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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Posts Tagged john burroughs

history-collage

As part of our continuing partnership with Google Arts & Culture, we are excited to announce the September 13, 2016, launch of “
Natural History,” our third themed release on the platform!  This is an interactive, dynamic and immersive discovery experience covering the diversity and fragility of nature, featuring over 170 online exhibits and 300,000 artifacts from dozens of cultural heritage institutions.  

You might wonder why The Henry Ford is included in this release, alongside some of the world’s most esteemed natural history museums. The answer is that though natural history is not a collecting focus for us, the stories we tell of American innovation, ingenuity, and resourcefulness often intertwine with the flora and fauna around us—in fact, many of our stories cannot be told without careful consideration of the environment in which they transpired.

Our participation in the release includes three online exhibits telling such stories.  “The Many Facets of John Burroughs” tells the story of the famed naturalist and author who became close friends with Henry Ford in his later life. The challenges faced by Henry Ford’s rubber-growing venture along the Amazon River in Brazil from the 1920s through the 1940s are explored in “Fordlandia.” And last, “Yellowstone, America’s First National Park” chronicles the development of this attempt to share America’s natural wonders with the masses—even before the birth of the National Park Service. 

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Our presence also includes close to 300 individual artifacts from our collections.  These include objects related to each of our exhibit themes, but also significant individual artifacts such as John Muir’s pocket compass, two science texts used by the Wright Brothers and their family, and George Washington Carver’s microscope.  In addition, we were very pleased to discover during our research for this project three shadowboxes of seashells collected by legendary innovator Thomas Edison in Fort Myers, Florida, an unexpected find we documented earlier this year on our blog.  Prints (including several each by John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson), photographs, and other items highlighting the natural world round out our participation.

Visit g.co/naturalhistory to check out all the exhibits and artifacts within this brand new Natural History experience.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

environmentalism, by Ellice Engdahl, nature, John Burroughs, Google Arts & Culture

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Over about a decade in the early part of the 20th century, a quartet including Henry Ford, inventor Thomas Edison, businessman Harvey Firestone, and naturalist John Burroughs took a series of summer camping trips, sometimes inviting others along for part or all of the journey.  The group, calling themselves the Vagabonds, took trips that might not exactly qualify as “roughing it”—they travelled with a caravan of vehicles, a full contingent of service staff, and many comforts of home including furniture and china tableware. We’ve just digitized dozens of photos of the Vagabonds in action, including this photo of the group having breakfast at a large lazy susan–equipped wooden table. View more than 100 photos and artifacts related to the Vagabonds by visiting The Henry Ford’s digital collections.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

summer, photographs, Henry Ford, Firestone family, John Burroughs, Vagabonds, by Ellice Engdahl, digital collections

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A little over a year ago, The Henry Ford embarked on a project to digitize material related to John Burroughs (1837–1921), an American naturalist who was good friends with Henry Ford and a member of the Vagabonds (along with Henry, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone). As often happens with our collections, we found more material than we were expecting. Last summer, we reported on the 250 or so items we had digitized at that point; we’re now happy to share that we’ve just wrapped up the project, with nearly 400 total items from our collections digitized. One of the last additions was this photograph of the statue of Burroughs that was installed at Henry Ford’s estate Fair Lane—a sure sign of the esteem in which the naturalist was held by the auto magnate.  Browse all of these items—mainly photographs and letters, but also essays, poetry, scrapbooks, periodicals, notebooks, and postcards—in our Digital Collections.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

nature, John Burroughs, digital collections, by Ellice Engdahl

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Artifact: John Burroughs' Album of Pressed Wildflowers, gathered during the Harriman Alaska Expedition, 1899

To tell the story of this artifact, we have to take a journey. A journey back in time and then a journey into nature. We have to visit a time in U.S. history when western land expansion had reached its near completion and U.S. citizens had only just begun to realize the natural wonders that these lands encompassed. To begin this journey, let’s explore what it means to innovate with a question:

When you think of historical innovators, who do you think of?

Henry Ford? Thomas Edison? These two historical titans of industry shaped the 20th century with technology that they endlessly, feverishly, worked on to improve. How about John Burroughs? Continue Reading

travel, nature, John Burroughs, by Ryan Jelso

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John Burroughs (1837–1921) was an American naturalist who wrote frequently and with a literary sensibility on nature and the environment.  He joined the Vagabonds, and as a result took a number of camping trips with Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone.  Henry Ford also provided his friend Burroughs with multiple Ford vehicles, including a Model T touring car, to assist him in his nature studies.  We’re currently digitizing selections from our collections related to Burroughs, such as this photograph of a sculpture of Burroughs created by C.S. Pietro.  You can see Pietro working on what appears to be the same sculpture in another photograph.  Thus far, we’ve digitized over 250 photographs, letters, writings, and postcards documenting Burroughs’ life, including his travels, famous friends, and retreats—browse them all on our collections website.

 

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections and Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

digital collections, nature, John Burroughs, by Ellice Engdahl

"Call of the Wild" on cover (Object ID 2014.0.5.1).

As part of The Big Read Dearborn’s focus on The Call of the Wild, I was recently asked to speak on Jack London and the Nature Faker controversy. During the first decade of the 20th century, this widely publicized literary debate shone a spotlight on the differences between science and sentiment in popular nature-writing. Although the actual controversy is long past, the issues at its root are still relevant today.

Proponents of the scientific approach to nature-writing accused the sentimentalists of creating stories that overly humanized animals, misleading readers by taking the animals’ point of view, and often concluding their stories with far-fetched happy endings. The worst offenders—the so-called “nature fakers”—went so far as to claim that their often fictional accounts were completely true-to-life.

The Nature Faker controversy had its roots in Americans’ growing appreciation for nature during the late 19th century. Natural areas suddenly seemed to offer a rejuvenating respite from the chaos, crowds, and machine-age clatter of urban life. This led to the creation of America’s national parks (Yellowstone being the first in 1872) as well as public parks and nature preserves closer to home.

Typical Camp at Camp Iroquois, Glen Eyrie, Lake George, New York, 1911

Camping, Lake George (P.DPC.031757).

Children's Museum Nature Study Club in Bedford Park, New York, 1890-1915

Photo of Nature Study Club (32.351.136).

During the heyday of this “cult of nature,” nature writing became immensely popular. One particular genre that emerged was the so-called “realistic” wild animal story. For the first time in popular literature, wild animals were depicted in a positive light—as compassionate creatures with which readers could sympathize.

Jack London was one of many authors at this time who wrote in this genre. In his book The Call of the Wild (1903), London revealed the thoughts and emotions of his dog-hero, Buck, with such sophistication and literary skill that it was easy for readers to become convinced that London was truly revealing Buck’s innermost self.

Bookplate of Author Jack London, circa 1905

Jack London’s bookplate (2013.0.3.1).

Enter naturalist John Burroughs—in his 60’s by this time—who was known far and wide for his many essays. These received praise in both literary and scientific circles, as Burroughs believed in both reporting the objective facts of nature and describing one’s subjective feelings. But he was adamant that these should remain clear and separate.

John Burroughs on the Steps at Wyndygoul, Cos Cob, Connecticut, August 1905

Framed picture of Burroughs (29.1764.3).

Naturalist John Burroughs with a Duck on her Nest, circa 1910

Burroughs in field (93.205.36).

Burroughs was incensed by the glowing reviews of the new wild animal stories. He felt that some them blurred the line between fact and fiction. Furthermore, he believed that the authors of these stories were deliberately misleading the public for their own financial gain.

In 1903, he submitted a scathing essay to Atlantic Monthly, entitled “Real and Sham Natural History.” In this essay, Burroughs denounced the perception that many of these stories were true. He claimed that the “sham nature writers” deliberately attempted to “induce the reader to cross into the land of make believe.”

After Burroughs’ essay appeared, incendiary responses both supporting and attacking the “sham nature-writers” frequently appeared in the press. This went on for a good four years—until President Theodore Roosevelt publicly joined the debate.

Roosevelt had long been a nature-enthusiast known for his grand hunting expeditions. In fact, the Teddy Bear, introduced in 1903, originated from stories about his reputation as a hunter.

'Teddy and the Bear' Mechanical Bank, 1907-1928

Teddy and the Bear bank (58.100.31).

After years of corresponding with John Burroughs, he went public with an interview that appeared in Everybody’s Magazine, entitled “Roosevelt and the Nature Fakirs.” In this article, he noted many of the same issues that Burroughs had raised, then singled out several authors by name—including, for the first time, Jack London. This also marked the first time that the term “nature fakir” (soon to be changed to “nature faker”) was used.

London was justifiably hurt by President Roosevelt’s accusations and tried to defend himself in an essay published in Collier’s Weekly:

I have been guilty of writing two books about dogs. The writing of these two stories, on my part, was in truth a protest against the “humanizing” of animals, of which it seemed to me several “animal writers” had been profoundly guilty….

I endeavored to make my stories in line with the facts of evolution; I hewed them to the mark set by scientific research and awoke, one day, to find myself bundled neck and crop into the camp of the nature-fakers.

In the end, however, how could anyone truly argue with the President of the United States? The Nature Faker controversy soon died down. After that, authors and publishers were more likely to check their facts while the public became more skeptical of what they were reading. But few of the people involved in the actual controversy changed their views.

While Jack London unfortunately died at the young age of 40, John Burroughs lived a long productive life into his 80’s. As his legendary status increased, he often entertained luminaries at his home in the Catskills. Among these luminaries was Henry Ford, who admired his writings and invited him to join his group of Vagabonds (consisting of himself, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone) for several lavish camping trips.

Henry Ford and John Burroughs at Woodchuck Lodge, Roxbury, New York, 1915

Burroughs and Ford (P.O.364).

Thomas Edison, John Burroughs, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone on a Vagabonds Camping Trip, 1918

Vagabonds (P.O.6151).

What do you think? Were John Burroughs and President Roosevelt onto something? Was Jack London really a “nature faker”? Or was he just a good storyteller?

Donna Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

presidents, John Burroughs, by Donna R. Braden, nature, books

Friends Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison, and John Burroughs went on camping trips together for a number of years, calling themselves the Vagabonds. Their trips were quite luxurious, by camping standards, involving a sizable caravan of staff and equipment. Why eat off tinware, for example, when one could use china instead? The Henry Ford’s collection includes a selection of the early 20th century Tudor Rose china that these august figures used on their wilderness trips, including the bouillon cup shown here. View photos and artifacts related to the Vagabonds on our collections website.

furnishings, camping, John Burroughs, digital collections, by Ellice Engdahl, Henry Ford, Firestone family, Vagabonds

Now that school's out and summer is here, many of us turn our thoughts to vacation and travel. Camping has long been a way for Americans to spend time relaxing with their families and friends and experiencing the beauties and wonders of nature — and sometimes just being a kid again.

 

Between 1915 and 1924, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, tire magnate Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs (who took part 1916-1920), calling themselves "the Four Vagabonds," embarked on a series of summer camping trips. Others joined the group at various times, among them family, business associates and politicians, including U.S. presidents. (Photo found here.)

Henry Ford, President Harding, Harvey Firestone, Jr., and family dining on a camping trip to Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1921.

Over the years, the group crisscrossed the mountains, valleys and scenic countryside of Upstate New York, the New England states, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia,Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

 

The group traveled in style and their adventures were well-documented and publicized. Equipment used by the party included a folding circular camp table with lazy Susan seating twenty (pictured above), a twenty-square-foot dining tent, sleeping tents with mosquito netting, a gasoline stove and a refrigerated Lincoln camping truck.  A professional chef prepared the group's meals and film crews and numerous outside journalists followed in their wake. Ford complained of the attention and its hampering effects on their trips, but there are strong indications that he nevertheless relished the publicity. (Photos found here and here.)

The Vagabonds service crew fixing a campfire meal, 1921.

Henry Ford and Clara Bryant Ford on vacation at the Grand Canyon, 1906.

Yet Henry Ford's interest in nature was not new or merely a public relations gambit. Here he is with Clara at the Grand Canyon in 1906.  They were avid birders and had over 500 birdhouses installed amid the naturalistic landscaping (designed by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen) of their Fair Lane Estate. John Burroughs helped them rehabilitate the adjoining land and reintroduce wildlife to the area.

 

In addition to the collections images online, we've also digitized films of the Vagabonds. Here, John Burroughs plants a tree; the group walks, dines and relaxes at the campsite; and Henry Ford climbs a tree.

 

This short film is part of the Ford Historic Film Collection.  It and others like it, including another featuring the Vagabonds, are viewable on the Benson Ford Research Center's online catalog and on our YouTube channel.)  Books in our research library about the Vagabonds include Norman Brauer's chronicle of their trips, There to Breathe the Beauty.

 

Even more still images from our photographic collections featuring the Vagabonds are available on our Flickr page. Here's Henry clowning around in a cowboy getup. (Below photo found here.)

"Cowboy" Henry Ford outside a tent, 1923.

Though executed on a grander scale than most camping trips, the Vagabonds' journeys spoke to a desire, shared by millions of Americans, to get back to the beauties of nature and, as Burroughs wrote, to "be not a spectator of, but a participator in, it all!"*

 

*(Burroughs, John.  Our Vacation Days of 1918.  Privately printed by Harvey Firestone, ca. 1918-1920s.)

Rebecca Bizonet is former archivist at the Benson Ford Research Center at The Henry Ford.  When she's not helping preserve and provide access to her institution's vast and rich archival holdings, she enjoys exploring Michigan's scenic highways (and finds the many opportunities for great whitefish and pasties, not to mention the scenic historic and natural wonders, more than make up for not having a personal chef in tow!). 

summer, John Burroughs, Firestone family, Henry Ford, by Rebecca Bizonet, Vagabonds, camping