Visitors to Henry Ford Museum will see a new vehicle in Driving America. Edsel Ford’s 1941 Lincoln Continental convertible is now in the exhibit’s “Design” section, located just behind Lamy’s Diner. The original Lincoln Continental, built between 1939 and 1948, is regarded as one of the most beautiful automobiles ever to come out of Detroit. It’s an important design story that we’re delighted to share.
The Continental’s tale began in the fall of 1938 as Edsel Ford returned from a trip to Europe. While overseas, Ford was struck by the look of European sports cars with their long hoods, short trunks and rear-mounted spare tires. When Ford got home, he approached Lincoln designer E.T. “Bob” Gregorie and asked him to create a custom car with a “continental” look. Using the Lincoln Zephyr as his base, Gregorie produced an automobile with clean, pure lines free of superfluous chrome ornaments or then-standard running boards.
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.
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.
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.
William Clay Ford, grandson of Henry Ford, was the longest standing Chairman of the Board of The Henry Ford. He held the position for 38 years from 1951-1989. Through his vision and leadership, the institution, founded in 1929 by his grandfather, began its transformative evolution to the premier American history destination that it is today.
Mr. Ford recognized the national significance of The Henry Ford, its unparalleled collections and educational importance and he was committed throughout his life to the ongoing health and vitality of the institution.
As the largest donor in the history of the institution, his generosity helped restore Greenfield Village and build new visitor experiences in Henry Ford Museum, most notably, "With Liberty and Justice for All" and "Driving America," the country’s most significant automotive exhibition. During his tenure as Chairman of our Board from 1951 to 1989, he influenced the addition of many visitor amenities and collecting initiatives including programs such as Old Car Festival, Motor Muster and Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village, the acquisitions of John F. Kennedy’s Limousine, Firestone Farm, the Allegheny and the DC3 and the building of Greenfield Village’s railroad to name just a few.
In recognition and honor of Mr. Ford’s many contributions, the museum hall was named the William Clay Ford Hall of American Innovation.
At the time of his passing, Mr. Ford was Chair Emeritus, serving The Henry Ford for a total of 63 years. In recent years, he visited the institution often and enjoyed touring the archives, the Village and museum exhibitions.
Recently, when recounting his memories of The Henry Ford, Mr. Ford simply said, “I was brought up with it.” He spoke fondly of roller skating and riding bicycles on the floor of Henry Ford Museum and spending time with his grandparents Henry and Clara Ford in Greenfield Village as a child.
We are deeply saddened by this loss and grateful for Mr. Ford’s lifelong dedication and commitment to The Henry Ford. He will be greatly missed.
We encourage you to take a moment and share your thoughts or memories honoring Mr. Ford’s legacy. Visit our online collections to see more images of Mr. Ford.
Edsel Ford commissioned Charles Hart, a New York-based architect affiliated with the Treadway Service Company to reproduce a group of late 18th- and early 19th-century houses for an addition to the Dearborn Inn. Dearborn-based landscape architect Marshall Johnson prepared this rendering. The aerial photograph shows the Inn from the southwest, one year before construction. Note the adjacent Ford Airport and the clock tower of Henry Ford Museum in the background. (Left: Object ID P833.63669E, THF107996; Right: Object ID 59.13.2)
This is the third of three blog entries on objects related to the Dearborn Inn in the collections of The Henry Ford. The first centered on a remarkable scrapbook documenting the original furnishings of the Inn, which opened in 1931. The second concerned Edsel Ford’s pivotal role in commissioning the Inn and hiring the L.G. Treadway Service Company to furnish and manage it.
By late 1935, Edsel Ford, in consultation with the L.G. Treadway Company of New York City, was hard at work on a plan to add additional accommodations. A promotional brochure published by Treadway sums up the need for expansion:
“The Inn eventually became so popular that additional guest rooms were necessary. As the architectural plan of the Inn would not, with good taste or economic soundness, allow an addition, it was decided, after a thorough survey of the problem, to build separate cottages, or houses, to accommodate travelers. To be in keeping with the traditional environment these should be, externally, exact replicas of houses famous in American history, and, inside, afford the same comfort as enjoyed by guests at the Inn. The scheme calls for several houses to be grouped harmoniously as a Colonial Village.”
The brochure goes on to state that the landscape was to be carefully arranged, “such as might have grown around the original houses.”
A series of telegrams between A.J. Lepine, Edsel Ford’s secretary, and architect Charles Hart documents the design approval process.
Landscape design proposalssubmitted to Edsel Ford for the “Colonial Village” at the Dearborn Inn.
Work on the “Colonial Village” progressed through the winter and spring of 1936. A series of landscape designs were submitted to Edsel Ford for his approval. In mid-March a meeting among Edsel Ford, architect Charles Hart, and landscape architect Marshall Johnson was held in Dearborn. Ultimately the designs, including swimming pools and a bath house, were scaled down to just five houses: the Barbara Fritchie House, from Frederick, Maryland, the Governor Oliver Wolcott House, from Litchfield, Connecticut, the Patrick Henry House, from Red Hill, Virginia, the Edgar Allan Poe House from the Bronx, New York, and the Walt Whitman Birthplace, from Huntington, Long Island, New York. Selection of these houses for a “Colonial Village” seems questionable when one considers that three of the famous individuals, Barbara Fritchie, Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman, were active in the 19th century, long past the colonial period. Perhaps the selection of these figures relates to romantic perceptions of American history in the 1930s, combined with an interest in the broader “Colonial” past.
Correspondence between Charles Hart and A.J. Lepine, Edsel Ford’s secretary, suggesting purchase of the original Walt Whitman Birthplace for Greenfield Village.
A fascinating exchange between Charles Hart and A.J. Lepine, Edsel Ford’s secretary, in late April and early May, 1936, suggests that there was discussion between Edsel Ford and Hart about purchasing the original Walt Whitman Birthplace, located in Huntington, Long Island, New York, for Greenfield Village. The Birthplace was currently on the market for $30,000. Hart states that Edsel Ford asked him “. . .to hold up on this particular house until you had a chance to talk with your Father [sic] to determine whether he would be interested in the purchase of it for his Greenfield Village.” The response was that the house would not be “further considered, as it has been determined that the price is too high.” In this exchange, the bath house and pool were likely eliminated as well, because of the high cost.
Over the summer and fall of 1936 the five reproduction houses were completed at the rear of the Inn. The houses opened for guests in the spring of 1937. Interiors were filled with reproductions of 18th- and 19th-century furnishings, updated to the needs and comfort of the discriminating traveler of the 1930s: promotional brochures boasted that the houses were outfitted with radios, telephones, and private bathrooms in each suite.
The Treadway Company managed the Inn and the “Colonial Village” for just three more years, until 1939, when their contract expired. The Inn and the reproduction homes have endured and prospered over the decades. Today, visitors to Dearborn may experience these houses in much the same manner as guests in the 1930s. Fortunately for us, the Marriott Corporation, who manages the Village and Inn, have maintained the high standards set in the 1930s.
For more insights on the Inn and “Colonial Village”, take a look at Jennifer Czerwick Ganem’s Images of America: Dearborn Inn (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2011).
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.
Edsel Ford and Henry Ford II at the National Air Tour, Ford Airport, Dearborn, 1928. Sponsored in part by Ford, the National Air Tour brought pilots and visitors to Dearborn in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The need to house guests and participants was one of the factors that led to the construction of the Dearborn Inn. (Object ID P.O.8527)
This is the second of three blog posts on objects related to the Dearborn Inn in the collections of The Henry Ford. The first concerned a remarkable scrapbook documenting the original furnishings of the Inn, which opened in 1931.
In the first piece, I discussed the unique nature of the Dearborn Inn, intended as an airport hotel and as a “front door” for visitors to our campus, Ford Motor Company and the Dearborn community. What I did not address was who conceived of the Inn and oversaw the project to its fruition. That individual was Edsel Ford. While it is generally acknowledged that Edsel Ford was a pivotal figure in the management of the Ford enterprise, individual achievements are rarely accorded to him. In the case of the Dearborn Inn, it is generally considered to be the conception of Henry Ford. While researching the scrapbook, I ran across reminiscences in our archives of Ernest Gustav Liebold (1884-1956), who served as Henry Ford’s executive secretary and financial manager. Mr. Liebold oversaw nearly all of Henry Ford’s business outside of Ford Motor Company. Mr. Liebold categorically states that the idea for the Dearborn Inn came from Mr. Edsel Ford. He continues to briefly discuss the construction of the Inn, specifically the interaction of architect Albert Kahn’s office with the Ford organization. Finally, Mr. Liebold states the following:
“Mr. Edsel Ford brought in Treadway to operate the Dearborn Inn. He also had Treadway at his Inn up in Maine. (Edsel Ford owned a large summer home near Seal Harbor, Maine.) Edsel bought it shortly after Mr. (Henry) Ford bought the Wayside Inn (in Sudbury, Massachusetts). He had that as an inn of his own, and Treadway operated it. Treadway was brought here at the same time and given a contract, I think for five years.”
This statement led me to investigate the Treadway Inn and its history. According to The Motel in America (1996) Treadway Inns were America’s earliest motel chain. They were founded accidentally by Mr. L.G. Treadway. In 1912 he took over operations at the Williams Inn at Williamstown, Massachusetts. (This inn continues today.) It was an old coaching inn, dating back to the early 19th century. Under Treadway’s management, the establishment was attractive, comfortable, and provided good meals. Treadway’s innovation came in 1920 when he and the owners of inns in nearby towns, specifically the Ashfield House of Ashfield, Massachusetts, and the Dorset Inn of Dorset, Vermont, combined resources. Guests were recommended to the associated inns, and employee exchanges took place. The three inns found economies of scale by combining advertising and purchasing; the resulting increase in business and decrease in costs brought increased profits – the affiliation grew into a chain, with many other New England inns added over time.
Each inn maintained its own character, but they all shared comfort, good food and efficiency. They did not attempt to duplicate the hotels of big cities, but rather extend to all travelers old-fashioned rural New England hospitality. Once established, the chain made its headquarters, ironically, in New York City and always included the trademark, “The Real New England Inns” with a distinctive logo of a colonial innkeeper pointing with a cane in the left hand, lantern held high in his right.
While traveling from Michigan to his summer home in Maine, Edsel Ford likely encountered the Treadway chain. After experiencing “The Real New England Inns” it must have been a foregone conclusion for Edsel Ford to invite Treadway to manage the Dearborn Inn. According to articles in Ford News, Ford Motor Company’s in-house magazine, announcing the Inn’s opening in the summer of 1931, a number of the Inn’s staff was recruited from Treadway Inns throughout New England.
Reproduction 18th and 19th century furniture filled the public and guest rooms of the Dearborn Inn (Object ID 59.13.7).
The Dearborn Inn differed from typical Treadway Inns in a major way – it was a totally new construction. In keeping with their corporate identity, the Treadway staff sought to recreate interiors reminiscent of a New England inn, filling the public and guest rooms with reproduction 18th and 19th century furniture.
The Treadway firm managed the Dearborn Inn until 1939, when the contract with Ford was not renewed. A subsidiary of Ford known as Seaboard properties operated the Inn until 1983, when the Marriott Corporation took over.
This 1966 brochure for the Treadway Publick House, at the Old Sturbridge Village living history museum, documents a typical Treadway Inn property. It was described as “A 1771 Coaching Tavern,” and visitors had the option of staying in the Inn, Treadway House (a “Colonial Farmhouse”) or the adjacent, modern Treadway Motor Inn. (Object ID 90.281.40).
Following World War II, Treadway changed with the times and oriented itself to the automobile traveler. While maintaining “The Real New England Inns” trademark and logo, they added motor inns across the northeast and north-central United States. In 1971, the firm turned to franchising, reaching a peak of 55 inns by the mid-1970s. In the 1980s, like many aging motel chains, including competitor Howard Johnson’s, the firm sold many properties, eventually liquidating the entire chain. Today, only one hotel, in Oswego, New York, operates under the Treadway name. Many of the original coaching inns, like the Williams Inn in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and the Publick House in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, continue to operate as independent inns.
For more insights on the Dearborn Inn and lots of great images, take a look at Jennifer Czerwick Ganem’s Images of America: Dearborn Inn (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2011).
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.
The collections of The Henry Ford contain not only much of the history of the Ford Motor Company and Henry and Clara Ford, but also records related to Henry’s son, Edsel, as well as Edsel’s children. We’ve just digitized a number of photographs of one of Henry’s grandchildren, William Clay Ford, Sr. Before he retired from Ford Motor Company in 1989, William Clay Ford was involved in many capacities with the company his grandfather founded, and also served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Edison Institute (e.g., The Henry Ford) for nearly 40 years, plus 25 years as our Chairman Emeritus. In addition, he has also had a controlling interest in the Detroit Lions NFL football team for the past 50 years. In this photo, young William walks among moss-covered trees at Richmond Hill, Georgia, with his grandmother, Clara. See more images and objects related to William Clay Ford, Sr., in our online collections.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Did you know Henry Ford had his own personal librarian? Rachel MacDonald joined Ford Motor Company in 1925 to catalog objects acquired by Henry Ford for the educational center and history museum he envisioned--the Edison Institute, what we know today as The Henry Ford. She stayed on to build up a library of 25,000 volumes, including a complete set of the Little Orphan Annie comic strip, a favorite of her boss. She also collected, on Henry's behalf, volumes of Noah Webster's dictionaries and the McGuffey readers, and she started a compilation of verified Henry Ford quotations, among other useful resources. Many of these materials were transferred to the archives shortly after Henry Ford's death. These materials, which became part of the Ford Motor Company Archives, were later donated by the company to The Henry Ford, in 1964, and form part of our collection today.
MacDonald's first library at Ford was in the Highland Park plant. There she met visiting friends of Henry Ford including Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, actor Mickey Rooney, and author Damon Runyon, when they paid calls on Henry, who thirsted after interesting conversation. Mickey Rooney, who came to Dearborn to film a movie about Edison's life, was a particular favorite of Henry's, who enjoyed the young actor's energy and high spirits.
As time went on, Ford's aides increasingly limited access to the mogul, even going so far as to call ahead to places they knew Henry was going to be visiting--including the library--warning employees to hide. (By this time MacDonald was working at the Engine and Electrical Engineering or "EEE" Building now known as the POEE building, where the library had moved.) As the isolation and formality around Henry increased, he became a very lonely man, MacDonald recalled feeling. Henry turned to square dancing as a social outlet, with dances in the library every Wednesday. MacDonald often danced with Henry and observed that he would chat with her the whole time they were dancing.
Besides notable visitors from around the country and the world, the Ford grandchildren were frequent visitors to the library. MacDonald remembered that Henry II and Benson liked to slide around on the highly polished floors (Henry always liked to keep things in fine finish) as though they were at a skating rink.
Both Henry and Clara Ford were avid birders, and they created a bird sanctuary on their Dearborn estate, Fair Lane. One of MacDonald's favorite anecdotes to relate about her days at Ford was the time Henry called her with an urgent request for information on the "correct size for a hole in a wren house." She found the answer (⅞ of an inch) and promptly informed him. She later learned that Henry had been inspecting the wren houses built on his grounds by his staff and thought that the holes were too large. A larger hole would allow other bird species, including the ubiquitous sparrow, to invade. Upon learning that the holes were not the correct size, Henry, ever the stickler, had them all recut.
In an interview with the Detroit Free Press given around her retirement, MacDonald had more recollections about Henry Ford and the library she helped him amass. Ford was not popularly thought to have had much use for books, but MacDonald countered that he was in fact very interested in them. Henry wanted have a collection of books on hand on all manner of subjects should the need arise for him--or his staff--to look something up. He was, according to MacDonald, a frequent visitor to her library and would spend time there skimming through books, often walking off with one in his pocket. (According to her and others at Ford Motor Company, it was at Henry's insistence that many company publications were pocket-sized, reflecting his preference for portable reading material. Think what he might have done with a smartphone or an e-reader today!) Another useful resource that she and other Engineering Library staff created and kept available at the library for their knowledge-hungry boss was a vertical file on the many topics he was interested in. It is still available for research today as the Engineering Library Vertical File, in many ways a window into Henry Ford's mind.
As an interesting aside, though MacDonald was her married name, Rachel MacDonald was always referred to within the company as "Miss"--perhaps a reflection of different times and moeurs, when a married woman was not expected to remain in the workforce (or indeed, was expected not to remain there).
MacDonald, who had studied library science in Massachusetts before moving to Michigan, kept active professionally and was a charter member and president of the Michigan chapter of the Special Libraries Association. She retired in 1963 after long career as a librarian at Ford (37 years). MacDonald died at the age of 83 in 1981, in Florida, where she had moved after she retired.
As Neil Gaiman has famously noted (to the extent that it has become an Internet meme), "Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one." While today, the answer to the "wren question," and many others, is available at our fingertips, Rachel MacDonald's work at the Ford Engineering Library shows how important both amassing a wealth of resources and deploying the expert knowledge to use those resources were in the time before online search. Today, the field is more democratized in terms of the knowledge and resources that are available, but experts (like my colleagues in the archives, library, and museum professions) are still needed to help identify, collect, preserve, and promote access to important information and artifacts--and in this digital age, to ensure that more and more resources are made available online for all.
Did you know that Henry Ford’s uncles fought in the Civil War? In fact, John and Barney Litogot served with Michigan’s most celebrated regiment, the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, part of the famed “Iron Brigade.”
The Litogot Children
John and Barney were Henry Ford’s mother’s brothers. But the four Litogot children spent only their earliest years together—both of their parents had died by 1842. So the young Litogots, who also included oldest brother Saphara, were divided among friends or relatives. The youngest child, 2-year-old Mary (Henry Ford’s mother), was adopted by Patrick and Margaret Ahern, a childless couple living on a Dearborn, Mich., farm. While all the Litogot children found homes in Wayne County, they likely saw each other infrequently as they were growing up.
Off to War
The Litogot brothers, 27-year-old John and 24-year-old Barney, enlisted in the 24th Michigan in the summer of 1862. John went as a paid substitute for another man. Barney left a wife and infant son. Soon after the Litogots joined up, the brothers headed to a photographer’s studio to pose together in uniform. When Barney and John left Detroit with their regiment for Washington. D.C., the 24th was briefly assigned to aid in the defense of the nation’s capitol. By mid-December, their unit was at Fredericksburg, Va., preparing for battle.
John Litogot’s first battle was also his last. He was killed on Dec. 13, 1862, the second day of the battle of Fredericksburg, hit by a cannonball when the 24th came under attack from Confederate artillery. John was buried where he fell, and later moved to Fredericksburg’s national cemetery.
Barney continued to serve with the 24th through Chancellorsville, Gettysburg (where he was wounded in the arm), the Wilderness (where he received a hand wound), Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. At war’s end, one of his regiment’s last duties was to serve as honor guard at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral in May 1865.
During “Michigan Day at Gettysburg” on June 12, 1889, survivors of the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry gathered at on the Gettysburg battlefield to dedicate their regiment’s monument. Then they posed for a photograph with the monument. But Barney is not pictured among those veterans, having died of tuberculosis in 1873.
So where was Henry Ford during the Civil War? Henry was born on his family’s Dearborn farm on July 30, 1863, about four weeks after his uncle Barney fought at Gettysburg. Henry never knew his uncle John, who lost his life at Fredericksburg the December before Henry was born.