Looking out the window at snowy Michigan probably had any Ford Motor Company engineer, researcher, or scientist thinking that developing and researching space systems, air cushioned vehicles, and computer components in sunny Newport Beach, California, was the way to go.
Aeronutronic Systems, Inc. was formed as a subsidiary of Ford in 1956 under the leadership of G.J. Lynch. The group was originally organized to develop and manufacture products for military purposes in the fields of Complete Weapons Systems, Aeronautics, Electronics, Computers, and Nucleonics and Physics. By 1959, the group was a made a division of Ford and had expanded into research and development beyond military purposes.
The division was headquartered in Newport Beach, California. Brochures for the division flaunted its cutting-edge research facilities, testing laboratories, research library, and proximity to deep-sea fishing, sailing, skiing, and the fact that the temperature rarely dropped below 44 or rose above 75.
The groups within the division worked on a variety of projects. The Space Systems group completed projects including the Blue Scout vehicle, which tested equipment in space; a lunar capsule, designed to land on the moon with scientific testing equipment to gather data on the lunar environment; and a design for a space station.
Group of women who worked on the Blue Scout project. / THF627401
Artist's rendering of lunar capsule built by Ford Motor Company Aeronutronic Division, 1960. / THF141214
In Weapons Systems, they worked on several missile projects, including the Shillelagh Guided Missile for the Army Missile Command, and ARTOC (Army Tactical Operations Central), which was a mobile command post for the Army Signal Corp.
The Electronics and Computers division worked on BIAX computer components, as well as MIND (Magnetic Integration Neuron Duplication), an electronic neuron that duplicated the function of live nerve cells, among other things.
Research projects included surface tension tests; developing thin films solid state components; manufacturing the FLIDEN Flight Data Entry Unit, which was used as part of the FAA air traffic control system; and developing an air cushioned vehicle.
FLIDEN unit, demonstrated by Ellen Arthur. / THF627397
The employees at the Aeronutronic division had fun too, with an employee newsletter to keep them up to date on company happenings as well as their many recreation leagues, which included bowling, basketball, and baseball among other sports, as well as chess and bridge clubs.
Fred Ju, team captain, bowling in the Men’s Bowling League. / THF627399
Aeronutronic continued to change with the times. In 1962, it became a division of the Ford subsidiary Philco, and in 1976 became Ford Aerospace and Communication Corporation, before being sold by Ford in 1990.
Ford Motor Company was approached by the Vatican in 1965 to provide a vehicle in which to transport Pope Paul VI during a visit to New York City that October. It was an unprecedented occasion—no sitting pope had ever visited the United States before—and Ford was determined to meet the challenge. The automaker approached George Lehmann and Bob Peterson of Chicago. The two men had specialized in “stretching” and customizing Lincoln Continentals since 1962, and their firm had earned a reputation for the high quality of its work. Lehmann-Peterson did not disappoint, rushing a special car to completion in fewer than two weeks.
The papal Lincoln was lengthened to 21 feet (from the standard 18). Step plates and handrails were added for security personnel. Additional seats, arranged in a vis-à-vis (i.e., face-to-face) layout, were placed in the rear compartment. Supplemental interior lighting and a public address system allowed the pontiff to be seen and heard by the crowds, and an adjustable seat—capable of being raised several inches—further improved his visibility. A removable roof panel and added windscreen allowed the pope to stand and wave when conditions permitted.
Pope Paul VI Pictured Visiting New York in 1965 / THF128756
Pope Paul VI spent a whirlwind 14 hours touring New York on October 4, 1965. He gave a blessing at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, met with President Lyndon Johnson at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, addressed the UN General Assembly, and led an outdoor mass at Yankee Stadium. The pontiff ended his tour with a visit to the Vatican exhibit at the New York World’s Fair.
The modified Lincoln returned to Chicago where it served as a city parade car for visiting dignitaries. In 1968, the Vatican called once again, this time requesting the car’s use during a papal visit to Bogotá, Colombia. The car again performed flawlessly, despite Bogotá’s high altitude and the engine modifications made to the vehicle as a result.
Apollo 13 Astronauts Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell in a Parade, Chicago, Illinois, May 1, 1970 / THF288386
The car went back to Chicago and soon carried a new series of dignitaries. Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders—the first men to orbit the Moon—were paraded in the car on a visit to the Windy City in January 1969. Seven months later, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins enjoyed a similar honor. The crews of Apollo 13 and Apollo 15 would later have their own parades in the Lincoln.
It was the 1960s—the golden age of television. Some 95% of American homes boasted at least one TV. These were primarily black and white sets, as color TV was still out of the reach of many families. It’s hard to imagine now but there were only three channels at the time. Every year, the three networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC) vied for viewer ratings, shifting and changing shows and showtimes at two pivotal times during the television season—Fall and Winter.
As the Fall 1966 season unfolded, it became evident to TV viewers that something extraordinary was happening. Sure, there were the usual long-running sitcoms, like Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, and The Beverly Hillbillies. But change was in the wind. A new crop of programs emerged—colorful, fast-paced, poking fun at things that were supposed to be serious and exploring contemporary social issues.
Why the difference all of a sudden? Many of these shows were aimed at the youth audience, considered by this time an influential group of TV watchers. Others purposefully took advantage of the new color televisions. Sometimes show producers and creators were simply tired of the old formulas and wanted to break out of the box.
Let’s take a look at a few highlights from the 1966-67 TV season—starting with the staid and true and working up to the wild and wacky—and see what all the hubbub was about!
Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (Sunday, 7:30-8:30 p.m., NBC)
Snow Globe, “The Wonderful World of Disney,” 1969-79. THF174650
On Sunday nights since 1954, millions of Americans had tuned in to watch Walt Disney host his TV show, with a changing array of animated and live-action features, nature specials, movie reruns, travelogues, programs about science and outer space, and—best of all—updates on Walt Disney’s theme park, Disneyland. Since 1961, this show had been broadcast in color.
The 1966-67 season was particularly memorable because Walt Disney tragically passed away on December 15, 1966. But since the episodes had been pre-recorded, there was Walt still hosting them until April 1967. Viewers found this both comforting and disconcerting. Finally, after April, Walt was dropped as the host and, eventually, the show was retitled The Wonderful World of Disney. It ran with solid ratings until the mid-1970s.
Viewership was high on NBC on Sunday nights at 9:00, as Bonanza was one of the most popular TV shows of all time. Running for 14 seasons and 430 episodes, this series about the trials and tribulations of widower Ben Cartwright and his three sons on the Ponderosa Ranch was an immediate breakout hit when it premiered in 1959, amidst a plethora of more run-of-the-mill prime-time westerns. Its popularity was primarily due to its quirky characters and unconventional stories—including early attempts to confront social issues. It was the first major western to be filmed in color and was the top-rated show on TV from 1964 to 1968. Bonanza ran until 1973.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Friday, 8:30-9:30, NBC)
“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” lunchbox and thermos, 1966. THF92303
Premiering in September 1964, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. took full advantage of the popularity of the spy genre launched by the James Bond film series. In fact, early concepts for it were conceptualized by Bond creator Ian Fleming. In this series, Napoleon Solo (originally conceived as the lone star) and Russian agent Ilya Kuryakin (added in response to popular demand) teamed up as part of a secret international counterespionage and law enforcement agency called U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement). Solo and Kuryakin banded together with a global organization of other agents to fight THRUSH, an international organization that aimed to conquer the world.
During this, the Cold War era, it was groundbreaking for a show to portray a United States-Soviet Union pair of secret agents, as these two countries were ideologically at odds most of the time. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was also known for its high-profile guest stars and—taking a cue from the Bond films—its clever gadgets. In 1966, this series won the Golden Globe for Best Television Program and, building upon its popularity, spun off into two related double-feature movies that year. Unfortunately, attempting to compete with lighter, campier programs of the era, the producers made a conscious effort to increase the level of humor—leading to a severe ratings drop. Although the serious plot lines were soon reinstated, the ratings never recovered. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was canceled in January 1968.
I Spy (Wednesday 10:00-11:00, NBC)
TV Guide featuring “I Spy” characters Robert Culp and Bill Cosby on cover, March 25-31, 1967. THF275655
One series that never opted for campy was I Spy, which starred Bill Cosby and Robert Culp playing two U.S. intelligence agents traveling undercover as international “tennis bums.” This series, which premiered in 1965, was also inspired by the James Bond film series and remained a fixture in the secret agent/espionage genre until cancelled in April 1968. I Spy, additionally a leader in the buddy genre, broke new ground as the first American TV drama series to feature a black actor in a lead role. It was also unusual in its use of exotic locations—much like the James Bond films—when shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. were completely filmed on a studio backlot.
I Spy offered hip banter between the two stars and some humor, but it focused primarily on the grittier side of the espionage business, sometimes even ending on a somber note. The success of this series was attributed to the strong chemistry between Culp and Cosby. Cosby’s presence was never called out in the way that black stars and co-stars were made a big deal of on later TV programs like Julia (1968) and Room 222 (1969).
Premiering in September 1965, Get Smart was a comedy that satirized virtually everything considered serious and sacred in the James Bond films and such TV shows as I Spy and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Created by comic writers Mel Brooks and Buck Henry as a response to the grim seriousness of the Cold War spy genre, it starred bumbling Secret Agent 86—otherwise known as Maxwell “Max” Smart, along with supporting characters, female Agent 99 and the Chief. These characters worked for CONTROL, a secret U.S. government counterintelligence agency, against KAOS, “an international organization of evil.” Brooks and Henry also poked fun at this genre’s use of high-tech spy gadgets (Max’s shoe phone perhaps being the most memorable), world takeover plots, and enemy agents. Somehow, despite serious mess-ups in every episode, Maxwell Smart always emerged victorious in the end.
Get Smart was considered groundbreaking for broadening the parameters of TV sitcoms but was especially known for catchphrases like “Would you believe…” and “Sorry about that, Chief.” Despite a declining interest in the secret-agent genre, Get Smart’s talented writers attempted to keep it fresh until it was finally cancelled in May 1970.
Bursting onto the scene in January 1966, Batman became an instant hit and took the country by storm. Batmania was in full swing by the Fall 1966-67 TV season. The series, based upon the DC comic book of the same name, featured the Caped Crusader (millionaire Bruce Wayne in his alter-ego of Batman) and the Boy Wonder (his young ward Dick Grayson in his alter-ego of Robin). These two crime-fighting heroes defended Gotham City from a variety of evil villains. It aired twice weekly, with most stories leaving viewers hanging in suspense the first night until they tuned in the second night.
This show successfully captured the youth audience, with its campy style, upbeat theme music, and tongue-in-cheek humor. Despite the fact that it verged on being a sitcom, the producers wisely left out the laugh track, reinforcing the seriousness with which the characters seemed to take the often absurd and wildly improbable situations in which they found themselves. The filming simulated a surreal comic-book quality, with characters and situations shot at high and low angles, with bright splashy colors and with sound effects, like Pow, Bam, and Zonk, appearing as words splashed across the action sequences on screen. The series was also replete with numerous gadgets and over-the-top props, with the Batmobile undoubtedly most memorable. Batman ran until March 1968, experiencing a significant ratings drop after its initial novelty faded.
Lost in Space (Wednesday 7:30-8:30, CBS)
“Lost in Space” Lunchbox and Thermos, 1967. THF92298
Loosely based upon the story of the Swiss Family Robinson, this TV series depicted the adventures of the Robinson family, a pioneering family of space colonists who struggled to survive in the depths of space in the futuristic year of 1997—as the United States was gearing up to colonize space due to overpopulation. But the family’s mission was sabotaged, forcing the crew members to crash-land on a strange planet and leaving them lost in space.
The show had premiered in September 1965 as a serious science fiction series about space exploration and a family searching to find a new place for humans to dwell. But, in January 1966, pitted against Batman’s time slot, Lost in Space producers attempted to imitate Batman’s campiness with ever-more-outrageous villains, brightly colored outfits, and over-the-top action. The plots increasingly featured Robby the Robot and the evil Dr. Zachary Smith. Viewers and actors alike strongly disapproved of this shift. The show lingered on until March 1968.
Where other shows might have been lighthearted, campy, or tongue-in-cheek, The Monkees at times verged on pure anarchy. This series, which premiered on September 12, 1966, led off NBC’s prime-time programming every Monday night. It lasted only two seasons but during that time, its star shone brightly. The Monkees followed the experiences of four young men trying to make a name for themselves as a rock ‘n’ roll band, often finding themselves in strange, even bizarre, circumstances while searching for their big break. Aimed directly at the youth audience, the band members were characterized as heroes down on their luck while the adults were consistently depicted as the “heavies.”
The Beatles’ films A Hard Day’s Night and Help! inspired producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider to create not only a show about a rock ‘n’ roll band but also to adapt a loose narrative structure (each member of the Monkees was trained in improvisational acting techniques at the outset of the show) and the musical sequences or “romps” that appeared each week. The series built a reputation for its innovative use of avant-garde filming techniques like quick jump cuts and breaking the fourth wall (that is, having the characters directly address the TV viewers). A well-oiled marketing machine behind the show also ensured that strong tie-ins were maintained with teen magazines, merchandise, and live concerts.
The Monkees won the Emmy for best comedy series during its first, the 1966-67, season. However, backlash was inevitable among critics and older teenagers when the Monkees admitted that they did not play their own instruments—although they clearly played them in their live concerts and, in fact, eventually had a falling-out with network executives about this very issue. Though the show was cancelled in 1968, it experienced a huge revival among younger audiences through Saturday morning reruns and especially with the 1986 MTV Monkees Marathon. Remaining band members Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith still attract large audiences of intergenerational fans at their live concerts, while reruns of their TV shows continue to draw new audiences.
When Star Trek premiered on September 8, 1966, science fiction shows were not very advanced—or even thought of very highly. Star Trek’s closest competitor, Lost in Space, offered only shallow plots, one-dimensional characters, and fake sets. No one could imagine at the time that this rather low-key show would become one of the biggest, longest-running, and highest-grossing media franchises of all time. This series traced the interstellar adventures of Captain James T. Kirk and his crew aboard the United Federation of Planets’ starship Enterprise, on a five-year mission “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
Creator Gene Roddenberry, aiming the show at the youth audience, wanted to combine suspenseful adventure stories with morality tales reflecting contemporary life and social issues. So, to get by network scrutiny, he set the premise of the show in an imaginary future. With the freedom to experiment, he put in place one of TV’s first multiracial and multicultural casts and was able to explore through different episodes some of the most relevant political and social allegories on TV at the time. The stories were also considered exceptionally high quality for that era, involving believable characters with which viewers could both identify and sympathize. Unlike the gloomy predictions of most science fiction writings of the time, Roddenberry hoped that the futuristic utopia he created on Star Trek would give young people hope, that it would empower them to create a better future for themselves someday. Star Trek, with only modest ratings, lasted only three seasons. But it would go on to become a cult classic.
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (Sunday, 9:00-10:00 p.m. beginning February 1967, CBS)
TV Guide featuring The Smothers Brothers on cover, June 10-16, 1967. THF275657
In Fall 1966, The Garry Moore Show, a variety show on CBS hosted by the aging radio and TV star, was no match when pitted against Bonanza—even with this, its first season in color. Network executives, at their wit’s end to try to attract viewership, decided the only way they could come up with a quick replacement was to substitute another variety show. In desperation, they landed on a simple variety series featuring the soft-spoken, clean-cut, non-threatening folk-music-playing Smothers Brothers. Considered a “young act,” an added bonus was that their show might capture the coveted youth audience. Little did they know what they were in for.
As the show evolved, the brothers not only became more politicized themselves but felt that they owed it to their young viewers to increase the show’s relevance, boldly addressing overtly divisive political and social issues. Their staff of young writers was only too happy to comply. Unfortunately, as a result, the brothers were continually at odds with the network censors until the show was finally cancelled after three seasons. In its continual conflicts with network executives, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour turned the variety show genre on its ear and paved the way for Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1968) and, in pushing TV’s all-out rebellion against the status quo, led an explosive charge that resulted in 1970s shows like All in the Family (1971).
These are but a few highlights from the 1966-67 TV season. Some say that this was the greatest television season ever, a clear indication that TV had finally come of age. Because of shows like these, television would certainly never be the same again. And, come to think of it, neither would we!
Donna Braden, Curator of Public Life, was 13 years old during that memorable TV season and proudly wears her fan club button to every Monkees concert she still attends.
Kitschy coin collectors convey Americans’ changing views of man’s ability to go where none had gone before.
There was a time when outer space belonged to the realm of fantasy and science fiction. Through movies, radio, television, comic strips and comic books, kids cheered as fantasy space heroes like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Tom Corbett--Space Cadet safeguarded Earth’s inhabitants from evil forces. Futuristic space toys proliferated, from atomic ray guns and wind-up robots to toy spaceships. Then something happened. The United States and the Soviet Union began to explore outer space for real. When the Russians launched Sputnik I in October 1957, the “space race” took off, leading to a new era of more realistic space toys.
The Henry Ford’s collection of space-themed banks, dating from 1949 to 1964, captures the span of these two perceptions of outer space — as just a fantasy world to being a real place into which humans ventured. These mechanical banks, produced by Detroit-based companies Duro Mold & Manufacturing and Astro Manufacturing, were offered at individual bank branches as incentives for kids to start bank accounts. Having the branch bank’s name affixed to the front of one of these futuristic coin collectors was a sure sign that the financial institution was modern, progressive and in step with the times.
Atomic bank (c. 1949): co-opting a popular word of the Cold War era.
Rocket bank (c. 1951): resembling comic-book-style rockets.
Strato bank (c. 1953): the coin was shot through the “stratosphere” to the moon.
Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing
The Space Race began in the 1950s, when both the United States and the Soviet Union attempted to launch ballistic missiles into outer space. Americans were surprised when the Russians beat them to it, launching the Sputnik I satellite in October 1957. But, when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited earth on April 12, 1961, Americans were downright shocked and not a little concerned. As a response, President Kennedy pledged to support a more aggressive space program than President Eisenhower had initiated before him.
On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy laid out a bold vision—that America should commit itself to landing a man on the moon “before the decade is out.” When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin A. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. finally did set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, many people considered it America’s finest hour.
Learn more about these artifacts below and then see them for yourself in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation during our pop-up exhibit now on display this summer.
This pictorial souvenir card depicts President Kennedy awarding NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal to America’s first astronaut, Navy Commander Alan B. Shepard, Jr., on May 8, 1961, three days after his successful flight. Souvenir Card, 1961. THF230121
Trading cards like these generated excitement among America’s youth about the achievements of the space program. Topps Astronaut Trading Cards, 1963. THF230119
This “Destination Moon” mechanical bank commemorates astronaut John Glenn’s achievement of orbiting the earth in 1962. Mechanical Bank, 1962. THF173785. (Gift of Raymond Reines, Dedicated to the Berzac Family)
Congress had to approve a massive budget increase for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to make Kennedy’s bold vision even a remote possibility. Recruiting Advertisement for NASA, July 1962. THF230079
NASA’s Apollo 11 lunar mission captivated audiences watching the drama unfolding on television. Some even documented the events with their personal cameras. Photographic Print, July 20, 1969. THF114240
Four months before real men landed on the moon, Snoopy appeared in a Peanuts comic strip as the “World Famous Astronaut” walking on the moon. This Peanuts Pocket Doll commemorates the 1969 moon landing. Snoopy Toy, 1969. THF52. (Gift of CarolAnn Missant)
This coloring book included the Mercury, Apollo, and Saturn vehicles and astronauts, as well as some history of the space program. Coloring Book, 1969. THF292641
Those who viewed the moon landing on TV on July 20, 1969, often have difficulty separating the historic occasion from the steadfast reporting of it by Cronkite—considered at the time “the most trusted man in America.” Record Album, Narrated by Walter Cronkite, 1969. THF110908
The cover story for this issue contained an in-depth report of the historic moon-landing mission. Time Magazine for July 25, 1969. THF230050. (Gift of the Estate of Dr. and Mrs. Martin A. Glynn)
This commemorative game, simulating the successful moon landing, had players collecting “moon rocks.” Board Game, 1969-1975. THF91918
This phonograph record comprises a “recorded history of space exploration and the triumph of the lunar landing.” Record Album, 1969. THF154908. (Gift of the Estate of Dr. and Mrs. Martin A. Glynn)
At the height of the Apollo space program, Marathon Gas Stations offered a series of promotional glasses featuring the Apollo 11, 12, 13, and 14 missions. Tumblers commemorating Apollo 11 mission, circa 1969. THF175132 (Gift of Jan Hiatt)
The Apollo 11 astronauts took pieces of the 1903 Wright Flyer—the first practical heavier-than-air flying machine—on their 1969 mission to symbolize the incredible progress made in those 66 years. Here, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong poses in front of the Wright brothers' home in Greenfield Village during a 1979 visit to The Henry Ford. Photograph of Neil Armstrong in Greenfield Village, August 16, 1979. THF128246
The iconic image on this poster depicts Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon’s surface, a photo taken by Neil Armstrong. Poster, 1969. THF56899
We recently got together a number of our curators and staff, who are Star Trek fans and frequent visitors to our current exhibit "Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds," to brainstorm the many connections we might make between the collections of The Henry Ford and the media empire that is Star Trek. During that discussion, someone threw out an example of a name shared across both—but as we dug deeper, we also discovered the artifact had an interesting parallel to (or contrast with) the ship or character. Locating more of these seemed a fitting tribute to Star Trek’s characteristic combination of humor and seriousness.
Below are some similar examples we came up with. What other artifacts can you think of from our collection that share a name with—and perhaps a philosophical tie to—Star Trek?
Chrysler boldly went where no carmaker had gone before when it introduced the minivan for 1984. With taller interiors and flatter floors (front-wheel drive eliminated that pesky driveshaft tunnel), minivans generally had more interior room than station wagons, and soon supplanted them as the ideal family car. And, at around 20 miles per gallon, the Plymouth Voyager probably got better fuel mileage than the U.S.S. Voyager of the eponymous series! –Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
Four hundred thirty years before Captain Jean-Luc Picard would command the U.S.S. Enterprise, Jean and Jeannette Piccard engaged the stratosphere in a metal gondola attached to a hydrogen balloon. –Jim Orr, Image Services Specialist
Star Trek’s half-Vulcan, half-human science officer, Spock, represented the polar opposite of the Roman god of fire, Vulcan. While the Roman god served as a harbinger of volcanic destruction, Spock modeled cool composure. In 1905, Vulcan Brand Appliances embraced the Roman mythology and marketed their toasters and curling-iron heaters as handy things for every home. What would Spock think? –Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment
It didn’t sweep you into an extra-dimensional fantasy realm like the Nexus that trapped Kirk and Picard in Star Trek Generations, nor did it use omnipotent powers to tease your crew like the meddlesome Q of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the Google Nexus Q could keep you entertained for hours on end with music, movies, and TV shows. –Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
Montgomery Scott, known as "Scotty," is the Chief Engineer aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise in the original Star Trek series. The heavy Scottish accent adopted for the role by Canadian actor James Doohan became one of Scotty's hallmarks, as did his intense pride in the Enterprise, his sense of humor, his complaints when the ship encounters yet another tight spot, and the way he always tells Captain Kirk repairs will take longer than they actually will. Still, like this roll of Scot Towels in our collection, which would have facilitated quick and easy cleanup of mid-20th-century messes, Scotty always comes through when the 23rd-century Enterprise is in need of a quick fix. –Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections and Content Manager
James S. Kirk was born in Scotland (not Iowa, like Enterprise captain James T. Kirk) and established his soap company in Utica, New York. He relocated the business to Chicago in 1859 and, by 1900, had built it into one of the largest soap manufacturers in the world, producing 100 million pounds of the cleaner each year. –Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
Gene Roddenberry (1921–1991) considered the United Space (or Star) Ship Enterprise as the main character of Star Trek. But why the name "enterprise"? In response to 1960s counterculture, veterans of World War II, including Roddenberry, did not want anyone to forget the need to ally against evil. The name "enterprise" conjured up associations with action that changed the course of human events. Decades before Star Trek, companies used the term to imply initiative and progress. The Enterprise Manufacturing Company produced an endless-belt tread power, on which a dog, goat, or sheep walked to generate power for myriad uses on family farms. –Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment
Andrew L. Riker was a pioneer builder of both electric and gasoline-powered automobiles. He may not have served as first officer aboard a starship like Will Riker of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but Andrew Riker did serve as first president of the Society of Automotive Engineers! –Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
Star Trek's Leonard McCoy would remind you that he's a doctor, not a locomotive fireman. This steam engine lubricator was patented by African-American mechanical engineer Elijah McCoy, who may have had more in common with Bones' shipmate Scotty. –Jim Orr, Image Services Specialist
The Latin root, excello, meaning "to rise," inspired many companies with aspirations. Excelsior Botanical Company marketed cure-all preparations and "excelsior" became the synonym for packing material made from wood chips or pine needles. All of this happened more than a century before the release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, in which Hikaru Sulu commanded the U.S.S. Excelsior starting in 2290. –Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture and the Environment
Though the various series and movies of Star Trek are set in the future, those crews and characters sometimes ended up crossing paths with historical figures familiar to those of us stuck here in the 21st century. Image Services Specialist (and Trekkie) Jim Orr shares some objects from our collection that tie to those notables, and explains each Star Trek connection as we continue to celebrate our latest exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, "Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds."
In the 1966 Star Trek episode "The Savage Curtain," Captain Kirk and Commander Spock become unwilling participants in an alien experiment to determine which is stronger—good or evil. Their allies included a doppelganger of Kirk's hero, President Abraham Lincoln.
In the 1969 Star Trek episode "Requiem for Methuselah," Kirk encounters an ancient, immortal being who claims to have been many notable figures from history, including Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci. Another version of Leonardo da Vinci would appear in the 1997 Star Trek: Voyager episode "Concerning Flight," in which alien arms dealers steal the U.S.S. Voyager's holographic equipment.
In the 1992 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Time's Arrow," Lieutenant Commander Data finds himself stranded in the year 1893 after an encounter with time-traveling aliens. There, he befriends hotel bellhop (and aspiring writer) Jack London.
While attempting to rescue a time-traveling Data from 1893 San Francisco in the 1992 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Time's Arrow," the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise accidentally returns with author Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain).
Data played a hand of poker against holographic representations of "three of history's greatest minds" in the 1993 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Descent." Sir Isaac Newton's works include Opticks: or a Treatise on Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colours of Light.
Data's poker game with "three of history's greatest minds" also includes a holographic representation of Albert Einstein. Ford Motor Company executive E.G. Liebold posed for this photograph with the real Albert Einstein in 1941.
Amelia Earhart's mysterious fate has figured into the plots of TV shows ranging from Night Gallery to The Love Boat. Star Trek: Voyager featured Earhart in the 1995 episode "The 37's," explaining her 1937 disappearance as—what else—an alien abduction. (Thanks to Curator of Transportation and fellow Trekkie Matt Anderson for this contribution!)
Jim Orr is Image Services Specialist at The Henry Ford and has seen all 732 episodes (and counting) of every series of Star Trek.
When it came time to name a new model, or even a new company, automakers often found inspiration in the stars. Astronomical phenomena, planets, and whole galaxies have all found their way onto fender badges and hood ornaments. Here are just a few examples.
Great Britain’s Sunbeam Motor Car Company traces its roots to a bicycle manufacturer founded in 1887. Sunbeam cars raced in Grand Prix events and competed for land speed records. Harry Grant finished seventh in a Sunbeam at the 1914 Indianapolis 500. The company closed during the Great Depression, but the Sunbeam name survived a while longer under new ownership.
After being driven out of General Motors for a second – and final – time, Billy Durant founded Durant Motors in 1921. He christened his low-priced model Star and set his sights on Ford’s Model T. While Star never seriously threatened the T, it did introduce the first factory-built station wagon.
Strictly speaking, the Moon Motor Car Company of St. Louis was named for its founder, Joseph W. Moon, but a crescent Moon logo turned up in its advertisements from time to time. The automaker remained in business from 1905 to 1930. Its name is proudly featured on this motometer – a device for measuring engine coolant temperature.
1960 Ford Advertisement, “The Silver Curve of Success – Galaxie by Ford.” 184.108.40.206
When the Russians launched Sputnik – the first artificial Earth satellite – in 1957, it kicked off a “Space Race” between the Soviet Union and the United States. In turn, that competition inspired a series of space-inspired car names like Ford’s Galaxie. When introduced for 1959, Galaxie was the company’s top trim level for its full-sized models.
For 1961, Ford introduced a fastback version of the Galaxie, appropriately named Starliner. Studebaker had previously used the Starliner name on a series of striking coupes designed by Robert E. Bourke of Raymond Loewy Associates and produced from 1952 to 1954.
1961 Mercury Meteor Advertisement, “Priced to Compete with Low-Price Field!” 220.127.116.11
Mercury (itself a celestial name – though inspired by the Roman god and not the planet) introduced its Meteor model for 1961. Never a strong seller, Meteor was discontinued after the 1963 model year. The name enjoyed a longer life in Canada, where Ford used it to denote a distinct brand of cars – not just a model – from 1949 to 1976.
Ford introduced the Comet – initially a distinct brand – for 1960 as an upscale version of the compact Falcon. For 1962, Comet became a Mercury model. In the mid-1960s, Comets were offered with special options packages tailored for NHRA drag racing.
Corona – named for the plasma aura surrounding the Sun – was the perfect name for the first truly successful car imported to the United States from Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun. Unlike Toyota’s first attempt for the American market – the overpriced and underpowered Toyopet – the Corona did well with stateside buyers.
Like the Dodge Polara before it, the Plymouth Satellite brought cosmic lexicon to Chrysler’s product line when introduced for 1965. Satellite denoted the top trim level for Plymouth’s mid-sized Belvedere line until 1967, when the GTX designation superseded it. The Satellite name was phased out completely after 1974.
Chevrolet Nova Dashboard Emblem, 1968-1972. 2011.291.3
To astronomers, nova refers to a star that shows a sudden, temporary increase in brightness. To gearheads, it’s a compact car built by Chevrolet from 1962 through 1979. Initially, Nova was merely the top trim-level designation while the model itself was called Chevy II. Nova replaced Chevy II as the model name in 1969.
1990 Saturn Advertisement, “A Different Kind of Company. A Different Kind of Car.” 91.83.13
In 1985, General Motors launched a new automobile division intended to compete with Japanese imports. To GM executives, the ambitious project was akin to NASA’s venerable Apollo program, so they named their new division Saturn in homage to the Saturn V rockets that launched American astronauts toward the Moon. After some early success, GM dissolved Saturn in 2010.
Subaru Sales Brochure, “The Beauty of All-Wheel Drive,” 1996. 2000.16.3
In the United States, stargazers refer to the Pleiades star cluster as the Seven Sisters, after the seven sisters of Pleiades in Greek mythology. In Japan, it’s called Subaru – namesake of the carmaker known for its boxer engines and rugged wagons. According to mythology, one of the seven sisters is invisible, so you’ll count just six stars in Subaru’s logo.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Motor Controllers for the Telescope at the Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, Wisconsin, 1932. THF134290
As long as humans have existed, we have looked up at the night skies and wondered about the stars, planets, moons, and more that we see there. Among the collections of The Henry Ford are objects that speak to the underlying tools and technologies that allow our understanding of the universe to grow. These artifacts demonstrate that whether we are observing celestial bodies or venturing into space, we design ways to overcome the many challenges of comprehending and exploring the cosmos.
We recently asked a number of our staff to pick a favorite artifact from among our space-related collections. Many of the selections showcase observatories—the process of constructing them, the machinery that makes them tick, and the ways they discover and share knowledge about our universe. Others cover the promise, challenges, and triumphs of our journeys beyond Earth's atmosphere.
All these artifacts, which you can explore in our Expert Set, tell the story of humanity's ambitious desire to learn more, understand more, and travel beyond our own world.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections and Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
We don’t generally associate Star Trek with historic automobiles (or, for that matter, with any automobiles). The classic original series is set circa 2265-2269, nearly 360 years after the first Model T rolled out of Ford’s Piquette Avenue Plant. By all evidence, Federation citizens in the 23rd century are content to get around by spaceship and shuttlecraft (with the notable exception of the Jupiter 8). But who can blame them for not driving? After all, we’re talking about a universe in which teleportation is a thing. But Star Trek isn’t an entirely auto-free zone. Through the clever storytelling devices of science fiction, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy encounter multiple 20th century American cars over the course of the show.
Ask fans to name their favorite episodes and you’ll likely hear “The City on the Edge of Forever” mentioned several times. The romantic yarn, which closed the first season, finds the crew of the Enterprise in a time-traveling misadventure. Dr. McCoy, less than lucid after an accidental overdose of medication, charges through a temporal gateway into New York City circa 1930. Kirk and Spock follow their ailing comrade and discover that McCoy has inadvertently altered history with serious consequences. Our heroes manage to put things right, but not without considerable anguish on Kirk’s part.
Ford’s 1929 Model AA stake body truck, similar to one seen in “The City on the Edge of Forever.” (THF28278)
The episode features several period automobiles including a 1930 Buick, 1928 and 1930 Chevrolets, and a circa 1930 Ford Model AA truck. Most are in the background, but a 1939 GMC AC-series truck plays a crucial part in the story. In fact, it’s not too much to say that the whole plot depends on it. (Beware of the spoiler at this link.) No, a ’39 truck has no business being on the streets of New York in 1930, but we’ll just let that slide.
The crew returns to a circa 1930 setting in the memorable season two episode “A Piece of the Action.” But this time they’re not on Earth. The Enterprise arrives at the planet Sigma Iotia II, last visited by outsiders before implementation of the Federation’s sacrosanct Prime Directive – barring any interference with the natural development of alien cultures. Kirk and company discover that the planet was indeed contaminated by those earlier visitors. They left behind a book on Chicago gangsters in the 1920s, and the Iotians – a society of mimics – have modeled their planet on that tome, with the expected chaotic results.
Cadillac, the choice of discerning Starfleet officers. (THF103936)
Those industrious Iotians somehow managed to replicate a host of 1920s and 1930s American cars. Look for a 1929 Buick, a 1932 Cadillac V-16, and a 1925 Studebaker in the mix. But the star car undoubtedly is the 1931 Cadillac V-12 used by Kirk and Spock. It’s one of the few times you’ll see Kirk drive, and it makes for one of the episode’s more amusing scenes. Give one point to Spock for knowing about clutch pedals, but take one point away for his referring to the Caddy as a “flivver.” One could quibble with ’30s cars appearing in a ’20s setting – but one should also remember that this isn’t Earth. We can’t expect the Iotians to get all the details right!
It’s also worth taking a look at season two’s final episode, “Assignment: Earth.” The Enterprise travels back in time to 1968 to conduct a little historical research on Earth. They cross paths with the mysterious Gary Seven, an interstellar agent on a mission of his own to prevent the launch of an orbiting missile platform that will – apparently – lead to nuclear war. It sounds like something right out of “Star Wars.” (No, not thatStar Wars, this “Star Wars.”)
Based on the Department of Defense cars seen in “Assignment: Earth,” it seems the Pentagon prefers Plymouths. Now why could that be? (THF150740)
It’s all very complicated, but it provides another opportunity to see some vintage wheels. (Well, vintage to us and to the Enterprise crew. To TV audiences in 1968, these were contemporary cars.) Pay attention and you’ll spot a number of government agency vehicles including a 1963 Plymouth Savoy, a 1967 Dodge Coronet, and a 1968 Plymouth Satellite (the latter being particularly apropos for a space series). For those who aren’t Mopar fans, look quickly and you’ll also spy a 1966 Ford Falcon in the episode.
Okay, so no one will ever confuse Star Trek with Top Gear. But, if you keep your eyes peeled, every now and then you’ll find a little gasoline to go along with all of that dilithium. After all, sometimes the boldest way to go is the oldest way to go.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.