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City scene with large, low building in center of photo with people and horse carriages nearby
Central Market in Downtown Detroit, Michigan, circa 1890 / THF96803


The historic Detroit Central Market vegetable shed will re-create a local food environment within Greenfield Village

Few mid-19th-century public market structures survive. Detroit’s vegetable shed or building, which opened in 1861, is one of the oldest of those survivors in the nation.

Unpainted triangular wooden bracket with scrollwork design
This ornamental bracket from the Detroit Central Market vegetable shed will be one of the architectural elements visitors will see when the building is reconstructed in Greenfield Village. / THF173219

The shed’s story is certainly harrowing. It escaped fire in 1876 and dismantling in 1894. A relocation to nearby Belle Isle saved it. There, it served many purposes until 2003, when The Henry Ford acquired it. And now, generous donors have made its reconstruction in Greenfield Village possible. (Follow @thehenryford on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and/or via our e-mails for more on when the shed will officially open in the village.)

Black-and-white photo of large open shed by a road in a wooded area
Detroit Central Market’s Vegetable Shed, repurposed as a “horse shed,” circa 1900, on Detroit’s Belle Isle. / THF139104

As a reconstructed event space, the shed will serve as an open-air market of ideas, a place where food and common cause will bring people together to discuss meaty subjects, such as land use and regenerative agriculture, social entrepreneurship, urban and alternative agriculture, and food security. It will shelter a vibrant historic market vignette where florists, fishmongers, hucksters (hucksters being another term for market gardeners, people who raised vegetables to sell at market to retail customers), and peddlers all vied for sales. The scripted exchanges will inform us about ways that vendors historically managed ethnic tensions and provided a social safety net to the homeless, impoverished, and downtrodden. This content will be carefully curated and managed by The Henry Ford’s dedicated staff, who will ensure programming on the stuff of life in perpetuity.

Heart of a City


The Henry Ford’s vision for the restored Detroit Central Market vegetable shed as a communal center in Greenfield Village is akin to what Detroit city officials envisioned when they adopted a nearly 1,000-year-old tradition to establish a public market in 1802.

Street scene with buildings, people, and horse carriages
View of Detroit Central Market (here called “Cadillac Square Market”) from the roof of City Hall, circa 1875 / THF146289

The market grew near the city hall and was maintained by the city for decades, calling attention to the symbiotic relationship between urban governments, the market gardeners and farmers in and near the city, and the health and well-being of city dwellers. The market, in fact, was called City Hall Market until the city hall moved across the centrally located downtown gathering space known as Campus Martius. Thereafter, the name Detroit Central Market came to be—denoting the market’s location, but also its centrality to the civic, cultural, and ceremonial heart of the city. Within an easy walk lay city hall, the Michigan Solders’ and Sailors’ Monument, churches, schools, playhouses, and the opera, among other attractions. Within this vibrant environment, vendors went about their daily business helping customers feed themselves, a routine that fed a city.

Theoretically, a thriving city market eased Detroiters’ worries about the source of their next meal. It freed them to build a livelihood around something other than agriculture, while farmers and market gardeners knew they had a steady market for their produce and fresh meat. Today, we would call Detroit’s Central Market a “local food environment,” the place where customers bought foodstuffs directly from butchers, hucksters, florists, fishmongers, and confectioners.

Graphic with text and images of vegetables

A community grew within and around the market that facilitated entrepreneurship. Vendors, usually sole proprietors and startups, had a fixed number of resources—the vegetables, fruit and flowers they raised, fish they caught, fresh meat they butchered, knickknacks or “Yankee trinkets” they sold, or services such as chimney sweeping that they hawked to customers.

They had to be ingenious to draw attention to their resources and thus increase the likelihood of a sale. This made for vibrant market days.

People & Prejudices


Practicality dictated that the market be in the center of downtown Detroit and in the shadow of city hall. These were heavily trafficked areas, and structures were built as enclosed spaces to protect vendors and customers from the weather. The Detroit Common Council authorized, funded, maintained, and updated structures and built new ones as needed. It authorized a “clerk of the market” to collect rents, monitor compliance, mediate conflicts, and report to elected officials.

All did not go smoothly at Detroit’s Central Market, however. The fish market in the Catholic city of Detroit was, by many accounts, the poorest fish market in the country. Why? As one fish dealer explained, people in Detroit fished. Therefore, they did not have to buy. Yet care went into designating northern stalls in the vegetable building as the purview of fishmongers, available for auction and then for rent by the month, for ten months of the year.

Large, low open building with many people gathered inside and near it
People gather at the vegetable building at Detroit's Central Market, circa 1885 / THF136886

Records indicate that there was no love lost between fishmongers and butchers, likely because butchers held power that fishmongers did not. Butchers were organized. Some even served as elected officials. They held membership in community associations and had strong ties to ethnic and immigrant communities.

The vegetable shed at Detroit Central Market most obviously housed hucksters, many of them women. Of the 32 greengrocers and market hucksters who listed their business address as City Hall Market (CH Market) in the 1864–1865 Detroit City Directory, nearly one-third (ten) were women. In 1874, the percentage of women hucksters increased to nearly 40%. Racial diversity also existed. Several Black hucksters had market addresses over the years, and at least one had a relatively stable business selling garden vegetables at the market from the early 1860s to the mid-1870s. Overall, however, newspaper accounts stereotyped hucksters as country bumpkins unable to handle their market wagons. This indicated a lack of respect on the part of city dwellers who depended on these growers for their food.

Cultural conflict erupted at the market as individuals from numerous ethnic groups, some well-established and others newcomers, had to cohabitate and compete at the public market. Louis Schiappecasse, an Italian immigrant identified as the first outdoor fruit merchant in Detroit, provides a good case in point. He established himself on Jefferson Avenue across from the Biddle House in 1870. When he died in 1916, the headline read: “Millionaire Fruit Merchant Is Dead.” Yet, in the fever pitch of anti-immigrant sentiment in 1890, a newspaper reporter, without naming names, quoted shop owners near Central Market who were frustrated with Italian fruit salesmen too cheap to pay rent for a market stall. Instead, they claimed that fruit salesmen set up pop-up stands that obstructed sidewalks and made it difficult for patrons to enter some stores.

Street scene with people, horses and carriages, and buildings
A customer at the Detroit Central Market vegetable building, 1885–1893 / THF623871

Finally, one of the most notable entrepreneurs at Central Market, who appears regularly in minutes of Detroit Common Council meetings, gained attention for her refusal to accept the city’s decision to close the market. Mary Judge was a widow, listed her address as an alleyway at least once, and changed her market specialty almost every year—sometimes selling vegetables, sometimes flowers, sometimes candy, sometimes refreshments. She also received special dispensation from Detroit’s Committee on Markets when she was cited for violating three market standards. She was allowed to sell vegetables out of stall No. 44 because she was “very poor and unfit for any other occupation.” This last affirmed the function of the public market as a social safety net.

Vendors practiced benevolence, too, operating as social entrepreneurs, at least in relation to residents in the Home for the Friendless. The Ladies’ Christian Union organized the Home for the Friendless in May 1860 to aid homeless women, children (including the children of incarcerated individuals), and elderly women. Twice each week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the market season, boys from the home carried a basket to the market. Butchers and hucksters filled the basket with produce and meats, which helped make ends meet at the home.

National Platform


GIF cycling through six images of a building in varying stages of deconstruction
Some views of the Detroit Central Market vegetable shed on Belle Isle as The Henry Ford dismantled it in 2003, so it could be reconstructed later in Greenfield Village. You can browse over 100 additional photos of this complex process in our Digital Collections. / THF113491, THF113506, THF113516, THF113517, THF113545, THF113573

The Detroit Central Market vendors helped feed hundreds of thousands of mouths in downtown Detroit. When reconstructed in Greenfield Village, the vegetable shed where they once sold their wares will support programming that will enrich millions of minds on topics as wide ranging as agricultural ethics and food justice.

Countless stories await exploration: Stories based on the lives of vendors and their customers; city council members and market staff; and the business owners, entertainers, and entrepreneurs at work around the marketplace can all teach us lessons that we can adapt to help shape a better future.


Debra A. Reid is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from an article originally published in the January-May 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

Detroit Central Market, The Henry Ford Magazine, by Debra A. Reid, Michigan, Detroit, entrepreneurship, shopping, food, Greenfield Village buildings, Greenfield Village

Man in blue shirt and blue jeans leans on barrier with his arm around woman in pink shirt and black pants in front of car display

John Henry and Beatrice Marie “Peggy” Rendzio. Photo by Nick Hagen.

Twenty-five-year members John Henry and Beatrice Marie “Peggy” Rendzio find a much-needed outlet for exercise among the artifacts and exhibits of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

When you’re in your mid-90s, finding a climate-controlled space where you feel comfortable getting in a bit of physical fitness may be difficult. That’s why you’ll find John Henry and Beatrice Marie “Peggy” Rendzio at Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation almost every day around 10-10:30 a.m. Members of The Henry Ford for a quarter of a century, the Rendzios are longtime regulars with The Henry Ford’s museum walkers, a cherished group of old and young who use the museum’s perimeter and winding exhibit pathways to exercise and socialize. Danette Fusco, with The Henry Ford’s Guest Services team, sees the Rendzios often. “Like clockwork, this charming couple visits to get their daily exercise and socialization,” she said. “They are truly an inspiration.”

Their must-do:
Walking in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

Their favorite member perk: 
“We walk almost every day in the museum,” said John Henry. “We know the security guards and lots of the staff. And after we’re done walking, we can stop in at Plum Market for a coffee and sometimes a cookie.”  


What’s your spark? Let us know what inspires you on your next visit and what takes you forward from your membership. Email us at membership@thehenryford.org. Take it forward as a member—enjoy benefits like free parking, discounts on events and tours, exclusive member previews, and more.

This post was adapted from an article in the forthcoming June-December 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

Henry Ford Museum, The Henry Ford Magazine

A woman and young boy smile, point, and look at a table filled with glass jars and lamps, with shelves of more glass jars behind them
Mary Aviles and son Mati in Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Complex.

Ten-plus-year member Mary Aviles finds inspiration in a frog, two brothers, and makers in the raw.

Drawn to the Herschell-Spillman Carousel in Greenfield Village, Mary loves hopping on the whimsical bow-tie-wearing frog. The carousel reminds her of stories shared with her children to spark their curiosity and quest for lifelong learning. She’s equally inspired each time she walks into Orville and Wilbur Wright’s family home in Greenfield Village, knowing that human progress is cumulative and many of our major leaps forward can be traced to specific moments in time. A repeat attendee at The Henry Ford’s annual Maker Faire® Detroit, she can’t wait to come back each year, because she sees great beauty in unfinished ideas and the limitless potential of creativity in the rough.

Her must-do:

Maker Faire® Detroit

Her favorite member perk: 

The Henry Ford Magazine. I use it regularly until it’s dog-eared.

I worked for TechTown Detroit with entrepreneurs/ small businesses and continue to do so as a consultant with EarlyWorks. For me, The Henry Ford’s Model i framework is also an inspiration. TechTown architects use it as an approach to client relationship management, and I reference the framework consulting with EarlyWorks.

As a qualitative researcher specializing in structuring unstructured data, I am fascinated by how The Henry Ford has synthesized its collection of physical innovator assets to remain relevant in informing issues such as education, workforce and talent development—topics I, along with my clients, are immersed in every day.”


What’s your spark? Let us know what inspires you on your next visit and what takes you forward from your membership. Email us at membership@thehenryford.org. Take it forward as a member—enjoy benefits like free parking, discounts on events and tours, exclusive member previews, and more.

This post was adapted from an article in the June-December 2019 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

innovation learning, Michigan, Detroit, The Henry Ford Magazine

A man, woman, and child sit in a convertible car with a backdrop and other items in the background
Alice McAlexander & Warren Flood, plus Malcolm. Photo courtesy Warren Flood.


One-year members Alice McAlexander, Warren Flood, and their son find wonder in a bus, a collection of trains, and a carousel.

A perennial first stop at The Henry Ford for Alice McAlexander, Warren Flood, and their son, Malcolm, is the Rosa Parks Bus in the museum’s With Liberty and Justice for All exhibition, where powerful storytelling offers an affecting, unforgettable journey from then to now without fail. After moving to Michigan during the frigid winter, this trio found The Henry Ford a twice-weekly indoor wonderland, smoothing their transition from sunny Los Angeles. Euphoria for Malcolm is when he is perched on the museum’s New Holland combine or the village’s Herschell-Spillman Carousel. For the couple, The Henry Ford delivers hope and optimism for their son and all the next generations, linking historical creativity and invention with future innovation.

Their must-dos:

Seeing the different trains, carriages, and Model T’s throughout the museum and then watching them spring to life in a whole new way in Greenfield Village. Letting their son feed his obsession for the Mold-A-Ramas in the museum. He has collected nearly every mold.

Their favorite member perk: 

“Our two-year-old wakes up and asks to go to the museum or Greenfield Village all the time, and every trip is a guaranteed great adventure full of new sights and experiences.”


What’s your spark? Let us know what inspires you on your next visit and what takes you forward from your membership. Email us at membership@thehenryford.org. Take it forward as a member—enjoy benefits like free parking, discounts on events and tours, exclusive member previews, and more.

This post was adapted from an article in the June-December 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

The Henry Ford Magazine

Man stands in large building with round silver metal structure behind him, holding a drawing of the same structure
Blake Almstead.

Ten-year member Blake Almstead finds inspiration in a farmhouse and a man’s passion to preserve America’s story.

Deriving inspiration from all over The Henry Ford, Blake Almstead is drawn to amazing places of innovation like Dymaxion House in the museum. A former New Englander, he also feels the pull of Daggett Farmhouse in Greenfield Village. The Connecticut saltbox structure reminds him of home, and he revels in the working farm’s accurate representation of a period of America’s agricultural history. As president of the Corktown Historical Society, he meanders through the streets of Greenfield Village with a profound sense of gratitude to Henry Ford for his passion to preserve American landmarks and America’s stories of innovation, invention and entrepreneurship. Village structures such as Cohen Millinery and Grimm Jewelry Store were once small businesses located and operating in Detroit’s Corktown, the city’s oldest surviving neighborhood, which Blake now leads efforts to help protect, preserve, and restore.

His must-do:

Coffee at Sir John Bennett Sweet Shop in Greenfield Village on a Sunday morning. “I’m able to think, take notes, sketch and be surrounded by so much that has affected and influenced history ... You can’t help but feel inspired.”

His favorite member perk:

“That free feeling I have knowing I can go to The Henry Ford whenever I want. My mother’s favorite thing is having tea. We’ll just go in Greenfield Village, walk together, have tea at Cotswold Cottage, then take a stroll and maybe pop in to the gift shop. When you’re a member, you have this unlimited access to experiences that you didn’t expect.”

What’s your spark? Let us know what inspires you on your next visit and what takes you forward from your membership. Email us at membership@thehenryford.org. Take it forward as a member—enjoy benefits like free parking, discounts on events and tours, exclusive member previews, and more.

This post was adapted from an article in the January-May 2020 issue of 
The Henry Ford Magazine.

The Henry Ford Magazine, Michigan, Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, Dymaxion House, Detroit

Illustration of five people, backs to the viewer, arms around each other, looking at a cityscape with with USB cords plugged into buildings and wifi/Internet symbols
Illustration by Sylvia Pericles.

Welcome to the digital era. Now what?

In the fall of 2020, for the first time, an entire generation started school on a screen. As the new coronavirus abruptly cut many of us off from the world outside our homes, for those of us fortunate enough to enjoy digital communication tools, the Internet has become one of the most essential tools for surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. As sci-fi and scary as this may seem, there is also an opportunity here to transform—again—the Internet.

As COVID-19 continues to dramatically upend our lives, an ever-evolving digital world pushes us to rethink the purpose of the Internet and challenges us to re-create our digital and political lives as well as the Internet itself. The challenge is ensuring that all people will have the skills, knowledge and power to transform the Internet and shift its dependence on a commerce- and clickbait-driven economic model to become instead a universally guaranteed utility that serves people’s needs and allows creativity to flourish.

Societal Reflection


This challenge has been a long time coming. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Internet was on questionable ground. In early 2020, misinformation campaigns, privacy breaches, scams, and trolls proliferated online. When COVID-19 hit and the world was forced to shift the important tasks of daily life online, we saw (again) how digital inequalities persist—forcing poor and vulnerable communities to rely on low-speed connections and cheaper devices that can’t handle newer applications.

The Internet is a reflection of who we are as a society. We know that there are people who scam and bullies who perpetuate injustice. But there is also beauty, creativity, and brilliance. The more perspectives there are shaping this digital era, the more potential we have to tap the best parts of us and the world.

There is no silver bullet that will keep violence or small-mindedness at bay—online or off—but I know from 13 years of working on digital justice in Detroit that teaching technology is the first step toward decolonizing and democratizing it.

A City’s Story


Over the years, Detroit has faced many economic hardships, which has meant that digital access has too often taken a back seat. Bill Callahan, director of Connect Your Community 2.0, compiled data from the 2013 American Community Survey and found that Detroit ranked second for worst Internet connectivity in the United States.

Following that report, in 2017 the Quello Center of the Department of Media and Information at Michigan State University reported that 33% of Detroit households lacked an Internet connection, fixed or mobile. Yet the world had already moved online.

By 2011, many government agencies had transitioned away from physical spaces, making social services only accessible via the Internet. My colleagues and I at Allied Media Projects (a nonprofit that cultivates media strategies for a more just, collaborative world) understood that access to and control of media and technology would be necessary to ensure a more just future. As Detroiters, we needed to figure out how to create Internet access in a city that was flat broke and digitally redlined by commercial Internet providers. We also needed to address the fact that many Detroiters who had never before used digital systems had a steep learning curve ahead of them.

The question we asked our communities, and answered collectively, originated from and addressed Detroit’s unique reality: What can the role of media and technology be in restoring neighborhoods and creating new economies based on mutual aid?

Three people in full color on one side of a large cellphone use phones and tablets; one person on the other side in black-and-white with an Internet "loading" symbol
Illustration by Sylvia Pericles.

To answer this question, the concept and practice of community technology—a method of teaching and learning technology with the goals of building relationships and restoring neighborhoods—emerged. If we want to harness the potential of the digital future ahead of us, we need to reshape our current relationships with the digital world. We need to understand how it works, demand our rights within it, and be aware of how digital tools shape our relationships with each other and with the larger world. Ultimately, the goal of community technology is to remake the landscape of technological development and shift the power of technology from companies to communities. The place where this begins is by rethinking our digital literacy and tech education models.

Community technology is inspired by the citizenship schools of the Civil Rights movement. Founded by Esau Jenkins and Septima Clark on Johns Island, South Carolina, in the 1950s, citizenship schools taught adults how to read so that they could pass voter-registration literacy tests. But under the innocuous cover of adult-literacy classes, the schools actually taught participatory democracy and civil rights, community leadership and organizing, practical politics, and strategies and tactics of resistance and struggle.

I saw a through line from the issues that encouraged citizenship schools to emerge in the 1950s to the struggles that Detroit faced in the early 2000s. In the 21st century, communities with high-speed Internet access and high levels of digital literacy enjoyed a competitive advantage. The denial of these resources to low-income and communities of color compounded the existing inequality and further undermined social and economic welfare in those neighborhoods.

Like the citizenship schools, community technology embraces popular education, a movement-building model that creates spaces for communities to come together in order to analyze problems, collectively imagine solutions, and build the skills and knowledge required to implement visions. This educational model structures lessons around the goal of immediately solving the problem at hand. In the citizenship schools, lessons were planned around the goal of reading the U.S. Constitution. Along the way, participants developed the profound technical and social skills needed to solve the problem.

In 2008, when I first started teaching elders in Detroit how to use and understand the Internet, it was always hard to know where to start. There were so many things to do online. The first question I asked was: “What do you wish you could do with the Internet?” Oftentimes, folks wanted to be able to view images of their grandchildren that had been sent to their email, or they would want to communicate with loved ones across the seas. It would be nearly impossible for me to teach a class that attended to all of those individual needs while keeping everyone engaged.

I wondered: If I taught problem-solving rather than teaching technology, could I support the same elder who couldn’t view a digital photo of their grandchild to build and install Wi-Fi antennas and run an Internet service provider (ISP) in their neighborhood?

As impossible as that may sound, it worked. In 20 weeks, I saw former Luddites work with their neighbors to build wireless networks. This curriculum went on to shape the Equitable Internet Initiative, which has trained over 350 Digital Stewards throughout Detroit, New York, and Tennessee.

Man with dog waves to woman on bike; both have social post-like "speech bubbles" containing text
Illustration by Sylvia Pericles.

Digital Liberation


Over the eight years I ran the Digital Stewards Program, what I realized is that relevance can engage someone to learn, but curiosity is what cultivates the kind of lifelong learning that leads to liberation.

Citizenship schools remind me that liberation is not a product of having learned a skill but rather the continued ability to participate in and shape the world to meet your and your communities’ needs. Becoming a lifelong learner of technology—and aspiring constantly to use it for liberatory ends—is essential because technology is constantly changing.

Every software program I ever learned in college is now obsolete. To meaningfully participate in the digital era, we need to be able to adapt technology to meet our needs rather than change ourselves to adapt to new technologies.


In order to cultivate the agency and self-determination necessary to rescue this digital era from corporations and trolls, we will need to change how we as a society pass on knowledge and how—and for whom—we cultivate leadership and innovation. Too often, technological knowledge is presented as a pathway for individual advancement through participation in a digital economy that further consolidates power and wealth for corporations. During this time of physical isolation, how do we change the experience of being forced into endless video meetings and classrooms into something more like inhabiting and co-creating a digital commons? Can we create environments that allow people to engage with technology from a community context rather than as distanced individuals stuck staring at our screens?

The Internet’s culture is currently being shaped by corporations. Social media platforms, ISPs, and algorithms control our movements through almost all online space. Can we remake the Internet into a community that we can all inhabit, and move away from the metaphor of the Internet as an information superhighway? Perhaps we can begin to build the equivalent of sidewalks, public parks, and bike lanes.

As a generation faces an unprecedented year of school online, we would be wise to realize that this is an opportunity for all of us to learn together and become both more critical of how we engage technology and more aware of what we see is lacking. How do we want to form a community online, navigating, creating, and adapting online spaces for our collective survival?

Perhaps, unwanted though it is, the global pandemic can inspire us to finally create a digital world that is befitting of our time and presence there—and can inspire the justice, equality, and hope that our IRL world so badly needs right now. 


This post was adapted from an article by Diana J. Nucera that originally appeared in the January–May 2021 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine. Nucera, aka Mother Cyborg, is an artist, educator, and community organizer who explores innovative technology with communities most impacted by digital inequalities. Post edited by Puck Lo; illustrations by Sylvia Pericles.

Civil Rights, education, COVID 19 impact, Michigan, Detroit, women's history, African American history, technology, by Diana J. Nucera, The Henry Ford Magazine

Woman with short brown hair wearing track jacket smiles toward camera
Lyn St. James, photographed by Michelle Andonian, 2008 / THF58574

Racing Career


Lyn St. James was watching from afar when Janet Guthrie was trying to break into Indy car and stock car racing. At the time, St. James was a part-time competitor chasing a Sports Car Club of America road-racing national championship in a Ford Pinto.

“I was excited and pumped about my racing, and I watched her on the television and thought, ‘God, she’s struggling and nobody wants her there,’” St. James recalled. “She didn’t smile very much, and it made me say, ‘Why would I want to do that? Why would I want to put myself in that kind of situation when I was having so much fun?’”

White and black helmet with dark visor and red trim; also contains text
This racing helmet worn by Lyn St. James is going on display in Driven to Win: Racing in America. / THF176437

In the early 1980s, Kelly Services sponsored the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) American Challenge championship and paid bonuses to female drivers. St. James parlayed an opportunity in that series, along with a chance encounter with legendary Ford executive Walter Hayes, into a highly successful relationship with Ford that produced six wins in IMSA competitions, including class victories at Daytona and Sebring, prior to shifting her focus to Indy cars. She is also the only woman to win an IMSA GT race driving solo.

Smiling woman in a jumpsuit and baseball cap, with large medal around her neck, holds a trophy in one hand and makes a thumbs-up with the other, in front of a wall with Ford and Budweiser logos, among others
Lyn St. James at IMSA, Watkins Glen, NY, 1985 / THF69459

“I wanted to test-drive one, just to experience the peak of race car performance,” she said. “I was just in heaven. I had set speed records in a stock car at Talladega, and in comparison, it felt numb. Dick Simon [IndyCar team owner] was very supportive, and that was a turning point. I wrote to 150 companies over four years seeking support. J.C. Penney was the 151st, but the first one that said yes.”

Finally, in 1992, St. James became the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 since Guthrie last had, 15 years earlier. St. James finished 11th in the race, claiming Rookie of the Year honors (the first woman to do so). In 1994, she out-qualified reigning Indy car champion Nigel Mansell at Indy; she made a total of seven Indianapolis starts, with her last in 2000. She has been inducted into the Sports Car Club of America and the Florida Sports halls of fame, and held 21 international and national closed-circuit speed records over a 20-year period.

Collage with text and photos
Lyn St. James’s Indy 500 history from 1992 to 2000. / THF284826

Mentor of Motorsports


St. James still occasionally competes in vintage races, and in addition is a speaker, author, philanthropist, and coach, but spends most of her time mentoring female drivers. Her foundation’s driver development program has graduated more than 230 participants over the last 25 years, including then-future Indy car drivers Sarah Fisher and Danica Patrick.

Woman in blue jumpsuit stands behind a table, in front of a whiteboard, at the front of a room with young women sitting in school desks
Lyn St. James at her Complete Driver Academy, which provided a comprehensive education and training program for talented women race car drivers who aspired to attain the highest levels in motorsports, in Phoenix, Arizona in 2008 (photograph by Michelle Andonian). / THF58682

“It’s sad that leaders in motorsports have not figured out that the car levels the playing field for everyone,” St. James said. “The leaders have missed an opportunity to show how female involvement in racing really represents society. Women can perform and compete on an equal level.”

Involvement with The Henry Ford and

Driven to Win


In 2008, a small crew from The Henry Ford traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, to visit a race car driver academy for women. The institution, called Complete Driver Academy, was established by Lyn St. James in 1994 to help identify potential champion female drivers and provide the tools they needed to further their careers. The Henry Ford interviewed St. James there as part of its Visionaries on Innovation collection of video interviews, which also features other racing legends such as Mario Andretti.

Clear glass or lucite trophy with diagonal stripes, and two panels with an image of a man in an old-fashioned racing helmet and goggles and an antique car, and text
Lyn St. James’ 1992 Indianapolis 500 "Rookie of the Year" trophy will be on exhibit in Driven to Win. / THF176451


In addition to documenting St. James’ oral history, The Henry Ford has many artifacts from her racing career in its collections—some of which will be on display in the new Driven to Win: Racing in America permanent exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where St. James is a showcased driver. “Lyn has been an adviser to the exhibit going back more than ten years,” said Curator of Transportation Matt Anderson. “From the start, she has offered her help and advice, including connecting us with innovators like motorsports training expert Jim Leo of PitFit Training in Indiana.”

Among the racing-related artifacts from St. James that will be on display in Driven to Win: her helmet, driving suit, HANS (head and neck support) device, and Rookie of the Year trophy from the 1992 Indy 500, where she became the first woman to win that title. You can also explore many more artifacts related to St. James’ career in our Digital Collections.


This post was adapted from an article by John Oreovicz that originally appeared in the January–May 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

Henry Ford Museum, Driven to Win, women's history, The Henry Ford Magazine, racing, race car drivers, Indy 500, education, cars, by John Oreovicz

Woman in jumpsuit holding a helmet kneels on wood floor in a building next to low red race car with dramatic backlighting

Beth Paretta poses with the 1967 Ford Mark IV Race Car at The Henry Ford in 2018.

“When I was growing up, I had pictures of a Lamborghini Countach and Porsche 959 on my wall next to Duran Duran,” laughed Beth Paretta, the first female executive to lead a performance division for a major auto manufacturer.

After graduate school, Paretta took a job selling cars, then landed a management role with Volkswagen Credit. “That taught me the behind the scenes of the automotive business,” she shared. “It was a good opportunity to sit on all sides of the table, to figure out what the manufacturers and the dealers want, let alone the customers.”

She then spent four years as the U.S. operations manager for Aston Martin. Because the company was so small, this gave Paretta hands-on experience in every aspect of the business—a major factor why she was recruited by Ralph Gilles and the late Sergio Marchionne to lead the SRT brand when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) spun it off as a separate “halo” division.

Running SRT brought responsibility for managing FCA’s American motorsports programs, taking Paretta’s life full circle. During her tenure, FCA drivers won multiple championships in NASCAR and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). “Racing was a comfort for me since I was about 5 years old,” she said. “I found it weirdly soothing to watch, and I was mesmerized by it. At a basic level, I still find that. When I got involved, I loved solving business problems and figuring out how to do things better.”

Whether at VW, Aston, or FCA, Paretta often noticed something. “I spent much of my career sitting in meetings where I was the only woman at the table,” she said. “I’ll be honest, there were times at the beginning when I thought that was kind of cool. ‘Hey, look at me!’ But then I was like, ‘This isn’t cool at all. Why am I the only one here?’”

In 2015, Paretta formed Grace Autosport, using racing as a platform for encouraging young women to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. She hopes to eventually field a car in IMSA or the Indianapolis 500 with a pioneering all-female team.

“Racing is the fuel that keeps the spotlight on what we are doing, but the important work is the education,” Paretta said. “We know we can affect a kid’s trajectory of what they want to do when they are 10-12 years old. That’s when you plant the real seed. Racing is fantastic because it demonstrates teamwork, and it’s applied STEM, or STEM in action.”


This post was adapted from an article by John Oreovicz that originally appeared in the January–May 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

The Henry Ford Magazine, women's history, racing, education, cars, by John Oreovicz

Woman in racing jumpsuit holding helmet stands in race car on track with stands of people behind her
Janet Guthrie at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 1979 / detail from THF140173

After graduating from the University of Michigan, Janet Guthrie worked as an aerospace engineer while also serving as a pilot and flight instructor. But her passion was driving her Jaguar in Sports Car Club of America road races, and by the time she was 35, Guthrie was a full-time racer.

In 1976, she arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) as a 38-year-old rookie with the eyes of the world upon her. Several prominent drivers publicly criticized her presence. "Most of the oval track drivers never had the experience of running with a woman driver, and they were sure they weren't going to like it," recalled Guthrie, now 81. "That got calmed down within the course of the races that I ran in 1976. But the public, I think, needed to be convinced."

When the controversial newcomer didn't find enough speed in her primary car, A.J. Foyt offered his spare Coyote, and Guthrie showed enough pace in practice to become the 500's first female qualifier. But that historic achievement would have to wait another year. "Those were the glory days of the Indy 500, with 85 cars entered, so qualifying for the first time was really a major moment of my life,” she said.

White or cream-colored glove with signature in blue ink in center of palm, mounted under glass in a black frame with a plaque containing text underneath
The autographed racing glove worn by Janet Guthrie in 1977, when she became the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500, will be on display in the Driven to Win: Racing in America exhibition in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. / THF166385

Guthrie's car broke early in the 1977 race, but more importantly, Indy's gender barrier had been broken. She returned to IMS a year later and drove to a ninth-place finish despite concealing a broken wrist. In all, Guthrie drove in 11 Indy car races between 1976 and 1979, earning a career best fifth-place finish at the Milwaukee Mile in her final open-wheel start. She also competed in 33 NASCAR Cup Series races in the same period, earning five top 10 finishes.

Besides being the first female to qualify and compete in both the Indy 500 and Daytona 500, Guthrie was inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1980, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006, the Sports Car Club of America Hall of Fame in 2018, and the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2019.

In retrospect, Guthrie did much of the heavy lifting for the female drivers who followed her into the American motorsports arena. Respect for her achievements, from both a sporting and sociological standpoint, only increases with the passing of time. "The 'first woman' thing was more of a responsibility than anything," Guthrie said. "I think I took the heat, and then the drivers discovered that I was competitive, I was courteous and that I was getting the most out of my equipment."

Guthrie is convinced that a female circuit racer will one day demonstrate the kind of championship-winning success women have achieved in NHRA drag racing. "There's a lot of talent at the lower levels, and it all depends on who gets the chance," she said. "I'm sure that eventually we will see a woman win the Indianapolis 500, and similarly with the Daytona 500."


This post was adapted from an article by John Oreovicz that originally appeared in the January–May 2020 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.

Henry Ford Museum, women's history, The Henry Ford Magazine, racing, race car drivers, Indy 500, Driven to Win, cars, by John Oreovicz

Man, woman, and two young girls sit and stand on a log in front of netting attached to a playground structure
Meera, Sri, Maya, and Sonia. Photo by EE Berger.

Four-year The Henry Ford members Meera Meerkov and Sri Maddipati and their young daughters appreciate the hands-on nature and historical authenticity of trains, tractors and centuries-old buildings brought to life.

When Meera Meerkov and Sri Maddipati and their eldest daughter Maya moved back to metro Detroit in 2015, a good friend brought them to Greenfield Village. The bond was immediate. For little Maya, it was the beginning of a long-term adoration of a train ride and a carousel—one she later passed on to her younger sister Sonia. For the adults, it was an initial astonishment and then an enduring appreciation for attractions built around actual historical structures within Greenfield Village. Amazement over a collection of presidential vehicles in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, added Meera, has also bloomed. And the girls can’t ever miss a bit of playtime at the water tower, in the boiler tunnel or on the 1931 Model AA truck in the village’s historically themed playscape.

Their must-dos:


Their favorite member perk: 

We love being able to stop in for a quick visit and keep up with new exhibits. There is always so much to do and see in both Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.


What’s your spark? Let us know what inspires you on your next visit and what takes you forward from your membership. Email us at membership@thehenryford.org. Take it forward as a member—enjoy benefits like free parking, discounts on events and tours, exclusive member previews, and more.

This post was adapted from a page in the January-June 2021 issue of THF Magazine.

Greenfield Village, Henry Ford Museum, The Henry Ford Magazine