Luther Burbank overcame nature’s limitations to create more than 800 plants the world had never seen.
Burbank experimented with plant reproduction to change the traits of plants. He considered himself a student in “Nature's school” and a lifelong learner. Through the power of observation, Burbank overcame the limits of nature to create new varieties of plants.
Luther Burbank’s plant hybridization experiments led him to develop a plumcot: a cross between the plum and the apricot. THF275310
Luther Burbank used methods like selective breeding, cross-pollination, and hybridization in his experiments. In one famous example, he crossed a plum and an apricot to create a brand-new fruit: the plumcot. In another, he created a cactus with no spikes!
Burbank’s plant creations brought him fame. He amazed more formally trained scientists, and crowds of people showed up at his experimental gardens. The media described Burbank as a “plant wizard,” but he rejected that label. He argued that anyone could do what he did.
An interactive digital experience in Henry Ford Museum features the stories of Luther Burbank, Rachel Carson, and George Washington Carver.
Learn more about Burbank’s life and work in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where a new digital experience in the Agriculture & the Environment exhibit explores
Grafting – a technique Burbank used to clone fruit varieties
The process of creating the famous Russet Burbank potato
Tools used by Luther Burbank in his work
Burbank’s work tracing the origins of corn to an ancient wild grass
Rachel Carson devoted her early career to studying and writing about the ocean. During the 1950s, her poetic books about the sea brought her recognition and fame as an author.
Carson’s books helped build a new awareness about the environment. Her most important book, Silent Spring, released in 1962, asked Americans to examine the negative effects of widespread chemical pesticide use.
Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, linked human action to environmental destruction and ignited a national conversation. THF110029
During World War II, a chemical called DDT protected troops by killing disease-spreading insects. After the war, numerous products containing DDT became commercially available to American consumers for pest control.
In Silent Spring, Carson urged the public to live in harmony with nature and cautioned against the overuse of DDT, which destroyed insect populations and threatened other wildlife species. America reacted. The government banned DDT in 1972. The environmental movement—sparked in part by Carson’s book—continues today.
An interactive digital experience in Henry Ford Museum features the stories of Rachel Carson, Luther Burbank, and George Washington Carver.
Learn more about Carson’s life and work in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where a new digital experience in the Agriculture & the Environment exhibit explores
The post-WWII “chemical craze” that prompted Carson to act
The long-term environmental effects of pesticide misuse
Books and magazines from the beginning of the environmental movement
Carson’s influence on the evolution of environmental activism
In 1984, Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation acquired an old, dilapidated diner. When Lamy’s Diner—a Massachusetts diner from 1946—was brought into the museum, it raised more than a few eyebrows. Was a common diner, from such a recent era, worthy of restoration? Was it significant enough to be in a museum?
Happily, times have changed. Diners have gained newfound respect and appreciation. A closer look at diners reveals much about their role and significance in 20th-century America.
Diners changed the way Americans thought about dining outside the home. A uniquely American invention, diners were convenient, social, and fun.
Horse-drawn lunch wagon, The Way-side Inn. THF38078
Diners originated with horse-drawn lunch wagons that came out on city streets at night, providing food to workers. They also attracted “night owls” like reporters, politicians, policemen, and supposedly even underworld characters!
Peddler’s cart: NYC street scene, 1890-1915. THF241185
Most people agree that horse-drawn lunch wagons evolved from peddler’s carts, like those shown here on this New York City street.
Cowboys at the Chuck Wagon, Crazy Woman Creek, Wyoming Territory, 1885. THF124569
Some people even think that cowboy chuck wagons helped inspire lunch wagons. Here’s a cool scene of a group of cowboys in Wyoming from 1885. Take a look at the fully outfitted chuck wagon in the picture above.
Henry Ford ate here as a young engineer at Edison Illuminating Company in downtown Detroit. In 1927, Ford acquired the old lunch wagon to become the first food operation in Greenfield Village. Notice the menu and clothing worn by the guests.
In this segment of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, you can watch Mo Rocca and me eating hot dogs with horseradish at the Owl—just like Henry Ford might have done back in the day!
When cars increased congestion on city streets, horse-drawn lunch wagons were outlawed. To stay in business, operators had to re-locate their lunch wagons off the street. Sometimes these spaces were really cramped.
These units were roomier and often cleaner than the by-now-shabby lunch wagons. To make them seem more upscale, people began calling these units “diners,” evoking the elegance of railroad dining cars.
Ad with streamlined diner, railroad, and airplane, 1941. THF296820
As more people got used to eating out in diners, more diners were produced. By the 1940s, some diners took on a streamlined form—inspired by the designs of the new, modern streamlined trains and airplanes.
By the 1940s, there were so many diners around that this era became known as the “Golden Age of Diners.” This is where our own Lamy’s Diner comes in. It was made in 1946 by the Worcester Lunch Car Company of Massachusetts. You may not be able to get a cup of coffee and a piece of pie inside Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation right now, but you can visit Lamy’s virtually through this link.
Lamy’s Diner was originally located in Marlborough, Mass. Here’s a photograph of it on its original site. But, like other diners, it moved around a lot—to two other towns over the next four years.
Snapshot of Clovis Lamy in diner, ca. 1946. THF114397
Clovis Lamy was among other World War II veterans who dreamed of owning his own business when the war was over, and diners promised easy profits. As you can see here, he loved talking to people from behind the counter. From the beginning, Lamy’s Diner was a hopping place all hours of the day and night. You can read the whole story of Clovis Lamy and his diner in this blog post.
Lamy’s as a working restaurant in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.
In 2012, Lamy’s became a working restaurant again—inside Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Nowadays, servers even wear diner uniforms that let you time-travel back to the 1940s. A few years ago, the menu was revamped. So now you can order frappes (Massachusetts-style milkshakes), New England clam chowder, and some of Clovis Lamy’s original recipes. Read more about the recent makeover here.
View of a McDonalds restaurant and sign, 1955. THF125822
Diners declined when fast food restaurants became popular. McDonald’s was first, with food prepared by an assembly-line process, paper packaging, and carry-out service. Check out this pre-Golden Arches McDonald’s.
Mountain View steel diner, Village Diner, Milford, PA, c. 1963. THF297276
The 1982 movie Diner helped spur a new revival in diners, as some people got tired of fast food and chain restaurants. Here’s an image of a Mountain View steel diner, much like the one used in that movie.
Dick Gutman in front of a Kullman diner, 1993. THF297029
One person was particularly instrumental in documenting and helping revive the interest in diners. That’s diner historian Richard Gutman. Here he is in 1993 with camera in hand—in front of a diner, of course. We are thrilled that last year, Richard donated his entire collection of historic and research materials to The Henry Ford—including thousands of slides, photos, catalogs, postcards, and diner accouterments!
Modern Diner, Pawtucket, RI, 1974 slide. THF296836
Richard not only documented existing diners but helped raise awareness of the need to save diners from extinction. The Modern Diner, shown here, was the first to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1978).
Robbins Dining Car, Nantasket, Mass., ca. 1925. THF277072
Be sure to check out our Digital Collections for many items from Richard’s collection already online.
Diners continue to have popular appeal. They offer a portal into 20th-century social mores, habits, and values. Furthermore, they represent examples of American ingenuity and entrepreneurship that connect to small business startups and owners today.
Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.
This post was originally part of our weekly #THFCuratorChat series. Follow us on Twitter to join the discussion. Your support helps makes initiatives like this possible.
George Washington Carver at Tuskegee Institute, 1939 THF213730
George Washington Carver’s commitment to knowledge, serving the community, and making a difference drove his work as an influential agricultural scientist.
Carver loved plants as a child and studied them his entire life. Despite the many challenges he faced, he earned degrees in agricultural science and gained international recognition for his work.
In 1896, Carver began his 47-year career at Tuskegee Institute, a university in Alabama committed to educating African-Americans. There, he taught agricultural science, managed the school’s experimental farm, and researched better farming practices.
One of the many bulletins Carver produced to help southern farmers THF288047
Carver shared his knowledge through practical instruction, “how-to” publications, and a mobile classroom. His research became the basis for lessons on improving the health and nutrition of the soil as well as the health and well-being of people and the livestock they tended.
Carver understood that farm families who raised cash crops like cotton had little time to grow food for themselves and no extra money to buy it. He identified hundreds of new uses for undervalued food crops like peanuts and sweet potatoes, which increased market opportunities and improved diets.
An interactive digital experience in Henry Ford Museum features the stories of Luther Burbank, Rachel Carson, and George Washington Carver.
Learn more about Carver’s remarkable career in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where a new digital experience in the Agriculture & the Environmentexhibit explores
Bulletins produced by Carver to help southern farm families
Carver’s work to create nutrient-rich soil needed to grow healthy crops
Weeds – an untapped food source Carver liked to call “nature’s vegetables”
New products Carver developed from crops southern farmers already grew
As part of our 90th anniversary celebration the intriguing story of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation’s design bears repeating. It was last discussed in depth in the 50th anniversary publication “A Home for our Heritage” (1979).
Our tale begins on the luxury ocean liner R.M.S.Majestic, then the largest in the world, on its way to Europe in the spring of 1928. On board were Henry and Clara Ford, their son Edsel and Edsel’s wife Eleanor. Serendipitously, Detroit-based architect Robert O. Derrick and his wife, Clara Hodges Derrick, were also on board. The Derricks were approximately the same age as the Edsel Fords and the two couples were well-acquainted. According to Derrick’s reminiscence, housed in the Benson Ford Research Center, he was invited by Henry Ford to a meeting in the senior Fords’ cabin, which was undoubtedly arranged by Edsel Ford. During the meeting Derrick recalled that Mr. Ford asked how he would hypothetically design his museum of Americana. Derrick responded, “well, I’ll tell you, Mr. Ford, the first thing I could think of would be if you could get permission for me to make a copy of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It is a wonderful building and beautiful architecture and it certainly would be appropriate for a collection of Americana.” Ford enthusiastically approved the concept and once back in Detroit, secured measured drawings of Independence Hall and its adjacent 18th century buildings which comprise the façade of the proposed museum. Both Derrick and Ford agreed to flip the façade of Independence Hall to make the clock tower, located at the back side of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, a focal point of the front of the new museum in Dearborn.
Robert Ovens Derrick (1890-1961) was an unlikely candidate for the commission. He was a young architect, trained at Yale and Columbia Universities, with only three public buildings to his credit, all in the Detroit area. He was interested in 18th century Georgian architecture and the related Colonial Revival styles, which were at the peak of their popularity in the 1920s.
In his reminiscence, he states that he was overwhelmed with the commission, but was also confident in his abilities: “I did visit a great many industrial and historical museums and went to Chicago. I remember that I studied the one abroad in Germany, [The Deutsches Museum in Munich] which is supposed to be one of the best. I studied them all very carefully and I did make some very beautiful plans, I thought. Of course, I was going according to museum customs. We had a full basement and a balcony going around so the thing wouldn’t spread out so far. We had a lot of exhibits go in the balcony. I had learned that, in museum practice, you should have a lot more storage space, maintenance space and repair shops than you should have for exhibition. That is why I had the big basement. I didn’t even get enough there because I had the floor over it plus the balconies all around.”
In the aerial view [THF0442], the two-story structure is a warren of courtyards and two-story buildings, with exhibition space on the first floor and presumably balconies above, although no interior views of this version survive. A domed area on the upper right was to be a roundhouse, intended for the display of trains. THF0443 shows a view of the front of the museum from the southeast corner. This view is close to the form of the completed museum, at least from the front. An examination of the side of the building [THF0444] shows a two-storied wing.
Derrick recalled Mr. Ford’s initial response to his proposals, “What’s this up here? and I said, that is a balcony for exhibits. He said, I wouldn’t have that; there would be people up there, I could come in and they wouldn’t be working. I wouldn’t have it. I have to see everybody. Then he said: What’s this? I said, that is the basement down there, which is necessary to maintain these exhibits and to keep things which you want to rotate, etc. He said, I wouldn’t have that; I couldn’t see the men down there when I came in. You have to do the whole thing over again and put it all on one floor with no balconies and no basements. I said, okay, and I went back and we started all over again. What you see [today] is what we did the second time.”
Henry Ford Museum proposed Exhibit Hall. THF294368
A second group of presentation drawings show the museum as it was built in 1929. THF294368 is the interior of the large “Machine Hall,” the all-on-one-floor exhibit space that Mr. Ford requested. The unique roof and skylight system echo that of Albert Kahn’s Ford Engineering Laboratory, completed in 1923 and located just behind the museum. Radiant heating is located in the support columns through what appear to be large flanges or fins. The image also shows how Mr. Ford wanted his collection displayed – in long rows, by types of objects – as seen here with the wagons on the left and steam engines on the right.
These corridors, known today as the Prechter Promenade, run the width of the museum. Floored with marble and decorated with elaborate plasterwork, the promenade is the first part of the interior seen by guests. Mr. Ford wanted all visitors to enter through his reproduction of the Independence Hall Clock Tower. The location of Light’s Golden Jubilee, a dinner and celebration of the 50th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s development of incandescent electric lamp, held on October 21, 1929 is visible at the back of THF294388. This event also served as the official dedication of the Edison Institute of Technology, honoring Ford’s friend and mentor, Thomas Edison. Today the entire institution is known as The Henry Ford, which includes the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village.
Just off the Prechter Promenade is the auditorium, now known as the Anderson Theater. Intended to present historical plays and events, this theater accommodates approximately 600 guests. During Mr. Ford’s time it was also used by the Greenfield Village schools for recitals, plays, and graduations. Today, it is used by the Henry Ford Academy, a Wayne County charter high school, and the museum for major public programs.
Virginia Courtyard inside Henry Ford Museum. THF294374
Pennsylvania Courtyard inside Henry Ford Museum. THF294392
Derrick created two often-overlooked exterior courtyards between the Prechter Promenade and the museum exhibit hall. Each contains unique garden structures, decorative trees and plantings, and both are accessible to the public from neighboring galleries.
Greenfield Village Gatehouse front view, about 1931. THF 294382
Greenfield Village Gatehouse rear view, about 1931. THF 294386
The Greenfield Village Gatehouse was completed in 1932 by Robert Derrick, in a Colonial Revival style to complement the Museum. From its opening in 1932 until the Greenfield Village renovation of 2003, the gatehouse served as the public entrance to the Village. Today, visitors enter the Village through the Josephine Ford Plaza behind the Gatehouse. Although the exterior was left unchanged in the renovation, the Gatehouse now accommodates guests with an updated facility, including new, accessible restrooms and a concierge lounge with a will-call desk for tickets.
Edison Institute students dancing in Lovett Ballroom, 1938. THF 121724
Edison Institute students in dancing class with Benjamin Lovett, instructor, 1944. THF 116450
In 1936 Robert Derrick designed the Education Building for Mr. Ford. Now known as Lovett Hall, the building served many purposes, mainly for the Greenfield Village School system. It housed a swimming pool, gymnasium, classrooms, and an elaborately-decorated ballroom, where young ladies and gentlemen were taught proper “deportment.” Like all the buildings at The Henry Ford, it was executed in the Colonial Revival style. Today the well-preserved ballroom serves as a venue for weddings and other special occasions.
Obviously, Mr. Derrick was a favorite architect of Mr. Ford, along with the renowned Albert Kahn, who designed the Ford Rouge Factory. The museum was undoubtedly Derrick’s greatest achievement, although he went on to design Detroit’s Theodore J. Levin Federal Courthouse in 1934. Unlike the Henry Ford commissions, the courthouse was designed in the popular Art Deco, or Art Moderne style. Derrick is also noted for many revival style homes in suburban Grosse Pointe, which he continued to design until his retirement in 1956. He is remembered as one of the most competent, and one of the many creative architects to practice in 20th century Detroit.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.
Nostalgia for those who experienced it—and a hip mid-century modern revival for others.
The Visits with Santa experience in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation this year is a throwback to the 1960s. Kids can tell Santa their wishes as they sit next to him under a colorful kiosk made by Ray and Charles Eames for the IBM pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Nearby is a cozy 1960s living room vignette—complete with a La-Z-Boy chair, television set, and an aluminum Christmas tree from the era.
This mid-century modern theme coincides with the opening of our newest permanent exhibit in the museum, Mathematica, alsodesigned by Ray and Charles. Several components of Mathematica were featured inside that IBM Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, so we were excited to bring those two experiences together for this year’s holiday programming.
The scene provides a bit of nostalgia for those who experienced the 1960s—and a hip mid-century modern revival for others. Let’s look at some blasts from the 1960s Christmas past.
Aluminum trees brought a modern look to a mid-1960s Christmas. THF170112
The early 1960s brought a fresh, new look to Christmas tree aesthetics. A completely modern look--the aluminum Christmas tree. It made a shiny, metallic splash in living rooms all over America. More than a million trees were sold during the decade. A tree choice that eschewed the traditional pine- or fir-scented Christmas experience when it landed on the Christmas scene in the 1960s, now conjures up images of a retro Christmas past.
Color wheel sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company, 1960-1965. THF8379
A color wheel lit up the aluminum tree, with the tree changing from blue to red to green to gold as the wheel revolved. The color wheel was there for a practical reason—you couldn’t put strings of lights on aluminum trees because of fire safety concerns. But to those viewing the transformation, the color wheel seemed a no-brainer way to light these trees—so modern and so magical. It was mesmerizing to watch—whether from a front row seat in your living room or the view through your neighbor’s window.
The Smith family of Redford, Michigan purchased these ornaments in 1964 to hang on their aluminum Christmas tree. THF309083
Aluminum trees called for minimalist look. The trees were often sparingly decked with ornaments all of one color.
The Wojewidka siblings pose for a Christmas photo in front of their live tree in 1960. THF125145
Yet, “real” trees remained popular as well—fresh-cut trees chosen from one of the many temporary Christmas tree lots that popped up in cities and towns. (The cut-your-own trend was not yet widespread.) Scotch pines were favored by many—though there were diehard balsam fans as well. These trees were bedecked with a varied array of ornaments—glass ones by the Shiny Brite company were popular. And shiny “icicles”—made of lead before it was prohibited—hung from the branches to add to the sparkle.
Holiday Greetings in the Mail
By the early 1960s, Christmas cards offered a greater variety of seasonal images beyond those traditionally found. This image shows a woman clothed in a pine tree decorated with 1960s trendy-colored ornaments. THF287028
By mid-December, mailboxes were filling with Christmas cards, sent by family and friends to let the recipient know that they were being specially thought of during the holiday season. It was exciting to pull out handfuls of cards from the mailbox—it may have been the only time during the year when a kid had much interest in what the postman delivered. And not necessarily because of the cards themselves—the cards were a tangible sign that Christmas was indeed on its way and that Santa would soon be making his deliveries!
Christmas card display clothesline and pins, about 1964. THF155082
Where did people display all these Christmas cards? On a mantle, a table, or the top of the television. Or taped to a wall or a large mirror in the living room. Hanging them from a Christmas-themed clothesline was a more novel way to display them.
This 1962 stamp carried traditional Christmas images of lighted candles and a wreath. THF287036
In 1962, the United States Postal Service issued the first Christmas-themed postage stamps in America. (A few other countries had already beaten us to the punch on issuing Christmas-themed postage stamps.) But once begun, Christmas stamps graced more and more Christmas card envelopes to complete the annual presentation of holiday-themed greetings sent through the mail.
Making a List
Christmas catalogs like this 1964 Sears, Roebuck & Company got a workout in December. THF135874
Kids were busy deciding what to ask Santa for. Instead of perusing the web, kids looked forward to the arrival of Christmas season catalogs sent by stores like Sears, Roebuck and Company, J.C. Penney, and Montgomery Ward. Kids (and adults) eagerly leafed through the pages of the toys, clothing, and other gifts offered within, making their wish list for Santa’s perusal before passing the catalog along to another family member.
Television offered additional gift ideas, playing out the merits of products before viewers’ eyes in commercials that one couldn’t speed past with a DVR.
Toys for Girls and Boys Many 1960s toys that appeared on the Christmas lists of millions of kids during the 1960s—some in updated versions—are still classics.
Silly Putty modeling compound, about 1962. THF135811
Silly Putty was invented during World War II as General Electric researchers worked to develop a synthetic substitute for rubber. While no practical purpose could be found for the stuff, it did turn out to be a great toy. Silly Putty bounced higher and stretched farther than rubber. It even lifted images off the pages of color comics. (My sister took Silly Putty to bed with her, leaving a perfect egg-shaped stain on the sheets that never came out.)
Eight-year-old Rachel Marone of New York received this Etch A Sketch as s Christmas gift in 1961. THF93827
The 1960s saw an innovative new arts and crafts toy—the Etch A Sketch. Turning the knobs at the bottom of the screen (one to create horizontal lines, one for vertical) let the user “draw” on the screen with a mixture of aluminum powder and plastic beads. To erase, you just turned the screen over and shook it. Incidentally, it was the first toy that Ohio Art, its manufacturer, ever advertised on television. (Accomplished users could make great drawings on the Etch A Sketch—and some of us were just happy to produce decent-looking curved lines.)
This 1962 Play-Doh Fun Factory was a childhood toy of Mary Sherman of Minnesota. THF170363
Play-Doh introduced their Fun Factory in 1960. Now kids could go beyond free-form modeling with their red, yellow, blue and white Play-Doh. The Play-Doh Fun Factory provided instructions on how to create things like trains, planes, and boats—and an extruder with dies to easily make the components.
Watching Christmas Specials on TV
Album from A Charlie Brown Christmas television special, about 1965. THF162745
Kids eagerly listened for announcements on television or leafed excitedly through TV Guide magazine to find out when the holiday specials would air. You didn’t want to miss them—it was your only shot at watching! There were no DVRs or DVDs back then. Two animated classics from the mid-1960s--A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas--are among the earliest and most enduring of the Christmas specials developed for television.
Within their engaging storylines, these two shows carried a message about the growing commercialization of the holiday. As kids watched the barrage of toy ads that appeared with regularity on their television screens and leafed through catalogs to make their Christmas lists, seeing these cartoons reminded them that Christmas was also about higher ideals—not just about getting presents. These television shows—and the increasing number and variety of Christmas specials that have since joined them—remain a yearly reminder to temper one’s holiday-related commercialism and to think of the needs of others.
Not only have Charlie Brown and the Grinch become perennial favorites enjoyed by children and adults alike, but the soundtracks of these shows have joined the pantheon of musical Christmas classics.
The Ronettes’ version of Sleigh Ride, with its freshly melodic “Ring-a-ling-a-ling Ding-dong ding” background vocals on this 1963 Phil Spector-produced album, has become an iconic Christmas classic. THF135943
What would a 1960s Christmastime be without Christmas-themed music heard on the stereo at home and over speakers in stores? The 1960s saw a flood of Christmas albums and singles. Various singers—like Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Brenda Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, the Ronettes, the Crystals, and the Beach Boys—recorded their versions of old favorites and new tunes.
The Annual Christmas Photo
In 1963, the Truby brothers of Royal Oak, Michigan, posed in Santa pajamas given to them by their grandmother. THF287005
After the presents were opened and everyone was dressed in their Christmas finery, it was time to round up the kids for photos. Siblings (and, sometimes, their parents) might be posed together in front of a seasonal backdrop like the Christmas tree or a fireplace. Some families filmed home movies of their celebrations. These home movies often captured only strategic snippets of the Christmas celebration—movie film was expensive. And these home movies were without sound—which was probably sometimes a good thing!
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.
Where can you get a real diner experience, especially here in Michigan? The answer is Lamy’s Diner inside Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation—an actual 1946 diner brought here from Massachusetts, restored, and operating as a restaurant in the Museum since 2012.
Now Lamy’s Diner is more authentic, more immersive, and serving more delicious food than ever! What’s behind this makeover?
In 1984, the Henry Ford Museum purchased the Clovis Lamy's diner. It took a crane to lift the diner in preparation for transporting it from Hudson, Massachusetts. Once here, it was restored to its original 1946 appearance. THF 25768
Back in the 1980s, museum staff worked with diner expert Richard Gutman to track down an intact vintage diner for the new “Automobile in American Life” exhibit. Gutman not only found such a diner in Hudson, Massachusetts (moved twice from its original location in Marlborough, Massachusetts) but also helped in its restoration and in interviewing its original owner, Clovis Lamy, about his experiences running the diner and about the menu items he served.
Diners are innovative and uniquely American eating establishments. Lamy, like other World War II veterans, was lured by dreams of prosperity and the independence that came with being an entrepreneur of his own diner. As he remarked, “during the war, everyone had his dreams. I said if I got out of there alive, I would have another diner—a brand new one.”
This photograph shows Lamy's Diner on its original site in Marlborough, Massachusetts, 1946. The diner moved three times, first to Framingham, Massachusetts, next to Hudson, Massachusetts in 1949, and finally to the Henry Ford Museum in 1984. THF 88966
Sure enough, when he was discharged from the army, he ordered a 40-seat, 36- by 15-foot model from the Worcester Lunch Car Company, a premier diner builder at that time. It boasted a porcelain enamel exterior, 16 built-in stools, six hardwood booths, a marble counter, and a stainless steel back bar. Lamy could choose the diner’s colors, door locations, and outside lettering. He and his wife Gertrude visited the Worcester plant once a week, eager to check on its construction.
Clovis Lamy stands behind the counter of his diner in Massachusetts. His favorite part of running a diner was talking to his customers. THF 114397
Lamy’s Diner opened for business in April 1946, in Marlborough, Massachusetts. As Lamy remembered, business was brisk:
We jammed them in here at noon—workers from the town’s shoe shops—and we had a good dinner trade too… People stopped in after the show…[and] after the bars closed, the roof would come off the place.
During the long hours of operation (the place closed at 2 a.m.), the kitchen turned out everything from scrambled eggs to meat loaf. To Clovis Lamy, there was no better place than standing behind the counter talking to people.
But the dream had its downside. The work day was long. He was seldom able to eat with his family. After moving the diner to Framingham, Massachusetts, he sold the business in 1950. The new owner moved it down the road to Hudson.
Lamy’s Diner exterior as it looked in the Museum in 1987. THF 77241
When Clovis Lamy and his wife viewed the diner at the 1987 opening for “The Automobile in American Life” exhibition, they confirmed that it looked as good as new. “Even the sign is the same,” he remarked later with a tear in his eye.
Lamy’s Diner interior as it looked in the Museum in 1987. THF 3869
For 25 years, no food was served at Lamy’s Diner in the museum. It was interpreted as a historic structure, until the opening of the new “Driving America” exhibit in 2012, when museum staff decided to once again serve diner fare there. Delicious smells of toast and coffee wafted out of its doors, while the place hummed with activity. Museum guests sat in the booths, on stools at the counter, or at tables on the new deck with accessible seating. They could choose entrees, beverages, and desserts from a menu that was loosely inspired by diner fare of the past.
Then, in 2016, Lee Ward, the new Director of Food Service and Catering, came to me and posed the question, what if we served food and beverages at Lamy’s that more closely approximated what customers would have actually ordered here in 1946? The diner is already an authentic, immersive setting. What if we took it even further and truly transported guests to that time and place? I have always believed in the power of food to both transport guests to another era and to serve as a teaching tool to better understand the people and culture of that era. Over the years, I’ve helped create Eagle Tavern, the Cotswold Tea Experience, the Taste of History menu, the Frozen Custard Stand, and cooking programs in Greenfield Village buildings. So I excitedly responded, sure, we could certainly do that!
But, as the chefs and food service managers at The Henry Ford began to ply me with endless questions about the correct menu, recipes, and serving accoutrements for a 1946 Massachusetts diner, I realized I needed help.
Dick Gutman talking to Lamy’s staff.
Fortunately, help was forthcoming, as Richard Gutman—the diner expert who had found Lamy’s Diner for us in the 1980s—was overjoyed to return to the project and give us ideas and advice. And the 300-some diner menus he owned in his personal collection didn’t hurt either. In fact, they became our best documentation on diner foods and what they were called in 1946, as well as the graphic look of the menus.
Cookbooks of the era offered actual recipes for the dishes we saw listed on the menus, while historic images of diner interiors provided clues as to what the serving staff might wear, what kinds of dishes customers ate on, and what was displayed in the glass cases on the counter.
All of these are reflected in the current Lamy’s Diner experience. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll encounter when you visit Lamy’s after its recent makeover:
New Lamy’s Diner menu, front and inside
New England Clam Chowder, a signature dish in New England diners and here at Lamy’s
Chicken salad sandwich,using arecipe from the 1947 edition of the Boston Cooking School Cookbook, a pioneering cookbook that offered practical recipes for the average housewife.
Meat loaf plate,using Clovis Lamy’s original meatloaf recipe
Milkshake, which in Massachusetts isa very refreshing drink made of milk, chocolate syrup, and sometimes crushed ice (no ice cream), shaken until it is creamy and frothy.
Peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich, a New England specialty based upon Archibald Query’s original marshmallow creme invention and later called “Fluffernutter”
Prices are, by necessity, modern, but typical prices of the era can be found on the menu boards mounted up on the wall, based upon Lamy’s original menu and prices.
So, for a fun, immersive, and delicious experience, check out the makeover at Lamy’s Diner!
In Other Food News... A Taste of History: Now featuring recipes and menu items guests might see prepared in Greenfield Village historical structures, such as Firestone Farm and Daggett Farmhouse. Mrs. Fisher's Southern Cooking: The menu is based solely on Mrs. Fisher's 1881 cookbook or authentic recipes.
American Doghouse: New regional hot dog options are available, from the Detroit Coney and Chicago dogs to the California dog wrapped in bacon and avocado, tomato and arugula.
Donna R. Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford and author of this blog post, has decided that her new favorite drink is the refreshing Massachusetts version (without ice cream) of the chocolate milkshake. She thanks Richard Gutman and Lee Ward for their enthusiasm and support in making this makeover possible.
Back before diners were considered revered icons of mid-20th-century American culture, Henry Ford Museum's acquisition of a dilapidated 1940s diner raised more than a few eyebrows. Was a diner, from such a recent era, significant enough to be in a museum?
Happily, times have changed. Diners have gained newfound respect and appreciation, as innovative and uniquely American eating establishments. A closer look at Lamy's diner reveals much about the role and significance of diners in 20th-century America.
One of the most dramatic displays in Henry Ford Museum is the “exploded” Model T—a 1924 Model T touring car with its constituent parts suspended by wires. Located at the entrance to the Made in America exhibition, it invites visitors to take a different look at an iconic American product.
Henry Ford’s Model T automobile is one of the most significant technological devices of the 20th century. Its clever engineering and low price allowed it to do what could only be done once—make the automobile widely popular. The Model T spawned mass automobility, altering our living patterns, our leisure activities, our landscape, even our atmosphere. The Model T’s influence is so pervasive and lasting that even people who know little about old cars or automotive history know the name “Model T.”
But the way the Model T was produced is as iconic as the car itself. When Ford Motor Company introduced the Model T in October 1908, firearms, watches, and sewing machines were already being assembled from interchangeable parts made on specialized machines. Ford successfully adapted these techniques to the much more complex automobile, and then crowned this achievement with the development of the moving assembly line in late 1913.
If you've visited Ford Field to see a Detroit Lions game, chances are you've see a neon sign that now hangs over the Pro Shop. And if you've visited Henry Ford Museum to explore Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, chances are you've seen that same sign here, this time a replica that looks like a lot like the original.
We had a chance to talk with our partners over at the Detroit Lions to learn a little bit more about this familiar sign.
The sign was created in 1963 when Mr. William Clay Ford, Sr. bought the club and was hung in the Detroit Lions Headquarters. The logo on the sign came from a patch that was worn on the team’s blue blazers that they would wear when travelling.
The Lions organization, along with the neon Lions sign, then moved to the Silverdome in 1975.
When the organization moved to Ford Field in 2002, the sign was left at the Silverdome. Ford Field Director of Sports Events Danny Jaroshewich brought it to Lions President Tom Lewand’s attention that the sign was left and suggested that it be brought to the new offices at Ford Field. The sign was sent to be refurbished before being placed above the Pro Shop, where it is still currently hung.
Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford