Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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Man in blue button-down shirt and khaki pants walks along wooden fence with large white banner reading "Coming Soon: The Vegetable Building from Detroit's Central Market"

An amazing thing happened during the spring and summer of 2020, while The Henry Ford was closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of dedicated individuals formed a new donor society, the Carver-Carson Society, and raised more than six times what was needed to bring back to life the Detroit Central Market in Greenfield Village.

How in the world did they do this?

Well, prior to the pandemic shutdown, The Henry Ford was still $200,000 shy of reaching its $5 million fundraising goal. The Henry Ford has always had big plans for the market, which was built in 1860 and is considered one of the oldest surviving urban farmer's markets of its kind in the country. The Henry Ford's vision is for the market to become a world-class convening center and hub of innovation by attracting farmers, food entrepreneurs and thought leaders to help educate and engage the public on critical issues, including food security, regenerative agriculture and environmental sustainability. That vision was in danger of being significantly delayed when The Henry Ford had to close its doors in March. This all changed when a group of dedicated donors answered the call to support the market project by forming the Carver-Carson Society and creating plans for The Henry Ford's first-ever virtual fundraiser, Farm to Fork.

Screenshot with 1-2 video chat participants in each of four quadrants

On August 20, 2020, Farm to Fork aired live over Vimeo, creating a virtual show filled with interviews, films, cooking demonstrations and engaging conversations. The event was co-chaired by Emily Ford, Lauren Bush Lauren and The Henry Ford's president and CEO, Patricia Mooradian, and raised over $800,000. This thought-provoking and entertaining event helped not only to cross the fundraising finish line but to surpass its original goal.

One of the highlights was the first Carver-Carson Conversation, featuring an intimate conversation moderated by Debra Reid, curator of agriculture and the environment. Special guest panelists included legendary chef and restaurateur Alice Waters; her daughter, designer and author Fanny Singer; event co-chair Lauren Bush Lauren; and Melvin Parson, a community farmer and The Henry Ford's first Entrepreneur in Residence. Their lively discussion touched on important issues around food security, food equity, regenerative farming and the need for local food environments and farmers. We plan to have many more Carver-Carson Conversations, both virtually and in person, in the future.

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food, COVID 19 impact, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village, agriculture, The Henry Ford Effect, philanthropy

GIF cycles through video screenshots of girls with invention prototypes and/or explanatory displays

"It is innovative thinking such as this which dares to dream that we could travel to space, to the moon and eventually to Mars," said Joan Higginbotham, a former astronaut and director of human exploration primes at Raytheon Technologies. She was awarding this year's Most Innovative Award. The winner? Anirudh Cowlagi, inventor of AstroTrack, a Python-based solution to aid with the detection and characterization of minor planets in the solar system.


"Advances in the field of planetary science have been dramatic over the last few decades," Anirudh explained. "However, with this new data comes a need for more effective methods of analysis." Anirudh received a $2,500 scholarship, plus a hand-selected mentor from Raytheon Technologies to aid him in his innovation journey.

The Henry Ford's Invention Convention gives more than enough reason for hope during these challenging times. This year, over 120,000 K-12 students designed and pitched their creative solutions to the problems of the world, from potato-based plastic bags and energy-generating keyboards to more breathable face masks. These students were tasked with a single request: find a problem they care about and try to solve it.

With lockdowns and travel restrictions inhibiting many educational programs, The Henry Ford digitized Invention Convention within weeks. This quick pivot allowed The Henry Ford’s 20 affiliates to operate their programs and events despite the difficult circumstances. Among these affiliates was the Michigan Invention Convention, which had its most participants ever despite being held virtually. The Henry Ford similarly digitized its U.S. Nationals event, which culminated in an online award ceremony hosted by CBS science correspondent Alie Ward.

The award ceremony featured a number of keynote speakers and presenters, including several former astronauts, the director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, key executives including the CEO of Stanley Black & Decker and more than 80 award-winning young inventors. Nearly a dozen full patent applications were awarded to students.

The impact of the U.S. Nationals event has been astounding. As of mid-August, the award ceremony video had received over 40,000 views across its channels, with viewership of Invention Convention via news media with 500 million impressions this year. Most importantly, The Henry Ford continues to improve the accessibility and inclusion of the program. This year, over 54% of the inventors were female, and 55% of the winners self-identified as students of color.

The Henry Ford is grateful to its many partners and sponsors who continue to support and help build this vital program of innovation, invention and creative thinking — in particular, Raytheon Technologies, a founding sponsor of Invention Convention Worldwide and the presenting sponsor of U.S. Nationals 2020. Learn more about The Henry Ford's Invention Convention program at inventionconvention.org.

If you are interested in supporting this inspiring program or participating as a judge in 2021, keep an eye on The Henry Ford’s Invention Convention web page for updates in Spring of 2021.

COVID 19 impact, The Henry Ford Effect, innovation learning, education, inventors

Three kids look through wooden fence at horses and red barn with fall-color trees and pumpkins nearby

In almost 91 years, our doors have never been closed for more than two days at a time. We have always been here — for your field trips, your weddings, your holidays and your family days out. Then everything changed.

Two children walk down gravel lane between wooden fences toward a red brick farmhouse

For almost 16 weeks, we were unable to welcome guests through our doors. With almost two-thirds of our operating budget coming from earned revenue — admission tickets, memberships, signature and private events, food and retail purchases — the closure had a devastating impact. In addition to other cost-saving measures, The Henry Ford made the very difficult decision to place more than 80% of our staff (nearly 1,400 employees) on temporary, unpaid leave. Our venues were dark and quiet.

Four people (two in wheelchairs) pose with arms outstretched underneath a silver-and-blue airplane

Although our doors have reopened, we are still operating at a significantly reduced capacity. While The Henry Ford has not had a deficit in decades, we are projecting a crippling shortfall of $10 million to $20 million in our 2020 operating budget. But we have been through difficult times before, persevered and emerged stronger, and with your support we will do so again.

Woman in a dress and hijab kneels on a gravel path through a flowerbed with a beige stone cottage in the background

The outpouring of support we have received has been amazing. You have been there for us at each step, through donations, membership renewals, messages of support and, when we were finally able to reopen, visiting our venues again. Thank you! Supporters have donated over $400,000 to the Reactivate The Henry Ford Fund. It is great to see that many of these donors were contributing to us for the first time. Every gift is being matched by a longtime supporter of The Henry Ford, so these donations will have double the impact.

We still have a long way to go, and we can only do it with your help. Please continue to support us however you can — visit, renew your membership, donate, share on social media — every action helps. We are thrilled to have you back at our venues and can't thank you enough for everything you do to Reactivate The Henry Ford!

philanthropy, The Henry Ford Effect, COVID 19 impact