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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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Three men in suits, one in middle holding hat, pose for a photo in front of large equipment or machinery
Edsel Ford, Charlie Chaplin, and Henry Ford Touring the Ford Motor Company Highland Park Plant, October 1923 / THF134659

Every month, staff from our library and archives select some interesting items from our collections to showcase on The Henry Ford’s Instagram account. In our every-first-Friday History Outside the Box offering, our collections experts share photographs, documents, and other artifacts around a given theme. Last summer, Reference Archivist Kathy Makas showcased some celebrity sightings from our archives—actors, actresses, and other luminaries visiting Ford Motor Company’s factories, World’s Fairs, and The Henry Ford’s own campus; showcasing their cars; and more. If you missed the Insta story, you can check out the presentation below.

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archives, cars, world's fairs, Ford Motor Company, Greenfield Village, Henry Ford Museum, actors, by Ellice Engdahl, by Kathy Makas, History Outside the Box

Black-and-white portrait of man with sideburns wearing jacket or jumpsuit with text and logos

Al Unser, Sr., in 1971. / THF224820

We are saddened by the passing of Al Unser, Sr., on December 9, 2021. Over his nearly 40-year racing career—ranked as one of America’s top drivers for much of it—Unser added immeasurably to his family’s rich legacy in motorsport. He earned 39 wins in national championship races and three national titles. Unser won two overall victories at Pikes Peak. He earned a championship in the IROC series. Most famously, Unser won four times at the Indianapolis 500.

Some families farmed, and some ran small businesses. The Unsers raced. Al’s father and uncles grew up near Pikes Peak, Colorado, where they competed in the celebrated Pikes Peak Hill Climb starting in 1926. Uncle Louis won nine victories there between 1934 and 1953, while father Jerry scored a personal-best third-place finish on the mountain.

Black-and-white photo of man standing in front of racecar, with four younger men kneeling in front of him
An American racing dynasty: Jerry Unser (rear) with his sons (front, left to right) Bobby, Jerry Jr., Louie, and Al. / THF227428

By the time Al was born in 1939 (on the day before Memorial Day, appropriately enough), Jerry and Mary Unser had moved their family to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Jerry operated a service station on well-traveled Route 66. Like his older brothers Jerry Jr., Louie, and Bobby, Al grew up helping at the station where he was surrounded by cars and racing culture. Jerry Jr. and Louie went to Pikes Peak for the first time as competitors in 1955. Jerry Jr. earned class wins there in 1956 and 1957. He started in the 1958 Indianapolis 500, but was knocked out of contention by a collision on the first lap. The following year, Jerry Jr. was killed in a crash while attempting to qualify for Indy.

Louie earned class victories at Pikes Pike in 1960 and 1961, but multiple sclerosis forced his retirement from competitive driving in 1964. It was Bobby who became “King of the Mountain,” earning 13 wins—including 10 overall victories—at Pikes Peak from 1956 to 1986. Bobby made his mark at Indianapolis too, winning the Indy 500 in 1968, 1975, and 1981.

Black-and-white photo of three men in matching sweatshirts joining hands in front of a car and banner
The Unsers reigned at Pikes Peak, and Al earned overall wins in 1964 and 1965. He posed there with Wes Vandervoort (left) and brother Bobby (right) in 1964. / THF218643

Al launched his own competitive driving career in 1957. Fittingly, his first taste of success came at Pikes Peak. He interrupted his brother Bobby’s successful streak on “America’s Mountain” by claiming the overall victory in 1964. Al then turned in a repeat performance with another overall win in 1965. That same year, he made his debut in the Indianapolis 500. Al finished ninth, ahead of Bobby (who placed nineteenth) but behind Jim Clark and his rear-engine revolution.

People push racecars through a gap between concrete grandstands filled with people as many watch
Al’s Johnny Lightning cars of 1970–71 remain Indy fan favorites. / THF148071

Al scored a second-place Indy 500 finish in 1967 and, the following year, he joined Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing team and chief mechanic George Bignotti. Al’s first win at the Brickyard came in 1970, when he dominated the race by leading 190 of the 200 laps. Just as he had done at Pikes Peak, Al posted a repeat win at Indy by taking the checkered flag again in 1971. In both years, Al turned heads not just with his performance, but with his distinct blue and yellow cars sponsored by toymaker Johnny Lightning.

Unser notched another Indy 500 win in 1978. That year’s victory was followed later in the season by wins at Pocono Raceway and Ontario Motor Speedway. The trio of checkered flags gave Al the Indy car “Triple Crown”—victories in all three of the 500-mile races on the 1978 calendar.

Man in jumpsuit with wreath around neck stands in a race car waving to the camera with a crowd of people looking on
Al’s 1987 Indy 500 victory made him only the second driver (at the time) to win the race four times. / THF225018

Unser’s fourth Indianapolis 500 win shouldn’t have happened at all—which made the triumph that much sweeter. Al was without a ride heading into the 1987 race. But when Team Penske’s Danny Ongais went into the wall during practice and then withdrew from the race under doctor’s orders, the team offered Unser the chance to take his place. Al was less than a week from his 48th birthday, but he was game for another run at the greatest spectacle in racing. Unser started the race in 20th position but steadily moved toward the front, taking the lead on lap 183. He held off the opposition long enough to take the checkered flag with an average speed of 162.175 mph. At that moment, not only did Al become the second driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times (after A.J. Foyt), he also became the oldest driver to win the race (beating a record set by his brother Bobby, who’d won in 1981 at age 47).

Al retired from competitive driving in 1994, but not before racing several times against his son, Al Unser, Jr. “Little Al” earned two Indianapolis 500 victories of his own, taking the checkered flag in 1992 and 1994. Altogether, an Unser won the Indy 500 nine times from 1968 to 1994—one-third of the races held in those 26 years!

Page with text and photo of three standing men, one with foot up on a folding chair
For 30 years, Al Unser, Sr., was one of only three drivers to win Indy four times (along with A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears). Helio Castroneves joined the exclusive club in 2021. / THF146847

We join the racing world in mourning the death of Al Unser, Sr. His passing is especially hard coming in the same year that saw the loss of his brother, Bobby, and his nephew (and Bobby’s son), Bobby Unser, Jr. Al’s achievements and his impressive record will endure, as will the incredible legacy of the Unsers of Albuquerque, the first family of American racing.

You can hear Al Unser, Sr., describe his career and accomplishments in his own words on our “Visionaries on Innovation” page here.

Man in red shirt with text and checkered flag logo smiles at camera; out-of-focus race car in background
Al Unser, Sr., in 2009 (photo by Michelle Andonian). / THF62695


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win, racing, race car drivers, in memoriam, cars, by Matt Anderson

Medium-skin tone man in a blue suit stands in front of a corrugated white metal wall Corey Williams, Dearborn Truck Plant Manager, will tell you that the culture at the plant where the F-150 is built is one of a kind. / Photo by Nick Hagen


Corey Williams has been a part of the Dearborn Truck Plant management team for nearly four years, promoted to plant manager in January 2021, and he’s worked at many Ford facilities in a variety of management positions over the 25-plus years he’s been with Ford. He’ll tell you with conviction that the Dearborn Truck Plant, where the Ford F-150 is built and The Henry Ford’s Ford Rouge Factory Tour welcomes thousands of visitors a year, is unlike anywhere else in the world.

“Every Ford plant has the same goals, metrics and objectives—we all want to deliver the best, highest-quality product to the customer that we can,” said Williams. “But at Dearborn Truck, the culture is different. And when I say different, I mean everyone here understands that we are building America’s bestselling truck and the sense of pride in that is like no other.”

“Everybody knows that we are leaders, never followers,” he added. “That if it can be done, it will be done at DTP [Dearborn Truck Plant]—at not only the highest rate and volumes but with the greatest efficiency.”

Partially assembled truck cabs on an assembly line; a person works on one in the distance
Ford F-150 Truck Assembly at the Dearborn Truck Plant at the Ford Rouge Complex

That attitude and mental mantra fit perfectly with Williams’ persona. He’s not afraid to admit he’s an ultracompetitive guy who feeds off having to face the next challenge.

“I’ve been a sports guy my entire life,” he said. “I love to compete and like the idea of a team—the collaborative part of it and how you have to work together toward a common goal.”

And when asked about the new set of players—vehicles as well as workers—that are now ready to call the Ford Rouge Complex home along with Dearborn Truck Plant, Williams couldn’t be more excited. In 2022, the new Rouge Electric Vehicle Center is slated to open, employing hundreds of new hires and manufacturing the all-new battery-electric F-150. “Not a day goes by that people don’t ask me about our new hybrid, the EV center, and electric truck—the buzz and amazement just grows,” said Williams. “It’s a huge step in continuing our truck leadership and dominance. We are changing the game.”

Play to Work


Gameboard, box top, and box bottom filled with cards and game pieces
Staff from Ford Motor Company and The Henry Ford trace some of their interest in STEM and manufacturing to childhood television, toys, and games, like this 1960s Clue set in our collection. / THF188744

We asked Corey and other members of Ford Motor Company’s vehicle launch team and The Henry Ford’s Ford Rouge Factory Tour what games, TV shows, toys, etc., they remember growing up that helped spark their interest in STEM and manufacturing.

Corey Williams, Plant Manager at Ford: Playing team sports in his younger years is a key precursor to his manufacturing management skills today. “Involving yourself in team events where you need to collaborate and compete as a team toward a common objective is extremely relevant from a STEM standpoint,” he said.

James Housel, Bodyshop Launch Manager at Ford: “Saturday morning cartoons watching ‘Wile E. Coyote, SUUUUUUPER Genius.’” The cartoon character is always obtaining crazy gizmos from fictional mail-order company Acme in the hopes of capturing the Road Runner.

Cynthia Jones, Director, Museum Experiences & Engagement, at The Henry Ford: “I loved to play the board games Risk and Clue. Both of those helped me identify patterns, test hypotheses, set strategy goals and learn from failure.” Like Williams, Jones, a dedicated swimmer through high school, credits competitive sports too.

Doug Plond, Senior Manager, Ford Rouge Factory Tour, at The Henry Ford: “As a really young tyke, I loved to build with my red cardboard brick set—knocking them down was the fun part. Once I got a bit older, I moved up to Lincoln Logs.”


Jennifer LaForce is Editorial Director at Octane and Editor of The Henry Ford Magazine. This post was adapted from an article first published in the June–December 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

African American history, toys and games, The Henry Ford Magazine, sports, Michigan, manufacturing, Ford workers, Ford Rouge Factory Complex, Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, childhood, cars, by Jennifer LaForce, alternative fuel vehicles

When you think of museums—particularly history museums—it seems to make sense that they are inevitably all about the past. From an artifact collecting standpoint, there is an element of truth to this—most anything a museum can collect already exists and is already sliding into the past. But, putting aside ideas about the swift passage of time, it is important to understand that many museums—including The Henry Ford—do engage in what is known as “contemporary collecting.”

Contemporary collecting seeks to document history as it is happening, and relates to significant current events, trends, or cultural moments. When this collecting is done in the heat of the moment, especially when the conditions being documented are ever-changing or incredibly brief, it is known as “rapid response” collecting. Rapid response collecting relies on a well-tuned sense of what events will have greater historical significance—even after they are over—and requires a particularly proactive approach to gathering information and objects.

Page with text and four small images: coffin with covid molecule; tiki torches and Confederate flag; child clutching at chain-link fence; polar bear floating on small ice floe
One example of contemporary collecting occurs every four years, when The Henry Ford collects material related to the presidential election cycle. This postcard, created by Sea Dog Press, is from our 2020 collecting initiative. More examples from that initiative can be found here. / THF622210

In early 2020, the world was overtaken by the COVID-19 virus. It soon became clear—as industries ground to a halt, scores of workers were sent home, and international travel all but ceased—that the pandemic would become a major moment in history. Upon this realization, the curatorial staff of The Henry Ford went to work, developing a rapid response plan to document the still-unfolding pandemic. When developing this plan, the curatorial staff was keen to ensure that these collecting efforts not only captured a vivid perspective on the pandemic but also built upon the uniqueness of our collections. They determined to focus on three broad themes: innovation on a nationally significant level, grassroots resourcefulness on the part of individuals, and ingenuity demonstrated by businesses and entrepreneurs. Within each of these categories, curators identified topics that had already begun to emerge, and noted potential objects or types of objects that could be acquired.

With the plan complete, it was presented to The Henry Ford’s Collections Committee—the chartered committee responsible for reviewing and approving all proposed additions to the collections of The Henry Ford. The majority of the committee’s business consists of taking a final vote as to whether or not an item should be accessioned—the term for officially adding an item to the collection. However, some acquisitions are discussed with the group before curators begin making final preparations to acquire them; this gives the committee an opportunity to weigh in on proposed acquisitions that may be more complex, or that would require a greater outlay of the institution’s time or resources. The committee also approves all collecting initiatives, as they typically involve special effort, or result in a larger number of acquisitions; having the committee’s endorsement ensures that the collecting can be adventurous and creative but within clear parameters. Once approved by the committee, the COVID-19 Collecting Initiative was put into place, and curators began gathering information and materials.

Black fabric face mask with pattern of white, black, and red beads around border
Pleated fabric face mask with geometric pattern in blue, white, yellow, and red
Our COVID-19 collecting initiative included outreach to people with items of interest, such as Brighid "Birdie" Pulskamp, a Diné craftswoman who created a beaded facemask featuring a traditional Navajo wedding basket design, as well as fabric masks that she sent to the Navajo Nation to help combat the spread of the virus on reservations. /
THF186023, THF186021

While many acquisitions for the collection are actively sought out by our staff, others end up finding us. On September 9, 2020, Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson returned to Collections Committee with word that Ford Motor Company—with whom we have a long and fruitful relationship, particularly in regard to collecting—had reached out to him regarding a prototype COVID-19 testing van that they had developed. Ford Motor Company’s COVID-19 response—particularly their shift from manufacturing automobiles to producing equipment and supplies to aid in the fight against COVID-19—had already been a point of interest on our radar, and had been specifically identified in the collecting initiative.

After hearing the details of the acquisition, the Collections Committee gave Matt a “consensus to proceed” with the acquisition. Consensuses to proceed are given after an initial discussion of a potential acquisition, but before said acquisition is presented for final accessioning; they allow curators to proceed with making any necessary arrangements—like shipping—without overcommitting the institution, should the circumstances of an acquisition change.

Tall red van with text on front and side and American flag on side
Ford Transit Van, Modified for Use as a COVID-19 Mobile Testing Facility, 2020. / THF188109

In working with Ford Motor Company to arrange the donation of the COVID-19 testing van, Matt had the opportunity to discuss other COVID-19–related material that Ford had produced. Of particular interest were the ventilators produced at Ford’s Rawsonville plant. Ford indicated that they would be willing to offer us not one but three of those ventilators: a standard one, one signed by the Rawsonville workers, and one signed by President Donald Trump during his visit to the plant. Would The Henry Ford be interested in all three?

GIF that cycles through three images of white boxy equipment with knobs and dials on front--one plain, one covered in signatures, and one with one large signature on top
pNeuton Model A-E Pneumatic Ventilators produced by Ford Motor Company, 2020. / THF185924, THF185919, THF186031

In considering objects, The Henry Ford also considers the stories they represent, and these three ventilators were no different. While one alone would have served to document Ford’s manufacturing response, collecting all three would allow us to tell a more multi-layered story. The blank ventilator is just like all the others that rolled off Ford’s assembly line; the one signed by the Rawsonville employees documents and celebrates the people who made Ford’s manufacturing feat possible; and the one bearing President Trump’s signature captures his historic visit to the plant. While we are always cautious of over-duplication in our collection, in this instance, while the objects themselves were similar, the elements of the story were distinct, and all were important to document via our collection.

In addition to the COVID testing van and ventilators, Ford Motor Company also offered numerous pieces of PPE (personal protective equipment) they had prototyped or produced: ventilator connectors, masks, face shields, a gown, and a door pull. Matt accepted all of these items and began preparing them for presentation to Collections Committee, crafting a justification for their addition for the collection and writing a brief summary of their historical significance. On November 11, 2020, the Collections Committee gave their final seal of approval, voting to approve the addition of the van, ventilators, and assorted PPE to The Henry Ford’s collection. With that, the process of rapid collecting—at least in the case of the Ford COVID-19 response acquisitions—had come full circle.

As it turned out, though, just as the pandemic continued on, so too did our collecting opportunities. Ford Motor Company reached out again in the new year with more PPE—this time, though, created for a very unique event: the 2021 inauguration of President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington, D.C. Ford had produced 15,000 single-use masks—in two designs, printed by Hatteras, Inc., in Plymouth, Michigan—to provide to those attending the ceremony. Matt Anderson gratefully accepted the 10 masks Ford offered us, noting their significance, as their production not only furthered Ford’s efforts to combat the spread of the virus, but also demonstrated Ford’s commitment to, in the words of the company’s president and CEO, Jim Farley, “a tradition so fundamental to our democracy.” Just like the testing van and other COVID-19 materials donated by Ford, these masks were presented to the Collections Committee for final approval, which was readily granted, and they became an official part of the collections of The Henry Ford.

White pleated cloth or paper face mask with Ford logo in upper right and blue circular logo in upper left
This face mask, produced for the 2021 inauguration, represents a unique overlap of two contemporary collecting initiatives undertaken by The Henry Ford: documenting the 2020–2021 presidential election cycle and documenting the COVID-19 pandemic. / THF186524

Thanks to the quick thinking and eager work of the curatorial department and the efficient processes of the Collections Committee, The Henry Ford was able to start documenting the COVID-19 pandemic as it was happening, and—with the help of a well-established relationship with Ford Motor Company—quickly tick an important item (and then some) off our collecting wish list. The thoughtful work of our staff and the relationships they build with outside organizations prove time and again to be key elements of building our collections, whether that be through collecting the past or the present.


Rachel Yerke is Curatorial Assistant at The Henry Ford.

philanthropy, presidents, Michigan, cars, manufacturing, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, Ford Motor Company, healthcare, COVID 19 impact, by Rachel Yerke

Woman with short hair wearing a jacket with a stylized vine pattern poses in front of a car
Mimi Vandermolen, 1992–93, in front of the Ford Probe. / THF626259


Today, we take things like ergonomic seats and user-friendly dashboard dials in American automobiles for granted. But back in the mid-1980s, these were radical innovations. Much of the credit for bringing these game-changing elements to an American automobile goes to a creative and determined female lead designer named Mimi Vandermolen, who headed up the 1986 Ford Taurus interior design team.

Image taken from driver's seat of car steering wheel and instrument panel
Interior of 1986 Ford Taurus LX Sedan in The Henry Ford’s collection. / THF90338

In the late 1970s, Ford Motor Company had no room for mistakes. The 1978 oil embargo by OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) had resulted in a customer rush to buy economical, fuel-efficient cars made by non-American automobile companies, like Japanese-made Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics. The surge in import sales might have been bad enough. But Ford, unfortunately, had no new models in the works to respond to the rapidly changing market.

Page with text and photo of small red/brown car parked in front of a wooden building with people and a carriage nearby
Sales brochure for 1977 Honda Civic. / THF202071

However, a new group of leaders at Ford, more familiar with the foreign market, began to implement changes. They envisioned a brand-new “world-class” car—a car that followed and improved upon world-wide trends in engineering and design, that could be sold in any country, and that was second to none in quality (referred to as “best in class”). To accomplish these objectives for what would eventually become the Taurus, Ford executives realized that two things had to change radically: the customer would have to come first, and product integrity could never be compromised.

The design and manufacturing process also had to change. Those who planned, designed, engineered, built, and sold this new car would work as a team. The team concept in developing the Taurus meant that those who styled the interior would work concurrently and in concert with those who developed the car’s exterior. Moreover, the team approach would not be top-down. The input of planners, engineers, designers, promoters, and dealers would be both welcomed and actively invited.

Page with text and a three-dimensional pie chart labeled "Team Taurus"
Diagram showing the unique (at the time) integration of departments charged collectively with meeting the new car’s objectives, from the 1986 Taurus marketing manual. / THF625465

Mimi J. Vandermolen was born in the Netherlands and raised in Toronto, and she grew up liking art and drawing. She found her calling when she visited the product design studio at the Ontario College of Art. One of the first female students to attend school there, she graduated in 1969. Disappointingly, she found very few design jobs open to women, as women’s work at the time was primarily narrowed to teaching, nursing, and secretarial jobs. But in 1970, she was hired to work in Ford’s Philco Division, where she designed home appliances like snowblowers and TVs—rather than automobiles.

Still, she was the first female designer in the Ford Design Studio at a time when women were rarely hired by American automotive design studios. Soon enough, her talents were recognized, and after six months she was transferred to car design—working as a trainee on the Mustang II, Cougar, and Granada. All the while, she felt that her ideas were ignored or dismissed, considered too radical or out-of-the-box for a staid American automobile company.

Black-and-white photo of car in front of building with concrete plaza and grass berm; one person is behind wheel and another in suit walks toward car
Publicity photo for the 1974 Mustang II. Note the reference to “simulated walnut accents” (rather than real wood), a decorative touch that designers detested and were delighted to see eliminated in the Ford Taurus interior. / THF113139

In 1979, Vandermolen was promoted to Design Specialist at Ford and, in 1980, she was invited to join Team Taurus as the lead designer of the interior. She considered the team approach a “breath of fresh air,” but realized that designers were not used to articulating or defending their ideas. Her design team was going to have to become a lot better at justifying design ideas to have any of them approved and implemented.

She recognized from the start that the key to the potential success of the Taurus was to create an interior that mirrored the style and theme of its exterior body. Each component of the interior—switches, doors, lights, controls, seats—would be designed to meet two key objectives. First, were they “friendly” enough—that is, were they easy to find and use, day or night? And second, did they blend in aesthetically with the car’s exterior and the rest of its interior?

The dashboard (known in the industry as the Instrument Panel, or IP) was traditionally designed to suit the needs of engineers and manufacturers rather than those who actually drove the cars. It tended to be straight and flat, and the driver had to lean forward to reach it—a design already being abandoned in European cars.

Page with text and two black-and-white photos: top showing a rounded station wagon parked by a pond with two people nearby, and the bottom showing the front seats and front dash of a car from above
The lower image, from the 1986 Ford Taurus press kit, illustrates how the instrumentation and controls were designed to “an exceptional level of passenger comfort.” / THF105522

Vandermolen asked her team to address how a driver could both have easy access to the IP and still ride in a car that was spacious and inviting. In the final design, the Taurus IP was angled in such a way that the instrument and control system would indeed come within quick and easy reach of the driver.

Page with text and three color images of dials and gauges (some digital) in a car dash (?)
Taurus instrument panel dials, both standard and digital, from the 1986 Taurus marketing manual. / THF625475

Vandermolen encouraged her team to consider how individual controls could be designed to be both manageable and safe. Each component was considered on a case-by-case basis. The speedometer, for example, was redesigned with a large needle to show incremental change in speed. Push-pull switches, like those for the heater, were replaced with rotary knobs, which were easier to operate. Switches had bumps added to the ends, so drivers could locate them easily without taking their eyes off the road. The controls and instruments were in clear view and easy to reach, so with a minimum of effort, one could drive a few times, then operate them by touch without looking away from the road. The IP also came with an optional digital panel, futuristic- and video-game-looking at the time, but foreshadowing future designs.

Page with text and two images, one of inside of open car door and one showing an overhead car light
Driver’s interior front door panel, with integrated features, from the 1986 Taurus marketing manual. / THF625482

The overall interior was designed to mirror the sculpted look of the body, with no straight or sharply angled panels. For example, after sixteen design iterations, the final design of the interior door panel was smoothly sculpted with integrated power controls, curb light, reflector, and map pocket. The interior also exuded a level of quality unlike previous mid-size family cars on the market. Fake woodgrain did not appear anywhere in the interior, to the delight of designers who had long abhorred this cheap substitute for real wood that had become the norm on American cars.

With the Taurus, the design of the seats started from scratch. This was, in fact, the most difficult part of the car to get right. The process took 2½ years—Ford’s most extensive seat evaluation program ever. It involved deconstructing and studying best-in-class car seats on the market (the GM Opel Senator was a front-runner), then simulating and recreating these. The newly designed seats for the Taurus were submitted to many miles of consumer test driving and weeks of test-dummy trials for seat and fabric durability.

Ergonomics—the science of relationships between humans and machines—played a crucial role in seat design. Traditional seats—flat, sofa-like slabs of upholstery or unsupportive bucket seats—had often led drivers to purchase after-market cushions and devices to provide back and leg support. Seats had to support a variety of sizes, shapes, and weights—sometimes for hours at a time. Fabric had to withstand extremes of temperature. The interior foam, providing the cushion, had to be resilient.

Page with text and two images of front car seats
Ergonomic seats with armrests, optional power adjustments, and cloth or optional leather upholstery, from the 1986 Taurus marketing manual. / THF625477

Final car seat options offered three configurations, fitting a wide range of physical types, and included lower-back support, heavy-density foam, and headrests for the front seats. In addition, ergonomic tests found that window switches and door handles were traditionally placed too far forward to comfortably use. They were, accordingly, moved and/or adjusted for easy reach. Finally, the rear seats were raised slightly for backseat passengers to be able to see over the front seats, while new storage compartments were tested and added.

Much of Vandermolen’s work on the Taurus, and on later projects, was driven by her passion about the needs of female drivers. “If I can solve all the problems inherent in operating a vehicle for a woman,” she maintained, “that’ll make it that much easier for a man to use.” For this, she solicited opinions from a wide range of female consumers, market testing some features over and over until she, her team, and—most importantly—the female customer were all satisfied.

In the end, the interior of the Taurus was a dramatic departure from the usual American car design. Controls were logical, switches made sense, seats were sturdy and comfortable. Moreover, Team Taurus felt that the team concept had worked. Team members debated, discussed, and listened to each other, working together to solve problems. Designers learned to present their vision and argue for it. Vandermolen instilled confidence in her team by telling them, “Don’t be scared. We’re on the right track. We’re meeting our objectives.”

Page with text "TAURUS 1986" and images of sedan car and rounded station wagon
1986 Taurus LX sedan and station wagon, from a sales brochure cover for the 1986 Taurus. / THF208075

The new Taurus was launched on December 26, 1985, leading to what became known as the American auto industry’s “Rounded Edge Revolution.” Some people ridiculed the 1986 Taurus, likening it to a jellybean or a potato. But it won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year Award, with the compliment, “If we were to describe the Taurus’s design in a word, the word would be ‘thoughtful.’” Car and Driver called it “one of history’s most radical new cars,” praising Vandermolen’s efforts as “a bold attempt to reorder the priorities of American-made family sedans.”

Customers responded in kind. The Taurus soon accounted for 25 percent of Ford’s North American sales. In 1987, Taurus became the number-one selling car in the United States.

Red and silver car
1986 Ford Taurus LX Sedan in The Henry Ford’s collection. / THF90332

Ford’s gamble to steer the company from a serious downturn with a “world-class” car paid off. Ergonomics, aerodynamics, sculpted interiors, angled IPs, comfortable and supportive seats, market research with targeted customers, and team-oriented planning—all of these would become standard elements of future American automobile design and manufacturing.

In 1987, Vandermolen was promoted to the position of Design Executive for small cars at Ford Motor Company, overseeing interior and exterior design developments in North America—a first for a woman in the automotive industry. That year, Fortune Magazine named her one of its “People to Watch.” She headed the development of the 1993 Ford Probe from start to finish. Her focus on women consumers remained a particular point of pride throughout her career.

Today. Mimi Vandermolen’s legacy lives on. In February 2021, the Classic Cars.com Journal called her one of “11 women who changed automotive history and the way we drive.”

For more on Vandermolen and her contributions to the 1986 Ford Taurus, see the book Taurus: The Making of the Car That Saved Ford by Eric Taub (1991).


Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. She learned of Mimi Vandermolen’s story in the 1990s and is pleased to finally write about it so others can appreciate it as well.

immigrants, women's history, Henry Ford Museum, Ford workers, Ford Motor Company, Driving America, design, cars, by Donna R. Braden

“Donation - Crash Test Dog” isn’t the type of subject line you typically see on an email. Yet just after Thanksgiving in 2019, that’s exactly what landed in the Benson Ford Research Center’s email queue. Sleepypod, makers of safety-conscious pet carriers and other related pet products, wanted to know if The Henry Ford would be interested in the donation of MAX2, one of the early crash test dogs they had designed to simulate a live pet in a series of crash tests used to demonstrate the increased safety of Sleepypod pet carriers. For the curator’s consideration, Sleepypod provided photos of MAX2, as well as a brief history of how and why he was developed.

Boxy leather or plastic dog figure, with text, logos, and shapes on sides
Sleepypod “MAX 2” Crash-Test Dog, 2012 / THF185385

The offer went off to Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson. Intrigued, Matt wanted to follow up on a few questions with the folks at Sleepypod. Of first concern: would Sleepypod be able to hold on to MAX2 until the new year? With just over a month left in 2019, there would be very little time to get MAX2 on site, develop a comprehensive write-up, present it to The Henry Ford’s Collections Committee for approval, and get a deed of gift sent off to—and returned by—Sleepypod. Thankfully, Sleepypod was happy to hold onto MAX2 for us.

Matt was also interested in knowing if the donation would include one of Sleepypod’s pet carriers, and if there was any associated press or marketing material they would be willing to include. Collecting these additional items would help us tell a more complete story about the company and their innovation. Sleepypod responded that not only would they be happy to offer MAX2 with a carrier and marketing material, they would also be interested in donating CLEO 1.0, their first crash test cat. Matt eagerly accepted their offer.

Champagne-colored fabric or plastic cat figure, with text and circular shape on side and camera where face would be
Sleepypod “CLEO” Crash-Test Cat, 2015 / THF185386

In January 2020, MAX2 and CLEO made it to their new home at The Henry Ford, by way of arrival at our relatively new Main Storage Building (MSB). In previous years, objects would arrive at the curatorial offices in the Benson Ford Research Center, where they would be deposited in a small holding room until formally approved and accessioned; they would then be taken elsewhere for storage. MSB, however, is equipped with two rooms dedicated to new acquisitions—one where objects can be examined by our conservation staff to make sure they do not pose a risk to other objects (via issues like insect infestations), and another where “clean” objects can be stored on compacting shelving until they are accessioned and assigned a permanent location, typically within the same building. Utilizing MSB in this way not only helps us keep better track of pending acquisitions, but also saves time and effort on behalf of our Collections Management team, as they have less distance to move objects after they have been accessioned.

Matt began prepping MAX2, CLEO, the carrier, and associated material for presentation to Collections Committee, the group responsible for approving all additions to the collections of The Henry Ford. In order to make his case for adding these crash pets to the collection—after all, “adorableness” is in the eye of the beholder, and not an adequate justification for acquisition—Matt pulled together information on Sleepypod’s history, the development of MAX2 and CLEO, and the historical significance of a pet carrier designed with safety in a moving car in mind (an advancement that shows the next evolution of transportation safety, now that human lives have benefited from crash test technology). All of this was distilled into a short write-up, intended to give the committee a broad overview of the potential acquisition and the rationale behind suggesting it.

Red fabric carrier with domed black mesh top; handle (?) laying nearby
Sleepypod Pet Carrier, 2019 / THF185389

Collections Committee—likely won over by a combination of Matt’s thorough and engaging write-up, and the surprise guest appearance of MAX2 and CLEO as meeting attendees—approved adding MAX2, CLEO, the Sleepypod carrier, and the associated marketing material to the collection. The group of items was assigned an accession number—2020.31, denoting that it was the 31st accession group brought into the collection in 2020—and the registrars assigned each of the 3D objects a number within that group: 2020.31.1 for the Sleepypod pet carrier, 2020.31.2 for MAX2, and 2020.31.3 for CLEO. The photography studio photographed MAX2, CLEO, and the carrier, so that the objects would be ready to go up on our Digital Collections page, which provides photos and information for over 100,000 items (and growing) in The Henry Ford’s collection.

After the Collections Committee meeting, there was one final step to officially transfer ownership of MAX2 and CLEO to The Henry Ford: completion of deed of gift paperwork. Generated by the Registrar office for all donations that become part of the collection, the deed of gift serves as a legal document that formally transfers ownership of an object to The Henry Ford. It also provides an opportunity for donors to indicate how they would like to be credited if the object is ever exhibited, published, or otherwise presented to the public. Once this paperwork is completed by a donor and returned to The Henry Ford, the acquisition process comes to an end.

Champagne-colored fabric or plastic cat figure, with text and circular shape on side and camera where face would be, lying on side
CLEO relaxing, waiting to be moved to her new home by her new owners / Photo courtesy Sophia Kloc

Although MAX2 and CLEO are certainly unique objects, the process by which they came to be part of The Henry Ford’s collection is the same one that every object must take. Although some acquisition offers (like the Sleepypod donation) result in a quick turnaround, others require more thought and research; while the process itself remains the same, the timeline is unique from object to object.

Without the wide variety of offers that The Henry Ford receives, our collection would not be what it is today. Sometimes the most interesting items we acquire are ones we would not have thought to look for, had someone not sought us out with an opportunity. Although we cannot accept everything—over 90 years of collecting means that many things are already represented in the collection, and other items just may not be a good fit for one reason or another—we always take the time to review the offers we are sent, never knowing when the next exciting acquisition may appear.

If you, too, are interested in providing an addition to the collections of The Henry Ford, information on how to start the process can be found here.


Rachel Yerke is Curatorial Assistant at The Henry Ford.

collections care, philanthropy, cars, by Rachel Yerke, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

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

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 General Motors (GM), donors of the General Motors first-generation self-driving test vehicle in the exhibit and contributors to our Driven to Win: Racing in America exhibit, tackle questions about autonomous vehicles (AVs), electric vehicles (EVs), and racing.

Our latest permanent exhibit, Driven to Win: Racing in America, is presented by General Motors. How has GM’s racing program evolved over time? 

GM’s Chevrolet and Cadillac brands have both had long, storied histories in motorsports. Racing is a fundamental part of what we do—from transferring technology learned on the track to help us build better vehicles to connecting with consumers through something they love.

Man with broom mustache in jacket and soft racing helmet, with goggles pushed up on forehead
Racing driver Louis Chevrolet co-founded GM’s Chevrolet brand with William C. Durant in 1911. / THF277330

Chevrolet has been successful in professional motorsports in the United States and around the globe, capturing many manufacturer, driver, and team championships in NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA, and the NHRA. From stock cars to advanced prototypes, Cadillac Racing has a rich history—more than half a century—of racing around the world and around the clock on some of the world’s notably challenging circuits.

Off the track, our racing programs have evolved with the help of our GM facilities. In 2016, General Motors opened the doors to the all-new GM Powertrain Performance and Racing Center—a state-of-the-art facility designed to enhance the development processes for the company’s diverse racing engine programs.

In 2021, General Motors broke ground on the new Charlotte Technical Center, a 130,000-square-foot facility that will expand GM’s performance and racing capabilities. The facility is a $45 million investment for GM and it will be a strong hub for the racing and production engineering teams to collaborate, share resources, and learn together, delivering better results more quickly, both on the racetrack and in our production vehicles.

Two open-top race cars on a road or track with wooded hills in the background
The Chevrolet Corvette has a long, proud history in professional and amateur sports car racing. This pair of Corvettes is seen at a Sports Car Club of America race in Maryland in 1959. / THF135778

Engineering has become incredibly advanced over time, and leveraging tools between racing and production has become extremely important. We use tools like computational fluid dynamic models, which uses applied mathematics, physics, and computational software to visualize how a gas or liquid flows. These CFD models help us predict things like powertrain performance and aerodynamics.

Also, our Driver-in-the-Loop simulator allows us to test vehicles on courses virtually. It is the combination of two technologies: a real-time computer (with vehicle hardware) and a driving simulator. The driving simulator allows our development engineers to drive and test the real-time computer simulation and added hardware system on a virtual track, just like they would a physical prototype. The simulator was used extensively during the development of the mid-engine Corvette C8.R race car.

The 2001 C5-R Corvette is currently on loan from General Motors and can be seen by guests inside Driven to Win: Racing in America. Why was this vehicle selected to go on display inside Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation? 

The Corvette C5-R made its debut in 1999 at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and was a fixture of global GT racing for the next five years. From 1999–2004, Corvette Racing and the C5-R set the standard for racing success with 31 victories in the American Le Mans Series, along with an overall victory at the Rolex 24 in 2001.

During six years of competition, Corvette Racing—the first factory-backed Corvette team in the car’s history—led the C5.R to an overall victory at the Daytona 24-hour race and three 1-2 finishes in the GTS class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. During the 2004 season, Corvette Racing won every race the team entered and captured every pole position in the American Le Mans Series.

Low yellow race car with text and logos
2001 C5-R Corvette, on loan from General Motors Heritage Center and currently on exhibit in Driven to Win: Racing in America in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. / THF185966

This specific car raced 17 times from August 2000 through June 2002 with 10 wins. It brought home the first win for the factory Corvette Racing program—Texas 2000 in the ALMS’ GTS class. Then it went on to become 2001 overall winner at Rolex 24, which was quite an accomplishment for a GT car. The car went on to win its class at Le Mans 24 in both 2001 and 2002. The modern era of Corvette’s factory racing program continues today, after over 20 years and 4 generations (C5/C6/C7/C8).

The success of this C5-R essentially started it all and we are proud to have it on display.

General Motors' donation of the 2016 GM First-Generation Self-Driving Test Vehicle was our first self-driving car acquisition. Why was it important to have this car join more than 300 others—including GM landmarks like the 1927 LaSalle and the 1997 EV1 Electric—in the collections of The Henry Ford? 

This vehicle represents a huge step forward on the journey to fully autonomous driving. With Cruise, our majority-owned subsidiary, we’re determined to commercialize safe, autonomous, and electric vehicles on our way to a driverless future—one with zero crashes.

Side view of compact white car with equipment on top and wires dangling down side
General Motors tested a series of autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, California, and Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2016. These cars used a combination of cameras, radar and lidar sensors, cellular and GPS antennas, and powerful computers to drive themselves on public streets in both cities. GM donated this one, now on exhibit in Driving America in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, to The Henry Ford in 2018. / THF173551

Cruise was the first AV company permitted to give rides to the public in its current driverless vehicles in the San Francisco area. Expansion of our real-world test fleet will help ensure that our self-driving vehicles meet the same strict standards for safety and quality that we build into all of our vehicles.

GM became the first company to assemble self-driving test vehicles in a mass-production facility when its next generation of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EV test vehicles began rolling off of the line at Orion Township, Michigan, in January 2017.

The self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs feature an array of equipment, including LIDAR, cameras, sensors, and other hardware designed to accelerate development of a safe and reliable fully autonomous vehicle.

Reshaping cities and the lives of those who live in them has tremendous societal implications. Since we believe that all AVs will be EVs, these efforts will clearly advance our vision of zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion, and help us build a more sustainable and accessible world.

This vehicle was really the first of its kind and its display is a sneak peek at the future of autonomy.

By 2025, General Motors plans to offer more than 30 electric vehicles globally. What does an all-electric future look like for Generation E? 

For electric vehicles to make an impact, we need consumers to embrace them in mass numbers. So earlier this year, General Motors introduced the world to EVerybody In.

This is our brand commitment toward advancing a world with zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion. EVerybody In is more than a brand campaign, it's a global call to action for everybody to join us on the road to an all-electric future.

Front view of compact red car
GM introduced the EV1 in 1997. It was among the most sophisticated electric cars built during the 20th century. / THF91060

GM wants to put everyone in an EV. Thanks to Ultium, our EV architecture, GM is able to reimagine the vehicles it produces today as electric vehicles with equivalent power, excellent range, and a manufacturing cost different that is expected to diminish as EV production increases.

Not only will our EVs be fun to drive and cost less to own, they will also provide an outstanding customer experience. This is how we will encourage and inspire mass consumer adoption of EVs. GM has the technology, talent, scale, and manufacturing expertise to do it.

The all-electric future we are creating goes beyond our vehicles, it is inspiring us to do even more to help mitigate the effects of climate change. We plan to source 100 percent renewable energy to power our U.S. sites by 2025, and to become carbon neutral in our global vehicles and operations by 2040.

General Motors wants to impact society in a positive way and these are some of the steps we are taking to make it happen.

General Motors is committed to electrification—what types of current EV projects from the company might we expect to see in the museums of tomorrow?

With more than 30 EVs being introduced by 2025, we have a lot of exciting vehicles coming. From sedans, to trucks, to full-size SUVs, we will have a wide range of offerings in terms of size and design.

We are entering an inflection point in the transportation industry, a transformation the industry has not seen in decades—the mass adoption of electric vehicles. The first of any of these entries will be a sight to see in the museums of tomorrow for generations to come.


Lish Dorset is Marketing Manager, Non-Admission Products, at The Henry Ford. Todd Christensen is Strategy and Operations Manager, Chevrolet Motorsports Marketing & Activation, and Gina Peera is Corporate Strategy and Executive Communications at General Motors. General Motors is a global automotive manufacturer, driving the world forward with the goal to deliver world-class customer experiences at every touchpoint and doing so on a foundation of trust and transparency. See Collecting Mobility for yourself in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from October 23, 2021, through January 2, 2022.

engineering, manufacturing, Henry Ford Museum, Driving America, Chevrolet, alternative fuel vehicles, technology, autonomous technology, Driven to Win, race cars, racing, cars, by Gina Peera, by Todd Christensen, by Lish Dorset

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 the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) tackle questions about the infrastructure of mobility.

Our cars are increasingly "connected," whether for navigation, communication, or entertainment. What challenges does this pose for our current infrastructure, and what improvements are most urgently needed to keep pace with technology?

MDOT:

First, the balance between data-sharing and privacy. The Michigan Department of Transportation leads all our efforts with safety first. Our agency looks to find opportunities to solve modern traffic challenges as cars become increasingly connected with technology that meets the need for navigation, communication, and/or entertainment.

Due to today’s connectivity, MDOT has the means to share data and asset information relevant to roadway users—for example, wrong-way driving alerts and information directly connected to infrastructure, vehicles, and other devices. But as more consumers purchase connected vehicles, there are increased opportunities for exploitation by hackers using cellular networks and/or wi-fi. Therefore, software vulnerabilities, privacy, and other cybersecurity concerns must be addressed as quickly as the technology progresses.

Small electronic device, cord, instruction manual, "quick reference guide," and box for GPS system
Early standalone consumer GPS units, like this 1998 Garmin “Personal Navigator” system, had limited or no integration with the rest of a car. As vehicles become increasingly connected, potential safety and security concerns increase too. / THF150113

Second, leaving room for solutions, opportunities, and collaboration. It is imperative to remain technology-agnostic and interoperability is critical. Today’s vehicles meet many needs and should be able to work with many devices and operating systems.

A recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reallocate a portion of the radio spectrum from public safety to commercial use has been the most significant impact to date. This introduces the potential of not having enough spectrum to operate the technology to improve safety and mobility. Continued collaboration with other governmental agencies, private companies, and academia leads to a safer, better user experience for motorists.

Yellow record cover with text and image of front of large truck
Challenges in allocating limited radio spectrum frequencies aren’t new. In 1977, at the height of the CB radio craze, the FCC yielded to popular demand by expanding the number of citizens band channels from 23 to 40. / THF106547

MEDC:

The increase in connectivity between vehicles challenges our current infrastructure because infrastructure upgrades are not able to happen as quickly as the vehicle technology is advancing. First, we need to make sure our current infrastructure is maintained and suitable for the vehicles we do have on the roads. The next improvements would be continuing to implement vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology on our roadways, and to explore connected infrastructure projects, such as a public-private partnership to establish and manage a connected roadway corridor.

Navigation apps like Waze leverage user data and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) to provide real-time updates, helping drivers avoid construction and other traffic congestion. Does MDOT have its own advanced technologies and services to enhance these platforms and keep Michigan drivers safe and on the move?

MDOT:

MDOT utilizes a variety of methods to reach out to our citizens to provide traveler information. Drivers can access our Mi-Drive link for detailed information regarding construction projects, etc. Our traffic operations centers post information for incidents and rerouting on our dynamic message signs located on our freeway system.

Square-shaped narrow white plastic box with text "wazebeacon"
This 2018 Waze beacon, on display in Collecting Mobility through January 22, 2022, eliminated dead spots in GPS navigation by placing battery-powered beacons in tunnels where GPS satellite signals couldn't reach. / THF188371

As vehicles and roadways transition to the future state of connectivity, there will continue to be many vehicles on the road that are not equipped with these technologies. How will the new systems accommodate older or non-connected vehicles?

MDOT:

MDOT works with industry partners on that transition, and as new technologies are implemented, we are always considering the users and amount of saturation for vehicles to take advantage of them. For example, MDOT provides information on our dynamic message boards, and we can also provide that information into connected vehicles. It would be difficult to remove those dynamic message signs currently, as the number of connected vehicles on the road today is not high enough. The technologies will become more prevalent as drivers get new vehicles and aftermarket technologies are implemented on older vehicles. Systems already exist on vehicles coming off the assembly line that are improving safety, such as blind spot and forward collision warnings, and adaptive cruise control.

Car in distance on dirt road between fields; a horse-drawn carriage is pulled over on one side
The coming transitional period, in which connected cars share roads with non-connected vehicles, will mirror the mobility transition of the early 20th century, when horse-drawn vehicles coexisted with automobiles. / THF200129

MEDC:

It’s important to note that connected roadways will not cancel out the use of non-connected vehicles—there will be a transitional period where a lot of non-connected vehicles will use aftermarket Internet of Things (IoT) solutions that allow them to take advantage of the connected roadways. The non-connected vehicles may not be able to take advantage of all the benefits of the connected roadways, like communication and navigation, but there will be solutions to upgrade their vehicles to accommodate them.

We've long depended on gasoline taxes to finance road construction and maintenance. But as the percentage of electric vehicles (EVs) grows, gas tax revenues decrease. Should we be looking at new funding methods? What alternatives should we consider?

MDOT:

This will be an important public policy discussion going forward. In Michigan, road funding legislation signed by then-Governor Rick Snyder in 2015 included increased registration fees for EVs. Roads in Michigan are primarily funded through registration fees and fuel taxes. More creative mechanisms will be necessary to continue to maintain our roads and bridges. Legislation in Michigan tasked MDOT with conducting a statewide tolling study, which is ongoing. New public-private partnerships will be vital to creating and maintaining charging infrastructure. 

Small white wooden building with sign on side, shaded by a tree
Gas taxes won’t pay for roads in an electric-vehicle world. This modern problem could be solved in part with an ancient solution: toll roads. Learn more about highway funding challenges in our “Funding the Interstate Highway System” expert set. / THF2033

States could look to local governments and other state agencies to encourage charging infrastructure inclusion in building codes and utility company build-out plans. There is also uncertainty at the moment around what federal programs might be created as a result of the draft infrastructure plan being debated by Congress.

MEDC:

Yes, absolutely. With more electric vehicles coming to market, there is an opportunity for more creative ways to finance roads while ensuring no more of a burden on electric vehicle drivers than on gasoline vehicle drivers. Some alternatives include a VMT (vehicle miles traveled)–based fee that electric vehicle owners could opt into. The fee would be based on a combination of the vehicle’s metrics and miles driven, to accurately reflect road usage and the gas taxes that gasoline vehicle owners pay. This is also a policy recommendation in the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification’s annual report, which will be published in October 2021.

In the 1950s, there were experiments with guidewire technology that enabled a car to steer itself by following a wire embedded in the pavement. Today we're experimenting with roads that can charge electric vehicles as they travel. Is it time to rethink the road itself—to connect it directly with our cars?

MDOT:

Thankfully, infrastructure continues to become “smarter” due to intelligent transportation systems, smart signals, and more—for example, the simplification of the driving environment for connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs). In 2020, MDOT established a policy to increase the width of lane lines on freeways from four to six inches to support increasing use of lane departure warning and lane keeping technologies.

Page with text and blue bars at top and bottom; black-and-white drawing showing the back of a person driving a car on a freeway (as if the viewer was in the backseat)
Our roadways evolve with our technologies. This 1956 brochure promotes the proposed Interstate Highway System—which was then a brand-new idea, not yet implemented. / THF103981

Similarly, the roadway can be evolved to optimize travel in EVs. The development of a wireless dynamic charging roadway in Michigan is a step forward in addressing range anxiety and will accelerate better understanding of infrastructure needs moving forward. This inductive vehicle charging pilot will deploy an electrified roadway system that allows electric buses, shuttles, and vehicles to charge while driving. The pilot will help to accelerate the deployment of electric vehicle infrastructure in Michigan and will create new opportunities for businesses and high-tech jobs.

Infographic with text, line drawings, and photograph in background
Some of Michigan’s “smart infrastructure.” / Infographic courtesy MDOT

MEDC:

It is time to rethink the road itself—as new advancements in mobility and electrification roll out for vehicles, it’s only natural to rethink the infrastructure these vehicles operate on. As computers got smaller and more compact over time, so did their chargers. It’s a similar thing with vehicles and their infrastructure. As vehicles get smarter and more connected, the infrastructure will have to follow suit.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford, Michele Mueller is Sr. Project Manager - Connected and Automated Vehicles at Michigan Department of Transportation, and Kate Partington is Program Specialist - Office of Future Mobility and Electrification at Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). The Michigan Department of Transportation is responsible for Michigan's 9,669-mile state highway system, and also administers other state and federal transportation programs for aviation, intercity passenger services, rail freight, local public transit services, the Transportation Economic Development Fund, and others. The Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification within the MEDC was created in February 2020 to bring focus and unity in purpose to state government’s efforts to foster electrification, with a vision to create a stronger state economy through safer, more equitable, and environmentally conscious transportation for all Michigan residents. See Collecting Mobility for yourself in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from October 23, 2021, through January 2, 2022.

autonomous technology, alternative fuel vehicles, Michigan, technology, roads and road trips, cars, by Kate Partington, by Michele Mueller, by Matt Anderson

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 the University of Michigan, donors of the Navya Autonom® driverless shuttle bus in the exhibit, tackle questions about autonomous vehicles.


The Mcity shuttle project was less about autonomous vehicle (AV) technology than it was about human psychology. Why is it important to understand our current attitudes and comfort levels with self-driving vehicles?

Self-driving vehicles promise a better world for all of us by making roads safer, reducing fuel use, and providing more equitable, more accessible mobility options to more people. None of those benefits can be realized, however, if the public does not trust fully automated vehicles or is afraid to ride in them.

When the Mcity Driverless Shuttle launched in June 2018, consumer trust in automated vehicles was declining in the wake of two fatal crashes involving partially automated vehicles in Arizona and California. Mcity wanted to better understand how consumer attitudes about self-driving vehicles might be affected if they were able to experience the technology first-hand.

Squat blue van with large glass windows all the way around and doors slid open; text and graphics on side
Navya Autonom® Driverless Shuttle Bus, used on the University of Michigan's North Campus and Mcity Test Facility, 2017, now in the collections of The Henry Ford and on exhibit in Collecting Mobility in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation until January 2, 2022. / THF188013


Mcity worked with global market research firm J.D. Power to survey shuttle riders and non-riders—bicyclists, pedestrians, drivers of other vehicles—about their experience. By the time Mcity’s research wrapped up in December 2019, consumer sentiment nationally remained weak, according to separate surveys published in early 2020 by AAA and J.D. Power. But Mcity Driverless Shuttle survey results showed that 86 percent of riders trusted the technology after riding in the shuttle, as did 67 percent of nonriders surveyed.

Understanding the role of public trust and acceptance is essential to widespread adoption of new mobility technologies.

Self-driving cars may be the most disruptive mobility technology since the car itself. They will affect every aspect of our century-long relationship with the automobile. What can we do to ease the transition?

We must help consumers better understand the potential of this disruptive technology to improve the quality of their day-to-day life, as well as society as a whole. One way to do that is through exhibits like Collecting Mobility at The Henry Ford.

What we did not have at the dawn of the automotive age a century ago was the myriad ways to communicate that are at our fingertips today. On-demand multimedia content produced and shared by industry, government, academia, media, and other organizations teaches the public about self-driving technologies and their risks and benefits as they evolve, helping to smooth the transition to a new way of moving people and goods.

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communication, research, technology, by Greg McGuire, by Matt Anderson, cars, autonomous technology