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Postcard with text and image of geysers erupting with hills in the background and a lake in the foreground
For decades, many Americans shared a common misperception that Indigenous people feared the geysers at Yellowstone. / THF120298


Until recently, much of the American public has shared a common misperception that few Indigenous people had ever ventured within the boundaries of what became Yellowstone National Park. Story had it that these people were afraid of the geysers, or that they felt that the hissing steam vents were signs of angry gods or evil spirits. In fact, the presence of Indigenous Americans was purposefully erased from the story of Yellowstone National Park, beginning with the first white “scientific” expedition there in 1871. This erasure, which lasted through most of the park’s history, is only recently beginning to change.

Black-and-white image of slope covered in water and/or calcified rock with hills or mountains in the background
Some Indigenous people, in their pursuit of the large herds of bison to the east, created a trail that passed near what is now known as Mammoth Hot Springs. / THF102351

Archaeological evidence now indicates that as far back as 10,000 years ago, several bands of Indigenous people regularly passed through this area, primarily hunting bison, bighorn sheep, elk, and deer. In historic times, the area continued to serve as a crossroads for many Indigenous groups—including Crow, Shoshone, Bannock, Blackfoot, Nez Perce, and Flathead—who followed the Yellowstone River and other waterways through what eventually became the boundaries of the park. They tracked small buffalo herds, elk, and deer in the mountains and forests during the summer months and followed these animals to the warmer geothermal area of the Yellowstone Basin during the bitter winter months. Some of these groups crossed through the area to pursue the great herds of bison in the plains farther east, creating a trail that passed through the area now known as Mammoth Hot Springs and stretching eastward across what is known today as Lamar Valley. Early white hunters, trappers, and explorers not only followed the trails that Indigenous people created, but it is from these people that they first heard the fantastic stories of geothermal wonders in the Yellowstone Basin.

Black-and-white photo of geysers erupting steam and/or water into the air in a rocky landscape with a lake or river in the foreground and forest in the background
Many early photographs of the wonders of Yellowstone, like this “Grand Group” of geysers, were probably taken by William Henry Jackson, one of the people who accompanied Ferdinand Hayden on his 1871 expedition through what would become the park. / THF120369

The process of Indigenous erasure in Yellowstone began in earnest with the Hayden expedition of 1871—a large, government-funded expedition led by geologist Ferdinand Hayden to study, collect specimens in, and map out the confines of the Yellowstone “wonderland” that had been receiving so much recent attention. Hayden and members of his expedition were able to observe firsthand the places that had been described primarily in stories told by Shoshone and Bannock people—astonishing places like “The White Mountain” (which became known as Mammoth Hot Springs) and the spectacular geysers, bubbling mud pots, and hissing steam vents situated within the geothermal area of the Yellowstone Basin. As a result of this expedition, Hayden laid claim to this unique landscape on behalf of the United States government and the American people, choosing to ignore the longstanding use of the region by Indigenous people. Instead, the expedition report pointed to Yellowstone’s wonders as proof of the country’s “exceptionalism”—that is, Americans’ long-sought evidence that the United States was unique and exceptional when compared with other nations of the world.

Black-and-white photo of Indigenous people in a dwelling or teepee
Photo of "Sheepeater" Shoshone, William Henry Jackson, 1871. / Public domain photo from National Park Service

By the time of the Hayden Expedition, the only Indigenous people still known to inhabit the area were a by-then considered poor and lowly band of Eastern Shoshone called Sheepeaters (Tukudeka or Tukadika). A wealth of recent archaeological information has pointed to the conclusion that this band had inhabited and roamed this area for thousands of years—not the mere 200 years that early white explorers surmised (a story that then became widely accepted). These people had developed a remarkably sustainable way of life, taking advantage of the once-large population of bighorn sheep for food, clothing, blankets, tools, and bows.  Early white trappers observed this band’s self-confidence, intelligence, friendliness, and willingness to trade their fine-quality hide clothing, horn bows, and obsidian arrowheads. Unfortunately, the bighorn sheep population plummeted as the result of diseases brought by white settlers’ domestic sheep. White hunters and settlers also decimated other game and polluted the streams in which these people had fished. No wonder, then, that by the 1870s white explorers of the area described these people as starving and miserable.

Postcard showing large stone gateway across dirt road through grass fields; a horse-drawn stagecoach is coming through the arch
In 1903, this monumental stone gateway was completed to mark the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The words “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” inscribed above the arch, are taken directly from the legislation that created Yellowstone back in 1872. / THF120280

The widely publicized and highly celebrated Hayden report rapidly led to the creation of a bill to set the area aside as a national park, a “resort for all classes of people from all portions of the world,” a democratic landscape of tourism. When the question of Indigenous claims to the area under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie was raised, the argument was made that the land was simply too hostile for Indigenous people to live there. Though this was not true, Hayden’s expedition report had already justified the removal of Indigenous people from the area. The bill passed easily, with the help of aggressive lobbying by the Northern Pacific Railroad and the strong desire by members of Congress to use the bill as a way to help unify a Civil War-torn nation. The Yellowstone National Park Protection Act (or, simply, the Yellowstone Act) was placed on President Ulysses S. Grant’s desk on March 1, 1872. President Grant signed it without fanfare. During the 1870s, the Sheepeaters were easily rounded up and exiled to the Wind River (Wyoming) and Fort Hall (Idaho) reservations to live with other bands of Shoshone, along with Bannock and Arapaho people. 

Black-and-white photo of horse-drawn carriage driving past a large rock formation among steep hills and valleys
Early tourists typically boarded horse-drawn carriages to view the sites at Yellowstone National Park. / THF200464

When Yellowstone became a national park, no funds were allotted to administer or manage it. But an 1877 incident involving an encounter between another Indigenous group and two groups of tourists in the park changed that. The incident involved a group of Nez Perce (Nii mi’ipuu) crossing through the park in an epic flight to avoid the U.S. Army, who was pursuing them to force their removal from their ancestral homeland in eastern Oregon to a tiny reservation in Washington. This incident, which unfortunately involved violence and hostage-taking, created a national media sensation. Many personal accounts of the episode emerged afterward, with some indication that those who were involved sympathized with the plight of the Nez Perce. The Nez Perce group managed to successfully evade the army until the soldiers finally caught up with them 40 miles south of the Canadian border—in an attempt to join Sitting Bull’s Lakota band.

As a result of the widespread publicity and furor raised by this incident, Congress finally committed some money to managing the park. As tourism increased, Congress pressured Yellowstone park administrators to control the “savages” because it was assumed that they would endanger the park’s visitors. After that time, park administrators aggressively downplayed any presence of Indigenous people, not wanting the park’s well-heeled guests to risk crossing paths with them, or to even be worried that they might. By 1882, all Indigenous groups had been banned from the park.

Angular, geometric rock cliff with loose rocks covering slope below
Sheepeater Cliff was named after the only Indigenous people that lived on in public memory as having inhabited the Yellowstone area. / Photo by NPS/Jim Peaco

Once the real presence of Indigenous people had been erased from the landscape, park superintendents, railroad publicists, and tourists alike could look back—safely, nostalgically, and romantically—on the one-time presence of Indigenous people there. For example, when park administrators came across the remnants of wickiups (temporary shelters made from poles leaned and tied together, covered with brush or grass) eight miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs, they assumed these were made and used by the Sheepeaters. Since this was the only group still in the public memory as having inhabited Yellowstone, they felt that they were honoring their one-time presence by naming the natural feature near there “Sheepeater Cliff”—though this band did not live in that area and likely did not build these shelters. Once established, the perception that no Indigenous people had ever set foot inside the current boundaries of Yellowstone National Park (except for the Sheepeaters) persisted for decades.

In recent years, however, archaeologists, historians, and Indigenous activists have begun to correct the narrative of Indigenous presence and habitation on this land. In addition, administrators at Yellowstone National Park have also been making a concerted effort to elevate Indigenous voices and incorporate Indigenous knowledge systems into their research and programs (see, for example: https://roadtrippers.com/magazine/yellowstone-150-native-american-voices/ and https://www.nps.gov/yell/getinvolved/150-years-of-yellowstone.htm).  Today, they recognize at least 27 distinct American tribes that have historic and present-day connections to the land and resources of the park.  As champions of ecological connectivity, Indigenous people have been galvanizing action to protect Yellowstone’s wildlife, helping to relocate bison culled from the park, raising awareness on living with bears and wolves in the wider landscape, and enlightening administrators and the public on other aspects of environmental conservation related to the Yellowstone ecosystem. For the 150th anniversary of the park in 2022, administrators have been “shining a light” on Indigenous people whose past, present, and future are an essential part of Yellowstone’s story. As Cam Sholly, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, proclaims, “This isn’t just about the last century and a half.  We also want to use this anniversary to do a better job of fully recognizing many American Indian nations that lived in this area for thousands of years prior to Yellowstone becoming a park…. The engagement we’re doing now will help set a stronger foundation for collaboration well into the future.”

As erasure shifts toward inclusion—through published materials, behind-the-scenes collaboration, and public programming—the historic and present-day connections of Indigenous people to Yellowstone National Park will continue to play an important role in the park’s future.


Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.  For recent books aimed at greater inclusion of Indigenous people in Yellowstone’s history, she recommends Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America by Megan Kate Nelson (2022) and Wonderlandscape: Yellowstone National Park and the Evolution of an American Cultural Icon by John Clayton (2017).

by Donna R. Braden, Yellowstone National Park, nature, national parks

Rustic building lobby with several levels with walkways around the perimeter and a multiple-story stone fireplace

The photograph I came across in The Henry Ford’s archives in 1985. / THF120353

Back in 1985, I was looking through The Henry Ford’s archives for images that depicted vacation destinations to complete a museum book I was writing called Leisure and Entertainment in America. There, in our collection, I came across the most amazing photograph of a hotel that I had ever seen. It looked like the outdoors had been brought inside. A great lobby dominated the scene, featuring a mammoth fireplace made of massive boulders. Real, full-size logs supported the balconies that rose several stories. In the midst of all this grandeur, comfortable Mission-style rockers, settees, and handwoven rugs were scattered about.

What was this place? I wondered. Did it still exist? Could I go there?

This was my first encounter with the Old Faithful Inn, which is situated alongside Yellowstone National Park’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful. As it turns out, Old Faithful Inn is quite significant in its own right, as it was not only the first rustic hotel of the Western national parks, but it also set the standard for rustic lodgings and manmade structures in other national parks.

What was the story behind this unique place?

Black-and-white photo of a lake with a small shoreline with pine trees and a man fishing, with hills or mountains in the background
Photographs like this one of Yellowstone Lake, from the 1870s, encouraged early tourism in the park. Note the man fishing, lower left. / THF120349

During the first few decades after Yellowstone became a national park in 1872, accommodations inside the park were, admittedly, spotty. The small number of well-to-do tourists who could afford the trip to Yellowstone during this time expected the pleasures of the high-class, comfortable lodgings they were used to on their European vacations or nearer to home along the East Coast. The first lodgings near Old Faithful were generally ramshackle establishments, built quickly and cheaply. When a lunch station/hotel constructed there in 1884—nicknamed “The Shack”—burned down, park administrators were actually relieved. They had considered it an eyesore.

Black-and-white photo of a horse-drawn stagecoach filled with passengers in front of a building
Before the Old Faithful Inn existed, the Fountain Hotel—typical of Yellowstone hotels at the time—provided comfortable lodging 10 miles north of Old Faithful. / THF203310

Tourism increased when the Northern Pacific Railroad established the “Grand Tour” route through the park for four- to five-day horse-and-carriage tours. At key stops like Mammoth Hot Springs and Yellowstone Lake, the railroad had built some of the nicer hotels in the park. But Old Faithful was located 10 miles south of the route, and comfortable lodgings were already available at the privately-run Fountain Hotel near the Paint Pots (bubbling mud pots) thermal feature. Railroad executives were reluctant to take a chance on building a hotel so far off the beaten track.

Black-and-white photo of geyser spewing water and steam into the air as people look on; vast pine forest in the background
Old Faithful was such a dramatic attraction, it is surprising that it was not part of the original Grand Tour route. / THF120359

But, in 1894, park administrators passed a special regulation that lodging could be situated ⅛ of a mile from Old Faithful geyser rather than the usual ¼ mile required between lodgings and natural features. This changed everything. Within a few years, Harry W. Child, entrepreneurial president of the Yellowstone Park Association (which oversaw the Northern Pacific Railroad’s transportation and lodgings), began making plans to build a respectable hotel at Old Faithful. He initially engaged Seattle-based architect A.W. Spalding, who designed a hotel much like the other Yellowstone hotels that were reminiscent of European and East Coast hotels. Spalding’s design was never built, as it apparently did not meet the expectations of railroad executives.

Black-and-white photo of two-story wooden building among trees
The Saranac Inn, a rustic lodging on Upper Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks. / THF126056

It was then that Child turned to his young friend—self-taught San Diego-based architect Robert Reamer—to design something more in the manner of rustic “great camps” of the Adirondacks. Combining the influence of California bungalows (especially the idea of bringing the roofline low to the ground) with the rustic trappings of the Adirondack lodge, Reamer designed a hotel that was radically different from anything seen before but seemed to perfectly fit Yellowstone’s exotic setting.

Postcard of large covered porch created from logs; people sit in rocking chairs beneath it
As seen in this 1908–1909 postcard of the front porch, locally obtained lodgepole pines were used for the ground floor of the Inn, while rhyolite rock (which can be glimpsed in the background) formed much of the building’s foundation. / THF120292

Reamer’s design was completed and approved in 1902, and actual construction of the building began in June 1903. It took 13 months to complete, over a long winter that was particularly bitter. About 40 skilled artisans were hired for the work, hailing from nearby Montana towns like West Yellowstone, Gardiner, and Livingston. They were a hardy crew, facing many hardships while making swift work of the construction. Materials were mostly obtained nearby, including lodgepole pine and rhyolite rock (an unusual type of rock produced by Yellowstone’s volcanic eruptions). A temporary sawmill was built eight miles to the south to produce the many boards of lumber needed for the project. A Livingston, Montana, blacksmith named George Colpitts and his assistants hand-forged the wrought-iron work for Old Faithful Inn, including the massive front door hardware, the fireplace clock and tools, and all the original guest room door numbers and locks. The total cost of construction was $140,000.

Black-and-white image of rustic building with steep roof, many gables, and flags at the top of the roofline
Original façade of Old Faithful Inn, 1905, before the east and West Wings and the extended front porch were added. / THF120361

When it opened on June 1, 1904, Old Faithful Inn was a dramatic tour de force. It seemed rooted in the landscape, as if it had risen directly from the earth. On its exterior, the steep gable roof dominated (for both aesthetic reasons and the very practical one of having to withstand 20-foot drifts of snow in winter). Cedar shingles covered the roof and upper siding, with dormer windows that seemed to pop out in odd places (some were real, others just decorative). The building’s interwoven log construction not only gave it a look of permanence and solidity but also transformed it, in essence, into a gigantic log cabin.

Postcard of large rustic space with interior balconies around perimeter and multi-story stone fireplace; also contains text
Postcard of the great hall lobby, 1904–1905. / THF120294

Inside, the great hall rose 76½ feet—seven stories in all—with square and diamond windowpanes that filtered light in. Upright poles and beams supporting each balcony were made from lodgepole pine tree trunks, with thick branches attached to the trunks at Y-shaped angles. Balconies and stairways were supported by smaller pine branches found around the area, adding interest with their twisted, curved, and gnarled shapes. A trapeze-like wooden platform near the ceiling of the Inn, called the “Crow’s Nest,” originally held a string quartet—who performed before dinner so guests could mingle, and after dinner when the lobby was transformed into a dance hall. (The Crow’s Nest unfortunately closed when it was deemed unstable after a disastrous earthquake in 1959). The fireplace dominated: 15 by 15 feet at its base, with eight hearths, and rising to a tapered pyramidal shape of 41 feet high. Near the top of it was a huge 14-foot windup clock designed by Reamer. Electric fixtures simulating candlelight were placed discreetly around the space.

High-ceilinged rustic dining room with large wooden beams and tall fireplace containing long tables covered with white tablecloths
Postcard of the dining room at Old Faithful Inn, 1904–1905. / THF120296

Behind the great hall was the dining room, with split logs covering an open-pitched roof. Similar to the great hall, it was also dominated by a massive stone fireplace. Guests originally sat at long, family-style tables and could obtain a meal for 75 cents. A dinner bell atop the Inn’s rooftop summoned guests to dinner.

Man and woman sit reading in rocking chairs in a rustic bedroom with wooden walls
A typical room for lodgers in the Old House, circa 1905. / THF120355

The lobby and upper mezzanines were filled with Mission-style tables, settees, rockers, desks, and Old Hickory tables and chairs. (Old Hickory was a Martinsville, Indiana, company founded in 1892 that specialized in rustic furniture made out of hickory, with woven, hickory-rushed seats and backs.) One hundred forty log-walled rooms for lodging led off the great hall, on two floors, to the east and to the west. Rooms were furnished simply, with brass, iron, or wood beds; natural wood dressers, chairs, nightstands, and desks; and washstands with chamber pots. Some had cushioned window seats. The rooms had steam heat and sinks with running water (communal bathrooms were, and still are, available down the hall.) This original set of rooms, which cost four dollars per night to lodge in when the Inn opened, became known as the Old House.

It is believed that Harry Child’s wife Adelaide (or Addy), who accompanied her husband on the initial trip to hire Reamer, had a hand in the furnishings, decorations, and details. The delicacy of the balconies, stairway railings, window placements, and Mission-style furniture shows her influence. As a result of this collaboration, both men and women felt comfortable and relaxed here. The Inn, in essence, neutralized gender and class distinctions, encouraging impromptu encounters and informality.

Postcard of sprawling rustic building with steeply peaked roof topped with flags at center; also contains text
The radically different look of Old Faithful Inn prompted the National Pacific Railroad to justify it in its promotional materials. / THF120290

Old Faithful Inn was different from the usual lodging, and Northern Pacific Railroad promoters figured they had better explain this to potential guests. They wrote this statement in the Inn’s defense when it first opened, just in case guests rejected the notion of a rustic hotel: “The Inn is not in the least a freaky affair…. It is a thoroughly modern and artistic structure in every respect—modern in its appointments and artistic in the carrying out of an unconventional and original scheme.”

They needn’t have worried about guests’ reactions. Old Faithful Inn was an immediate hit with the public. One guest, a Mrs. E.H. Johnson, in 1905, recounted: “And then we came to the Inn, the most unique and perfect place; it is the craftsman’s dream realized. My room alone is a paradise of restfulness though in a rough and rustic fashion…. At luncheon we had another treat. The dining room has its own charm.”

Postcard showing side and sliver of front of large, steeply-roofed rustic building with a geyser erupting in the background
Old Faithful Inn after the new porch and veranda were completed in 1927. / THF120323

Old Faithful Inn was so popular, in fact, that in 1913–1914, 100 guest rooms were added to create the East Wing. And, in 1927, with the increasing number of tourists coming by automobile, 150 more rooms were added to create the West Wing. Although the interiors of these later rooms were more modern than those in the Old House, a consistent look was maintained on the exterior for an overall cohesive effect. A covered porch was added to the front of the building in 1927—again to accommodate automobile traffic—with an open veranda above for viewing Old Faithful eruptions. (For more on the impact of automobiles on the national parks, see my blog post, “Automobiles Enter the National Parks.”)

Blue pennant with text "Bryce Canyon National Park Utah" and images of rock formations and a rustic building
The rustic Lodge, shown on this Bryce Canyon pennant, was constructed in 1925. / THF239283

Old Faithful Inn really started something. The railroad companies, who had made the Western national parks accessible and controlled many of the concessions in the early parks, realized that the rustic style suited these places, and the style spread quickly—first to the upscale hotels, then to other manmade structures in the parks. The National Park Service, formed in 1916, eventually chose the rustic style as its standard architecture across the entire park system. This style, which colloquially became known as “Parkitecture,” reached its culmination with the Depression-era projects of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Old Faithful Inn was a very atypical hotel of its era. Most resort hotels at the time were intended to serve as civilized oases from the wilderness. Old Faithful Inn, the first rustic-style lodge of the West, was designed to fit in and become part of the wilderness experience. Somehow, Robert Reamer recognized this when he created what was truly a one-of-a-kind national park lodging.

Person stands on boardwalk over white sand or salt with trees and a building in the background
Snapshot of the author at Yellowstone National Park in 1985, standing on the Upper Geyser Basin trail with Old Faithful Inn in the background. / Photo courtesy of Donna Braden

Soon after I first viewed the image of the Old Faithful Inn lobby in 1985, my husband and I had the pleasure of visiting Yellowstone National Park, and we stayed at the Old Faithful Inn. Eighty years after that photograph was taken, it was like we had entered it in real life. We stayed in one of those tiny, log-walled, chamber-potted rooms in the Old House. It was noisy but thrilling to be in that room—to become part of that place. We returned to Yellowstone National Park in 2014, almost 30 years later, and have returned year after year since then (except in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic). We have stayed at the Old Faithful Inn every year—in the Old House, the East Wing, and the West Wing. We plan to stay there again when we return to Yellowstone National Park this summer. Somehow, it always feels comfortable, welcoming, and timeless—like we’re coming home.

Woman stands on wooden boardwalk among steam, mist, or fog with trees visible in the background
Snapshot of the author at West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, 2014. / Photo courtesy of Donna Braden


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

Yellowstone National Park, travel, postcards, nature, national parks, hotels, by Donna R. Braden

In the face of a challenge, a walk is one of the best ways to jump-start imagination and pave a creative path forward. Take that walk in nature, or, better yet, spend a few days in nature without technology, and research shows our problem-solving abilities soar by as much as 50%.

Inventors and problem solvers need a constant supply of potent inspiration. Books and journal articles, as well as brainstorms with mentors, colleagues, and friends, help. However, in many instances our greatest teacher lives right outside our doors. There, we can find knowledge, wisdom, experience, and a solid track record of success. Nature has the answers we need to solve every problem—if only we know where to look and how to ask the right questions.

Illustration of three people in labcoats looking at a wall with framed images of animals
Illustration by James Round

What Is Biomimicry?


Biomimicry is innovation inspired by nature. Whether we’re working on a challenge related to product development, process generation, policy creation, or organizational design, one of the smartest questions we can ask is: “What would nature do?” Asking this question, and then studying nature to find the answers, is a way to discover new sustainable solutions that solve our design challenges without negatively impacting the planet.

Undoubtedly, biomimicry is best learned by doing. It’s a field that requires us to open our eyes, ears, and hearts as we roll up our sleeves to dig deep (sometimes literally into the dirt) to understand, interpret, and then utilize nature’s design principles to solve the challenges we face in our lives.

“Biomimicry applies strategies from the natural world to solve human design challenges,” said Alexandra Ralevski, Ph.D., director of AskNature at the Biomimicry Institute based in Missoula, Montana. “This is a field that has the power to radically transform any industry.”

Being a Bridge: Janine Benyus and the Biomimicry Institute


With varied fields of expertise, including scientific knowledge, business planning, design thinking, and operations, to name just a few, practitioners of biomimicry serve as the bridge between professional groups like scientists, business managers, policymakers, engineers, and designers, who are often siloed from one another.

If all the world is an orchestra of voices, those who study biomimicry are the conductors making room for each of them, ensuring that they rise, shine, and harmonize together for the benefit of all.

It’s impossible to utter a single word about the theory and practice of biomimicry without paying homage to Janine Benyus, a biologist, author, innovation consultant, and self-proclaimed “nature nerd.” Benyus’ groundbreaking book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, has made its way onto bookshelves and into the hearts, hands, and minds of problem solvers.

book standing on end with text, images, and decorative elements on cover
Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine M. Benyus. / Photo courtesy of Biomimicry Institute

“We’re awake now,” she said. “And the question is, how do we stay awake to the living world? How do we make the act of asking nature’s advice a normal part of everyday inventing?”

To explore this question and bring passionate and multitalented collaborators into community with one another, Benyus co-founded the nonprofit that would become the Biomimicry Institute in Missoula, Montana.

Over a decade later, the organization continues to provide education, support, and innovation inspiration for anyone and everyone who wants to bring the study and application of nature’s design genius into their work and into their lives.

One of the best ways to illustrate biomimicry’s power is to look at some examples.

Whales and Wind


A trio composed of a marine biologist, a mechanical engineer, and an entrepreneur created the most efficient fans and turbines in the world through inspiration found in humpback whales. On the surface, this may seem like an odd connection. How could humpback whales possibly teach a highly skilled group to build a turbine? It turns out that these whales were experts at the exact function these humans wanted to achieve.

Illustration of humpback whale extending vertically out of water while behind it are wind turbines on a grassy hill
The bumps on a humpback whale’s flipper are nature’s answer to what makes a wind turbine extra efficient. / Illustration by James Round

Humpback whales are among the world’s most agile animals. Though they can reach 16 meters (52 feet) in length and 40 tons in weight, they can lift a large portion of their bodies up out of the ocean and into the air in an acrobatic feat that leaves whale watchers breathless. A single jump or leap (called a breach) requires humpback whales to expend only 0.075% of their daily energy intake. Not only is the breach a stunning display of athleticism, it’s also a remarkably efficient action.

Marine biologist Frank Fish suspected the bumps (called tubercles) on the leading edges of the whale’s flippers held the secret to bending the ocean waters to their will. Working with Fish to study this mystery was engineer Phillip Watts. “I had been working in biomechanics and understood the importance of biomimicry, drawing engineering ideas from evolution,” shared Watts.

Together, Fish and Watts found that humpback whales achieved a rare point of design greatness: The tubercles on their flippers could increase lift while simultaneously reducing drag—a genius combination that gives these magnificent creatures such remarkable agility.

Along with a third collaborator, entrepreneur Stephen Dewar, Fish and Watts decided to model their turbine design on the humpback’s flippers. Not surprisingly, their newly fabricated turbines not only produced supreme performance like the whale’s but were highly efficient. Soon after, the trio’s newly formed corporation, WhalePower, became a leading manufacturer of energy-efficient rotating devices for various applications.

“Because nature had done so much work on this [for us],” said Dewar, “we were able to understand what was possible.”

For the Birds


Transportation aficionados know that Japan’s Shinkansen, known as the bullet train, is one of the world’s finest examples of efficient and elegant design. What many people don’t know is that the Shinkansen has a bird to thank for its performance. Known for its silent diving abilities, the kingfisher can break the water while barely making a sound or a splash to claim its favorite meal—minnows and stickleback fish.

Illustration of blue-and-orange bird with long beak sitting in a tree as a sleek train passes by in the background
The sleek shape of a certain bird’s beak is nature’s answer to conquering a bullet train’s unwelcome sonic boom. / Illustration by James Round

Shinkansen engineers faced a serious structural challenge while designing the bullet train: It created a sonic boom as it emerged from tunnels at high speeds. One of the team’s engineers, who had observed the kingfisher’s precise diving technique, suggested they mimic the bird’s beak shape in the train’s design. Voila! The sonic boom disappeared.

The bullet train’s unique design also had other unforeseen benefits. Its new nose safely increased travel speeds, lowered fuel consumption, and reduced operating costs.

Nature-Inspired Agriculture Infrastructure


Illustration of person in labcoat working at microscope with insets showing a spiderweb, a flower, a bee, and a plant or animal microscopic detail
A beehive’s structure, a spider web’s power of attraction, and an ice plant’s water storage system are nature’s answers to creating more sustainable food systems. / Illustration by James Round

To promote local agriculture, NexLoop focuses on creating renewable water infrastructure for sustainable food systems. Its main product, AquaWeb, captures, stores and distributes just the right amount of water at just the right time for local food production.

How does it strike this balance? AquaWeb takes its cues from the efficiency of nature, incorporating learnings from multiple organisms: beehives to create structural strength, spider webs to capture water, ice plants to store water and mycelium to distribute water.

Restoring Nature Using Nature’s Models


Biomimicry also guided the strategy of Nucleário, winner of the Ray of Hope Prize, an initiative of the Biomimicry Institute and the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. Company founders wanted to repopulate the forests of their home country, Brazil, where young tree seedlings face overwhelmingly adverse survival odds. Their roots are choked by grasses while their leaves are devoured by leaf-cutter ants.

Of the small handful of trees that reach their first birthday, 95% don’t live to see their second. It’s these long-shot odds that Nucleário sought to combat.

Like NexLoop, Nucleário combined the designs of several natural models to create its tree seedling pods—from the protective abilities of leaf litter and water accumulation talents of bromeliads (think of a pineapple) to the graceful air dispersal skills of anemocoric seeds.

“Our connection to nature and deep-rooted gratitude for all life inspires and sustains us,” said Bruno Rutman Pagnoncelli, CEO and founder of Nucleário. “We look to nature to guide our decisions, from design to raw material selection and everything in between.”

Combining the natural models that inspired them, Nucleário’s founders have built a planting system that provides protection as well as nutrient and moisture maintenance with less human intervention and tending. Their design is both lightweight and strong, with water chambers that collect and distribute water the same way nature does.

Hooked by Nature


Round burrs with large spikes, with an inset image of velcro strips
Burdock burrs inspired the creation of Velcro during the mid-20th century.

In 1941, Swiss engineer George de Mestral was hunting and noticed his pants were covered with burdock burrs. He wondered how the seedpods could hold on and took to his microscope, examining the burrs’ “hooks” and the way they clung to fabric. After years of research, de Mestral was granted a U.S. patent in 1955 for what became Velcro, his famous hook-and-loop fastener.

What’s Next in Biomimicry?


“Using nature as a model for sustainability means that we always have a benchmark for our designs,” said AskNature’s Ralevski. “This benchmarking is critical to determine success and improve our iterations.”

A hallmark of nature, and by extension biomimicry, is that there is a progression of continuous improvement over time within the context of a specific situation—which could include the geography, environmental circumstances, and economic situation in which a design solution must exist and operate.

Biomimicry successes in energy management, transportation, and architectural design are spurring design experiments in fields as varied as medicine, materials science, textiles, and urban planning. We’re also beginning to see social science applications of biomimicry in community organizations, economic development, and communication systems.

“Biomimicry’s greatest legacy will be more than a stronger fiber or a new drug,” said Janine Benyus. “It will be gratitude and an ardent desire to protect the genius that surrounds us."

To explore some examples of biomimicry in artifacts from the collections of The Henry Ford, check out this expert set.


This post was adapted from an article by Christa Avampato in the June–December 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

agriculture, railroads, power, environmentalism, design, nature, The Henry Ford Magazine, by Christa Avampato

Person standing in waders in water holds oysters in their gloved handsheir

Photo courtesy Rappahannock Oyster Co.

As early as 1920, Chesapeake Bay’s seemingly limitless oyster population had been diminished by up to one-third, both by overharvesting and by habitat destruction caused by siltation and dredging. By 2001, the harmful effects of pollution and disease had taken their toll, and the bay’s native Virginica oysters dwindled to less than 1% of their historic numbers. The bay had all but collapsed.

It was under these conditions that cousins Ryan and Travis Croxton decided to revitalize their family’s historic oyster farm, Rappahannock Oyster Co. Founded in 1899 by their great-grandfather, James Croxton, on Virginia’s Rappahannock River, the company wasn’t much more than mud by the time the cousins took over the leases in 2001. But in that rich tideland, the cousins saw an opportunity to salvage a family legacy and renew their community.

Two men wearing boots, khakis/jeans, and t-shirts sit with their legs dangling off a dock with a wooden building in the background
Cousins Travis (left) and Ryan Croxton have transformed their great-grandfather’s oyster farm, Rappahannock Oyster Co., into a model of sustainability that is practicing food production methods that are healthier for the consumer, the Chesapeake Bay they call home and the native oyster they are 100% committed to preserving. / Photo courtesy Rappahannock Oyster Co.

Because they were starting from the mud up, the cousins were able to develop sustainable new methods that not only produce the highest-quality shellfish but also contribute to the health of the bay and repopulation of its aquatic life.

“Aquacultured oysters are a win-win for everybody—the farmer, the waters, the consumer that gets a better product,” said Travis Croxton, whose off-bottom method of growing oysters in wire cages not only protects the oysters but also allows them to reproduce naturally—a vital factor in restoring native oyster populations. And because oysters feed on excess nutrients in the water, their presence also helps keep the bay clean, as well as helping native grasses and other sea creatures to proliferate.

Infographic with text and numbers
The number of oysters harvested in the Chesapeake Bay has grown wildly in the last two decades.

Perhaps the most satisfying thing for the cousins has been the ability to provide an opportunity to work, grow, and live in what has been a depressed rural economy. “Too often, rural communities such as ours lose promising talent as people look elsewhere due to lack of opportunity,” said Croxton. “We’re proud that our employees have a reason to stay.”

Man in blue t-shirt, baseball cap, gloves, and overalls stands in front of baskets of oysters in a workroom as another man looks on
Photo courtesy Rappahannock Oyster Co.

By 2004, Rappahannock had developed a thriving wholesale business. Now with their tasting room, Merroir, four stand-alone oyster bars from Washington, DC, to Los Angeles, California, and a restaurant, Rappahannock, in Richmond, Virginia, the cousins are able to share their oysters and their dedication to “good people doing great things.”

When we checked in during spring 2020, owner Travis Croxton didn’t deny that it had been tough for Rappahannock Oyster since the COVID-19 pandemic had hit. He and cousin Ryan Croxton had to furlough hundreds of employees at their oyster company and restaurants. But, as Travis Croxton said, “You have to perform a hard pivot and await what the future may hold.” Rappahannock quickly set up an employee relief fund for those in need and shifted their restaurants to solely curbside pickup/takeout. On the oyster company side, they had to make additional hard pivots, focusing mostly on internet sales (which Travis Croxton said have greatly increased) and designing completely new business models, which included working with vineyards and breweries to sell 25-count bags of their oysters on consignment on weekends. 

Black-and-white photo of a man wearing shorts, a short-sleeved button down shirt, and a hat walks across a beach made of oyster shells
In 1899, James Croxton, great-grandfather of Travis and Ryan Croxton, laid claim to two acres of Rappahannock River bottom for the purpose of growing oysters. / Photo courtesy Rappahannock Oyster Co.

Despite these challenges, by trying to sustain nature, not tame it, the Croxtons have carried on their great-grandfather’s legacy, this time on a foundation of sustainability.


This post is adapted from “Sustainability at Stake,” an article written by Linda Engelsiepen for the June–December 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

entrepreneurship, nature, environmentalism, agriculture, farms and farming, food, by Linda Engelsiepen, The Henry Ford Magazine

Woman and man stand calf-deep in water, peering down, with beach/rocks visible behind them

Trained scientist Rachel Carson and wildlife artist Bob Hines conduct research off the Atlantic coast in the early 1950s. The two formed an extraordinary partnership, which brought awareness of nature and conservation to the forefront. / Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / public domain

We live in an era where environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and renewable resources are keywords for how to live our lives and operate our businesses.

But it wasn’t always this way. In the early 1960s, writer and biologist Rachel Carson was one of the lone voices sounding the alarm that the rapid, destructive changes we were making to our own environment were having disastrous consequences.

With her groundbreaking 1962 book Silent Spring, which exposed the damage caused by indiscriminate use of pesticides manufactured by powerful chemical companies, Carson showed that she was a scientist motivated by a sense of responsibility to serve the best interests of the wider community. Carson’s eloquence reminded us that we are all part of a delicately balanced ecosystem, and by destroying any piece of it, we risk destroying the whole system. It would become unsustainable.

Black-and-white photo of woman holding book in front of bookshelves
Rachel Carson holding a copy of Silent Spring in June 1963. / THF147928, detail

Thanks to Carson’s passion and perseverance, a movement of ecological awareness was born. Her work is credited with giving birth to the modern-day environmental movement. Other direct results were the banning of the pesticide DDT and the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In an era of “living better through chemicals,” Rachel Carson was a changemaker who brought our awareness to the effects we had on our environment. But she also knew that we could be part of the solution. One way people carry on her legacy today is by acting as citizen scientists.

While Rachel Carson was a trained scientist and biologist working toward the greater good, a citizen scientist is a nonscientist who works with the scientific community to affect positive change. By paying attention to our environment and taking an interest in the science behind sustainability, we all can make a difference. Here are some ways you can become involved yourself.

Image of two-story house with graphic circle, half peach and half blue, with white lines behind it

At Home

It was a friend of Rachel Carson who raised an alarm about bird die-offs in her backyard and prompted Carson to write Silent Spring—proof that big change can start small. Here are a couple of ideas worth considering in your sustainability quest at home.

  • Join the annual Great Backyard Bird Count at birdcount.org. The count is a great way to get kids involved with nature.
  • Use your smartphone to help scientists gather data on animal populations. You can count Costa Rican wildcats at Instant Wild (instantwild.zsl.org) or share observations on your local wildlife at iNaturalist.org.


Image of tomato with graphic circle, half peach and half blue, with white lines behind it

In Your Community

Look for opportunities for neighborhood involvement—you’ll stay socially connected and help your community at the same time.

  • Use resources like greenamerica.org to find and support businesses and brands that are striving toward sustainability.
  • Start a community garden. It’s a great way to shift away from packaged, processed foods and to get to know your neighbors. National Garden Clubs (gardenclub.org) helps coordinate the interests and activities of state and local garden clubs in the U.S. and abroad.
  • Participate in crowdsourced data gathering like noisetube.net, which measures noise pollution, or createlab.org, which trains artificial intelligence to identify smoke emissions.


Image of recycling triangle symbol with graphic circle, half peach and half blue, with white lines behind it

In Your Workplace

If you are motivated to make a difference, become an advocate for sustainability and social change within your company. Going green is a differentiator that gives businesses a leg up on recruiting and marketing.

  • Recycle office waste, implement inventory controls (which prevent unnecessary purchases and wasteful spending), or research tax credits for becoming energy efficient at energy.gov, the website of the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Let your company’s unused computing power contribute to scientific research projects at scienceunited.org.


You can find even more inspiration to take action by browsing our website for artifacts related to Rachel Carson, artifacts related to environmentalism, and blog posts related to environmentalism.


This post is adapted from “Sustainability at Stake,” an article written by Linda Engelsiepen for the June–December 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

Rachel Carson, women's history, The Henry Ford Magazine, nature, home life, environmentalism, by Linda Engelsiepen

Those who decorated for Christian holidays made the gathering of evergreens a ritual. Families and friends ventured into the woods and cut conifers and other wintergreens to festoon churches, ballrooms, and private homes. This post focuses on the process of acquiring the iconic Christmas tree, a conifer or cone-bearing tree, evergreen because it retained its foliage throughout the winter season and prized for its shape, color, aroma, and association with gift-giving.

The native ranges of conifers affected personal preferences for Christmas trees.

Page with text and image of two birds on a tree branch
Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), the perch for a female and male cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum), drawn by John Jay Audubon (1785–1851) in Cincinnati, Ohio, April 1811, reproduced by the New York Historical Society in 1966. / THF251903

Across the southern and eastern United States, the eastern red cedar (really, a juniper) proved a popular tree choice for those who could cut their own. The tree grew rapidly along the edges of woods, encroaching into fields and pastures. Thus, removing a few trees to deck the halls at Christmas time also served the purpose of containing the juniper and retaining arable land and pasture.

The balsam fir (Abies balsamea) appealed to landowners for many of the same reasons. A report in the Detroit Free Press (December 10, 1901) explained that in Maine, the “young firs, which are almost exclusively used for Christmas trees, are good for nothing else—in many sections being considered a nuisance, as they grow like burdocks and crowd out better trees.” Harvesting the trees for urban markets became a festive occasion as the reporter explained, with “whole families going into the woods and taking their dinners along.”

Evergreen branch with large, dark, tightly closed pinecones
Print made from a watercolor sketch of “Alpine Fir” by Mary Vaux Walcott (1860–1940), printed by William Edmund Rudge, Inc., 1925. / THF125075

The subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), also known as the Alpine fir, grew in the high-elevation forests of the Canadian Rockies and western United States. It was much less easily accessible for families harvesting their Christmas tree, but its tall profile and stout branches appealed to Christmas tree shoppers none the less.

Bringing evergreens into private and public spaces during the darkest days of the year (the winter solstice) offered hope for the next growing season. Germanic people receive credit for adding light to the conifer. An 1836 illustration, “Christmas Eve,” showed a Christmas tree with candles aglow. The editor explained this as a well-known German tradition “that almost every family has its Christmas tree covered with a hundred lights and many beautiful gifts, and surrounded generally by a little group of happy beings” (The Stranger’s Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present, edited by Hermann Bokum and published in Boston by Light & Horton in 1836, page 9).

The hand-tinted lithograph below, of a boy carrying a tree and a girl carrying a bundle of greens, printed in Hamburg, reinforced a tradition that increasing numbers of German immigrants brought with them to America during the mid-19th century.

Snowy woods with young boy carrying evergreen tree and young girl carrying a bundle of greenery
Color Lithograph, "The Christmas Tree," printed by Gustav W. Seitz, Hamburg, 1856–1866. / THF108194

By 1867, “the pleasant Germanic custom of gathering the family round a Christmas tree ... has become thoroughly domesticated in this country.” So declared Harper’s Weekly (December 18, 1867) in a brief explanation of the reasons why families no longer hung stockings ‘neath the chimney with care, but instead hung presents from Christmas trees. A full-page illustration of “The Christmas Tree” further emphasized the point.

Matted black-and-white photo of a Christmas tree covered in decorations and surrounded by packages
Christmas tree decorated with candles, popcorn strings, and toys, circa 1900. / THF290114

The bucolic imagery of bringing a Christmas tree home through snowy fields to a rural farmhouse contrasted with the risky business of tree markets.

White bulb ornament with image of person dragging Christmas tree across a snowy field toward a house; box for ornament is also in photo
Hallmark "Memories of Christmas" Christmas ornament, 1998. / THF186978

Families invested their labor in tree harvests. “A man cuts the trees close to the roots and a boy or a strong girl clips away with a sharp hatchet the few dead branches near the base. Women and boys tie the trees into bundles of a dozen each, binding them with strong cords, and then the harvest is piled into hayricks and taken to the nearest railroad station.” Often middlemen stepped in. As the New York World reported (reprinted in the Detroit Free Press, December 10, 1901), “the evergreen harvests are generally bought by men who make a business in winter of supplying the holiday green markets of large cities.”

Families cutting conifers for urban markets, middlemen trying to sell them, and customers trying to buy them all relied on railroads to move the perishable cargo. This seasonal business was no holiday (to borrow colleague Matt Anderson’s turn of phrase in his blog post, “Winter Railroading was No Holiday”).

Black-and-white photo of evergreen trees bundled and leaned against each other outside a large building
Christmas Tree Market, New York City, Detroit Publishing Company, circa 1903. Another view of this market at Barclay Street Station shows smaller trees in bundles to the left of the taller trees. These fit more closely the trees bound up by Maine families and shipped by train to the city, as described in the New York World article mentioned elsewhere in this post. / THF144363

Urban customers had little time to waste because trees arrived close to Christmas day. The Detroit Free Press reported that “Christmas trees, that is to say evergreens, are up in the market” (December 21, 1879). This arrival a few days before the holy day/holiday remained fairly consistent during the 19th century. A decade later (December 20, 1889), the Free Press reported, “Christmas trees have appeared on the market.”

What did these conifers cost? During December 1901, prices depended on tree height: “For trees five to six feet tall the buyers in Maine pay five cents, and for trees six to ten feet tall ten to fifteen cents. In the city these trees bring twenty-five cents to $1” (New York World reprinted in the Detroit Free Press, December 10, 1901). Note that these prices are likely per foot, not per tree.

Customers looking for Christmas evergreen goods in Detroit a week later (December 18, 1901) could expect to pay eight cents per foot for an “Xmas tree” as reported by the Free Press. The market price for a 20-yard roll of “evergreen” was 85 cents to $1 and for a holly and evergreen wreath, $1 per dozen. In 2021 prices, that’s an average of $1.63 to $2.60 per foot for a six-foot tree, and $27.66 to $32.54 for a 20-yard roll of evergreen.

Whether families cut their own or paid market price for their conifer, photographs of home interiors indicate the ways they decorated.

Black-and-white photo of Christmas tree in a room decorated with garland and other Christmas decorations
First electrically lighted Christmas tree, home of Edward H. Johnson, vice-president of Edison Electric Light Company, December 1882. / THF69137

A magnifying glass and close inspection of the original print could confirm the tree type that Edward Hibberd Johnson, wife Margaret, and their three children (Edward H. Jr., Edna, and Lillian) enjoyed as of December 22, 1882. Subscribers to the Detroit Post and Tribune could read about this first tree lit with electric lights—80 red, white, and blue bulbs, hand wired—as reported by journalist William Augustus Croffut. The Johnson family (or their staff) also strung electric lights in the garland running from window treatments to the ceiling light fixture. Readers of Croffut’s article might even have anticipated the possibilities in Detroit, because the Western Edison Light Company had just offered an Edison incandescent light plant for use at Detroit’s Central Market. Detroit’s Committee on Gas was considering the proposal (Detroit Free Press, December 6, 1882).

Artificial illumination of the Christmas tree became standard practice quickly.

Lot with small shelter with person by it, displaying evergreen Christmas trees and wreaths
Christmas greens at Holiday Nights, December 5, 2021. / Photograph by Debra A. Reid

Today, Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village features winter greens and conifer trees in several residences and across the decades from the Ford Home (1870s) and Edison Homestead (1910s) to Cotswold Cottage (1940s). Menlo Park features the 1880 premiere of an electric distribution system, and Edison Illuminating Company’s Station A explores the history of Christmas tree lighting. The tree and greens markets (both in Greenfield Village during Holiday Nights and outside Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation) convey the joy and anticipation of bringing evergreens into the home ready for decorating in the spirit of the season.

Greenery and lights can brighten these dark nights of the winter solstice for all.


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

shopping, nature, by Debra A. Reid, Christmas, holidays, events, Greenfield Village, Holiday Nights

Page with hand-written text and painting of people on horseback, pedestrians, and carriages in a park

Pennsylvania folk artist Lewis Miller documented an 1864 scene in New York’s Central Park, with pedestrians, people on horseback, and horse-drawn vehicles. / THF221834

City people have always craved escape from crowds, noise, and their own busy lives, even if only for an afternoon. This is how early picnic grounds and later trolley parks and amusement parks evolved. In the mid-19th century, the recognition of this need for escape in the city led to the development of city parks.

Parks were the perfect place for a refreshing, rejuvenating, and often invigorating outing. City parks like New York’s Central Park, created in 1858, were designed to encourage the urban public to socialize and at the same time to refresh and calm their “hurrying, workaday lives” with beautiful and “reposeful” sights and sounds. Central Park had designated places where people could walk, drive horse-drawn vehicles, ride, row, skate, and engage in various other sports and recreational activities. During its first decade, a substantial majority of Central Park’s regular visitors arrived by carriage or horse to take advantage of the nine miles or so of carriage and bridle paths.

Inspired by this and other great urban parks, the public demand for formal outdoor recreation areas gained momentum during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Other early parks with special pathways, as well as new parkways around cities, were designed for people to take out and show off their vehicles.

Dirt road along a river, with open lawn and trees on either side
In this colorized image from 1900, a horse-drawn vehicle travels down River Drive in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. / THF104695

In the winter, a sleigh ride could provide some of the same exhilaration and fresh air. Sleighing was not just for the upper class. Grocers and butchers would affix runners to their wagon boxes and employ their draft horses to take their families for rides.

Horse-Drawn Outing Vehicle Highlights from The Henry Ford’s Collection

 

Horse-Drawn Brougham, 1893


Black-and-white photo of an enclosed carriage with curved lines
THF80569

This carriage was used for outings in Central Park by Byram L. Winters, a lawyer, politician, and newspaper publisher; it was made by Brewster & Company of New York City and originally made to exhibit at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition. When driven in Central Park, this brougham was likely one of several thousand stylish carriages circling the park during an afternoon’s horse-drawn “promenade.”

Pony Wagonette, circa 1900


Black open carriage with red wheels and beige rattan (?) sides, displayed in a room with other vehicles
THF75669

This wagonette, made by Eagle Carriage Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, and other similar vehicles were designed to be drawn by ponies, so they were well-suited for use by governesses in taking children for drives. This particular pony wagonette, which could accommodate several children, was equipped with brakes, which transferred most of the effort of stopping away from the light animal. The fitting at the back is a holder for an umbrella top.

Albany Cutter, circa 1865


Yellow and maroon sleigh with beige upholstered seat, displayed in a room with other vehicles
THF87339

This pleasing design was developed by James Goold of Albany, New York, over a period of years between about 1813 and 1836. Its design was widely copied by other builders and retained its popularity to the end of the horse-drawn era.


Bob Casey is former Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. This post is adapted from an educational document from The Henry Ford titled “Transportation: Past, Present, and Future—From the Curators.”

nature, by Bob Casey, horse drawn transport

Panoramic photograph of large group of people, posed sitting and standing, many in uniform

Civilian Conservation Corps Company No. 1614, 1934. / THF293207

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began during an economic crisis unmatched in U.S. history. One out of four Americans was out of work in March 1933 as consumer demand reached an all-time low. Congress authorized the CCC to put some of these unemployed men to work. The U.S. War Department oversaw the program, building camps and undertaking projects in all 48 United States, plus Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Enlistment peaked during September 1935 when 505,782 enrollees worked in 2,652 camps. Overall, between 1933 and 1942, approximately 5% of the U.S. male population, around 3 million men, participated in the CCC.

Man wearing uniform leans on piece of equipment with one foot on upturned bucket outside structure
Stanley J. Zaleski at 1614th Co., Civilian Conservation Corps, Camp McComb, Munising, Michigan, April–September 1934. / THF274652

Franklin D. Roosevelt emphasized the quantity and quality of CCC work in his re-election campaign booklet, “This Generation Has a Rendezvous with Destiny” (1936). Between its launch in March 1933 and 1936, the CCC had erected 4,200 miles of new telephone lines, cut nearly 47,000 miles of new fire breaks, and cleared 64,000 miles of new truck trails. In cooperation with the Tennessee Valley Authority, its members had constructed over 200,000 stone and stone-and-log dams in that area. Members also engaged in extensive educational activity with 71% of enlistees taking part, including 90,000 attending elementary classes and 212,000 enrolling in special courses (pg. 12).

Black-and-white photo of men with shovels dig in a clearing
This detail from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s campaign booklet, “This Generation Has a Rendezvous with Destiny,” 1936, featured Black and white enlistees at work. / THF132716

The legislation that created the Civilian Conservation Corps prohibited discrimination based on “race, color, or creed.” Promotional material such as the photograph (shown above) of CCC work in Roosevelt’s 1936 campaign booklet illustrated integration. Yet, implementation often appeased anti-integrationists and perpetuated the separate-but-unequal doctrine of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v Ferguson (1896).

We must also acknowledge that CCC work occurred on lands formerly occupied by indigenous people. Each CCC camp site and CCC project represents an opportunity to remember those who previously occupied the place.

A separate Indian Emergency Conservation Work program began in 1933 in response to requests from Bureau of Indian Affairs administrators and sovereign Indian nations. It was renamed the Civilian Conservation Corps—Indian Division (CCC-ID) in 1937. It undertook work on federally recognized reservations and emphasized land preservation, soil conservation, forest restoration, and sustainable ranching practices, among other projects. Within six months, the CCC-ID had camps on 33 reservations in 28 states. As many as 85,000 men worked on CCC-ID projects. Its success laid the groundwork for a larger “Indian New Deal,” authorized in 1934 with the Indian Reorganization Act.

Black-and-white photo of group of adults and children standing on or near porch of very minimalistic wooden house
Indian Relief Project, McCurtain, Oklahoma, June 18, 1934. / THF290170

The CCC-ID’s worker policies differed in significant ways from the CCC’s policies toward Black and white men. This reflected its autonomy as a division of the Bureau of Land Management and not of the U.S. War Department, and the independence of separate indigenous nations negotiating their own CCC structures that supported families in different ways. For example, married men could enlist in the CCC-ID and live at home, receiving as much as $42 per month for work (including a stipend otherwise spent by camps on housing and feeding enlistees). In contrast, Black and white CCC enlistees, all single, earned $30 per month. They retained only $5 while the remaining $25 went home to their parents or extended families.

All CCC enlistees, regardless of race, color, or creed, worked hard and in all kinds of weather.

Man in coat and boots stands in snow outside simple structure covered in snow with icicles handing from eaves
Man standing outside a Civilian Conservation Corps barracks in winter, circa 1935. / THF620731

Their rest came on cots in barracks with tar-paper walls.

Interior of large wooden room with high windows filled with cots, some with men standing by, sitting on, or lying on them
Interior of Civilian Conservation Corps barracks, 1934. / THF620729

Work schedules allowed some time for recreation, but even then, the company dog warranted attention.

Man kneels with dog next to doghouse; other men stand nearby
Stanley Zaleski and a dog outside Civilian Conservation Corps Barracks, 1934. / THF620737

The CCC followed strict protocols, including formal enlistment and discharge procedures and paperwork.

Certificate with printed text and six signatures at bottom
Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1614 completion certificate, September 30, 1934. Stanley “Toots” Zaleski’s Discharge Certificate confirmed the reason for his discharge as “expiration of term of enrollment for convenience of the U.S.” / THF293211

Communication took the form of monthly newsletters produced by enlistees in camps and in CCC regions. CCC camps held as many as 200 Black or white enlistees while CCC-ID projects incorporated 30–40 enlistees at a time. The newsletters represented a proactive effort to create a community identity. Sporting events and other organized leisure activities also helped generate collegiality.

Page with text and drawing of two men boxing with one man in uniform wedged between them
The Northlander: A Mimeographed Publication of the Fort Brady CCC District, March 1939. / THF624987

Pennants helped convey the identity and camp purpose, much as pennants symbolized allegiance to schools. Some pennants conveyed standard CCC imagery. The lone pine tree symbol appeared on pennants of companies doing work in national forests and others working in state parks. Colors varied as well, even as the logo remained the same. Other pennants emphasized camp features, including barracks. Some carried additional artistic expressions.

Blue pennant with text "C.C.C." and golden seal with text and tree
Civilian Conservation Corps “1614th Co.” pennant, 1934. This company started in June 1933 near McComb and Munising, Michigan, and worked in the national forest. / THF293213

Blue pennant with text "C.C.C." and golden seal with text and tree
Pennant, Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1712. This company started in October 1934 and worked near Kaiser and Bagnall, Missouri, likely on Lake of the Ozarks State Park projects. / THF238732

Red pennant with text "C.C.C." and golden seal with text and tree
Pennant, Civilian Conservation Corps Company 3745. This company worked near Columbia, Missouri, starting in September 1940, on Soil Conservation Service projects. / THF238734

Red pennant with golden eagle and block letters "C.C.C." containing additional images
Pennant, Civilian Conservation Corps, with no company number designated, but featuring illustrations of a typical CCC camp, 19331942. / THF238736

Gray and maroon pennant with text
Civilian Conservation Corps "Co. 713, Camp Jeanette" pennant, 1936–1941. Camp 713 undertook Soil Conservation Service work near Lake Jeanette in Superior National Forest, near Lake City, Minnesota, starting January 16, 1936. / THF188542

Other souvenirs included sweetheart pillows, designed to remind loved ones back home of their son, brother, betrothed, or friend at work in a CCC camp.

White or gray satin pillowcover with image of deer and gold fringe
Civilian Conservation Corps sweetheart pillow cover, 1938–1940. Camp 4603 worked on revitalizing grazing land near Harper, Oregon, starting in July 1938. / THF188543

The Civilian Conservation Corps never officially ceased to exist. Bipartisan support sustained the work through 1940 and 1941, even as potential enlistees pursued different opportunities and obligations. The U.S. Congress authorized the Selective Training and Service Act in September 1940, the first peacetime draft in U.S. history. Veterans of the CCC often chose enlistment in their preferred branch of the military over conscription into military service. After the United States entered World War II, Congress closed remaining CCC camps, discharged personnel, and disposed of camp assets (including non-issued clothing) to the U.S. Army.

Today, private-public partnerships sustain CCC work in various ways. Organizations such as Conservation Legacy provide service opportunities to youth, young adults, and veterans, in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forestry Service, and AmeriCorps. The Veterans Fire Corps helps veterans transition to civilian life while earning Firefighter Type 2 training. Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps engages Indigenous youth and young adults in conservation work that links ecological work with cultural heritage.

The legacy of the CCC remains all around us, but is not always obvious. We travel on roadways that CCC workers helped survey and build. We stop at roadside overlooks and stay in guest lodges that CCC workers built in state and national parks across the country. They also built dams and fire look-out towers, planted trees, improved grazing lands, and restocked lakes—among many other projects. Their signatures remain on the landscape in all these ways, preserving their history while inspiring current conservation work.

Sources:

Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy. This website includes a state-by-state listing of camps and projects. http://www.ccclegacy.org/home.php.

Lacy, Leslie Alexander. The Soil Soldiers: The Civilian Conservation Corps in the Great Depression. Radnor, PA: Chilton Book Company, 1976.

Maher, Neil M. Nature’s New Deal: The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Roosevelt’s Tree Army: The Civilian Conservation Corps, virtual exhibit available through the Digital Public Library of America at https://dp.la/exhibitions/civilian-conservation-corps/history-ccc (accessed September 14, 2021).


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

making, #THFCuratorChat, nature, environmentalism, by Debra A. Reid

Rocky cliffs or bluffs at the edge of a large body of water

Midway Point near Monterey, California,” 1902, Detroit Publishing Company Collection. / THF118817

The United Nations (UN) first discussed a “world oceans day” during the June 1992 Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. The UN General Assembly designated June 8 as the day to recognize the role of oceans in a global perspective, as well as the influence of law and society on those oceans, starting in 2009. The theme “The Oceans: Life and Livelihoods” provides a focus for World Oceans Day 2021.

The Henry Ford’s collections support reflection on ocean life, livelihoods, and health in several ways. Visual depictions range from a 16th-century map to 20th-century photographs featuring ocean liners and oceanside retreats.

Map with land masses outlined in different colors, with a large ship in the water
Map, “Die Neuwen Inseln / So hinder Hispanien gegen Orient ven dem land indie ligen,” drawn by German cartographer Sebastian Münster (1488–1552) in 1550 to illustrate the “new island” lying between Spain, the Orient, and the country of India. / THF284540

Black-and-white photo of large ship at dock
“Docking a Big Liner,” RMS Oceanic, 1903. Briefly, between 1899 and 1901, the Oceanic was the largest ship in the world. / THF204952

Black-and-white photo of large building at the edge of bluffs over a body of water
Cliff House, San Francisco, California, circa 1905. / THF200584

Physically crossing the ocean required a voyage by sea, and later by air, but transatlantic communication took the underwater route. You can learn more about the laying of the transatlantic cable in 1858 in the segment “History of Communication Cables” from The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation with Mo Rocca. You can read even more about the process and learn more about the technology through artifacts from our collections in “Starts and Stalls: Creating a Successful Transatlantic Cable” and at “Signals Under the Ocean.”

Ocean health anchors World Oceans Day. Marine biologist Rachel Carson featured ocean health in her earliest mass-media publications. Three publications drew the public’s attention to these issues. They included Under the Sea Wind (1941), The Sea Around Us (1951), and The Edge of the Sea (1955).

Woman looks into a microscope
Rachel Carson using a microscope, April 1963. You can see a drawing of an octopus on the wall above her head, and a pencil holder with a map of the world’s oceans. / THF147922

The urgency to clean up our oceans has increased in the decades since Carson issued her clarion calls. An Innovation Nation segment, “Seabin Ocean Cleanup,” shared the story of the “sea bin”—think of it as a “trash bin” designed to collect plastics floating in the ocean. Another segment looked at a larger clean-up project focused on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where the innovator planned to use ocean currents to help consolidate the refuse. A later segment updated viewers on that project as Boyan Slat and his Garbage Patch clean-up team set sail. Other Innovation Nation segments have featured plastic-eating bateria (PETase enzyme), a robotic snake that detects water pollution (Envirobot), and an oil-spill sponge.

What might we do to be more engaged with World Oceans Day?

The raindrop in our personal space starts a journey we can all follow. The droplets accumulate and flow into freshwater creeks, streams, rivers, the Great Lakes, and ultimately into the world’s oceans. Maintaining water quality starts with the runoff, redirecting it to retention ponds where sediment can settle out before it enters rivers, lakes, and oceans. The Ford Rouge Factory Tour offers guests the opportunity to learn more about this process, and so can walks through Greenfield Village, paying particular attention to the ponds and their connections to the Rouge.

Pond at dusk, surrounded by wood and rope rails, with building(s) in the background
Greenfield Village in the evening, 2004, featuring the retention pond in the Liberty Craftworks district. / THF133611

Young innovators play a major role in this work. Students participating in Invention Convention Worldwide often focus on water quality. Alie Ward spoke with a student about their project to rid oceans of microplastics on the TV show Did I Mention Invention?

The Henry Ford supports ocean-focused education in additional ways. The Giant Screen Experience features films on the subject, including Secret Ocean 3D as a “Teacher’s Choice” option for school and youth groups. Currently playing, Hidden Pacific is a film featuring areas of natural significance protected as national marine monuments.

Exhausted from your world-wind tour of THF ocean-related resources? There is still more to see, and much more to do, on our collective journey to ocean health. Contemplate your next steps as you explore art inspired by oceans, on view in the Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

Colorful ladder with various shapes and items attached
“Ocean Floor” Ladder by Therman Statom, 2007 (Gift of Bruce and Ann Bachmann). / THF164729


Compiled by Debra A. Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford, following the lead of Zachary Ciborowski, Administrative Assistant and Project Coordinator; with inspiration from The Henry Ford’s Green Team members, including Cynthia Jones, General Manager, Innovation Experience; and with the assistance of Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content.

nature, environmentalism, by Debra A. Reid

This is the first of a series of blog posts presented in conjunction with the traveling exhibition, Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection. The exhibit, consisting of approximately 60 artifacts, is on view at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from March 6, 2021, through April 25, 2021. All of the objects shown here are from the collections of The Henry Ford and provide background on themes in the exhibition.

In the 1890s, artists and designers in Europe and the United States attempted to create a modern aesthetic for the emerging 20th century. This aesthetic was consciously modern. The decorative style that emerged, Art Nouveau, featured bold color contrasts and organic lines, sometimes flowing gracefully and sometimes sharply undulating, like a whiplash. Artists and designers associated with this trend looked to nature as their guide. As they often said, there is nothing historical about nature, it is universal.

Decorative pattern of leaves and flowers, with decorative text EMILIE
Bookplate Designed by Rene Lalique for Emilie Grigsby, 1890-1905 / THF291251

This bookplate, created by French designer Rene Lalique, is derived almost purely from nature, although the floral forms are abstracted into sinuous and linear elements that we associated with French Art Nouveau of the 1890s and early 1900s. Even the letters of the name, “Emilie,” are rendered into organic shapes.

One person walks behind another person on a horse on a snowy road with trees in the background
Japanese Travelers in a Snow Storm, 1900-1929/ THF292633

Increased communication and trade with Asia in the second half of the 19th century brought new design inspiration to Europe. Japanese woodblock prints particularly appealed to Art Nouveau poster and decorative designers, who incorporated asymmetry and contrasting colors in their own work. Notice the unmodulated areas of light colors against dark colors, which create pictorial depth.

Woman sitting in a garden looks at flowers and a butterfly; contains text
Bookplate of Georges Goury, 1900-1910/ THF291287

A major element of the Art Nouveau style, the sensual female figure was popularized by French poster artists like Jules Cheret and Alphonse Mucha. The illustrator of this Art Nouveau bookplate placed a woman at the center, used diagonal lines to create an illusion of depth (a technique derived from Japanese prints), and added stylized botanical motifs to frame the image.

Stylized image of woman holding sheaf of wheat and corn, with subtle images of turkey and greenery in the background; also contains text
Harper's Bazar Thanksgiving, Number 1895 / THF292639

Art Nouveau in America came first as imported graphic art printed in Europe for an international audience. American illustrators, like the young Will Bradley, adapted these design elements for their illustrations in magazines and advertising posters. This poster promotes the Thanksgiving issue of the magazine Harper’s Bazar (which would later become Harper’s Bazaar) and appeared on newsstands in American cities from coast to coast. This poster is full of harvest and Thanksgiving symbols: the sheaf of wheat and the subtle turkey, suggesting the bounty of the season. The Art Nouveau elements include the organic whiplash floral forms and the female figure predominating the scene.

Iridescent blue and gold glass cup with dimensional s-shaped swirls on bottom
Favrile Toothpick Holder, circa 1895 / THF165617

In the 1890s, American designer Louis Comfort Tiffany developed a process to imitate the iridescent shimmer of ancient, weathered glass. His "Favrile" line of art glass included organic forms characteristic of the Art Nouveau style, sometimes featuring abstract ornamentation, such as the design on this toothpick holder.

Narrow red vase with blue-and-red abstracted "peacock feather" pattern on bottom
Favrile Vase, 1901-1915 / THF163631

Tiffany’s small vase expresses the Art Nouveau trademark element of the peacock feather, which, like many Art Nouveau elements, has its roots in European design. Tiffany was renowned in America and Europe for developing the Art Nouveau into elegant, yet simple, products, as well as grand, large-scale objects like stained glass windows and elaborate electric lighting.

Bronze candelabrum with six green bud-shaped sconces
Candelabrum, 1903-1919 / THF163661

Louis Comfort Tiffany gained international acclaim, exhibiting his work in metal, glass, and jewelry alongside European Art Nouveau designers in Paris as early as 1895. The sinuous, plant-like design of this high-end glass and metal Tiffany candelabrum exemplifies the Art Nouveau style.

Tiffany Studios made a great variety of candleholders for upper middle-class clients. This model is described in the 1906 catalogue as simply, "6 lights, in a row, extinguisher on stem." The customer could choose from 11 designs of "candlestick tops," or standard interchangeable sockets, that were listed and priced separately. These included "long" or "short" metal or glass and metal tops in a variety of forms.

GIF that cycles through several images and detail shots of a bronze floor lamp with bronze and glass shade.
Floor Lamp, about 1900 / THF186205, THF186208, THF186219, THF186215, THF186218

Around 1900, Tiffany started making large scale floor lamps—this is one of his first efforts. The fishscale-like shade is composed of his signature Favrile glass, which glows when illuminated. The bronze base features undulating spirals which rise up through the lamp’s shaft. The kerosene reservoir is covered with organic S- or wave-like patterns, all of which derive from Tiffany’s Art Nouveau vocabulary.

Lamp with bronze base and stem and stained glass shade featuring daffodils
Electric Table Lamp, 1903-1920/ THF167923

Louis Comfort Tiffany became known for applying Art Nouveau aesthetics to lighting products. This nature-themed "Daffodil" lamp is the first design attributed to Clara Driscoll, who led the Women’s Glass Cutting Department at Tiffany Studios. Driscoll designed many now-iconic leaded-glass lamps for Tiffany.

White vase, widening from thin base to flattened, flower-shaped top, which is iridescent blue inside
Aurene Vase, circa 1920 / THF162344

“Aurene” was the name that Frederick Carder used for his iridescent art glass at the Steuben Glass Works in Corning, New York. When Aurene was first produced, around 1902, Louis Comfort Tiffany sued Carder for copyright infringement. The courts found in favor of Frederick Carder and Steuben’s Aurene competed with Tiffany’s Favrile glassware. This elegant, floral-shaped vase combines a cased white outer shell with a dark blue iridescent interior and comes directly from the Art Nouveau vocabulary found in Tiffany’s production.

Silver pitcher with swirling decorative images, including octopus
Martele Pitcher, 1898-1905 / THF129337

Like Steuben, the Gorham Silver Company of Providence, Rhode Island, produced its own line of Art Nouveau–inspired wares. Called Martele, meaning hand-hammered, this was one of Gorham’s high-end lines. This pitcher shows an organic swirl of motion, presumably sea water, with an octopus placed asymmetrically across the surface.

Brown pebbled leather handbag with elaborate silver clasp with a peacock in the center and a silver chain
Handbag, circa 1900 / THF175168

By the turn of the century, well-heeled consumers could choose from an array of luxury goods in the Art Nouveau style. This handbag features classic Art Nouveau motifs: botanical elements, curved lines, and a peacock, whose fanned tail feathers dominate the center of the design.

Black, red, and beige floral-patterned rug
Wilton Rug, circa 1900 / THF175015

In the first decade of the 20th century, the Art Nouveau style began to filter through many levels of American society. This Wilton rug is a good example, as it features characteristic elements of Art Nouveau design: striking color combinations, undulating "whiplash" lines, and stylized botanical motifs.

Cover with image of building, elaborate decorative pattern, and text
"Electrical Apparatus and Supplies for Isolated Plants," June 2, 1902 / THF267443

The explosion of the electrical industry in the 1890s generated new design needs. Electrical corporations hired artists working in the style of the day—Art Nouveau—to design their buildings, products, and communications. These partnerships marked the beginnings of industrial design.

Bar of soap wrapped in blue paper with decorative blue elements and yellow-orange oval and text
Sterne's Deodorizing Toilet Soap, 1900-1915 / THF175155

Art Nouveau reached its peak of popularity in 1900, but American manufacturers incorporated echoes of the style in products and product packaging into the 1910s. The Art Nouveau styling of the label for this everyday product—a bar of soap—would have appealed to many consumers.

By 1914, the Art Nouveau style was considered old-fashioned. Most European and American designers had moved on with their work. Tiffany was the rare exception. Tiffany Studios continued producing Art Nouveau–inspired lamps, vases, desk sets, and windows through the 1920s. Tiffany retired from day-to-day management in the early 1920s. It took until the Great Depression struck in 1929, and Tiffany’s death in 1933, for the firm to cease production.


Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.

nature, Henry Ford Museum, Louis Comfort Tiffany, design, home life, glass, by Charles Sable, art