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Posts Tagged digital collections


The Richart Wagon Shop is another example of Henry Ford’s interest in American transportation history. It was built in 1847 by Israel Biddle Richart in Macon, Michigan, and operated for over 50 years in the business of building, repairing, and painting wagons. In fall 1941, it was acquired for and moved to Greenfield Village.

We’ve just digitized a number of photographs of the building on its original site, including this image showing the distinctive lower and upper double doors still visible today—though notably missing a ramp to allow carriages access to the second floor.

To see all these digitized images of Richart Wagon Shop taken between 1931 and 1941, visit our collections website.

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

digital collections, Greenfield Village buildings


Henry Ford greatly admired his friend Luther Burbank for his work as a naturalist and botanist—it’s no coincidence that the shovel buried in The Henry Ford’s cornerstone belonged to Burbank.  Greenfield Village also holds a strong Burbank presence—his garden office was moved to the Village in 1928, and eight years later, his birthplace was added. As part of our ongoing project documenting the histories of Greenfield Village buildings, we’ve just digitized a number of images showing Luther Burbank’s birthplace on its original site in Lancaster, Massachusetts, including this photograph labeled “south end.”

To see more artifacts related to the famed developer of the Russet Burbank potato, still one of the world’s most popular varieties, visit our digital collections.

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

digital collections

October 24, 2013, was a Thursday like any other Thursday in the offices of The Henry Ford—until 5:48 PM rolled around. At 5:48 PM precisely (not that we were counting), we completed digitization of our 20,000th collections item! There was much rejoicing and taking of celebratory screenshots of our collections management system.

Having seen this goal on the horizon, we had already discussed which item should be the auspicious 20,000th. We settled on something both significant and (we felt) celebratory: a photograph of the first industrial robot, Unimate, serving a drink to George Devol, its creator.

Unimate Machine Serving a Drink to George Devol, 1970-1985.

We also arranged to have cake, celebrating the many staff in the institution who work on digitization in large and small ways.


And, we commemorated some of the notable digitization projects we’d worked on over the past few years with stickers created from our digital collections images.

Can-Do Stickers

Long-time photographer Rudy Ruzicska proudly showed off his stickers to Henry Ford.


There is a good reason we made such a big deal out of this milestone. Even though digitization is a relatively new process for The Henry Ford (and for many other museums and archives), the potential of getting our collections online is enormous.

Case in point, only about 9% of all the material we’ve digitized thus far is items currently located in public areas in the Museum or in Greenfield Village. About 60% of our digitized content is located in our archival stacks, previously accessible only through a visit to the Research Library in the Benson Ford Research Center. About half a percent of our digitized collections are items currently on loan to another institution, ranging from a few miles away (this Hudson, for example, is currently on loan to the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Collection) to halfway across the world (as witness this Rolls-Royce hood ornament, currently located in China). The remaining 30% or so of the collections items we’ve digitized are neither on public display nor accessible through the Research Library—they are items the public (and even many of our staff and volunteers!) would never otherwise get to see.

This is where the digital world offers a whole new way for our visitors to learn the stories behind our collections—not just by paying us a visit in person, but by making a virtual visit to the treasure trove of documents, photographs, and objects that we hold in trust for current and future generations.

We hope you enjoy viewing all of our growing digital collections. If you have a suggestion for what we should digitize next, or have thoughts on how we can make these digital collections more useful and meaningful, please let us know in the comments below!

Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford, is already counting down to our next digital collection milestone.

artifacts, digital collections

The coming of a New Year is a great time to set resolutions, and for 2012, The Henry Ford has picked at least one doozy that we are very excited to share!

Over the course of the year, we will be digitizing our most “significant” icons in each of the core categories in our collections — and making those available on our collections website to anyone who is interested.

So what does that mean, and why are we so delighted about it?

Digitization is the process of making photos and information about the collections of The Henry Ford available online. In a way, this is a process that dates back to the founding of the institution, as artifacts have been catalogued and photographed over the years for internal purposes.

However, the information and images we’ve gathered and the ways in which we’ve stored those for our own usage don’t necessarily equate to the robust web presentation that we want to share with the world— so we have been spending a lot of time updating and standardizing catalog records, taking great new photographs of the collection, and writing brief narratives on the purpose and meaning of each object.

This is all part of a big project we’ve been calling CAN-DO: Collections Access Network for Digital Objects.

We really got going in earnest with this effort in 2011, with the bulk of the objects digitized either in or related to the new Driving America exhibit, which opens at the end of January. The Henry Ford obviously has very strong transportation collections, and this means that right now our digitized collections contain everything from the very rare and beautiful Bugatti...


1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale Convertible, from the collections of The Henry Ford. Only six Royales were ever made. an iconic Charles Sheeler photograph of the Ford Rouge plant in the late 1920s...

Open Hearth Building at Ford Rouge Plant, photographed by Charles Sheeler, 1927, from the collections of The Henry Ford.

…and everything in between.

"How to CB" Phonograph Record, 1976, from the collections of The Henry Ford. “Slanguage” — get it?

As 2011 began winding down, we started to think about what we would digitize in 2012. The Henry Ford has an embarrassment of riches in its collections, including hundreds of thousands of 3D objects and about 25 million 2D artifacts housed in the Benson Ford Research Center. Digitizing it all will be a multi-year, if not multi-decade, effort. What, we asked ourselves, should be our focus in 2012?

The answer was obvious: We need to make sure the public has digital access to the most “significant” artifacts at The Henry Ford. I put the term “significant” in quotation marks purposely, as significance has multiple meanings. Few could argue that an artifact like the city bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat is not a significant historical object. It is also institutionally unique. Many museums have civil rights artifacts, but there is only one Rosa Parks bus, and the only place to find it is at The Henry Ford.

The Rosa Parks Bus, an American icon from the collections of The Henry Ford. Photograph by Michelle Andonian.

The other dimension of “significance” is personal resonance. Certainly the Rosa Parks bus has personal significance for many people. But there’s also a pretty hefty degree to which personal significance diverges. For example, I wouldn’t necessarily expect this Buck Rogers poster to have personal significance for a large percentage of the public.

Buck Rogers Comic Strip Characters and Space Vehicles, Cocomalt Premium, circa 1934, from the collections of The Henry Ford. Featuring a space pterodactyl!

For me, though, this happens to be one of my very favorite collections objects that we’ve digitized thus far. It features a space pterodactyl, a disintegrator ray, rocketships, and many spacemen in dapper outfits, all illustrated with bright colors and fantastic graphic detail. These all happen to be things that I enjoy (space pterodactyls being a new but noteworthy addition to the list), so to me, this is particularly interesting.

We’ve been having a lot of interesting conversations about all the aspects of “significance” and how they relate to the collections of The Henry Ford, and have started throwing out ideas and making lists. Over the course of 2012, you will see these objects begin to show up on our collections website, but you’ll also hear about them in other ways — via blog posts from staff members, in the curators’ Pics of the Month and any other ways we can think of to share the stories that these objects tell.

We could not be more excited to start this project, and hope you are excited about it as well. Check our collections website frequently to visit your old favorites from the collections and discover new ones!

Ellice Engdahl is The Henry Ford’s new Digital Collections Initiative Manager, which she thinks is quite possibly the coolest job ever — even if it’s a hazard of the job that her favorite collections object changes about 10 times a day.

collections, digital collections