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Posts Tagged covid 19 impact

African American woman with thick natural hair, wearing black leather jacket, white t-shirt, and jeans, walks with piles of dirt and train cars in the background
Pashon Murray of Detroit Dirt believes communities should be composting and managing their own waste streams. / Photo by c’mon team


Pashon Murray could be called a next-generation Rachel Carson—fearless, outspoken, and willing to take on the big boys. Murray saw that food waste had become an epidemic—a 2020 estimate in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics valued food waste by U.S. consumers at $240 billion a year—and that was a driving factor in developing Detroit Dirt, her full-circle composting company.

Detroit Dirt’s mission is to push forward a low-carbon economy by way of organic waste diversion. Murray designed a closed-loop system that treats waste as a resource, saving 50 to 70 tons of renewable waste annually from entering landfills and instead turning it into fertile compost.

African American woman leans over pile of dirt with a shovel and pulls roots with her hands
Photo by c’mon team

Murray asks: “Why truck food waste 30 miles outside the city? Composting is a natural process. All communities should be composting and managing their waste streams.”

Murray started simply with a pilot program that composted food waste from General Motors and Blue Cross Blue Shield offices in Detroit. Now her company works with a wide selection of restaurants, coffee shops, and corporations that look to Murray to help them manage their waste streams more efficiently.

Detroit Dirt’s composting site near downtown Detroit is producing rich, healthy soil for local farms, backyard gardeners, and community gardens, and before the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for Murray’s delicious dirt grew daily.

Man in red shirt and baseball cap works at table filled with cardboard boxes lined with plastic bags
Detroit Dirt has a composting site that is transforming renewable waste from local restaurants, coffee shops, and corporations into rich, healthy soil. It’s packaged and available for purchase, starting at $15 for a five-pound bag. / Photo by c’mon team

A one-woman force with a dedicated team of collaborators—including the Detroit Zoological Society, which provides the herbivore waste critical to her compost—Murray has helped to change the carbon footprint of Detroit by revitalizing neighborhoods and finding solutions for everyday waste.

“Our health and the health of the planet depend on the soil,” said Murray. “If we’re not investing in soil, then the consequences are detrimental to the ecosystem. Globally, we can make byproducts with food waste. It’s a resource, not a waste.”

Infographic with text and numbers
Statistics on municipal solid waste in America.

When we checked in with Detroit Dirt during late spring 2020, production of their rich compost had slowed significantly as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Obviously, the waste stream from local businesses hadn’t been flowing in typical fashion since everything went on lockdown. For Pashon Murray, these challenging times gave her opportunity for reflection, brainstorming, and collaboration. She looked for ways to work more closely with local officials, food distributors, urban farmers, other composters, food banks, and more to develop better crisis management models for recovering and repurposing food surplus. “I believe this pandemic is going to help us in the future, shining a light on the voids and giving a heightened focus to our broken food system,” said Murray. “We all have to look at our own footprints and waste streams to understand why there is an abundance for some and some don’t have enough—and start painting a picture of why a viable waste material management model is so important.”

Woman leans over orange paint bucket filled with plastic bags and organic material, in front of a pile with more bags of material
Photo by c’mon team

Murray has shown that with a small shift in perspective, you can empower and influence people to take big steps toward protecting and enriching their environment so that we can all thrive.


This post is adapted from “Sustainability at Stake,” an article written by Linda Engelsiepen for the June–December 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

COVID 19 impact, entrepreneurship, environmentalism, by Linda Engelsiepen, The Henry Ford Magazine, Michigan, Detroit, African American history, women's history

Great Lakes Brewing Co. has been around for more than 30 years, brewing award-winning craft beer in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. Its founders, brothers Daniel and Patrick Conway, focused on sustainability from the start by renovating the 19th-century buildings that house their brewery and brewpub.

By the early 2000s, they’d also decided they wanted to do more for their community, the environment, and the health and well-being of their workers. “We view business as a force for good in our communities,” said Daniel Conway. “Our role is essentially one of stewardship.”

Man in baseball cap and green t-shirt holds up grabber and trash bag while standing on concrete steps with trees and grass on either side
A Brewing Good community clean-up effort by Great Lakes Brewing Co. / Photo courtesy Great Lakes Brewing Co.

The brothers have developed a triple bottom line business model that addresses profit, people, and planet, with initiatives that include water stewardship, renewable and clean energy, and inclusive economic growth.

An early adopter in the local food movement, the company established its own farm, Pint Size Farm, in collaboration with Hale Farm and Village in 2008 to supply its brewpub, and in 2010 co-founded Ohio City Farm, one of the largest urban farms in the United States (learn more about these two farms here). The solar panels on their brewery offset 13 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually—a widget on their website shows how much beer is brewed using solar energy. And by inviting employees to become owners through an employee stock program, the company allows everyone a stake in its sustainability.

Several people work on a farm plot with a city skyline in the background
Ohio City Farm, co-founded by Great Lakes Brewing Co. / Photo courtesy Great Lakes Brewing Co.

Great Lakes’ Brewing Good giving program also commits a percentage of company sales back to the community through initiatives that preserve history, advocate environmentalism, and focus on critical needs in the local area. The company’s nonprofit Burning River Foundation, which annually hosts the Great Lakes Burning River Fest, strives to maintain and celebrate the vitality of the region’s freshwater resources. “Burning River,” also the name of a Great Lakes Brewing Co. pale ale, references a particular incident: the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, in which an oil slick on the heavily polluted river caught fire and caused damage in the six figures. The incident sparked further outrage and interest in environmentalism, driving significant policy changes for the Cleveland area and beyond.

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced Great Lakes Brewing Co. to close its brewpub temporarily, beer continued to be brewed and to flow through the local distribution footprint and to-go service. Beers such as the 107 IPA and Siren Shores Passion Fruit Saison, the first employee team recipe ever created on Great Lakes Brewing’s Small Batch Pilot System, debuted in spring 2020. Social media channels continued to keep the community in the know on what Great Lakes was up to, from its Hop College going online and posting video tutorials and sessions on Facebook, to owner Daniel Conway’s heartfelt request to join him in supporting the Race for Relief fundraiser benefiting the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Cleveland hunger centers.

Infographic with text and numbers
Statistics on Great Lakes Brewing Co.’s sustainability efforts as of mid-2020.

The Conway brothers have long had an understanding of how each part of their business ecosystem feeds into the next. By continuing to innovate new strategies of sustainability, they’ve led by example and helped to revive both an industry and their community.


This post is adapted from “Sustainability at Stake,” an article written by Linda Engelsiepen for the June–December 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

entrepreneurship, COVID 19 impact, farming, food, by Linda Engelsiepen, The Henry Ford Magazine, environmentalism, beverages


Museum exhibit with many cases and displays

The Mathematica exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. / Photo by KMS Photography

When Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation reopened in July 2020 after months of shutdown because of COVID-19 restrictions, museumgoers were excited to be back on the floor. Many of them were super excited to get back to one of their favorite exhibitions, Mathematica—a favorite because it’s so hands-on.

And therein lay the problem, said Jake Hildebrandt, historic operating machinery specialist at The Henry Ford. As COVID-19 spread, the hands-on interactivity of Mathematica caused it to remain closed. Mixing a little bit of ingenuity, technology, and lots of problem-solving skills, Hildebrandt, along with master craftsman Brian McLean, ensured the exhibition could remain interactive yet hands-free and open to the public.

Metal and wood railing with a white sensor mounted on it, with text reading "WAVE TO START"
Mathematica’s Moebius Band was modified by staff from The Henry Ford to start via a hand wave. / Photo by Jillian Ferraiuolo

The push-start buttons on the Moebius Band and Celestial Mechanics installations, for example, are now initiated with a wave of the hand—no touch necessary. And the 27-button panel of the Multiplication Machine has been covered with Plexiglas for safety and new software installed so random math problems run on the cube throughout the day for visitor education and enjoyment.

Lightbulbs arranged in a cube shape, some lit and some not, behind a wood and metal railing with a large sign in the foreground containing text
A newly-added note under the Plexiglas installed on the Multiplication Machine in Mathematica reads “This machine has been temporarily modified for a touch-free experience / It now multiplies random numbers on its own.” The styling of the note is intended to match the original design of Charles and Ray Eames. / Photo by Jillian Ferraiuolo

“Projects like these, DIY challenges that have high criteria, limited time and budget, are my favorite kinds of projects,” said Hildebrandt. All the alterations to Mathematica are easily reversible, he added, and when you head to the museum to see them, you’ll notice the respectful attention given to the exhibition’s classic Eames styling.


This post was adapted from an article first published in the January–May 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

#Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, The Henry Ford Magazine, making, Henry Ford Museum, healthcare, design, COVID 19 impact, collections care

Catch a glimpse of Brian Yazzie’s left arm, and you’ll see cranberries, sumac, and sunflowers near his wrist, blue Hopi corn on his forearm and Navajo squash holding court at his elbow. An illustrated sleeve of more produce and wild game are up next for the right.

Man in short-sleeved blue button-down shirt with embroidery of flowers and vegetables along one side stands in a desert landscape with cacti and mountains
Chef Brian Yazzie. / Photo courtesy Brian Yazzie

The inspiration behind the ever-growing tattooed bounty of Native American produce started at age 7 for Yazzie, when the aromatics of Navajo blue corn mush or the sound of a knife tapping on a cutting board drew him into the kitchen to help cook for his large family. Raised by a single mother in Dennehotso, Arizona, located on the northeast part of the Navajo Nation, Yazzie remembers eating traditional and freshly foraged foods like wild spinach and pine nuts but also commodity foods like government cheese, canned chicken, and powdered milk.

“That was what we grew up on,” said Yazzie. “But for me, as long as we had food, we were OK.”

He discovered his passion for cooking but at the time was equally lured into gang life, spending his teenage years in and out of detention centers and county jails and skipping classes, sometimes to just hide out in the home economics classroom.

“I was blessed never to end up in prison or passing on,” said Yazzie, whose sisters would call to tell him to come home because they missed his food. “That was their way of checking up on me. Cooking always kept me out of trouble; it’s what saved my life.”

It’s also what prompted Yazzie and his wife, Danielle Polk, to settle in the Twin Cities in 2013. They wanted opportunity but also to stay connected to Native communities. “The Twin Cities has one of the top five Native urban populations in the U.S.,” said Yazzie, who works closely with the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes there while continuing to help the Dennehotso reservation and other tribal communities around the United States.

In 2014, Yazzie enrolled at Saint Paul College, where his first assignment as a culinary student was to perfect any dish from around the world. “I wanted to make something beyond frybread, but I realized at least 50% of ingredients inside Navajo tacos are native to the Americas,” said Yazzie.

Toppings like summer squash, peppers, and eggplant reminded him of French ratatouille, and he found his dish. More importantly, he discovered the larger influence of Indigenous foods and his passion for reviving, celebrating, and recognizing their ancestral origins.

Seed packet with yellow bands with text at top and bottom and large image of green bell pepper
Chef Yazzie found inspiration in eggplant, summer squash, and peppers, like the one on this circa 1951 seed packet from our collection, during his first assignment as a culinary student. / THF294269

He and Polk started a Native American Club on campus and connected with local chef/author/educator Sean Sherman, CEO of The Sioux Chef, to cater one of their events. “Seventy-five percent of the appetizers he served were foreign to me,” said Yazzie, who went on to work for Sherman before he and Polk started their own catering company, Intertribal Foodways. “We wanted to bring awareness to what’s been overlooked for so long.”

Along with showcasing Native ingredients and techniques, that’s also meant addressing health issues like diabetes that have long affected Indigenous communities. “We try to implement food as medicine,” said Yazzie, now executive chef of the Gatherings Cafe inside the Minneapolis American Indian Center. “Especially during this pandemic, we have to keep our elders strong and safe; a lot of them hold lost languages and teachings.”

After COVID-19 hit, Yazzie and his team started making 200 healthy meals a day for elders in the Twin Cities, established a Dennehotso COVID-19 relief fund, and regularly sent healthy food and supplies to the Apache County community. He works with local farmers and foragers to bring Native ingredients into his food whenever he can, even if it means taking baby steps with dishes like unhealthy frybread (created by Yazzie’s Navajo ancestors while they were in internment camps at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, in the 1860s). “It’s still on the table across North America as a survival staple for tribal communities, especially during the pandemic, so I had to take a step back and listen to my elders, but we’re getting there,” said Yazzie, who lightens up the wheat-heavy bread with amaranth flour or wild rice flour.

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healthcare, COVID 19 impact, recipes, food insecurity, restaurants, food, The Henry Ford Magazine, by Liz Grossman

In mid-August 2020, Dan Giusti posted a picture on Instagram of an empty cafeteria. Communal tables were stacked against the walls, and single spaced-out desks and chairs took their place. “Maybe a new norm?” he asked in the caption.

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school, childhood, COVID 19 impact, by Liz Grossman, food, The Henry Ford Magazine

Five women hold produce behind tables covered in boxes full of vegetables
Feed Your Brain free food pop-ups on campus at Hamline University are making healthier pantry and produce options available to hungry college students. Hamline students pictured, from left: Maggie Bruns, Feed Your Brain co-founder Emma Kiley, Maddie Guyott, Feed Your Brain co-founder An Garagiola-Bernier, and Najma Omar. / Photo courtesy Andy King


On October 26, 2017, students of Twin Cities–based Hamline University left work and class to flock to a few benches in a campus parking lot where more than 2,000 pounds of nonperishable food items were stacked. “We ran out in 30 minutes,” recalled An Garagiola-Bernier. A sophomore at the liberal arts school at the time, she organized the donation event, called Feed Your Brain, with fellow students Elise Hanson and Emma Kiley.

Even if the administration couldn’t see it, these three became acutely aware of food insecurity at Hamline after a sit-in over immigration laws earlier that year. “Students posted about immigration laws being changed, and some testified to experiencing so much hunger it was affecting their ability to learn,” said Garagiola-Bernier.

Handmade sign reading "Free Food: Stop & Shop Free with the Feed Your Brain Campaign" posted in a grassy area with buildings behind it
Photo courtesy Hamline University

The three friends wanted to dig deeper. They sent a survey to all undergrads to assess how food insecurity was affecting them, and included questions that addressed sourcing culturally appropriate food and healthy options for those with allergies or chronic conditions. “They were questions nobody was asking but students were really concerned about,” said Garagiola-Bernier.

Of the nearly 360 students who responded, 76% admitted to having trouble accessing food, and findings revealed heavier insecurity among Muslim, Hispanic, trans, and gay/lesbian students.

“We wanted to make the administration, and even the general public, aware that food insecurity is a profound indicator of poverty on college campuses,” said Garagiola-Bernier. “And if someone is food insecure, they’re also likely housing insecure or experiencing trouble with utilities or health care services.”

The findings contradicted Hamline’s reputation, and that of private college campuses in general, as places of privilege where food insecurity is an unexpected issue. “College students fall into a type of policy gap where they’re considered dependents of their parents. However, we know they’re living in financially independent situations,” said Garagiola-Bernier.

The first free food pop-up more than proved that, and a second one was held a month later. Feed Your Brain pop-ups continued monthly over the next two academic years (some intentionally set up in front of administration offices), and the founders continued to research food justice and work with faculty to help find a home for a food pantry.

Shelves with cans of tuna, turkey, and vegetables, with sign reading "Take 1: Tuna or Turkey"
Photo by Sabrina Merritt / The Oracle

“It was relentless advocacy and action first, and then asking for forgiveness later if we broke the rules,” said Garagiola-Bernier.

It was important for the pop-ups to offer students access to nonperishable, non-commodity foods and fresh produce. Not only do all three founders suffer from dietary health issues, but Garagiola-Bernier, a descendent of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, has seen the effects of unhealthy foods. “Being a Native woman, food sovereignty is a big issue,” she said. “Being able to choose what goes into your body and the repercussions of that, whether good or bad, and not just have commodity foods switched on you is vital. I’ve seen how having access only to unhealthy foods leads to extreme health conditions.”

In 2019, Feed Your Brain found a permanent home with the help of Kiley, who became the first campus food access AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America), and the organization started hosting dinners and discussions on topics like the stigma of food insecurity. “It was a space where students could have meaningful conversations around topics that are hard to talk about,” said Kiley, who has since graduated and passed the reins of VISTA on to fellow student Sophia Brown.

Standee-type blackboard sign reading "Free fresh groceries: Walker Fieldhouse Loading Dock 4-6 PM" with person walking by it holding a paper grocery bag
Photo courtesy Hamline University

This year’s survey solidified the importance of those conversations as a 15% increase in food and financial insecurity was seen among students since COVID-19 hit.

“When we started, food was the easiest entry point into this work. But at its core, it’s always been more about justice and reparations, and we used food to have those conversations,” said Kiley. “There’s a high percentage of students that are food insecure, but it’s about more than that. We have to change the way we think about distributing food so it’s more about caring for your neighbor and less about feeling bad for people or stigmatizing experiences.”


Liz Grossman is a Chicago-based writer, editor, and storyteller, and is managing editor of Plate magazine. This post was adapted from an article first published in the January–May 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

women's history, COVID 19 impact, food insecurity, The Henry Ford Magazine, by Liz Grossman, food

The Henry Ford has nearly 26 million artifacts in its care—on exhibit in 82 buildings, housed in the Benson Ford Research Center archive, and stored in multiple storage areas. Caring for these collections is an endless task—light levels, temperature and humidity variations, programmatic usage, even the nature of the artifacts themselves (many items in our holdings were never designed to last)—all create difficulties from a preservation standpoint. Even the most apparently durable and indestructible seeming artifacts need to be cared for—whether on exhibit or held in storage.

For many years our greatest storage problems related to off-site storage in buildings that were not intended for museum collections and whose distance from campus made access difficult. This situation changed in 2016 when The Henry Ford entered into an agreement with our neighbor, Ford Motor Company, to acquire half of the Ford Engineering Lab, a 400,000-square foot building immediately adjacent to Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

The Henry Ford’s facilities team began a complicated renovation process on the space, newly designated as Main Storage Building (MSB), turning what had been a cubicle warren of offices into a space suitable for storing historic materials. While the process of rehabilitating the building got under way, historical resources staff began determining where to place and how to move a vast range of over 36,000 artifacts—from giant printing presses and steam engines to tiny buttons and toy tea sets.

The first step in the moving process was to identify collections of similar items (for instance, plows) and create an accurate inventory of what was stored offsite. In this early phase of the project, we would gather anything and everything we thought could be part of this grouping, stage it in one area, and check that the accession number (a unique number assigned to every museum artifact that links the object to information and records on the object—essentially, a Social Security number for artifacts) on each item matched the record in our collections management database. When we encountered objects without accession numbers, we considered these “found in collection” items, and assigned them inventory numbers so they could be tracked in the in the future. After all the new records were created and accession numbers verified, we could then track locations using barcodes and scanners.

A group of long metal implements lay on a table
Implements lined up for inventory. / Photo by Kathleen Ochmanski

A group of vacuum cleaners sits on two pallets in a large room with other boxes, worktables, and items in the background
Vacuum cleaners ready to be packed. / Photo by Kathleen Ochmanski

A variety of large equipment sits on tables in a large room
Communications and information technology collections gathered for inventory. / Photo by Kathleen Ochmanski

Before packing, we always assess the condition of the artifacts. We look for mold, hazardous materials, or signs of infestation. In most cases, items were vacuumed or dusted before they were packed away, but sometimes they required more attention to mitigate future problems. In these cases, collections were either isolated or cleaned by conservation staff in one of two labs that were set up in the new building before being moved to their final location within MSB.

A number of people, some wearing jumpsuits and respirators, work on cars and other equipment in a large room
The conservation team (pre-pandemic) cleans oversized artifacts in our new lab to prepare them for storage in MSB. / Photo by Kathleen Ochmanski

When packing up the collection, we packed similar items together using archival-quality materials. The move team developed a packing system that could be applied to nearly all of our artifacts. This standardization helped us create more space-saving density in the new building, and helped us to move faster, as we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel every time we encountered a new type of artifact.

Our packing systems were designed to handle both movement and storage, and included these tools and tactics:

  • Pallet box containers are stackable gray containers that can be filled with small collections, often housed in custom-built boxes that we created.
  • Flat pallets are used for heavy objects secured to pallets with plastic banding. Sometimes we attach plywood to the top of the pallets to create a flat surface.
  • Flat pallets with sleeves are used for lightweight objects secured to pallets with Velcro or ties. The pallet is wrapped in a pallet sleeve for additional protection.
  • Crates. While we don’t build crates in our department, we do repurpose them for use with heavy, difficult, or fragile artifacts.
  • Soft-packing is wrapping artifacts entirely in soft foam or blankets.
  • No packing at all is sometimes warranted. Not everything can be packed with packing materials, so such items are carefully strapped onto or into a truck.


Boxes and objects strapped onto pallets
Packed collections ready to move, including flat pallets, custom boxes, and pallet boxes. / Photo by Kathleen Ochmanski

Our original moving schedule was spread over 24 months—but then came the COVID-19 pandemic. To meet the changing needs and budget of the institution, we streamlined our operations and adapted our process to accommodate additional staff and contractors to move as quickly as possible while maintaining our standard of collections care and keeping staff safe and healthy. Twenty-four months became nine months—nine months in which we processed, packed, and moved over 17,000 artifacts to complete the move out of offsite storage.

While collections operations staff handled the majority of the objects, we relied on help from three types of contractors: professional car movers, rigging experts, and professional art handlers.

Using professional car movers allowed us to move more than one vehicle at a time, which greatly increased our speed.

Two people stand with an open beige-and-green car on the loading ramp of a truck; one kneels in front
The Warrior is loaded into a semitruck (pre-pandemic). / Photo by Kathleen Ochmanski

The rigging experts had bigger forklifts, trucks of all sizes, and cranes for moving our largest objects.

A large piece of wheeled, black machinery sits on multiple dollies in a bright room
A steam traction engine is lifted onto custom-built dollies to roll out of the offsite warehouse. / Photo by Kathleen Ochmanski

Finally, professional art handlers were called on to handle and move furniture from our collection, and to offer extra hands to pack and move glass, ceramics, and communications collections located in the warehouse.

View down aisle with pallet racking on either side filled with chairs, desks, shelves, and other furniture
Furniture collections stored in MSB. / Photo by Kathleen Ochmanski

We also mobilized our fellow staff members to accelerate the move. Registrars worked at the warehouse each week for six months, helping us complete the inventory phase of the move and soft-packing what they could along the way. Team members from the conservation department worked on artifacts as they arrived at MSB and also ventured to offsite storage during the final three months of packing to help clean the artifacts before they were packed. Also, we can’t thank our shipping and receiving staff enough for helping offload our non-standard objects. We could have never accomplished our nine-month goal without all of these dedicated staff!

On Tuesday, March 16, 2021, the final artifact made its way from the warehouse to MSB. The core team and all who collaborated were there to witness the 606 Horse Shoe Lounge sign loaded onto our truck for the final journey. The sign belonged to the “oldest and last” remaining nightclub from Detroit’s legendary Paradise Valley neighborhood. This last artifact represents the end of an era for Detroit—and for The Henry Ford’s offsite collections warehouses.

A group of people wearing masks pose for a photograph in front of, and behind, on a ladder, a large sign
Team photograph with the last artifact to leave the warehouse. / Photo by Rudy Ruzicska

MSB is now home to more than 40,000 artifacts previously located in offsite and onsite storage areas, as well as recent new accessions. Centralizing our collections in MSB is an important step in helping us advance collections care through increased access and improved environments. Most importantly, MSB has allowed us to consolidate a large portion of our collections and our collections work into one building, a first for The Henry Ford. While these items are now successfully located in our new building, we continue to work to make MSB truly shine.

Our move from offsite storage has come to an end, and as we continue to unpack, rearrange, and further consolidate our stored collections (there are 14 storage areas onsite…) we are looking forward to sharing more of what MSB has to offer!


Cayla Osgood and Kathleen Ochmanski are Assistant Collection Managers at The Henry Ford.

Main Storage Building, COVID 19 impact, conservation, collections care, by Kathleen Ochmanski, by Cayla Osgood, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

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

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 Ford Motor Company, donors of the COVID-19 mobile testing van in the exhibit, tackle questions about their efforts to serve the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Similar to the World War II “Arsenal of Democracy” effort, Ford Motor Company joined “Arsenal of Health” efforts through its Project Apollo to fight COVID-19 and serve the community. What Ford practices (or values) helped the company shift gears quickly to ramp up Project Apollo?

For 118 years and counting, Ford has had a culture of innovation and service, which enabled the team to respond quickly and nimbly to the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Red van with large American flag painted on side and text on side and front
This Ford Transit van, on display in Collecting Mobility in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation until January 2, 2022, is one of four converted into mobile test units in spring 2020, early in America's COVID-19 pandemic, by Ford Motor Company and Troy Design & Manufacturing. The vehicles collected genetic samples in the field and transported them to labs for testing. Free tests were given to first responders, nursing home residents, and people at substance abuse centers and community shelters in Michigan. / THF188109

How fast did Project Apollo ramp up? How many products did you make?

The earliest seeds of Project Apollo began in mid-March 2020, when concerns around the safety of healthcare workers faced with a shortage of PPE were first raised. Project Apollo has produced face shields, multiple types of masks, gowns, powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs), ventilators, air filtration kits, and mobile testing/vaccination units.

What were some of the unexpected improvisations that happened turning car parts into useful medical products?

Working with 3M, the team was able to use off-the-shelf parts like vehicle ventilator fans and power tool batteries for a PAPR, or airbag material for washable gowns.

Light pink plastic gown
Level 1 isolation gowns protect wearers from contaminants in minimal-risk situations. This gown is made from the same fabric used in automobile airbags. Ford set a goal to produce 1.3 million gowns during the COVID-19 pandemic—each one washable up to 50 times. / THF186847

What is a new way of working that came out of Project Apollo that you think will influence manufacturing innovation in the next 10 years?

The team being very clear on a compelling purpose and mission—there was a common mission that was crystal-clear, very ambitious: to build 50,000 ventilators, 20 million face shields, 32,000 PAPRs, 100 million face masks… and more. On a normal day, this would feel like a Herculean task for each individual item—but to do all of it at the same time was a stretch goal. Ford had a mindset of aim high, fail fast, learn, pivot, adjust—but stay focused on that goal, that mission.

Piece of white machinery with black handles and dials and knobs on the front; covered in people's signatures in various colors
Early in America's COVID-19 pandemic, Ford Motor Company converted a portion of its Rawsonville Components Plant to produce more than 51,000 medical ventilators. These critical machines helped patients with the most serious COVID-19 infections to breathe. This unit, the last one off the Rawsonville assembly line, was signed by some of the 1,100 Ford employees involved in the effort. / THF185919

Teams were empowered. In many cases, the teams set their own goals—it often wasn’t a matter of Ford leadership asking, employees stepped up across the company with ideas on how Ford could help. And everyone played a role in eliminating constraints that were getting in the way of the team mission to serve the greater good.


Cynthia Jones is General Manager of Innovation Experiences at The Henry Ford. Ted Ryan is Ford Motor Company Archives and Heritage Brand Manager and Jim Baumbick is Vice President, Enterprise Product Line Management, Strategy, and Planning, at Ford Motor Company. Ford Motor Company is a global company based in Dearborn, Michigan, that is committed to helping build a better world, where every person is free to move and pursue their dreams. See Collecting Mobility for yourself in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from October 23, 2021, through January 2, 2022.

Ford workers, healthcare, manufacturing, COVID 19 impact, Ford Motor Company, by Jim Baumbick, by Ted Ryan, by Cynthia Jones

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

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

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

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