Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

The Digital Collections of The Henry Ford: 20,000 Items and Growing

November 18, 2013 Archive Insight

October 24, 2013, was a Thursday like any other Thursday in the offices of The Henry Ford—until 5:48 PM rolled around. At 5:48 PM precisely (not that we were counting), we completed digitization of our 20,000th collections item! There was much rejoicing and taking of celebratory screenshots of our collections management system.

Having seen this goal on the horizon, we had already discussed which item should be the auspicious 20,000th. We settled on something both significant and (we felt) celebratory: a photograph of the first industrial robot, Unimate, serving a drink to George Devol, its creator.

Unimate Machine Serving a Drink to George Devol, 1970-1985.

We also arranged to have cake, celebrating the many staff in the institution who work on digitization in large and small ways.

celebrationcake

And, we commemorated some of the notable digitization projects we’d worked on over the past few years with stickers created from our digital collections images.

Can-Do Stickers

Long-time photographer Rudy Ruzicska proudly showed off his stickers to Henry Ford.

rudy-henry

There is a good reason we made such a big deal out of this milestone. Even though digitization is a relatively new process for The Henry Ford (and for many other museums and archives), the potential of getting our collections online is enormous.

Case in point, only about 9% of all the material we’ve digitized thus far is items currently located in public areas in the Museum or in Greenfield Village. About 60% of our digitized content is located in our archival stacks, previously accessible only through a visit to the Research Library in the Benson Ford Research Center. About half a percent of our digitized collections are items currently on loan to another institution, ranging from a few miles away (this Hudson, for example, is currently on loan to the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Collection) to halfway across the world (as witness this Rolls-Royce hood ornament, currently located in China). The remaining 30% or so of the collections items we’ve digitized are neither on public display nor accessible through the Research Library—they are items the public (and even many of our staff and volunteers!) would never otherwise get to see.

This is where the digital world offers a whole new way for our visitors to learn the stories behind our collections—not just by paying us a visit in person, but by making a virtual visit to the treasure trove of documents, photographs, and objects that we hold in trust for current and future generations.

We hope you enjoy viewing all of our growing digital collections. If you have a suggestion for what we should digitize next, or have thoughts on how we can make these digital collections more useful and meaningful, please let us know in the comments below!

Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford, is already counting down to our next digital collection milestone.

artifacts, digital collections

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