Over about a decade in the early part of the 20th century, a quartet including Henry Ford, inventor Thomas Edison, businessman Harvey Firestone, and naturalist John Burroughs took a series of summer camping trips, sometimes inviting others along for part or all of the journey. The group, calling themselves the Vagabonds, took trips that might not exactly qualify as “roughing it”—they travelled with a caravan of vehicles, a full contingent of service staff, and many comforts of home including furniture and china tableware. We’ve just digitized dozens of photos of the Vagabonds in action, including this photo of the group having breakfast at a large lazy susan–equipped wooden table. View more than 100 photos and artifacts related to the Vagabonds by visiting The Henry Ford’s digital collections.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Friends Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison, and John Burroughs went on camping trips together for a number of years, calling themselves the Vagabonds. Their trips were quite luxurious, by camping standards, involving a sizable caravan of staff and equipment. Why eat off tinware, for example, when one could use china instead? The Henry Ford’s collection includes a selection of the early 20th century Tudor Rose china that these august figures used on their wilderness trips, including the bouillon cup shown here. View photos and artifacts related to the Vagabonds on our collections website.
This year we're proud to celebrate what would have been the 150th birthday of our institute's founder, Henry Ford. Throughout the year we'll be sharing content and stories here on The Henry Ford's blog about one of America's greatest innovators.
At The Henry Ford, we often think and talk about Henry Ford, our institution’s founder. This is particularly true this year, which marks 150 years since Henry Ford was born. To commemorate this major milestone, we wanted to tackle a digitization project in Henry’s honor.
When it comes to our Henry Ford–related collections, the problem is narrowing down our vast holdings on all of Henry’s interests, activities, and businesses. A team of curators and educators from The Henry Ford had a series of meetings and discussions earlier this year, and came up with 17 topics that represent major themes in Henry’s life. After that, they made selections from our collections that best represent each of those themes. Their selections have now been digitized and are up on our collections website for anyone to browse.
The thing most identified with Henry Ford is the Model T, a car introduced in 1908 that was reasonably priced, reliable, and effective on the bad roads of the day. Three sets of collections items help tell this story. On the Way to the Model T shares some artifacts that show how Henry’s career progressed, such as the 1896 Quadricycle, the first car Henry ever built, and a 1901 photograph showing the race (featured above) that helped Henry gain notoriety and financial backing for his auto ventures. The Model T set shows a few of the Model T’s in the collections of the Henry Ford, including an early 1909 version, and also shows how quickly the Model T was assimilated into all aspects of daily life, from rural families to ingenious work applications. Post-Model T covers many of Henry’s business activities following the Model T, including the introduction of the V-8 engine and war production at Willow Run.
Some of the sets give you a deeper glimpse into Henry’s life. A set covering his Youth demonstrates that from an early age Henry showed a fascination with both the mechanical and the natural world. His love of nature would persist and can later be seen in his frequent camping trips; a set on the Vagabonds, as he and his comrades called themselves, covers both stereotypical camping activities and objects that might lead one to suspect the Vagabonds were not exactly roughing it, like a photo of their extensive entourage.
Finally, no review of our Henry Ford collections would be complete if we didn’t talk about ourselves just a bit. You can get a concise story of the founding of The Henry Ford, aka the Edison Institute, on our website, but we have now created a set of collections items related to the Founding of the Edison Institute as well. From the construction of the Museum building to our cornerstone, inscribed by Thomas Edison himself, these artifacts will give you a glimpse into the early days of The Henry Ford.
Check out all our Henry Ford collections sets via the list below and let us know what you think!
Now that school's out and summer is here, many of us turn our thoughts to vacation and travel. Camping has long been a way for Americans to spend time relaxing with their families and friends and experiencing the beauties and wonders of nature — and sometimes just being a kid again.
Between 1915 and 1924, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, tire magnate Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs (who took part 1916-1920), calling themselves "the Four Vagabonds," embarked on a series of summer camping trips. Others joined the group at various times, among them family, business associates and politicians, including U.S. presidents. (Photo found here.)
Over the years, the group crisscrossed the mountains, valleys and scenic countryside of Upstate New York, the New England states, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia,Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
The group traveled in style and their adventures were well-documented and publicized. Equipment used by the party included a folding circular camp table with lazy Susan seating twenty (pictured above), a twenty-square-foot dining tent, sleeping tents with mosquito netting, a gasoline stove and a refrigerated Lincoln camping truck. A professional chef prepared the group's meals and film crews and numerous outside journalists followed in their wake. Ford complained of the attention and its hampering effects on their trips, but there are strong indications that he nevertheless relished the publicity. (Photos found here and here.)
Yet Henry Ford's interest in nature was not new or merely a public relations gambit. Here he is with Clara at the Grand Canyon in 1906. They were avid birders and had over 500 birdhouses installed amid the naturalistic landscaping (designed by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen) of their Fair Lane Estate. John Burroughs helped them rehabilitate the adjoining land and reintroduce wildlife to the area.
In addition to the collectionsimagesonline, we've also digitized films of the Vagabonds. Here, John Burroughs plants a tree; the group walks, dines and relaxes at the campsite; and Henry Ford climbs a tree.
Even more still images from our photographic collections featuring the Vagabonds are available on our Flickr page. Here's Henry clowning around in a cowboy getup. (Below photo found here.)
Though executed on a grander scale than most camping trips, the Vagabonds' journeys spoke to a desire, shared by millions of Americans, to get back to the beauties of nature and, as Burroughs wrote, to "be not a spectator of, but a participator in, it all!"*
*(Burroughs, John. Our Vacation Days of 1918. Privately printed by Harvey Firestone, ca. 1918-1920s.)
Rebecca Bizonet is former archivist at the Benson Ford Research Center at The Henry Ford. When she's not helping preserve and provide access to her institution's vast and rich archival holdings, she enjoys exploring Michigan's scenic highways (and finds the many opportunities for great whitefish and pasties, not to mention the scenic historic and natural wonders, more than make up for not having a personal chef in tow!).