The Henry Ford is a very active collecting institution, which results in hundreds to thousands of new artifacts of all types and sizes added to our collections every year. From among these, our curators select a subset for near-term digitization, while the rest go into the queue to be digitized as the need arises.
One just-digitized item collected by Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson is the glove worn by Janet Guthrie when she became the first woman to race in the Indianapolis 500 in 1977. Visit our Digital Collections to see more artifacts either acquired or “discovered in collections” in the last year—or explore tens of thousands of racing-related artifacts. Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
We continue to work on our IMLS-grant funded project to conserve, catalog, photograph, rehouse, and digitize 900 artifacts from our electrical distribution equipment collection. A number of the meters and other artifacts we’ve turned up during that project were created by the Fort Wayne Electric Works (also known as the Fort Wayne Electric Corporation), an Indiana company that manufactured electrical equipment and other items in the late 19th century. To accompany the artifacts, we’ve just digitized photographs from our Fort Wayne Electric Works archival collection, which show various parts of the factory around 1894—including this shot of the testing and calibrating laboratory.
Official Program of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 27th 500 Mile International Sweepstakes Race, May 30, 1939. THF 122945
Over the years, sporting events have become traditions in our lives: the Super Bowl in the winter, the Kentucky Derby every May, and the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day Weekend. Iconic events such as these develop their own customs over time, and the Indianapolis 500 is no exception. As we celebrate the 100th running of the race on May 29, here is a look at a few of the traditions that have developed over the years.
Start of the 1911 Indianapolis 500. P.O.2703 Some of the current Indy traditions started in the early days of the race. Since the inaugural running on May 30, 1911, the contest has always been held on Memorial Day or that weekend. As a tribute to horse racing practices, only the winner of the race (and his team) are honored in Victory Lane, without a podium for the top three finishers. Speaking of victory celebrations, Lewis Meyer began another triumphal tradition in 1936. After winning that year's race, Meyer grabbed a bottle of buttermilk to cool himself down, as he typically did on hot days. After an executive from the Milk Foundation saw a photograph of the celebration, it became a yearly occurrence. Although there have been a few years without milk in Victory Lane, this appears to be a tradition that will last for years to come.
Bobby Unser drinking milk in Victory Lane, 1968, 2009.158.317.5507 The 1940s saw the start of more traditions at the Indianapolis 500. In 1946, the song "Back Home Again in Indiana" was first played in pre-race festivities. Numerous artists have been enlisted to perform the song over years, including Jim Nabors, who sang it 36 times between 1972 and 2014. (Singer Josh Kaufman will fulfill the duty for this year.) In 1947 Grace Smith Hulman, the racetrack owner's mother, suggested balloons be released before the start of the race. Since 1950, 30,000 multicolored balloons, now made of biodegradable latex, have been let loose coinciding with the final notes of "Back Home Again in Indiana."
Di Gilmore and Jim Nabors at the 1977 Indy 500
Balloon release at the 1963 Indy 500. 2009.158.317.1729 The next decades brought more long-lasting traditions to the Indianapolis 500. In 1953, Wilbur Shaw first gave the starting call of "Gentlemen, start your engines!" Some variation of this call has been used every year since then, with the opening periodically changing to "Lady and Gentlemen" or "Ladies and Gentlemen" for the years when female drivers are competing. A few years later, the 500 Festival Parade developed after local newspaper columnists noted the community festivities that accompanied the Kentucky Derby. The 2016 festival includes a mini-marathon, parade, children's activities, and the Snakepit Ball. It was 1960 that was the first year that the winner was adorned with a wreath, drawing from Grand Prix traditions. The current wreath design contains 33 white cymbidium orchids representing the 33 cars and drivers on the starting grid.
Jim Clark draped in victor's wreath at the 1965 Indy 500. 2009.158.91
1968 Indy Festival Queen with the Borg Warner Trophy, 2009.158.317.5261 Since the 1970s, more traditions have been added to the Indy 500. The Last Row Party, started in 1972, is a charity function held the Friday before the race. In addition to raising scholarship funds for local students, the party also serves as a roast for the last three competitors to make the starting grid. A few years later, in 1976, Jeanetta Holder created and presented her first quilt to the winner of the race. Over the years, she has crafted more than 40 hand-stitched quilts, with Bobby Unser's 1981 quilt now in the collection of the Henry Ford. More recent additions to the Indy traditions include concerts on Carb Day and Legends Day, and the kissing of the bricks, which actually started in NASCAR tradition in 1996. Gil de Ferran was the first Indy driver to do it at the conclusion of the 2003 race.
Jeanetta Holder quilt for Bobby Unser, 1981. 2009.171.18
Tradition and ritual are a part of our everyday lives, and will certainly be an integral part of this year's Indianapolis 500. Over the last 99 contests, drivers, owners, and even fans have created new customs that add to the history and lore of the race. As you watch the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on May 29, keep your eyes open for the existing traditions and perhaps some new ones in the making. Janice Unger is Digital Processing Archivist for Racing, Archives & Library Services, at The Henry Ford.
When you hear the phrase “Triple Crown,” the sport of horse racing generally comes to mind. However, the world of motorsport also has its own, unofficial Triple Crown title. To achieve this feat, a driver must win three specific titles during their career. Some enthusiasts contend the three titles are the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Monaco Grand Prix, while others replace the race in Monaco with the Formula One World Championship.
The Triple Crown of Motorsport has been possible since 1929, when the last race, the Monaco Grand Prix, was first run through the streets of the principality. (If you are using the Formula One World Championship title instead, the Triple Crown became possible in 1950.) In the last 86 years, many drivers have won one or two components of the Triple Crown, but only one man, Graham Hill, completed either trifecta. This accomplishment attests to Hill’s immense skill on the track, as each race or title corresponds to a different discipline of the sport.
This week, the 2013 Goodwood Revival kicks off in the United Kingdom, celebrating classic auto racing from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s in a three-day period-themed festival. The Henry Ford team will be there, and so will our Lotus-Ford race car usually on exhibit in Driving America. In honor of the Lotus and the driver who drove it to victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500, we’ve digitized several dozen photos of the car, the race, and Jim Clark. View this photo of Jim in the car at Indy, plus other highlights from this digitization effort selected by Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation, in a set titled Jim Clark and the 1965 Indianapolis 500.
Visitors to Henry Ford Museum can often be found gathering under the Douglas Auto Theatre “Driving America” sign for photo opportunities and to marvel at the larger-than-life artifact. But recently visitors and racing fans gathered by the sign to honor Henry Ford as a racing innovator.
In honor of what would have been Henry’s 150th birthday on July 30, 2013, Ford brands Motorcraft/Quick Lane and Ford Racing honored his legacy with a special paint scheme in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway July 26-28, 2013 race, with Wood Brothers Racing and driver Trevor Bayne.
The car’s paint scheme features an iconic Henry photo – posed on top of the Sweepstakes with Spider Huff riding on the sideboard, the car that would take him to victory in 1901 at a race track in Grosse Pointe, Mich.
Why was that race so important? To be honest, it was important because Henry already had one business flop on his hands, the Detroit Automobile Company. His win with the Sweepstakes against opponent Alexander Winton not only netted him the $1,000 prize but the investors needed to start Ford Motor Company.
As Henry’s great-grandson, and special guest that morning, Edsel B. Ford II pointed out, if Henry hadn’t won that race, Ford Motor Company might not be here today to celebrate the innovator.
In addition to Edsel, the Wood Brothers and driver Trevor Bayne were on hand to unveil the special car in Henry Ford Museum that morning, sharing some of their appreciation for Henry and his body of work.
While all of the morning’s guests were more than familiar with the collections of The Henry Ford, Trevor and the Wood Brothers are especially familiar and proud as their No. 21 2011 Ford Fusion Stock Car is in our Car Court, currently on loan to us. As Trevor pointed out his former car to the audience, while showing off his tuxedo-themed racing suit for the Brickyard race, he commented, “It’s pretty cool that they’re still celebrating his (Henry) birthday 150 years later!”
We like to think it’s pretty cool, too. Here’s to 150 years of celebrating our founder, Henry Ford, both on AND off the race track.
This year brings a couple of notable – and not particularly pleasant – anniversaries for Studebaker fans. Fifty years ago, in December 1963, the company closed its operations in South Bend, Ind. – where brothers J.M., Clement, Henry, Peter and Jacob founded the venerable firm more than 100 years before. While Studebaker built cars in Canada for a few more years, many say that the company really ended when it left its longtime home.
We also mark the anniversary of an earlier corporate struggle. Eighty years ago this month, Studebaker filed for bankruptcy. While many car companies went under during the Great Depression – and few recovered – Studebaker’s bankruptcy is a particularly sad story of poor management and human tragedy.
Albert Erskine joined Studebaker as treasurer in 1911 and assumed its presidency in 1915. He cut prices and boosted sales, leading to generally good years for Studebaker marked by stylish vehicles and progressive labor relations.
Radiator emblem from a Rockne automobile, circa 1930 (86.129.113)
When the Depression hit and sales crashed, Erskine turned to South Bend’s closest thing to a superhero: Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne. The football legend died in a 1931 plane crash, and Erskine named Studebaker’s new line of small, affordable automobiles “Rockne” is his honor. The Rockne was well-equipped for an inexpensive car and early sales were promising. But rather than concentrate all production in South Bend, Erskine built most of the Rocknes in Detroit. The two factories strained Studebaker’s shaky finances.
More troubling was Erskine’s insistence on paying high dividends to stockholders even in the Depression’s worst years. While other car companies hoarded cash to ride out the storm, Studebaker burned through it. Erskine simply refused to believe that the Great Depression was anything more than an economic hiccup.
Inevitably, Studebaker ran out of cash and, on March 18, 1933, entered receivership. Erskine was pushed out of the presidency in favor of more cost-conscious managers. His successors engineered a brilliant turnaround and led Studebaker out of receivership in two years. Sadly, Erskine’s ending was quite different. With his job gone, his Studebaker stock worthless, his personal debts mounting and his health failing, Erskine took his own life on July 1, 1933. While he may not have been wholly responsible – clearly the Board of Directors failed in its oversight – Albert Erskine paid the ultimate price for Studebaker’s ordeal.
People often send us letters offering items for our collection. Recently, I received a letter in the mail that surprised and absolutely delighted me.
Among the notable collections of The Henry Ford are 12 quilts made by an exceptionally talented, unassuming Indiana farm wife named Susan McCord (1829-1909). I opened the letter to find that the family of McCord’s great-grandson was offering us the opportunity to acquire one more: a Triple Irish Chain quilt made for her daughter, Millie McCord Canaday, about 1900.
It was the last remaining quilt known to have been made by Susan McCord. Soon after, this beauty was on its way to Dearborn to join the other 12 McCord quilts in The Henry Ford’s collection.
The Triple Irish Chain is a traditional quilt pattern — but in Susan McCord’s hands, this design became much more. Like all of her quilts, the Triple Irish Chain demonstrates McCord's considerable skill at manipulating fabric, color and design to turn a traditional quilt pattern into something extraordinary.
I could easily imagine Susan McCord carefully choosing fabric from her bag of scraps, cutting it into thousands of fabric squares, carefully determining their placement within the overall design and sewing the squares together. I could picture McCord then topping off this creation with her utterly unique, “signature” design — a stunning vine border, the leaves expertly pieced from tiny scraps of fabric. And it certainly wasn’t hard to imagine Millie McCord’s delight when she received this lovely gift!
To all who see Susan McCord’s quilts - whether experts or casual observers - the remarkable beauty and craftsmanship is evident. Now beautifully photographed, the story of this quilt can be readily accessed through our online collections – so that anyone, near or far, can enjoy McCord's quilt at the click of a mouse.
Do you have any special family quilts or other handmade heirlooms? Share your story in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford, is an unabashed Susan McCord “groupie.”