Did you know that over the past six weeks alone, The Henry Ford has digitized more than 1000 artifacts from its collections, bringing the total number of objects available via our collections website (as well as the Driving America kiosks and our mobile collections site) to about 6700 artifacts? If you haven’t checked in recently, you’re missing out! Here are some objects added within the last month and a half that you might not yet have seen….
We have been digitizing the artifacts on display within the “With Liberty and Justice for All” exhibit in the Museum. This exhibit features such American icons as the Rosa Parks bus, a rare surviving copy of the Declaration of Independence, and the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was sitting at Ford’s Theatre on the night of his assassination. But the exhibit features over 300 other artifacts as well, including these shoes, made of bark and rope, which would have been made and worn by a plantation field hand:
The Henry Ford has many spectacular personal documents in its collections. For example, take a look at this letter from Alexander Hamilton to Aaron Burr. Its very prosaic nature (scheduling details for a case both lawyers were involved in) is an interesting contrast to the later hostility between the two men that would eventually lead to Burr killing Hamilton in a duel:
If you’re less into political history and more into the great American humorists, you might enjoy this 1910 letter written by Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, in which he informs the recipient that he is writing to “put you on your guard against sending anything to Bermuda or elsewhere by any express company, because the persons connected with those companies have been dead 30 years. This often causes delay.”
Cartes-de-visite are small photographs mounted on card stock, which were popular in the mid-19th century. They commonly were portraits, often of wealthy and/or well-known people, like this example featuring Sojourner Truth:
Others took a less straightforward approach to their subject. We can only surmise that someone involved in this carte-de-visite was not a fan of the “Eleven of All England” cricket team:
And occasionally, it seems like the subjects were selected based on the photographer’s or client’s own unique interests, as in this example. (Topics of discussion that came up as we were digitizing this one: Did the photographer really bring a live squirrel into the studio? And if so, how did they get him to behave—other than the obvious bribery with food?)
It probably comes as no surprise that one of The Henry Ford’s strongest collecting areas has been transportation in all its many forms, including the field of automotive design. We’ve recently added design drawings and other related materials from two major forces in this field: Bill Mitchell, who spent 40+ years at General Motors, and Virgil Exner, who worked for a number of companies over his career, including Studebaker and Chrysler.
For example, we’ve just digitized this amazing 1940s Exner pastel drawing for Studebaker:
And here is Bill Mitchell’s sleek and streamlined 1930s Cadillac design for a “low grill”:
In 2013, The Henry Ford will be hosting the traveling exhibition, Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s, which was organized by the National Building Museum, Washington, D.C. In anticipation, we’ve been reviewing and digitizing selections from our vast World’s Fair collections. As you might expect, we have many souvenirs of all types, such as this tray from the 1939New York World’s Fair:
We are also finding it fascinating to see the stories of Henry Ford, the man, and The Henry Ford, the institution, come together in the lavish displays sponsored by Ford Motor Company at these fairs. For instance, check out this photo from the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Anything look familiar? (And note theGreenfieldVillage reference on the wall in the background!) Hopefully you find the first car built by Henry Ford more interesting than the little one in the foreground apparently does….
Check out these and other exciting new digital artifacts online and let us know your thoughts! What would you like to see us digitize next?
Ellice Engdahl, Digital Collections Initiative Manager at The Henry Ford, is comfortable with the contradictory belief that each of our 6700 digital artifacts is her very favorite.