Model Wearing Walking Office Wearable Computer Prototype, circa 1984. THF274746
On March 13, 2020 The Henry Ford made the unprecedented decision to temporarily close to the public to help slow the spread of COVID-19. With Historical Resources staff transitioning into working from home, we are continuing to develop new digital content and drawing together thematic groups of material relevant to our world today.
Like many office workers around the world now working remotely, museum staff working off-site have carved out space wherever they can: taking over living rooms and spare bedrooms, repurposing kitchen tables and setting up cozy basement nooks. We, like many others, are figuring out our new ways of working while simultaneously adjusting to social distancing, cooking healthy meals at home, juggling child care and negotiating with confused dogs demanding walks.
In this new and unexpected reality of #MuseumFromHome, we are grateful for the digital tools (and telephones!) that have allowed us to stay connected with our collections and our colleagues.
It won't come as a surprise that our curators have been thinking this week about the links between our artifacts and the concept of telecommuting. And so we are sharing the following content — drawn primarily from our incredible well of online resources — that is focused on resourceful inventions and behaviors related to long-distance communication.
From the transatlantic cable and a prototype for an intriguing object called "The Walking Office" to the stories of community built by ham radio operators — and one story about the evolution of the office desk for good measure — we hope these stories and resources bring you a little joy and many learning opportunities during these difficult times.
An image from the set of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.
For many people—especially those who grew up between the decades of the 1970s through the 1990s—the sight of a boombox often prompts the thought: “I wonder how heavy that thing would feel, if I carried it around on my shoulder?” Boomboxes are infused with the promise of human interaction, ready for active use—to be slung from arm to arm, hoisted up on a shoulder, or planted with purpose on a park bench or an empty slice of asphalt in a city somewhere.
Here at The Henry Ford, we recently acquired a trio of classic boomboxes to document stories about the growth of mobile media and the social communication of music in American culture.
The Norelco 22RL962 was developed in the mid-1960s by the Dutch company, Philips. A combination radio and compact cassette player, it had recording and playback functions as well as a carrying handle. While it was generally thought of as the first device that could be accurately called a “boombox,” the Norelco failed to gain mass traction. The core issue wasn’t due to poor performance from a technological standpoint, but rather the bad sound quality of the tapes. In 1965, the American engineer Ray Dolby invented the Dolby Noise Reduction system, which led to clean, hiss-free sound on compact cassette tapes. His invention sparked a revolution in hi-fi cassette audio.
The ubiquitous compact cassette tape.
In the early 1970s, Japanese manufacturers began to make advancements in boombox technology as an outgrowth of modular hi-fi stereo components. Living spaces in Japan were typically small, and there was a desire to condense electronics into compact devices without losing sound quality.
Later that decade, the improved boombox made its way to the United States, where it was embraced by hip hop, punk, and new wave musicians and fans—many of whom lived in large cities like New York and Los Angeles. In many ways, the boombox was a protest device, as youth culture used them to broadcast politically charged music in public spaces.
An early image of the Brooklyn Bridge and New York Skyline. THF113708
Boomboxes literally changed the sonic fabric of cities, but this effect was divisive. By the mid-1980s, noise pollution laws began to restrict their use in public. The golden years of the boombox were also short lived due to the rising popularity and affordability of personal portable sound devices like the Sony Walkman (and later, the MP3 player), which turned music into a private, insular experience.
This boombox was built for the street, and it is meant to be played loud. Its design is rugged, with a carrying handle and protective “roll bars” in case it is dropped. Many classic photos from the early years of hip-hop depict fans and musicians carrying the El Diablo around cities and on the subway in New York.
The JVC RC-550 is a member of what sound historians refer to as the “holy trinity” of innovative boomboxes. While the origins of its “El Diablo” nickname are uncertain, it is believed to stem from the impressive volume of sound it can transmit—or its flashing red sound meters. It is a monophonic boombox, meaning that it has one main speaker and it is incapable of reproducing sound in stereo. A massive offset 10-inch woofer dominates its design, coupled with smaller midrange and tweeter speakers. As with most boomboxes of this time, bass and treble levels could be adjusted.
An input for an external microphone led to the RC-550 being advertised as a mobile personal amplifier system. Brochures from the Japanese version show the boombox being used by salesmen to amplify their pitches in front of crowds, as a sound system in a bar, and by a singing woman accompanied by a guitarist. Recording could take place directly through the tape deck, or through the microphone on top, which could be rotated 360-degrees.
JVC 838 Biphonic Boombox The JVC 838 is important for its transitional design. It was one of the first boomboxes to incorporate the symmetrical arrangement of components that would become standard in 1980s portable stereos: visually balanced speakers, buttons and knobs, and a centered cassette deck.
As boombox designs evolved, they began to include (almost to the point of parody) sound visualization components such as VU meters and other electronic indicators. In many cases, these were purely for visual effect rather than function. The needle VU meters on the JVC 838 however, were accurate.
A unique feature of the JVC 838 boombox is its “BiPhonic” sound—a spatial stereo feature that creates a “being there” effect through its binaural speaker technology, resulting in “three-dimensional depth, spaciousness, and pinpoint imaging.” The box also includes an “expand” effect to widen the sound even further.
Sharp GF-777 “Searcher.” THF177382 Sharp “Searcher” GF-777 The Sharp “Searcher” GF-777 is an exercise in excess. Often referred to as the “king of the boomboxes,” it was also one of the largest ever produced. Weighing thirty pounds (minus ten D-cell batteries) and measuring over one foot tall and two feet wide, it took a certain amount of lifestyle commitment to carry this device around a city.
The Searcher played a key part in the performance and representation of hip-hop music. Its six speakers include four woofers individually tuned for optimal bass transmission and amplitude. It appeared in a photograph on the back cover of the first Run-DMC album, found its way into several music videos, and was photographed alongside breakdancing crews.
Many people used this boombox as an affordable personal recording studio. Two high quality tape decks opened the possibility for people to create “pause tapes” – a way of creating looped beats through queuing, recording, rewinding, and repeating a short phrase of music. A microphone input and an onboard echo effect meant people could rap or sing over top of music backing tracks.
Much like Thomas Edison’s phonograph, the boombox came full circle, allowing people to record and play back music for public and communal consumption. And while they may not mesh with our ideas of what a “mobile” device is in our age of smartphones and streaming services, their reach permeated popular culture in the 1970s well into the 1990s. Sometimes acting as portable sound systems, sometimes used as affordable personal recording studios—carrying a boombox through the streets (wherever you happened to live) was as much a fashion statement and lifestyle choice as it was a celebration of music and social technology.
Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology at The Henry Ford.
This full-color, large-format book is a compilation of Buster Brown comic strips that originally ran in the New York Herald in 1903 and 1904.THF297428
You may not know his name, but you’re likely familiar his work. Richard Outcault, a talented comic illustrator with a keen eye for marketing, found his ultimate success with the character Buster Brown in the early 1900s.
Born in Lancaster, Ohio, in 1863, Richard Felton Outcault showed an early interest in art. As a teenager, he attended the McMicken School of Design (now the Art Academy of Cincinnati) and found work painting decorative scenes for a Cincinnati safe manufacturer. By 1889, Outcault had taken a position as an artist at Thomas Edison’s West Orange, New Jersey, laboratory, working primarily on corporate exhibitions.
Richard Outcault created this illustration for Edison’s exhibit at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. It depicts the Menlo Park laboratory complex in 1879, when Edison first demonstrated his experimental lighting system. THF236600
Around 1890, Outcault left West Orange for New York City, where he began contributing mechanical drawings to technical publications like Electrical World and Street Railway Journal. He also submitted comic illustrations to some of the popular weekly humor magazines that had emerged in the 1880s, including Judge, Life, and Puck.
As public interest in comic publications grew, new advances in color printing technology became available, and newspaper publishers saw an opportunity to cash in. In 1893, the New York World introduced a weekly color comic supplement that, at first, reprinted illustrations from the humor magazines it mimicked. Richard Outcault joined the staff of the World as a cartoonist and published his first original comic for the paper in September 1894.
The Yellow Kid By 1896, one of the recurring characters in Outcault’s comics – a little baldheaded boy wearing a bright yellow nightshirt – had become a sensation. World readers began buying the paper every Sunday to check in on the adventures of the “Yellow Kid,” who the paper also licensed for merchandising. The Yellow Kid became the face of a wide range of products, from cigarettes and packaged foods to fashion accessories and household appliances.
The Yellow Kid’s popularity demonstrated the commercial value of comics and helped establish the medium as a newspaper fixture. Richard Outcault likely never benefitted directly from the licensing of the Yellow Kid – at that time, newspapers owned the rights to the images published in them, and copyright law didn’t protect characters – but he noted the marketing potential of a popular comic character.
Buster Brown With the success of the Yellow Kid, Outcault himself became something of a commodity. Demand for his comics kept him busy, and Outcault continued illustrating for several newspapers and magazines through the turn of the century. In 1902, he introduced Buster Brown, a mischievous 12-year-old boy from a well-heeled Manhattan family. Readers went crazy for Buster Brown’s shenanigans (and for his pet dog, Tige). Outcault had another hit on his hands.
Richard Outcault was a pioneer in the strip style of comic illustration, with sequential image panels and accompanying text (often in speech bubbles) that contributed to the narrative. By about 1900, this format had become standard for comics. THF297493
This time, he managed to profit from it. Though he never owned the legal rights to Buster Brown, Outcault licensed the character’s name and face to hundreds of companies. Buster Brown promoted everything from bread and cigars to toys and – perhaps most famously – shoes.
This bank is just one example of the hundreds of products manufactured during the first quarter of the twentieth century that bore Buster Brown’s likeness. Buster’s canine companion, Tige, sits at the horse’s feet. THF304975
The St. Louis-based Brown Shoe Company (now Caleres) is probably the best-known Buster Brown licensee. Buster and Tige promoted the Brown company’s shoes – commonly called “Buster Browns” – into the 1990s. THF297402
Americans purchased these branded products for decades after Outcault introduced Buster Brown. The character became a household name that outlived its comic strip, which was last published in 1921. By then, Richard Outcault was focusing less on illustrating and more on marketing. Eventually, he stepped away from comics altogether, returning to painting before his death in 1928. Eighty years later, the comic industry formally recognized Outcault’s important career, inducting him into its hall of fame at the 2008 San Diego Comic Convention.
Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content at The Henry Ford
Assistive technology refers to a wide range of products designed to help people work around a variety of challenges as they learn, work, and perform other daily living activities. Certain assistive devices allow people who are deaf or hard of hearing to access technologies that many take for granted, like telephones, televisions, and even alarm clocks. For a young woman in the 1970s and 80s, these products -- now in the collections of The Henry Ford -- also provided greater independence, broader access to popular culture, and improved communication with family and friends.
Hal-Hen Products Vibrating Alarm Clock, circa 1975 (THF158135)
In September 1975, just before leaving home to begin college, a young woman named Shari acquired this inventive alarm clock. It included a bedside clock connected to a vibrating motor, which attached to the underside of the bed and shook intensely when the alarm was triggered. The eager freshman looked forward to waking independently, “rather than trying to rely on others who would have a different class schedule” -- so it’s easy to imagine her dismay when she arrived at her dormitory to find bunk beds! The alarm “would shake and rattle the whole bunk,” creating “quite a rude awakening” for her bunkmate. After a few nights, the students figured out how to separate their bunk beds into twin beds. Even though the new arrangement made the small dorm room even tighter, Shari (and, undoubtedly, her roommate) finally considered the alarm clock to have been “a definite advantage.”
Brochure, "Real-Time Closed Captioning Brings Early-Evening News to the Hearing Impaired, circa 1981 (THF275615)
In December 1981, with money saved from her first job after college, Shari purchased a television caption adapter. At this time, a few programs, like the national news, were broadcast with closed captions for viewers who were deaf or hard of hearing. This text was visible only when activated, at first through separate decoding units.
Shari remembered -- especially as more shows began to include closed captions in the 1980s -- that this decoder “opened up a whole new world of entertainment.” She associated closed captioning with independence -- as she didn’t “have to pester other family members to ‘tell me what they're saying’” -- and participation, recalling, “No longer did I resign myself to reading a book in an easy chair in the same room while the rest of the family watched exciting shows on TV!” The Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 required televisions to have built-in caption display technology, decreasing the need for separate caption adapters and giving people access to on-screen captions almost anywhere they watched TV.
System 100 Text Telephone Unit, circa 1980 (THF173771)
In 1981, the same year she purchased her first TV caption adapter, Shari also acquired a teletypewriter, or text telephone, abbreviated TTY. This device connected to a standard telephone line, allowing communication via a keyboard and electronic text display. The technology was freeing -- Shari remembered that “it was wonderful to finally be able to independently make a few of my own phone calls” -- but also limited. At first, she could only communicate with someone else who had access to a TTY device. After she became a mother, Shari recalled loaning a TTY unit to a neighbor who also had small children, making it easier to “set up ‘play dates’ and just do the typical conversing young moms do.” In the late 1980s, some states implemented services to relay dialogue between TTY and non-TTY users. Eventually, spurred by state and federal legislation, relay systems improved nationwide, and TTY technology became more accessible and affordable.
In their time, these lifechanging devices represented the cutting edge of assistive technology. Ongoing research, technological advances, and new design approaches in the decades that followed led to improved products and more choices for consumers. Today, many users have adopted digital technologies. Email, text or instant message, and real-time video services enable communication, and digital devices, often connected to smartphones, offer solutions that address a range of user needs.
Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. Learn more about assistive technology on an upcoming episode of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.
Crate Label, “Far West Brand Pears,” circa 1930 THF293059
As Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, I research objects within The Henry Ford’s collections that tell entrepreneurial stories. Most recently, I delved into the Label Collection, which includes labels from alcoholic beverages, cigar boxes, medicines, various food related items, and miscellaneous products. This blog post highlights the West Coast fruit crate labels and canned food labels.
Can Label, “Defender Brand Tomatoes,” 1913-1918 THF293393
In the late 1800s, the preferred method of printing used to make image-centric labels like these was lithography. This process involved the transfer of an inked image from stone or metal plates to paper via a printing press. Skilled artists drew their images on flattened, smooth pieces of stone – traditionally limestone – to then be inked and transferred. Later, flexible, photosensitive metal plates were used on rotary and offset presses, making the lithographic process more efficient. The artists who worked in this medium were called lithographers. Some of the growers, as well as some of the packing and distribution companies, had their own lithography departments to produce labels. The majority, however, hired lithography companies to create their label designs.
The introduction of color into the lithography process, known as chromolithography, transformed the advertising industry. Multi-colored lithographs involved several transfers of the same image from multiple stones, or plates, each with their own color ink in the desired layout. The more colors included in the image, the more transfers (and stones/plates) required to produce the desired result.
This label for Atlas Brand Blackberries is an example of single-color lithography and was produced through a single ink pass. The shading and variation seen in this image was created by the methods of stippling, linework, and applying different densities of the same color of ink to the page. The stippling method refers to the pattern of dots, which can be seen if you look closely at the fruit depicted on this label.
Can Label, “Holly Brand Peaches,” circa 1916 THF293047
To enhance the attractiveness of a label some lithographers incorporated metallic pigments and dimensional, embossed areas into their designs. Metallic pigments created the shiny golden appearance that can be seen along the edges of this label for Holly Brand Yellow Cling Peaches.
Fruit Crate Labels Before the 1860s, East and West Coast markets were essentially isolated. Because of differing climates, certain produce was only available to consumers living in the eastern United States during specific seasons while most produce in the West could be grown throughout the entire year. When the transcontinental railroad opened in 1869, eastern markets were opened to the West Coast produce industry for the first time. The railroad, along with the growing canning industry, allowed consumers to enjoy fruits and vegetables year-round – encouraging the establishment of more growers and packing companies in the West to meet the high demand. By the turn of the century and into the early twentieth-century, California fruit growers provided an abundance of fresh fruit to the national markets, transforming the American diet.
With greater competition among growers and packing houses, the crate label became an important marketing tool. At the time, grocers were the link between customers and the products. Grocers obtained their goods from wholesale markets, choosing their products by price and intuition. The label had to stand out and appeal to the grocer who would then buy several crates of the product and sell it in his store. If the grocer heard that customers liked a certain brand over previous ones he’d supplied, he could make sure to purchase that particular brand again, using the crate label for identification.
These fruit crate labels are often stunningly beautiful – more like mini-posters with broad color palettes, incredibly detailed images, and clever brand names. A common feature of label design was an image of where the fruits and vegetables were produced. Customers became enamored with the shining groves of oranges in the West and came to identify certain places with the best produce. Other labels feature popular motifs of the time and allow us to explore the trends in graphic design.
Crate Label, “Orchard Brand Pears,” circa 1920 THF293065
California wasn’t the only state on the West Coast to produce delicious fruit. Washington was known for its many varieties of apples as well as other fruits, including pears.
Crate Label, “Bocce Brand Zinfandel Grapes,” circa 1940 THF293043
C. Mondavi & Sons’ “Bocce” label played up the family’s Italian roots, aligning its product with the quality grapes grown in Italian vineyards. This successful business was established by Cesare Mondavi, a Minnesota grocer and saloon owner who often traveled to California to select and ship grapes back home to make his own wine. After becoming enamored with the California climate, which reminded him of Italy, he moved his family to Lodi in 1923 to open a business growing and shipping grapes. His success allowed him to purchase a winery in 1946, which is still thriving today as C. K. Mondavi and Family.
Crate Label, “Santa Rosa Brand Ventura County Lemons,” copyright 1927 THF293109
This label features the sprawling lemon groves in Oxnard, California. It also features the “Sunkist” logo, which became a popular brand known for its high-quality oranges and lemons.
Canned Food Labels The process of canning food has been around since the early 19th century, with products used as wartime provisions for French and British armies. Tin cans allowed food producers to safely transport their goods without fear of them breaking – as was common with glass jars and bottles – making cans a more economical container for foodstuffs. While canned foods were introduced to America by the 1820s, the demand for these products came four decades later during the American Civil War.
Unlike glass jars or bottles, which allowed consumers to view the product inside, cans required identification. At first, labels were simply a tool to inform the customers of the product they were buying, who produced it, and where it was produced. As railroad networks expanded in the late 1800s and competition increased, more elaborate labels were created to appeal to customers in new markets across the country. The label became even more important after World War I when customers began selecting products for themselves in self-service grocery stores.
Can Label, “Butterfly Brand Golden Pumpkin,” 1880-1895 THF113859
Can Label, “Butterfly Brand Golden Wax Stringless Beans,” circa 1885 THF113860
Using the same design for several different products became a strategy for helping customers find the brand with which they were familiar. Olney and Floyd’s Butterfly Brand products were easy to identify with their colorful, eye-catching labels and signature butterfly.
Can Label, “Bare Foot Boy Brand Tomatoes,” circa 1910 THF293079
Characters were a common feature in product advertising. The goal was to create an emotional or personal connection between the product and the customer – a practice that is still seen in marketing strategies today.
Can Label, “Lynx Brand Puget Sound Salmon,” 1880-1900 THF109742
As canned goods made their way across the country, certain states became known for specific products. Washington, for instance, was known for its salmon industry and canned salmon was shipped from the Pacific Northwest all across the United States. This beautiful label was created by the Schmidt Lithograph Company – one of the most well-known companies in the lithography industry.
It’s 1984. Turn on your Macintosh computer. Marvel at the convenience of the mouse under your hand. Point the arrow on your screen towards a desktop folder and click to open a file. Drag it and drop it somewhere else. Or, open some software. How about MacPaint? Select the pencil, draw some craggy lines; use the spilling paint bucket to fill in a shape. Move your arrow to the floppy disk to save your work. And then… imagine a worst-case scenario, as the ticking wristwatch times out. A pixelated cartoon bomb with a lit fuse appears. Your system crashes. The “sad Mac” appears.
Introducing the Icon Computer icons are visual prompts that when clicked on, launch programs and files, trigger actions, or indicate a process in motion. Clicking an icon is a simple gesture that we take for granted. In our current screen-based culture—spread between computers and smartphones—we might absent-mindedly use these navigational shortcuts hundreds (if not thousands) of times a day.
Before the mid-1980s, after booting up their computers, people typically found themselves greeted by a command line prompt floating in a black void, waiting for direction. That blinking cursor could seem intimidating for new home computer users because it assumed you knew the answers—that you had memorized the machine’s coded language. The GUI (graphical user interface, pronounced “gooey”) changed how humans interacted with computers by creating a virtual space filled with clickable graphical icons. This user-centric form of interaction, known as “the desktop metaphor,” continues to dominate how we use computers today.
The 1984 Apple Macintosh was not the first computer to use a GUI environment or icons. That achievement belongs to the 1973 Xerox Alto—a tremendously expensive, vertically-screened system that only sold a few hundred units. After a few failed attempts, the multi-tasking GUI system finally found a foothold in the home computing market with the introduction of “the computer for the rest of us”—the Macintosh.
From Graph Paper to Screen Pixels After completing her PhD in Art History, Susan Kare briefly entered the curatorial sphere before realizing that she would rather dedicate her career to the production of her own creative work. In 1982, Andy Hertzfeld, a friend of Kare’s from high school, called with an interesting opportunity: join Apple Computer’s software group and help design the user experience for the then-developing Macintosh computer.
Kare took up Hertzfeld’s offer and set to work designing the original Macintosh icons, among them the trash can, the file folder, the save disk, the printer, the cloverleaf command (even today, this symbol appears on Apple keyboards), and the mysterious “Clarus the Dogcow.”
Since no illustration software existed yet, Kare designed the first Macintosh icons and digital fonts through completely analog means. Using a graph paper notebook, she filled in the squares with pencil and felt-tipped pens, coloring inside the lines of the graph as an approximation of the Macintosh’s screen. Despite the limitation of available pixels, Kare found economical ways to provide the maximum amount of visual or metaphoric meaning within a tiny grid of space—all without using shading or color.
Next Wave Kare’s icons and digital fonts exist beyond the lifespan of the Macintosh, appearing in later Apple products and even early iPods. Iterations and mutations of her icon designs continue to define the visual shorthand of our desktops and software today, migrating across systems and platforms: NeXT Computers, IBM and Windows PCs. Have you ever played Solitaire on a Windows 3.0 computer? If so, you’ve played with Kare’s digital deck of cards.
A physical version of Susan Kare’s Windows 3.0 Solitaire game.
Have you ever sent a “virtual gift” over Facebook like a disco ball, penguin, or kiss mark? Again, this is the work of Kare, whose work has been quietly shaping our interactions with technology since 1984—making computers seem more friendly, more human, more convenient—one click at a time.
Every January, the tech world descends upon Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. In 2018, over 4000 global companies displayed their products and ideas, spread throughout 2.6 million square feet of exhibition space in the Las Vegas Convention Center and ten hotels. Nearly 185,000 industry professionals, exhibitors, and media from around the world attended this year. By the numbers, it is an impressive event.
Many successful home technologies have made their debut at CES over its 51-year run: VCRs, camcorders, CD players, DVDs, tablet computers—even the original Nintendo Entertainment System and Xbox. This year’s trends included the forthcoming “5G network,” digital health and fitness, and improved autonomous vehicles. One “battle” visible on the show floor was the widespread adoption of voice-command technology—from smart speakers in the home to command modules in vehicles—and which platform would reign. Ask Alexa. Hey Google. Hi Bixby.
CES has been known to “make or break” companies. Established companies use the event as a forum to launch new products, improve existing devices, or inadvertently—present the occasional flop. Likewise, the 600+ startup companies that populate the specialized “Eureka Park” section angle to find the right pair of eyes on their idea and to secure funding for marketplace production.
Even with two curators on the ground, it was impossible to see everything. What follows is a sampling of our Curator of Communication & Information Technology and our Curator of Transportation’s favorite “CES Moments.”
Here come the robots! Some of them can’t be described as anything but “cute,” like this Kuri model (upper left) from Mayfield Robotics. Also popular was Blue Frog’s “Buddy,” (upper right) and Sony’s Aibo the robot dog (bottom). All three of these devices are designed as “companion robots” and have a variety of expressive features. Today’s robots are equipped with facial recognition, cameras for capturing life’s moments, and often double as home security.
Analog is always new again! The proliferation of quality cellphone cameras and social media has all but locked our memories into digital landscapes. But people remain hungry for physical media and printed photographs. This year at CES, Kodak displayed the Printomatic (right) and Polaroid announced the OneStep 2—an instant camera blending old and new technology (left, middle). The colorful film options and iconic square format should look familiar to today’s Instagrammers.
Continuing in the analog spirit… When the Technics SL-1200 record turntable debuted in 1972, its direct-drive technology made it an immediate hit not just with consumers but also with radio and club DJs. These robust “Wheels of Steel” played an essential role in the early years of hip hop record scratching and live dance music mixing. While the SL-1200 went out of production in 2010, many 1970s-era Technics remain in use today. At 2017’s CES, the coveted device began production once again. This year, Technics announced a new high-end turntable—the SL-1000R—which carries over the best qualities of the SL-1200. While the drastic rise in recent vinyl sales is often touted as a “revival,” the commitment of companies to produce quality turntables is evidence that the medium never really went away.
There was a lot of buzz at CES 2018 about the coming of the “voice assistant wars” between Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and a flood of startups finding their way into the mix. Voice-activated technology is nearly ubiquitous, as we have learned to ask Siri and Google for directions. And smart home devices—especially interactive speakers—have become more commonplace as we use them not only to listen to music and podcasts, but also to seek out information like weather, steps to a recipe, or to set up reminders. Our tech curator’s biggest CES disappointment was the heavy rains and floods that forced the Google Assistant booth to close, as well as that fun looking slide to the left.
Growing plants – that’s technology too! A variety of companies presented vertical hydroponic growing systems, geared towards health-savvy consumers who wish to take control of the food they consume. The SmallGarden by ēdn (right) and products by Opcom Farm (left) have married stylish, scalable design with LED lighting and intelligent automation.
And perhaps our tech curator’s favorite item at CES this year was this robotic duck, designed through a partnership between Aflac and Sproutel. The award-winning “My Special Aflac Duck” is designed to help children cope with cancer treatment. Its touch sensors respond with soothing sounds when it is cuddled with, and it teaches young children calming breathing exercises while they undergo IV treatments. Round RFID chips containing emoji faces are meant to mirror emotions—when tapped against the duck, the toy will then reflect its patient’s feelings by groaning or quacking happily. An accessory even allows kids to play out administering “medication.” These features combine to allow young patients to communicate their emotions effectively, take on the role of caregiver, and reduce anxiety. The duck will be tested at an Atlanta treatment center this year, with the future goal of donating the social robot to any child diagnosed with cancer, nationwide.
While it’s not quite the North American International Auto Show, CES is an increasingly important venue for automakers to debut new technologies, or to announce new partnerships with tech-savvy firms. If the automotive side of this year’s show was to be captured in a single word, it’s “autonomy.” Self-driving vehicles are on everyone’s mind – we’re no longer talking about this tech in terms of “if,” but “when.”
Toyota president Akio Toyoda spoke clearly to the growing overlap between the automotive and tech worlds when he noted that his company’s competitors now include not only carmakers like General Motors, Volkswagen and Honda, but also firms like Google, Apple and Facebook. Toyoda sees the car evolving into a personal assistant, using predictive artificial intelligence to anticipate the travel needs of its owner. And, like a growing number of other industry members and observers, he also predicts the inevitable – if slow – extinction of the internal combustion engine. Toyota and Lexus plan to offer electric or hybrid versions of every one of their models by 2025.
Toyota’s big CES announcement focused on its e-Palette concept (above). The fully-autonomous electric vehicle is designed for maximum flexibility. An e-Palette could serve as a bus providing ride sharing services. It could work as a mobile store bringing goods to your front door on demand. It could even function as a rolling flexible workspace, giving us back some of those 38 hours that the average American loses to traffic congestion each year. Companies like Amazon, Pizza Hut and Uber have already agreed to partner with Toyota in e-Palette’s development.
Self-driving cars offer more than mere productivity. Safety promises to be their greatest benefit. Some 35,000 people die in motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. each year, and 90 percent of those accidents are due to human error. Eliminate the human element, so the thinking goes, and you eliminate the vast majority of those deaths.
Sophisticated lifesaving tools are here today. CES exhibitor eyeSight Technologies uses in-car sensors to track driver eye movement, blink rate and head pose (above). Look away from the road – say, at your phone – for too long and the system can trigger an audible alarm. Blink too often or for too long – perhaps because you’re too drowsy to drive – and the system could conceivably cause the car to slow down and pull off to the side of the road.
There are still many problems to solve before we have fully-autonomous cars in every garage. Who’s liable in an accident? The carmaker, the programmer, the owner? What happens when you’re traveling in a remote area with poor broadband service – and no GPS? What happens in the “transition” period, when self-driving cars share the road with human-driven vehicles? Can they communicate with one another? And the biggest question of all: Will people be comfortable putting their lives in a computer’s hands? But, ready or not, this new world is coming. In fact, it had already arrived at CES – Lyft and Aptive partnered to provide rides around Las Vegas in autonomous BMWs.
When you think about the relationship between humans and self-driving cars, remember that it’s not just the humans inside the car. How pedestrians, cyclists and other street users interact with an autonomous vehicle is equally important. Ford’s CES booth featured a van at the center of an interesting research project (above). In the study, a driver camouflages himself in a seat-cover costume – yes, really – and then drives around gauging people’s reactions. How disconcerting is it to see an empty van rolling toward the crosswalk? And how confident can you be that it’ll stop for you?
Ford and Toyota both emphasized that they’re not in the car business anymore – they’re in the mobility business. The recreated streetscape in Ford’s booth included not only the van and an autonomous Fusion sedan, but also bicycles, skaters and pedestrians. Ride sharing and self-driving vehicles will reduce traffic, either by cutting the number of cars on the road, or by using roads more efficiently. It’s a dream come true for urbanists who’ve long searched for ways to reclaim pavement for uses other than moving and/or parking cars. (Ever hear the term woonerf? You will!) In fact, Ford’s street even included park benches and grass in a reclaimed lane (above).
The twin revolutions of the electric powertrain and autonomous capability may provide the best opportunity to get into the car business since just after World War II. Few newcomers attracted as much attention at CES as Byton. The Chinese manufacturer plans to enter the American market in 2020 with a battery-powered Level 3 autonomous car capable of up to 325 miles between charges (above). Instead of a dashboard, Byton’s car uses a 49-inch screen. And instead of knobs and buttons – or even a touchscreen – passengers control the car’s features with hand gestures. And you don’t even have to worry about locking your keys in the car – the Byton’s doors are unlocked with facial recognition software.
And finally, for something completely different, the prize for Most Unexpected Quadricycle Sighting goes to… Gibson Guitars (above). The company’s special edition “20th Century Tribute” archtop, on display in its CES tent, featured images of influential people, technologies and events from the past century. Note that Orville and Wilbur Wright had a well-deserved spot, too!
Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford. Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Henry Ford used wireless radio to communicate within Ford Motor Company (FMC) starting after October 1, 1919. This revolutionary new means of communication captured Ford’s interest because it allowed him to transmit messages within his vast operation. By August 1920, he could convey directions from his yacht to administrators in FMC offices and production facilities in Dearborn and Northville, Michigan. By February 1922, Ford’s railroad offices and the plant in Flat Rock, Michigan were connected, and by 1925, the radio transmission equipment was on Ford’s Great Lake bulk haulers and ocean-going vessels. Historian David L. Lewis claimed that “Ford led all others in the use of intracompany radio communications” (The Public Image of Henry Ford, 311).
Ford Motor Company also used radio transmissions to reach external audiences through promotional campaigns. During 1922, FMC sales branches delivered a series of expositions that featured Ford automobiles and Fordson tractors. An article in Motor Age (August 10, 1922) described highlights of the four-month tour of western Oregon:
“The days are given over to field demonstrations of tractors, plows and implements, while at night a radio outfit that brings in the concerts from the distant cities and motion pictures from the Ford plant, keep an intensely interested crowd on the grounds until the Delco Light shuts down for the night.”
The Ford Radio and Film crew that broadcast to the Oregon crowds traveled in a well-marked vehicle, taking every opportunity available to inform passers-by of Ford’s investment in the new technology – radio – and the utility of new FMC products. Ray Johnson, who participated in the tour, recalled that he drove a vehicle during the day and then played dance music in the evenings as a member of the three-piece orchestra, “Sam Ness and his Royal Ragadours.”
Ford and Fordson Power Exposition Caravan and Radio Truck, Seaside, Oregon, 1922 . THF134998
In 1922, Intra-Ford transmissions began making public broadcasts over the Dearborn’s KDEN station (call letters WWI) at 250-watts of power, which carried a range of approximately 360 meters. The radio station building and transmission towers were located behind the Ford Engineering Laboratory, completed in 1924 at the intersection of Beech Street and Oakwood Boulevard in Dearborn.
Ford Motor Company Radio Station WWI, Dearborn, Michigan, March 1925. THF134748
Staff at the station, conveying intracompany information and compiled content for the public show which aired on Wednesday evenings.
Ford Motor Company Radio Station WWI, Dearborn, Michigan, August 1924. THF134754
The station did not grow because Ford did not want to join new radio networks. He discontinued broadcasting on WWI in early February 1926 (The Public Image of Henry Ford, 179).
Ford did not discontinue his intracompany radio communications. FMC used radio-telegraph means to communicate between the head office in Dearborn and remote locations, including, Fordlandia, a 2.5-million-acre plantation that Ford purchased in 1927 and that he planned to turn into a source of raw rubber to ease dependency on British colonies regulated by British trade policy.
Brazil and other countries in the Amazon of South American provided natural rubber to the world until the early twentieth century. The demand for tires for automobiles increased so quickly that South American harvests could not satisfy demand. Industrialists sought new sources. During the 1870s, a British man smuggled seeds out of Brazil, and by the late 1880s, British colonies, especially Ceylon (today Sri Lanka) and Malaysia, began producing natural rubber. Inexpensive labor, plus a climate suitable for production, and a growing number of trees created a viable replacement source for Brazilian rubber.
British trade policies, however, angered American industrialists who sought to establish production in other places including Africa and the Philippines. Henry Ford turned to Brazil, because of the incentives that the Brazilian government offered him. His goals to produce inexpensive rubber faced several hurdles, not the least of which was overcoming the traditional labor practices that had suited those who harvested rubber in local forests, and the length of time it took to cultivate new plants (not relying on local resources).
Ford built a production facility on the Tapajós River in Brazil. This included a radio station. The papers of E. L. Leibold, in The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center, include a map with a key that indicated the “proposed method of communication between Home Office and Ford Motor Company property on Rio Tapajos River Brazil.” The system included Western Union (WU) land wire from Detroit to New York, WU land wire and cable from New York to Para, Amazon River Cable Company river cable between Para and Santarem, and Ford Motor Company radio stations at each point between Santarem and the Ford Motor Company on Rio Tapajós. Manual relays had to occur at New York, Para, and Santarem.
Map Showing Routes of Communication between Dearborn, Michigan and Fordlandia, Brazil, circa 1928. THF134693
Ford officials studied the federal laws in Brazil that regulated radio and telegraph to ensure compliance. Construction of the power house and processing structures took time. The community and corporate facilities at Boa Vista (later Fordlandia) grew. By 1931, the power house had a generator that provided power throughout the Fordlandia complex.
Generator in Power House at Fordlandia, Brazil, 1931. THF134711
Power House and Water Tower at Fordlandia, Brazil, 1931. THF134714
Lines from the power house stretching up the hill from the river to the hospital and other buildings, including the radio power station. The setting on a higher elevation helped ensure the best reception for radio transmissions.
Sawmill and Power House at Fordlandia, Brazil, 1931.
Workers built the radio power house, which held a Delco Plant and storage batteries, and the radio transmitter station with its transmission tower. The intracompany radio station operated by 1929.
Radio Power House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.THF134697
Radio Transmitter House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
Storage Batteries in Radio Power House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
Delco Battery Charger for Radio Power House, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
Radio Power House Motor Generator Set, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929.
The radio power house is visible at the extreme left of a photograph showing the stone road leading to the hospital (on an even higher elevation) at Fordlandia.
Stone Road Leading to Hospital, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929. THF134709
Radio Transmitter Station, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1929. THF134707
Back at FMC headquarters in Dearborn, Ford announced in late 1933 that he would sponsor a program on both NBC and CBS networks. The Waring show aired two times a week between 1934 and 1937, when Ford pulled funding. Ford also sponsored World Series broadcasts. The most important radio investment FMC made, however, was the Ford Sunday Evening Hour, launched in the fall of 1934. Eighty-six CBS stations broadcast the show. Programs included classical music and corporate messages delivered by William J. Cameron, and occasionally guest hosts. Ford Motor Company printed and sold transcripts of the weekly talks for a small fee.
On August 24, 1941 Linton Wells (1893-1976), a journalist and foreign correspondent, hosted the broadcast and presented a piece on Fordlandia.
Program, "Ford Summer Hour," Sunday, August 24, 1941. THF134690
Linton Wells was not a stranger to Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, he and his wife, Fay Gillis Wells, posed for a tintype in the village studio on 2 May 1940.
Tintype Portrait of Linton Wells and Fay Gillis Wells, Taken at the Greenfield Village Tintype Studio, circa 1940. THF134720
This radio broadcast informed American listeners of the Fordlandia project, in its 16th year in 1941. Wells summarized the products made from rubber (by way of an introduction to the importance of the subject). He described the approach Ford took to carve an American factory out of an Amazonian jungle, and the “never-say-quit” attitude that prompted Ford to re-evaluate Fordlandia, and to trade 1,375 square miles of Fordlandia for an equal amount of land on Rio Tapajós, closer to the Amazon port of Santarem. This new location became Belterra. Little did listeners know the challenges that arose as Brazilians tried to sustain their rubber production, and Ford sought to grow its own rubber supply.
By 1942, nearly 3.6 million trees were growing at Fordlandia, but the first harvest yielded only 750 tons of rubber. By 1945, FMC sold the holdings to the Brazilian government (The Public Image of Henry Ford, 165).
The Ford Evening Hour Radio broadcasts likewise ceased production in 1942 after eight years and 400 performances.
Writer demonstrating proper posture and hand-holding position, c. 1800. THF286087
In her recent article, “Cursive: Dead or Alive?” (The Henry Ford Magazine, June-December 2017), author Anne Trubek asserts that, today, cursive writing “is becoming retro-cool, more interesting precisely because its utility has largely passed.”
Indeed, the importance of penmanship—as cursive writing was once called—has radically declined as part of school curricula in recent years. It is no longer required in most states’ Common Core standards—due to increased technology use, the rejection of repetitive drills as teaching tools, and the higher importance placed on reading and math in government-issued tests. However, not everyone agrees that eliminating it from the curriculum is desirable, arguing that mastery of cursive writing helps with hand-eye coordination, long-term memory, problem-solving, and idea generation.
The heated debate about the need for young people to learn cursive writing—or not—raises the question of how we got here. In fact, the story of handwriting in America is one of continual adaptation to technological and social change, and in no small part the influence of two innovators whose names have been largely forgotten today—Platt Rogers Spencer and Austin Norman Palmer.
A trained engrosser transcribed the original 1776 version of this document—the Declaration of Independence—from Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten draft. THF92259
In the 1700s, as more people learned to read and printed materials became more available, reading became a desirable skill. But writing? That was reserved exclusively for the wealthy and for those whose profession required it—like merchants, bookkeepers, legal clerks, and engrossers (those trained to transcribe the final draft of a document in a large, clear hand).
Handwriting in those days was tedious and difficult, including learning how to fashion quills from goose feathers, mix ink, rule lines on paper, and use the ink-filled quill without spotting or smudging the paper.
Writing became a more widely accepted and embraced skill during the early 1800s, as self-trained writing masters traveled around the country offering courses of instruction. In more populated urban areas, they offered private writing courses in what were in essence the first business colleges.
To motivate students, teachers often bestowed awards for good penmanship, like this 1877 example. THF286089
In small towns and villages, writing masters taught the rudiments of handwriting to students in the growing number of common, or public, schools. Learning to write came to be considered as important a skill as reading and arithmetic for schoolchildren (actually, boys) in preparation for their future roles in industrial America.
The word “Penmanship” on the cover of this 1867 Spencerian writing book exemplifies that very writing method. THF286020
One particular writing master, Platt Rogers Spencer, would become so successful that his approach to handwriting almost completely dominated penmanship education during the post-Civil War period. Spencer realized that, to truly influence how most Americans learned to write, he needed to go right to the source. So he brought penmanship lessons directly to teacher-training schools. From there, the popularity of his writing method spread to public and private education at all levels—from business colleges down to primary schools. So pervasive and dominant was his influence that Spencer became known as the “Father of American Handwriting.”
This fancy trade card gives an idea of the level of expertise in penmanship that students of the Toledo Business College would attain. THF225626
Spencer’s unique approach to handwriting reduced the alphabet to a few elemental principles, equating each letter—and parts of each letter—to natural forms like waves, sunbeams, clouds, and leaves. In this way, he could claim that his approach was not just a series of mechanical movements but also a “noble and refining art.” At the same time, his handwriting lessons emphasized order and precision. With students from different walks of life—rural and urban, rich and poor, obedient and unruly, foreign- and American-born—all practicing exactly the same lessons, Spencer could claim that learning his handwriting method would mold America’s young people into reliable citizens and obedient future workers.
The Ford Motor Company logo is an example of Spencerian writing, which Henry Ford learned in school. THF104934
Spencerian became the dominant handwriting method in America from the 1860s into the early 1900s. It seemed to fit everything that Americans strived for. That was, until penmanship entrepreneur Austin Norman Palmer came along, claiming that Spencerian handwriting was all wrong for Americans. He argued that Spencerian script was too ornate, too meticulous, too slow, too tiring, even too feminine. What Americans wanted and needed, he argued, was a “plain and rapid” style adapted to “the rush of business,” a style that was masculine and unsentimental.
As shown in this 1920s language composition book, students learning the Palmer method were taught to pride themselves on their penmanship, which was considered a judge of good character. THF247435
Palmer introduced a new approach—one which forced the muscles to move in certain patterns—over and over and over, with the idea that the muscles would imprint the memory of these movements into the brain and become habit. Though the approach was radically different, Palmer’s goal—like Spencer’s—was ultimately about social control. Disciplining the body, he asserted, would also force students to conform to the conventions of society. He came down particularly hard on left-handedness, which he considered deviant, and he insisted that left-handers learn to write with their right hand.
Students of Henry Ford’s Edison Institute school system hard at work practicing their writing skills, 1944. THF126142
The Palmer method began displacing the Spencerian method of handwriting by the 1890s and, by the second decade of the 1900s, millions of Americans had become “Palmerized.” In truth, given the limited resources and lack of teacher training in many communities—as well as negative attitudes by both teachers and students toward the rigorous requirements of this method—the Palmer method was not strictly enforced in most school systems and it was often combined with other handwriting methods.
This type of school desk, made in the 1940s but used well into the 1960s, contains a hole for an ink bottle to be used with a dip pen. THF158363
Paralleling new studies in child psychology and new approaches to childhood education, two trends emerged in the 1900s. First was the realization that young children simply did not possess the motor skills to learn cursive writing, leading to a new emphasis on learning printing first and cursive writing later. Second, a new attitude emerged that writing could be more than a mechanical movement—it could become an outlet for self-expression.
The brightly colored images on this early 1970s school box, used for holding writing implements and other school supplies, were inspired by those of Peter Max and other psychedelic designers of the era. THF169170
Coinciding with these trends were new forms of technology—from typewriters to word processors to personal computers—that, by the end of the century, displaced the need for handwriting in our society. Meanwhile, ink-dipped steel pens of the early 1900s were replaced by ballpoint and rollerball pens later in the century, and by Smartphones and iPads today.
As Americans, we tend to romanticize and revive that which we have lost. So it comes as no surprise that, as computers have replaced the necessity of handwriting, so handwriting has become an art, a craft, the province of “makers”—equated with creativity and self-expression.
We’ll see what lies in store for handwriting into the future.
For further reading on this topic, take a look at, Handwriting in America: A Cultural History (by Tamara Plakins Thornton, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996).
Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford and handwrote this blogpost—believing that putting pen to paper helps her think more creatively than typing on a computer keyboard.
Co-founder Andy Cruz shares how an enthusiast’s disposition and a willingness to experiment helped build his font factory, House Industries
Even if you’ve never heard of House Industries, it’s safe to say you’ve seen its fonts and graphic design work. They’re everywhere, from drive-thru menus to record sleeves to children’s toy blocks to the signage associated with the modern-day burger joint Shake Shack.
House’s output is a connective tissue that runs between such cultural touchstones as hot-rod hero Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, iconic French fashion house and saddlery Hermès, midcentury designers Alexander Girard and Charles and Ray Eames, and renowned pottery and tile manufacturer Heath Ceramics.
House Industries was founded in Delaware in 1993 by graphic designers Andy Cruz and Rich Roat, when, in response to the overwhelmingly corporate clientele in Wilmington, the pair decided to develop their custom lettering into fonts they could sell as products. This additional income acted as a buffer, affording Cruz and Roat a certain measure of freedom when selecting clients and collaborations. Taking visual cues from their various influences and interests — hot rods, skateboarding, punk rock, cycling and modern design, among others — House Industries developed a reputation for enthusiastic experimentation and an idiosyncratic approach to type that has only grown over the years.
Soon much of their work and the stories behind it will be published in the book The Process Is the Inspiration and presented to the public in an exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. While preparing for the exhibition, Cruz took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with The Henry Ford Magazine about the underlying philosophy behind House Industries and its approach to collaboration.
DID YOU KNOW? House Industries delivers its space-age 3009 font set in a die-cut spaceship reminiscent of a ’50s sci-fi film.
THF Magazine: Can you talk about the general philosophy behind House Industries?
Cruz: We built House on the simple idea of incorporating personal interests into our work.
The trick was figuring out how to make our hobbies work hard for us, instead of working hard to support our hobbies. We tried to create a world at House where our curiosities and interests help fuel our business and personal lives and created a sense of purpose. So that’s one idealistic pillar of House Industries. Reality eventually kicked in, and we had to get down to figuring out how to apply those interests — that acquired knowledge — to the things that we were making. It started out as fonts, and then our design attention deficit disorder kicked in. Soon we were making clothing and then that became ceramics and then that became bicycles. So it’s always moving. It’s slightly unpredictable. But the cornerstone of House is following our interests and self-led learning.
A DEEP DESIGN DIVE: House Industries spent four years researching the work of designer Alexander Girard, traveling to Germany, Michigan and New Mexico in the process. The result was the Girard collection of fonts and other items capturing the designer’s folk art sensibilities, plus a book documenting the project. House Industries also did its homework when iconic luxury brand Hermès commissioned the studio to “dress” its flagship Tokyo store with its signature alphabetical flair.
THF Magazine: The spirit of collaboration is present and a constant throughout House Industries’ body of work. How do you approach collaboration?
Cruz: A lot of it is mutual appreciation, if you will. I think of the Heath stuff, where we just went out there for a factory tour with no credentials — just sort of rolled in as tourists. I put up a shot of the men’s bathroom [on our blog], where they had some really cool tiles, and [Catherine Bailey, co-owner of Heath Ceramics] reaches out and says, “I wish I’d known you were here. I’ve been following you guys for a long time. Let’s try and figure something out.”
Sure enough, we figured something out. Again, that wasn’t a calculated business maneuver. It was just one of those things where, “Hey, I’m digging what you guys are doing; you dig what we do; let’s put the chocolate in the peanut butter and hope other people like how it tastes.”
The best work always comes out when that relationship is there. When they trust us and we trust them, we end up with something that everyone is excited to be a part of.
THF Magazine: It’s interesting the way you can thread the needle so successfully over and over again — creating something that’s identifiably a House Industries’ creation but also amplifies the message of a world-renowned brand like Hermès, for example.
Cruz: There’s definitely a level of respect there that we try to be sensitive to. I think the Hermès project might be a good example because we wanted to be reverent to the brand, but at the same time, we wanted to bring something to the party that was a little more House Industries. We basically drew their name in the shape of a horse, then cut each letter out of solid chunks of cedar. If you tell someone that, you could definitely get some eye rolls. But that was all part of trying to understand the company’s equestrian history, their design legacy, and bake some of those elements into the project, and usually we can come out the other side looking and sounding like we know what we’re doing. [laughs]
THF Magazine: You’ve taken on other projects during which you’re actively collaborating with brands connected to a family name and, in some cases — such as Charles and Ray Eames or Alexander Girard — with the history of design itself. How do you approach that?
Cruz: That stuff does come from being fans first, and I always try to remind our collaborators — be it an Eames or the Girards, even a Jimmy Kimmel — that we are stoked that they thought enough about us to let us work with their names. So we’re always conscious of that relationship. And as fans, you hate to see when your favorite brand does something, and it’s like, “Oh, man. That’s lame. Why’d they do that?” So that fan mentality helps us keep things honest at times. When we’re dealing with people’s family names and histories you admire, you don’t want to botch things up.
Accidental by Design Throughout the conversation with The Henry Ford Magazine, Cruz is self-effacing and nonchalant, almost as if the success of House Industries has been a happy accident or its collaborations with indelible brands and legacies just sort of happened. But House’s new book, The Process Is the Inspiration, belies some of that.
With the Eames project, for example, it took House Industries a decade to bring that project to fruition. At which point, even after a lifetime of appreciation and a painstaking scouring of the Eames archive at the Library of Congress, House’s sketches of “whimsical display fonts” left Charles Eames’ grandson Eames Demetrios unimpressed. He asked for something more forward-thinking that would contribute to the already established Eames legacy. So Cruz and company attacked the project from another angle, enlisted another collaborator in Erik van Blokland and created a purposeful typographical system of “workhorse” fonts rooted in the utilitarian spirit and playful joy of Charles and Ray’s work. They even applied it to toys.
Having been won over, Demetrios said in retrospect: “Design is a willingness to surrender to a journey ... Every once in a while you encounter a company like House Industries who is willing to go on that journey and grow our brand as well as theirs.”
Despite Cruz’s charming self-deprecation, it’s clear that, far from being accidental, the success of House Industries and its collaborations comes down to the obsessive, enthusiastic hard work and due diligence of wonderfully obsessive enthusiasts. By Bernie Brooks for The Henry Ford Magazine, with photos by Carlos Alejandro.