Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

The technological legacy of Steve Jobs

October 6, 2011

 

 

Steve Jobs, Apple’s visionary co-founder, passed away yesterday, and the web is filled with an astounding outpouring of respect and gratitude for his work.  It’s a testament to the impact personal technology – mass-produced consumer products – can have on people’s lives.

 

Lisa computer - from the collections of The Henry Ford

 

At The Henry Ford, we document not only the work of innovators, but the ways people use technology in their everyday lives.  We collect artifacts that by their physicality and tangibility, their heft and their look, connect visitors to history and the lives of the people who used them. The Apple products in our collection – including an Apple IIe, a Lisa, a Macintosh, an iMac, an iPod and an iPhone – were used by ordinary people to write, teach, do business, play games, listen to music and connect to each other.  Jobs’ product genius was in making those activities easy, transparent and fun – and in making the products highly desirable.

 

An Apple iMac, on display in the Your Place In Time exhibit inside Henry Ford Museum.

 

In the early 1980s, with Jobs at Apple’s helm, the company popularized the mouse and “graphic user interface” – the cheerful icons and desktop and folder metaphors that we still use in everyday computing.  These innovations made computing accessible to everybody, not only people who could code. Over at our OnInnovation site, Steve Wozniak, Apple’s brilliant engineer co-founder, talks about how making computing fun and easy was the company’s goal from the beginning.

 

steve_jobs_and_wozniak

 

Jobs famously described the company as located at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. He infused a respect for creativity, intelligence and design into the company’s products – integrating color graphics quite early, for instance, and making one of his own passions, music, the key to a new kind of product, the digital music player.

 

iPod - from the collections of The Henry Ford

 

The products Apple made under Jobs were never cheap.  They were aspirational consumer goods that promised to make your life better, to make you a cool nonconformist, to make you “think different.”  Did they? Maybe and maybe not, but Jobs’ legacy reminds us that our tools can change not only the way we live our lives, but the way we think about ourselves.

 

Suzanne Fischer is The Henry Ford's curator of technology.

Apple, Apple computers, Steve Jobs

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