Go to the back of the museum, over in the area filled with hulking power-generating machinery, next to the grey mass of the Spokane water turbine, and you’ll find something new. Or rather something almost a century old that’s new to the area. Actually, you’ll find twelve things. Or rather 795. Okay, let me explain…
What you’ll find is a group of 12 display panels created in the mid-1920s for the L. Miller and Son lumber and hardware store of 1815 W. Division Street, Chicago, Illinois. The installation consists of six panels of hand tools and six of hardware, all logically, carefully, and gracefully arrayed on green felt backing, mounted in glass-fronted doors. Now they are arranged gallery-like on the wall, but originally they hinged out of a floor-to-ceiling cabinet system of shelves, bins, and drawers custom-fitted into the store’s long narrow retail space.
The original business was founded by Louis Miller, a Russian immigrant who had arrived in the United States in 1894. Miller and his family served a neighborhood made up of immigrants from Poland, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine (the second and third floors of part of the store property housed Russian and Polish social clubs). The clear visibility of the store’s stock of tools and hardware made it easier for customers with a language barrier to find what they needed. The display’s elegant arrangement was great salesmanship but could also serve a problem solving function: viewing tools and components is rather like scanning a menu of possible solutions.
The neighborhood underwent several transformations over the years. The final wave of European immigrants, primarily from Poland, arrived in the 1940s and 50s as refugees; Kennedy Expressway construction cut a wide swath through the area, and once completed in 1960 served to cut it off from neighborhoods to the east; by the 1970s many residents were fleeing to the suburbs and the area was becoming rife with gang activity. The store, in its original location on Division (the “Polish Broadway” that served as the dividing line between the Wicker Park and East Village neighborhoods), endured through all these changes except for the most recent: gentrification. The subsequent rise in property taxes finally prompted the need for the company to move to a new location.
How Did the Exhibit Make Its Way to The Henry Ford? During the 1950s the owners had already phased out the hardware side of the business in order to concentrate on lumber and construction materials. The display remained in place, fondly remembered—and occasionally visited—by a dwindling number of locals. In early 2011, with the business’s move looming, owner Bob Margolin (grandson of the founder) and I began to discuss The Henry Ford’s potential interest in acquiring the display. In April Bob indicated that he would be travelling to Michigan on business and we agreed that bringing a sampling of the display—a panel or two to look at more closely—would be a good idea. On the sunny afternoon of Friday April 29 I went out to meet him in our employee parking lot adjacent to Lovett Hall: he hadn’t brought a sampling, he’d brought the entire display, and had already started carefully propping the panels adjacent to one another against the side of his van—much to the fascination and enthrallment of numerous staff leaving for the day. An amazing sight, it was as if the display had lurched out of the shadows to literally claim a day in the sun—and offer a kind of final proof of its sales power, even though there was no longer any stock of tools for it to sell.
The acquisition went ahead. Now, precisely five years later, the display is on exhibit. It is a museum of tools within a larger museum. It is an artifact in its own right but it is made up of artifacts. It is made up of stunningly ordinary stuff—the workaday items ordinarily built into homes or hidden in toolboxes—but it celebrates everyday practicality and resourcefulness. Like a great many museum artifacts it is a paradox: in a state of rest, set sparkling in Made in America—but also active, continuing to work its magic, prompting an urge to build, fix, construct—making you want to somehow do something…
Marc Greuther is Chief Curator and Senior Director, Historical Resources at The Henry Ford.
Learn more about the L. Miller and Son Hardware and Tool Display in this collection of artifact cards.
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.
Many people know that The Henry Ford has in its collection the rocking chair in which President Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated. This chair is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum.
But our Lincoln-related collections encompass much more than this rocker. They include materials that relate to such topics as his two presidential campaigns, life before his Presidency, his efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War, his assassination, the public mourning after his death, and the ways in which he has been remembered over time.
The 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination gave us the unique opportunity to assess, study and organize these collections into digital galleries we call “Expert Sets.” Links to these are included below, along with links to five essays written by curators that delve more deeply into some of these topics.
It is fascinating to connect with objects that were a part of Abraham Lincoln’s world. The Henry Ford owns a number of furnishings from Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois, where they lived before Lincoln was elected president.
The Lincoln furniture from their Springfield home tells us about the tastes of the Lincolns in the decades before Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860. Stylistically, the furniture represents the middle-class, early Victorian aesthetic of the 1840s and early 1850s. The Lincolns selected sturdy and comfortable, yet stylish furnishings for their home.
Take a look at images from The Henry Ford’s wonderful, eclectic collection of Lincoln-related photographs. These images span the years from Lincoln’s career as an Illinois legislator during the 1840s to his tragic death in 1865.
The original daguerreotype of this image of Abraham Lincoln was taken by Nicholas H. Shepherd in Springfield, Illinois, shortly after Lincoln’s election in 1846 to the U.S. House of Representatives. It is believed by many to be the earliest known image of Lincoln, who was 37 or 38 years old when it was taken. At this time, Lincoln was a husband and father of two small boys, had a successful law practice in Springfield, and had just become a junior member of Congress.
Daguerreotypes like this one are one-of-a-kind photographs made on silver-coated copper plates. In order to make photographic prints, copy negatives had to be made from the original daguerreotypes. This photographic print was made in the early 20th century from a 19th-century copy negative. In 1902, Frederick Hill Meserve, an early collector of photography, found glass negatives from Mathew Brady’s Washington, D.C., studio in a Hoboken, New Jersey warehouse. Meserve carefully preserved the negatives and made the later photographic prints of the earlier images--including this photographic print in our collection.
In the 1920s, following his success with the Model T, Henry Ford increasingly turned his attention to transforming farming—the life he sought to escape as a boy. He focused on finding new products and new markets for agriculture. (The charcoal briquette was an early result of this effort, made from surplus wood scrap.)
In 1928, Ford started the Chemical Lab (the building in Greenfield Village now known as the Soybean Lab), and asked Robert Boyer, a student at the Ford Trade School to run it. Ford told Boyer to select good students from the Trade School to staff the Lab. Ford then set them to experimenting with all manner of agricultural produce, from cantaloupes to rutabagas.
Donna Braden, Curator of Public Life, had the pleasure of delving into our vast collections to develop the “Ford at the Fair” display, our complement to the traveling exhibition “Designing Tomorrow” that is currently in Henry Ford Museum. Take a trip back in time with her in today's blog post as we head to to the fair.
Welcome to the Ford Building at Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition here in the year 1934! We hope that our exhibits will inform and inspire you, along with the millions of other visitors we expect to attend the fair and see our exhibits this year. Henry Ford has a passion for world’s fairs and he is always enthusiastic about showing the public how we do things at Ford Motor Company.
How far we’ve come since Mr. Ford invented his first car, the Quadricycle. And although we are currently deep in an economic depression, our exhibits will surely impress upon you how busy we are developing new products for your current and future enjoyment.
We are proud to boast the largest corporate exhibition at the Century of Progress Exposition this year—11 acres in all! Our stunning Exposition Building was designed by Albert Kahn, who has designed many buildings for us, including the exceptional Ford River Rouge Plant. Mr. Kahn cleverly planned the circular court in the center of our Exposition Building to simulate a graduated cluster of gears.
Now come inside for a closer look at how our exhibits present the fascinating story of the Ford motor car.
First off, you’ll see our centerpiece exhibit, “Ford Industries Cover the World.” This huge rotating globe identifies the locations of our company’s production plants around the world. Our company is truly international in its reach.
Circling the outer edge of the center court we present “The Drama of Transportation,” showing the evolution of horse-drawn and horseless carriages leading all the way up to our modern 1934 Ford V-8.
Now let’s turn left and enter the smaller wing of the building. Here you’ll find the “Henry Ford Century Room,” celebrating 100 years of mechanical progress. This room includes early electric generators brought here from Mr. Ford’s growing collection at his museum in Dearborn, Mich., along with his first workshop and his first car.
Beyond this room you’ll see exhibits reflecting Mr. Ford’s interest in bringing together agriculture and industry, particularly his passion for growing and processing soybeans for car manufacturing. Mr. Ford even staged an all-soybean meal here recently, where he invited 30 reporters to partake of several specially made dishes. The reporters were not so sure about soybeans in their food but they had to admit that the future of soybean-based plastics, paint, and oil looks bright!
Now let’s head over to the large wing on the other side of our Exposition Building. Here we have many exhibits that showcase our modern industrial practices.
For example, inspired by Mr. Ford’s passionate interest in using natural materials to manufacture car parts, our “Out of the Earth” exhibit demonstrates how natural resources—like iron, aluminum, rubber, asbestos, and of course soybeans—go into the making of specific parts of the Ford V-8, mounted on top as a cutaway view.
Farther down this wing, you can see the amazing “Proof of Safety” exhibit. Here three Ford V-8’s are suspended from the rim of a welded steel wheel of the type used on all our Ford V-8 cars. This should assure you of the strength and dependability of the modern cars we are producing.
While you’re touring the many exhibits and demonstrations at the Ford Exposition building today, be sure to visit our impressive “Roads of the World” display outside. This large oval track features 100-foot-long sections that resemble 19 world-famous thoroughfares, ranging from the earliest Roman roads to the smooth paved highways of today.
Alas, our time is up. We hope you enjoyed your brief tour today, and are as excited as we are about the bright future we all have ahead of us.
As they’ve demonstrated before, being a curator often involves some sleuthing – see how a simple search uncovered the puzzling life of a 20th-century portrait painter for our curator of decorative arts.
Recently, while searching through our painting collection for portraits of Henry and Clara Ford, I came across two created in 1926 by an artist named Carl Bennett Linder. Displayed at Henry and Clara Ford’s Fair Lane home, these portraits came to Henry Ford Museum in 1951, following Clara’s death.
A search of our collections database revealed that we actually own nine canvases by Mr. Linder – all portraits of the Ford family. Curious, I searched the Ford family papers, where I found letters and receipts spanning from 1924 to 1936 for an even larger group of paintings of the extended Ford family: Henry and Clara’s son, Edsel, and his wife, Eleanor; the Ford grandchildren; and even a portrait of Mrs. William Clay, Eleanor Ford’s mother. Mr. Linder was apparently a favorite artist of Henry and Clara, as he produced several portraits of them over the years.