Belterra: A Midwest Suburban School System in the Amazon Jungle

Fordlandia Houses on Riverside Avenue, Boa Vista, Brazil, 1933. THF109235

Fordlandia Houses on Riverside Avenue, Boa Vista, Brazil, 1933. THF109235

Benson Ford School washroom showing advanced sanitary conditions, Belterra, Brazil, 1942. THF240223

Benson Ford School washroom showing advanced sanitary conditions, Belterra, Brazil, 1942. THF240223

Henry Ford established the plantations of Fordlandia and Belterra in Brazil with the hope of mass producing rubber for Ford Motor Company vehicles at a fraction of the cost of American factories. Although deep in the Amazon jungle, Ford was essentially attempting to recreate his successful company town of Dearborn, Michigan for his Brazilian workers. Fordlandia came first in 1930, but was not nearly as prosperous as Ford had hoped. In 1940, Ford opened a second plantation, Belterra. Although both plantations were eventually closed, Belterra found some moderate success before Henry Ford abandoned the project. Belterra set out to solve problems created or brought harshly to light by Fordlandia. In many ways, Belterra more closely aligned with Ford’s vision, epitomizing the ideal small Midwestern town better than Fordlandia ever had. Continue reading

Dearborn in the Jungle: Why Belterra Flourished Where Fordlandia Failed

School Building, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1933. THF115500

School Building, Fordlandia, Brazil, 1933. THF115500

Much has already been written about Henry Ford’s ill-fated Amazonian experiment, Fordlandia. In 1927, Ford acquired land in Northern Brazil, and envisioned creating a booming rubber plantation and town. He anticipated a new revenue stream that would produce enough rubber to make tires for 2 million tires every year. Ford knew that in order to ensure Fordlandia’s economic success, he needed a workforce that was healthy and contented with their lives.In addition to the rubber plantation, Fordlandia had a school, workers’ homes, a railroad, hospital, dance hall, golf course, community pool, sawmill, recreation center, and many other things Henry Ford viewed as cornerstones of a productive and morally righteous society. As author Greg Grandin wrote in Fordlandia, this new plantation offered Henry Ford, “a chance to join not just factory and field but industry and community in a union that would yield, in addition to great efficiency, fully realized men.” Henry Ford initially offered Brazilian workers 35 cents a day, as well as food, lodging and healthcare, well beyond the wages any laborers had been offered up until now in this part of the world. However, these amenities came with massive strings attached, such as the imposition of an American 9 am – 5 pm working schedule, and the requirement that all laborers eat food from the American Midwest. These habits were foreign to the workers and they quickly grew resentful of the behavioral restrictions imposed by Ford and rioted in December 1930. After the riot, Fordlandia was never able to fully recover, and it was clear that this experiment was not functioning effectively, efficiently or, and most important, profitably. However, Henry Ford was anything but a quitter. He had committed himself to the idea of a rubber plantation deep in the heart of the Amazon, and he was not going to give up on his dream that easy. Continue reading

Reflections on the Home Stretch of The Henry Ford’s IMLS Communications Grant

This mid-20th century phonograph by Zany Toys, Inc., was one of the artifacts treated by Conservation for cadmium corrosion.

This mid-20th century phonograph by Zany Toys, Inc., was one of the artifacts treated by Conservation for cadmium corrosion.

Many reading this post will remember that in 2013, The Henry Ford was awarded a two-year, $150,000 Museums for America: Collections Stewardship grant by the United States Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  In this grant, The Henry Ford set out to identify, clean, treat, rehouse, and create digital catalog records for more than 1,000 communications-related artifacts related to photography, data processing, printing, telecommunications, sound communication, and visual communication.  We’re pleased to announce that with about a month left to go in the grant period, we have put more than 1,000 objects through almost every step of the process, and expect to finish up a number of additional objects before we run out of time.

Given how close we are to the end of this project, I asked a few of the staff who’ve spent time working with these objects to weigh in with their thoughts on what was interesting, what was challenging, or what they’ve learned through this process. Continue reading

Just Added to Our Digital Collections: Wright Brothers Images

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Though the Wright Brothers first successfully flew their heavier-than-air flyer in 1903, it wasn’t until August 8, 1908, that Wilbur Wright offered the first official public demonstration of their creation. In a series of flights between August and the end of the year, Wright quashed many skeptics by showing the flyer’s maneuverability. Images of those flights remain today in the archives of The Henry Ford in a series of glass plate negatives in the Bollée Collection, named after Leon Bollée, a French automaker and aviation enthusiast. We’ve just digitized all of these glass plate negatives, including documentary images of the flyer before, during, and after these flights, as well as many images covering the personal and business interests of Leon Bollée.  The fascinating image shown here depicts the Wright Flyer being transported along a narrow road in France—an endeavor that must have had its challenges. View over 150 more newly-digitized Bollée images by visiting our collections site.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

A Pier Table Created to Deceive

pier-table

The Background
The decorative arts collections at The Henry Ford are unique for their breadth and depth. These vast resources span more than 300 years of American history, allowing us to explore developments in the design and use of items as people’s lives, values, and tastes changed over time. The Henry Ford Museum’s furniture collection is particularly evocative of historic changes, and these objects are central to discussions of design innovations, new manufacturing methods and materials, new ways of buying and selling, and new ways of living. Consisting of more than 6,000 pieces, the furniture collection is acknowledged as one of the best in the nation.

In the late 1990s our staff reinterpreted the furniture exhibit into themes such as Showing Off, Storage, His and Hers and others that we felt would prove relevant to our audience. Studies with visitors in the years since show that although they liked the thematic approach, our visitors also wanted to see a chronological development of American furniture. In 2010 we refined the installation, now called Fully Furnished, including a timeline of American furniture, arranged through broad thematic sweeps. Called In the Latest Fashion— the chronology is divided into loose historical periods, such as Fashion for a New Nation, for the early nineteenth century or Embracing Gentility for the mid-eighteenth century—the display takes visitors on a journey through the entire span of American furniture history.  Should a visitor wish to delve into a particular history or style, information is available on the text panels. Because it provides a panorama of American furniture, we selected many stellar examples from the collection to share with the public. Continue reading

Activating Today’s Maker Communities

 

What are you working on? That is a question you might ask a few times a week when talking with colleagues who work in different departments, or after meeting someone casually and finding out where they work. We have been engaging with the maker community recently as we want to support their efforts towards promoting a creative, artisan culture, and we know that makers are often the source of new manufacturing businesses.

David Chadwick, Marketing Manager at Siemens PLM Software, shared his thoughts on what it means to activate today’s maker community over on the Siemens PLM Software blog. Earlier this summer the Siemens team was on hand at i3 Detroit (a longtime maker at Maker Faire Detroit) for an engineering assignment as they showcased the software. As a partner in innovation with us at The Henry Ford, we’re excited to share some of David’s recent blog entries.

You can see how Siemens’ Solid Edge software is being utilized by today’s makerspaces and innovators thanks to this YouTube playlist.

Just Added to Our Digital Collections: Dave Friedman Photos

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One of the gems to be found in The Henry Ford’s archives is the Dave Friedman auto racing collection, particularly covering racing from the 1960s through 1990s. The collection came to us with about 100,000 images in already-digital format, and we’ve been adding these to our digital collections over time. We’ve just added 600 images documenting the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race, including the one seen here, showing not only the racecars in motion, but also the more general racetrack environment of fans in the stands and corporate logos/mascots in the background. With the addition of this latest race, 11,518 items from the Friedman collection are now available on our collections website. Browse just the latest set added, or peruse all the Dave Friedman imagery, by visiting our digital collections.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

Report from the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

The Henry Ford's 1929 Packard 626 Speedster on the field at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

The Henry Ford’s 1929 Packard 626 Speedster on the show field at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

For car fans, there is no more prestigious show than the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Each August, some 200 automobiles and 15,000 people gather on the 18th fairway at the Pebble Beach Golf Links to honor the most beautiful automobiles ever built. We were honored to be among them, with our 1929 Packard Model 626 Speedster, on August 16.

Built before conventions were established, the pedal layout on this 1912 Pope-Hartford could worry any modern driver.

Built before conventions were established, the pedal layout on this 1912 Pope-Hartford would throw off any modern driver.

Specific makes and models are honored each year, and 2015 had the spotlight focused on Pope, duPont, Ferrari (in particular, Ferraris that competed in the Pebble Beach road races of the 1950s), Lincoln Continental (celebrating its 75th anniversary) and Mercury custom cars, among others. It was a somewhat eclectic group of featured cars that suggests Pebble’s widening circle of interests. Continue reading

Antique Crystal Chandeliers Find a New Home in Lovett Hall 

Exhibit Fabricators Rob Brown and Kent Ehrle carefully removed the chandelier arms after Electrician Paul Desana disconnected electrical power to the arms. The center portion of the chandelier was then lowered into the lift and handed to a group of waiting staff who moved it to the conservation labs on a custom-made cart.

Exhibit Fabricators Rob Brown and Kent Ehrle carefully removed the chandelier arms after Electrician Paul Desana disconnected electrical power to the arms. The center portion of the chandelier was then lowered into the lift and handed to a group of waiting staff who moved it to the conservation labs on a custom-made cart.

In 2014 conservation, facilities and exhibit staff members removed two English crystal chandeliers from the museum shop in Henry Ford Museum in preparation for the upcoming renovation. The chandeliers, which were made in Birmingham, England between 1860 and 1880, had been in the shop for many years and were showing signs of age. The silver portions were heavily tarnished and the metal wires that held the crystals were corroded and brittle. We decided to conserve them prior to their move to a new home in a rather dark lounge just outside of the Lovett Hall Ballroom, where their glittering, cut-glass elegance would be appreciated. Continue reading

Just Added to Our Digital Collections: Plant Samples

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One popular line of inquiry received by the Benson Ford Research Center involves Henry Ford’s interest in ensuring a constant and affordable supply of rubber for Ford Motor Company by establishing rubber plantations in Brazil, first at Fordlandia, and then at Belterra. Not surprisingly, our collections hold quite a bit of related material.  W.L. Reeves Blakeley led the expedition to find the site that would later become Fordlandia, and, after Ford purchased the tract of 2.5 million acres, supervised the team that did the initial clearing. The W.L. Reeves Blakeley collection at The Henry Ford contains documentation of experiments, test papers, printed material, a few tools, and plant samples—the latter of which we’ve just digitized, including this sample of “maleo caetano” collected in 1931.  Visit our digital collections to see all 15 plant samples, along with additional photos of Fordlandia and Belterra.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

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