing sequence. Hagerty notes thatThe cars of today and tomorrow are just the boxes that computers come in.”  / THF109463

Aluminum construction is important, too. The 2015 Ford F-150, the first aluminum-body truck, is a watershed moment for aluminum in high-volume vehicles. It is an open question now whether aluminum will spread beyond that experiment, but no automaker has made such a high-stakes gamble as Ford with the F-150. New materials and manufacturing methods are coming as the battle to reduce weight continues into the electrification era.

What aspects of mobility is Hagerty paying the most attention to right now?

The act of getting behind the wheel, twisting the key, and hitting the road is an act of personal freedom, and we believe anyone and everyone who wants to experience that should be able to. Our longstanding Hagerty Driving Experience has put thousands of young people all over North America behind the wheels of classic cars, alongside passionate owners, to teach the basics of operating a manual transmission. Through the nonprofit Hagerty Drivers Foundation, we launched the “License to the Future” program, which provides financial assistance to kids ages 14–18 to cover the expense of driver’s training. And the Hagerty Driving Academy partners with Skip Barber Racing School at dozens of events around the country to teach safe, proficient driving skills in a variety of situations.

Man in raincoat and hat holds a paper by a car with decal with text on side; young man sticks head and elbow out driver side window
Ensuring young people have access to driver training is important. In this 1940 photo, a young man takes a driver’s test as part of the Ford Motor Company Good Drivers League at the New York World’s Fair. / THF216125 

We also regularly report on developments taking place in the realm of autonomous vehicles as a trusted voice to assure our members that this beloved activity that connects us—driving—is under no threat from the far-off future.

Will the future make owning classic vehicles more difficult or less difficult? Servicing older vehicles is already becoming harder, due to shortages in knowledge and parts, but will new technologies such as 3D printing or electric conversion mean that older vehicles will have new lives and relevance in the future?


Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford. Aaron Robinson is Editor-at-Large, Kirk Seaman is Senior Editor, and Stefan Lombard is Executive Editor at Hagerty. Hagerty is an automotive enthusiast brand and the world's largest membership organization for car lovers everywhere. See Collecting Mobility for yourself in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from October 23, 2021, through January 2, 2022.

autonomous technology, education, manufacturing, alternative fuel vehicles, African American history, Rosa Parks bus, technology, cars, by Stefan Lombard, by Kirk Seaman, by Aaron Robinson, by Ellice Engdahl

Fans of The Henry Ford know that we are a big, (wonderfully) complicated, messy (in a good way) place—we are definitely not just a car museum. Our collections are so broad that they can sometimes confuse visitors. As just one example, take a look at the five most-viewed artifacts in our Digital Collections during the second quarter of 2021.

GIF cycling through five images: a car, a collar with prongs, a photo, a drinking fountain, and a handwritten letter
This GIF shows the most-viewed artifacts in our Digital Collections during Q2 2021: 1) 1896 Ford Quadricycle Runabout, First Car Built by Henry Ford; 2) Slave Collar, circa 1860; 3) Melting Pot Ceremony at Ford English School, July 4, 1917; 4) "Whites Only" Drinking Fountain, 1954; and 5) Letter from Clyde Barrow to Henry Ford Praising the Ford V-8 Car, 1934. / THF90758, THF13425, THF106481, THF13419, THF103458

Do you see any connections? Right off the bat, perhaps you see a connection between the Quadricycle (the first car built by Henry Ford) and the alleged Clyde Barrow letter about the Ford V-8—certainly both revolve around the larger-than-life figure of Henry Ford. Or maybe it seems obvious that the slave collar and the segregated drinking fountain both tell a story of the oppression of Black Americans over time.

But The Henry Ford’s collections contain many more artifacts than just these five, and there are many ways to find connections between them. When The Henry Ford’s curatorial, digital, experience, and web teams, as well as our experience design partners at Bluecadet, began working on Intersection of Innovation, a new multimedia experience in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, we set out to explore the various ways the artifacts in our collection work together as a disparate yet cohesive whole to tell a variety of stories.

Interior space with two people standing at a large table, graphics and text on the walls, and an airplane above
You’ll find the Intersection of Innovation right under the Douglas DC-3 in the center of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. / Photo by Marvin Shaouni

One of the features you’ll see in the Intersection, probably the one that involved the most work, is a twelve-foot-long touch table. This table contains images and a little bit of information on nearly 32,000 artifacts from our collection, a number that will continue to grow. But it will never contain all of our digitized artifacts, and it is not meant to be the deep dive into individual artifacts or stories that our Digital Collections and online content are—instead, it’s designed to help quickly reveal connections between artifacts in a responsive, fun, and colorful interface. Those connections take two distinct forms, each with their own strengths and limitations.

First, we started with connections created by our curators. Curators are used to illuminating the many interweaving connections between seemingly different artifacts. We tried to go beyond very straightforward connections (for example, artifacts used by George Washington Carver, or artifacts created in New York) and find unexpected connections that might catch your attention. If you’ve ever watched one of our Connect3 videos, you might be familiar with this kind of connection.

For example, for the table, we used the concept of weaving to connect an oriole’s nest, a machine used to strand transatlantic cable, and a childhood artwork by Edsel Ford in which he wove a bear out of brown yarn. These connections are surprising, unexpected, and often subtle—something artificial intelligence might not (at least today) be able to achieve. But the limitation to human-created connections is the physical limitations of the human—our staff will never be able to create these types of complex connections for tens of thousands of artifacts.

GIF cycling through three images: oriole's nest attached to reeds in display case; large, drill-shaped machine in room; and outline of bear created with yarn or string
Do these artifacts make you think of weaving? / THF164049, THF98041, THF234948

So we also added connections created by artificial intelligence. The computer that runs the table analyzes the artifact images in bulk and creates threads between them according to their color and shape—no human intervention required. The advantage of artificial intelligence connections is that computers can process much more information much more quickly than any human brain. There is no way that we could ever establish the mass of interconnections that the table’s computer does. Artificial intelligence can also pick up fine distinctions of color and shape that may be challenging for human eyes. However, the drawback of artificial intelligence is that, despite what science-fiction books and movies may tell us, computers do not function like the human brain (which is probably for the best).

Many small images of various items and colors, arranged in rows and grids
Some of the early results of artificial intelligence analysis of shape (left) and color (right) gradients among our collections artifacts. We were excited to see that the computer analysis got better as it looked at more artifacts—the machine really did learn! / Image courtesy Bluecadet

Our conclusion, therefore, was that both humans and computers bring something to the table (pun intended). Artificial intelligence can help our visitors and staff see our collections in new ways—but humans also provide a unique sensibility that computers cannot, at least today.

The entire Intersection of Innovation, including the connections table, suffered from an incredibly unfortunate accident of timing—it was installed in the museum just before The Henry Ford closed for three months last year due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. When we reopened, the table remained turned off until we were sure it could be operated safely. But today it is on—and it really is a lot of fun. Swiping your fingers along the table bring up seemingly infinite dynamic and colorful strings of artifacts for which you can explore both human- and artificial intelligence-created connections.

Video of people running their fingers over a large touch table, bringing up colorful strings and small images with text
Try to resist the connections table—we dare you. / Media courtesy Bluecadet

If you haven’t yet had a chance to check out the table, we hope you’ll stop by and check it out, along with the rest of the Intersection. And if you are a tech geek (or just really interested), Bluecadet has a nice general overview of the table on their website, and an in-depth article about the process of tweaking and training the artificial intelligence on Medium.


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

#Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, digital collections, technology, by Ellice Engdahl, Henry Ford Museum

Rectangular badge with images of man's face, American flag, buildings, small logos, and text
Identification badge worn by Gerry Gomes while on assignment at Ground Zero in September 2001. / THF185942


This year marks the 20th anniversary of events that have changed the course of American history: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, commonly known as “9/11.” In their online FAQs, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum explains briefly what happened that day:

“9/11” is shorthand for four coordinated terrorist attacks carried out by al-Qaeda, an Islamist extremist group, that occurred on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Nineteen terrorists from al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial airplanes, deliberately crashing two of the planes into the upper floors of the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center complex and a third plane into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The Twin Towers ultimately collapsed because of the damage sustained from the impacts and the resulting fires. After learning about the other attacks, passengers on the fourth hijacked plane, Flight 93, fought back, and the plane was crashed into an empty field in western Pennsylvania about 20 minutes by air from Washington, D.C.

The attacks killed 2,977 people from 93 nations: 2,753 people were killed in New York; 184 people were killed at the Pentagon; and 40 people were killed on Flight 93.

The attacks shocked, saddened, scared, and angered Americans. In their aftermath, the United States instituted new air safety regulations; embarked on the longest-running war in our history, in Afghanistan (from which we just exited last month); and created a new federal department, the Department of Homeland Security. It’s safe to say that most Americans who were adults in 2001 remember where they were and what they were doing when they first learned of the attacks, and most Americans have felt their effects in some way.

Newspaper front page with headline "America's Darkest Day," text, and images of wreckage and airplane near a smoking building
The front page of the September 12, 2001, issue of the Detroit Free Press referred to the terrorist attacks of the previous day as “America’s Darkest Day.” / THF625308

One person this is particularly true of is Gerald “Gerry” Gomes, one of The Henry Ford’s dedicated volunteers. Gerry donated a number of the artifacts seen in this post, related to his work responding to 9/11.

Around 1990, Gerry became involved with the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS), which, NDMS explains, is “a federally coordinated health care system and partnership of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Defense, and Veterans Affairs.” Its mission is “to supplement our nation’s public health and medical resources…. NDMS mobilizes resources through specialized teams that provide human and veterinary healthcare, mortuary assistance, patient movement coordination, and definitive care during times of need.” Those affiliated with NDMS have regular jobs and lives, but must be packed and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice when they are called up to duty. In more than 20 years of NDMS service, Gerry assisted with many disasters (such as devastating Florida hurricanes) and key events (such as presidential inaugurations and Olympics games) at both the state and federal levels.

Within NDMS, Gerry worked on a Disaster Medical Assistance Team, or DMAT. The DMATs are made up of doctors, nurses, EMTs, firemen, paramedics, and other staff who support them. Their role is to provide medical care during public health emergencies and “National Security Special Events,” which might include presidential inaugurations, visits by significant international dignitaries, or international conferences and important gatherings. When deployed, Gerry’s team could process up to 200 casualties per hour. His role on the team was in communications—keeping the team in contact with command. He was given the role as they needed someone who had field experience and could interact effectively with people at the scene of an emergency.

Red, white, and blue round fabric patch with shield containing cross and bird in center; also contains text
"National Disaster Medical System" patch worn by Gerry Gomes while on assignment at Ground Zero in September 2001. / THF185941

Gerry’s day-to-day job was in communications at Ford Motor Company. On September 11, 2001, his boss called and told him that planes had hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and that he thought Gerry would be activated by the NDMS. And indeed he was. It wasn’t long before Gerry was boarding an airplane at Detroit Metro airport, with military planes and helicopters flying overhead. Despite an order issued by the Federal Aviation Administration less than an hour after the first plane hit the World Trade Center that required all civilian flights then in the air to land and barred any further departures, Gerry’s flight departed under the auspices of the federal government, escorted by multiple other planes all the way to New York’s LaGuardia airport.

In the first of three missions there, Gerry’s DMAT team was deployed to the World Trade Center site, known as Ground Zero—or, to the responders who worked there after the towers collapsed, “The Pile.” Their initial mission objective was to serve as a casualty response team, triaging survivors, so they set up three field hospitals near the remains of the World Trade Center Marriott Hotel, between the Twin Towers. However, it quickly became clear that there were few survivors. The team then pivoted to providing medical care for the other responders “working The Pile.” Gerry said many of those they treated would have their shoes burned off, as the smoldering remains of the towers were still so hot.

Red pick-up truck with badge on door and text "POLICE" on front of hood
After the September 11 attacks, many individuals, organizations, and corporations were eager to provide assistance in whatever way they could to responders at Ground Zero. Because many of the New York-New Jersey Port Authority’s vehicles were destroyed during 9/11, Ford Motor Company loaned them 15 pre-production prototypes—including this one—of the Ranger FX4, a heavy-duty, 4-wheel drive truck with special off-road equipment. / THF1368

The team’s first mission lasted two weeks. After that, they had a four-week mission recovering the remains of victims. Their third and final mission was to close down the site and make sure all the equipment was retrieved.

The work was mentally taxing. Every day, everyone who was working at The Pile had to undergo a psychological evaluation. Gerry’s team was also scheduled to work overnights—from midnight to noon—which added an additional strain. Gerry told the story of bonding with a firefighter as fellow “coffeehounds,” sharing a mutual love of coffee. Gerry later found out that firefighter had previously been stationed near Ground Zero, and that many of those he had been stationed with had been killed in the attack. The firefighter had not talked since that time—but he would talk to Gerry. He later told Gerry he had begun to realize it was not his fault he was not killed along with his colleagues that day.

When asked how he dealt with the constant emotional toll, Gerry responded, “You learn to close out the ambient. You’re there functioning in your job the best you can.” The team is not just one person, Gerry emphasized, but instead everyone working together. “That’s how we achieve more,” he added. His DMAT was made up of “A-type personalities, people at the top of their field with nothing to prove,” who worked together to get the job done despite the challenges. In fact, the team’s motto was “Semper Gumby,” indicating they were always flexible and would do what it takes.

GIF cycling through images of large crowd of people, many with American flags or candles, and speakers on a stage
As Gerry and so many others worked at Ground Zero, communities across the United States found ways to mourn and come together. These photographs are from the “Peace and Unity Candlelight Vigil” held in front of Henry Ford Museum on September 19, 2001. / Digital Collections

There was also worry from the families of the responders at The Pile—Gerry and his team felt very safe there, but Gerry noted that “families don’t know that.” Gerry’s son, in the U.S. Navy, would call, along with his commanding officer, to try to get information on what was going on—but Gerry was not allowed to speak about his work at the time. He could not even tell anyone where he was staying—but now can say that the team stayed at the Waldorf Astoria New York.

Though Gerry worked on a series of challenging and complicated projects for the NDMS over decades, he noted that the World Trade Center was “the most terrible time.” He also added that such work is “a thankless job and sometimes the people in the group thank you”—as Gerry’s team was honored by the Michigan Senate when they returned.

Group of people, mostly in hard hats and khaki clothing, many with respirators, pose in front of a pile of rubble and construction equipment
Gerry’s team at Ground Zero, pictured with the remains of the Marriott behind them. Gerry is wearing the yellow rain jacket—the “yellow canary,” as he put it. / THF625013

Gerry also received thanks from an unexpected source during his Ground Zero deployment. On a coffeebreak in the “Green Tarp Inn,” the tent where meals were provided for the responders at the site, he met a young woman who was volunteering to feed staff. She asked if she could sit with the group, told them she was Canadian, and asked them questions about their assignment. Each day, she would join them for coffee. Gerry added: “The only problem was I did not know that she was a singer/songwriter. The last day of my assignment, Alanis gave us a hug and thanked us for just sitting there and talking with her. She asked if she could sign our hats. When I got home, one of my daughters saw the signature of Alanis Morrisette on the hard hat and asked, ‘Did you meet her?’ I said, ‘Yes, we had coffee together every morning.’ Well, my daughter began to educate me on her.”

White hard hat with text, decals, and handwriting on it
White hard hat with text, decals, and handwriting on it
Two views of the hard hat that Gerry Gomes wore during his deployment at Ground Zero. Beyond Alanis Morrisette’s signature, you can see decals on the hat. “Semper Gumby” was the team’s motto, indicating their flexibility to do what it takes to get the job done. The American flag includes the phrase “United We Stand,” the motto of workers at Ground Zero. The “I Love New York” decal was “our way to support the people not at Ground Zero,” while police and firefighter stickers were a “thank you” from officers stationed at Ground Zero that Gerry’s team supported. / THF188516,
THF188517

Gerry is now retired both from Ford Motor Company and from the NDMS, but we are lucky to have had him as a volunteer at The Henry Ford since 2018, helping out first at Edison Illuminating Company’s Station A in Greenfield Village and the model trains in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, and later with our major car shows, Motor Muster and Old Car Festival. We are grateful for his volunteer work for us—as well as for his work at Ground Zero, on behalf of all Americans, 20 years ago.

To see more artifacts related to 9/11, visit our Digital Collections—or dig even deeper with the stories and collection of New York’s 9/11 Memorial and Museum.


Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Gerry Gomes for sharing his fascinating story and answering many questions.

Ford workers, communication, healthcare, by Ellice Engdahl

Looking to add some adrenaline to your next virtual meeting? Try the new backgrounds below, taken from Driven to Win: Racing in America, presented by General Motors. These images feature some of the exhibition’s iconic race cars, including the 1965 Goldenrod and the 1967 Ford Mark IV.

If you want even more background options, you can download any of the images of our artifacts from our Digital Collections. Our racing-related Digital Collections include more than 37,000 racing photographs, 400 three-dimensional artifacts (including race cars!), and nearly 300 programs, sketches, clippings, and other documents. Beyond racing, this collection of backgrounds showcases some views from Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour.

These links will give you instructions to set any of these images as your background on Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

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race car drivers, African American history, Mark IV, photographs, Driven to Win, Henry Ford Museum, cars, by Bruce Wilson, by Ellice Engdahl, by Matt Anderson, race cars, racing, technology, COVID 19 impact

Page with images of people and text

We are happy to announce that we have just published the January–May 2021 digital-only issue of The Henry Ford Magazine: The Connecting with Community Issue. The entire magazine is embedded below, or if the embed doesn’t work for you, it’s available on the digital magazine platform Issuu.

We’ve also provided an annotated contents list below to help you jump straight to the articles you might be most interested in.

Enjoy!

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by Ellice Engdahl, The Henry Ford Magazine

If we were taking a vote on the most overused word of 2020, my ballot would go to “unprecedented.” And yet it was indeed an unprecedented year, bringing us widespread social justice protests, an especially contentious presidential election, and, of course, a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

For the past several years (2017, 2018, and 2019), we’ve compiled lists of the most-viewed artifacts in our Digital Collections. Every year, there are differences between the lists, but there’s also always a lot of overlap. Given the extraordinary nature of this year, I was especially curious about what the 2020 list would look like.

Metal collar with three tall prongs extending upward and outward; lock nearby
Slave Collar, circa 1860 / THF13425

About two-thirds of the list matches the top artifacts of 2019, but 17 artifacts are new to this year’s list. Two of those—a slave collar and a “whites only” drinking fountain—made it into the top ten. We know the slave collar was linked to from an online article earlier this year related to George Floyd’s death, and suspect people are interested in the segregated fountain (and the Mattox Home, also new to the list) for a similar reason—to increase their understanding of the history of race in America. (If you are interested in exploring this topic further, I’d recommend a visit to an African American history museum—for example, Detroit’s own Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History or the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture—and to With Liberty and Justice for All in Henry Ford Museum, where you can see both the collar and the fountain, along with the Rosa Parks Bus.)

Shiny red shoes with a strap that would fall just in front of the ankle; blue shoebox next to them
Red Mary Janes, 1960-1970 / THF65272

On a very different note, several pairs of shoes and a number of cars (including presidential vehicles used by Dwight D. Eisenhower and Franklin D. Roosevelt) were new to this year’s list. If you visited us during 2020, you might have encountered COVID-19 precautionary “social distancing” floor markers in the Museum where lines were likely to form. These markers contained shoes, cars, or other highlights from our collections, along with QR codes, so that visitors could learn more about our artifacts while they waited. We were pleased to see that thousands of you did indeed use the QR codes to check these out!

If you’d like to explore the other top artifacts of 2020—or to find out what the most popular object of the year was—check out the full list in this Expert Set.


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

by Ellice Engdahl, COVID 19 impact, African American history, digital collections

We all know that 2020 was quite the year—there was a worldwide pandemic, protests across the United States, and a contentious presidential election. It’s understandable that during the year, we all had a lot on our minds.

That said, we shared more than 160 new posts on our blog during 2020. Most of these were eagerly found and devoured by our readers. But a few really great stories from our collections might have gotten lost in the shuffle—and we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss them. Here are ten of those hidden gems to help you start off 2021 right.

Happy New Year!

Explore Art and Design


Bowl in two shades of blue depicting a champagne bottle and ship, among other decorative elements
Jazz Bowl, circa 1931 / THF88364

The Jazz Bowl: Emblem of a City, Icon of an Age. Discover how a 24-year-old ceramic artist, Viktor Schreckengost, designed a bowl that both captured the essence of New York City in the early 20th century and became an icon of America’s “Jazz Age.”

Mid-century modern plywood chair
Molded Plywood Lounge Chair, 1942-1962 / THF16299

Charles and Ray Eames: Masters of Collaboration. Learn how husband-and-wife design duo Charles and Ray Eames collaborated on an early plywood leg splint, the iconic chairs they are known for, and on Mathematica, now in Henry Ford Museum!

Dive into Computers—and Computing


Photo of woman sitting among a variety of office equipment, with text and line drawings of equipment to the right side
Burroughs E8000, circa 1965 / THF298298

“Wherever There’s Business There’s Burroughs.” In this post from the William Davidson Initiative for Entrepreneurship, explore the history of the Burroughs Corporation and their entrepreneurial journey from perfecting mathematical calculating machines, through work on wartime bomb sights, to the early computer market.

Blue console with many buttons and switches
A LINC console built by Jerry Cox at the Central Institute for the Deaf, 1964.

New Acquisition: LINC Computer Console. The LINC computer may not be as familiar to you as the Apple 1, but it is in contention for the much-debated title of “the first personal computer.” Learn more about its history and the people involved in its creation.

Immerse Yourself in Pop Culture


Gold bracelet with six charms of dogs attached
Lady and the Tramp Charm Bracelet, circa 1955 / THF8604

Lady and the Tramp Celebrates 65 Years. Take a new look at an old classic—Disney’s 1955 movie Lady and the Tramp. Learn how it came to be and share in some personal memories from one of our curators.

Comic book featuring Wonder Woman lassoing two other figures, under clear plastic in a mat
Display for Sensation Comics #82

Comic Book Preservation: Tips from Our Conservators. Go behind-the-scenes in our conservation lab to learn how we take care of the comic books in our collections—and how you can take care of your own.

Examine Radio Innovations


Black rectangle with text and several dials and knobs; two batteries next to it
Pocket Radio, circa 1925 / THF156309

A “Pocket-Sized” Possibility for the Future. Our idea of what constitutes “portable” has changed over time. Learn how the “pocket radio” allowed people to take their music with them during the 1920s.

Wooden box with machinery visible inside; two rolls in foreground of picture and strip with images of several faces on left side of image
Crosley Reado Radio Printer, 1938-1940 / THF160315

Experiments with Radio Facsimile at W8XWJ. Learn about the “Press-Radio War” of the 1930s, and a revolutionary, but ultimately short-lived, experiment by Detroit News radio station W8XWJ to deliver print-at-home news.

Uncover the Stories Behind Fashion Fabrics


Page with handwritten text on left side and textile sample swatches on right side
Washington Anderton's Textile Samples Notebook, Cocheco Mfg. Co., 1876-1877 / THF670787

"Sampling" the Past: Fabrics from America's Textile Mills. Learn what textile sample books are, and take a visual tour through example pages from the extensive collection of sample books The Henry Ford received from the American Textile History Museum in 2017.

Purple glass bottle sitting next to box with images and text
Wells, Richardson & Company "Leamon's Genuine Aniline Dyes: Purple," 1873-1880 / THF170208

A More Colorful World. Discover how a chemistry student, seeking to create a synthetic cure for malaria, inadvertently created the first synthetic dye, aniline purple—and then created more, transforming the world’s access to color.


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

COVID 19 impact, radio, popular culture, fashion, computers, design, by Ellice Engdahl

Shelves packed with gray boxes with yellow labels receding into the distance

As part of American Archives Month in October, staff from The Henry Ford's archives developed some quiz questions about our holdings, which they shared on Twitter. We thought at the end of the year, that our fans might want to check their own knowledge around our archival collections. Try your luck at the ten-question quiz below--or if it does not appear for you, access it directly here.

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quizzes, by Kathy Makas, by Ellice Engdahl, archives

Decorated Christmas tree in corner of room with wrapped and unwrapped items underneath

Christmas tree in the Wright Home during Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village. (Photo courtesy Jim Johnson)

During Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village, we really enjoy showing how Americans would have celebrated Christmas in the 19th century. In almost all the houses, we use historical primary sources to try to glean out descriptions of what people may have done—but we have almost no concrete visual evidence. However, one huge exception is the Wright Home, the family home of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

We know from various sources that in 1900 there was a big homecoming in Dayton, Ohio. Reuchlin Wright, one of Wilbur and Orville’s older brothers, was returning home from living apart for a very long time, slightly estranged. In celebration, the family decided to put up their first Christmas tree. Wilbur and Orville, who were amateur photographers but probably as good as any professional of the time, documented some of that process.

Within the last decade, we have been able to access a very high-resolution image of the Wright family Christmas tree image from the Library of Congress, and the details just leapt out at us. This photograph, which we know was taken in 1900, documents exactly how the Wright Brothers designed and put up their Christmas tree. We examined all the minutiae in the photo and have attempted to recreate this tree as exactly as possible.

Decorated Christmas tree in corner of room with wrapped and unwrapped items underneath
Wright Home Parlor Decorated for Christmas, Original Site, Dayton, Ohio, circa 1900 / THF119489

The toys, the various ornaments—it's all in line with what's typical in the time period. So if you look at the tree in the Wright Home, you’ll see it lit with candles—this is not an electrified house yet in 1900. There's a variety of ornaments designed to hold candies and similar things. It has strung popcorn, which would have been homemade, but it also has store-bought German tinsel garland, glass ornaments (either from Poland or Germany), and all kinds of additional decorations that may have been saved from year to year. There's a homemade star on top that has tinsel tails coming off it.

For many years, we just had a low-resolution, fuzzy photograph of the tree, and we reproduced things as faithfully as we could—for example, what appeared to be a paper scrap-art angel. The first glimpse of the high-resolution photograph absolutely flabbergasted us, because front-and-center on the tree is a little scrap-art of a screaming, crying baby. It must have been some sort of inside joke within the family. We were able to reproduce it exactly as it would have looked on the tree.

GIF cycling through two images, one black-and-white and one in color, each showing part of a Christmas tree with a large ornament of a screaming baby
The screaming baby scrap-art on the Wright Home Christmas tree, both in the original photo and during Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village.

In keeping with tradition, the tree is also covered with gifts for different members of the family. It seems that the adult gifts were hung unwrapped on the tree, whereas many of the children's things were either wrapped or just placed under the tree, based on the photograph. For example, on the tree, we see a pair of what are known as Scotch gloves—you would have found examples of these in Sears catalogues of the early 1900s. There's also a fur scarf, toy trumpets, and even a change purse, all hung on the tree.

GIF cycling through two images, one black-and-white and one in color, showing part of a Christmas tree with plaid gloves hanging on it
Scotch gloves hanging on the Wright Home Christmas tree, both in the original photo and during Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village.

Beneath the tree, the arrangement of toys and gifts is quite fun. There’s a pair of roller skates, a little toy train, tea sets, furniture sets, and all kinds of different things geared specifically toward all the Wright nieces and nephews who would have come to visit on that Christmas morning.

There's also a wonderful set of photographs associated with the tree after Christmas. For example, there’s one of Bertha Wright, one of Reuchlin’s middle daughters, in the next room over, sitting playing with her toys. She's clearly been interrupted in her play, and you can see that in the expression on her face: “Okay, let's get this over with.”

Girl in white dress sitting cross-legged with somewhat grumpy expression on her face
Bertha Wright, Age Five, Niece of the Wright Brothers, Daughter of Reuchlin Wright, circa 1900 / THF243319

There are also photos outside the house, featuring the sleigh (which is prominent under the tree in the high-res photograph, stacked with books). Behind them in all these photographs is a little fir tree—the tree that was inside the house for Christmas has now been placed out there and propped up in the corner, probably for the winter season.

Two children sit on a sleigh in snow in front of a door; another boy stands nearby in front of a tree
Milton, Leontine, and Ivonette Wright at Wright Home, Dayton, Ohio, circa 1900 / THF243321

During Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village, we have a wonderful large high-resolution blow-up of the tree photograph set up in the Wright Home for our guests to compare-and-contrast with the recreated tree in the corner. Be sure to stop by the Wright Home to see it on your next Holiday Nights visit!

Large framed black-and-white photograph showing a Christmas tree on an easel in a room
The original historic photo of the Wright family Christmas tree, displayed in the Wright Home during Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village. (Photo courtesy Brian James Egen)


This post was adapted from the transcript of a video featuring Jim Johnson, Director of Greenfield Village, by Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

photographs, home life, Wright Brothers, events, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, by Ellice Engdahl, by Jim Johnson, Holiday Nights, holidays, Christmas, research

Throughout the month of November 2020, we’ve been celebrating reaching the milestone of 100,000 digitized artifacts by sharing out blog posts and fun facts, hosting Twitter chats with our digitization staff, and counting down the 20 most-viewed artifacts in our Digital Collections. In case you missed any of these great resources, we wanted to share them all here for easy reference.

If you follow us on social media, you might have seen the “top 20” countdown of our most-viewed digitized artifacts of all time, but if you’d like to get a broader look, you can check out the top 100 in this Expert Set. Fans of The Henry Ford will recognize many of the artifacts, but there may be some on the list that surprise you.

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The Henry Ford's all-time top 20 most-viewed digitized artifacts. Do any of them surprise you?

Here, also, are all of the fun facts about our digitization program and our Digital Collections that we shared out on social media.

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Twenty fun facts about digitization and our Digital Collections.

During the first week of November, we provided a general introduction to our Digital Collections, our digitization program, and our workflows.

  • First was our announcement that we had just digitized our 100,000th artifact, and were kicking off the month-long celebration. You can also read our press release here.
  • If you’re interested in becoming an expert in using our Digital Collections, or just not sure where to start, this blog post will give you a run-down of the ways you can search, view, and use our digitized artifacts.
  • Associate Curator, Digital Content Andy Stupperich shared how we add context to artifacts in our Digital Collections in this post.
  • Saige Jedele, also an Associate Curator, Digital Content, took us behind the scenes with The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation to discover how digitization helps shape the stories we cover on the show--and helps you to learn more afterwards.
  • Like many other people around the world, a lot of our staff have spent time this year working from home. Find out how we continued to digitize artifacts despite the closure of our campus this spring in this post.
  • As part of the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, we've digitized nearly 2,500 artifacts from our collections. Find out more about the team and the process from Project Curator Samantha Johnson here.
  • In our first live Twitter chat on November 5, I discussed our digitization program, digitization workflows, and a bit about what you'll find in our Digital Collections.


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conservation, research, collections care, photography, by Ellice Engdahl, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, digital collections, digitization