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Posts Tagged fashion

1860s-dress
This vibrant dress was likely dyed using an early aniline purple dye. 
Dress, 1863-1870 (THF182481)

In 1856, British chemistry student William Henry Perkin made a groundbreaking discovery. Perkin’s professor, August Wilhelm von Hofmann, encouraged his students to solve real-world problems. High on the list for Hofmann (and chemists all over the world) was the need to create a synthetic version of quinine. The only effective treatment for the life-threatening malaria disease, quinine could only be found in the bark of the rare Cinchona tree. Just a teenager at the time, Perkin decided to tackle this problem in a makeshift laboratory in his parents’ attic while on Easter holiday. Perkin experimented with coal tar—a coal byproduct in which Professor Hofmann saw promise—and made his discovery. No, not the discovery of a synthetic quinine, but something altogether different and extraordinarily significant nonetheless.

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Wells, Richardson & Company "Leamon's Genuine Aniline Dyes: Purple," 1873-1880 (THF170208)

Perkin’s coal tar experiments resulted in a dark-colored sludge which dyed cloth a vibrant purple color. The purple dye was colorfast too (meaning it did not fade easily). He had discovered aniline purple—also known as mauveine or Perkin’s mauve—the first synthetic dye. Though this was not the medical miracle he had initially sought, he immediately understood the vast significance and marketability of a colorfast, synthetic dye.

Prior to Perkin’s discovery, natural dyes were used to color fabrics and inks and were derived primarily from plants, invertebrates, and minerals. Extracting natural dyes was time consuming and certain colors were rare. For example, arguably the most precious natural dye also happened to be a vibrant purple, called Tyrian Purple. This dye was found in the glands of several species of predatory sea snails. Each snail contained just a small amount of dye, so it took tens of thousands of sea snails to dye a garment a deep purple. Tyrian purple was so expensive that the very wealthy could afford to wear it. It’s no wonder purple was seen as the color of royalty!

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Fabric Dye Swatch Book
, "Kalle & Co. Manufacturers of Aniline Colors," circa 1900 (THF286612 and THF286614)

William Henry Perkin turned out to be multi-talented, finding success both as a chemist and as an entrepreneur. By 1857, with the help of his family, he began commercially manufacturing his aniline dye near London. He first produced purple, but other colors soon followed. The water in the nearby Grand Union Canal was said to have turned a different color each week depending on what dyes were being made. In 1862, Queen Victoria attended the Great London Exposition in a gown dyed with Perkin’s mauve and the color took off. Newspapers even reported a “mauve mania” in the 1860s! These new synthetic dyes were affordable too and other manufacturers around the world began to produce them. By 1880, companies like The Diamond Dye Company of Vermont sold many colors of dye—from magenta to gold or even “drab”—for just 10 cents apiece.

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Trade Card for Diamond Dyes Company, 1880-1890 (THF214453 and THF214454)

Perkin’s discovery spawned an entirely new industry that transformed the world’s access to color. It is fitting that the very first synthetic dye created was purple—the color of Roman emperors and royalty could now be purchased for pennies. Louis Pasteur’s famous quote, “Chance favors the prepared mind,” characterizes Perkin’s serendipitous discovery well. His accidental discovery was far from simple luck – others may have dismissed it as a failed experiment. Instead, Perkin recognized the potential in his mistake and seized the opportunity to bring color to the masses.

Katherine White is an Associate Curator at The Henry Ford.

entrepreneurship, #THFCuratorChat, by Katherine White, fashion

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A new group of garments from The Henry Ford’s rich collection of clothing and accessories makes its debut in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in our What We Wore exhibit, this time examining how fashion trends can highlight, or manipulate, the human form.

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Dress and Pelerine, 1830-1835

(Purchased with funds from the Eleanor B. Safford Memorial Textile Fund)


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What makes these sleeves puffy?
A stiffened underlining--pleated muslin fabric--helps support the sleeves. Sometimes a “sleeve plumper” was used--down-filled pads that tied on at the shoulder under the dress.

The wide silhouette created by these “leg-of-mutton” sleeves and matching pelerine (small cape that covers the shoulders) not only drew attention to the wearer’s arms, but also emphasized the smallness of her waist!

Who wore this dress?
During the 1830s? We don’t know. Later, Tasha Tudor (1915-2008), author and illustrator of children’s literature, owned the dress.

Tudor admired the objects and rural lifestyle of the early 19th century. She lived in a secluded New England farmhouse with no plumbing or electricity, surrounded by an orchard, rambling garden, and lively farm animals. Tasha Tudor also collected antique clothing--and wore it.

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Dress, 1884-1885
(
Gift of Ruth W. Crouse)

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What supported the elaborately draped fabric at the back of this dress?
A bustle--a support of parallel horizontal slats made of wood or steel bent in a half circle. The bustle attached to the body around the waist. A tightly laced corset helped create her extremely small waist.

But how did she sit down? The slats would all collapse together as she sat, then spring back in place when she stood up--maintaining her fashionable silhouette.Between the fabric of the dress and the bustle, garments of this period could be quite heavy to wear!

Who wore this dress?
Mary Stevens (1861-1910), the daughter of wealthy capitalist. The Stevens family lived on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, a street lined with the homes of prosperous Detroiters.

Mary Stevens had a privileged lifestyle. She had the money to purchase finely made fashionable clothing. And led a social life that gave her opportunities to wear it. A few days before Christmas 1884, Mary’s mother gave an elegant reception at the Stevens home--complete with elaborate floral decorations, refreshments, and a full orchestra. Could this be the dress that Mary wore that afternoon?

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Dress, 1927-1929
(Gift of Audrey K. Wilder)

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What undergarment helped achieve this slender, youthful silhouette?
A straight-line, one-piece garment called a corselette. It de-emphasized the bust and smoothed the natural curves of the body--emphasizing the straight, unbroken line of that era’s “boyish” silhouette.

The movement of the uneven hemline, while walking or dancing, would subtly call attention to the wearer’s legs.

Who wore this dress?
Audrey K. Wilder (1896-1979) likely owned this dress.  Audrey attended college--quite unusual for women of her time. She graduated from Albion College, then earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1921.

In the late 1920s, Audrey Wilder was appointed Dean of Women at Ohio Northern University. One of her first projects was the creation of the first social hall for women on campus--a place where female students could hold teas, receptions, musicals, and dinners. Those who knew her described Audrey as a “dynamic dean” and a woman “of exquisite grooming.”

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Cocktail Dress by Christian Dior, 1952
(Gift of Mrs. Harvey Firestone, Jr.)

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What undergarment helped create the “hourglass” silhouette of the 1950s?
Christian Dior’s “New Look”--with its close-fitting hourglass silhouette--dominated the 1950s. This look emphasized a tiny waistline and feminine curves. Longline bras helped slim the waistline and create a smooth line under garments.

This dress, Dior’s “Sonnet” design, also accentuated the waist through the angled side bodice seams, bows at the waist, and rounded skirt.

Who wore this dress?
This dress was custom-made for Elizabeth Parke Firestone (1897-1990), wife of tire magnate Harvey S. Firestone, Jr. Elizabeth felt it her duty to represent her husband, family, and the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company with dignity and grace. She was always flawlessly dressed--whether for informal camping trips, world travel, business functions, or society parties.

Elizabeth had a fine eye for fashion and favored New York and Parisian designers, including Christian Dior. These designers created garments to her specifications, including perfect fit, style, color, fabric, and construction. During the 1950s the New York Dress Institute named Elizabeth one of the "Best Dressed Women in the World.”

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

women's history, fashion, Henry Ford Museum, by Jeanine Head Miller, What We Wore

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Left side of J.R. Jones General Store featuring large grocery “department” and a cigar case on the counter up front. (THF53774)

During the 1880s, proprietor James R. Jones would have welcomed customers to this general merchandise store—now in Greenfield Village but originally located in the rural village of Waterford, Michigan.  Jones sold everything here that townspeople, local farm families, or visiting out-of-towners might want—from groceries to fabrics to farm tools to fishing poles.  The store also served as a community gathering place, for customers to exchange news, socialize, and pick up mail.

Choices between similar products even in country stores like this one were quite plentiful.  Decisions by shoppers depended upon such things as their family background, gender, financial means, and personal values.

Here’s a sampling of some of the products that 1880s customers to the J.R. Jones store might have purchased.

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Sugar barrel (THF176665)

Sugar (approximate price: .08-.12/lb)

In a study of general store accounts from the era, customers purchased sugar more often than any other single product. It was, of course, used in cooking and baking, but large quantities of it were necessary for preserving fresh seasonal produce in the days before refrigeration. 

Sugar was available in many grades, from “A” (the highest) to brown to “X” (the lowest).  Sugar was available in bulk and, unless a storekeeper stocked several grades, customers had little choice in the quality of sugar they obtained at the local store.

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Store canisters for tea (THF176669)

Tea (approximate price: .45-.75/lb)

The Grocer’s Companion (1884) called tea the “foremost of all beverages in reference to its invigorating and restorative qualities.” Tea came in a tremendous variety of grades and types in the late 19th century, and store canisters were often specifically designed to hold the various types. They came from only one species of evergreen shrub or small tree. The differences came in how the tea was grown and how the leaves were treated.  All the tea in the J.R. Jones General Store came from China, which was considered the center of the tea industry at the time. This included:

  • “Black” teas, which underwent a fermentation process before drying.These included Oolong (strong and pungent, made from young leaves) and English Breakfast (in the 19th century, a blend that came from China, but was popularized in England).
  • “Green” teas, which were submitted immediately upon gathering to a high temperature in iron pans.These included Gunpowder (made from young leaves, fragrant and pungent taste with a greenish hue and shaped like round small shot); and Imperial (like Gunpowder but with larger leaves).

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Cans of tomatoes (THF176668)

Canned tomatoes (approximate price: .15/can)

Tomatoes were one of the most popular commercially available canned food products.  By the 1880s, improved manufacturing techniques in canning had raised the production of canned goods to a major American industry, making all manner of fruits, vegetables, and meats available year-round to just about everyone but the very poor.

Canned goods, however, had many critics. Some claimed that the food tasted “tinny,” that it was unhealthy, and that products were adulterated to add weight (this was before the Pure Food & Drug Act of 1906). In some cases, women also could be looked down upon for relying on canned goods rather than canning and preserving themselves.  Nevertheless, the presence of canned goods in store accounts and advertisements attests to their popularity. 

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Packages of Magic Yeast and One Spoon Baking Powder (THF176670)

Magic Yeast and One Spoon Baking Powder (approximate price: .15-.25/box)

Despite the introduction of several different brands of baking powder during this time, yeast still remained the most popular bread-leavening agent. Many women made their own yeast and numerous recipes appeared in cookbooks. As for the commercially processed product, compressed yeast introduced by Gaff, Fleischman & Company in the 1860s, was considered the purest and most dependable form of yeast.

But many brands of packaged yeast cakes and powders, including this Magic Yeast, vied for competition in the market. Critics of these commercial yeast products claimed that their vitality could be easily destroyed by heat, cold or movement, and that they could make bread sour or moldy.  Still, they were much more convenient than the homemade. 

Baking powder, a leavening agent usually made from a proportion of cream of tartar and carbonate of soda, was fairly new on the scene in the 1880s. It saved careful measuring of one or both of these ingredients in baked goods, and saved hours of time over yeast in making bread. Dozens of baking powders, like this One Spoon brand, were available on the market.

But baking powder, more than just about any other cooking ingredient of the late 19th century, raised suspicion and complaints among housekeepers and advice writers alike.  High cost, poor performance, and leaving a bitter taste in foods comprised some of these complaints. But even more alarm was raised by accusations of adulteration—that is, the addition of impure ingredients like lime, earth, or alum, which could actually injure people’s health. Fortunately, most of these problems were worked out in the next decade or so, when the advent of “quick breads” really began. It was the adventurous housewife that tried baking powder in the 1880s. 

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Variety of graniteware coffee boilers (THF176673)

Graniteware coffee boiler (approximate price: 1.00-1.35)

When enamel-coated ironware was introduced in 1874, it was marketed as light (compared to cast iron), handsome (the gray mottled surface was considered picturesque and elegant), wholesome (wouldn’t rust or corrode like tinware and didn’t contain poisonous arsenic, lead, or antimony like cheap imitations), and durable (actually, it chipped easily but 3 out of 4 points in its favor weren’t bad!). Manufacturers of this so-called granite ironware, or graniteware (because of its visual appearance like granite), optimistically claimed that these goods would entirely supplant the “common and unserviceable” stamped tinware. (Actually, it was aluminum that did this in the early 20th century.)  In the 1890s, enamel-coated steel replaced much of the earlier granite ironware.

Coffee, as an accompaniment to breakfast and other meals, was an extremely popular beverage at this time. The most common way of preparing it was in an open boiler on a cookstove.

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Package of Rising Sun Stove Polish (THF176674)

Package of Rising Sun Stove Polish (approximate price: .08-.10/pkg)

This product would have been used in conjunction with blacking to clean and give luster to cast-iron stoves. It was mixed with a liquid agent (e.g., turpentine or soap-suds) for application to the stove. This was a crucial task for cleaning cast-iron stoves, but it was also marketed as necessary to maintaining a tasteful home. Rising Sun Stove Polish was very aggressive in its marketing. Advertisements boasted that it was “the oldest and most reliable stove polish in the world” and that it would “keep stoves looking good and operating efficiently.” 

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Case of boxes of cigars (THF176666)

Cigars (approximate price: .04-.08 apiece)

During the 1880s, cigar-smoking was extremely popular, especially among men who wanted to appear prosperous and ambitious. Unlike smoking tobacco (for pipes) and plugs of chewing tobacco, where production was monopolized by a few large national manufacturers, cigars were still produced at thousands of small, local manufactories across the country as well as in Havana, Cuba. Detroit had several cigar factories. As a result of this great number of producers, cigars came in a daunting array of sizes, colors, grades, and flavors. To the uninitiated, sometimes only the eye-catching images on their boxes in the store’s showcase distinguished one brand from another.

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Packages of Ayer’s Hair Vigor (THF176671)

Ayer’s Hair Vigor (approximate price: .50)

The hairstyles of the 1880s required an abundant supply of healthy hair in order to make it stand up as high and look as natural as possible. Hair dressings and restorers abounded, with Ayer’s Hair Vigor among the best known. 

This product claimed to promote hair growth, restore color and vitality to faded or gray hair, and render the hair soft, youthful, and glossy. It contained cream of tartar (removed the reddish color in hair caused by rust from iron-rich well water); glycerin (a moisturizer); lead acetate (which claimed to remove the gray hair); and a caustic soda (a.k.a. sodium hydroxide or lye), which claimed to be a hair relaxer or straightener. The colorful images of young women with long, luxurious hair on Ayer’s trade cards and packages must have encouraged older women to try this product as well. 

Medical journals attacked Ayer’s Hair Vigor as unsafe and denounced its manufacturer as deceiving the public. But the product’s allure persisted, and certainly J.R. Jones and his customers would have been unaware of any safety warnings from such journals. 

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Jars of Woodworth’s Ursina Bear Grease (THF176672)

Woodworth’s Ursina Bear Grease (approximate price: .12)

Pomades, oils, and dressings for keeping hair in place and sometimes for promoting hair growth were popular men’s grooming aids in the late 19th century. In fact, that is the major reason why ornamental lace tidies and antimacassars were so common—to protect the surfaces of chairs and sofas from these often greasy concoctions. This particular product claimed to be “real bear grease procured from the Rocky Mountains and very carefully refined.” 

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3 varieties of castor sets (THF176678)

Castor set (approximate price: $1.50-2.25)

In the 1880s, silver-plated castor sets frequently formed the centerpiece of the dining table for middle-class families, reflecting the families’ good taste and economic status.  Castor sets would have been a necessity in places like hotels and boardinghouses, where large groups of people dined—each with different tastes in food. They were available in a tremendous variety of styles and prices. Most contained two to six bottles, generally for holding pepper, mustard, oil, and vinegar, and sometimes other spices.

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Boxes of men’s and women’s collars (THF176676)

Men’s and women’s collars (approximate price: .10-.30)

A white shirt with a white collar and cuffs marked the man as someone of means, or at least on his way up. But clean collars and cuffs were always a necessity, no matter what color and style shirt a man wore. Enter replaceable collars and cuffs.

Men’s collars of the 1880s were plain in style and were made of paper, celluloid, or linen. Collars were high and tight, either “standing” (straight up around the neck) or “turned outward” (tips or side edges turned outward or over and slightly down), complementing the coats which buttoned high during this time. Paper and celluloid collars were considered disposable, while linen collars could be washed and ironed and kept fresh for a period of time.

Women’s dresses were time-consuming to make and costly to have someone else make. Purchasing a new collar was an inexpensive way of freshening or updating the look of a dress that had been around for a while. Ladies’ collars were detachable and could be used multiple times on various garments. They ranged in price, from fairly plain linen collars to intricate lace ones.

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Men’s derbies and straw hats (THF176675)

Men’s hats (approximate price: .50-1.75 for straw; $1.00-2.50 for derby)

While top, or silk, hats might have been worn by a wealthy city gentleman going to a fancy affair, Waterford men would have generally worn a bowler hat, supplemented by a low-crowned straw hat for summer occasions. The hard felt bowler (usually referred to as a derby in the United States) was a staple, durable hat that could have been worn all day long—even at work—and was generally considered a symbol of respectability. 

Also during this time, the hat industry aimed to persuade every man to purchase a new straw hat at the beginning of every summer. Straw hats tended to be water-resistant to hold up even on rainy days.

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Bolts of fabric (THF176677)

Fabric (approximate price: .05 for print to 1.30 for silk)

Women’s clothing was not ready-made yet, so all dresses had to be fashioned at home or by a seamstress.  Bolts of fabric and trims lined numerous shelves of general stores like this one.  The bolts of fabric in this store include:

  • “Print”– a general term for a fabric onto which patterns were printed or applied by dyes after it was machine-woven.Available in a huge variety of designs, it was about the cheapest and most durable, but least elegant, dress fabric available.
  • Linen – One of the oldest textile fabrics known, this would have been imported.It was more elegant and fashionable than cotton, but also quite a bit more expensive and harder to maintain.
  • Wool – A very warm and durable fabric, produced in mills in the eastern United States.(In fact, the fleece from sheep raised on farms around Waterford was shipped to these mills.)Wool was very serviceable for winter clothing.
  • Silk – Noted for its resiliency and elasticity, this would have been imported.It was quite a bit more expensive than wool, and dresses made of this material would have been elegant and stylish.

Donna Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

fashion, furnishings, food, Michigan, J.R. Jones General Store, shopping, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, by Donna R. Braden

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The costumes featured in Hallowe’en at Greenfield Village are made for all types of weather conditions. Just like trick-or-treaters walking through their own neighborhoods on October 31, our presenters and staff members must be ready for any weather scenario.  

Try these tips from our costuming experts in our Period Clothing Studio. 

Our Hallowe’en costumes are made of a water resistant, breathable, nylon athletic material called Supplex, so that they can be worn in the rain. When that material isn’t used, our lightweight cottons are sprayed with Scotchguard or have a wool outer layer that naturally protects the wearer. If you purchase a costume made of thin polyester, make sure you can layer a windbreaker or waterproof athletic shirt underneath for rainy weather. Most of the characters during Hallowe’en also have umbrellas that match their outfits in case rain is in the forecast. 

When the temperatures are warmer than normal, our costumes are built to be worn over lightweight cotton layers, like T-shirts and shorts or leggings to wick away sweat. Conversely, thermal underlayers can be added for cold weather to add protection without added bulk.  

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Need a Greenfield Village example? The Lion costume is worn over cotton layers with an ice pack vest to keep the presenter cool in the heat. The vest is not worn during cold weather.  

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Some of our costumes have additional overlayers for very cold weather, but they are built into the design. For example, the Mermaid has a separate bodice lined in wool to be worn over the sequin-and-net bodice of the dress, and has earmuffs decorated with hair wefts to look as though they are a part of her wig.   

Don’t forget - wear comfortable, waterproof, slip-resistant shoes, just like us. You can always cover sneakers with spats or ice skate covers to match your costume.  

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Visibility is key when it comes to creating a costume. Many of our costumes feature waterproof lighting which can be an added safety feature for costumes worn in the dark. We use decorative fairy lights, like those used for special outdoor events, which have waterproof battery packs. The lighting is sewn into channels under a sheer decorative layer or tacked into the costume with the battery packs easily accessible at the waistband.  

If you are wearing a mask, practice wearing it in low lighting before wearing it outside. You can cut away the eye holes in plastic masks or extend your peripheral vision by swapping out sheer jersey eye holes in soft masks with tulle or net and use makeup around your eyes to disguise the transition. 

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Halloween costumes and accessories don’t have to be brand new. Try repurposing and upcycling old clothing by dyeing it and then adding trim to give texture. This year our female pirate costumes are repurposed 18th century dresses from stock that were dyed, altered, and trimmed to fit the theme. A past mermaid costume net cape was repurposed as trim in the yellow ochre pirate’s dress by dyeing it and stitching it to the peplum to create texture.

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Is your costume’s color not quite right or the fabric can’t be dyed? Try using fabric paint and a sponge to gently tone down the color. The Bad Fairy wings were originally a bright green metallic lace, but we sponge painted over the material with emerald green, spruce green, and navy fabric paints to create a darker ombre effect to match the rest of the costume. But watch that paint - some must be heat set, while others can take 24-48 hours to fully dry. 

Still looking for costume inspiration? Try taking a stroll down our pumpkin-lit path this month during Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village. You never know which character may ignite the Halloween maker in you. 

Anne Suchyta Devlin is Senior Manager of the Studio at The Henry Ford. 

Greenfield Village, holidays, Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village, Halloween, fashion, costumes, by Anne Suchyta Devlin, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

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As we continue to celebrate our first year of What We Wore--our new collections platform in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation--a new group of garments from The Henry Ford’s rich collection of clothing and accessories makes its debut.

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This season it’s all about kids.

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Sailor Suit, about 1925
Sailor suits were popular from the 1870s into the 1930s—with short or long pants for boys and skirts for girls. These nautically-themed outfits were usually made of sturdy washable fabrics and, though stylish, allowed kids a bit more freedom of movement.

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Jumper and Blouse, 1958–1960
(Gift of Mary Sherman)
In the 1950s, girls still wore dresses or skirts much of the time—for formal occasions and for school. Pants were play clothes—what girls wore after school to run around the yard or play indoors.

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"Wrecker" Coordinating Shirt and Pants, 1978
(Gift of Diana and John Mio)
Designs with kid appeal often appear on children’s casual clothing— images like cars and trucks, princesses, dinosaurs, animals, butterflies, and monsters.

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Blouse and Pant Outfit, about 1935
This girl’s casual outfit was inspired by adult fashion—beach pajamas, informal resort wear sporting wide pantlegs. Cheerful, pastel prints were popular during the Depression era.

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Leisure Suit, 1977
(Gift of Diana and John Mio)
The casual and versatile leisure suit reached the height of popularity with adult men in 1977, when John Travolta wore a white version to the disco in the movie Saturday Night Fever.  Even kids donned this ultimate—and short-lived—1970s fashion trend.

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Dress, about 1920
(Gift in Memory of Augusta Denton Roddis)
In the 1920s, simple dresses were preferred for younger girls. Linen fabric and pale colors were popular for summer wear. The understated details on this dress are embroidered, crocheted and tatted—the children’s mother was a skilled needlewoman.

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The Building Blocks of Childhood

Children love to build things--whether they create imaginary worlds or smaller versions of the real one.  Construction toys are quite literally and figuratively “the building blocks of childhood.”  Playing with them builds physical and intellectual skills--and encourages creativity.  Toy bricks, logs, and girders are the stuff of playtime joy!

Entrepreneurs have introduced innovative construction toys that have delighted new generations of children.  Which is your favorite? For the LEGO fans, Towers of Tomorrow with LEGO® Bricks, a first-of-its-kind, limited-engagement exhibition, is rising up in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation October 12 through January 5, 2020.

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Erector Set No. 1, about 1915

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Junior Tinkertoy for Beginners Set, 1937-1946

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American Plastic Bricks, about 1955 (
Gift of Miriam R. Epstein)

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Lincoln Logs, about 1960 (
Gift of Steven K. Hamp)

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Lego Building Set, 1976-1983

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Dream Builders Super Blocks Building Set, 1991-1992

childhood, What We Wore, toys and games, Henry Ford Museum, fashion, by Jeanine Head Miller

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As we were excited to announce last December, What We Wore offers us the opportunity to continually display objects from The Henry Ford’s rich collection of clothing and accessories. What’s on exhibit currently in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation? Wedding dresses, highlighting the fact that the “traditional” white wedding dress wasn’t always traditional...

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For much of American history, brides simply wore the best dress they had. Most wedding celebrations were at-home, informal events. The formal white wedding dress—and the more elaborate celebration to go along with it—is a relatively new concept.

Queen Victoria’s choice of a white dress for her 1840 wedding to Prince Albert inspired the fashion. Over the next century, the custom would gradually spread from the very wealthy to those of more modest means. By the 1950s, the formal white wedding with all the trimmings had become a widespread tradition.

Whether simple or elaborate, classic or trendy—for most brides, the white wedding gown has staying power. Some brides prefer a practical choice for their bridal attire—others search for the perfect, “fairy princess” dress.

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Whatever the choice of wedding apparel, it reflects the bride’s values and taste.

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Mollie Herrington – Married July 1, 1886

Mollie Herrington wed Reverend William Canfield on a summer evening in the mid-1880s. Like most brides, this 26-year-old schoolteacher was married at her family’s home in a dress that was not white. Brides wore their best dress—whether newly made or already owned—and continued to wear it after the wedding. Few could afford to invest in a white dress meant to be worn only once. Mollie’s stylish dress was probably made for her wedding by a local dressmaker.

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Gift of American Textile History Museum, donated to ATHM by Shirley Parish.

Shirley Powell – Married Oct. 18, 1969

Shirley Powell was married in her great-aunt Mollie’s wedding dress—a choice both practical and sentimental. This 23-year-old bride loved the cherished family heirloom—and didn’t think she would find anything more finely made or beautiful at a price she was willing to pay. Having a traditional wedding wasn’t all that important to Shirley and David, but they realized the celebration would be as much about family bonds as about them.

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Wedding Party at the Marriage of Cecelia Wall and Anthony Denisevich, 1935. THF274683

Cecilia Wall – Married Oct. 26, 1935

For her morning wedding, 22-year-old Cecelia Wall walked down the aisle in an ivory silk velvet dress. Afterwards, the bridal party and immediate family enjoyed a wedding breakfast at her parents’ home and, in the evening, a reception at the home of the groom’s parents. The Great Depression required some brides to plan simpler weddings than they might have wished. Cecelia was among the fortunate brides who could afford a formal wedding gown.

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Rose Pecchia at Her Wedding in 1968. THF274680

Rose Pecchia – Married March 29, 1968

Rose Pecchia was a practical woman who wanted a simple wedding. She and her husband-to-be chose a wedding date—just two weeks away. A secretary at a downtown Detroit television station, 28-year-old Rose ran out on her lunch hour to nearby Hudson’s department store. She then headed for the racks of cocktail dresses. Rose knew it as soon as she saw it—the perfect dress! It was minimal and stylish—in the 1960s, shorter skirts were “in.” A friend’s mother made the simple headpiece.

Recently, Rose had the chance to see her wedding dress on exhibit. Take a look at her reaction below.

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What We Wore, fashion

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As another school year begins to wind down, take a look through our digital collections at all things related to school.

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First Day of School
Along with the first day of school often came fresh new school supplies: crayons with pointy tips, pencils with pristine erasers, and even a new schoolbag or backpack. And for many, it meant getting a brand new outfit to wear on that all-important first day of school.

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Saluting the Students of the AAA School Safety Patrol®

Like clockwork, fall’s arrival brings with it a return to school for children throughout the United States. Whether they walk, ride a bike, take a bus, or get dropped off by an adult, the students’ daily trips to and from class will be safer thanks to the dedicated efforts of the AAA School Safety Patrol. Established by the American Automobile Association in 1920, the program’s core mission – to encourage safety awareness among young people – remains unchanged.

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Lunchbox Fandom
Since the 1950s, children have been persuading their parents that they absolutely must have a school lunch box sporting their favorite character. 

Expert Sets
One-Room Schools
Children and Desks


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1927 Blue Bird School Bus

This 1927 Blue Bird is the oldest surviving school bus in America. Albert Luce, Sr., built his first bus in 1925 by mounting a purchased wood body to a Ford truck frame. The body could not withstand the Georgia roads. Luce, convinced he could make a better bus, applied a steel framework under the wood body. His success led him to make school buses full time.

This is the first in a long line of buses made by Blue Bird, one of the country's major school bus builders. It is the oldest surviving school bus in America. In 1925, Albert L. Luce, Sr. owned two Ford dealerships in Georgia when a customer came in and ordered a bus to transport his workers. Mr. Luce purchased a wooden bus body and mounted it on a Ford Model TT truck. But the body began rattling apart before the customer could even finish paying for the bus. Mr. Luce was convinced he could make a better bus body and, by 1927 he had built the school bus you see here. The key to success was a strong steel framework under the wood. Within a few years Mr. Luce sold his Ford dealerships and began making school buses full time. Chassis: 1927 Ford Model TT Truck Engine: 176 cu. in., 20 hp Body: Hand built using steel and wood.

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William Holmes McGuffey School
The McGuffey School was built in Greenfield Village in 1934, created out of barn logs from the 1790s southwestern Pennsylvania farmstead where textbook author William Holmes McGuffey was born. Children living in frontier communities learned to read in rustic schoolhouses like this one. McGuffey's Eclectic Readers gave them an easy, standardized way to do it.

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Miller School

Henry Ford attended Miller School at age nine. He followed a favorite teacher, John Chapman, there from the Scotch Settlement School. The small, one-room building was typical of rural schools throughout the United States in the 1800s. Ford had this replica built in Greenfield Village in the early 1940s.

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Scotch Settlement School

Henry Ford attended this one-room schoolhouse from age seven to ten. Because of Ford's fondness for his teacher John Chapman, he not only followed Chapman to Miller School but also brought Chapman's house to Greenfield Village. This school, originally built in 1861 in Dearborn Township, was the first classroom of the Greenfield Village school system Henry Ford started in 1929.

AAA, fashion, childhood, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, Scotch Settlement School, school

What We Wore


What We Wore, a new collections platform in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, offers a much-anticipated opportunity to continually display objects from The Henry Ford’s rich collection of clothing and accessories.   

What’s a collections platform? It’s a small, specialized display of objects from our collection.  This new collections platform, the fourth to be installed in the museum, follows those of coverlets, telephones, and violins. 

The theme of the first group of garments displayed is “Home Front Heroes: Women in World War II”--chosen to complement the “Enduing Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt, & the Four Freedoms” exhibit in The Gallery by General Motors. This clothing represents the stories of millions of American women who worked in defense industries, trained to be pilots, volunteered for the Red Cross, or provided a connection to civilian life for servicemen through USO-sponsored activities during World War II.  

What We Wore


What We Wore is located behind the Anderson Theater, across from Mathematica. Every four months, visitors to the museum will enjoy a look at yet another group of interesting garments and their stories from The Henry Ford’s collection.  

Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

What We Wore, Henry Ford Museum, by Jeanine Head Miller, fashion

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It’s Back to School season—ads for clothing and school supplies are everywhere. The first day of school has meant many things to the generations of kids who have shared this experience. Excitement, curiosity, wariness--and for some of the first timers among us—perhaps even a bit of fear. Along with the first day of school often came fresh new school supplies: crayons with pointy tips, pencils with pristine erasers, and even a new schoolbag or backpack. And for many, it meant getting a brand new outfit to wear on that all-important first day of school.

meganMegan Mines donned this plaid Kelly green dress and headed off to her first day of kindergarten in Warren, Ohio in 1980. She was a little wary of the plunge into the unknown world of kindergarten—what would it be like? Megan also wore the dress for her school photo later that year.   

Do you remember your first day of school—kindergarten or any other year? What was it like? And what did you wear? 

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by Jeanine Head Miller, fashion, childhood, school

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Life is often a juggling act of work, play and family. While current-day clothiers experience the trials and tribulations of being small-town entrepreneurs in the big business of fashion, more than 100 years ago many women were facing similar circumstances, leaning on their sense of style to furnish a living.

In the late 1800s, Elizabeth Cohen had run a millinery store next to her husband’s dry goods store in Detroit. When he died and left her alone with a young family, she consolidated the shops under one roof. Living above the store, she was able to run a business and earn a living while staying near her children.

Cohen leveraged middle-class consumers’ growing fascination with fashion, using mass-produced components to create hats in the latest styles and to the individual tastes of customers. To attract business, resourceful store owners like Mrs. Cohen displayed goods in storefront windows and might have advertised through trade cards or by placing advertisements in newspapers, magazines or city directories.

“While Mrs. Cohen was more likely following fashion than creating it, it did take creativity and design skill,” Jeanine Head Miller, curator of domestic life at The Henry Ford, said of Cohen’s millinery prowess. “She was a small maker connecting with local customers in her community — a 19th-century version of Etsy, perhaps, but without the online reach.”

And she certainly gained independence and the satisfaction of supporting her family while selling the hats she created from the factory-produced components she acquired. “People can appreciate the widowed Elizabeth Cohen’s balancing act,” added Miller, “successfully caring for her children while earning a living during an era when fewer opportunities were available to women.” 

Jennifer LaForce is a writer for The Henry Ford Magazine. This story originally appeared in the June-December 2016 issue.

women's history, The Henry Ford Magazine, shopping, Michigan, making, hats, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, fashion, entrepreneurship, Detroit, design, Cohen Millinery, by Jennifer LaForce