The Columbus Buggy Company’s sprawling factory, depicted as it was in 1889. / THF124829
When we hear the name “Firestone,” our thoughts inevitably turn to motor vehicle tires, proving themselves where the rubber meets the road. It’s a bit surprising, then, to learn that members of the Firestone family were building horse-drawn vehicles decades before the first Model T turned a wheel.
Clinton Firestone, in partnership with the brothers George and Oscar Peters, established the Columbus Buggy Company in Columbus, Ohio, in 1875. The firm grew into one of the largest buggy manufacturers in the world. By 1900, it employed more than 1,000 people and operated branch offices throughout the United States.
Clinton Firestone was a first cousin to Benjamin Firestone. Benjamin was a prosperous farmer in Columbiana, Ohio, and the father to future tire magnate Harvey Firestone. (Greenfield Village visitors will recognize the brick farmhouse that Benjamin and Catherine Firestone called home.) After a stint selling patent medicines and flavor extracts, young Harvey went to work at his cousin Clinton’s buggy company in the early 1890s. Harvey Firestone bounced between bookkeeping and sales duties at branch offices in Columbus, Des Moines, and Detroit. He remained with the firm until 1896. Four years later, he established his own business selling rubber buggy tires—the famous Firestone Tire & Rubber.
Harvey Firestone, pictured here about 1920, worked at several Columbus Buggy Company branch offices throughout the Midwest. / THF124780
Working in sales, Harvey Firestone was a first-hand witness to one of the problems that led to Columbus Buggy’s demise. While the company offered well-built wagons priced around $100, a growing number of competitors, like Durant-Dort, offered similar-quality wagons for around $35. Some buyers continued to pay the premium for Columbus Buggy’s perceived prestige, but most were content to get a comparable vehicle elsewhere for one-third the price.
There was another problem too: the horseless carriage. Columbus Buggy tackled that challenge by introducing an automobile of its own in 1903. Despite a marvelous slogan—“A vehicle for the masses, not a toy for the classes”—the $750, ten-horsepower high-wheeler auto could not save the firm. Columbus Buggy Company went bankrupt in 1913.
Harvey Firestone, of course, did make a successful transition into the new motorized world. In 1906, Firestone Tire & Rubber secured its first contract to supply Ford Motor Company with automobile tires. That prosperous business relationship grew into a lifelong personal friendship between Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford.
The Henry Ford’s Columbus Buggy Company surrey.
In 2015, The Henry Ford acquired a beautifully-restored Model 300½ four-passenger surrey manufactured by Columbus Buggy. Open-sided surreys were a favorite warm-weather conveyance in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Ask anyone who’s seen Oklahoma!) Given the Columbus Buggy Company’s family ties, the surrey was an ideal fit for programming use at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village. A surrey of this style and quality would have been within the means of an upper middle-class family like the Firestones—the sort of carriage they might have taken to church on Sunday, or to town on social calls.
Automobiles may have put the Columbus Buggy Company out of business, but we’re glad to keep a little part of its legacy rolling along.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
Elizabeth Parke Firestone (1897–1990) was the wife of Harvey S. Firestone, Jr., son of the founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. As a well-heeled and fashion-conscious woman, she both traveled to and corresponded with many famous couture houses in Paris, including the House of Dior.
An inquiry from Dior last year led to our digitization of many of the articles of Christian Dior clothing in our collection that belonged to Mrs. Firestone, but when we dug even further, we turned up over 370 Dior design drawings, mostly dating from the 1950s. Many, like the 1955 “Fête a Trianon,” are intricately colored, and include handwritten notes and fabric swatches, giving potential customers a taste of their glamour. Visit our Digital Collections to peruse all of these Dior design drawings. Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Elizabeth Parke was a trim, blue-eyed beauty. The daughter of a prosperous merchant in Decatur, Illinois, she was full of life and adventure. Elizabeth loved to dance and enjoyed parties. Good thing, too; she met her handsome, intelligent, wealthy husband-to-be at a dance at Princeton about 1920. Young Harvey S. Firestone, Jr., the son of the founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, must have found her to be a spirited partner. He learned to fly airplanes during World War I and she did not seem to mind climbing in one with him. The Firestones often traveled for business and pleasure. Elizabeth enjoyed trekking through jungles and sleeping in grass huts in exotic locales as much as she relished dining in sumptuous hotels with royalty.
Elizabeth had a fine eye for fashion. As a teenager, she attended school in Europe , studying French and learning about applied and fine arts. Family notebooks include some early costume sketches in her hand for theatrical presentations. Family members recall that young Elizabeth designed and sewed many of her own fashions before her marriage in Decatur on June 25, 1921.
Over about a decade in the early part of the 20th century, a quartet including Henry Ford, inventor Thomas Edison, businessman Harvey Firestone, and naturalist John Burroughs took a series of summer camping trips, sometimes inviting others along for part or all of the journey. The group, calling themselves the Vagabonds, took trips that might not exactly qualify as “roughing it”—they travelled with a caravan of vehicles, a full contingent of service staff, and many comforts of home including furniture and china tableware. We’ve just digitized dozens of photos of the Vagabonds in action, including this photo of the group having breakfast at a large lazy susan–equipped wooden table. View more than 100 photos and artifacts related to the Vagabonds by visiting The Henry Ford’s digital collections.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
An always-popular spot in Greenfield Village is the working Firestone Farm House, where visitors can observe daily chores similar to those of an American farm in the 1880s. However, Firestone Farm House has a history that elevates it above the ordinary—it was where Harvey Firestone, who would later found Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, was born. We’ve just digitized some of our materials about the Firestone family and the farm, including this photo of the house on its original site, with young Harvey and his family on the front porch. Visit our digital collections to explore our Firestone materials from a number of angles: objects related to Harvey Firestone himself, objects related to the extended Firestone family, or objects related to the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford.
Friends Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison, and John Burroughs went on camping trips together for a number of years, calling themselves the Vagabonds. Their trips were quite luxurious, by camping standards, involving a sizable caravan of staff and equipment. Why eat off tinware, for example, when one could use china instead? The Henry Ford’s collection includes a selection of the early 20th century Tudor Rose china that these august figures used on their wilderness trips, including the bouillon cup shown here. View photos and artifacts related to the Vagabonds on our collections website.
Dress, Worn by Elizabeth Parke Firestone, 1950 (Object ID: 92.263.43)
Elizabeth Parke Firestone (1897-1990) was destined to develop a refined sense of fashion. Born the daughter of a wealthy Decatur, Ill., businessman, she was given the opportunity to study in Europe in her mid-teens. Through this adventure she developed a deep appreciation for French culture, particularly French decorative arts. She also nurtured a lifelong love of dancing, which influenced not only her fashion sense but her choice of spouse.
Elizabeth met Harvey S. Firestone, Jr., at a dance. Their 1921 wedding was the union of two well-established business families, and their celebration was the most lavish Decatur had ever seen. It began a 52-year marriage, during which the couple raised four children at "Twin Oaks," their Akron, Ohio, home. They also maintained homes in New York City and Newport, R.I.
Elizabeth's background prepared her well for her role of representing her husband and family in the most influential business and social circles of the time. She joined her husband on business trips, traveling the United States, Europe and Asia throughout their marriage. She looked to both the New York and Paris fashion scenes to find couturiers who met her style standards, then worked through both correspondence and visits to modify their designs to fit her best features.
Evening Dress, Worn by Elizabeth Parke Firestone, 1947
Elizabeth was meticulous about her looks, leaving no detail unattended. Her fair skin became radiant when she wore pinks and blues, and most of her clothing can be found in variations of these shades. Multiple matching gloves, shoes, purses and hats were commissioned for each outfit, so that replacements would be readily available in case of damage.
Trim, blonde and blue-eyed, Elizabeth looked stunning in designer gowns and was frequently photographed for fashion and society magazines. Well into her 50s her fashions were the talk of society, and her style-both classy and classic-was frequently noted in the press. In the 1950s she was named one of the "Best Dressed Women in the World" by the Couture Group of the New York Dress Institute along with the Duchess of Windsor and Hollywood actresses including Olivia de Havilland.
Prior to her death, Elizabeth and her family realized that the clothing she owned offered a rich and sweeping view of fashion history to future generations, and a large segment of her wardrobe was donated to The Henry Ford. Today that collection includes more than 1,000 dresses, shoes, gloves and other accessories, from early home-sewn creations including her wedding dress to custom-made American and European designer fashions. Each dress is truly a work of art, crafted by inventive couturiers for a patron who not only collaborated on the result, but well understood the contribution each made to the life of her family and the society of the day.
Now that school's out and summer is here, many of us turn our thoughts to vacation and travel. Camping has long been a way for Americans to spend time relaxing with their families and friends and experiencing the beauties and wonders of nature — and sometimes just being a kid again.
Between 1915 and 1924, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, tire magnate Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs (who took part 1916-1920), calling themselves "the Four Vagabonds," embarked on a series of summer camping trips. Others joined the group at various times, among them family, business associates and politicians, including U.S. presidents. (Photo found here.)
Over the years, the group crisscrossed the mountains, valleys and scenic countryside of Upstate New York, the New England states, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia,Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
The group traveled in style and their adventures were well-documented and publicized. Equipment used by the party included a folding circular camp table with lazy Susan seating twenty (pictured above), a twenty-square-foot dining tent, sleeping tents with mosquito netting, a gasoline stove and a refrigerated Lincoln camping truck. A professional chef prepared the group's meals and film crews and numerous outside journalists followed in their wake. Ford complained of the attention and its hampering effects on their trips, but there are strong indications that he nevertheless relished the publicity. (Photos found here and here.)
Yet Henry Ford's interest in nature was not new or merely a public relations gambit. Here he is with Clara at the Grand Canyon in 1906. They were avid birders and had over 500 birdhouses installed amid the naturalistic landscaping (designed by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen) of their Fair Lane Estate. John Burroughs helped them rehabilitate the adjoining land and reintroduce wildlife to the area.
In addition to the collectionsimagesonline, we've also digitized films of the Vagabonds. Here, John Burroughs plants a tree; the group walks, dines and relaxes at the campsite; and Henry Ford climbs a tree.
Even more still images from our photographic collections featuring the Vagabonds are available on our Flickr page. Here's Henry clowning around in a cowboy getup. (Below photo found here.)
Though executed on a grander scale than most camping trips, the Vagabonds' journeys spoke to a desire, shared by millions of Americans, to get back to the beauties of nature and, as Burroughs wrote, to "be not a spectator of, but a participator in, it all!"*
*(Burroughs, John. Our Vacation Days of 1918. Privately printed by Harvey Firestone, ca. 1918-1920s.)
Rebecca Bizonet is former archivist at the Benson Ford Research Center at The Henry Ford. When she's not helping preserve and provide access to her institution's vast and rich archival holdings, she enjoys exploring Michigan's scenic highways (and finds the many opportunities for great whitefish and pasties, not to mention the scenic historic and natural wonders, more than make up for not having a personal chef in tow!).