Automobiles powered by electricity have been around almost as long as there have been automobiles. In fact, in 1900, battery-powered electric cars outsold cars with gasoline-fueled internal combustion engines. But there is far more energy in a pound of gasoline than in a pound of storage batteries, meaning that gasoline-powered cars could travel farther on a tank than electric cars could on a single charge. Largely because of this, electric cars had virtually disappeared from the market by the late 1920s. By the end of the 20th century concerns about air pollution and imported oil caused people to look once again at alternatives to the internal combustion engine.
In 1997 General Motors introduced the EV1, probably the best electric car ever produced. The car was in part a response to California laws requiring the sale of a certain percentage of vehicles that emitted no pollutants. General Motors went to great lengths to overcome the limited range offered by storage batteries.
"Adequacy is sufficient: everything else is irrelevant."
Adam Osborne, founder of the quintessential boom-and-bust Silicon Valley tech company, built the first portable computer in 1981. The Henry Ford holds examples of the few products the ill-starred Osborne Computer Corporation ever developed. What can Osborne’s innovative products and boom-and-bust company history tell us about computing and the high-tech economy?
What's new on The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation this weekend? Host Mo Rocca shows us the hardware store robot; the incredible patent models from Thomas Edison that show us the beginning of our electronic world; how the USG Corp. is leading the way with grooming the next generation of engineers and mathematicians; the Israeli inventors of a printer that fits in your pocket. Learn more here and see a sneak peek below.
Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.
The broad iconic power of steam engines is maintained by the continued appeal of steam locomotives—an appeal kept fresh no doubt by Thomas the Tank Engine or the Hogwarts Express of the Harry Potter series. The visual impact of the earliest stationary steam engines, while less defined in the popular imagination, is undeniable when encountered in person: early beam engines exert a powerful presence, whether through their immense scale, exposed mechanical elements, or general complexity. And there is often a note of recognition—they are often identified by visitors as distant relatives of the familiar bobbing pumps found in oilfields.
Before the Age of Steam, American farmers hand-threshed wheat or oats with a flail. Threshing machines powered by horses or portable steam engines increased daily production of threshing by a hundred times.
In the 1800s, the large number of horses required for farming consumed a lot of grain. Starting in the 1860s, farmers began threshing grain to feed those horses with a cousin of the "iron horse" - a steam traction engine like the Port Huron Thresher shown above.
As a Michigan farm boy, Henry Ford recorded his first sight of a traction engine: "I remember that engine as though I had seen it only yesterday, for it was the first vehicle other than horse drawn that I had ever seen. It was intended to drive threshing machines and power sawmills and was simply a portable engine and a boiler mounted on wheels." The steam traction engine inspired Ford to design and manufacture automobiles. To other rural people it represented a grand transition in American agriculture, and a new community activity.
Although they are seldom seen in action, snowplows are an important part of the railroad scene.
This snowplow, operated in rural New England and Canada, is one of 36 built by Canadian Pacific's Angus shops in Montreal between 1920 and 1929. It is a 20-ton, wedge-type plow made for use on a single track - it throws snow on both sides of the unit. Built without a self-contained power source, the snowplow was pushed by one or two locomotives. Its ten-foot overall width can be increased to 16 feet by the extension of the large hinged wings on its sides. Moveable blades at the front, designed to clear the area between the rails, can be raised at crossings to avoid damage to equipment.
The snowplow's cab contains compressed air tanks that control the wings and blades, as well as providing air for a whistle used by the plow operator to signal the locomotive engineer. The cab also contains a heating stove. This plow was in service from 1923 until 1990.