Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

The Henry Ford’s CAN-DO Digitization Project: 2012 in Review

January 15, 2013 Archive Insight

The Henry Ford, like many cultural institutions, has been working on digitizing its collections—i.e., photographing and describing them, and making this information available online. While what we have completed is only a drop in the bucket given the vastness of our collections (25 million archival documents and photographs, and 1 million objects), we have made a lot of progress this year and wanted to share what we’ve accomplished.

There are two big projects we took on this year (in addition to many smaller ones). The first was digitization of 250 objects in support of the mobile version of our website. This included adding photographs and descriptions for the many Greenfield Village buildings—for example, check out the Menlo Park Laboratory, the Daggett Farmhouse, the Armington & Sims Machine Shop, and even the Firestone Farm Chicken Shed.

In Henry Ford Museum, we photographed and described objects from each of the permanent exhibits that we considered “can’t miss” artifacts. You’ll see some things you might expect, like the Wienermobile, the Dymaxion House, and the Rosa Parks bus, but have you ever gotten to see some of our lesser-known treasures, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt’s rocking chair, a Brownie camera, flintlock pistols, and a Paul Revere coffeepot?.

Evening Dress Made by Peggy Hoyt for Elizabeth Parke Firestone, 1928

The second big project for 2012 was creation of our Curators’ Choice lists. We asked our curators to select the 25 most important objects in our collections in each of 7 categories. (Henry Ford got 50, because, well, his name is on our door—and because 2013 will mark his 150th birthday.) There were three criteria the curators used for their selections: national significance, uniqueness to our institution, and resonance to museum visitors. It tells you a bit about the scope and import of our collections that many of these significant items are not on display—but you can now view them all online. They range from a massive cable strander to a tiny scrap of a poem, from a 17th century horse racing trophy to a 1990s cell phone, from an elegant evening dress

Lincoln Logs, circa 1960 (Object ID 90.365.13)

In addition to these two major projects, we also spent 2012 digitizing selections from throughout our collections, many with ties to current exhibits and events. Have you seen our visiting LEGO® exhibit and want more? Check out our digital collection of building toys. Did you make it out to Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village or Holiday Nights? Take a look at some of the vintage greeting cards that help inspire our décor for these events. Were you able to participate in some of our special weekend muster events? Learn more about our collections relating to the War of 1812 or the American Civil War—you may have seen some of these objects on display during your visit!

In addition to the above, we have digitized selections from the following areas of our collections for your immediate browsing pleasure.

From our transportation collections, you can review the Morgan Gies collection, wonderful lantern slides from the early 20th century New York to Paris and New York to Seattle races, and classic design drawings from Bill Mitchell and Virgil Exner.

Circus Trapeze Artist, circa 1890 (Object ID

If you prefer paper-based artifacts, you might take a look at our digital cabinet cards, cartes-de-visite, and trade cards. These provide a glimpse of many aspects of 19th century life.

Henry Ford as a Small Child Being Shown a Bird's Nest by his Family, Painted by Irving Bacon, 1936 (Object ID 00.28.17)

If you are interested in the historical figures who helped shape American history, try our digital collections relating to designer Don Chadwick, racecar driver Lyn St. James, agricultural pioneer George Washington Carver, and a vastly expanded selection of artifacts related to Henry Ford. We also have a variety of personal documents from notables including Abraham Lincoln, Aaron Burr, George Washington, Mark Twain, and Alexander Graham Bell. Read their own words in their own hand from the comfort of your home!

Hammond Typewriter, Model No. 2, 1895-1900 (Object ID 37.154.2)

But wait, there’s more! Check out quilts, coverlets, stoves, telephones, lunchboxes, patent models, steam engines, toys, typewriters, and violins, as well as many objects from our World’s Fair and agricultural collections.


In total, with all of the above objects digitized (and, believe it or not, many more I did not mention), we added about 8,000 new objects to our collections site in 2012! Still, we have much, much more to do. We are still in the process of putting our 2013 list together, but we know we will be tackling areas of our collections related to agricultural, industrial, and technological innovations, as well as automobile racing. In addition, we’ll continue digitizing collections objects to bring some context to several 2013 milestones: the 150th birthday of Henry Ford, the 100th birthday of Rosa Parks, and the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death.

The single biggest reason we have embarked on this massive digitization project is to provide easy public access to our collections, the vast majority of which are not on display. As we reflect on our efforts last year, I and everyone on our digitization team hope that you are finding our digital collections as fascinating, enjoyable, and informative as we are. If there are areas of our collection you would like to see us digitize in 2013, please let us know in the comments below or via our Facebook page.

Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford, is very excited by the digitization promise of 2013.

archives, artifacts, digital artifacts

Facebook Comments