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A large red piece of farm equipment moves through a field of brown plantsSoybean Harvesting / Photo courtesy of the United Soybean Board


Farmers have only a narrow window of opportunity to harvest their crops. For Michigan soybean growers, that window generally runs from the end of September through November, but is impacted yearly by weather events. By that point in the season, the plant is fully mature and has lost most of its leaves, and only the stalk and pods (with three to four beans per pod) stand in the field (R8 Growth Stage). The seeds are brown and hard at this point, and bean moisture content is 13-15%.

Close-up shot of brown plants with pods entangled in the tines of agricultural machinery in a field
A Close-Up of the Modern Soybean Harvesting Process / Photo courtesy of the United Soybean Board

Harvesting soybeans—to cut the stalk, separate the bean from the pod, clean the bean, and store it until moved from harvester to wagon or truck—requires a multifunctional machine. Soybean growers benefitted from around a century of experimentation with specialized harvest machines when it came time for them to look for the best machine for the job. Farmers need machines that work, and different machines to harvest different crops. The Henry Ford has some of the earliest of these mechanical innovations, each suited to a specific crop—the Ambler mowing machine for hay, models of the Hussey and McCormick reapers for grains, and the Manny combined mower and reaper (one machine adaptable for both crops).

These early-19th-century innovations represented solutions to the problem of how to reduce human labor costs. Farm families often could not meet labor demand during harvest seasons. Too little labor meant lost crops, and lost crops made it difficult for farmers to feed their livestock (hay) or earn income from market crops (grain). Hiring labor was expensive, and even more expensive during peak demand at harvest time.

A century passed between the 1830s, when mechanical reapers and mowing machines first became viable, and the 1930s, when the first Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester entered Michigan soybean fields.

Black-and-white photo of man driving a tractor with large equipment attachment behind it through a field
Man Driving an Allis-Chalmers Tractor Pulling an Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester at Michigan and Southfield Roads, Dearborn, Michigan, October 1936 / THF286727

The Crop


Michigan growers raised different types of beans during the early 20th century. Some raised bush beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), green beans that they harvested by hand when the pod reached the R5 growth stage and seeds had just begun to develop. Wholesale dealers distributed this perishable commodity to grocery stores while processors turned the bush beans into canned green beans. Others raised large fields of beans on contract with the H.J. Heinz Co. After the beans were fully matured and dry, growers harvested the crop by hand, then hauled the crop to a threshing machine that separated the beans from the pods and stems. Employees at Heinz processing plants continued the handwork, sorting beans from debris. Product advertising emphasized this attention to detail that yielded a quality food product.

A different type of bean—the “soy bean” (or soybean, Glycine max)—became increasingly apparent in southeast Michigan during the 1930s. Interest in this new cash crop grew apace with Henry Ford’s investment in soybean research. Scientists at work in the chemical laboratory that Ford built in Greenfield Village confirmed that soybeans had potential as a domestic source for various industrial products. Industrial demand in the region caused growers to seek a harvester suitable to the task.

Close-up of brown, slightly hairy pods on a plant against a blue sky
Soybean Pods Ready for Harvesting / Photo courtesy of the United Soybean Board

Some farmers raised seed crops to meet growing demand for the new cash crop. This specialized cultivation required careful harvesting, as described in “Soy Bean Seed Production in Michigan” (1936). Others raised crops to meet the growing demand for the new industrial raw material. The Ford Village Industries complex in Saline, Michigan, opened in 1938. A press release issued by Ford Motor Company in July 1938 indicated that 700 farmers planted 22,588 acres of soybeans processed at the Saline facility. Ford processing capacity increased as the soybean processing plant at the Rouge Plant began operations around 1942.

Ready for the Harvest: The Allis-Chambers All-Crop


Farmers needed mechanical harvesters to ensure that they delivered a prime crop to Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford thus took an interest in this technology. Allis-Chalmers released its All-Crop 60 harvester in 1935, designed to operate off a tractor big enough to pull a double-bottom plow and powered by the tractor’s power take-off. The “60” represented the width in inches of the swath cut by the harvester. Ford tested the capability of the Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester on a Ford Farms soybean crop in October 1936. By that time, Allis-Chalmers had sold 8,200 of the machines.

The engineer who took a leading role in the machine’s development was Charles J. Scranton, Jr. He began his career as a draftsman at Avery Company, a Peoria, Illinois, company noted for steam traction engines, threshers, and other farm equipment that went bankrupt in 1923. Scranton, as an assignee to a successor company, the Avery Power Machinery Co., secured several patents for improvements to threshers during the late 1920s.

Scranton joined Allis-Chalmers by working at the LaPorte, Indiana, location by 1934. Over 30 years, he secured around 40 patents, all focused on harvesting machinery. The All-Crop marked a crowning achievement because it suited the needs of farmers operating on a smaller scale and growing different cash crops, including soybeans, clover, milo, and other grains.

Ford featured the Allis-Chalmers All-Crop Harvester in early promotional photographs of the Ford tractor with the “Ferguson System,” the Ford-Ferguson 9N, released in 1939. This marked a ringing endorsement from the industrialist who launched soybeans as a cash crop in Michigan.

Black-and-white photo of a person riding a tractor through a field, pulling agricultural equipment containing crops behind it
A Ford-Ferguson Model 9N Tractor Pulling an Allis-Chalmers “All-Crop” Harvester, Macon, Michigan, November 1939 / THF701486

Black-and-white photo of person on tractor pulling a piece of agricultural equipment behind them through a field
Rear view of the Allis-Chalmers “All-Crop” Harvester, pulled by a Ford-Ferguson Model 9N Tractor, Macon, Michigan, November 1939 / THF701489

More Crop in the Hopper


As soybean acreage increased across the Midwest after World War II, farm implement companies continued to innovate. The Allis-Chalmers All-Crop was well suited to smaller scale farmers growing a variety of crops, but the scale of production increased dramatically during the 1950s as farmers in the midwestern Corn Belt shifted toward monoculture, e.g., corn, a crop heavily dependent on nitrogen, and soybeans, a legume that helps retain nitrogen in the soil. Farmers saw this combination as a strategy to help reduce input costs for synthetic and nitrogen-rich fertilizers.

Illinois-based agricultural implement manufacturer Deere & Company gained an advantage in 1954 when the company introduced an attachment that farmers could install on their combine harvesters to harvest corn. They could harvest their bean crop by switching out that attachment with a four- or five-bat (or horizontal bar) reel mechanism that drew the bean crop into the cutting head. Interchangeable front-end attachments became an industry standard.

Large yellow piece of agricultural equipment with large tines at front below a cab, in a large space with wooden floor and other agricultural equipment
The New Holland TR70 Axial Flow Combine, 1975, with Corn Attachment, on Exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation / THF57471

The New Holland TR70 Axial Flow combine in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is installed with the corn harvester attachment. Farmers could harvest four rows of corn in one pass through the field with this head. To harvest soybeans, they installed a different attachment to the front end, a “pickup reel,” as illustrated below in a New Holland TR70 product catalog. The promotional literature urged farmers to purchase a floating “cutterbar” and a “robot header height control” to harvest most efficiently.

Page with text and image of yellow agricultural equipment with reel in front harvesting a crop in a field
Sperry Rand Corporation - Sperry New Holland Division Catalog, "TR70 Twin Rotor Combine," 1977, Page 10 Detail / THF298867

Soybean acreage increased rapidly from the late 1970s into the 1980s. This sustained research in and development of combines suitable to cutting, threshing, and cleaning soybean crops (along with corn and other smaller grains).

Large blue and yellow piece of agricultural equipment harvesting crops in a field
Ford New Holland Agricultural Equipment, 1985, Detail / THF277369

For additional information:

“Charles Scranton Dies; Was Engineer,” Indianapolis Star, 27 July 1980, pg. 14, sec. 3.

Swinford, Norm. Allis-Chalmers Farm Equipment, 1914-1985. American Society of Agricultural Engineers, 1994.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office records include more than 40 patents secured by Scranton during his work with Allis-Chalmers and at least three from his years with Avery Company.


Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford. This blog post was produced as part of our partnership with the Michigan Soybean Committee to deepen understanding of the important soybean crop and to provide the public with the chance to learn more about agriculture and the innovations that have helped farmers feed the world. You can learn more about the partnership, soybeans, and soybean ties to The Henry Ford in our kickoff post here.

Henry Ford Museum, Michigan, by Debra A. Reid, farms and farming, farming equipment, agriculture, soybeans

On April 30, The Henry Ford was thrilled to welcome 150 student inventors from across the state to participate in the state finals of Invention Convention Michigan (ICM), the Michigan affiliate for Invention Convention Worldwide. The event marked the return of an in-person Invention Convention after two years of virtual programming.

A group of children, many wearing green t-shirts and lanyards, pose on the floor of a museum
Out of 1,290 young inventors who competed in regional STEM competitions across the state of Michigan, 150 were selected to participate in Invention Convention Michigan. / Photo by Purple Frog Photography

The atmosphere was electric as students in grades 3 through 12 presented their original inventions on the floor of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation alongside some of the greatest innovations in American history. The young inventors were buzzing with nervous energy when it came time for judging, but once the pressure was off, they felt a rush of accomplishment and were free to explore the museum, garnering more inspirational energy for the year ahead.

A young man stands by a trifold display board, talking to a group of people circled around him
A young girl in a green t-shirt talks to two other people in front of a trifold display board on a table
Students pitch their inventions to volunteer judges and share their process, from identifying a problem to developing a solution and designing a prototype
. / Photos by Purple Frog Photography

During their lunch break, students were given the opportunity to participate in the Innovation Passport Zone. Traveling from booth to booth around the plaza, inventors learned about some of ICM’s sponsors—including Hagerty, Michigan Soybean Committee, and presenting sponsor Delta Dental of Michigan—and got their “passports stamped” for a chance to win a hefty grand prize of donations offered by the sponsors.

Three people look at a sign next to a table draped with a black cloth, behind which are two people in black t-shirts, in a room with other people and displays
A man marks a child's lanyard in front of a table in a large space with other people and displays
A group of children and adults stand by a table filled with small cups, behind which is a woman in a gray shirt
Students interact with representatives from Delta Dental of Michigan, Hagerty, and Michigan Soybean Committee in the Innovation Passport Zone. / Photos by Purple Frog Photography

After the scores had been tabulated, students gathered under the DC3 for the awards ceremony, which began with a special word from the president of The Henry Ford, Patricia Mooradian, and a keynote address by Kwane Watson, inventor of the mobile dental unit.

Someone dressed in a tooth costume, with a large smiley face and green hat, gloves, and shoes, entertains a group of people
A man in a blue t-shirt talks to a group of children and adults
Students enjoyed interacting with Dazzle, mascot for Delta Dental of Michigan, and The Henry Ford’s own Mike Moseley served as emcee for the event. / Photos by Purple Frog Photography

In all, over $3,500 in cash prizes was awarded to 21 of Michigan’s student inventors. Of these, 13 students were selected to advance to the Raytheon Technologies Invention Convention U.S. Nationals taking place at The Henry Ford June 1-3. To watch a replay of the awards ceremony, click here.

A group of children stand on a low stage and pose for the camera
Congratulations to these 21 student inventors, who were recognized with awards during the awards ceremony. / Photo by Purple Frog Photography

A girl in a black shirt and top holds an award and smiles for the camera next to a woman in a black t-shirt and jeans
A special congratulations goes out to Meera R., who was the Grand Prize Winner, presented by Delta Dental of Michigan, as well as the winner of the Make the World Award, presented by Stanley Black & Decker; the Originality Award, presented by Hagerty; and the Safety Award, presented by Hitachi Astemo. Meera will also be among the 13 inventors selected to represent Michigan at U.S. Nationals in June. / Photo by Purple Frog Photography

It was wonderful to see the museum plaza filled with passionate and joyous students, along with proud families and educators. We look forward to experiencing the thrill of Invention Convention U.S. Nationals in a few weeks and want to congratulate all of our student inventors once again for all of their hard work.


Katie Dallos is Program Coordinator, Invention Convention Michigan, at The Henry Ford and Samantha Rhoads is inHub Marketing Specialist at The Henry Ford.

Michigan, events, Henry Ford Museum, philanthropy, by Katie Dallos, by Samantha Johnson, education, inventors, childhood, innovation learning, Invention Convention Worldwide

Two-story white building with columns and second-floor balcony with two small trees in front on a grassy lawn

Photo by KMS Photography

When it comes to dining experiences, Eagle Tavern in Greenfield Village is one of a kind. The stagecoach tavern was built in 1831 in Clinton, Michigan. Calvin Wood and his wife Harriet operated it from 1849 to 1854, offering food, drink, and accommodations to the locals and those who came through the town. In 1927, Henry Ford purchased the tavern and brought it to Greenfield Village as the Clinton Inn, where it first served as a cafeteria for Edison Institute students and then for visitors. In April 1982, Eagle Tavern officially opened as the restaurant we know today. Forty years later, Eagle Tavern continues to delight members and guests with mid-1800s food and drink.

As we celebrate the beginning of the 2022 Greenfield Village season, Sous Chef Kasey Faraj shares three of his favorite Eagle Tavern recipes for you to try at home.

Woman in a 19th-century dress and bonnet pours water for a modern-dressed couple at a wooden table in front of a fireplace
Photo by Emily Berger

“My absolute favorite thing about the tavern is the overall guest experience,” said Faraj. “There is simply no place like this anywhere in America where we are taking our guests on a journey to the past. Everything from our Calvin and Harriet Wood characters chatting with our guests to the food, to the look of the bill of fare and restaurant, and the servers in period clothing, we all collectively create an experience that is unique, historically accurate, and unmatched by any establishment.”

Faraj found inspiration for his menus from classic mid-1800s era cookbooks, like Mrs. Putnam’s Receipt Book and The Kentucky Housewife. It was in these wonderful books that he was inspired to create dishes such as our delicious Asparagus Soup, Pork and Potato Balls, and Bouilli Beef.

Eagle Tavern’s Asparagus Soup

serves many

Shallow white bowl with green floral pattern filled with steaming pea-colored soup, sitting on wooden table in front of window

Ingredients

  • ½ pound unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cups yellow onion, medium dice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
  • 5 pounds asparagus, trimmed
  • 1 ½ cups celery, diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¾ gallon vegetable broth
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • 1 quart half-and-half
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Method

  • Heat a stockpot and melt the butter.
  • Add the onions and garlic and cook over medium-high heat until onions are translucent.
  • Add the asparagus, celery, bay leaves, and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil.
  • Once boiling, turn heat to low and simmer until asparagus is tender.
  • Add the cornstarch and half-and-half and puree the mixture with a hand blender until smooth. (You can also slowly break down the asparagus with a potato masher.)
  • Add salt and pepper to your liking.
  • Adjust the cornstarch if thicker or thinner soup is desired.
  • Strain if you wish to have a lighter-style soup. Serve with fresh bread or crackers.


“The awesome curators here at The Henry Ford and I collaborate to find these menu items in cookbooks from the past,” said Faraj. “I then take said items and build the menu through both seasonal availability and the story of Harriet and Calvin Wood. It is not as simple as, ‘I found a recipe for a mid-1800s era style corn soup, so we are going to offer that soup.’”

Faraj and team take everything into consideration:

  • How did season and local availability influence the meals that a tavernkeeper like Harriet Wood might have prepared for her tavern customers?
  • What foodstuffs could have been imported in southern Michigan in 1850?
  • What type of meals and desserts might Harriet Wood have had time to prepare over an open hearth in her busy tavern kitchen?


“In-depth research from period American cookbooks found in our research center, and expertise from our curators, help us find our way to these answers,” he said. “The ability to find a recipe from a book written almost two centuries ago, test that recipe, and then place it on a menu (that is seasonally accurate!) is what makes a chef working in historic dining challenging—yet fun!”

 

Eagle Tavern’s Pork and Potato Balls

serves many

Shallow white bowl with green floral pattern around rim, filled with fried meatballs, sitting on wooden table

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds cooked Idaho potatoes
  • 3 fresh eggs
  • 1 pound cooked pork-sage sausage, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound unsalted butter


Method

  • Put cooked potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes until there are very few lumps.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs.
  • Add the crumbled sausage, salt, and pepper to the eggs and mix until evenly distributed.
  • Using a spoon or a small scooper, shape the mix into small balls no larger than a golf ball.
  • Heat a nonstick pan and melt the butter.
  • Cook the balls in the butter until browned on all sides and the internal temperature is 165° F. When cooked, sprinkle with additional salt and pepper and serve with extra butter, if desired.


One last recommendation from Chef Faraj: Eagle Tavern’s Bouilli Beef. “This dish is great served with roasted potatoes and mashed parsnips,” he said.

 

Eagle Tavern’s Bouilli Beef

serves many

White plate filled with beef with gravy topped with chopped vegetables, scalloped potatoes, and asparagus, sitting on wooden table


Ingredients

  • 3 pounds beef, cut into 8-oz. portions (preferably chuck eye roll)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 ounces vegetable oil
  • 1 pound turnips, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ¼ pound yellow onion, medium dice
  • ¼ pound peeled carrots, medium dice
  • ¼ pound celery, medium dice
  • 1 ½ gallons beef stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 6 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1 ounce soy sauce
  • 2 ounces Dijon mustard
  • 4 ounces cornstarch
  • 4 ounces chopped sweet pickles


Method

  • Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat the vegetable oil in a stockpot on the stove and sear the meat on all sides.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients except for the soy sauce, mustard, cornstarch, and pickles.
  • Bring it all to a boil; once boiling, turn the heat down to a low setting and cover. Let cook slowly until the meat is almost fall-apart tender, 2-3 hours. Turn off and leave on stove.
  • Take half the stock the beef was cooked in and strain. Whisk together the soy sauce, mustard, and strained stock in a small saucepot over medium heat. Add the cornstarch and bring to a slow boil; cook until gravy is slightly thick. Add the cooked beef and plate with the turnips it was cooked with.
  • Ladle 2-3 ounces of gravy over each piece and top with chopped pickles.


Large, two-story white wooden building with columns and second-floor balcony, among trees
Eagle Tavern, Greenfield Village /
THF1918

Want to learn more about Eagle Tavern? Look below for links to blog posts, Innovation Nation segments, and artifact records.

 

All About Eagle Tavern
Drink Recipes

 

Dig Deeper



Lish Dorset is Marketing Manager, Non-Admission Products, at The Henry Ford.

making, Michigan, recipes, food, restaurants, by Lish Dorset, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, Eagle Tavern

Black-and-white photo of man sitting in early open race car in front of building
Frank Kulick sitting in a 1910 Ford Model T race car. / THF123278


Frank Kulick (1882–1968) was a lucky man who beat rivals and cheated death on the race track. But his greatest stroke of luck may have been being in the right place at the right time. Born in Michigan, Kulick started his first job—in a Detroit foundry—at age 12. He was listed as a spring maker in the 1900 census. But in 1903 he was working for Northern Manufacturing Company—an automobile company founded by Detroit auto pioneer Charles Brady King.

That’s where Frank Kulick met Henry Ford.

Ford stopped by Northern to borrow a car. Impressed with young Kulick, Ford lured him to his own Ford Motor Company, where Kulick signed on as one of Ford Motor’s first employees. Kulick was there at Lake St. Clair in January 1904 when Henry Ford set a land speed record of 91.37 miles per hour with his “Arrow” racer. Not long after, Ford told Kulick, “I’m going to build you a racing car.” By that fall, Frank Kulick was driving to promote Ford Motor Company on race tracks and in newspapers.

Matted black-and-white photo of group of men around an early open car; names written on the mat
Frank Kulick scored his early victories driving this four-cylinder Ford racer. Its engine consisted of a pair of two-cylinder (1903) Model A engines mated together. / THF95388

Kulick went head-to-head with drivers who became legends in American motorsport—people like Barney Oldfield, whose cigar-chomping bravado set the mold for racing heroics, and Carl Fisher, who established Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909 and the Indianapolis 500 two years later. Kulick firmly established his credentials with an improbable win at Yonkers, New York, in November 1904. Through skillful driving in the corners and a bit of good luck (which is to say, bad luck for his competitors), Kulick’s little 20-horsepower Ford pulled out a win against a 90-horsepower Fiat and a 60-horsepower Renault. Kulick covered a mile in 55 seconds—an impressive racing speed of 65 miles per hour.

Black-and-white photo of three men standing near and three men working on early open race car on a beach
Frank Kulick (second from right) and Henry Ford (third from left) were photographed in New Jersey with the Model K racer in 1905. / THF95015

Frank Kulick’s four-cylinder, 20-horsepower car was superseded in 1905 by a larger car with a six-cylinder, 60-horsepower engine. It was one of a series of cars using engines based on the six-cylinder unit that appeared in the Ford Model K. The bigger engine did not bring better results. Henry Ford himself drove one of the cars twice in the summer of 1905, chasing new land speed records on the New Jersey beach. But the car came up short each time.

With Kulick at the wheel, Ford tried again for a record at Ormond Beach, Florida, in January 1906—this time with the six-cylinder engine improved to 100 horsepower. But Kulick had trouble with the soft sand, and he managed no better than 40 miles per hour on the straightaway. (The record was broken at the Ormond Beach event—but by a steam-powered Stanley that hit 127.66 miles per hour.)

The end of the road for Ford’s six-cylinder racers nearly ended Frank Kulick’s career—and his life. It happened in October 1907, on the one-mile oval at the Michigan State Fairgrounds near Detroit. Kulick was trying to lap the dirt track in fewer than 50 seconds—a speed better than 72 miles per hour. His latest car was dubbed “666”—a name that simultaneously called attention to its cylinder count and paid homage to Henry Ford’s earlier “999.” In retrospect, that nefarious name was a bad omen.

Black-and-white photo of two men staring at the crashed remains of a car in a field
Miraculously, Frank Kulick survived this crash in 1907, but it left him with a broken leg and a permanent limp. / THF125717

As Kulick was going through a turn on the fairgrounds oval, his rear wheel collapsed. Car and driver went careening off the track, through the fence, and down a 15-foot embankment. When rescuers arrived, they found Kulick some 40 feet from his wrecked racer. He was alive, but with his right kneecap fractured and his right leg broken in two places. Frank Kulick survived the crash, but his injuries healed slowly and imperfectly. He wore a brace for two years, and he walked with a limp for the rest of his life—his right leg having come out of the ordeal 1 ½ inches shorter than his left leg. The “666” was repaired, but it never competed again.

Henry Ford was horrified by Kulick’s accident, and he very nearly swore his company off racing for good. It wasn’t until 1910 that Kulick competed again under the company’s colors. By then, Ford Motor Company wasn’t building anything but the Model T, so Kulick naturally raced in a series of highly modified T-based cars. Arguably, his first effort in the renewed campaign was more show business than sport. Kulick went to frozen Lake St. Clair, northeast of Detroit, that February to challenge an ice boat. He easily won the match and earned quick headlines for the Model T.

Black-and-white photo of two men sitting in an early open car on a street with other cars, people, and buildings in the background
Kulick posed in a Model T racer at the Algonquin Hill Climb, near Chicago, in 1912. / THF140161

Over the next two years, Kulick and his nimble Model T racers crossed the country competing—and frequently winning—road races and hill climbs. Despite Kulick’s success, Henry Ford remained lukewarm on racing. Ford Motor Company built nearly 70,000 cars in 1912 and still struggled to meet customer demand, so it certainly didn’t need the promotion—or problems—that came with an active motorsport program. Kulick later recalled that, after a race at Detroit in September 1912, Henry pulled $1,000 in cash from his pocket and told Frank, “I’ll give you that to quit racing.” Despite the generous offer (almost $30,000 in today’s dollars), Kulick continued a bit longer.

Frank Kulick may have started having second thoughts the next month. While practicing for the Vanderbilt Cup road race in Milwaukee, he grew concerned about the narrow roadway. There wasn’t enough room to pass another car without dipping into a ditch, so Kulick protested and dropped out of the contest. His concerns proved well founded when driver David Bruce-Brown was killed in the next round of practice.

It was the 1913 Indianapolis 500 that finally changed Kulick’s career path. Then in its third running, the Indy 500 was well on its way to becoming the most important race in the American motorsport calendar. Henry Ford was determined to enter Kulick in a modified Model T. But Indy’s rules specified a minimum weight for all entries. The Ford racer weighed in at less than 1,000 pounds—too light to meet the minimum. Indy officials rejected the modified T, and a frustrated Henry Ford reportedly replied, “We’re building race cars, not trucks.” With that, there would be no Ford car in the Indianapolis 500—in fact, there would be no major factory-backed Ford racing efforts for 22 years.

Black-and-white photo of three people sitting in an early open car with text on side, parked in front of buildings and a masonry arch
Kulick’s later career involved more genteel assignments, like driving the ten millionth Ford on a coast-to-coast publicity tour in 1924. Here, he takes a back seat to movie stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. / THF134645

Frank Kulick’s racing days were over, but he remained with Ford Motor Company for another 15 years. His assignments varied from research and development to publicity. In 1924, Kulick was charged with driving the ten millionth Ford Model T on a transcontinental tour from New York to San Francisco. Three years later, Kulick was called on to help celebrate the 15 millionth Model T. This time, rather than driving it across the country, Kulick—as one of Ford Motor Company’s eight senior-most employees—had the honor of helping stamp digits into the engine’s serial number plate. It was perfectly fitting that, as someone who’d done so much to promote the Model T through racing, Kulick was there to make his mark on the ceremonial last T. Kulick left Ford not long after that. He had done well investing in real estate, which afforded him a comfortable retirement.

Frank Kulick passed away in 1968. He survived to see Ford Motor Company achieve its great racing triumphs at Indianapolis and Le Mans during the “Total Performance” era. He also lived long enough to sit for an interview with author Leo Levine, whose 1968 book, Ford: The Dust and the Glory, remains the definitive history of Ford racing in the first two-thirds of the 20th century. Levine wrote a whole chapter on Frank Kulick—but then, Frank Kulick wrote a whole chapter in Ford’s racing history.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Michigan, Model Ts, Indy 500, cars, by Matt Anderson, Ford workers, Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford, race cars, race car drivers, racing

Bluffs with pine trees overlook a large body of water
"Pulpit Rock on Presque Isle," Lake Superior near Marquette, Michigan, 1898. / THF118818

The border between the United States and Canada runs through four of the five lakes that constitute the world’s largest freshwater system—the Great Lakes. Policy makers on both sides of this fluid border have agreed to protect access and use of these bodies of water and their bays, arms, and inlets for more than 100 years.

Man in a rowboat paddles near a larger steamer in a harbor in front of docks and a town
View from the Harbor, Petoskey, Michigan, circa 1906. / THF118856

In the Boundary Waters Treaty of May 5, 1909, the United States and Great Britain (speaking for its Dominion of Canada) agreed to ensure free access and shared use of the navigable waterways. This sustained lucrative transportation and trade networks that the locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, helped facilitate.

Large ships travel through narrow canals with locks
Photochrom Print, "The Locks, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan," 1905. Ships moved between Lake Superior and Lake Huron via these locks. / THF113687

The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 also stressed the shared responsibility for protecting water quality. Specifically, the United States and Great Britain “agreed that the … boundary waters … shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other” (Article IV).

Black-and-white photo of man in suit drinking from stone well on a lawn near houses or other buildings
Man Drinking from Flowing Well, Wequetonsing, Michigan, circa 1906. / THF119004

Increased populations, however, created problems that the partners had to solve. The treaty called for a six-person International Joint Commission (IJC) to mediate or investigate issues that arose. When cholera outbreaks increased in 1912, the IJC launched a comprehensive study of the boundary waters. Research conducted over five years confirmed that untreated water polluted with raw sewage carried bacteria that caused cholera and typhoid. Findings affirmed transnational responsibility for protecting public health and drew attention to the need for communities to ensure drinking water purity. You can read the final report from 1918 here. And this work continues, as “The Great Lakes Water Quality Centennial Study – Phase 1 Report” (2021) underscores.

Industrial pollution, especially the release of manufacturing waste into boundary waters, further increased the sense of urgency to maintain Great Lakes water quality.

Aerial view of what appear to be houses, offices, and industrial buildings near a body of water, with smoke billowing from a smokestack
View from Incline Railway, Duluth, Minnesota, circa 1908. / THF119376

Beautiful postcards, like this illustration of the bridge over the Mackinac Straits, could not compete with the evidence of growing Great Lakes degradation.

Long white suspension bridge over bright blue water
Postcard, Mackinac Straits Bridge, circa 1957 / THF144098

Growing public concern over industrial pollution found an outlet in Earth Day, April 22, 1970. That same year, the IJC released a report that stressed the “grave deterioration of water quality” in the Great Lakes, drawing on the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 as precedent for reaffirming the rights and obligations of both parties to not pollute boundary waters. 

On April 15, 1972, representatives from Canada and the United States signed the Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality. The two countries pledged to restore and enhance water quality in the Great Lakes. This included general objectives to keep the boundary waters free from substances that result from human activity and that might negatively affect aquatic life or waterfowl, be toxic or harmful to humans, or create a nuisance, including concentrations that could encourage aquatic weeds or algae. The agreement also itemized specific water quality objectives and targets around controlling phosphorus and monitoring vessel design, construction, and operation, as well as vessel waste and other forms of shipping pollution. It specified procedures for handling polluted dredged spoil (the waste material produced by dredging) and discharge of pollutants into boundary waters. You can read this 1972 agreement here.

April 15, 2022, marks the 50th anniversary of this transnational agreement to protect the Great Lakes ecosystem. The IJC continues to function as established in the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. You can read more about how the IJC links the ongoing transnational work to your life here.

Black-and-white image of dock with long low building on it and several large ships in the water around it
Mission Point and Arnold Dock, Mackinac Island, Michigan, circa 1905. / THF114337

And if you find yourself in the boundary waters, recognize the long-term investment in Great Lakes environmental sustainability that helps protect those waters today.


Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford.

Michigan, environmentalism, by Debra A. Reid

Panoramic image of large, open-sided building with many support beamsPanoramic view of the reconstructed vegetable shed from Detroit Central Market on April 10, 2022. The entrance that originally faced south is front and center in this view. / Compiled from two photographs taken by Debra A. Reid


The vegetable shed from Detroit Central Market, opening this week in Greenfield Village, provides the perfect opportunity to be a building detective! You can practice your powers of observation as you explore this open-sided structure. In the process, you can become a more informed observer of the built environment around you.

The following highlights should whet your appetite to learn more about this “shed.” Originally, it sheltered vendors who helped feed hungry Detroiters for more than 30 years, from April 1861 to February 1894. Then it spent 110 years on the upper end of Belle Isle sheltering horses, operating as a public riding stable, and as a storage facility for the City of Detroit. The Henry Ford acquired it in 2003, saving it from demolition. Then, between 2003 and 2021, we conducted research and raised funds to reconstruct it in Greenfield Village. Now you can explore the reconstructed Detroit Central Market shed starting its new life in the heart of Greenfield Village.

Is This Building a Reconstruction?


Rudy Christian, a traditional timber-frame expert and principal of Christian & Son, Inc., describes the Detroit Central Market shed as a reconstruction. He bases this on his experiences dismantling the structure in 2003, advocating for use of original materials and prepping the timber-frame elements, and reassembling the roof system during reconstruction in Greenfield Village during 2021.

The Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) first defined “reconstruction” in 1978 as “the act or process of reproducing by new construction the exact form and detail of a vanished building, structure, or object, or a part thereof, as it appeared at a specific period of time” (Federal Register, Vol. 43, No. 236, December 7, 1978, page 57251). You can read more about the DOI’s standards for the treatment of historic buildings and landscapes here, including more about reconstruction and the other three standards: preservation (when the property retains distinctive materials and thus conveys historic significance without extensive repair or replacement), restoration (removal of features to return a property to an appearance of a particular time in the past), and rehabilitation (retention of a property’s historic character, but modifications may occur given ongoing use).

What Percentage of the Building Is Original?


The Detroit Central Market vegetable shed, while “new construction,” is authentic because of the significant percentage of original material incorporated into the reconstruction. Fifty percent of the columns (16 of 32) are original. The 16 originals are distinctive because of acanthus-leaf details on the bases, a spiral design, and capitals onto which cast S-scroll leaf ornaments are mounted.

White architectural element in the shape of a curved leaf and stem
Architectural S-scroll leaf ornament from the Detroit Central Market, 1860. / THF177806

These original cast-iron columns, however, are brittle. It is impossible to calculate their tensile strength—that is, the maximum stress that the cast iron can stand when being stretched or pulled before breaking. Modern code requires structural materials to meet tensile-strength specifications. This posed a significant challenge.

How Can We Meet Modern Building Codes with an Historic Structure?


The facilities team at The Henry Ford contracted with O’Neal Construction, Inc., of Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the reconstruction of the Detroit Central Market building. They were involved in all phases of the planning process and oversaw reconstruction from 2021 to its completion. The team considered different options to support the building, but ultimately selected an innovative solution that exceeds code requirements. In effect, the solution involved flipping the structural support upside down.

Video screenshot showing a construction site; small "zoom" box in upper right with face of person presumably presenting
Alec Jerome, Director of Facilities at The Henry Ford, explaining the invisible framing system that anchors the vegetable shed on August 26, 2021. / Screenshot from THF Conversations: A Market Shed in its 160th Year

Ensuring guest safety required construction of an underground “moment frame” that anchors the structure and prevents it from acting like a huge umbrella on a windy day. The above screenshot shows the system of rebar that runs between the 48-inch-deep footers. The footers extend up to octagonal bases, or piers. These footers also accommodate modern infrastructure—specifically, electrical conduit that runs underground and up into the piers. All 32 columns are attached to the individual piers with anchor bolts, but 16 of the 32 columns are steel and specially designed extensions of the moment frame. As a whole, the moment frame ensures that the structure will remain on the ground and standing in perpetuity.

Detail of open-sided building with many support columns and decorative elements around roof
The entrance that originally faced north on April 10, 2022, now behind Hanks Silk Mill in Greenfield Village. There are original columns at both sides of the side-entrance gable, but rows of specially designed columns, integral to the moment frame, visible to both the left and right of this side-entrance. / Photograph by Debra A. Reid

The 16 new columns are distinctive from the originals in several ways. They are smooth, not spiral. They have fluted gussets (brackets) at the top, instead of capitals. Finally, they are larger in diameter than the originals. These distinctions make clear which columns are original and which are not, to inform guests of the innovation required to ensure their safety.

How Does the New Footprint Compare to the Original?


Large, open-sided building with structural columns (including columns completely outside the structure, not supporting anything)
What was originally the west entrance, now facing State Street in Greenfield Village, on April 10, 2022, with original columns as well as additional columns installed in two rows in front of the structure. This gives guests a better impression of the original building footprint, though an additional eight columns would be required to mimic the full original size of 11 bays and 242 feet in length. / Photograph by Debra A. Reid

The reconstructed vegetable shed is 7/11ths as long as the original. Why 7/11ths? The original structure was three bays wide by eleven bays long. A bay is the space between architectural elements. You can see the eleven bays visible on the south side of the structure in the detail below from a late-1880s photograph—five bays from the east-facing entrance to the south-facing entrance, with that entrance bay being the sixth bay, and then five bays beyond it to the west-facing entrance (less easy to see given the perspective). The Central Market building towers in the distance.

Black-and-white photo of long, low, open building with people and horses and carriages around it
Detail of the vegetable shed from the Detroit Central Market, circa 1888. / THF200604

The reconstructed Detroit Central Market vegetable shed in Greenfield Village includes only seven of the eleven original lengthwise bays—three on each side of the side-entrance bay. Thus, the reconstruction is 7/11ths the length of the original. Jim McCabe, former collections manager and buildings curator at The Henry Ford, deserves credit for this specification, as he spent nearly two decades working on the project between 2003 and 2022.

The reconstruction is true to the width of the original, three bays total—one on each side of the central entrance, which is also a bay. You can see these bays most clearly in this July 6, 2021, photograph below, showing columns in place and the roof structure in process.

Photo of construction site with thin columns and rudimentary frame above them
Detroit Central Market reconstruction in process on July 6, 2021, showing the three-bay width and the seven-bay length. / Photograph by Debra A. Reid

How Much of the Timber-Frame Roof Is Original?


The timber-framing system is clearly visible inside the structure. Just walk in and look up! Approximately 80% of the original old-growth white pine was reused in the reconstruction. This resulted from careful detective work during the quick dismantling process.

The Henry Ford contracted with Christian & Son, Inc., to number and measure the original structural and decorative woodwork elements, photograph them, and prep the material for storage. Then we contracted with Jeff DuPilka and West Shore Services, Inc., to disassemble the structure. West Shore, Christian & Son, and staff from The Henry Ford accomplished this in 10 to 12 weeks during the summer of 2003.

Detail looking up into corner of open building showing architectural details

Woodwork in one of four outside corners, original to the vegetable shed at Detroit Central Market and still intact after it served as the riding stable at Belle Isle, Detroit, Michigan (photographed in 2003). / THF113493

Christian & Son, Inc., documented all original wooden elements, including those in the section of the building that was fire-damaged due to a car wreck (visible in the photograph below). They believed that documenting the whole required documentation of all parts, so they took as much care tagging, measuring, and dismantling this burned section as they did with the other sections. In fact, timbers from the charred section were reused in the reconstruction and are visible on the exterior of the originally east-facing entrance (the entrance now facing the Detroit Toledo & Milwaukee Roundhouse in Greenfield Village).

Crane removing large beam from largely dismantled structure
West Shore Services, Inc., crane in action, removing a piece of the original timber-frame roof system from the former riding stable (and originally the Detroit Central Market vegetable shed) on Belle Isle, Detroit, Michigan, 2003. / THF113575


What Are Some Notable Details?


The reconstruction of the Detroit Central Market vegetable shed in Greenfield Village includes ornamental woodwork throughout. The following rendering by architecture firm Quinn Evans itemizes seven distinctive brackets, each designed for a specific location in the building, and one “drop,” an accessory at all four gable entrances and used with the decorative fascia along the eaves.


Rendering showing several similar but not identical styles of wooden brackets; also contains text
Decorative wood details of the Detroit Central Market vegetable shed, prepared by Quinn Evans, Ann Arbor, Michigan, for The Henry Ford. / Courtesy of The Henry Ford’s facilities team

These decorative elements were all hand-carved during the original construction in 1860. Not all of the decorative elements survived the move to Belle Isle. The elaborate crests atop each of the four gable entrances on the Detroit Central Market vegetable shed, for example, were not included when it served as the horse shed on Belle Isle, as the illustration of it in Seventy Glimpses of Detroit indicates. Missing pieces were replicated to complete the structure’s appearance during its heyday as a public market.

Man leans over wooden architectural elements on metal shelving in a large, sunny warehouse space
Jim Johnson, Director of Greenfield Village & Curator of Historic Structures and Landscapes at The Henry Ford, starting to inventory architectural elements from the Detroit Central Market vegetable shed not used in the reconstruction, February 8, 2022. / Photograph by Debra A. Reid

What Style Is the Building?


Each of the ornamental elements was part of a stylistic whole that the reconstruction faithfully conveys. If it reminds you of a Swiss chalet, you have an astute eye for style. John Schaffer, the architect, trained in Munich, Bavaria, and incorporated Schweizerstil (Swiss-chalet style) details into his plans, drafted in 1860. Thus, this structure likely introduced that aesthetic to Detroiters. His plans included gently sloping gabled roofs with wide eaves, large brackets, and decorative fretwork, all details common to Swiss-style architecture. Additional Swiss features included sawtooth siding, scroll-sawn fascia, and the elliptical design of the siding at each gable-end.

The Detroit Central Market vegetable shed has so much to teach. Learning to read the details of this addition to Greenfield Village is an important first step on the journey. Learn even more by checking out additional blog posts and artifacts related to Detroit Central Market.


Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford. Comments from Rachel Yerke, Curatorial Assistant at The Henry Ford, improved this post.

#Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, collections care, making, design, Michigan, Detroit, Detroit Central Market, by Debra A. Reid, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village

Black-and-white photo of man standing with arms crossed, wearing white long-sleeved shirt, white tights (?), and dark velvet shorts with fringe

Unidentified Member of Alert Hose Company. / THF212048

Sometime during the late 1870s, members of the Alert Hose Company in Big Rapids, Michigan, posed for the local photographer. Arms crossed and standing tall, each of the firefighters wears a uniform—typical of those worn when competing in a local or regional firemen's tournament. The men had won several tournament prizes by the time they posed for these photographs—perhaps the prize money helped pay for the cartes-de-visite that became a remembrance of the company's victory. But these images offer more than just a glimpse at the Alert Hose Company's participation in a sporting event. They document the culmination of the company's years of hard work protecting Big Rapids against the ravages of fire, the pride in their company and their community, and their connection with the greater fraternity of 19th-century firefighters.

Fires in Big Rapids


Big Rapids, located in Mecosta County, Michigan, was incorporated in 1869. Like many 19th-century cities, it was susceptible to fire. The wood used to construct early homes and businesses offered ready fuel to the flames of an unwatched candle or lamp or a stray ember from a stove or fireplace. According to the 1883 Mecosta County history [p. 645], "Big Rapids has been a sufferer from fire at various times… The first fire of any consequence in the place was… in the year 1860." It was not any better in 1869 when another disastrous fire occurred [p. 645]: "No water supply or engines for extinguishing fires were here at that time, and common pails or buckets were the only appliance afforded. Lines of men were formed to supply water with buckets from wells in the vicinity, and even from the river, but without avail. The Mason House... was only saved by tearing down a small building [nearby] belonging to Harwood & Olds, and then hanging carpets and bed-clothes from the roof and windows, and keeping them saturated with water."

Finally, in 1871, men in Big Rapids organized volunteer fire companies, and the citizens and the city government discussed creating a local water supply for fire protection and private use.

GIF cycling through four black-and-white photos of men standing with arms crossed, wearing white long-sleeved shirt, white tights (?), and dark velvet shorts with fringe
Unidentified, Charles Gore, Jack Shaw, and W. E. Drew. / THF212050, THF212054, THF212056, THF212058

Volunteer Fire Companies in Big Rapids


Volunteer firefighters needed to work as a unit when it came time to fight a fire. Nineteenth-century fire companies usually consisted of men from similar class divisions, backgrounds, or ethnic groups and kinships. This sense of fraternity cemented the unit's cohesion. The camaraderie and kinship of fighting fires and their unique status as protectors in the community bound the firefighters together.

The Alert Hose Company was one of several volunteer firefighting companies to organize in Big Rapids in the early 1870s. The volunteers' job was to get to a burning structure as quickly as possible—pulling a hose cart or carriage—and attach hoses to an available water source so they could begin controlling the conflagration. By 1876, the growing city of Big Rapids had at least two other hose companies (Defiance and Protection) and the Pioneer Hook and Ladder company. (Hook and ladder companies employed hooks to tear down parts of buildings to limit a fire's spread and ladders to fight fires and rescue individuals in multi-story buildings.)

Little is known about the men who made up the Alert Hose Company, though names written on the back of some of the photographs provide a start. A quick review of census records from 1870 and 1880 and a city directory from 1884 give a few clues about a small subset. They were young working men mostly in their mid-20s and a couple in their 30s, though one was in his late teens. Several were related in some fashion. Their occupations included laborers, clerks, and a drayman (teamster)—none of the known men owned a business, though a few may have owned farms. Being part of the local fire company provided connections to businesses in the community to help guide their careers. A more thorough search of records (outside the scope of this blog) would provide more information on why this group of men came together to form the Alert Hose Company.

GIF cycling through four black-and-white photos of men standing with arms crossed, wearing white long-sleeved shirt, white tights (?), and dark velvet shorts with fringe
Henry Shaw, Charles Ellis, "Zip" Hammond, and Thomas Shaw. / THF212060, THF212062, THF212064, THF212066

Firemen's Tournaments


By the 1870s, fire companies tested their firefighting skills against other companies at various regional, state, and national firemen's tournaments. Local companies usually competed against one another on holidays or community fair days. State and national associations sponsored large competitions and set tournament rules and dates. Companies invited to participate usually competed in hose cart races, hook and ladder competitions, and pumping contests (to see how far a company could spray water from a hose), among other activities.

Training for and participating in firemen's tournaments tested and sharpened a company's firefighting skills, promoted a sense of pride in competition, and strengthened the sense of teamwork and fraternity. Participation in these tournaments by fire companies also engaged the local community. Government officials, business leaders, and ordinary citizens supported fire companies by cheering them on and providing monetary support through donations and prize money. Finally, friendly competitions between local companies broadened the sense of fraternity by creating a larger brotherhood of firefighters.

GIF cyling through four black-and-white photos of men standing with arms crossed, wearing white long-sleeved shirt, white tights (?), and dark velvet shorts with fringe
Arthur Webster, "Louie" Goulette, Angus McLelland, and  Fred Marble. / THF212068, THF212070, THF212072, THF212074

The Alert Hose Company in Tournaments


The men of the Alert Hose Company in Big Rapids, Michigan, began participating in hose cart races at various tournaments in the mid-1870s.  In a hose cart race, a fire company ran a set distance pulling a cart reeled with hoses. Men in the company unwound the hoses, attached them to a water source, and then sprayed water. The fastest time won the prize. A review of articles from the Detroit Free Press highlights the successes of the fire company and the support of its community.

In 1875, the Alert Hose Company (along with the Pioneer Hook and Ladder company) made an appearance at the State Firemen's Tournament held in Jackson, Michigan. Reports mentioned no prizes, but, according to the papers, when they returned home, the men were met "with an enthusiastic reception and dinner[.]" On July 4, 1876, the Big Rapids' firefighting companies competed against one another for prize money. The "Alerts" won the champion belt and a cash prize of $50 offered by the mayor. The other firefighting companies took home lesser amounts funded by the citizens.  The following year at the Mecosta County Fair, the "Alerts" took home a $100 purse in the hose cart race.

A bigger prize awaited in 1878. In September, the "Alerts" headed off to Chicago to compete in a national competition. Their teamwork paid off; they finished second within a long list of competitors. The prize this time was noteworthy—$300 in cash and a nickel-plated hose cart made by Silsby Company of Seneca Falls, New York.  Citizens of Big Rapids turned out to greet their heroes when they returned home.  Evergreens, flags, and banners decorated the local hall, the women of the town prepared a dinner, and, of course, there were speeches. A final mention from this period came in an 1882 article that reported the men of the Alert Hose Company had won a special prize of $10 at the State Firemen's Tournament for the "best appearing company." 

Conclusion


Throughout the 1870s, local fire companies organized in the newly formed city of Big Rapids, Michigan. These volunteer firemen worked to protect their homes and community against the ever-present danger of fire. Each company needed to work as a cohesive unit when fighting flames and smoke. Similar backgrounds, ethnicities, and economic status—and the desire to protect their community—brought these men together. And local and regional firefighters' tournaments provided a way to hone the skills needed to become an effective team. The small images shown here, taken by a local photographer, point to the unity and pride that the men of the Alert Hose Company had in their avocation and the fraternity they represented.

See all 14 members of the Alert Hose Company (including one member not in uniform) in The Henry Ford's Digital Collections here


Andy Stupperich is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

photographs, Michigan, by Andy Stupperich

Two women take a selfie together
Anne Parsons (at right), then-President of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, with Patricia Mooradian, President and CEO of The Henry Ford, at Salute to America in 2017.

We are saddened by the passing of Anne Parsons, President Emeritus of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO). Parsons was the longest-serving executive leader in the DSO's modern era, and she was a tremendous friend to The Henry Ford. We’ve had the great honor and privilege of working with Anne and her teams for more than 25 years with our Salute to America concerts in Greenfield Village.

Please join us in thoughts and prayers for Parsons' family, her friends, and the entire DSO community.

women's history, events, Greenfield Village, Salute to America, Michigan, Detroit, music, in memoriam

"You know me, Barney Oldfield" was the classic catchphrase of one of America's earliest celebrity sports figures. Indeed, during the nascent period of the automobile, most every American knew Berna “Bernie” Eli Oldfield (1878–1946). He became the best-known race car driver at a time when the motor buggy was catching the imagination and passion of a rapidly changing society. Oldfield cut a populist swath across turn-of-the century American society and, in the process, helped define an emerging cult of celebrity.

Bicycle Beginnings


Man hunched over riding a bicycle on a steeply-tilted wooden track
Barney Oldfield Riding the "Blue Streak" Bicycle on the Salt Palace Board Track, Salt Lake City, Utah, circa 1900 / THF111772

One of the consistent themes of Oldfield's early years was a restlessness and desire for bigger, brighter, and better things in life. As a teenager, Oldfield worked odd jobs in Toledo, Ohio, earning money to buy his own bicycle to ride in local and regional road and endurance races. An attempt at professional boxing ended after Oldfield contracted typhoid fever. He returned to racing bicycles for company-sponsored teams and sold parts in the off-season. Throughout the 1890s, Oldfield was part of a team of riders that barnstormed across the Midwest, racing in the new "wood bowl" tracks that were sprouting up across the region. Oldfield quickly realized the need to appeal to audiences beyond the track. He branded himself the "Bicycle Racing Champion of Ohio" and promoted a "keen formula for winning," wearing a bottle of bourbon around his neck during races but telling reporters the liquid inside was vinegar.

Shift to Auto Racing


Two men pose at the wheel of two very minimal open early race cars on a track next to a covered pavilion
Tom Cooper and Barney Oldfield Seated in Race Cars, circa 1902 / THF207346

Americans were fascinated with quirky and expensive motor buggies. These boxy, carriage-like vehicles appealed to Americans’ desire for new, loud, audacious, and fast entertainment. During the winter of 1899, Oldfield reconnected with an old bicycle racing companion, Tom Cooper, who had just returned from England with a motorized two-wheeler (an early motorcycle). Cooper was going to demonstrate the vehicle at a race in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, near Detroit, in October 1901. He asked Oldfield, who began riding motorcycles himself around this time, to come along. Cooper and Oldfield were a preliminary exhibition before the main event: a race between local "chauffeur" Henry Ford and the most well-known and successful automobile manufacturer of the day, Alexander Winton.

After the Grosse Pointe event, Oldfield and Cooper pursued gold mining in Colorado. When that ended in failure, Cooper headed to Detroit to focus on automobiles. Oldfield took the motorized cycle on a circuit of Western bicycle tracks, setting records along the way before returning to Detroit in the fall of 1902 at Cooper’s request. Cooper had purchased Henry Ford’s “999” race car and wanted Oldfield to drive it. "The Race" between the “999” and Alexander Winton's "Bullet" captured the imaginations of not only Detroit's automotive elite, but the general population as well. When Oldfield piloted the “999” to victory over Winton's sputtering “Bullet,” the news spread like wildfire across Detroit, the Midwest, and eventually the nation.

Beyond the immediate thrill of the race itself, Barney Oldfield, the "everyman" bicycle racer from the heartland, appealed to a wide segment of American society rushing to embrace the motor car. As the Detroit News-Tribune reported after the race, "The auto replaced the horse on the track and in the carriage shed. Society sanctioned yesterday's races. And not only society, but the general public, turned out until more than five thousand persons had passed the gatekeepers.” Barney Oldfield became the face of racing for the "general public" and helped to democratize not only racing entertainment, but also automobiles in general, as vehicles moved out of the carriage house and into backyard sheds.

Man crouches at wheel of an open early race car on a dirt track
Barney Oldfield Driving the Ford "999" Race Car, circa 1903 / THF140144

Celebrity Status


Over the next 15 years, Barney Oldfield established multiple world speed records and gained notoriety wherever he went. He added an iconic unlit cigar to his racing persona and perfected the roguish image of a daredevil everyman. After a brief stint driving for Winton, Oldfield took the wheel of a Peerless racer, the "Green Dragon," and established himself as America's premier driver.

Man sits behind wheel of early open race car on a dirt track
Barney Oldfield Behind the Wheel of the Peerless "Green Dragon" Racecar, circa 1905 / THF228859

By 1904, Oldfield held world records in the 1-, 9-, 10-, 25-, and 50-mile speed categories. In 1907, Oldfield tried his hand at stage acting when he signed on to appear in a new musical, The Vanderbilt Cup. Over a 10-week run and a brief road tour, Oldfield “raced” his old friend Tom Cooper in stationary cars as backdrops whirled behind them and stagehands blew dirt into the front rows of the theater. The following year, Oldfield entered the open road race circuit and quickly added to his legend by sparking a feud with one of the emerging stars of the day, Ralph De Palma. In March 1910, Oldfield added the title "Speed King of the World" to his resume, driving the "Blitzen Benz" to an astonishing 131.7 miles per hour on Daytona Beach in Florida.

Man behind wheel of early open race car on a track; also contains text
Barney Oldfield Driving the "Blitzen Benz" Car on a Racetrack, 1910 / THF228871

Oldfield flouted the conventions of his time, both on and off the track. He was notorious for his post-race celebrations, womanizing, and bar fights. Oldfield’s rebellious streak kept him under the scrutiny of the American Automobile Association (AAA) and, in 1910, he became the first true "outlaw" driver when he was suspended for an unsanctioned spectacle race against the heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. Undaunted, Oldfield and his manager set up dates at county and state fairs across the country, holding three-heat matches against a traveling stable of paid drivers. Oldfield padded his reputation by adding an element of drama to these events—he would lose the first match, barely win the second, and, after theatrically tweaking and cajoling his engine, win the third match. During this time, Oldfield also became a product spokesman (perhaps most notably for Firestone tires) and began racing a fellow showman, aerial barnstormer Lincoln Beachey, in matches pitting “the Dare Devil of the Earth vs. the Demon of the Skies for the Championship of the Universe!”

Early airplane flies low above a race car on a dirt track
Barney Oldfield and Lincoln Beachey Racing, Columbus, Ohio, 1914 / THF228829

Towards the end of his driving career, Oldfield made a final splash in the racing world with the Harry Miller-built "Golden Submarine," establishing dirt-track records from one to one hundred miles. Throughout the 1917 season, Oldfield drove the Golden Sub in a series of matches on dirt and wood tracks against his old rival Ralph De Palma, eventually winning four out of the seven races. Oldfield retired from competition racing in 1918 after winning two matches in Independence, Missouri. In typical Oldfield fashion, he ran the last race under AAA suspension for participating in an earlier unsanctioned event.

Race car on steeply tilted wood track
Barney Oldfield Driving "Golden Submarine" Race Car at Sheepshead Bay Board Track, Brooklyn, New York, 1917 / THF141856

Oldfield continued to keep himself at the fore of America's sports entertainment culture. In addition to ceremonial "referee" jobs at various races, he rubbed elbows with American movie, stage, and music stars and continued his rambunctious lifestyle. Between 1913 and 1945, Oldfield appeared in six movies (usually as himself) and also tried his hand as a road tester for Hudson Motor Company, salesman, bartender, club owner, and spokesman. Finally, in an attempt to raise funds to build another land-speed racer with Harry Miller, Oldfield staged a unique publicity and fundraising event. In 1933, outside Dallas, Texas, he drove an Allis-Chalmers farm tractor to a record 64.1 miles per hour.

Advertisement with text and image of man with cigar in his mouth behind the wheel of a car
Barney Oldfield Advertising Postcard for Plymouth Automobiles, circa 1935 / THF228879

Fittingly, Barney Oldfield's last public appearance was at the May 1946 Golden Jubilee of the Automobile Industry held in Detroit. Oldfield was fêted for his foundational role in what had become one of the largest industries in the nation. He shared the main speaker's table with automotive icons including Henry Ford, Ransom Olds, and Frank Duryea, and he accepted a “trophy of progress” for his role in automotive history. Barney Oldfield passed away in October 1946, having lived—in the words of one passionate fan—“such a life as men should know.”

For more, check out our archival collection on Barney Oldfield, browse artifacts related to him in our Digital Collections, or visit the “Showmanship” zone of the Driven to Win: Racing in America exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.


This post by Peter Kalinski, former Archivist at The Henry Ford, originally ran in 2014. It has been updated by Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

archives, Detroit, Michigan, Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win, racing, race car drivers, race cars, cars, bicycles, by Peter Kalinski, by Saige Jedele

Black-and-white photo of fire engine parked in front of wooden shed or garage and trees

1923 Seagrave Pumper Fire Engine / THF88913

One of the most respected names in the fire apparatus manufacturing business is Seagrave. The company was founded in Detroit in 1881 by Frederic S. Seagrave, who got his start making ladders for northern Michigan fruit orchards and soon was making fire ladders and hand-drawn ladder trucks. By 1886 he was producing hook-and-ladder trucks.

The firm moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 1891 as Seagrave and Company. By 1902, it was building the highly successful Seagrave Spring Hoist Aerial Ladder and by 1907, the company was offering motor-driven fire apparatus powered by air-cooled engines of its own design.

The Seagrave fire truck in The Henry Ford’s collection (pictured at the top of this post) was purchased by the city of Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan, in 1924. The truck is powered by a 6-cylinder, water-cooled Seagrave engine rated at 150 horsepower. Its dual ignition system duplicated key engine components, to ensure that the truck kept pumping water at 750 gallons per minute. In 1938, it was returned to the factory in Columbus for a complete overhaul and updating, including new fenders, wheels, and lights. The engine then faithfully served the Grosse Pointe Shores community for another 25 years. The gold-leaf decorations and the paintings on the hood side panels testify to the pride firefighters took in their truck.

Seagrave was acquired by FWD in 1963 and still operates as FWD Seagrave out of Clintonville, Wisconsin.

entrepreneurship, Michigan, Detroit, cars