Posts Tagged popular culture
Ferris Bueller’s Faux Ferrari: A Replica with Real History
Like an actor cast in a role, this 1985 Modena Spyder California was chosen to play the part of a Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. / Photo by Matt Anderson
For those who haven’t visited Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in recent months, we have a wonderful new display space created in partnership with the Hagerty Drivers Foundation. Each year, we’ll share a couple of significant automobiles included on the foundation’s National Historic Vehicle Register. The (currently) 32 vehicles on the register each made a lasting mark on American history—whether through influence on design or engineering, success on the race track, participation in larger national stories, or starring roles on the silver screen.
Our first display vehicle is Hollywood through and through. It’s a “1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder” (those quotes are intentional) used in the 1986 Gen-X classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Those who’ve seen the film know that the car is a crucial part of the plot—ferrying Ferris, Sloane Peterson, and Cameron Frye around Chicago; threatening to expose their secret skip day; and forcing a difficult conversation between Cameron and his emotionally distant father.
In true movie fashion, though, not all is what it appears to be.
This 1958 Ferrari 250 GT California is the real thing, as featured in Henry Ford Museum’s Sports Cars in Review exhibit in 1965. / THF139028
The Ferrari 250 is among the most desirable collector cars in the world. GT street versions sell at auction for millions of dollars. And GTO competition variants—well, the sky’s the limit. Even in the mid-1980s, these autos were too pricey for film work—particularly when the plot calls for the car to be (spoiler alert) destroyed. Instead, Ferris Bueller director John Hughes commissioned three replicas for the shoot: two functional cars used for most scenes, and a non-runner destined to fly out the back of Mr. Frye’s suburban Chicago garage.
Replica cars were nothing new in the 1980s. For years, enterprising manufacturers had been offering copies of collector cars that were no longer in production and too expensive for most enthusiasts. The coveted Duesenberg Model J is a prime example, having been copied by replica manufacturers for decades. Some replica cars were more about convenience than cost. Glassic Industries of West Palm Beach, Florida, produced fiberglass-bodied copies of the Ford Model A with available niceties like automatic transmissions and tape decks. Occasionally, the line between “real” and “replica” got blurry. Continuation cars like the Avanti II (based on Studebaker’s original) or post-1960s Shelby Cobras (based on Carroll Shelby’s racing sports cars) were sometimes built with formal permission or participation from the original automakers.
So, if the Ferris Bueller car at The Henry Ford isn’t a real Ferrari, then what is it?
The replica’s builder, Modena Design & Development, was founded in the early 1980s by Californians Neil Glassmoyer and Mark Goyette. When John Hughes read about Modena in a car magazine, he called the firm. As the story goes, Glassmoyer initially hung up on the famous writer/director—believing that it had to be a prank. Hughes phoned again, and Modena found itself with a desirable movie commission. Paramount Pictures, the studio behind Ferris Bueller, leased one car and bought two others.
The Modena replicas featured steel-tube frames and Ferrari-inspired design cues like hood scoops, fender vents, and raked windshields. While the genuine Ferrari bodies used a blend of steel and aluminum components, Modena’s bodies were formed from fiberglass—purportedly based on a British MG body and then fine-tuned for a more Ferrari-like appearance.
The replica Ferrari’s V-8 was sourced from a 1974 Ford Torino, not too different from these 1973 models. / THF232097
The most obvious differences were under the cars’ skin. Rather than a 180-cubic-inch Ferrari V-12, the Modena at The Henry Ford features a 302-cubic-inch Ford V-8 (originally sourced from a 1974 Ford Torino). While the Ford engine was rated at 135 horsepower from the factory, this one has been rebuilt and refined—surely capable of greater output now. And instead of the original Ferrari’s four-speed manual gearbox, the Modena has a Ford-built three-speed automatic transmission. (According to lore, actor Matthew Broderick wasn’t comfortable driving a manual.)
After filming wrapped, the leased car was sent back to Modena’s El Cajon, California, facility. After some work to repair damage from a stunt scene, the car was sold to the first in a series of private owners. By 2003, this beloved piece of faux Italiana/genuine Americana had been relocated to the United Kingdom. The current owner purchased it at auction in 2010 and repatriated the car to the United States. The Modena was much modified over the years, so the current owner had it carefully restored and returned to its on-screen appearance—as you see it today.
Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery, but it can also be the quickest route to a lawsuit. Following the release of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferrari sued Modena Design & Development (along with other replica builders). The matter was settled out of court when Modena agreed to make some minor changes per the Italian automaker’s specifications. Replica production then resumed for a few more years.
The Modena Spyder California may not be a real Ferrari, but it’s certainly a real pop-culture icon. That’s reason enough to include it on the National Historic Vehicle Register, and to celebrate it at The Henry Ford.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Henry Ford Museum, Europe, 1980s, 20th century, Illinois, California, by Matt Anderson, popular culture, movies, cars
Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments: Curator Q&A
We are quickly drawing closer to the November 20 opening of our newest permanent exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation: Miniature Moments: A Journey Through Hallmark® Keepsake Ornaments. With just a few weeks to go, we checked in with Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life, and Donna R. Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life, to collect their thoughts on our collection of nearly 7,000 Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments. Check out their answers below.
What is the oldest Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?
One of Hallmark’s first ornaments from 1973, designed by artist Betsey Clark. / THF178137
Jeanine Head Miller (JHM): The ornaments in this collection date back to the first year that Hallmark produced Christmas ornaments—1973. That year, the company offered six decorated ball ornaments and twelve yarn ornaments. While the shape of Hallmark’s ball ornaments was traditional, the artwork, printed on a plastic sleeve and then heat-shrunk to the ornament, was an innovation. Hallmark’s simple yarn figures evoked nostalgic visions of Christmases long ago—the years leading up to America’s American Revolution Bicentennial celebration saw an increased interest in “early American” traditions.
Hallmark’s 1973 yarn ornament series included this colorful toy soldier. / THF177677
What is the newest Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?
JHM: The newest ornaments are the 269 made in 2009. (Yes—the number of ornaments released by Hallmark each year has grown!) These later ornaments reflect the increasing complexity of Hallmark’s designs. The vast majority of the company’s ornaments by this time were figurals (shapes that represent objects), with many being highly detailed. Ornaments sporting traditional Christmas themes were joined by an ever-evolving array of popular culture and technology-themed decorations. Customers appreciated the way that Hallmark’s designs helped them “personalize” their tree—a growing trend in Christmas tree decorating—using ornaments that reflected their own interests and experiences.
Hallmark’s 2009 "Ralphie's Pink Nightmare" ornament from the movie A Christmas Story depicts an unhappy Ralphie dressed in Aunt Clara’s pink bunny suit gift. / THF177263
Hallmark’s 2009 "Wired for Fun" teenage reindeer multitasks as he entertains himself with up-to-date digital technology—an MP3 player and a wireless video game. / THF358063
For the passionate culinary wizard, Hallmark’s 2009 "Snow Much Fun to Cook" ornament. / THF357697
What is the most common Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?
Donna R. Braden (DRB): This is a bit of a difficult question to answer. There is no easily available information on ornaments that were either produced or purchased in the greatest quantities, or those that are the easiest to find today. However, we might assume that those might align with the categories of ornaments that tend to be produced in the greatest number and variety. This varies over the years, but today—according to the 2022 Dream Book (and probably characteristic of the more recent years of our collection)—they are ornaments with classic Christmas themes, series favorites, Disney ornaments, meaningful moments and milestones, and popular culture characters, including Star Wars, Star Trek, superheroes, Harry Potter, toys, Peanuts, and Barbie.
What is the rarest Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?
DRB: Again, this is difficult to pin down. Lots of eBay listings for Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments say “extremely rare,” but these don’t necessarily cost a lot of money. Rarity can be based on the look, the artist, the date, the number in the series (especially firsts), and the popularity of the topic. Five rare ornaments I’ve seen listed follow below. The 1973 Betsey Clark ornament Jeanie notes as one of the earliest in our collection also seems to be rare.
"Mary's Angels Series: Buttercup,” 1988, is the first in its series. / THF182250
“Santa's Motorcar,” 1979, is the first in the Here Comes Santa series. / THF176990
"Tin Locomotive,” from 1982, is also rare. / THF177179
Another rare listing is “Miss Piggy” from 1983. / THF177327
"Starship Enterprise" is rare, even though it’s less than 40 years old. / THF177369
What is the largest Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?
JHM: Over the years, many Hallmark ornaments have grown in size—some five inches high or more—and complexity, adding narrative embellishment through visual detail, light, motion, and sound effects. Some—designed to be displayed on a flat surface—are more like figurines.
This large 2006 “Letters to Santa” ornament—about 5 ½ inches high and made to be hung on the tree—not only brims with charming detail, it offers motion and sound features. Pulling the bell below this battery-powered ornament causes several toys around Santa’s desk spring to life, as eight humorous recordings of children reading their letters to Santa are heard. / THF362217
This 1994 “Beatles Gift Set,” four inches high, commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Beatles’ 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show—one of the first times Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments had attempted likenesses of real people. / THF352350
The 2002 scene “The Family Room”—five inches high—was a group effort, with details of this homey design contributed by 19 Hallmark artists. / THF362466
What is the most valuable Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?
DRB: This is difficult to pin down, as it varies by changing collectability over the years—and The Henry Ford doesn’t collect based on monetary value, but instead on historical significance. However, the one ornament that shows up over and over is a 2009 ornament representing Cousin Eddie’s RV from the movie National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.
Hallmark "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Cousin Eddie's RV" Christmas Ornament, 2009. / THF361864
What is your favorite Hallmark Keepsake Ornament in The Henry Ford’s collection?
JHM: Hmmm… while I admit being partial to Hallmark’s small buildings, my favorite ornament—if I had to choose just one—is "Christmas Cookies!" from 2004. Why do I love it? This tiny stove with its charming cooking-making details immediately immerses me into happy childhood memories of baking Christmas cookies with my mother and sisters. A few years ago, my husband located one of these nearly 20-year-old ornaments online and gave it to me as a Christmas gift.
Hallmark’s "Christmas Cookies!" ornament, 2004. The lights inside the oven glow, and a fragrance insert emits the sweet scent of cookies “baking.” / THF177744
DRB: “Baby’s First Christmas,” from 1990, is my favorite ornament for personal reasons. My daughter Caroline was born that year. We were not big Hallmark ornament purchasers yet (that mushroomed later), but we saw this and it really “spoke” to us as a perfect symbol of this important milestone in our lives. We imagined being able to relive the memories of that milestone every year. And we do! More than 30 years later, it still occupies a prominent place on our Christmas tree every year.
Baby’s First Christmas, 1990. / THF177026
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford, Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford, and Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
2000s, 21st century, 1990s, 1980s, 1970s, 20th century, popular culture, Miniature Moments, home life, holidays, Henry Ford Museum, Hallmark, Christmas, by Jeanine Head Miller, by Ellice Engdahl, by Donna R. Braden
Disney Songs as Storytellers
Inspired by the creative thought process of founder Walt Disney, everything that the Walt Disney Company does is based upon the power of story. This can range from the plot of a film to the backstory of a theme park attraction. In all cases, the sets, props, and costumes help to provide clues for the audience about story elements and characters.
The songs in a Disney film can also enhance the story, moving it forward through emotion, detail, and nuance. Through songs, the characters become more believable, helping the audience become more invested in the story. Here are some classic examples.
Babes in Toyland
Babes in Toyland was a popular 1961 Christmas musical featuring a cast of Mother Goose characters. It starred Annette Funicello as Mary Quite Contrary, Tommy Sands as Tom Piper, Ray Bolger as the evil and villainous Barnaby, and Ed Wynn as the Toymaker. Annette Funicello later recounted that this was her favorite filmmaking experience.
The film was based upon Victor Herbert’s popular 1903 operetta of the same name. Herbert, a composer, wrote it with Glen McDonough, an opera librettist, in an attempt to outdo the extremely popular stage musical The Wizard of Oz, then playing on Broadway. (This was, of course, decades before the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.) The Babes in Toyland operetta continued to be performed for many years on the stage, where it was embraced as a children’s classic.
Disney’s was the second film version of the Babes in Toyland operetta released at movie theatres (the first was a film by Laurel and Hardy) and it was the first in Technicolor. In the Disney version, the plot was changed quite a bit and many of the song lyrics were rewritten. Some of the song tempos were even sped up.
“March of the Toys” is the best-known portion of the score of Babes in Toyland. It was used in the sequence in which the Toymaker displays his toys for the human children who have strayed into Toyland. One can almost imagine the toys coming alive in this lively up-tempo march.
“Toyland,” a whimsical song about a magical land filled with toys for girls and boys, also debuted in the original version of Babes in Toyland. This song still shows up on Christmas playlists, as it has been covered by many vocalists over the years, including Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Jo Stafford, Johnny Mathis, and—most notably—Doris Day.
Into the Woods
“No One is Alone” comes from the 2014 Disney musical fantasy film Into the Woods, which was adapted from a 1986 musical theater production. This song was created by American composer, songwriter, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. It appears at the end of Act II, as the four remaining leads (the Baker, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack) try to understand the consequences of their wishes and decide to place community wishes above their own. The song serves to demonstrate that even when life throws its greatest challenges, you do not have to face them alone.
With its universal theme, this song has been used for many other purposes, including the Minnesota AIDS Project in 1994, and a speech by President Barack Obama during the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
Although this film is lesser known than many other Disney live-action films, Stephen Sondheim is one of the most important figures in 20th-century musical theater, known for tackling dark, complex, unexpected themes that range far beyond the genre’s traditional subjects. He wrote the music for West Side Story, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Beauty and the Beast
Costumes from the live-action movie Beauty and the Beast in the Heroes and Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume exhibit. / THF191450
The song “Beauty and the Beast” was written by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken for the Disney animated feature film of the same name (1991). This, truly the film’s theme song, was recorded by American-British-Irish actress Angela Lansbury in her role as the voice of the character Mrs. Potts. Lansbury was hesitant to record “Beauty and the Beast” because she felt that it was not suitable for her aging singing voice, but ultimately she completed the song in one take. It was also recorded as a pop song for the closing credits by the duet of Canadian singer Celine Dion and American singer Peabo Bryson. It was released as the only single from the film’s soundtrack. Both versions of “Beauty and the Beast” were very successful, garnering both Golden Globe and Academy Awards for Best Original Song.
Considered to be among Disney’s best and most popular songs, “Beauty and the Beast” has since been covered by numerous artists. In the 2017 live-action adaptation of the animated film, it was sung by Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts and as a duet by Ariana Grande and John Legend during the end credits. In addition to Beauty and the Beast, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken collaborated on the music and lyrics for two other beloved Disney animated films—The Little Mermaid and Aladdin—before Ashman’s untimely death in 1991.
Costume from Mary Poppins in the Heroes and Villains: The Art of the Disney Costume exhibit. / Photo by Real Integrated for The Henry Ford
Mary Poppins was an incredibly popular 1964 Disney live-action film. All the songs for this film were written by the inimitable Sherman brothers. Robert and Richard Sherman were hired by Walt Disney himself to be his staff songwriters in 1961. While at Disney, they wrote more motion-picture musical scores than any other songwriters in the history of film, including Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, all but one song from The Jungle Book, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and The Aristocats. But they are possibly best known for their can’t-get-them-out-of-your-head songs from two Disney theme park attractions: “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” from the Carousel of Progress and “It’s a Small World (After All)” from the attraction of the same name.
But, back to Mary Poppins. First, the song “Feed the Birds” speaks of an old beggar woman who sits on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, selling bags of breadcrumbs to passers-by for tuppence a bag so they can feed the pigeons. The scene is reminiscent of the real-life seed vendors of Trafalgar Square in London. It is intended to be a lesson about charity and the merits of giving to others.
The song was regarded as one of Walt Disney’s favorite songs. Robert Sherman recalled:
“On Fridays, after work, Walt Disney would often invite us into his office and we’d talk about things that were going on at the Studio. After a while, he’d wander to the north window, look out into the distance and just say, ‘Play it.’ And Dick would wander over to the piano and play ‘Feed the Birds’ for him. One time just as Dick was almost finished, under his breath, I heard Walt say, ‘Yep. That’s what it’s all about.’ ”
“A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down” is an up-tempo number sung by Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins as she instructs the children, Jane and Michael, to clean their room. Although the task is daunting, she tells them that, with a good attitude, it can be fun. Story has it that Robert Sherman, the primary lyricist of the duo, worked an entire day trying to come up with a song idea for this scene. As he walked in the door at home that evening, his wife, Joyce, informed him that the children had gotten their polio vaccine that day. He asked his son Jeffrey if it hurt, thinking he had received a shot. Jeffrey responded that the medicine was put on a cube of sugar and that he swallowed it. By the next morning, Robert had the title of his song. Richard put a melody to the lyric and the song was born.
Finally, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is sung by Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke as Bert the chimney sweep in the live-action film’s unique animated sequence—just after Mary Poppins wins a horse race. Flush with her victory, she is immediately surrounded by reporters who pepper her with leading questions and comment that she is probably at a loss for words. Mary disagrees, suggesting that at least one word is appropriate for the situation—a word to say when you have nothing to say, and that is: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
The Sherman Brothers have given several conflicting explanations for this word’s origin, in one instance claiming to have coined it themselves. But, this was disproven when two other songwriters sued the Walt Disney Company, claiming to have written a song using that word in 1949. The Disney publishers ultimately won the lawsuit because they produced affidavits showing that many variants of the word had been known prior to 1949.
These are just a few of the many memorable songs that enhance the stories in Disney animated and live-action films. Which songs from Disney films are your favorites?
Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.
Celebrating the National Historic Vehicle Register
America’s car culture is a subject for music, movies, and postcards—and for serious study and preservation. / THF104062
There’s an exciting new changing exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. In partnership with our friends at the Hagerty Drivers Foundation, we’re spotlighting some of the nation’s most significant automobiles and trucks. Some of these vehicles introduced new ideas in engineering or design, others found glory on the race track, and a few lit up the silver screen. In all cases, these vehicles left a mark on American history important enough to earn them a place on the National Historic Vehicle Register.
We inaugurate this collaborative display with a car from the world of popular culture. For those of us who were teens in the 1980s, the movies of writer-director John Hughes were inescapable. Films like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Pretty in Pink captured the Reagan-era teenage zeitgeist—and timeless teenage angst—to a T. But for self-styled Gen-X slackers, one film in the Hughes catalog stands above the rest: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
There’s probably no need to summarize the well-known plot (see here if you disagree). Suffice it to say, high school senior Ferris (Matthew Broderick) convinces best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) and girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) to join him on his own personal skip day through Chicago. The plot really gets rolling, so to speak, when Ferris convinces Cameron to let them take his father’s 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California on their adventures. It doesn’t end well. The Ferrari becomes the target of Cameron’s longstanding anger with his father, and its accidental destruction forces some serious interpersonal growth.
This (genuine) 1958 Ferrari 250 GT California was part of Henry Ford Museum’s 1965 Sports Cars in Review exhibit. / THF139028
We’re delighted to be able to exhibit that Ferrari. Well, not that Ferrari… the one that got destroyed. For that matter, what we’re showing isn’t even a Ferrari. It’s a 1985 Modena Spyder California—an authentic-looking replica built by Modena Design & Development in El Cajon, California. It’s one of three Modena replicas used in shooting the movie. (Even in the mid-1980s, a genuine Ferrari 250 GT was too valuable to risk in film work.) This beloved pop-culture car is a playful way to kick off our celebration of a serious project: the National Historic Vehicle Register.
The National Historic Vehicle Register has its roots in the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER). Established jointly in 1969 by the National Park Service, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Library of Congress, HAER documents significant sites and structures associated with America’s engineering and industrial history. According to established HAER guidelines, nominated structures are documented with written reports, photographs, and technical drawings. These materials are then deposited in the Library of Congress. Generally, a listing in the HAER does not, in itself, protect a structure from possible demolition. It does, however, “preserve” that structure for the future via HAER’s extensive documentary materials.
HAER has documented buildings, bridges, and even airplanes, but it’s never documented cars. Recognizing the need for some similar mechanism to record significant automobiles and trucks, the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) was formed in 2009. Modeling itself on HAER, the HVA had four founding principles:
- To document and recognize significant vehicles in a national register
- To establish and share best practices for the care and preservation of significant vehicles
- To promote the historical and cultural importance of motor vehicles
- To protect automotive history through affiliations with museums and academic institutions, through educational programs, and through support of relevant legislation
The Historic Vehicle Association, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of the Interior, established the National Historic Vehicle Register (NHVR) in 2013 and, in January 2014, it added the first car to its list. HVA selected a 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, one of six built by Carroll Shelby and his Shelby American team to compete in sports car races. Apart from Mr. Shelby himself, the Cobra Daytona Coupe was also developed with legendary racing figures like Pete Brock, Ken Miles, and Phil Remington.
CSX2287, the first Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, won the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1964. Fifty years later, it became the first entry on the National Historic Vehicle Register. / THF130368
We should pause to note that, of necessity, the National Historic Vehicle Register contains individual cars. The register does not list the Cobra Daytona Coupe as a model. Rather, it specifically includes chassis number CSX2287—the first of the six built, and the only one built completely at Shelby American’s Venice, California, shop. CSX2287 won the GT class at the 1964 Sebring 12-Hour race, competing as number 10, with drivers Dave MacDonald and Bob Holbert. The car later set 27 national and international land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats, with Craig Breedlove at the wheel. CSX2287 is now in the collections of the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Following its selection, the Cobra Daytona Coupe—like all subsequent vehicles on the register—was thoroughly documented for the NHRV. Specialists researched the car through written documents and spoken interviews, they photographed it from multiple angles, and they measured the car using sophisticated laser scanners. (You can learn more about the scanning process in this clip from The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.) The resulting materials were then sent to the Library of Congress for long-term preservation.
The Historic Vehicle Association was founded with philanthropic support from Hagerty, the world’s largest specialist insurance provider for historic vehicles. In more recent years, the work of the HVA has been folded into the Hagerty Drivers Foundation, which manages the National Historic Vehicle Register with the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The Marmon Wasp driven by Ray Harroun, winner of the 1911 Indianapolis 500. / THF229391
To date, more than 30 vehicles have been added to the National Historic Vehicle Register. There are celebrated race cars like the 1907 Thomas Flyer that won the 1908 New York to Paris Automobile Race, the 1911 Marmon Wasp that won the first Indy 500, and one of NASCAR’s “Fabulous Hudson Hornets” driven by Herb Thomas.
Volkswagen’s groundbreaking Type 2 Transporter is represented on the NHVR by a van that served a higher purpose: supporting Black Americans in the Civil Rights Movement. / THF105564
There are vehicles that participated in large national events, like a 1918 Cadillac employed by the U.S. Army in World War I, or a 1966 Volkswagen Transporter used in humanitarian efforts supporting Black Americans on Johns Island, South Carolina, during the Civil Rights Movement, or a 1969 Chevrolet Corvette driven by Apollo astronaut Alan Bean, who landed on the Moon in November 1969.
The 1964 Chevrolet Impala lowrider is a car culture icon, illustrated by this remote-controlled model. / THF151539
The wide world of American car culture is wonderfully represented by a 1932 Ford V-8 hot rod built by Bob McGee, a 1951 Mercury Coupe modified for Masato Hirohata by “King of Kustomizers” George Barris, and the pioneering 1964 Chevrolet Impala lowrider “Gypsy Rose,” customized by Jesse Valadez.
Preston Tucker’s 1948 Tucker 48 made a mark in life and on screen. / THF135047
The register doesn’t overlook the automobile’s contributions to popular culture. Apart from the replica Ferrari used in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the list includes a 1968 Ford Mustang driven by Steve McQueen during the influential car chase in Bullitt, and a 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 that carried Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly to 1955 before returning him back to the future. Preston Tucker’s 1947 Tucker 48 prototype is something of a movie car too. Yes, it inspired a real-life production vehicle, but it also inspired the 1988 film Tucker: The Man and His Dream, starring Jeff Bridges.
The 15 Millionth Ford Model T traveled from Greenfield Village to the National Mall in April 2018, after it was added to the NHVR. / Photo courtesy Hagerty Drivers Foundation
Some of you may be wondering if anything from The Henry Ford’s collections is listed on the National Historic Vehicle Register. I’m happy to report that, yes, we are represented by (what else) a Ford Model T added to the list in 2018. It’s not just any T, of course, but the 15 Millionth Ford Model T, which was the ceremonial “last” Model T built before Ford ended production in favor of the 1928–1931 Model A. Like most of the vehicles added to the register, our 15 Millionth Model T traveled to Washington, D.C., where it was displayed on the National Mall—to honor the car, but also to draw attention to the NHVR and the importance of preserving America’s automotive heritage. The NHVR research team also produced a 23-minute documentary on the Ford Model T and its enormous influence.
The register continues to grow. Likewise, The Henry Ford will continue to display a rotating selection of register cars in the years ahead. It’s a fun way to celebrate America’s car culture, but it’s also an opportunity to recognize the important and ongoing work of the National Historic Vehicle Register.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Model Ts, race cars, racing, popular culture, movies, by Matt Anderson, Henry Ford Museum, cars
The Scottie Dog: Icon of an Age
During the 1930s and 1940s, Scottish Terriers, or “Scotties,” popped up all over popular culture, from jewelry to ceramics to greeting cards. I've found various types of Scottie memorabilia in The Henry Ford's collections of this period. The question is, why were Scotties so popular?
According to the American Kennel Club, Scottish Terriers first became popular in America in the early 20th century, with the “Golden Age” arriving in the 1930s. This may be due to the personality of Scotties. The American Kennel Club references this description of the Scottish Terrier’s temperament: “Contented in his ways, conscious of the affection he bears to master or mistress, he regards life philosophically, takes the best when he can get it, makes the best when he cannot.”
Of course, the 1930s represents one of the most desperate economic periods in American history: the Great Depression. It makes perfect sense that Americans loved the spirited Scottie during this dark time.
Also, celebrities as diverse as Bette Davis, Dorothy Parker, Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and Humphrey Bogart adopted Scotties and helped make them popular—both as pets and on memorabilia.
Some of the most common places that they appear are in Christmas cards.
Christmas Card, "A Merry Christmas," 1933 / THF36815
This card shows a pair of mischievous Scotties, one of whom shows us a Christmas stocking with a puppet tumbling out of it.
"Scottie" (Scottish Terrier) Napkin Rings, 1930-1950 / THF189764
Plastics were used for inexpensive items such as these adorable napkin rings, likely purchased at a five-and-ten-cent store. They would have brightened up a Depression-era dining room table.
"Scottie Dog" Cigarette Holder and Ash Trays, 1935-1940 / THF169674
This inexpensive, yet fashionable, ceramic cigarette set, like the napkin rings, was likely retailed at a five-and-ten-cent store. It would have been a novelty or conversation piece in a middle-class living room.
Fala: The Most Famous Presidential Pet
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt with Fala, 1940 / Photo from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum
The photograph above shows President Franklin Delano Roosevelt with his new Scottish Terrier, Fala, a gift from Roosevelt’s cousin, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley. Was Roosevelt aware of the popularity of Scotties, or was it just serendipity? Probably a little of both. Fala was named by Roosevelt after a Scottish ancestor, the “outlaw” John Murray of Falahill. “Murray the Outlaw of Falahill” was soon shortened to “Fala,” and like his namesake, the Scottie's legend grew. Fala’s adorable antics soon made him popular, and perhaps beloved, by the White House press corps.
Fala “Photographing” White House Photographers, 1942 / Photo from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum
Fala and the Barkers for Britain Campaign
As you can see, Fala’s instant fame, plus national interest in Scottish Terriers, created a public relations bonanza. During 1941, as World War II raged in Europe, the Roosevelt administration sought to help Great Britain, the lone country in Western Europe left standing against the forces of Nazi Germany. Although the United States was officially neutral, many Americans sympathized with and sought to aid the British. They were led by the British War Relief Society, an umbrella organization based in New York City. A constituent group called “Bundles for Britain” collected clothing and money for humanitarian aid. “Barkers for Britain” was created for dog lovers, with paid memberships benefiting the Bundles group. For a fee of 50 cents, dog owners could get a tag with their dog’s name inscribed with a Barkers for Britain label. President Roosevelt volunteered Fala as president of the group, and Fala got membership tag number one.
Christmas Card, "Cheerio," 1941 / THF702390
Interior of Christmas Card, “Cheerio,” 1941 / THF702391
Dating to 1941, this Christmas card references Scottish Terriers and Britain, with “Cheerio” on the outside and “The Englands” on the inside.
Fala’s Moment of Fame in 1944
As a favorite companion, Fala was constantly by Roosevelt’s side. He traveled everywhere with the president. In the late summer of 1944, with the United States now fully engaged in World War II, Fala accompanied Roosevelt on the USS Baltimore to Hawaii, where Roosevelt met with General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz on plans to retake the Philippines and attack the Japanese mainland. The Baltimore then traveled to the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska, where Roosevelt met with local leaders on asserting American control over islands that had been taken by the Japanese early in the war. The ship returned to the American mainland via Seattle, where Roosevelt and Fala took a train back to Washington, D.C.
In 1944, a presidential election year, Roosevelt was seeking an unprecedented fourth term. Republicans sought any “dirt” they could find on Roosevelt, an extremely popular Democrat and president since 1933. It is unclear how the rumor got started, but Republicans began circulating a story that Fala had been left behind in the Aleutian Islands and a destroyer had been sent from Seattle, at taxpayers’ expense, to retrieve him. Roosevelt was accused of wasting some 20 million dollars in this effort. Ever the canny politician, the president used this to his advantage. Speaking to the Teamsters Union while kicking off his reelection campaign, Roosevelt gave a speech that many say ensured his reelection. Here is an excerpt:
"These Republican leaders have not been content to make personal attacks upon me—or my wife or my sons—they now include my little dog, Fala. Unlike the members of my family, Fala resents this. When he learned that the Republican fiction writers had concocted a story that I had left him behind on an Aleutian Island and had sent a destroyer back to find him—at a cost to the taxpayer of two or three or twenty million dollars—his Scottish soul was furious! He has not been the same dog since."
Not only did Roosevelt get a positive reaction from his Teamster audience, but he was also heard on radio from coast to coast. The voting public realized that the president still had fight in him and that his feisty little dog was a great asset. As part of the Roosevelt campaign, young girls began sporting Scottie dog pins, like this one.
"Scottie" (Scottish Terrier) Pin, circa 1940 / THF30462
In a broader context, Fala started the tradition of presidential pets serving as surrogates in the political arena. Some notable examples include Richard Nixon’s famous “Checkers” speech in 1952 and Socks the cat, the pet of Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Bill Clinton, in the 1990s. Nearly every president since 1944 has attempted to promote his pets, but none have done so as deftly as Roosevelt.
Eleanor Roosevelt with Fala, 1951 / Photo from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum
After Roosevelt’s sudden death in April of 1945, Fala lived with Eleanor Roosevelt at the family’s Hyde Park, New York, home until the dog’s own death in 1952. At Roosevelt’s memorial in Washington, D.C., the president is depicted with Fala at his side.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Washington, D.C., 2016 / Photograph by Ellice Engdahl
The Scottie dog is truly a reflection of American life at a difficult period, when tenacity, good spirits, and a can-do mentality helped the nation survive and ultimately prosper.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.
Washington DC, 1940s, 1930s, 20th century, World War II, presidents, popular culture, home life, decorative arts, by Charles Sable
Accidental Toy Inventions
Accidents happen—and not all have a bad outcome. Sometimes they launch loads of fun, like these classic toys that delight us as kids.
Advertisement for Slinky, "Insist on Slinky Toys," 1957 / THF109573
Slinky, 1970-1980 / THF309090
In 1942, marine engineer Richard James of Philadelphia was working on a sensitive marine meter designed to monitor horsepower on naval battleships. His quest? To develop an inner spring that would assure that the device—even if rocked at sea—would give an accurate reading. As James worked, he accidentally knocked one of the rejected prototypes off his desk. The spring hit the ground—then kept spiraling, coil by coil, over the office floor!
This unexpected response intrigued James, who immediately realized that it would make a great toy. For several years he tested various metals, thicknesses, and proportions to come up with the perfect design. His wife, Betty, came up with the perfect name—Slinky. Then James began to sell his Slinkys in local stores. But people weren’t buying.
Clearly customers needed to be shown what a Slinky could do. Richard and Betty James, determined to find success, convinced the Gimbels department store to let them do an in-store demonstration. James had arranged with a local machine ship to manufacture 400 Slinkys—98 coils of high-grade, blue-black Swedish steel piled 2 ½ inches high. Armed with a small set of stairs, the Jameses set out for Gimbels with their Slinkys. As the department store’s curious customers looked on, the Slinky gracefully moved down the stairs. Within minutes, the entire stock of 400 had sold.
Slinkys look simple—but they are actually quite intricate. The original dark steel was later replaced with a silver-colored steel. And, while Slinkys now come in colored plastic, the classic Slinky has remained virtually unchanged.
There’s something rather lifelike about a Slinky, whether walking down some stairs or a sloped board, or shuffling back and forth between one’s hands. And the sound of a Slinky in motion—quite melodious. I have fond childhood memories of a Slinky gliding coil over coil down our stairs—each move punctuated by that distinctive Slinky “snap”—as my siblings and I looked on mesmerized by its flowing passage. How did it know how to do that?
Silly Putty, circa 1962 / THF135811
During World War II, the Japanese invasion of the Far East cut off the United States’ rubber supply—rubber badly needed for the mass production of tires and boots. The War Production Board asked General Electric to develop an inexpensive rubber substitute. Chemical engineer James Wright set to work at the company’s New Haven, Connecticut, lab, experimenting with boric acid and silicone oil. Unexpectedly, the two substances gelled. The result was a gooey compound that bounced when tossed on the floor—even higher than rubber did. It stretched farther and retained its properties over a wide temperature range. And oddly enough, it had the ability to lift text or images off the pages of newspapers and comic books. Quite amazing stuff. But the United States War Production Board rejected it as a rubber substitute. And—despite investigation into other possibilities—one seemingly without a practical use.
Silly Putty became a curiosity that made the rounds of New Haven cocktail parties, where it found itself an amusing “guest.” Ruth Fallgatter, who owned a toy store, and Peter Hodgson, her advertising consultant, took notice. Soon, the putty appeared in the store’s holiday catalog as a novelty gift for adults called Bouncing Putty. There was no image, only a description of the product. You guessed it. Bouncing Putty was a huge hit among Fallgatter’s customers.
Fallgatter lost interest in continuing to market the product, but Hodgson persevered. He purchased a large batch of the putty from General Electric, hired Yale students to separate it into one-ounce portions, then packaged it in multicolored plastic eggs. Since “bouncing” didn’t cover everything this remarkable putty could do, Hodgson called it Silly Putty.
Silly Putty’s reception at the 1950 New York Toy Fair didn’t go too well. Hodgson managed to get only a few accounts. One of these was Doubleday bookshops—and that proved to be enough. Silly Putty soon got its “big break” when a staff writer for The New Yorker discovered it when he stopped in the chain’s Manhattan store, then mentioned Silly Putty in the magazine’s popular “Talk of the Town” column. A few days later, Hodgson had orders for over 250,000 items. Since then, the contents of hundreds of millions of Silly Putty eggs have been bounced and stretched by kids and adults alike.
Oh—that thing about Silly Putty not having a practical purpose? Apparently, it does for some. People have used it to clean typewriter keys or level the legs of wobbly tables. Silly Putty even orbited the moon in 1968 with the Apollo 8 astronauts, helping to keep their tools fastened down in the weightless environment.
Like other kids, I would grab Silly Putty and the Sunday comics, then lift an image from the page. At first, I pulled carefully to distort the image in interesting ways. By the end of pulling, the image was so distorted that it was no longer recognizable—then every trace magically disappeared as I kneaded the putty. (I hear this no longer works, since the printing process for color comics has changed.) But perhaps my favorite Silly Putty-related activity was bouncing it—Silly Putty had an energetic, almost otherworldly bounce. And I can’t recall childhood memories of Silly Putty without thinking of the time my sister took it to bed with her. For years afterwards, a perfectly oval Silly Putty stain graced the sheets.
Colorforms Set, Popeye the Weatherman, 1959 / THF135813, THF135805
You’ve heard of starving artist stories. Well, this is one.
In 1951, Harry and Patricia Kislevitz were experimenting with various materials and mediums—preferably of the least expensive sort. A friend who owned a handbag business gave them a large roll of flexible vinyl that he didn’t want. The Kislevitzes discovered that it stuck really well to the semi-gloss paint on their bathroom walls—then proceeded to cut out basic shapes and arrange them artistically. When guests visited, they found vinyl and scissors lying on the bathroom counter, beckoning them to join in. A good time was had by all as everyone added to or rearranged the giant collage!
The Kislevitzes decided to market their idea. They created vinyl pieces in standard geometric shapes and primary colors. Then they packaged them with a sheet of black laminated paperboard. Colorforms caught on! And they soon came in new sets—pieced, die-cut, and screened to look like characters or everyday objects.
A kid could design dinosaurs, dress ballet dancers, or send vinyl superheroes on adventures. Scenes from favorite movies or TV shows like Mary Poppins or Sesame Street were within two-dimensional reach. The possibilities were rich—and less messy, done without scissors, paste, or paint.
My favorite Colorforms in young childhood? A set where you dressed a character for the weather—similar to the Popeye version above.
Set of Play-Doh, circa 1979 / THF190091
When a New Jersey nursery schoolteacher happened to mention that the modeling clay used by her students was too firm for their small fingers, her brother-in-law took note. Joe McVicker, who was working for his father’s Cincinnati soap and cleaning products company, thought he might have an answer. In the mid-1950s, McVicker formulated a putty-like non-toxic substance and sold it as a wallpaper cleaner. Not only could it be easily shaped, but this compound also stayed soft indefinitely if stored in a tightly sealed container.
McVicker double-checked to assure that it was safe, then mailed some off to his sister-in-law’s school. Kids loved the putty—and so did the teachers. He knew he was on to something.
McVicker contacted the Cincinnati Board of Education, who bought the product for all the kindergartens and elementary schools in the district. Next, the putty made its debut at an educational convention, where it was noticed by the wife of a buyer for the Woodward & Lothrop department store in Washington, DC. After a successful in-store demo there, major retailers like Macy’s and Marshall Field placed their own orders.
By 1956, this wallpaper-cleaner-turned-kid’s-toy became known as Play-Doh. And the company? The family business transformed from Kutol Chemicals—not very kid-friendly—to Rainbow Crafts.
Play-Doh was originally offered only in white. By its second year on the market, it came in an even softer consistency and three colors: red, yellow, and blue—developed by company chemist Dr. Tien Liu. In the early 1980s, pink, purple, green, and orange made playtime with Play-Doh even more colorful. Day-glo and glitter versions would later follow.
What’s Play-Doh modeling compound made of? Apparently, that formula is a closely guarded secret.
I grew up in the red-yellow-blue era. I loved the way mixing these not-quite-primary colors could create other beautiful Play-Doh hues. The only downside? Once mixed and kneaded, you couldn’t return them back into their primary basics.
Super Soaker 50 Water Gun, 1991-1992 / THF185767
Engineers, businesspeople, artists—and NASA scientists. Accidental toy inventions have landed in toy boxes through these “out of the box” thinkers.
NASA rocket scientist? Yes, that would be Lonnie Johnson and his Super Soaker water gun.
Johnson was passionate about inventing not only at his day job as an engineer working with hundreds of colleagues, but also working on his own inventions in his spare time. In 1982, Johnson was in his home workshop developing an environmentally friendly cooling system. To test his idea of using circulating water and air pressure instead of the chemical Freon, Johnson connected a high-pressure nozzle to his bathroom faucet, aimed the nozzle, turned it on, and then blasted a powerful stream of water into the bathtub. He quickly recognized its potential as a toy—a pressurized water gun that didn’t require batteries and was safe enough for kids to play with!
Johnson quickly produced a prototype using Plexiglas, PVC pipe, a two-liter soda bottle, and other materials. Over the next few years, he continued to make improvements. In 1989, Johnson licensed his design for the Super Soaker to Larami. The company launched the toy in 1990.
Kids loved it! Within two years, the Super Soaker generated over $200 million in sales, becoming the top-selling toy in the United States. Improved versions of the Super Soaker debuted have debuted since then—delighting millions of kids and adults, too.
Johnson didn’t just take his royalty money and retire. It was a means to achieving his real goal—establishing his own research company, Johnson Research & Development Co., where Johnson develops innovative technology.
You can see more artifacts related to Slinky, Colorforms, Play-Doh, and Super Soaker, as well as hundreds of other toys, in our Digital Collections.
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.
engineering, making, inventors, popular culture, by Jeanine Head Miller, toys and games
Walt Disney Visits The Henry Ford
Walt Disney spent years imagining his ground-breaking entertainment venue, Disneyland, before it opened in 1955. Disney found inspiration for this remarkable theme park from many people and places.
Walt Disney (1901–1966) spent his most memorable childhood years in Marceline, Missouri, leaving him with a great fondness for small town America. Disney's early passion for cartoon drawing and humor blossomed in 1928 with his first major success, the Mickey Mouse animated cartoon character. By the 1930s, Disney headed a thriving motion picture studio making animated cartoons and live action movies. He explained his interest in developing a theme park to his biographer, Bob Thomas:
“It all started when my daughters were very young, and I took them to amusement parks on Sunday. I sat on a bench eating peanuts and looking around me. I said to myself, why can't there be a better place to take your children, where you can have fun together? Well, it took me about fifteen years to develop the idea.”
While on business trips and family vacations, Disney visited not only amusement parks, but also fairs, expositions, tourist attractions, and zoos to further his vision of creating an extraordinary family leisure experience. One of these places was Greenfield Village, which Walt Disney visited several times during the 1940s.
Walt Disney Posing in the Greenfield Village Tintype Studio, 1940 / THF109756
Walt Disney paid his first visit to Greenfield Village on April 12, 1940. William B. Stout, an industrial designer best known for the Ford Tri-Motor airplane and the aerodynamic Scarab car, served as Disney's escort as he toured Henry Ford's historical village and museum. The Greenfield Village Journal, a daily administrative report, described Disney’s visit that day:
“Walt Disney, creator of the world-famous movie character, Mickey Mouse, visited the Village and Museum today. He showed great interest in everything mechanical, examining engines and old autos closely. He had a good time with Mr. Tremear while posing for a tin-type. In the Museum Theater he spoke for a few moments to the school children. He was accompanied by Mrs. Disney, and by Ben Sharpsteen, his chief animator. Wm B. Stout was his host.”
Walt Disney Shows Harriet Bennett How to Draw Mickey Mouse during a Visit to Henry Ford Museum, April 12, 1940 / THF118884
During Disney's tour, he stopped at the Tintype Studio to pose for photographer Charles Tremear, autographing one of his tintypes for display there. Disney also spent a few minutes talking with students from the Greenfield Village Schools, who had gathered in the museum's theater to greet him. (Henry Ford established a school system in his museum and village complex several years before his historical enterprise was formally opened to the public in 1933.) Ford Motor Company photographer George Ebling—who was often asked to take personal photographs for Henry Ford—captured images of Disney's delightful visit with the students.
Walt Disney and Family Visiting Henry Ford Museum, August 1943 / THF130871, THF130883, THF119434
On August 20, 1943, Disney again visited Henry Ford Museum. He; his wife, Lillian; and their daughter, Diane, posed for photographs with examples of some of the historical modes of transportation displayed there. Disney’s joyful, childlike expression embodies the experience he hoped to create for families visiting what would come to be Disneyland.
Walt Disney came back to Greenfield Village five years later, on August 23, 1948. Disney and one of his animators, Ward Kimball—who shared Disney's longtime fascination with railroads—had traveled to Chicago to attend the Railroad Fair. They decided to take a side trip to Greenfield Village. During the visit to Greenfield Village, Disney once again made a stop at the Tintype Studio, where he and Kimball were photographed by tintypist Charles Tremear.
Walt Disney and Ward Kimball Posing in the Greenfield Village Tintype Studio, 1948 / THF109757
By the late 1940s, Disney's ideas for a themed entertainment park had progressed substantially. On the train ride back to California, he shared his ideas with Kimball, then summarized them in a memo dated August 31, 1948. An excerpt of this memo seems to echo aspects of Greenfield Village: “The Main Village, which includes the Railroad Station, is built around a village green or informal park … Around the park will be built the town. At one end will be the Railroad Station; at the other end, the Town Hall…”
When Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California, in 1955, it quickly captured the public’s imagination. In his innovative theme park, Walt Disney drew inspiration from his many interests and experiences to create an entirely new kind of family entertainment. To learn more, check out this blog post!
This post by Cynthia Read Miller, former Curator of Photography and Prints at The Henry Ford, originally ran in September 2005 as part of our Pic of the Month series. It was reformatted for the blog by Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
photographs, popular culture, by Saige Jedele, by Cynthia Read Miller, Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, Disney
Neil Armstrong: Reluctant Hero
Neil Armstrong visited Greenfield Village on August 16, 1979, and graciously posed for several photographs, particularly near the Wright Brothers’ Home and Cycle Shop. / THF128243
Watching the moon landing on TV on July 20, 1969, was a defining moment for most baby boomers. I know it was for me. My brothers and I were glued to the TV set for hours, hanging on to every word uttered by broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite, waiting for the exciting moment that the Lunar Module Eagle would land on the moon and its crew members would take their first steps into uncharted territory.
Photograph of the TV broadcast of the moon landing, July 20, 1969, with TV viewers dimly reflected on the screen. / THF114240
Three Apollo 11 crew members—Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., and Michael Collins—embarked on this mission on July 16 and returned safely to earth on July 24. In between, each crew member contributed his utmost to the tasks at hand. But one name eternally sticks out—Neil Armstrong, the mission’s commander. As commander, he accepted his role as spokesperson for the crew and the mission. And, as commander, he became the first man to step on the moon, voicing the now-immortal words, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” After that time, he relentlessly shunned the limelight and hated being singled out. When Armstrong passed away in 2012, his family released a statement that reinforced these sentiments: “Neil Armstrong was a reluctant American hero who always believed he was just doing his job.” Yet, like it or not, he was—and will forever be—singled out as the “first man.”
Artist Louis Glanzman captured the spirit of the momentous occasion for the July 25, 1969, cover of Time magazine, despite having no real photographs to reference (none were available yet and, in fact, no photographs of Neil Armstrong were ever taken on the moon). It became one of Time’s most popular covers ever. / THF230050
Neil Armstrong was from Ohio—as I am. I have always been proud of that connection. In the 1990s and early 2000s, when my daughter was young and we would often drive down I-75 to visit family members in Dayton, we would stop at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum (founded in 1972)—located right at the freeway exit for Armstrong’s hometown of Wapakoneta. There we would enjoy viewing personal artifacts of his, reliving the story of the Apollo 11 mission, and reacquainting ourselves with the timeline of all the missions leading up to and following that one.
So, when the opportunity arose to write a blog post about Neil Armstrong, I enthusiastically volunteered. I figured I would enjoy reading up on him again. This time around, however, I particularly looked for insights into what made him that reluctant hero.
Armstrong was born in a farmhouse about six miles from the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, on August 5, 1930. He didn’t actually live in Wapakoneta until he was 14 years old. Because his father was an auditor for the state of Ohio, his family often moved around—in fact 16 times before they finally settled in Wapakoneta! Other small Ohio towns—like Upper Sandusky and St. Marys—were just as influential in shaping his character. As a boy, he was considered calm, serious, determined, and always on task.
Interior of a Ford Trimotor during a passenger flight, 1929. / THF116296
Being an astronaut was not Neil Armstrong’s great ambition in life. He wanted to fly airplanes, and wistfully envied earlier pilots like Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart with their record-setting flights. When he was only six years old, he thoroughly enjoyed the ride he took on a Ford Trimotor (his father was downright terrified). (For more on Trimotors, see this expert set.) A few years later, he began building and flying model airplanes; in fact, he filled his bedroom with them. He read countless books and magazines about airplanes. He also worked various jobs to earn money to take flying lessons. At only 15, he earned his pilot’s license and made his first solo flight soon after.
Neil Armstrong was different from many other airplane pilots and, later, astronauts in that he was not only interested in flying, but also in learning how planes were built and how to make them more efficient, faster, better. So, he decided to study aeronautical engineering, attending Purdue University on a Navy scholarship.
Armstrong’s college years were interrupted by his being sent to fight in the Korean War. He was assigned to Fighter Squadron 51, flying small jets off an aircraft carrier to bomb enemy bridges and railroads and to scout areas where other planes would attack later. After college, Armstrong flew high-speed, high-altitude experimental airplanes at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, California—not because he loved speed (as many other test pilots did), but because he wanted to use planes as tools to gather information and solve problems.
Armstrong loved this work, but in 1962 he switched gears and applied to become an astronaut. Some say this was because of his need to make a dramatic lifestyle change after the tragic death of his two-year-old daughter. But he himself claimed, “I decided that if I wanted to get out of the atmospheric fringes and into deep space work, that was the way to go.”
Either way, before long, Armstrong was chosen to become one of the so-called “New Nine”—that is, the second group of men (women were not allowed to become astronauts until 1978) that NASA picked to fly missions to outer space. (For more on the initial Mercury Seven astronauts, see this blog post.)
Before the “New Nine,” there were the Mercury Seven, the first seven astronauts chosen by NASA to attempt to place a man in space through a program known as Mercury. Here they are posing in their space suits for this circa 1963 trading card. / THF230119
That was seven full years before Armstrong became a household name with the Apollo 11 mission. What did he do during all that time? In fact, a great deal needed to be figured out and perfected if there was to be any hope of meeting President John F. Kennedy’s vision to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Armstrong spent much of his time practicing, training, and undertaking the many tasks that prepared him and others to fly to outer space and attempt a moon landing. During these years, Armstrong also willingly talked to members of the media, not only because they never seemed satisfied with NASA’s updates, but also to help allay negative public opinion about the government’s focus on the space program when so many domestic issues seemed more pressing.
Many people felt that such pressing issues as poverty, Civil Rights, and the war in Vietnam (as reflected by this 1968 protest poster) should take precedence over the space program. / THF110904
Meanwhile, Armstrong patiently waited his turn—like the other astronauts—to participate in a real mission to outer space. He finally got that turn in March 1966, when he was assigned to command NASA’s 14th crewed space mission, Gemini 8—with the goal to “dock” or connect with another satellite already in space. In 1968, he was also named the backup commander for the Apollo 8 lunar orbit mission (but did not go on that mission).
During that time, Armstrong repeatedly practiced with the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV)—the prototype module for landing men on the moon. The LLTV was an ungainly, unstable wingless aircraft, powered by a turbofan engine, which took off and landed vertically. It was highly experimental and extremely dangerous. As Buzz Aldrin later remarked, “…to train on it properly, an astronaut had to fly at altitudes of up to five hundred feet. At that height, a glitch could be fatal.”
Armstrong faced constant risks and dangers in his career as an airplane pilot and then as an astronaut—including flying 78 missions in the Korean War; piloting the world’s fastest, riskiest, most experimental aircraft; and encountering close calls while commanding Gemini 8 and while practicing on the LLTV. But he never panicked. He concentrated on the tasks and remained cool under pressure. His mind was always focused on analyzing and solving the problems, then on moving forward.
And that is exactly why he was chosen to command Apollo 11—the space mission that would finally attempt a landing on the moon. As Chris Kraft, NASA’s director of flight operations at the time, explained, “Neil was Neil. Calm, quiet, and absolute confidence. We all knew that he was the Lindbergh type. He had no ego. He was not of a mind that, ‘Hey, I’m going to be the first man on the Moon!’ That was never what Neil had in his head."
Neil Armstrong brought to the Apollo 11 mission all of his training, practice, and knowledge. His ability to keep calm under pressure particularly came in handy when he and Aldrin landed the Apollo’s Lunar Module Eagle onto the moon’s surface with only 20 seconds of fuel remaining.
Which brings us back to the moment when I—along with about 500 million other people—sat on the edge of my seat and watched on TV as the Eagle landed, and, several hours later, as the Eagle’s hatch opened, as Neil Armstrong wriggled out and began to descend the ladder toward the moon’s surface, and as he took his first step on the moon.
Neil Armstrong took this famous photograph of Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on the moon. His own reflection can be seen in Aldrin’s helmet. / THF56899
The moon landing was considered a success. Americans were ebullient as they celebrated the Apollo 11 astronauts’ achievements, with only months to spare before the decade ran out. The three Apollo 11 crew members were honored and celebrated for months afterward.
This set of tumblers, commemorating the Apollo 11 space mission, depicts such iconic images as the Lunar Module Eagle and Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. / THF175132
But most of the adulation, it seemed, was directed at Neil Armstrong. He even received the Medal of Freedom, the highest award the U.S. government bestows on a civilian. But he never liked the attention. He felt he did not deserve the fame and always attributed the success of the mission to the entire team of people who had made the dream of reaching the moon possible. Ever modest, he once tried to argue, “I was just chosen to command the flight. Circumstance put me in that particular role.”
This button would have likely been proudly worn by someone attending a public celebration of the Apollo 11 astronauts. / THF189959
In the end, I believe that Neil Armstrong should be remembered for so much more than being the “first man.” For his modesty, his quiet humility, over to advance the course of human progress, he modelled values and behaviors for which we can all strive. He may have been a reluctant hero, but these qualities, to me, are exactly what make Neil Armstrong heroic.
That, and the fact that he was from Ohio (just kidding)!
The author posing with a statue of Neil Armstrong (with model airplane fittingly in hand) on a bench in front of the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio, November 2021. / Photo courtesy of Donna Braden.
Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.
Ohio, 20th century, 1960s, travel, space, popular culture, flying, by Donna R. Braden, aviators, airplanes
1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings Trading Card
This Cincinnati Red Stockings trading card, issued by Peck & Snyder in 1869, is one of the earliest baseball cards. / THF94408
What does an old baseball card tell us about life in the United States? This baseball card was issued by Peck & Snyder, a New York sporting goods store. It features a team photo of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. This card is one of the earliest baseball cards, and in many ways, it marks the emergence of the modern game as a national pastime.
Since the 1840s, baseball had been evolving rapidly from a game for children to one for gentlemen. The grown-ups soon imposed structure and standardization on the largely improvisational kids’ game. Baseball clubs formed for recreation and exercise, and friendly competition between clubs was soon part of the mix. Following the end of the Civil War, that friendly competition became more intense. Strong rivalries developed between local baseball clubs; gradually, playing for sport was replaced by playing to win. Clubs began to recruit better players. They cast nets that extended well beyond their communities and quietly offered top players various enticements to play, including jobs and cash. The best ball players gained celebrity status and came to be known far and wide. Newspapers covered their exploits, fanning the flames of "baseball fever" across the country. The spread of railroads allowed clubs to play games farther away from home.
The stage was set for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.
The Cincinnati Red Stockings are one of the legendary teams of baseball. Harry Wright, who played for several New York clubs before the Civil War, saw the business opportunity in baseball as a spectator sport. In 1869, Wright built a club around a nucleus of himself, his brother George, and several other strong players from teams from the eastern United States. Backed by Cincinnati investors, the Red Stockings became the first openly professional baseball team. Taking advantage of the opening of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the Red Stockings embarked on a coast-to-coast national tour, covering 12,000 miles and playing before over 200,000 spectators. They were unbeaten in more than 70 games over two seasons, finally losing to the Brooklyn Atlantics in June 1870.
The exploits of the Red Stockings did much to popularize baseball around the nation and demonstrated that professional baseball teams could be an economic success. Major League Baseball marks its start with the Red Stockings’ national tour of 1869. The team lasted only five years (1866–1871), but Harry and George Wright went on to form the Boston Red Stockings (which eventually became the Boston-Milwaukee-Atlanta Braves) and are members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Andrew Peck, founder of Peck & Snyder, signed the reverse of this Cincinnati Red Stockings trading card. Peck & Snyder's offerings included a wide range of recreational items, from baseball equipment to accordions to magic tricks. / THF94409
Peck & Snyder was Manhattan's first sporting goods store. Founded by Andrew Peck, who got his start in 1865 making baseballs, Peck & Snyder is credited with starting the first baseball card series when the store pasted advertisements on the back of team photographs, including the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the Chicago White Stockings, the Boston Lowells, the Brooklyn Atlantics, the New York Mutuals, and the Philadelphia Athletics. Along with brewers, hotel keepers, and transit companies, sporting goods makers knew that baseball was good for business.
In this card, we can see the emergence of baseball as a true national pastime—and as a business. Here was a New York store, creating a trade card with a Cincinnati team on it. The example now in the collections of The Henry Ford was important enough that it was framed—reflecting the celebrity status of the players it depicted and, perhaps, the rooting interests of its owner.
Jim McCabe is former Curator and Collections Manager at The Henry Ford. This post originally ran in May 2008 as part of our “Pic of the Month” series. It was updated for the blog by Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.
Ohio, 19th century, 1860s, sports, popular culture, by Saige Jedele, by Jim McCabe, baseball
"The Busy World" Automaton
I was about nine years old when I first saw it. My family and I were visiting Henry Ford Museum when I spotted “The Busy World”—an intriguingly detailed and well-populated automaton displayed along the museum’s Street of Shops displays. I was entranced. “The Busy World” would remain among my most vivid memories of this visit. Little did I know that many years later I would be involved in further research on this fascinating, whimsical object.
An automaton is a non-electric moving machine that performs a predetermined set of operations. With approximately 300 moving figures, “The Busy World” automaton is a kind of mechanized diorama with six individual platforms powered by gears, belts, and pulleys. When the automaton is cranked, the figures go into motion.
1869 Beers Atlas map of Delaware County, New York. / Image courtesy of the Delaware County Historical Association
Delaware County in upstate New York—where “The Busy World” was likely built and spent much of its working life—was a place of farms and small villages during the 19th century. The wagon's lively, hand-cranked animations would have had tremendous popular appeal for adults and children alike at country fairs and small exhibitions.
“The Busy World” features six different animated scenes. Click on the links under the scenes below to see those images in our Digital Collections, where you can zoom in on the details.
Left section of “The Busy World.” / THF187276, detail
At the upper left, figures perform activities of everyday life, including rocking a baby, getting warm by the stove, chopping food, spinning thread, churning butter, and sharpening a tool.
In the scene at lower left, people attend a ballroom dance while musicians play. At the left of the dance scene are caricatured figures of African Americans. This “Busy World” scene reflects not only the activities of the time period but also the racism of the era.
Center section of “The Busy World.” / THF187277, detail
The scene at upper center shows men making rakes and grain cradles in a factory. Delaware County had at least one rake factory. During the early 19th century, New York was the grain belt of the United States. Wooden rakes were essential tools on farms.
Biblical scene from “The Busy World.” / THF125152
At lower center, a small revolving “stage” features eight Biblical stories.
Right section of “The Busy World.” / THF187278, detail
At upper right, soldiers in uniform promenade with ladies.
The scene at lower right features a regiment of soldiers parading in formation to the “sounds” of a military band.
“The Busy World” Comes to The Henry Ford
“The Busy World” came to The Henry Ford in 1963. The museum purchased the automaton from Janos and Mary Williams of Stone Henge Antiques in Sidney, New York. Where was it before that? Well, we know part of the story.
The Williamses had acquired “The Busy World” from a man named David Smith. About 1944, David Smith (1923–2002) saw an ad in a Walton, New York, newspaper offering “The Busy World” for sale: “Will sell cheap, if sold this week, ONE busy world.” Twenty-one-year-old Smith, who lived in nearby Delhi, New York, couldn’t resist. He drove the 17 miles to Walton to take a look. Amazed and delighted with what he saw, Smith purchased the automaton with his own savings, over the objections of his family. For the first seven years that he owned it, Smith stored “The Busy World” in his family’s barn in Delhi. David Smith got it to run, at least sporadically.
It wasn’t until September 1951 that “The Busy World” once again had a public showing. David Smith’s mother had offered the family barn to the Delaware County Horticultural Society as a place to hold their annual Harvest Show. “The Busy World” delighted local people who came to see the choice vegetables, flower arrangements, and potted plants on display there. Some of those attending recalled 30 or so years before when the automaton had appeared at county fairs in the area.
Next stop for “The Busy World”? David Smith opened an antique store in his hometown of Delhi, where he displayed the automaton. The name of the shop? Busy World Antiques.
David Hoy Takes “The Busy World” on the Road
“The Busy World” platforms exhibited in an unidentified location, probably in the early 20th century. An advertising banner hangs above—one that may date from the late 1860s or 1870s. / THF125153
David Smith had purchased “The Busy World” from Elizabeth Hoy Thomas (1874–1949). She was the daughter of David Hoy (1848–1934), the man who exhibited “The Busy World” at local fairs and carnivals at the turn of the 20th century. According to David Smith, Elizabeth Hoy Thomas told him that “The Busy World” took 17 years to build and was constructed by two men—one carved the figures and the other assembled the machinery.
David Hoy’s 1934 obituary recalled Hoy’s yearly exhibitions of the “World at Work” or “Busy World” automaton at local fairs. Hoy is said to have charged five or ten cents to see “The Busy World” in motion. David Hoy exhibited “The Busy World” regularly until the mid-1910s, and then for one last time at the Walton Armory in late 1933. After his death the following year, the automaton remained in a shed at Hoy’s daughter’s home in Walton. She placed the newspaper ad offering it for sale about ten years later—the ad seen by young David Smith.
These tickets were found in the wagon. They appear to date between 1890 and 1910 and may have been used as “The Busy World” made the rounds of country fairs and carnivals in the latter portion of its career. In Latin, androides means “resembling a man,” and was used during the 19th century to describe an automaton resembling a human being in form and movement. / THF187284
Looking for Answers
We had many unanswered questions about “The Busy World.”
Curatorial research volunteer Gil Gallagher worked many months to dig up some answers, trolling census records and countless newspapers online. Ray LaFever, archivist at the Delaware County Historical Association, lent his research skills and familiarity with Delaware County history to the quest. Here’s what their research turned up.
When they sold it, antique dealers Janos and Mary Williams mistakenly told The Henry Ford that “The Busy World” had been built by David Hoy. And that he “began it in 1830 and took 17 years to make it.” As we found, not quite so—at least the part about David Hoy. Our research showed that Hoy didn’t build it. He acquired the automaton sometime later.
The general dates given for the construction of “The Busy World” appear to be correct. The figures and objects shown in the scenes reflect the era of the 1830s—including the women’s fashions, the Franklin heating stove (upper left section), and the serpent, a musical instrument (lower right section).
Therefore, David Hoy couldn’t have made it. Hoy was born in Bovina in Delaware County—but not until 1848. His family moved to Iowa when he was ten. By the mid-1870s, Hoy returned to Delaware County, where he married and had three children. During the following decades, he would make his living as a farmer, carpenter, stone mason, and teamster. Hoy must have acquired “The Busy World” sometime after he returned to Delaware County as an adult. (A 1905 newspaper article noted that the automaton was “now run by a Walton man, David Hoy,” so someone else probably toured it before Hoy.) The wagon that now carries “The Busy World” was a later addition—one likely added by Hoy, who mounted the automaton figures and machinery in the wagon to make it easier to transport. (One newspaper article mentions that the automaton platforms were originally displayed in a tent.)
So, we found some answers—yet questions remain.
Was the automaton originally called “The Busy World”? It seems that it may have acquired that title in the late-19th or early-20th century, since it is not mentioned on the banner or tickets.
And, despite all our efforts, the identities of the original makers of “The Busy World”—whoever these talented individuals were—remain a mystery for now.
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Sophia Kloc, Office Administrator for Historical Resources at The Henry Ford, for editorial preparation assistance with this post.
20th century, New York, 19th century, research, popular culture, making, by Jeanine Head Miller, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford