One of the most dramatic displays in Henry Ford Museum is the “exploded” Model T—a 1924 Model T touring car with its constituent parts suspended by wires. Located at the entrance to the Made in America exhibition, it invites visitors to take a different look at an iconic American product.
Henry Ford’s Model T automobile is one of the most significant technological devices of the 20th century. Its clever engineering and low price allowed it to do what could only be done once—make the automobile widely popular. The Model T spawned mass automobility, altering our living patterns, our leisure activities, our landscape, even our atmosphere. The Model T’s influence is so pervasive and lasting that even people who know little about old cars or automotive history know the name “Model T.”
But the way the Model T was produced is as iconic as the car itself. When Ford Motor Company introduced the Model T in October 1908, firearms, watches, and sewing machines were already being assembled from interchangeable parts made on specialized machines. Ford successfully adapted these techniques to the much more complex automobile, and then crowned this achievement with the development of the moving assembly line in late 1913.
The calendar tells me that summer ended on September 23 this year. I know better. It really ended with the conclusion of our September 6-7 Old Car Festival, the traditional finish to The Henry Ford’s busy summer event season. But now that it’s fall by anyone’s measure, it seems like a good time to look back on this year’s show.
Approximately 900 cars, trucks and bicycles, none newer than 1932, turned Greenfield Village into a veritable motor museum – and one where most of the vehicles operated, at that! Steam and electric vehicles -- along with a few obscure marques -- offered variety, while the mass of Model Ts and Model As reminded us of how popular those Fords were in their time.
It’s that time of year again, and Old Car Festival inside The Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village is the place to see Ford Model As. The beloved automobile will make up almost a quarter of the sweet rides on display this year. But wait, Old Car Festival covers 42 years of vehicles, 1890-1932, so why are there so many from the four years the Model A was produced? After some research and talking with our Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson, here’s why.
During the first weekend of September, Greenfield Village celebrated the exciting sounds, scents, and sights of hundreds of vintage vehicles from the 1890s through 1932 during the 63rd annual Old Car Festival, America’s longest running antique car show. Many proud antique vehicle owners not only bring their cars, but get into the spirit of the event by dressing to match their car’s era which adds to the special ambience of this particular weekend long event.
Annually on the Saturday night of the festival, many visitors gather at the reviewing stand near the Thomas Edison statue to listen the talented Hotel Savarine Society Orchestra perform many of the popular songs of the 1920s while watching a group of energetic and enthusiastic dancers outfitted in elegant mid-1920s period clothing perform such dances as the Charleston, foxtrot and tango. Just as all the reproduction clothing and accessories in Greenfield Village are researched, designed and created on sight by The Clothing Studio of The Henry Ford, so are the vintage looks worn by the dancers.
This year, The Clothing Studio team worked collaboratively with the Creative Programs staff to create a more formal, “dressed up” head-to-toe 1920s look for the Old Car Festival dancers than in years past. The Roaring Twenties represented a break with traditions and the start to the modern age. It was a prosperous and exuberant time in history and, of course, the fashions of the time reflected this vibrancy. One of our challenges with creating these period accurate looks was that the clothing and accessories were not just for show – they also needed to be functional and durable since the dancers would be strolling through the village prior to spending two very active hours dancing outside.
Since men’s formal wear has generally changed little in over a hundred years, male dancers were elegantly dressed in a mix of black tuxedo styles which were appropriate for that era and remain stylish today. For formal occasions in the 1920s, men wore their tuxedos with white gloves and (when outdoors) top hats or even bowler hats. Special classically inspired touches such as suspenders, French cuffs with cufflinks and shoe spats helped to create an authentic look for each of our gentleman dancers.
As for the ladies, The Clothing Studio focused on many of the fashionable trends of the era celebrating new-found freedoms women enjoyed in the 1920s ranging from the right to vote to more relaxed fashions which finally freed women from the constraints of the corset. Bare arms and the appearance of bare legs with nude colored seamed stockings as well as shorter skirt lengths were visible signs of new celebrated relaxed attitudes. Some of the trends featured in the stunning outfits worn by our Old Car Festival female dancers included beaded fabrics, tiered shirts, drop waists, straight simple silhouettes and embellished shoes.
If you missed the vintage cars and fashions featured at this year’s Old Car Festival in Greenfield Village, be sure to mark your calendar for next year’s 64th annual Old Car Festival in September. Every year there is always a different mix of amazing vintage cars (and fashion) to enjoy.
Written by Tracy Donohue, General Manager, The Clothing Studio at The Henry Ford. Photos by Lindsey Grudnicki.
My husband, the kids and I spent the better part of Sunday at the Old Car Show at Greenfield Village. After all the bad weather we've been having, it was truly glorious to be out and about admiring the hundreds of vehicles displayed (and driving!) in the show.
Vehicles at the show are those built from the 1880s to 1932. It was fascinating to see how many unique ideas different vehicle manufacturers had building some of those really early machines. Since this show is more about what you could see (although the sounds of the old engines were like music), below are (some) photos of this wonderful event. And here's a video of the 1770 Fardier de Cugnot in action.
Kristine Hass is a mother of five and long-time member of The Henry Ford. She frequently blogs about her family's visits to America's Greatest History Attraction.