Because our collections are so vast and predate the computer age, we are always stumbling across interesting artifacts we weren’t expecting to find. We recently rediscovered a set of eight letters sent to writer Frank Dorrance Hopley from various notable personalities in 1921. Hopley hoped to write an article on the “most thrilling moment” in these men’s lives, and had asked them to share those stories. In the letter shown here, James W. Gerard, Ambassador to Germany during World War I, related that his moment was when “the German Kaiser shook his finger in my face”—a thrilling moment indeed. Unfortunately, many of the rest of the letters we located provide less thrilling—but perhaps more amusing—responses: former president William Taft noted his life had not been thrilling and he therefore could not single out any one moment, and Robert Lansing, Secretary of State during World War I, suggested his most thrilling moments were personal ones he did not care to reveal. Not surprisingly, we couldn’t turn up any evidence that Hopley’s article was ever completed. Visit our Digital Collections to read all the letters, including a momentous answer from Thomas Edison. Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
The Henry Ford was excited to once again welcome author and former Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, along with journalist Lisa McCubbin, to Henry Ford Museum this spring in celebration of his latest book, Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford.
In honor of Mr. Hill's visit to The Henry Ford, Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson put together this overview of the presidential limousines found within on exhibit at Henry Ford Museum. Learn more below.
A presidential parade car provides two things: visibility and security. Those concepts are often at odds. The Henry Ford’s presidential Lincolns illustrate the difficult and changing balance between the chief executive’s need to be seen and need to be safe.
“Sunshine Special,” the 1939 Lincoln Model K most often associated with Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the first parade car specifically modified for presidential use. Coachbuilder Brunn & Company focused more on utility than luxury, deleting armrests for maximum seating capacity and adding wide running boards for Secret Service agents. The car was not armored until Pearl Harbor, when bullet resistant tires, glass and armor plating were installed.
In 1950, Harry S. Truman took delivery of a new Lincoln with a body by Raymond Dietrich, but the car was used most often by successor Dwight D. Eisenhower. Again there was no armor, but in 1954 the limo received the weatherproof plexiglass roof that inspired its nickname, the “Bubbletop.” Security features did not extend much beyond riding steps on the rear bumper and flashing red lights at the front.
Planning for the next car started under Eisenhower, but the 1961 Lincoln Continental limo is forever tied to John F. Kennedy. Once again, armor was not considered necessary, and Kennedy preferred to travel with the top removed whenever possible. But his assassination ended the tradition of open cars. Ford and custom car builder Hess & Eisenhardt rebuilt the 1961 Lincoln with a permanent roof, titanium armor and bullet-resistant glass five layers thick.
The 1972 Lincoln limousine was the first presidential parade car designed and built as an armored vehicle from the start. Security was now of prime importance – a point dramatically underscored when Ronald Reagan suffered an attempt on his life while getting into the limo in 1981.
The Henry Ford’s presidential Lincolns were leased to the White House. As the leases ended, the cars returned to Ford Motor Company and the firm gifted them to the museum. Currently, Cadillac supplies the president’s state cars. Each is custom-built – most recently on truck platforms – and each is typically destroyed at the end of its service life.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Clint Hill is a former Secret Service agent who was in the presidential motorcade on November 22, 1963, as John F. Kennedy was shot. On May 16, 2016, The Henry Ford will host Mr. Hill, who will talk about his work with five presidents: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. While this evening event is sold out, you can still hear some of Mr. Hill’s stories in a video oral history he made at The Henry Ford during an earlier visit in 2013. We’ve just digitized these clips, including one tale of the unusual issues that arise when presidential motorcades are showered with confetti. We’ve gathered all 11 clips in an Expert Set within our Digital Collections for easy viewing.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
If you were born before the mid-1950s, you probably remember with stunning clarity the exact moment you heard that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. You might recall where you were, the time of day, and perhaps even the clothes you were wearing. Psychologists call these exceptionally vivid memories “flashbulb memories,” as if the shocking nature of the event and the extreme emotions elicited by it set off a brain mechanism that “froze” that moment in time like a camera flashbulb illuminating a photographic image.
Today, an assortment of images and first-hand accounts help us recall that singular event on November 22, 1963. But perhaps nothing is as powerful or visceral as encountering the actual car in which President Kennedy was riding that day.
This vehicle began as an idea back in 1957, when the bulbous styling of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1950 “Bubbletop” Lincoln was looking decidedly old-fashioned. President Eisenhower’s “Bubbletop” had also seen hard use, logging over 100,000 miles in its seven-year existence. For the third time (beginning with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1939 “Sunshine Special”), Ford Motor Company was asked to design an up-to-date Lincoln Continental fit for the President. By 1961, when Kennedy’s presidential limousine was finally built, the company had both adopted new razor-edged, slab-sided styling and had just introduced the only four-door convertibles on the market. These sleek, modern features seemed perfectly suited to the ceremonial car for a young, forward-thinking President who had just taken office.
We all have a unique and individual story, whether it started in this country before or after the Civil War, and the collective history of our past is the relevant ingredient that we all share. The social, political, technological, medical and scientific innovations from the Civil War were transformative and vast that serve as the foundation of the many attributes we still benefit from today. As we get ready to celebrate Civil War Remembrance at The Henry Ford, we ask you to join us in honoring all veterans for their sacrifices and achievements in protecting, sustaining, and preserving the promise of the Constitution of the United States for “a more perfect Union.”
Brian Egen is Executive Producer at The Henry Ford.
Guests to Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield Village 2014 may have been surprised to find the Tintype Studio transformed into a living history exhibit for the weekend. The small building was outfitted as a period social club called the Loyal Union League, serving as a Lincoln campaign headquarters for the 1864 presidential race. Last year marked the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection to a second term in office and the exhibit explored how local Union Leagues throughout the country participated in the campaign.
The previous year, The Henry Ford's Executive Producer Brian Egen and Senior Manager of Creative Programs Jim Johnson, along with members of The Petticoat Society (a living history organization), discussed the creation of a special program and interpretative scenario utilizing the Tintype Studio building. This site, because of its proximity to activities taking place at the Pavilion, Town Hall and the Village Green, was a perfect location for visitors to step back in time and experience the excitement and uncertainty of the 1864 election season.
Many people know that The Henry Ford has in its collection the rocking chair in which President Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated. This chair is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum.
But our Lincoln-related collections encompass much more than this rocker. They include materials that relate to such topics as his two presidential campaigns, life before his Presidency, his efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War, his assassination, the public mourning after his death, and the ways in which he has been remembered over time.
The 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination gave us the unique opportunity to assess, study and organize these collections into digital galleries we call “Expert Sets.” Links to these are included below, along with links to five essays written by curators that delve more deeply into some of these topics.
It is fascinating to connect with objects that were a part of Abraham Lincoln’s world. The Henry Ford owns a number of furnishings from Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois, where they lived before Lincoln was elected president.
The Lincoln furniture from their Springfield home tells us about the tastes of the Lincolns in the decades before Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860. Stylistically, the furniture represents the middle-class, early Victorian aesthetic of the 1840s and early 1850s. The Lincolns selected sturdy and comfortable, yet stylish furnishings for their home.