We are about 35% of the way through our 24-month project to digitize 900 artifacts from our electrical distribution collections, thanks in large part to a generous grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and nearly 100 objects from the grant are currently accessible through our Digital Collections.
Outside that project, but on a related note, we’ve just finished digitizing 132 photos of figures associated with the same companies as the objects we’re digitizing in the grant. For example, now you can see images of people associated with Westinghouse Electric Company, and also find objects created by that company, most of which were conserved and photographed through the grant. One intriguing image we found is this 1880 photograph of Thomas Edison associate Charles Batchelor, which notes it is “the first photograph ever taken by incandescent electric lamps.”
Visit our Digital Collections to see all of these portraits of electrical pioneers, and keep an eye out for more artifacts digitized through the grant to be added over upcoming months. Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Conservation specialist Mallory Bower and collections specialist Jake Hildebrandt removing objects from shelving in the Collections Storage Building.
The Henry Ford has recently embarked on a new adventure, thanks to a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) which allows us to spend time working on the electrical collections currently housed in the Collections Storage Building. This is The Henry Ford’s second IMLS grant dedicated to improving the storage of and access to collections. The first grant focused on communications technology, and was completed over two years, ending in October 2015. At the end of that grant, more than 1000 communications-related objects were conserved, catalogued, digitized, and stored, marking a huge improvement in the state of the collections and their accessibility. We have similar goals for this grant, as we aim to complete 900+ objects by October 2017.
When we look at an automobile, we are moved by what we see on the outside – its styling. But what moves the car is on the inside – its engine. Please join us for a rare look under the hoods of some of the finest automobiles at Henry Ford Museum. More than 40 cars have their engines exposed for you.
Here, Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford, describes some of his favorites.
Electric Motor: AC, permanent magnet, 33 kilowatt, 44 horsepower
Hybrid cars are an old idea, but their moment arrived with the Toyota Prius. The car’s gas and electric power plants sit side-by-side. The electrical inverter, on top of the electric motor, converts DC current from the batteries into AC used by the motor. That motor becomes a generator during braking, turning kinetic energy from the car’s momentum into electricity fed back to the batteries.
In the era before photography, masks — cast from molds taken directly from an individual's face or hands — were a means of making a portrait without resorting to the services (and perhaps shortcomings) of an artist. By the mid-twentieth century it was far easier to make a photographic portrait than to go to the trouble of making a mask. The detailed and lifelike quality of masks — taken from living or recently deceased individuals — ensured the survival of the process.
This copper mask captures the likeness of electrical pioneer and experimenter Nikola Tesla. It was made immediately upon the latter's death in 1943, at the request of publisher and writer Hugo Gernsback, a friend of Tesla's.
Automobiles powered by electricity have been around almost as long as there have been automobiles. In fact, in 1900, battery-powered electric cars outsold cars with gasoline-fueled internal combustion engines. But there is far more energy in a pound of gasoline than in a pound of storage batteries, meaning that gasoline-powered cars could travel farther on a tank than electric cars could on a single charge. Largely because of this, electric cars had virtually disappeared from the market by the late 1920s. By the end of the 20th century concerns about air pollution and imported oil caused people to look once again at alternatives to the internal combustion engine.
In 1997 General Motors introduced the EV1, probably the best electric car produced to that time. The car was in part a response to California laws requiring the sale of a certain percentage of vehicles that emitted no pollutants. General Motors went to great lengths to overcome the limited range offered by storage batteries.
When high school drafting design instructor Mike Evans discovered Greenpower, the academic electric car competition, he had no idea how far it would take him and his students. In less than three years, the team from Alabama’s Huntsville Center of Technology’s (HCT) went from drafting Solid Edge models for the UK based competition, to becoming the first international high school team, and now starting the competition in America.
“It started with an introduction from Mike Brown who oversees Siemens’ mainstream engineering global academic programs,” said Evans. “We had a long relationship with Siemens so he asked us to reverse engineer the F-24 kit car in Siemens Solid Edge software for Greenpower’s UK CEO Jeremy Way. When Jeremy saw the students’ models he invited us to build a car and enter the race.”
Greenpower started back in 1999 with a dream of supporting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. Building and racing the electric cars inspires and engages students of all ages to pursue STEM subjects.
Today's post comes to us from Don LaCombe, our Supervisor of Transportation and Crafts Programs at The Henry Ford. Don has been documenting the history of all-things train-related at The Henry Ford. Over the next few weeks we'll be sharing his articles here on the blog.
This 2-2-0 experimental, 40-inch electric locomotive, rail-car and track (pictured above) were constructed at Edison’s Menlo Park Complex in the spring of 1880. This pioneering effort in electric railways was an example of Edison’s entrepreneurial spirit and systemic outlook about the uses of electricity. This was the first functional American electric locomotive and represented an improvement in the state of the art.
The primary purpose of this experiment was to find uses for his company’s electrical generation capacity during daylight hours when electrical illumination was generally not required.
Edison’s venture was technically quite successful in that the train operated at 30 mph and was fully capable of carrying passengers. It was a well publicized success with significant mention in the June 5, 1880, Scientific American and other publications. The project also generated two new patents for Edison.
The technical success and notoriety of the train produced an investor in the project. Henry Villard, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad, was interested enough to provide funds for Edison to continue his research. Villard saw the electric locomotive as a viable replacement for steam locomotives in areas where watering and maintenance were a problem.
Experimentation continued with the addition of two new locomotives that were mechanically similar but visually changed to look more like traditional locomotives. The track was extended from the original half mile to a total of three miles with three sidings and two turntables.
Northern Pacific’s participation ended when the railroad went into receivership and Villard lost control of the company.
In 1883 Edison merged with rival Stephen D. Field and they exhibited a locomotive and train at a railway exhibition in Chicago. During the exposition Edison had set up a short demonstration railway and the train carried more than 26,000 riders.
This joint venture eventually dissolved, and Edison lost interest in electric railroads and concentrated on other projects.
The train and cars were abandoned at the Menlo Park Complex when Edison moved out. They were later discovered under significant overgrowth and rescued by the “Edison Pioneers.” The date of the recovery is not known but the locomotive and “Pullman” car appear in the 1925 Pioneers’ Historical Collection of Early Electrical Apparatus. In 1929 the locomotive and car were gifted to The Edison Institute.
Ford had Edison’s electric locomotive, a “Pullman ” car and an additional passenger car restored. Sometime in 1930 a short railway was constructed in the Village. The route went from the Menlo Complex to behind the Logan County Courthouse.
It is likely that Francis Jehl, who had worked with Edison on the project before working here, was the only engineer. The picture, shown above, is of Jehl in the locomotive giving a ride to approximately 20 people. A note on the corner of the picture lists the date as Aug. 1, 1930. The relative age of the passengers pictured in the cars suggests these were probably Edison Institute students.
Geoffrey C. Upward's book A Home for Our Heritage (p. 87) mentions that the “train ran for a few years.” In all likelihood, the cessation of the railroad had to do with the train being powered by a 10 hp 110 volt, 75 amp electric motor. The power was supplied by two Edison Z-type dynamos and transmitted through the rails. The locomotives wheels were wood with steel tires. This insulated the engineer and passengers from the tracks while current for the motor was picked up by copper brushes contacting a pick-up ring attached to the steel tires.
In 1930, when the restored train first became functional, Greenfield Village was not open to the general public. In 1933 Greenfield Village was opened to the general public and the potential for an accidental “shock” probably caused them to reconsider use of the train.
In the early 1950s a red train shed was constructed across the street (Christie) from the Menlo Complex to provide a place for a static display of Edison’s original electric locomotive. A glass barrier was installed to allow guests to see the train without being able to touch it. The train was displayed setting on an original section of track. The red building is now located at the north east corner of the Armington and Sims yard and is used to house Greenfield Village electrical equipment.