As Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship, part of my job is to select items related to entrepreneurs within our collection to be digitized. Sometimes this calls for additional research to provide context and significance. Searching for the significance of an object or photograph can often feel like detective work. Sometimes we are able to do some sleuthing and find what we are looking for and other times we run out of leads. Recently, while working with the H. J. Heinz Company Records – the first archival collection selected for this project – we had the opportunity to dig deeper into the significance of a notebook and learn more about its owner.
This notebook containing hand-written recipes from the H. J. Heinz company has been on display at the Heinz House in Greenfield Village for the past several years. Upon getting a closer look, we discovered that there was a name written on the outside: Jn Koehrer.
The cover of the notebook states that it belongs to Jn Koehrer.
Who was this Jn (John) Koehrer? Unaware of any immediate connections to H. J. Heinz, we turned to Ancestry.com, where we discovered that John Koehrer (1871-1945) was listed as a foster son of Heinz’s cousin, Frederick Heinz. Census records noted that he worked for a “Pick Co.” – which we assumed was supposed to say “Pickle Co.” – and that his occupation was that of a “pickler” or a “foreman.” So now we have a connection to H. J. Heinz, but what does his notebook have to do with the company history?
A Google search for “‘John Koehrer’ Heinz” led us to our answer. An Architectural and Historical Survey of Muscatine, Iowa, noted that, “On January 29, 1893, the Muscatine Improvement and Manufacturing Company closed the contract with Heinz to build its first plant outside of Pittsburgh… The three-story brick building… Opened in 1894 under the management of John Koehrer.” There it was! – the reason he had a notebook of recipes, and why it was significant to company history, was because he was to manage the new Heinz factory and needed to make sure he could replicate the products.
Handwritten recipe from the notebook for “Chilli Sauce.” Half-way down the page you’ll notice that the recipe calls for “1/2 pound of xxx.” The three x’s can be found in other recipes too and represent a secret ingredient.
Additional research from online newspaper articles allowed us to discover what was primarily produced at the plant – sauerkraut, horseradish, pickles, ketchup, and other tomato products – and we inferred that the recipes within the notebook would have been fairly simple to produce at the factory. From previous conservation and cataloguing reports, we had dated the notebook to around 1890, which fit perfectly into the timeline for John to have used these recipes in Iowa.
With this new information we are now able to more accurately describe the notebook on display and the research we uncovered can be added to our records for future use. When it comes to historical research, you never truly know what you’re going to find. In this digital age, and with more resources at our fingertips than ever before, more hidden gems like this one can be uncovered – a joy to behold in the history field.
Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford. Special thanks to Aimee Burpee, Associate Registrar – Special Projects, for helping us uncover the mystery behind this notebook!
Many of us celebrate Easter with a number of traditions: dyed eggs, baskets full of candy, or decorations inspired by spring, just to name a few. Many of these traditions go back in history more than 100 years.
At Edison Homestead in Greenfield Village, we showcase a variety of activities during the Easter weekend that would have been enjoyed around 1915. Where do we find our inspiration? Much of the instructional information used to plan these activities come from promotional booklets from companies like Dennison Manufacturing Co. and their Dennison’s Party Book, or from magazine publications like the Ladies Home Journal, both available to families at the time.
In 1915, Easter crafts ranged from decorative pieces for the table to edible delights. Dennison Manufacturing Co., which today is now known as Avery Products Corporation, was a large supplier of inexpensive paper products that encouraged decorations for any number of parties, including an Easter celebration. Listings in the Dennison’s Party Book contain a rabbit with basket of eggs decoration, decorated crepe paper, bon bon boxes, and purple and white festoons, all of which were priced at 25 cents or less. They also suggest how a table might be decorated using the items they have listed for sale as well as homemade items (made of paper, of course).
Easter cards are one of the projects suggested in The Ladies Home Journal, 1912April edition, and would have been an inexpensive craft to make as a gift. In fact, the journal states that, “[Easter] gifts should always be simple and inexpensive; if they are made rather than bought, so much the better.” Using images from flower catalogues, garden and agricultural magazines, the picture is traced on a folded edge of thick paper to create the body of the card. Once cut out, the image is then colored in and an insert is created to write an Easter note to the recipient.
Like our own Easter traditions today, the journal included many references to sweet treats that could be given as gifts. Chocolate eggs could be made by carefully removing the raw egg from the shell, washing the shell, then filling it with melted chocolate. Once cooled, the egg shell could be colored and decorated with crayons and colored pencils, with a scrapbook pictured glued over the opening. Not only were sweets made, but so were displays to put them in. Moss glued onto a half egg shell provided a holding space for small candy eggs or jelly beans.
Feeling inspired and ready to try creating your own archive-inspired holiday decorations? Stop by the Benson Ford Research Center to see a copy of the Dennison's Party Book for yourself.
Emily Sovey is Supervisor of Inspiring and Living History at The Henry Ford.
Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is a place of wonder and inspiration, and this past March and April, it was my privilege to work with staff behind the scenes. My name is Jamison Van Andel, and I am an 11th-grade student at Henry Ford Academy. As part of the school’s curriculum, students are expected to complete a six-week internship with a local organization. While searching for an internship placement, I contacted The Henry Ford in hopes that a curator would be willing to work with me. A history aficionado, I had fallen in love with The Henry Ford and was overwhelmingly curious about the work that goes into a curator’s day-to-day experience.
Dr. Kristen Gallerneaux, Curator of Communication and Information Technology, responded with a project. The Mathematica exhibit, a recent addition to the museum floor, was in need of some background research to improve its representation of diverse mathematicians. I was thrilled to tackle the challenge.
Going into my first week of work, I imagined that curators worked in secluded offices, reading and researching various subjects individually. In actuality, curatorial research is a highly collaborative process. As I met several curators, it became clear that they all bounce ideas off each other as they conduct research.
As I completed more and more research, Dr. Gallerneaux introduced me to the art of writing narratives--capsules of information about an object or topic, in 60 words or less. A delicate exercise, narrative writing requires the author to communicate lots of information on in a terse, but erudite fashion. I found this was especially difficult when I had spent a great deal of time with a subject, because every discovery of my research seemed incredibly meaningful in my eyes.
I’m quite fond of the following narrative, largely because Artur Avila was a fun character to research, but also due to the fact that I believe I was able to capture the cultural significance of his achievements as well as their mathematical implications:
Along with his easygoing persona, Artur Avila is known for his remarkable ability to clarify very complex material. Avila, a Fields Medalist in 2014, holds citizenship in both his native Brazil and France. He has become an ambassador for Brazilian mathematicians, working in the dynamical systems field that analyzes the correlation between time and geometrical position of a point.
Later, I composed a narrative about the International Mathematical Olympiad after noting that several of the mathematicians I researched had participated in it. This was an entertaining exercise for me, as many of the Olympiad competitors are close to my own age. Curators often face the challenge of making subjects compelling for all museum guests, and it helps to have several connection points within an exhibit that pertain to different groups. In this case, a narrative about teenage mathematicians might serve as common ground with current-day students.
The International Mathematical Olympiad is the premier contest for high school mathematicians. Held yearly in different countries, the Olympiad invites six-person teams from over 100 countries to participate. Each student individually constructs answers to six problems, with content ranging from complicated algebra to number theory. Winners may receive a gold, silver, or bronze medal as well as an honorable mention.
Besides the research and narrative writing, I was able to attend several curatorial meetings. One particular gathering, a Collections Committee meeting, was especially entertaining. Twice a month, the curatorial team meets to determine what artifacts are to be added to the collection. Humorous, engaging, and thought-provoking, the meeting was the epitome of curatorial work at The Henry Ford. I left with a concrete idea of the qualities an artifact must have in order to fit into a museum’s mission.
After compiling a portfolio of 20 narratives, I arranged them in a digital platform that serves as a prototype for a future digital project that will support the interpretation of the Mathematica exhibit. The capstone project of my internship, it presents the narratives in an interactive way for guests to experience, similar to many of the digital resources currently on the museum floor. For now, the finished narratives will be stored in the museum’s database for future implementation, with the eventual goal that guests will be able to interact with this information.
An absolutely unforgettable experience, the internship gave me an extensive, behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of a world-class museum. The intentionality with which everything was done was remarkable to someone who often only sees the finished product. It was an honor to work beside the masterminds responsible for making The Henry Ford the wonderful, inspirational place that it is.
Jamison Van Andel is an 11th Grade student at Henry Ford Academy.
Every week, guests and researchers visit The Henry Ford’s Reading Room, either physically in the Benson Ford Research Center, or virtually, via our remote research program. The researchers (or our staff, for remote requests) pore through boxes and folders of photographs and documents, and sometimes select key items for imaging. With so much material in our collections, these can be intriguing items we might not have realized were there, and we make many of these digitized images available online so future access becomes even easier for anyone, anywhere.
One great example is this recently digitized, researcher-requested Ford Motor Company image of a Model T modified with traction to act as a snowmobile.
Over the first half of the 20th century, many automakers focused their efforts on making cars more reliable, more comfortable and more powerful. Safety was a lesser concern. There were exceptions – laminated windshield glass, which didn’t break into sharp pieces, was in use by the late 1920s – but conventional wisdom held that safety didn’t sell. Customers wanted their cars to be faster, not safer.
By the 1950s, that attitude began to change. Cars were certainly faster by then, but they also had roads to accommodate the higher speeds. State-built turnpikes and federally-funded Interstates had drivers zipping along at 75 miles per hour, and the booming postwar economy put more Americans behind the wheel each year. It’s little wonder that more drivers traveling at faster speeds led to a rise in accidents. By 1950, some 35,000 people were dying in auto accidents each year. Faculty members at Cornell University and officials at Liberty Mutual insurance took notice. In 1951, the two institutions teamed up to research a simple question: What causes injuries in automobile accidents?
Steering wheels and sharp edges could be lethal. (THF103543)
America’s highways became a laboratory, and police officers and emergency room doctors became research assistants. By carefully studying accident reports and medical records from around the country, the Cornell-Liberty team made several key discoveries. Car doors were a weak spot. Too often in an accident, a door was smashed open and one or more of the occupants was thrown from the vehicle. Furthermore, the team discovered that someone thrown from a car was more than twice as likely to receive serious injury. They learned that back seat passengers were three times safer than those in the front during a crash.
Researchers determined that the head was the most frequently injured part of the body, and that one in ten victims received a facial disfigurement. Contrary to popular belief at the time, the steering wheel provided no extra protection to the driver. Indeed, the wheel was often a cause of injury, being pushed into a driver’s chest during a crash. What’s more, control knobs, window frames and decorative ornaments often maimed accident victims.
Bucket seats cradle passengers while seat belts keep them secure. (THF90862)
The Cornell-Liberty team put its findings into practice by building a concept car that reduced or eliminated many of these dangers. Working from a 1956 Ford Fairlane, the team produced a car incorporating more than 60 protective features. In effect, they thought of their car like a giant egg carton designed to keep its fragile contents secure. The safety car’s accordion-style doors latched in three places, keeping them closed in a crash. Its bumper wrapped completely around the vehicle, protecting in low-speed accidents. Seat belts were prominent. Head restraints prevented whiplash injuries. The steering wheel and column were replaced by a pair of control handles. The dashboard, like other interior surfaces, was padded. Door handles were recessed. Unnecessary badges and baubles were removed.
The dashboard is uncluttered and the gauges are easy to read. (THF90865)
The best way to survive an accident is to avoid one, so the Cornell-Liberty team took driver visibility and distraction into account. The panoramic windshield – cleaned by five wipers – gave the driver an unobstructed view (as did the driver’s position, in the middle of the car rather than on the left side). Controls were kept to a minimum, and the oversized speedometer dial and gauges were placed directly below the driver’s sightline. The fuel gauge even had a “low level” indicator – something of a novelty in 1957. Indeed, the Cornell-Liberty team seemed to have anticipated every possible distraction; contemporary press reports noted that the offset front seats discouraged “necking while driving.”
Neither Cornell nor Liberty Mutual had any plans to manufacture or sell safety cars, of course. Instead, they hoped that their project would bring more attention to crash protection from the public and – more to the point – from automakers. A decade later, after some additional prodding from Ralph Nader and new government regulations, safety was an established priority in Detroit. And while the car you drive today may not have five windshield wipers or handlebar steering, it’s certainly got a bit of the 1957 Liberty-Cornell Safety Car inside.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
In reference work you never know where your search might lead you. Simply looking for information on Fordson tractors for a patron one day, I came across some amazing photos of women riding, repairing, and learning about tractors and I wondered what the story was behind these photos. So, armed with subject information gathered from our collection database EMu, I dug into our archival holdings of publications, articles of association, and corporate papers to see what I could find out about these Land Girls of Boreham.
In 1930, Henry Ford was traversing the English countryside by train, when one morning, as he, Clara, and Lord Perry stopped to breakfast, he noticed an old estate near Chelmsford, Essex. Taking a keen interest in the land and buildings, he bought Boreham House and the 2,000 acres of land surrounding it. Things being in a dilapidated condition, he immediately set about to fix the place up in characteristic Ford fashion, bringing it into usable condition, fixing houses, and making the land profitable once again.
Visitors to The Henry Ford often marvel at the number and variety of historical objects found here. Often, so does the staff. As a presenter in Greenfield Village, I have been surrounded by these rich collections--many of the objects having been gathered during the 1920s and 1930s, when Henry Ford was avidly collecting for his museum. An internship opportunity over the winter has given me a chance to further explore how a number of these objects—musical instruments—came to be part of The Henry Ford’s collections. As a violinist, the topic of music was a perfect match for me.
Christina Linsenmeyer, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of The Arts, Helsinki, is editing a book entitled Themes and Trends of the Musical Instrument Collecting Boom, 1860-1940. As an avid collector of musical instruments during the early decades of the 20th century, Henry Ford is a perfect fit. Jeanine Head Miller, The Henry Ford’s curator of domestic life, and Robert E. Eliason, curator of musical instruments at The Henry Ford during the 1970s and 1980s, will be co-authoring a chapter of the book discussing Henry Ford’s musical instrument collecting.
Henry Ford grew up dancing to the lively music of country fiddlers—and even learned to play the fiddle a bit himself. Ford’s interest in traditional American music and in musical instruments, then, was personal one. Ford’s efforts built an impressive collection—instruments which tell the story of music made by town bands, fiddlers at country dances, wealthy people in music rooms, and everyday Americans who purchased mass-produced instruments from local stores or mail-order catalogs.
The Mustang, America’s original pony car, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. When the first generation Mustangs were being built, no one anticipated that they would become American classics and popular vehicles for restoration.
We have many cool pieces of Mustang history here at The Henry Ford, from...
In the 1920s, following his success with the Model T, Henry Ford increasingly turned his attention to transforming farming—the life he sought to escape as a boy. He focused on finding new products and new markets for agriculture. (The charcoal briquette was an early result of this effort, made from surplus wood scrap.)
In 1928, Ford started the Chemical Lab (the building in Greenfield Village now known as the Soybean Lab), and asked Robert Boyer, a student at the Ford Trade School to run it. Ford told Boyer to select good students from the Trade School to staff the Lab. Ford then set them to experimenting with all manner of agricultural produce, from cantaloupes to rutabagas.
Just weeks before Henry Ford Academy students returned to their school inside Henry Ford Museum, one of their classrooms was transformed into a small furniture study gallery as The Henry Ford hosted visitors on a mission, hoping to bring clarity to a very important time in American furniture making.
Patricia Kane, the Friends of American Arts Curator of American Decorative Arts at Yale University Art Gallery, along with Marcia Brady Tucker Fellow, Jennifer Johnson, traveled to Michigan in August as part of an ongoing research project to identify pieces created by woodworkers from Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Furniture Archive seeks to document all furniture made in that small state from its beginnings into the early 19th century. To collectors and appreciators of 18th century furniture, the most important town in 18th century Rhode Island was Newport. There, the craftsmen of the intermarried Goddard and Townsend families created furniture with a unique look and construction. Their work is not only sought after but tells us a lot about that fashionable Rhode Island town during the 18th century. Indeed, their distinctive style was emulated by craftsmen not only in Rhode Island, but also in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut.