This year, Henry Ford’s museum and village complex – now known as The Henry Ford – celebrates its 90th anniversary. Throughout 2019, we’ll be reflecting decade-by-decade on significant additions to the collection he began, with a focus on our institution's evolving collecting philosophies. This post covers our history and acquisitions of the 1930s.
A Working Village After its dedication in 1929, Henry Ford didn't consider his campus complete. In Greenfield Village, he continued to erect homes, mills, and shops that he felt best reflected the way Americans had lived and worked, or that were associated with famous people he admired. Individuals even began to offer Ford historic structures for his Village.
By the mid-1930s, several Village shops were staffed by people demonstrating traditional craft skills, including glassblowers, blacksmiths, weavers, shoemakers, and potters. Visitors to Greenfield Village not only had the pleasure of watching the craftsmen work, they could also buy samples of their hand-crafted products. Craftsmen like brick makers and sawyers supported the Village restoration efforts.
Building the Museum While Ford Motor Company draftsman Edward J. Cutler labored in the muddy fields of Greenfield Village, architect Robert O. Derrick was designing a large indoor museum adjacent to the historical village to house the objects Ford had collected. Derrick suggested that the façade should resemble Independence Hall and related buildings of Philadelphia, with a large “Exhibition Hall” in back.
Since Henry Ford had rejected the notion of storage rooms, nearly everything had to be exhibited out in the open. The twelve-acre museum contained a glorious assemblage of stuff. To Ford, that assemblage represented the evolution of technological progress. For nearly a decade after the museum officially opened to the public in 1933, visitors found it a work in progress. The exhibits would not be completed until the early 1940s.
Additions to the Collections: 1930s
Stanley Cookstove Henry Ford appreciated the history found in everyday objects and in inventions that made people’s lives better. This innovative 1830s cookstove hits on both these “cylinders.” Used by people to prepare their daily meals, it is an everyday object with emotional connection to hearth and home. As an improvement over fireplace cooking, this cookstove is an example of technological progress--one of many that Ford was gathering for his museum. - Jeanine Head Miller, Curator of Domestic Life
Sweetmeat Dish owned by Alexander Hamilton Like many collectors in the 1930s, Henry Ford and his staff were interested in acquiring decorative arts objects that had strong historical associations. The staff also sought out works that were aesthetically pleasing. This sweetmeat basket, which descended through the family of Alexander Hamilton, fit the bill. Part of a larger set of Sheffield plate silver, the group was a prized acquisition in 1935. - Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts
Noah Webster Home Following the dedication of Greenfield Village in October of 1929, Henry Ford continued to expand, and “flesh out,” the collection of buildings in Greenfield Village. The Noah Webster House from New Haven, Conn., was one of the examples of projects brought to Henry Ford; the building was purchased from the salvage company that had already began the demolition. The Noah Webster story aligned perfectly with Henry Ford’s passion for education and his interest in the history of education in the United States. This home, where Noah Webster completed the American Dictionary, a work that finally defined American English to the rest of the world, could not have been a better fit. - Jim Johnson, Director of Greenfield Village and Curator of Historic Structures & Landscapes
Wright Cycle Shop Henry Ford admired self-made innovators who rose from humble roots to change the world. (He counted himself among them.) Surely the Wright brothers fit that mold. Ford acquired the Wrights' home and cycle shop in 1937, relocating them from Dayton, Ohio, to Greenfield Village. Wilbur had passed away in 1912, but Orville assisted Ford in the buildings' restoration. He provided furnishings and books original to the home and helped to locate surviving equipment used in the shop. - Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation
Machine Used to Strand Transatlantic Cable This cable machine, built by Glass, Eliot & Co., helped to wire the world. It was used at Enderby’s Wharf in Greenwich, England, to build the second transatlantic telegraph cable. Machines like these were used to create the core of submarine cable from iron and conductive copper—and then moved aboard a ship, where they applied a protective sheath made of galvanized steel, an insulating layer of gutta-percha, and a final layer of jute to protect against abrasion. These submarine cables—like the modern-day fiber-optic cables that carry the signals of Internet traffic—connected cultures and communities. - Kristen Gallerneaux, Curator of Communication & Information Technology
Circus Poster, Barnum & Bailey, A Child Dreaming of a Circus, 1896 In 1935, the Strobridge Lithographing Company donated 329 circus posters to this institution. The company produced posters for the biggest circuses, including Barnum & Bailey and the Ringling Brothers. This collection of colorful posters give insight into the excitement that “Circus Day” held in communities – and especially rural communities – all over the country. In many towns, the day was treated like a holiday, with schools and workplaces closed for the occasion. This particularly evocative poster illustrates the eager dream of a child, anticipating the wonders of the circus. - Katherine White, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Coffeepot, Made by Paul Revere, 1755-1765 With an eye for design and a developed artistic sensibility, avid art collector, Edsel Ford, began collecting early American silver in the 1920s. In 1936, Edsel donated part of his silver collection to his father's museum, including this coffeepot made by silversmith Paul Revere. A talented artisan, Revere created this coffeepot in the late 1750s or early 1760s -- before his famed midnight ride that warned fellow Patriots, "the British are coming." Wealthy citizens in colonial America used luxury silver items like this coffeepot to consume popular drinks of the time period, which included tea and coffee. - Ryan Jelso, Associate Curator, Digital Content
Jacquard Loom When Henry Ford couldn’t locate a suitable Jacquard loom for Greenfield Village in the 1930s, he commissioned weaving master Sidney Holloway to create blueprints for the construction of this reproduction. This loom employs the innovative punch card technology (developed by French weaver Joseph-Marie Jacquard) that revolutionized the weaving industry in the early 1800s. As an artifact, it helps tell a broad story of industrial change and exemplifies Henry Ford’s commitment to experience-based education. - Saige Jedele, Associate Curator, Digital Content
McGuffey Newly Revisited First Reader - 1844 Henry and Clara Ford both were taught on McGuffey Readers. These beloved primers that taught both morals and literacy skills make up the foundation of the library at The Henry Ford. Many different editions, like this one, were bought in the 1930s to help round out a full collection of McGuffey Readers. - Sarah Andrus, Librarian
Jenny Young Chandler Collection Jenny Young Chandler’s photographs not only capture scenes of daily life in and around Brooklyn, New York, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, but also document objects and collections held by private individuals and museums in New York and New England during the same period. These themes of documenting everyday life and building museum collections, as well as the use of photography, were all very much of interest to Henry Ford when he acquired this collection in 1932. - Brian Wilson, Senior Manager Archives and Library, Benson Ford Research Center
1926 Fordson Tractor Cutaway The Ford Motor Company used cutaways to educate customers about new technologies. They conveyed information about internal combustion, power generation, and transmission through arrows and symbols, but few words. Antonio Stabile, a Ford distributor in Rosario, Argentina, displayed this cutaway made from a 1926 Fordson tractor, in the showroom and at exhibitions. (Ford incorporated a branch office in Argentina in 1919.) Model changes made the cutaway obsolete. Mr. Stabile shipped it and a similar Model T cutaway, both created in the service department at Agencia Ford Stabile, under the direction of Bernardo Pagliani, to Ford in late 1931. - Debra Reid, Curator of Agriculture & the Environment
In 1927, Greenfield Village was “born,” as Henry Ford began to acquire buildings and move them to Dearborn for his historical village. The first building Ford bought was the Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern), which came from the village of Clinton, Mich., about 45 miles west.
Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern) on its original site in Clinton, Mich., mid-1920s. THF237242
The dilapidated 1831 stagecoach inn had stood on the Chicago Road in Clinton for almost 100 years. Ella Smith, its owner, still lived in the badly deteriorated building. As Henry Ford’s agents stood inside the crumbling structure, they worried it might collapse. One of Ford’s assistants observed, “There was only one man in 4,000 that would consider it anything but a pile of junk.” Yet, Henry Ford’s vision and resources assured that this early 1830s inn--built when Michigan was still a territory--survived.
The Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern) in Greenfield Village, August 1929. THF123747
By summer 1929, the inn stood--restored--on the village green, as Greenfield Village continued to take shape around it.