Dressing Goodfellows dolls has been a Christmas tradition in Detroit since 1924, and the Ford Motor Company Girls’ Club was a major participant in dressing Goodfellows dolls for underprivileged children in Detroit for many years. Starting in 1946 by dressing 65 dolls, the club’s peak donation was 3,000 dresses in 1967, 1969, and 1970, and they averaged between 1,500 to 3,000 dolls most years.
The Ford Girls’ Club was started in 1946 under the Recreation Section of Ford Motor Company. Every female employee – salaried, or hourly – was automatically a member (though active membership did cost $1.00 per year). Any immediate female family member of a club member could join, as could the wives of Ford male employees. The club was primarily social, meeting once a month in addition to dinners, picnics, dances, lectures, and workshops. Members were also service oriented - they held dances for returning veterans, gave gifts and visited veterans in hospitals, and each Christmas they participated in clothing dolls for the Goodfellows to distribute, making thousands and thousands of handmade dresses over the years.
Dolls were usually handed out at the annual November service meeting. The club’s first foray into dress making was in 1946, when women of the club made 65 handmade dresses for dolls. The next year they jumped up to 290, with the dresses being displayed in the Administration Building cafeteria before being sent to the Goodfellows. As more women joined the club, interest grew in this Christmas service project and the club dressed more and more dolls each year, with their finished projects being displayed in various Ford Motor Company buildings’ lobbies, and offices, as well as the Dearborn Virginia Dare storefront window in 1949. The number of dresses made continued to climb each year reaching to almost one thousand in 1954, and the dolls were displayed for the first time at the Rotunda Christmas Fantasy. The next few years were dress-making bonanzas, and in 1957 2,500 dolls were dressed and displayed at the Rotunda for visitors to view before they were distributed to girls in the Detroit area on Christmas Eve. The Girl’s Club maintained a high production rate in the years to come - between 1,750 and 2,000 dresses were made annually and displayed at the Rotunda or Ford Motor Company buildings. In 1966 production saw another jump when the club made almost 3,000, a number they reached the next year and continued to reach or come close to for the next four years.
The handmade dresses were made of all kinds of fabric, from cotton to organdy, satin and lace. Women also knit and crocheted dresses, from wool to angora. Dolls dressed as nurses, astronauts, drum majorettes, hula dancers, Girl Scouts, flying nuns, ballerinas, and ice skaters complete with skates, graced the displays, as did brides, baby dolls, and all kinds of different ethnic dresses. Women could make any type of dress they wanted, but prizes were given by the Goodfellows, and later Ford, in specific categories:
Knit and crocheted
Goodfellows prizes ranged from $1 for a dress placing in a particular division to a grand prize of $10. Ford soon began judging the Girls’ Club’s work and awarding prizes as well, with the dresses usually judged by the wives of the Goodfellows’ president and executive officers. Early on prizes were cash, but when the displays headed to the Rotunda the stakes were raised. Grand prize in the 1950s and early 1960s was a sewing machine and console, second prize being a portable sewing machine, and third prize was a sewing cabinet.
The prizes, of course, were always of secondary importance in the Girls’ Club work with the Goodfellows' goal of “no child without a Christmas.” Over a 27-year period, 1946-1972, the Ford Girls’ Club donated over 45,000 hand-made dresses to the Detroit Goodfellows' organization to distribute to area children. The Ford employee newsletter The Rouge News and later Ford World carried stories and photos of the club’s donations every year, urging members of the club and others in the Ford organization to participate. We lose track of the Ford Girls’ Club here in the archive at about 1973, when Ford World ceased publishing stories on the yearly donation of dolls. However, judging from the 1972 output of 2,000 dolls, it seems likely the club continued the annual service drive for some years after.
The Goodfellows still distribute dolls and people in the metro Detroit area continue to provide dresses each year.
Kathy Makas is Reference Archivist at The Henry Ford.
With the holiday season firmly upon us, many people’s thoughts are turning to presents, and what present is more classic than a doll? This week’s collections object is a doll handmade from a woolen sock sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Though it may look a bit less friendly now, with its painted-on face having mostly faded away, it was no doubt a child’s beloved possession. Visit our collections site to find more than 140 dolls and related items, including more than 20 just-added dolls of bisque, cloth, papier mache, and wood, as well as dolls that walk and talk.
Last week the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong announced the 12 finalists for this year’s class of inductees. Just two lucky toys will make the cut on Nov. 7 to join the ranks of other beloved honorees, such as LEGO toys, Barbie, Lincoln Logs and Hot Wheels. It’s a tough call: is My Little Pony more worthy than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?! This year’s finalists are:
My Little Pony
Toy Army Men
Magic 8 Ball
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Fischer-Price Little People
Which two toys would you nominate for the Toy Hall of Fame? Is there a toy you’re hoping someday will make the list?
We have a variety of toys in our collection here at The Henry Ford, spanning current-day favorites to primitive playthings, including several of this year’s finalists.
From our collection, here are some of this year’s finalists.
Hasbro introduced its My Little Pony line of toys in 1983. It was a big seller. The Ponies were not dolls but they did feature two long-important aspects of doll appeal: hair care and fashion. The ponies' hair was a silky mane that could be twisted, braided, and styled. A matching ribbon and comb came with each pony. These toys combined "friendship" and grooming play. In 1986, My Little Pony got her own cartoon series, My Little Pony 'n Friends. In the series, the Ponies, together with the wise little Moochick, the Bushwoolies, and human friends Megan, Molly, Danny, and Spike, kept Ponyland safe from witches, trolls, and the like.
Magic 8 Ball
This is novelty version of a crystal ball was introduced in 1946, at a time when forecasting the future was a popular pastime. How it worked: The ball is actually two separate halves glued together (then polished to help make the seam disappear). Inside is a plastic vial, affixed to one end and standing upright. About the size of a juice glass, the vial is filled with a blue liquid, which is made up of a combination of water, blue coloring, and propylene glycol, an antifreeze to keep the solution from turning solid during shipping. Floating in the liquid is a polyhedron, whose 20 sides bear 20 different answers in raised letters. The clear plastic cap that seals the cylinder not only assures that the blue solution won't leak out, but doubles as the little window through which you view your answers.
Toy Army Men
In the 1950s, toy makers began producing military toys that celebrated World War II as a historical event. Along with Civil War and Robin Hood playsets, catalogs featured playsets that allowed children to reenact World War II battles. Ship models were advertised as a way for boys to relate to their veteran fathers. Bags of cheap hard plastic army men, two or three inches tall, were a common toy to 1950s boys, allowing them to restage World War II battles. This type of war play continued into the 1960s and culminated with the introduction of Hasbro's GI Joe doll in 1964. While initially inspired by a television show, GI Joe came to represent the average soldier, evoking memories of fathers' experience in World War II and the Korean War. The point was to imitate the real world of adults in the military and connect fathers with sons.
Chess is one of the oldest and most popular board games. It is played by two opponents on a checkered board with specially designed pieces of contrasting colors, commonly white and black.
Fisher-Price Little People
Often play sets were miniaturized sets of household items, like dishes and kitchen appliances, or real-life settings like farms or circuses. The "Play Family Farm" (Fisher-Price #915) has been produced continually since 1968. When the barn door is open, a mooing sound can be heard. The silo is designed for storing accessories.
Lish Dorset is the social media manager for The Henry Ford. She’s pulling for My Little Pony and Fischer-Price Little People to take the National Toy Hall of Fame honors this year.
(This story ran in the fall edition of Living History magazine)
At first, you can’t quite believe your eyes — towering models of architectural icons, some of them 18 feet tall. The Empire State Building. St. Louis' Gateway Arch. Frank Lloyd Wright's masterful Fallingwater. Shanghai’s Jin Mao Tower. They’re breathtaking.
What’s most remarkable, though, is that these models are constructed completely of LEGO® bricks. Not specially engineered bricks. No, these eye-popping models are made of nothing more than standard, out-of-the-box LEGO® pieces.
The models are all part of LEGO®Architecture: Towering Ambition, which runs until Feb. 24 in Henry Ford Museum.
Even though this is definitely a grown-up approach to LEGO® bricks, it’s hardly a somber one. As you make your way through this city of monumental plastic behemoths, the “wow” factor is in full force. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever see anything like this again. (Don’t worry — we haven’t forgotten the kids. There’s a LEGO® pit, where they can test their chops in LEGO® construction.)
But what exactly are these monster-sized creations? LEGO’s latest marketing gimmick? The work of a madman or an off-kilter visionary? The obsessive project of a guy with way too much time on his hands?
“I wouldn’t call myself obsessed,” laughs Adam Reed Tucker, the 40-year-old Chicago architect who created these behemoths. “I consider myself an innovator, so maybe a better word is ...” He pauses, looking for precisely the right word to describe what it is that drives him.
It’s a revealing moment. This isn’t just a guy searching for a word. This is a glimpse at Tucker, the perfectionist — exacting, precise, focused and determined to find the absolute best way to accomplish a task, even if it’s just searching for a better word. You hear it when he talks about his work. And you most definitely see it in these immense models.
A few minutes after he resumes talking, he interrupts himself.
“Maybe ‘driven’ is a better word,” Tucker says. But right away, you sense that he’s not satisfied with it.
This show, organized by the National Building Museum in Washington D.C., has proven to be one of the most popular in the 27-year-old museum’s history. That’s hardly surprising, given the prodigious combination of skill and imagination that Tucker’s lofty creations demonstrate.
It’s this combination that led LEGO® to award him the status of LEGO® Certified Professional. But Tucker, who created these works before he had any official standing with LEGO®, downplays the title.
“Really, all you have to have is an existing brick-based business,” says Tucker. But then, almost as an afterthought, he mentions another prerequisite. “You have to use the LEGO® brick in a way that is unique and innovative.”
Apparently, that last requirement is not particularly easy to satisfy, as Tucker is just one of 11 people in the world to receive the certification.
“I’m consumed with exploring and pushing the envelope of where the LEGO® brick can go,” says Tucker, speaking by telephone from his home in suburban Chicago. “I’m enamored by all of the usefulness that LEGO® harnesses within itself — education, philosophy, team-building, therapy, art, science.”
Notice that he never mentions the word “toy.”
“Here’s the thing,” says Tucker, finally getting to the idea he’s been champing at the bit to share. “LEGO® is my artistic medium. These bricks are, to me, what paint is to a painter, what metal is to a blacksmith. My medium of choice is plastic bricks that happen to be called LEGO®.”
Marc Greuther, The Henry Ford’s chief curator, understands precisely what Tucker is talking about.
“Even as a child, I understood that there was something rational and linear about LEGO® bricks,” says Greuther. “But I also understood that they were not literal. They were not something that existed in the real, grown-up world. You could use them to build things that were fanciful. But what you built was a reflection of your imagination and not of an architect’s drawing.”
It’s no coincidence that Tucker refers to himself as an “architectural artist.” You won’t find him doggedly following blueprints or schematics as he makes his structures. He’s trying to capture the essence of these buildings, not mimic every tiny architectural element. Compare a detailed photo of the original structure with one of Tucker’s creations, and you will immediately see that, while they are very similar to one another, they are not the same.
“I would be completely delusional to think that I could replicate anything in this world using square LEGO® bricks,” says Tucker. “I prefer to think of what I do as abstract interpretations. I let your imagination fill in the details. I’m more interested in a given structure’s pure sculptural form.
“Trust me, if you try to make something that a brick doesn’t want to be, it will not work. Even children eventually understand that.”
With one glance, it’s clear this isn’t your kids’ LEGO exhibit. It’s not that they won’t enjoy it, because they most certainly will. My 11-year-old son and his friend will attest to that. Their jaws were dropped in awe walking through the exhibit space. They were officially blown away. So were the adults.
I found the exhibit much more of an art exhibit than a toy display. We took the kids to the LEGO Castle Adventure exhibit in the same space just a few years ago, and although I wasn’t expecting a repeat theme, I certainly wasn’t imagining dramatic structures of this detail, beauty and scale.
LEGO artist Adam Reed Tucker takes the familiar building brick out of the box and uses it in some not-so-familiar ways to create remarkable replicas of some of the world’s architectural icons. Some buildings included in the exhibit are the Empire State Building, St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, the Sky Needle, Transamerica Pyramid, Shanghai’s Jin Mao Tower and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Also part of the exhibit is Detroit’s Ford Field. The completed structure will be moved for unveiling and display at the field on Thanksgiving then returned to Henry Ford Museum the next day.
Tucker was on hand the opening weekend of the exhibit. He continued work on the Ford Field replica, took time to answer questions, sign autographs and even gave an impromptu tour.
An architect by trade and in practice, the tough economy put Tucker in a position of reconsidering his life’s work. After years of working with computer renderings in the business side of architecture, he had a desire to create with his own hands and inspire others to do the same. That’s where building with LEGO came in.
Tucker came up with a plan to use LEGO to recreate some famous buildings and sell them. In an effort to get reacquainted with the building bricks - he hadn’t built with them since before high school – he said he went to Toys R Us and filled 13 baskets with LEGO kits. (There was an audible gasp from the children present.)
Adam Reed Tucker demonstrates creative repurposing of a standard LEGO piece.
Tucker said the reason he chose LEGO was simple: to inspire others. “I wanted to teach people about architecture and encourage them to build models with just LEGO pieces. Using LEGO doesn’t require glue, putty or any special skills or tools.” He said the only difference in skill is in how you use LEGO. For many of the buildings in the exhibit, he creatively repurposed parts by at times using them in ways not originally intended.
Tucker came up with the concept of “artitecture” and his work eventually led him to an association with LEGO as a creator of LEGO Architecture sets.
Playing with LEGO as a child fed Tucker’s interest in architecture, and now in some ways he has come full circle. I asked him if he ever in his wildest dreams thought he’d be doing this, he laughed and said, “No, I didn’t.” But he also said he plans to continue doing it for the rest of his life.
I can honestly say, I will never look at a LEGO quite the same. I’m not sure if that means I won’t howl quite as much when I step on a wayward piece, but I will recognize the piece for the possibility, potential and inspiration it can bring to the minds of the young and old.
The exhibit includes a very large LEGO play area for visitors of all ages to put some of their newly found inspiration into practice. My son and his friend spent nearly two hours creating some architectural gems that they eagerly added to the growing LEGO city display table.
It seems like LEGO has been a part of my life since as far back as I can remember. What started as a few simple sets, like this basic building set from the collections of The Henry Ford, from friends and family has turned into hundreds of boxes sprawled over a customized workshop in my own house.
I was always good at entertaining myself as a child and took to LEGO early. The collection was initially stored in a small tub, but eventually graduated to a chest of drawers. I removed my clothes and found a less suitable storage solution for them. LEGO was far more important and this allowed me to hover over the drawers and build my creations on top of my dresser.
My parents somehow put up with this and continued to feed the obsession. Before I out grew my bunk beds, they were an ideal surface to create towns, space campus or medieval battlefields. I have a pretty strong imagination and LEGO helped grow and develop it.
To this day, when asked what I would like for Christmas, I always respond, "LEGO."
LEGO bricks are such a fascinating medium because you can visualize 3-D objects simply and effectively. It works best for creations that are angular with straight edges. It's also a great medium for prototyping simple machines and casting moulds.
So just how important are my LEGO sets? I designed and built a LEGO workshop in the basement of my house. Having a space like this has helped me tackle new projects, like picture mosaics and 3-D logos.
Were you at Maker Faire Detroit? If you were, than you might have seen me as Nick Brickly, host of my Brick Challenge game show. It's a LEGO-based game show similar to Double Dare. We ask questions and challenge contestants to mini games. Join the fun on stage Saturdays in January 2013 at Henry Ford Museum.
I can't wait to see LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition when it opens its doors tomorrow. Just like Brick Challenge, the LEGO Architecture series and the work of Adam Reed Tucker are great examples of how LEGO is more than a toy - it's a medium for creation and communication.
Nick Britsky is Royal Oak-based LEGO lover and maker. A participant of Maker Faire Detroit since 2010, you can catch him on stage at Anderson Theater this winter as part of LEGO Architecture: Towering Ambition's Saturday programming.