At the time of his assassination in April 1865, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was considered by a majority of northerners as a competent president. Yet, this was not always the case. Lincoln was elected president at a critical time when the nation was at a breaking point over issues of states’ rights and slavery. As a direct result of his election, eleven states left the Union before his inauguration in 1861, touching off the Civil War.
During much of his first term of office, Lincoln was viewed by many as lacking the skills necessary for the role of President of the United States. He was lampooned as unsophisticated and criticized for tolerating ineffective generals. Lincoln, however, was a skilled politician—wise, tenacious, and perceptive—and learned from his mistakes.
Abraham Lincoln was committed to preserving the Union. He believed that the United States was more than an ordinary nation—it was the testing ground for a unique form of democracy. Many, including Lincoln himself, described one of his greatest achievements as the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which shifted the goal of the war from a fight to preserve the Union to one of freeing the enslaved. With Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Lincoln’s vision of an indivisible Union—and a more perfect one—was fulfilled.
Take a look at images from The Henry Ford’s wonderful, eclectic collection of Lincoln-related photographs. These images span the years from Lincoln’s career as an Illinois legislator during the 1840s to his tragic death in 1865.
The original daguerreotype of this image of Abraham Lincoln was taken by Nicholas H. Shepherd in Springfield, Illinois, shortly after Lincoln’s election in 1846 to the U.S. House of Representatives. It is believed by many to be the earliest known image of Lincoln, who was 37 or 38 years old when it was taken. At this time, Lincoln was a husband and father of two small boys, had a successful law practice in Springfield, and had just become a junior member of Congress.
Daguerreotypes like this one are one-of-a-kind photographs made on silver-coated copper plates. In order to make photographic prints, copy negatives had to be made from the original daguerreotypes. This photographic print was made in the early 20th century from a 19th-century copy negative. In 1902, Frederick Hill Meserve, an early collector of photography, found glass negatives from Mathew Brady’s Washington, D.C., studio in a Hoboken, New Jersey warehouse. Meserve carefully preserved the negatives and made the later photographic prints of the earlier images--including this photographic print in our collection.
This year, many transformative things have been set into motion at The Henry Ford. One of the most rewarding projects has been all of the hard work that has culminated with the first season of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, an educational television show produced by Litton Entertainment. Perhaps you’ve been watching the episodes on CBS, Saturday mornings? If not, you can view them here.
When we entered into a partnership with Litton, we also took the opportunity to turn our gaze inwards, to research the history of our own involvement with broadcast media. A dive into the archives of the Edison Institute revealed some gems—photographic collections that captured the visual history of media events on our campus spanning 60 years. Previous blogs detail how in 1955, Marion Corwell began hosting Window to the Past, our first live television show. That same year, NBC filmed an all-day live event using the then-new medium of color broadcasting; episodes of The Howdy Doody Show were captured that day. Other discoveries revealed Gladys Knight and the Pips on the Phil Donahue Show in 1973.
The classical violins in the collections of The Henry Ford get around. In 2011 and 2013, we had them CT scanned at Henry Ford Health System; in February 2013, Sphinx Laureate Gareth Johnson played one at the National Day of Courage; and in October 2014, they were featured on Episode 5 of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation. Now, thanks to a generous grant from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, they are moving out of collections storage and into the Henry Ford Museum, in a display that is planned to go live by February 1, 2015. The violins themselves will be accompanied by a digital kiosk, where visitors will be able to explore additional related artifacts from our online collections. One example of these related artifacts that we’ve just added to our digital collections is the “Badger Gavotte” sheet music for Henry Ford’s Early American Dance Orchestra. Visit our collections website to view other objects related to the Orchestra, dance, and the violins themselves, and plan to visit us next year to see the new exhibit.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
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.
When host Mo Rocca offered Marc Greuther, chief curator at The Henry Ford, a sample of “Monnaise” on the set of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, it was difficult not to laugh out loud. We were filming in the Heinz House in Greenfield Village, among original artifacts documenting some of Henry J. Heinz’s earliest innovations and successes. Mo’s plastic condiment containers with their silly labels (fabricated by the show’s producers as props) looked absurd in this setting, to be sure! But looking back, they weren’t as out of place as it might have seemed.
How would you like to live in a round house built of aluminum, steel, and plastic, suspended on a mast like a giant umbrella, with built-in closets and shelves and a bathroom the size of an airplane toilet?
R. Buckminster Fuller thought this house, which he called the Dymaxion House, was just what the American public wanted. Fuller, an engineer, philosopher and innovative designer, conceived the house in 1927 and partnered with the Beech Aircraft Corporation in Wichita, Kansas, to produce prototypes in 1945. Although Fuller designed his house so that it could be mass-produced, only one was ever built and lived in.
To some people it’s a giant Hershey’s Kiss, while others sense a kinship with the Airstream travel trailer—both, it should be noted, recognized as icons. Even the more general touchstones—retro-futuristic spacecraft themes seem to hold sway here—tie into something powerfully elemental. Either way, the Dymaxion house has over the last decade assumed an iconic presence in Henry Ford Museum, a presence that delights and provokes a wide range of visitors.