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Pictorial map showing building locations with legend (contains text)Greenfield Village map, 1951. / THF133294


Greenfield Village may just look like a lot of buildings to some, but each building tells stories of people. When I wrote The Henry Ford Official Guidebook, it really hit me how unique and one-of-a-kind Greenfield Village is. I wanted to share several stories I found particularly interesting about Greenfield Village.

Researching Building Stories


Whenever we research a Village building, we usually start with archival material—looking at sources like census records, account books, store invoices (like the one below, related to Dr. Howard’s Office), and old photographs—to give us authentic accounts about our subjects’ lives. Here are some examples.

Invoice with printed and handwritten text
1881 invoice for Dr. Howard. / THF620460

At Daggett Farmhouse, Samuel Daggett’s account book showed that he not only built houses but also dug stones for the community schoolhouse; made shingles for local people’s houses; made chairs, spinning wheels, coffins, and sleds; and even pulled teeth! If you are interested in learning more about how our research influenced the interpretation at Daggett, along with four other Village buildings, check out this blog post.

Man wearing historic clothing walks past simple gray wooden house
Daggett Farmhouse, photographed by Michelle Andonian. / THF54173

For Dr. Howard’s Office, we looked at old photographs, family reminiscences, the doctor’s daily record of patients and what he prescribed for them, his handwritten receipt (recipe) book of remedies, and invoices of supplies and dried herbs he purchased. You can read more about the history of Dr. Alonson Howard and his office in this blog post.

Page with hand-written cursive text
Page from Dr. Howard’s receipt book. / THF620470

For J.R. Jones General Store, we used a range of primary sources, from local census records to photographs of the building on its original site (like the one below) to account books documenting purchases of store stock from similar general stores. You can read more about the history of J.R. Jones General Store in this blog post.

Black-and-white photo of two-story wooden building
Photo of J.R. Jones General Store on its original site. / THF255033

Urbanization and Industrialization Seen through Greenfield Village Buildings


Many Greenfield Village buildings were acquired because of Henry Ford’s interests. But some give us the opportunity to look at larger trends in American life, especially related to urbanization and industrialization.

Engelbert Grimm sold clocks and watches to Detroit-area customers, including Henry Ford, in the 1880s. But Grimm Jewelry Store also demonstrates that in an increasingly urban and industrial nation, people were expected to know the time and be on time—all the time.

Two-story brick building with many decorative elements
Grimm Jewelry Store in Greenfield Village. / THF1947

Related to this, notice the public clock in the Detroit Publishing Company photograph below of West 23rd Street, New York City, about 1908. (Clue: Look down the street, above the horse-drawn carriage, and you’ll see a large street clock on a stand.) You can read more about the emergence of “clock time” in this blog post.

Street scene, with tall buildings, carriages, and pedestrians
THF204886

Smiths Creek Depot is here because of its connection with Thomas Edison. But this building also shows us that railroad depots at the time were more than simply the place to catch a train—they were also bustling places where townspeople connected with the outside world. Below you can see a photo of Smiths Creek in Greenfield Village, as well asthe hustle and bustle of railroad depots in a wonderful image of the Union Pacific Depot in Cheyenne, Wyoming, from about 1910.

Small brick building with arched windows and decorative eaves and bunting
Smiths Creek Depot in Greenfield Village. / THF1873

Postcard depicting large stone building with clocktower next to railroad tracks; people stand on platform between
Union Pacific Depot. / THF204972

Henry Ford brought Sarah Jordan Boarding House to Greenfield Village because it was home to many of Thomas Edison’s workers. It was also one of three residences wired for Edison’s new electrical lighting system in December 1879—and it is the only one still in existence. In the bigger picture, the mushrooming of boarding houses at this time was particularly due to a shortage of affordable housing in the growing urban-industrial centers, which were experiencing a tremendous influx of new wage laborers.

Two-story yellow wooden building with white picket fence in front
Sarah Jordan Boarding House in Greenfield Village. / THF2007

Black-and-white photo of two-story wooden house with people on porch and standing by and in front; also contains text
Sarah Jordan Boarding House on its original site in Menlo Park, New Jersey, in 1879. / THF117242

Luther Burbank and Henry Ford


Other buildings in Greenfield Village have strong ties to Henry’s personal relationships. Henry Ford met horticulturalist Luther Burbank in connection with the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. That year, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and a few other companions traveled there to attend Edison Day. Luther Burbank welcomed them to the area.

Round medallion with text and image of a woman holding a flag, a bear, and buildings
Panama-Pacific International Exposition Souvenir Medal. / THF154006

Afterward, the group followed Burbank up on an invitation to visit him at his experimental garden in Santa Rosa, California. Edison and Ford had a grand time there. Burbank later wrote, “The ladies said we acted like three schoolboys, but we didn’t care.”

Three men in suits sit on steps next to an ivy-covered wall
Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank, and Henry Ford at Burbank's home in Santa Rosa, California. / THF126337

After that visit, the original group, plus tire magnate Harvey Firestone, drove by automobile to the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego. During that trip, Edison proposed a camping trip for Ford, Firestone, and himself. The Vagabonds camping trips, taking place over the next nine years, were born!

Several cars in a field with people by and near them
“Vagabonds” camping trip. / THF117234

Henry Ford was so inspired by Luther Burbank’s character, accomplishments, and “learning by doing” approach that he brought to Greenfield Village a modified version of the Luther Burbank Birthplace and a restored version of the Luther Burbank Garden Office from Santa Rosa.

Small gray wooden building with arched windows and door
Luther Burbank Garden Office in Greenfield Village. / THF1887

Greenfield Village Buildings and World’s Fair Connections


Greenfield Village has several other direct connections to World’s Fairs of the 1930s. At Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition of 1933–1934, for example, an “industrialized American barn” with soybean exhibits later became the William Ford Barn in Greenfield Village.

Page with image of barn and text
THF222009

In a striking Albert Kahn–designed building, Ford Motor Company boasted the largest and most expensive corporate pavilion of the same Chicago fair. It drew some 75% of visitors to the fair that year. After the fair, the central part of this building was transported from Chicago to Dearborn, where it became the Ford Rotunda. It was used as a hospitality center until it burned in a devastating fire in 1962.

Page with image of building with "FORD" signage and text "Ford at the Fair"
Ford at the Fair Brochure, showing the building section that would eventually become the Ford Rotunda. / THF210966

Crenellated round building with tiered top with large "FORD" sign
Ford Rotunda in Dearborn after a 1953 renovation. / THF142018

At the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936, a model soybean oil extractor was demonstrated. This imposing object is now prominently displayed in the Soybean Lab Agricultural Gallery in Greenfield Village.

Person in suit holding microphone stands next to a piece of equipment under text on a wall
A presenter at the Texas Centennial Exposition demonstrates how the soybean oil extraction process works with a model of a soybean oil extractor that now resides in the Soybean Lab in Greenfield Village. / THF222337

At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Henry Ford promoted his experimental school system in a 1/3-scale version of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Machine Shop in Greenfield Village. Students made model machine parts and demonstrated the use of the machines.

Boy stands at machine in room full of machines
Boys from Henry Ford's Edison Institute Schools operate miniature machine replicas in a scale model of the Menlo Park Machine Shop during the 1939-40 New York World's Fair. / THF250326

Village Buildings That Influenced Famous Men


Several people whose stories are represented in Greenfield Village were influenced by the places in which they grew up and worked, like the Wright Brothers, shown below on the porch of their Dayton, Ohio, home, now the Wright Home in the Village, around 1910.

Two men in suits sit on porch steps
THF123601

In addition to practicing law in Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln traveled to courthouses like the Logan County Courthouse in Greenfield Village to try court cases for local folk. The experiences he gained in these prepared him for his future role as U.S. president (read more about this in this “What If” story).

Man in suit sits in chair in front of blue curtain; also contains text
THF110836

Enterprising young Tom Edison took a job as a newsboy on a local railway, where one of the stops was Smiths Creek Station. This and other experiences on that railway contributed to the man Thomas Edison would become—curious, entrepreneurial, interested in new technologies, and collaborative.

Black-and-white photo of seated young boy in hat, scarf, and jacket
Young Thomas Edison as a newsboy and candy butcher. / THF116798

Henry Ford, the eldest of six children, was born and raised in the farmhouse pictured below, now known as Ford Home in Greenfield Village. Henry hated the drudgery of farm work. He spent his entire life trying to ease farmers’ burdens and make their lives easier.

White wooden building with white picket fence in front
THF1938

Henry J. Heinz


Henry J. Heinz (the namesake of Heinz House in Greenfield Village) wasn’t just an inventor or an entrepreneur or a marketing genius: he was all of these things. Throughout the course of his career, he truly changed the way we eat and the way we think about what we eat.

Portrait of seated man in suit with mustache and muttonchops
H.J. Heinz, 1899. / THF291536

Beginning with horseradish, Heinz expanded his business to include many relishes and pickles—stressing their purity and high quality at a time when other processed foods did not share these characteristics. The sample display case below highlights the phrase “pure food products.”

Wooden display holding four glass bowls and a sign with text
Heinz Sample Display Case. / THF174348

Heinz had an eye for promotion and advertising unequaled among his competitors. This included signs, billboards, special exhibits, and, as shown below, the specially constructed Heinz Ocean Pier, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which opened in 1898.

Black-and-white photo of people walking along a pier
Advertising process photograph showing Heinz Ocean Pier. / THF117096

The pickle pin, for instance, was a wildly successful advertising promotion. Heinz first offered a free pickle-shaped watch fob at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. At some point, a pin replaced the watch fob, and the rest is history!

Pin in the shape of a green pickle with a red-and-white can of soup dangling from it; also contains text
Heinz Pickle Pin "Heinz Homestyle Soups." / THF158839

By the time of H.J. Heinz’s death in 1919, his company had grown into one of the largest food processing businesses in the nation. His company was known for its innovative food processing, packaging, advertising, and enlightened business practices. You can learn more about Heinz House and its journey to Greenfield Village here.

Even More Fun Facts about Greenfield Village Buildings


Most of the time, we focus on big themes that tell American history in relatable ways. When we choose a theme to focus on, we inevitably leave out interesting little-known facts. For example, Cohen Millinery was a dry goods store, a candy store, a Kroger grocery, and a restaurant during its lifetime!

Black-and-white photo of street scene, focused on two-story brick building with business windows on first floor
Cohen Millinery at its original site. / THF243213

Surprisingly, for most of its life prior to its incorporation into Greenfield Village, Logan County Courthouse was a private residence. Many different families had lived there, including Mr. and Mrs. Elijah Watkins, the last caretakers before Henry Ford acquired the building. They are depicted below, along with an interior shot of one of their rooms when Henry Ford’s agents went to look at the building.

Woman and man sit on the edge of a porch
Mr. and Mrs. Watkins. / THF238624

Room containing piano, table, sofa, among other items
Interior of Logan County Courthouse at its original site. / THF238596

In the 1820s, eastern Ohio farmers realized huge profits from the fine-grade wool of purebred Merino sheep. But by the 1880s, competition had made raising Merino sheep unprofitable. Benjamin Firestone, the previous owner of Firestone Farmhouse and father of Harvey Firestone, however, stuck with the tried and true. Today, you can visit our wrinkly friends grazing one of several pastures in the Village.

Sheep standing in straw or hay in front of a wooden wall
Merino sheep at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village in 2014. / THF119103

We have several different breeds of animals at the Village, but some of our most memorable were built, not bred. The Herschell-Spillman Carousel is a favorite amongst visitors. Many people think that all carousel animals were hand-carved. But the Herschell-Spillman Company, the makers of our carousel, created quantities of affordable carousel animals through a shop production system, using machinery to rough out parts. You can read more on the history of our carousel in this blog post.

Carousel containing a variety of animals in dome-ceilinged building
THF5584

And there you have it! Remember, odd and anachronistic as it might seem at times—the juxtaposed time periods, the buildings from so many different places, the specific people highlighted—there’s only one Greenfield Village!

Three people in historic garb wave from the doorway and yard of a gray wooden building with a wooden fence
Presenters at Daggett Farmhouse. / THF16450


Donna R. Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public 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.

#THFCuratorChat, Wright Brothers, world's fairs, Thomas Edison, research, railroads, Luther Burbank, Logan County Courthouse, J.R. Jones General Store, Henry Ford, Heinz, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, Ford Motor Company, farm animals, Dr. Howard's Office, Daggett Farmhouse, Cohen Millinery, by Donna R. Braden, archives, agriculture, Abraham Lincoln

These days, most people may not be familiar with the interior of a rail car, let alone set foot inside one that is 100 years old. For those of you who have never been inside a railcar, it is very tight quarters—both for people and also for photography equipment and lights. So, when photographer Rudy Ruzicska and myself were tasked with getting new images of the interior of the 1921 Fair Lane, Henry Ford’s private railroad car (now located in the Railroads exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation), we knew we were going to have to get creative—and close!

Man standing on back platform of railcar in large room, with camera and light in foreground
Photographer Rudy Ruzicska setting up lights for our first exterior shot of the railcar…

Back platform of rail car in large room
…and the final shot. / THF186261

We knew that this was going to be a challenge, but a fun one. The largest rooms were at the front and the back of the car, with narrow hallways and small bedrooms between—and even smaller bathrooms! We captured as many angles as we could within such small spaces.

Interior space with coved ceiling, containing a man bending over a light, with other lights and a camera on a tripod in the space
Rudy again, setting up lights for our first interior shot of the lounge….

Interior space with blue upholstered furniture and wood paneling
…one of the resulting shots…. / THF186262

Interior space with blue upholstered furniture and wood paneling
…and another final shot. / THF186264

Back view of woman at camera on tripod pointing toward a narrow interior hallway
Digital Imaging Specialist Jillian Ferraiuolo (me!) setting up the shot of the hallway…

Narrow wood-paneled hallway with arched ceiling
…and the final image. / THF186265

Woman stands in tight corner of wood-paneled room behind a camera on a tripod
Jillian again, setting up the shot of the office…

Interior of wood-paneled room containing a wooden desk
…and the final image. / THF186266

For most photos, we use a Canon 5D Mark III camera tethered to a MacBook laptop. While we did use that camera for this photo shoot, we knew we would need something with a wider range to capture the small rooms. A fisheye lens is very convex, and because of that shape it allows the camera to capture a larger area. While these lenses are great, their downside is the distortion they create because of the curve of the glass. Since our job in the Photo Studio is, at the core, documentation, we want to show our artifacts exactly as they are, without that distortion, so to capture these small rooms we needed something more.

Our solution was to use another tool already in our toolbox, the Ricoh Theta 360 camera. This small camera is operated via cellphone and app and uses two fisheye lenses to capture a space. The app control allows us to preview the 360-degree image and remotely trigger the camera (so we can make sure we’re out of the shot). The app then stitches together the images to create a full 360-degree interactive image. This is how we were able to capture the interiors of the rooms completely, including the nooks and crannies of these small spaces where our Canon camera simply couldn’t reach.

Small camera on a tripod in a room in front of striped upholstered seating
The Theta camera, mounted on a stand, ready to capture the interior of the lounge. See the 360-degree image (and the others we took) here!

We captured all of the rooms (and bathrooms!) this way, with the Theta, as well as with the Canon camera, to make sure everything was thoroughly documented. Though this certainly led us into a few tight spaces….

Woman wearing mask behind camera on tripod in a stainless steel room containing a toilet
Man stands with hand next to knob in a stainless steel restroom containing a sink
Jillian and Rudy doing their best to capture the very small main bathroom and shower off the Fair Lane’s main hallway…

Small, stainless steel restroom containing a toilet, sink, and mirror
Stainless steel shower area with sink outside
…and the final images of the bathroom. / THF186274, THF186275

As photographers of the wide variety of artifacts at The Henry Ford, our job is certainly never boring, but when faced with unique requests like the Fair Lane, we get to have a little more fun than usual and really test the limits of our creativity and ingenuity.

I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at how we photographed Henry Ford’s private railcar. Be sure to check out some of the new images on the artifact card below, or click through to our Digital Collections to explore all of the images and 360-degree interiors! And read more about the Fair Lane, its travels, and its history in celebration of its 100th birthday this year.

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digitization, digital collections, railroads, Henry Ford Museum, photographs, by Jillian Ferraiuolo, Fair Lane railcar, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, photography

Long drab-green railcar, in large room with wood floor
Henry Ford's Private Railroad Car "Fair Lane," 1921 / THF186260


Just as many of today’s captains of industry and business leaders consider an executive jet to be a crucial part of their tool kit, so in the period prior to widespread air travel was the railroad business car considered an essential amenity. There are two basic categories of business cars, each with their equivalents in the modern world of business jets: the private car (at its most grandiose taking the form of “a palace on wheels”), owned by a wealthy individual or large corporation, and the chartered car, a well-appointed business car available for hire by companies or individuals as needed.

Business cars were attached at the rear of regularly scheduled passenger trains, according to arrangements made ahead of time with railroad companies. While the reliance on existing timetables and the inevitable complexities associated with being switched from one train to another en route might seem cumbersome and time-consuming to us, the opportunity to conduct business on the go, with food to order and a place to sleep, all in fully-staffed, well-appointed surroundings, made sense from a business standpoint: Work was accomplished, decisions were made, and the individuals concerned arrived in a better state than if they had been prey to the pitfalls of the ordinary traveler.

Interior of railcar with wooden walls, table, and chairs
The interior of the Fair Lane, restored by The Henry Ford to as closely as possible resemble its appearance during Henry Ford’s ownership, is restrained, given Ford’s wealth. / THF186280

This car, Henry Ford’s Fair Lane, was one of the largest passenger railcars built when it was completed by Pullman in 1921. It is a private car, and as such reflects the taste of its owner, one of the wealthiest men on Earth. Paradoxically, Ford’s restrained taste and sense of occasion (think of the scale and finish of his house, given his wealth) resulted in a car that had more in common with the lower-key chartered cars—vehicles that incorporated the sumptuousness of the boardroom rather than the chairman’s own particular taste.

Even more paradoxically, traffic records reveal that the most extensive use to which Fair Lane was put was luxury transportation for Clara Ford and her close friends on shopping trips to New York City.

Explore many more images of the exterior and interior of the Fair Lane, including new 360-degree views of its compartments, in our Digital Collections.


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

travel, railroads, Henry Ford Museum, Henry Ford, Fair Lane railcar

Large black locomotive in large room with wood floor and arched ceiling

Allegheny Steam Locomotive, 1941. / THF17920

Off at the back of the museum’s Made in America: Power exhibit is a rangy apparatus—a water pump made mostly of wood, mounted on a granite plinth. Its business end, a clanking group of wrought- and cast-iron components, represents a beginning point for the technology seen in full flower in the Allegheny locomotive in the Railroads exhibit. Institutionally, we are fortunate in having both the world’s oldest surviving steam engine and one of the most advanced examples of reciprocating steam technology as applied to railroads.

Brick, wood, and stone apparatus in large room
The Newcomen Engine, circa 1750—the world’s oldest surviving steam engine. / THF110472

The importance of the Allegheny locomotive—both institutionally and historically—is hard to overstate. It is both straightforward and paradoxical: an overwhelming machine that has great human appeal; close at hand and yet impossible to fully take in; a blunt instrument of industrial efficiency enshrined on a teakwood floor in an approachable museum setting. In short, it is both plainly stated and chameleon-like—a perfect museum artifact.

Historically, it represents a technology played to the limit of tight physical constraints imposed by a railroad’s right-of-way (sharpness of curves, size of adjacent structures, axle loading of track and bridges). The Allegheny represents a masterfully trim packaging of all the components necessary to make an efficient steam locomotive—a technology pushed to a particular limit with spectacular results.

The refinements embodied by the Allegheny were the result of the Lima Locomotive Company’s chief mechanical engineer, William Woodard, and his relentless pursuit of “superpower.” His success was borne out by designs that demonstrated a 25 to 30 percent increase in efficiency—success that resulted in a steam design revolution that spread to all American locomotive manufacturers.

Learn more about the Allegheny in our What If story and on our Popular Research Topic page, and find out more about the Newcomen Engine and how it came into our collection on our blog.


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

travel, technology, railroads, power, Henry Ford Museum

Black rail car on railroad tracks

Ingersoll-Rand Number 90 Diesel-Electric Locomotive, 1926 / THF67890

Despite its virtually complete lack of visual charm (not a shred of rugged elegance here; this is the classic “box on wheels”), the Ingersoll-Rand Diesel-Electric Locomotive on display in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is actually one of the most significant items in our railroad collections. This engine was part of a calculated and savvy business move by Ingersoll-Rand (partnering with General Electric and American Locomotive) to produce a new locomotive type to challenge the steam locomotive—a deliberate attempt to break into the massive railroad market using internal combustion technology. While Ingersoll-Rand never really gained a foothold in the field, its venture played a successful part in the practical demonstration of this new form of motive power.

Hindsight suggests certain inevitability in the demise of the steam locomotive—an inflexible and inefficient mechanism compared with the modular, easily deployed workhorse diesel. From a 1920s perspective, however, the diesel had little going for it. Overly complex and unproven, it seemed a minor interloper in an industry with so much invested—both monetarily and intellectually—in what was then a mature and refined technology. Even then, however, there were factors starting to work against the all-pervasive steam locomotive, specifically the mid-1920s moves by New York City and Chicago to ban the use of steam locomotives within their city limits on account of pollution concerns—fertile soil for the growth of alternative technologies.

Black-and-white photo of a boxy railcar on railroad tracks
Ingersoll-Rand's Diesel-Electric Locomotive #90 in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1926. Ingersoll-Rand used the locomotive in the railyard at its Phillipsburg plant for some 40 years. Donated to The Henry Ford in 1970, the locomotive received a cosmetic restoration in 1983. / THF271022

There is a touch of David and Goliath about this artifact when viewed in the context of the sheer numbers of steam locomotives then in service. This and other units like it were the unassuming thin end of a wedge that was to revolutionize the railroad scene. In 1925, there was just one diesel to 63,612 steam locomotives in mainline service in the United States; by 1945, there were 3,816 diesels to 38,853 steam locomotives; and by 1960, the final year for steam on Class I railroads here, there were 28,278 diesels to 261 steam locomotives.

Explore our Ingersoll-Rand locomotive and the transition from steam to internal combustion power further here.


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

technology, railroads, power, Henry Ford Museum

Red caboose with text on it sitting on railroad tracks

Detroit Toledo & Ironton (DT&I) Railroad Caboose, 1925 / THF80594

Most people imagine the engineer ensconced high in the cab of the powerful locomotive to be the person in charge of the train. But while the engineer might be the most visible of railroad employees, whether at the controls of a lowly freight train or a glamorous express, it was the conductor that the engineer answered to.

The conductor made sure that the train was complete and protected. If in charge of a freight train, the conductor tracked all the material on that train and ensured that each car was securely fastened. If in charge of a passenger train, the conductor made sure that passengers had tickets and that they were in the proper cars. In both instances, the conductors and their staff (brakemen on freight trains; assistant conductors on passenger trains) ensured that the brake systems were functioning correctly and the cars and all hookups were properly coupled. It was the engineer’s job to ensure that the movement of the train was trouble-free, but it was the conductor’s job to ensure the safety and integrity of the train.

On a freight train, the caboose provided conductors with a base to undertake all their duties. It is ironic that both the lowly caboose and the well-appointed private car should find themselves at the end of the train, because, despite the dissimilarity in their appointments, their function was rather similar: They were both homes away from home and mobile offices. The caboose provided the conductor with a place to do the books, to cook, and, on long stopovers in rail yards, to allow some catch-up on sleep. Along with a stove, bunks, and a desk, the caboose was outfitted with a combination of bay windows and cupola to allow the conductor and brakemen to observe both their own train and others on the line. A huge proportion of the work undertaken on railroads was based on constant and well-informed vigilance—looking for evidence of damage or overheating, making sure that loads hadn’t shifted, and ensuring equipment hadn’t loosened. Something as simple as an untethered chain or unlocked door could escalate into a life-threatening situation. The caboose was also equipped with a large complement of tools to effect in-service repairs.

Interior of railcar, with stove, desk and chair, and shelving visible
Interior of a Railroad Caboose, Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad, February 1926 / THF286542

The “little red caboose” still looms large in the public’s imagination, but the caboose was not always red. It all depended on the policy of the owning railroad. Today, the caboose—and the freight conductor—are largely things of the past, superseded by computer monitoring and bookkeeping.


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

travel, railroads, Henry Ford Museum

Black railcar with scooped-out front painted red, sitting on tracks in a large room
Canadian Pacific Snowplow, 1923 / THF442


Whether they instantly recognize it as a snowplow or simply admire it for its immense curvaceous sculptural presence, visitors of all ages connect readily with The Henry Ford’s Canadian Pacific Snowplow, on exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

Brute force seems to play a large role in many areas of railroading—in sheer pulling power, in machine aesthetics (or lack thereof), or in a variety of equipment assembly operations—but it is the battle with snow that offers the purest example of the use of unmediated force in the world of railroading. Pushed by as many as eight locomotives, hitting drifts at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour, and supported by “pull-out” locomotives, commissary cars, and bunk cars for maybe hundreds of shovel-duty men, snowplows were crucial to railroads whose routes extended into the high passes of the Rocky Mountains or Sierra Nevadas.

Wooden seats painted green, sitting on wooden platform with equipment and three small windows in front of them
Crew seats in the cupola of the Canadian Pacific Snowplow / THF158327

The operation of these heavy but rakish-looking machines was actually quite complex: Crews stationed in the cupola deployed pneumatically powered wings and rail-clearing forward edges according to changing conditions and the proximity of grade crossing timbers or signals; judgment was called for when attacking major drifts. Derailments, loss of life, and damage to equipment could result if crews diverged from tried-and-true strategy.

The snowplow provides evidence of our continuing battle with natural forces and offers a glimpse into one of the most arduous tasks associated with railroading. “Bucking” snow was—and remains—dangerous work, taking place in areas where this struggle could swiftly turn from straightforward railroad difficulties (very few tasks associated with railroading are pleasant) to a life-and-death struggle.

Find out even more about our Canadian Pacific Snowplow here.


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

winter, travel, railroads, Henry Ford Museum

Army green railroad car on railroad tracks

Detroit & Mackinac Railway Combination Car, 1901-1905 / THF80600

Combination cars were designed to carry passengers and baggage/freight. Although many were built for mainline express trains, they were particularly attractive on branch lines or other areas where passenger traffic was light and the need for flexibility was high.

There was no standardized layout for combines—they were made for railroads in many configurations according to specific needs. Many combines were cars that had been modified from earlier cars by their owners—an approach that carries over to virtually all railroad equipment, subject as it was to constant modification, improvement, and improvisation according to the changing needs of the railroad business.

The Detroit & Mackinac Railway combination car pictured above, which you can also see in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, has baggage, parlor, and smoking areas, and might have been converted from a plain baggage/parlor combine.


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

travel, railroads, Michigan, Henry Ford Museum

Locomotive on railroad tracksBaldwin "Consolidation" Steam Locomotive, 1909 / THF91583

Locomotives like the 1909 Baldwin “Consolidation” Steam Locomotive, currently on exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, were designed to haul heavy freight trains at relatively slow speeds: a perfect example of the kind of anonymous motive power designed to haul apparently unremarkable material. This example was built for the Bessemer and Lake Erie (B&LE), an Andrew Carnegie–owned railroad connecting the port of Conneaut, Ohio, on Lake Erie with Bessemer on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Traffic on the B&LE consisted almost exclusively of southbound iron ore trains and northbound coal trains—a great example of an apparently modest connector railroad playing a limited but utterly crucial role in a nationally important heavy industry.

The B&LE locomotive used a 2-8-0 wheel arrangement—two pilot wheels and eight driving wheels, but no trailing wheels under the cab. One of the first locomotives of this type was ordered in 1866 by Pennsylvania’s Lehigh and Mahony Railroad and named Consolidation. In time, that engine’s formal name came to describe any steam locomotive of the 2-8-0 design.

Visually, the B&LE locomotive stands in stark contrast to the “Sam Hill,” just 50 years its senior: no pinstriping to refresh, no bright paintwork to keep clean, no brass to keep polished—in fact, no superfluous details whatsoever. This is practical, brute technology designed for a single purpose, maintenance kept to fundamentals, and aesthetics of no account whatsoever. While its technological origins lie in the confident improvisations of the 19th century, the overall design of locomotives in this period was increasingly informed by a better understanding of scientific principles.


This post is adapted (with additional new material by Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford) from an educational document from The Henry Ford titled “Transportation: Past, Present, and Future—From the Curators.”

 

railroads, Henry Ford Museum, by Matt Anderson

Locomotive on train tracks
Steam Locomotive "Sam Hill," 1858 / THF91565


The “Sam Hill,” on exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, is, in many people’s eyes, an example of the quintessential American locomotive. No argument here—in fact, for this writer it is certainly, along with the Mississippi riverboat, one of the utterly and absolutely quintessential American mechanisms.

Why?

Well, first, it captures a fundamental sense of youthful abandon hardwired into the American character. Locomotives like this were in their day the fastest and most glamorous ways to travel on Earth. The nature of their flamboyance captures a characteristically American engagement with technology’s possibilities—a machine as a canvas for the celebration of ambition, achievement, and a brighter, faster future. The liberal application of gold pinstriping and polished brass—even in some instances the incorporation of landscape scenes and further personalization with antlers and weathervane-like figures—all capture a uniquely American manner of celebrating and owning what was in fact a highly advanced technology.

And second, from a mechanical standpoint, the Sam Hill represents a supremely innovative technology. Its combination of flexibility, light weight, and high power output were the result of a distinctly American set of circumstances. The twisting, grade-heavy nature of our railroads—a situation that arose from the clash between low-investment/fast-return attitudes and American topography and distances—ensured that imported British locomotive technology would end up being transmuted into something entirely new. Locomotives such as the Sam Hill are the direct result of that process.

Two locomotives face each other on a track, with women in period clothing on the platform in front of them
The “Sam Hill” poses with a New York Central diesel locomotive, nearly a century its junior, in Greenfield Village in May 1953. / THF133489

The development of these locomotives did not come about through what we would now consider “rational” research methods; instead, they grew out of hands-on, seat-of-the-pants engineering knowledge. This homespun advanced engineering and humanized high tech is characteristic of, and crucial to, the American industrial experience.

Learn more about the history and innovative engineering of the “Sam Hill” here.


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

travel, technology, railroads, Henry Ford Museum, engineering