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Aerial shot of museum exhibit featuring cars, along with other artifacts and graphic panels with images and text

Driven to Win: Racing in America presented by General Motors.

The Henry Ford’s newest exhibition, Driven to Win: Racing in America presented by General Motors, opened to the public on March 27. It’s been a thrill to see visitors experiencing and enjoying the show after so many years of planning.

Along with all of that planning, we did some serious collecting as well. Visitors to Driven to Win will see more than 250 artifacts from all eras of American racing. Several of those pieces are newly acquired, specifically for the show.

Black and white athletic shoes
Shoes worn by Ken Block in Gymkhana Five. Block co-founded DC Shoes in 1994. / THF179739

The most obvious new addition is the 2012 Ford Fiesta driven by Ken Block in Gymkhana Five: Ultimate Urban Playground; San Francisco. The car checked some important boxes for us. It represented one of America’s hottest current motorsport stars, of course, but it also gave us our first rally car. The Fiesta wasn’t just for show—Block drove it in multiple competitions, including the 2012 X Games in Los Angeles, where he took second place (one of five podium finishes Block took in the X Games series). At the same time, we collected several accessories worn by Block, including a helmet, a racing suit, gloves, sunglasses, and a pair of shoes. The footwear is by DC Shoes, the apparel company that Block co-founded with Damon Way in 1994.

Racing toys and games are prominently represented in Driven to Win. We have several vintage slot cars and die cast models, but I was excited to add a 1:64 scale model of Brittany Force’s 2019 Top Fuel car. Force is one of NHRA’s biggest current stars, and an inspiration to a new generation of fans.

Silver box with text and screenshot from video game of cars on a racetrack
Charmingly dated today, Pole Position’s graphics and gameplay were strikingly realistic in 1983. / THF176903

Many of those newer fans have lived their racing dreams through video games. We had a copy of Atari’s pioneering Indy 500 cartridge already, but I was determined to add newer, more influential titles to our holdings. While Indy 500 didn’t share much with its namesake race apart from the general premise of cars competing on an oval track, Atari’s Pole Position brought a new degree of realism to racing video games. Pole Position was a top arcade hit in 1982, and the home version, released the following year, retained the full-color landscapes that made the game so lifelike at the time. I was excited to acquire a copy that not only included the original box, but also a hype sticker reading “Arcade Hit of the Year!”

Another game that made the jump from arcade to living room was Daytona USA, released in 1995 for the short-lived Sega Saturn. Rather than open-wheel racing, Daytona USA based its gameplay on stock car competition. The arcade version was notable for permitting up to eight machines to be linked together, allowing multiple players to compete with one another.

More recently, the Forza series set a new standard for racing video games. The initial title, Forza Motorsport, featured more than 200 cars and encouraged people to customize their vehicles to improve performance or appearance. Online connectivity allowed Forza Motorsport players to compete with others not just in the same room, but around the world.

One of my favorite new acquisitions is a photograph showing a young racer, Basil “Jug” Menard, posing with his race car. There’s something charming in the way young Menard poses with his Ford, a big smile on his face and hands at his hips like a superhero. His car looks worse for the wear, with plenty of dents and an “85” rather hastily stenciled on the door, but this young driver is clearly proud of it. Menard represents the “weekend warrior” who works a regular job during the week, but takes on the world at the local dirt track each weekend.

Wooden case open to reveal a number of silver drafting tools inside, set in black velvet
When we talk about a racer’s tools, we don’t just mean cars and helmets. / THF167207

Drivers may get most of the glory, but they’re only the most visible part of the large team behind any race car. There are folks working for each win everywhere from pit lane to the business office. Engineers are a crucial part of that group, whether they work for the racing team itself, the car manufacturer, or a supplier. In the early 20th century, Leo Goossen was among the most successful racing engineers in the United States. Alongside designer Harry Miller, Goossen developed cars and engines that won the Indianapolis 500 a total of 14 times from 1922 to 1938. We had the great fortune to acquire a set of drafting tools used by Goossen in his work. The donor of those tools grew up with Goossen as his neighbor. As a boy, the donor often talked about cars and racing with Goossen. The engineer passed the tools on to the boy as a gift.

We could not mount a serious exhibit on motorsport without talking about safety. Into the 1970s, auto racing was a frightfully dangerous enterprise. Legendary driver Mario Andretti commented on the risk in the early years of his career during our 2017 interview with him. Andretti recalled that during the drivers’ meeting at the beginning of each season, he’d look around the room and wonder who wouldn’t survive to the end of the year.

Improved helmets went a long way in reducing deaths and injuries. Open-face, hard-shell helmets were common on race tracks by the late 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1968 that driver Dan Gurney introduced the motocross-style full-face helmet to auto racing. Some drivers initially chided Gurney for being overly cautious—but they soon came to appreciate the protection from flying debris. Mr. Gurney kindly donated to us one of the full-face helmets he used in occasional races after his formal retirement from competitive driving in 1970.

And speaking of Dan Gurney, he famously co-drove the Ford Mark IV to victory with A.J. Foyt at Le Mans in 1967. We have a treasure trove of photographs from that race, and of course we have the Mark IV itself, but we recently added something particularly special: the trophy Ford Motor Company received for the victory. To our knowledge, Driven to Win marks the first time this trophy has been on public view in decades. Personally, I think the prize’s long absence is a key part of the story. Ford went to Le Mans to beat Ferrari. After doing so for a second time in 1967, Ford shut down its Le Mans program, having met its goal and made its point. All the racing world had marveled at those back-to-back wins—Ford didn’t need to show off a trophy to prove what it had done!

White glove in black frame with gold plaque containing text below it
Janet Guthrie wore this glove at the 1977 Indy 500—when she became the first woman to compete in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. / THF166385

For most of its history, professional auto racing has been dominated by white men. Women and people of color have fought discrimination and intimidation in the sport for decades. It is important to include those stories in Driven to Win—and in The Henry Ford’s collections. We documented Janet Guthrie’s groundbreaking run at the 1977 Indianapolis 500, when she became the first woman to compete in America’s most celebrated race, with a glove she wore during the event. I quite like the fact that the glove had been framed with a plaque, a gesture that underlined the significance of Guthrie’s achievement. We’ve displayed the glove in the exhibit still inside that frame. More recently, Danica Patrick followed Guthrie’s footsteps at Indy. Patrick also competed for several years in NASCAR, and in 2013 she became the first woman to earn the pole position at the Daytona 500. She kindly donated a pair of gloves that she wore in 2012, her inaugural Cup Series season.

Man in jumpsuit with short curly hair and mustache leans against back of race car, with other race cars, people, and equipment in the background
Wendell Scott, the first Black driver to compete full-time in NASCAR’s Cup Series, as photographed at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1974. / THF147632

Wendell Scott broke NASCAR’s color barrier when he battled discrimination from officials and fans to become the first Black driver to win a Cup Series race. Scott earned the victory at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, in December 1963. We acquired a photo of Scott taken later in his career, at the 1972 World 600. Scott retired in 1973 after sustaining serious injuries in a crash at Talladega Superspeedway. In addition to acquiring the photo, we were fortunate to be able to borrow a 1966 Ford Galaxie driven by Scott during the 1967 and 1968 NASCAR seasons.

Wendell Scott’s impact on the sport is still felt. Current star Darrell “Bubba” Wallace is the first Black driver since Scott to race in the Cup Series full-time. Following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, Wallace joined other athletes from all sports in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. He and his teammates at Richard Petty Motorsports created a special Black Lives Matter paint scheme for Wallace’s #43 Chevrolet Camaro, driven at Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway on June 10, 2020. We acquired a model of that car for the exhibit. The interlocked Black and white hands on the hood are a hopeful symbol at a difficult time.

Our collecting efforts did not end when Driven to Win opened. We continue to add important pieces to our holdings—most recently, items used by rising star Armani Williams in his stock car racing career. There will be more to come: more artifacts to collect, more stories to share, and more insights on the people and places that make American racing special.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

#Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, women's history, video games, toys and games, racing, race cars, race car drivers, Henry Ford Museum, engineering, Driven to Win, by Matt Anderson, African American history

Claude Harvard faced many racial obstacles over the course of his young life, but when he addressed a crowd of students at Tuskegee University in 1935, he spoke with confidence and optimism:

“Speaking from my own experience, brief as it is, I feel certain that the man or woman who has put his very best into honest effort to gain an education will not find the doors to success barred.”

One of the few, if not the only, Black engineers employed by Henry Ford at the time, Claude had been personally sent to Tuskegee by Ford to showcase an invention of his own creation. Even in the face of societal discrimination, the message of empowerment and perseverance that Claude imparted on that day was one that he carried with him over the course of his own career. For him, there was always a path forward.

Four men in suits wearing headphones sit at a table with equipment on the table and along the wall behind them
Claude Harvard practicing radio communication with other students at Henry Ford Trade School in 1930. / THF272856

Born in 1911, Claude spent the first ten years of his life in Dublin, Georgia, until his family, like other Black families of the time period, made the decision to move north to Detroit in order to escape the poor economic opportunities and harsh Jim Crow laws of the South. From a young age, Claude was intrigued by science and developed a keen interest in a radical new technology—wireless radio. To further this interest, he sold products door-to-door just so he could acquire his own crystal radio set to play around with. It would be Claude’s passion for radio that led him to grander opportunities.

At school in Detroit, Harvard demonstrated an aptitude for the STEM fields and was eventually referred to the Henry Ford Trade School, a place usually reserved for orphaned teen-aged boys to be trained in a variety of skilled, industrial trade work. His enrollment at Henry Ford Trade School depended on his ability to resist the racial taunting of classmates and stay out of fights. Once there, his hands-on classes consisted of machining, metallurgy, drafting, and engine design, among others. In addition to the manual training received, academic classes were also required, and students could participate in clubs.

Young men sit around a long table looking at a man standing at one end
Claude Harvard with other Radio Club members and their teacher at Henry Ford Trade School in 1930. / THF272854

As president of the Radio Club, Claude Harvard became acquainted with Henry Ford, who shared an interest in radio—as early as 1919, radio was playing a pivotal role in Ford Motor Company’s communications. Although he graduated at the top of his class in 1932, Claude was not given a journeyman’s card like the rest of his classmates. A journeyman’s card would have allowed Claude to be actively employed as a tradesperson. Despite this obstacle, Henry Ford recognized Claude’s talent and he was hired at the trade school. By the 1920s, Ford Motor Company had become the largest employer of African American workers in the country. Although Ford employed large numbers of African Americans, there were limits to how far most could advance. Many African American workers spent their time in lower paying, dirty, dangerous, and unhealthy jobs.

The year 1932 also saw Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company once again revolutionize the auto industry with the introduction of a low-priced V-8 engine. By casting the crankcase and cylinder banks as a single unit, Ford cut manufacturing costs and could offer its V-8 in a car starting under $500, a steal at the time. The affordability of the V-8 meant many customers for Ford, and with that came inevitable complaints—like a noisy rattling that emanated from the engine. To remedy this problem, which was caused by irregular-shaped piston pins, Henry Ford turned to Claude Harvard.

Engine sitting on a stand
1932 Ford V-8 Engine, No. 1 / THF101039

To solve the issue, Harvard invented a machine that checked the shape of piston pins and sorted them by size with the use of radio waves. More specifically, the machine checked the depth of the cut on each pin, its length, and its surface smoothness. It then sorted the V-8 pins by size at a rate of three per second.  Ford implemented the machine on the factory floor and touted it as an example of the company’s commitment to scientific accuracy and uniform quality. Along with featuring Claude’s invention in print and audio-visual ads, Ford also sent Harvard to the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago and to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to showcase the machine.

Machine on display under a sign with text, with images along wall behind
Piston Pin Inspection Machine at the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois. / THF212795

During his time at Tuskegee, Harvard befriended famed agricultural scientist George Washington Carver, who he eventually introduced to Henry Ford. In 1937, when George Washington Carver visited Henry Ford in Dearborn, he insisted that Claude be there. While Carver and Ford would remain friends the rest of their lives, Claude Harvard left Ford Motor Company in 1938 over a disagreement about divorcing his wife and his pay. Despite Ford patenting over 20 of Harvard’s ideas, Claude’s career would be forced in a new direction and over time, the invention of the piston pin sorting machine would simply be attributed to the Henry Ford Trade School.

Despite these many obstacles, Claude’s work lived on in the students that he taught later in his life, the contributions he made to manufacturing, and a 1990 oral history, where he stood by his sentiments that if one put in a honest effort into learning, there would always be a way forward.


Ryan Jelso is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

#THFCuratorChat, technology, radio, manufacturing, making, Ford workers, Ford Motor Company, engines, engineering, education, by Ryan Jelso, African American history

Black man with beard and mustache in shirt and tie sits by a computer and television and smiles at camera
Jerry Lawson, circa 1980. Image from
Black Enterprise magazine, December 1982 issue, provided courtesy The Strong National Museum of Play.

In 1975, two Alpex Computer Corporation employees named Wallace Kirschner and Lawrence Haskel approached Fairchild Semiconductor to sell an idea—a prototype for a video game console code-named Project “RAVEN.” Fairchild saw promise in RAVEN’s groundbreaking concept for interchangeable software, but the system was too delicate for everyday consumers.

Jerry Lawson, head of engineering and hardware at Fairchild, was assigned to bring the system up to market standards. Just one year prior, Lawson had irked Fairchild after learning that he had built a coin-op arcade version of the Demolition Derby game in his garage. His managers worried about conflict of interest and potential competition. Rather than reprimand him, they asked Lawson to research applying Fairchild technology to the budding home video game market. The timing of Kirschner and Haskel’s arrival couldn’t have been more fortuitous.

Black man in suit with flower in boutonnière sits by a counter full of scientific equipment and examines yarn or fiber
A portrait of George Washington Carver in the Greenfield Village Soybean Laboratory. Carver’s inquisitiveness and scientific interests served as childhood inspiration for Lawson. / THF214109

Jerry Lawson was born in 1940 and grew up in a Queens, New York, federal housing project. In an interview with Vintage Computing magazine, he described how his first-grade teacher put a photo of George Washington Carver next to his desk, telling Lawson “This could be you!” He was interested in electronics from a young age, earning his ham radio operator’s license, repairing neighborhood televisions, and building walkie talkies to sell.

When Lawson took classes at Queens and City College in New York, it became apparent that his self-taught knowledge was much more advanced than what he was being taught. He entered the field without completing a degree, working for several electronics companies before moving to Fairchild in 1970. In the mid-1970s, Lawson joined the Homebrew Computer Club, which allowed him to establish important Silicon Valley contacts. He was the only Black man present at those meetings and was one of the first Black engineers to work in Silicon Valley and in the video game industry.

Refining an Idea


Box with image of boxy video game system, cartridges, and stick controllers, along with text
Packaging for the Fairchild Channel F Video Entertainment System. / THF185320

With Kirschner and Haskel’s input, the team at Fairchild—which grew to include Lawson, Ron Smith, and Nick Talesfore—transformed RAVEN’s basic premise into what was eventually released as the Fairchild “Channel F” Video Entertainment System. For his contributions, Lawson has earned credit for the co-invention of the programmable and interchangeable video game cartridge, which continues to be adapted into modern gaming systems. Industrial designer Nick Talesfore designed the look of cartridges, taking inspiration from 8-track tapes. A spring-loaded door kept the software safe.

Boxy yellow game cartridge with graphic label containing text, next to black box with graphics and text
Boxy gray cartridge with square label containing text and photo of five people in front of a black-and-white striped backgroundA Fairchild “Video-Cart” compared to a typical 8-track tape. / THF185336 & THF323548

Until the invention of the video game cartridge, home video games were built directly onto the ROM storage and soldered permanently onto the main circuit board. This meant, for example, if you purchased one of the first versions of Pong for the home, Pong was the only game playable on that system. In 1974, the Magnavox Odyssey used jumper cards that rewired the machine’s function and asked players to tape acetate overlays onto their television screen to change the game field. These were creative workarounds, but they weren’t as user-friendly as the Channel F’s “switchable software” cart system.

Boxy brown and black video game console with adapter and box with text and graphics in orange, yellow, and black
THF151659

Jerry Lawson also sketched the unique stick controller, which was then rendered for production by Talesfore, along with the main console, which was inspired by faux woodgrain alarm clocks. The bold graphics on the labels and boxes were illustrated by Tom Kamifuji, who created rainbow-infused graphics for a 7Up campaign in the early 1970s. Kamifuji’s graphic design, interestingly, is also credited with inspiring the rainbow version of the Apple Computers logo.

Boxy brown-and-black gaming console with two stick-shaped controllers
The Fairchild Video Entertainment System with unique stick controllers designed by Lawson. / THF185322

The Video Game Industry vs. Itself


The Channel F was released in 1976, but one short year later, it was in an unfortunate position. The home video game market was becoming saturated, and Fairchild found itself in competition with one of the most successful video game systems of all time—the Atari 2600. Compared to the types of action-packed games that might be found in a coin-operated arcade or the Atari 2600, many found the Channel F’s gaming content to be tame, with titles like Math Quiz and Magic Numbers. To be fair, the Channel F also included Space War, Torpedo Alley, and Drag Race, but Atari’s graphics quality outpaced Fairchild’s. Approximately 300,000 units of Channel Fun were sold by 1977, compared to several million units of the Atari 2600.

Rotating GIF featuring colorful images of various game cartridges next to their graphic boxes
Channel F Games (see them all in our Digital Collections)

Around 1980, Lawson left Fairchild to form Videosoft (ironically, a company dedicated to producing games and software for Atari) but only one cartridge found official release: a technical tool for television repair called “Color Bar Generator.” Realizing they would never be able to compete with Atari, Fairchild stopped producing the Channel F in 1983, just in time for the “Great Video Game Crash.” While the Channel F may not be as well-known as many other gaming systems of the 1970s and 80s, what is undeniable is that Fairchild was at the forefront of a new technology—and that Jerry Lawson’s contributions are still with us today.


Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

toys and games, video games, technology, making, home life, engineering, design, by Kristen Gallerneaux, African American history

Brass machine with various knobs and fittings
Steam Engine Lubricator, 1882 / THF152419

You may have heard the saying, “The Real McCoy.”  Popular belief often links the phrase to the high quality of a device patented by Black engineer Elijah McCoy.

Elijah McCoy was born on a farm in Canada to formerly enslaved parents. His father, George McCoy, had rolled cigars to earn the $1,000 required to buy his freedom.  But money could not buy freedom for George’s love, Mildred “Millie” Goins, so George and Millie escaped her Kentucky master and became fugitives, settling in Colchester, Canada. They became farmers and had twelve children, including Elijah, born around 1844.

Elijah McCoy’s interest in machines led him to pursue formal study and an apprenticeship in engineering in Scotland. When he returned, he joined his family in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Portrait of man with beard and mustache wearing suit
Portrait of Elijah McCoy, circa 1895 / THF108432

But employers, blinded by racism, could not see his talent. Instead, in 1865, the Michigan Central Railroad offered McCoy the dangerous job of oilman and fireman. The need to constantly oil the moving parts of a locomotive AND shovel coal into the engine’s firebox soon sent him to the drawing board. In 1872, McCoy patented his own “improvement in lubricators for steam-engines,” the first of at least 52 patents and design registrations he secured during his lifetime.

For the next 40 years, McCoy patented many improvements for his automated oil-drip mechanism, updating his device as steam-engine design and operation changed. The steam engine lubricator cup pictured above (and on exhibit in Made in America in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation) resulted from improvements patented in 1882. Today, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office branch in Detroit bears his name, a fitting tribute to an innovator who moved locomotives—if not mountains.


This post was adapted from a stop on our forthcoming “Stories of Black Empowerment” tour of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in the THF Connect app, written by Debra A. Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford. To learn more about or download the THF Connect app, click here.

Made in America, Henry Ford Museum, THF Connect app, railroads, Michigan, making, engineering, by Debra A. Reid, African American history

Jacquard loom - Richard Jeryan 3

The Henry Ford has lost a wonderful friend and colleague. Master Weaver Richard Jeryan passed away on June 25. Richard was an extraordinary individual— not only for his enormous professional contributions, but for his unique personal gifts that he so generously shared. Brilliant, gifted, generous, wise, and caring, Richard will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

Richard grew up in the Philadelphia area. He received a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Drexel University in 1967 and his MS in Mechanical Engineering and Heat Transfer from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969.

Richard had a long and illustrious career at Ford Motor Company before coming to The Henry Ford, retiring as Senior Technical Specialist/Technical Leader in 2006 after 42 years. During his years at Ford, Richard used his vast expertise in lightweight automotive structural materials including aluminum and glass/carbon-fiber composites to research, develop, and create production applications for vehicles ranging from Ford passenger cars and trucks to Formula One race cars, America’s Cup yachts, and the 2005 Ford GT. Richard’s expertise was widely recognized among his colleagues in the field--he served first as Chairman and then on the Board of Directors of the Automotive Composites Consortium for nearly 20 years.

Richard was truly a Renaissance man—someone with wide interests and expertise in many areas. Richard always seemed to know something about everything—and sought out a wide variety of life experiences. (A little known fact: Richard had a number of non-singing roles in Michigan Opera Theatre productions, including Katisha’s beleaguered servant in a 1991 production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.) Perhaps most importantly for us at The Henry Ford, Richard studied, mastered, and then generously shared his knowledge  of handweaving.

Richard and his wife Chris brought their weaving expertise to The Henry Ford in 2006—and a new era dawned in Greenfield Village’s Weaving Shop. Here, Richard’s mechanical engineering and weaving skills came together to transform our weaving program. Richard and Chris worked with Historic Operating Machinery’s Tim Brewer to get our historic weaving machinery working again and keep it well maintained. Richard led the team in reactivating our Jacquard loom in 2007—the 600-warp thread loom that had not run for decades—discovering along the way that Henry Ford had commissioned this Jacquard reproduction during the 1930s for the Weaving Shop and had it built by his workers. It is one of only three working Jacquard looms in North American museums.

Richard and Chris also took the lead on organizing and designing the textile projects, assisting Crafts and Trades manager Larry Watson. Improved, as well as new, items rolled off the looms as the weaving staff worked under the Jeryans’ guidance. Firestone Farmhouse received new, sturdier rag rugs for the everyday parlor; various village buildings got period correct handwoven towels for use in foodways programs and in historic kitchen installations, though most of these towels are eagerly snatched up by visitors to our Liberty Craftworks store; weaving products based on traditional coverlet weaving patterns appeared in our holiday catalog; and, soon, scarfs woven on our historic knitting machine will be offered as well. Richard often donated materials to be used for weaving, even prowling estate sales for desirable yarn. 

Richard not only helped “behind the scenes” by researching, making the machinery run, designing the textile products, and teaching the staff to weave, but also frequently demonstrated weaving and interpreted our Weaving Shop stories for our visitors as well. Watching Richard present was truly memorable—his passion was contagious and he made it so clear how these stories of the past connect to our lives today. Richard often lent his expertise in coverlets and other historic woven textiles to curator Jeanine Head Miller. He provided invaluable assistance in evaluating and problem solving some of the issues we have had with the Dymaxion House. Richard and Chris were also co-chairs of our annual employee/volunteer fund drive for many years. And they did all of all of this as members of our unpaid staff. For these generous gifts of knowledge, skill, and time we are most grateful.

Richard’s knowledge of weaving and historic textiles benefited not only The Henry Ford, but other organizations as well. From 2008 to 2013, Richard served on the Board of Directors of the National Museum of the American Coverlet in Bedford, Pennsylvania. Here he did everything from strategic planning to teaching to painting the walls. More recently, Richard was elected the President of the Complex Weavers, an international guild of weavers dedicated to expanding the boundaries of handweaving and the sharing of information and innovative ideas.

There are so very many things we will always remember about Richard. Among them: his leadership, his ability to recognize and nurture hidden talent in those around him, his way of teaching and inspiring others, his keen perception and sense of humor, and his passion for The Henry Ford and its stories.

Richard Jeryan did so incredibly much in his 70 years. He was a truly extraordinary man who chose to use his talents to make the world a much better place.

You will continue to inspire us, Richard--and we will miss you.

Greenfield Village, engineering, Ford workers, Ford Motor Company, making, in memoriam

William Clay Ford, who passed away on March 9, 2014, is remembered for his generous philanthropy, his dedication to the city of Detroit, and his long-time ownership of the Detroit Lions. They are important legacies that will continue to benefit and inspire for years to come. Automotive industry leaders, historians and enthusiasts point to another of Mr. Ford’s lasting contributions: the 1956 Continental Mark II.

While his brothers Henry II and Benson – especially Henry II – made their marks in Ford Motor Company’s business offices, William Clay Ford inherited his father Edsel Ford’s passion for automotive styling, as well as his consummate good taste. Fittingly, the younger Ford’s most important automobile project was a revival of Edsel’s much-admired Lincoln Continental of 1939 to 1948. The revival car, built and sold under a separate Continental Division, not only measured up to the original Continental’s legend, but became a classic in its own right.

William Clay Ford (left) reviews a clay model of the Continental Mark II. (THF112905)

At just thirty years of age, William Clay Ford headed a team of stylists and engineers who worked around the clock to design a car of rare style and luxury. The resulting Continental Mark II, with its clean lines and understated trim, stood in stark contrast with the chrome confections typical of the 1950s. Build quality was of the highest order. Suppliers’ parts were checked and re-checked, and factory components were tested and re-tested. Each car was essentially hand-built, and workers were encouraged to report even the slightest defect so that problems could be corrected before a car ever left the factory.

Power came from a 368-cubic inch Lincoln V-8 capable of 300 horsepower. The car was appointed with every available convenience. Automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes and power windows were all standard equipment. Air conditioning was the only optional extra. Quality and luxury, of course, came at a cost. The Continental Mark II debuted with a price tag of $10,000 – more than twice the cost of a conventional Lincoln. The car quickly became a status symbol among business and entertainment elites. Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor were proud owners, as was Elvis Presley – despite his penchant for Cadillacs.

Ford Motor Company never intended the Mark II to be a mainstream success. Instead, it was a “halo car” that sprinkled a touch of status over the automaker’s entire line. Even with that imposing price tag, Ford undoubtedly lost money on each Mark II it sold. But the company was willing to take the loss in return for the prestige and publicity the car generated. That mindset changed swiftly when Ford became a publicly-traded company in 1956. The limited-market Continental Mark II was no longer sustainable, and production ceased after just 3,000 cars over two model years.

The Continental Mark II was built by a separate Continental Division headed by William Clay Ford. (THF113239).

Today the Continental Mark II is regarded as one of the most elegant American automobiles ever built. Some 1,500 examples survive, and bidding is intense whenever one comes up for auction. Mark II owners and fans keep the car’s spirit alive through clubs and car shows, and car magazines regularly include it in their “best ever” lists. It’s an enduring testament to William Clay Ford’s contributions to the automobile industry.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

engineering, by Matt Anderson, cars, luxury cars, design, Ford Motor Company

Back in May, we received a visit to our reading room by a team of engineering students from Penn State, who were touring Greenfield Village. They had been out in the Village helping to install a working replica (but more on that later) of Henry Ford's first experimental engine, the Kitchen Sink Engine. (The original engine, made in 1893, is in our collections storage.) Now they wanted to see what is near and dear to any engineer's heart: the blueprints. We located and pulled the engine's technical drawings, which had been created by Ford Motor Company staff circa 1944 and form part of our Ford Blueprint Drawings collection (just one small part of which is the "Miscellaneous Ford Motor Company Blueprints and Drawings Collection," where these drawings reside.

Drawing of the 1893 Kitchen Sink Engine, "First Gasoline Engine by Mr. Henry Ford" (Object ID: 64.167.181.1).

The engineering students were a rapt audience, and they stayed in the reading room for a while, poring over the drawings, talking to each other about them, and taking pictures. Later, an order was put in for high-resolution scans of the drawings. It turns out that a previous group of students from their course had already created their own replica of the engine, back in 2012 as part of a class project. The Henry Ford has had a replica of the Kitchen Sink Engine on display, but ours is not a working replica. Theirs is -- and that's the really cool thing. We are always pleased when our collections are used in exciting ways that bring the past forward. Icing on the cake for this particular case (maybe the Fates were smiling on us for the 150th anniversary of Henry Ford's birth?), was that with one of the Kitchen Sink Engine drawings, we hit a milestone number for our image scanning: THF100000! (All of the collections images we scan are assigned a unique identification number, in order to make tracking and retrieval possible.) A nice round—and large—number to commemorate an important first in Henry Ford's career! Now we're going to be wondering what THF200000 will be.

See the Penn State Beaver students' working replica of the Kitchen Sink Engine on display at this weekend's Old Car Festival.

engineering, engines