Detroit: The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

Detroit: The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

The Henry Ford was founded on Oct 21, 1929, as part of the Edison Institute. The purpose was  to preserve items of historical interest and innovation.  It later opened to the public as a museum.

In the 523,000 square feet facility, there is opportunity to display innovations large, small and every size in-between. 

There is a list of the must see exhibits.  All but one will be featured in this post. (We saw the exploded Eames lounge chair but it failed to make an impression on us at the time and I didn’t take a picture.)

The first must see we came to was the Dymaxion House.  This unique housing was prototyped for mass production in 1946 at a price of $6,500 each.  Over 3700 inquiries were made about the 1017 square foot home but very few were ever built.  

The Graham family, initial investors of the Dymaxion, lived in this house for 20 years.  They had challenges with sound, heating and cooling.  In 1992 the Grahams gave their Dymaxion, the last remaining, to the Henry Ford Museum.

Another of the must see items was the Rosa Parks Bus. 

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on this bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  That event sparked the Civil Rights Movement.

This was the seat Rosa Parks was sitting in.  We were at the Henry Ford on a weekday in May and there were many school groups on field trips.  We were delighted to see and hear that the students on the bus were very knowledgable about the event and almost all wanted to sit in the very seat.

Also on the list is the chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot at Ford Theatre.

This is the 1961 Lincoln that President John F. Kennedy was riding in when he was shot in Dallas in 1963.   The car was made by the Lincoln Motor Company (a Division of Ford) in Dearborn.  It was a deep blue color at the time of Kennedy’s use.  

Following Kennedy’s assassination, the car underwent a rebuild, changing the color to black, but also adding full armor, bullet resistant glass, tires that can run flat and a back rail and platform for secret service agents.     The car was used occasionally by presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter.

There were other presidential vehicles on display including this Brougham carriage used by President Teddy Roosevelt.  He did not like automobiles. The build year on this carriage is circa 1902 and was not custom.  It was also used in the Taft, Wilson, Harding and Coolidge administrations for household errands.

This 1939 Lincoln was the first car ever built purposefully for use by a president – in this case for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was nicknamed the “Sunshine Special” because he loved to ride in it with the top down. It had extra wide running boards and rear hinges on the back seat doors to make it easier to get FDR in and out of the car.  After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 the car was returned to the factory where it was equipped with armor plate and bullet-resistant tires and gas tank. The “Sunshine Special” was also used by President Harry Truman and retired in 1950.

President Dwight Eisenhower used this new 1950 Lincoln “Bubbletop”   There was (and is) always a conflict between a president’s desire to be accessible and seen, and the desire to keep him safe.

This 1972 Lincoln was used from 1972-92 by presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and GHW Bush.  Reagan was injured when, in an assassination attempt, a bullet ricocheted off the car and hit him.

These vehicles were just a few of well over one hundred being displayed in one collection or another.  There were vehicles in all shapes, sizes, ages, power sources and purpose.

Being a Ford museum, of course there is information about the Model T.  In this display they identified 7882 distinct steps in making the 1923 Model T Touring car.   

In 1956, the Ford Motor Company built the Thunderbird.  It was promoted as a car purchased just for the pleasure of driving. 

This is a 1962 Mustang I Roadster.  The Mustang was designed to have people think of Ford as exciting and forward thinking.   This was a concept car and different from the Mustang that was released in 1964. 

There was an entire collection of racing cars from early to current.  This particular Ford vehicle was the winner of the 10 mile 1901 Sweepstakes.

This 1967 Mark IV was driven by the first all American car team to win La Mans, a 24 hour race. It was built by Ford in Dearborn.

In 1903, this Packard  was the second vehicle to go across the continent from San Francisco to New York City.  It took 61 days.  (The first vehicle to do so, also in 1903, took 63 days.)

The most photographed item in the museum, and not to be missed, is the 1942 Allegheny class locomotive, one of the largest and strongest ever built.  It was designed to pull 160 coal cars, each with a 60- ton load over the Allegheny Mountains between Virginia and West Virginia.  That load might be 1.25 miles in length!

Allegheny #1601 was the second ever built and is one of only two remaining.  It is 125-ft long, 11-ft 2-in wide, 16-ft 5 ½-in tall and weighs approximately 771,000 lbs.  Its original price was $230,663.

This is a 1922 Canadian Pacific Snowplow engine used from 1923 to 1990 in rural Canada and New England.   The engine’s wings plow a single track 16 feet wide.

The last run of this 1858 Rogers train brought Henry and Clara Ford and their guests, Thomas and Mina Edison, and President Herbert Hoover and First Lady Lou Hoover to the dedication ceremony for The Henry Ford’s 1929 dedication ceremonies.  The opening was timed to be on the 50th anniversary of Edison’s invention of the lightbulb. The locomotive was named The President in Hoover’s honor.

Edsel Ford coaxed his father into beginning an aviation division. Henry Ford only flew a few times in his life.  The pilot for his first ever trip was friend Charles Lindbergh.

Henry Ford wanted to produce a small affordable plane for all, a Model T of the sky.  This very first 1926 Flivver was only flown by Ford test pilot Harry Brooks and Charles Lindbergh. After 5.5 million dollars, Ford stopped the Flivver project when Harry Brooks, who was like a son to him, died in a Flivver crash.

The Ford TriMotor was the first successful all metal plane, nicknamed the Flying Washboard. The plane was made of a corrugated aluminum alloy called “duralumin” that was as strong as steel while remaining relatively lightweight. There were 199 Ford TriMotor planes made.  People trusted Ford airplanes because of the cars.

This Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro was built in 1931.  The company only made thirty of these plane/helicopters for about $15,000 each. The engine ran the propeller, and the blades turned on their own providing additional lift. The autogiro could land vertically but could not take off vertically.

Edsel Ford financed Admiral Richard Byrd’s Arctic Expedition in 1926. Thereby the plane was named the Josephine Ford. However Tony Fokker was the manufacturer so he made sure that his name was prominent too so the plane was not mistaken for a Ford TriMotor. There is no definitive answer as to whether Byrd was successful in his attempt to fly over the north pole.

In November 1929 Byrd made the first ever attempt to fly over the South Pole.  The successful attempt was made in a Ford TriMotor plane. 

Among some other random things that caught my eye (among thousands more I could have chosen), there was a McDonalds sign.

Sign #146 in the McDonald’s system was installed August 1960 at the Madison Heights, Michigan franchise.  This style of sign was used until 1962 when new stores installed the more modern Golden Arches. This sign was in use until it was donated to The Henry Ford in 1986.

One final item is Henry Ford’s Kitchen Sink Engine. Text from the display states:  “On December 24, 1893, Henry Ford carried his first experimental engine, made from bits of scrap metal, into the family kitchen and clamped it to the sink. His wife, Clara, fed gasoline to the intake valve while Henry wired the spark plug to an overhead light and spun the flywheel. The little engine coughed and then roared to life.”  

And that engine changed the future for the Fords and America.

Next up: Ford’s Greenfield Village