The Collections

Just Added to Our Digital Collections: Fermi 1 Artifacts


Curator of Public Life Donna Braden has used the phrase “bottomless pit of wonderfulness” to describe The Henry Ford’s collections, because they are so vast and so full of significant artifacts. One downside of the amazing quantity and quality of our holdings is that only a very small percentage are on display on our campus at any given time. However, we are often able to get some of these artifacts out of storage and on public display by loaning them to other museums and institutions. We currently have over 200 artifacts on loan, and about 60 of these can be viewed through our digital collections as well. One such item is this radiation portal monitor, used at Enrico Fermi Atomic Power Plant (Fermi 1), which is on loan to Monroe County Community College in Monroe, Mich., for an exhibit about the plant. See more artifacts related to Fermi 1 (a number of them also on loan), and view thousands of objects, documents, and photographs not currently on public display, by visiting our digital collections.

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

IMLS Update: Removing Copper Corrosion

Copper corrosion on a typewriter ink reel.

Copper corrosion on a typewriter ink reel.

Our IMLS Grant Conservation staff uses scientific and aesthetic training to conserve, clean and repair a large number of Communications collections. A familiar problem we often encounter is copper “rust” that disfigures objects. Conservators call these damages “corrosion products”. The corrosion is actually “eating” the metal as it forms on a range of object types. Copper corrosion products form on copper and copper alloys (like brass) through chemical reactions that are initiated by contact with various materials nearby and from the air pollution. Nearby materials that corrosion include fatty acids in waxes and leather dressing, sulfur in rubber products, or salts in water or human sweat. Copper corrosion products vary greatly. They can be very waxy or hard and mineralized or soft and powdery, depending on what caused it. Continue reading

Just Added to Our Digital Collections: Firestone Farm Images


One of the most beloved areas of Greenfield Village just celebrated an anniversary: June 29, 2015, marked 30 years since Firestone Farm (both the farmhouse and the barn) was dedicated at The Henry Ford, with luminaries like Gerald Ford, seen here, speaking at the ceremony.  Built in 1828, this Ohio farmhouse was where businessman Harvey Firestone was brought up.  Today in Greenfield Village, it is a key living history destination, where visitors can see crops being grown, food preparation following 19th century methods, and livestock being raised.  As part of our continuing project to digitize material related to Village buildings, we’ve just digitized 185 images from our collections related to Firestone Farm—the cornerstone ceremony, the dedication, and over 100 images of the farm on its original site.  View all Firestone Farm–related items by visiting our collections website.

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

From Dreamland to Disneyland: American Amusement Parks

This early 20th-century amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio, was named after its grand namesake at Coney Island, New York. THF123540

This early 20th-century amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio, was named after its grand namesake at Coney Island, New York. THF123540

Suwanee Park, a turn-of-the-century-style amusement area, opened in Greenfield Village in 1974—featuring an authentic, hand-carved wooden carousel made by the Herschell-Spillman Company. While this carousel may have seemed quaint and nostalgic in 1974, it harkened back to a time when amusement parks were new and novel, delighting young and old with their promise of escape, entertainment, and thrills.

American amusement parks had their roots in European pleasure gardens—large park-like settings in which people relaxed, strolled, and socialized. Over time, pleasure gardens—like Tivoli in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Vauxhall in London, England—added refreshment stands and sporting activities like tennis and shuffleboard, then noisier features like balloon ascensions, concerts, plays, and crude mechanical rides. Lights were installed to keep the parks open at night. Fireworks displays became eagerly anticipated nightly events.

The World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, was the first international fair in America to offer a distinctive amusement area in addition to the formal exhibits. This mile-long “Midway Plaisance” included an international village of restaurants and entertainment, along with a variety of concessions, side shows, and mechanical rides. The crowd-pleasing Midway inspired the creation of American amusement parks. Continue reading

Unearthing the Atari Tomb: How E.T. Found a Home at The Henry Ford

Jonathan Lewandowski holds up one of the first E.T. cartridges excavated from the Atari Tomb. Deb Lewandowski looks on. THF122249

Jonathan Lewandowski holds up one of the first E.T. cartridges excavated from the Atari Tomb. Deb Lewandowski looks on. THF122249

Every year, as we plan for Maker Faire Detroit behind the scenes, The Henry Ford’s curators think about what items from their collections might be brought out for special display during the event. At this year’s Faire, a new acquisition will make its public debut—items retrieved from the infamous “Atari Tomb of 1983” in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

As any good folklorist will tell you, urban legends usually prove to be fabrications of truth that have gone awry and gained their own momentum, spread by word of mouth and media publicity. But sometimes—urban legends turn out to be true. In April 2014, excavations at the Alamogordo, New Mexico landfill unearthed every video game fan’s dream: physical evidence that the legend of the “Atari Video Game Burial” of 1983 was indeed a very real event. Continue reading

Who Made Elizabeth Parke Firestone’s Wedding Dress?

Elizabeth Parke Firestone in her wedding dress, 1921 THF119879

Elizabeth Parke Firestone in her wedding dress, 1921 THF119879

Elizabeth Parke was a trim, blue-eyed beauty. The daughter of a prosperous merchant in Decatur, Illinois, she was full of life and adventure. Elizabeth loved to dance and enjoyed parties. Good thing, too; she met her handsome, intelligent, wealthy husband-to-be at a dance at Princeton about 1920. Young Harvey S. Firestone, Jr., the son of the founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, must have found her to be a spirited partner. He learned to fly airplanes during World War I and she did not seem to mind climbing in one with him. The Firestones often traveled for business and pleasure. Elizabeth enjoyed trekking through jungles and sleeping in grass huts in exotic locales as much as she relished dining in sumptuous hotels with royalty.

Elizabeth had a fine eye for fashion. As a teenager, she attended school in Europe , studying French and learning about applied and fine arts. Family notebooks include some early costume sketches in her hand for theatrical presentations. Family members recall that young Elizabeth designed and sewed many of her own fashions before her marriage in Decatur on June 25, 1921.

But did she make her own wedding dress? Continue reading

The Shelby Mustang GT350R – The Pony Car Goes Racing

The Shelby Mustang GT350R, distinguished by its fiberglass front apron, races in the Bahamas in December 1965.

The Shelby Mustang GT350R, distinguished by its fiberglass front apron, races in the Bahamas in December 1965. (Dave Friedman Collection)

We’ve said much on this blog about the Mustang, Ford vice-president Lee Iacocca’s sporty, affordable little pony car that targeted baby boomers and scored a direct hit. In the words of Ford’s memorable advertising campaign, the Mustang was “designed to be designed by you.” Depending on how you optioned it, your Mustang could be a cool-looking economy car, a Thunderbird-like personal luxury coupe, or a V-8 powered factory-built hot rod. It was a recipe for success, and customers bought more than 680,000 Mustangs in the initial 1965 model year.

With the Mustang racing up the sales chart, it was only natural that Lee Iacocca would want the Mustang literally racing. The car’s launch came in the midst of Ford’s “Total Performance” racing initiative, through which the company scored impressive victories in NASCAR, in endurance races, at drag strips, on rally courses, and even in the exalted Indianapolis 500. A few Mustang wins would add nicely to the publicity bonanza.

Iacocca turned to one of the foremost figures in American motorsport, Carroll Shelby, to make the Mustang into a credible race car. The good news was that Ford had a productive working relationship with Shelby already. His Shelby American shop was busy reworking Ford’s budding GT40 race car into a winning machine. The bad news was… that Shelby American was busy with the GT40. His hands already full with a prestige project, Carroll Shelby was reluctant to take on the Mustang. But Iacocca – ever the salesman – talked Shelby into the assignment.

At the time, in mid-1964, the most powerful engine available for the Mustang was Ford’s 289-cubic inch, 271-horsepower “Hi-Po” V-8 – known to fans as the “K-code” engine for its designation in the Mustang serial numbering scheme. These surely were impressive figures when compared to Mustang’s standard 170-cubic inch, 101-horsepower 6-cylinder engine – or even the basic 210-horsepower V-8 – but Shelby American did even better, modifying the “Hi-Po” engine to produce more than 300 horsepower. Having added power, Shelby’s team next subtracted weight by removing the Mustang’s rear seat and replacing the steel hood with a fiberglass unit. With the suspension suitably beefed up, the Shelby Mustang GT350 was born.

Even in its "street" configuration, the 306-horsepower Shelby GT350 was a formidable machine.

Even in its “street” configuration, the 306-horsepower Shelby GT350 was a formidable machine. (Dave Friedman Collection)

That name, incidentally, is a big part of the car’s lore. The “GT” came from “Grand Tourer” — strictly speaking, a luxury performance car suitable for long-distance races, but simply associated with racing by the general public. The “350” was much more random. Apparently, Carroll Shelby grew tired of Ford’s long deliberations over his modified car’s name. He asked an associate to pace off the distance to a nearby building. It was about 350 steps, so a GT350 the car became!

Carroll Shelby had one more trick up his sleeve. If the Mustang was going to compete in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) races, it was going to have to hold its own against more powerful Corvettes and more agile Jaguars. Thirty-six GT350s were further modified exclusively for competition. The GT350R (“R” for racing) had window glass replaced with lighter plexiglass, carpet removed, steel door panels traded for aluminum, and the front bumper replaced with a distinctive fiberglass apron to improve airflow to the radiator and reduce weight. The already potent engine was further refined to churn out better than 360 horsepower.

The GT350R dominated its class in SCCA’s 1965 racing season, taking five of six divisional championships, as well as the national championship. With the mission accomplished, and Iacocca satisfied, Shelby pulled his team out of competition for 1966, but other teams continued to win with the GT350R.

Fifty years later, the Shelby GT350 remains, to many fans, the ultimate Mustang. Given their low production numbers (only 561 GT350s were built for 1965, and just 36 of those were R competition vehicles), the cars command premium prices on the auction block — on the rare occasions when they even cross the block. But they make for a fascinating sidebar in the history of Ford’s premier pony car.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Packard’s Hot Rod — The 1929 Model 626 Speedster

Packard's Model 626 Speedster. Small body + big engine = sports car.

Packard’s Model 626 Speedster. Small body + big engine = sports car.

Packard. To anyone familiar with American automobiles, that name conjures up thoughts of refinement and style. Whether it’s one of the well-built early models like the 1903 Model F “Old Pacific” (the second car driven coast-to-coast across the United States), or a fashionable Caribbean from the company’s waning days, Packard turned out quality luxury automobiles for all of its 59 years. One thing that probably wouldn’t come to mind, though, is “sports car.” Packard built big touring cars and stately convertibles, not speedy sports cars. Except for that time when it did…

The Stutz Bearcat might be the earliest American sports car, and Chevrolet’s Corvette the most famous, but in between came Packard’s Model 626 Speedster for 1929. This special automobile pushed Packard beyond prestige and into the realm of high performance. The company took its smallest body, shortened it by several inches, and installed an eight-cylinder high-compression, high-lift camshaft engine that yielded 130 horsepower. The result was a short-deck, long-hood sporting automobile capable of 100 miles per hour. These were impressive numbers at a time when a Ford Model A produced 40 horsepower and a comfortable cruising speed around 45.

For all of its attributes, the 626 was not a success. Sports cars are for fun, and few customers wanted to spend $5,000 (more than $68,000 in 2015) on a pleasure car after the stock market crash. Only about 70 Speedsters were built, and just three are thought to exist today (which makes it rather difficult to “ask the man who owns one”). One of those three survivors is in the collections of The Henry Ford.

Packard added a high-lift camshaft and a high-compression head to its inline 8. The 384-cubic inch engine produced 130 horsepower.

Packard added a high-lift camshaft and a high-compression head to the Speedster’s inline-8. The 384-cubic inch engine produced 130 horsepower.

Our Speedster’s original owner, Emil Fikar, Jr., of Berwin, Illinois, bought the car from Buresch Motor Sales in Chicago for $5,260 in October 1928. He ordered just two options: chrome-plated wire wheels and Packard’s famed “Goddess of Speed” hood ornament. According to lore, Fikar brewed low-alcohol beer and asked the salesman for an exceptionally fast car — presumably for “professional” reasons during those Prohibition days. Whatever his motives, Fikar got his fast car.

By the time Montgomery L. Young purchased the Speedster in 1959, it had been modified considerably. The owner(s) between Fikar and Young is unknown, but he or she clearly had an interest in modernizing the car’s appearance. The doors were cut and lowered, the top was replaced and the windshield was cut down and pushed back to a more rakish angle. Young devoted some 5,000 hours, between 1959 and 1966, to returning the Speedster to its original appearance. Most of the missing parts he found through diligent searching with collectors and dealers around the country. The parts he couldn’t locate were made from scratch. It was a tremendous effort that restored the Speedster to its proper form. We were all the more grateful when Mr. Young donated the car to The Henry Ford in 1976.

Our Speedster will head to California this summer. It’s been invited to participate in the incomparable Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on August 16, where it will sit alongside some of the world’s most beautiful automobiles. It’s a special honor for the car, and one that I’d like to think would have made Mr. Young very proud indeed.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Just Added to Our Digital Collections: Atari Burial Collection


As we gradually work our way through digitizing the vast collections of The Henry Ford, we tackle many projects our staff enjoy: evening gowns, mourning jewelry, and Dave Friedman auto racing photographs, for example, all pose logistical challenges, but we generally look forward to the undertaking. The less glamorous side of digitization, though, is working with objects that are potentially hazardous or unpleasant to handle, like the metal corrosion found on many of the objects we’re remediating as part of our IMLS grant, or a collection of food packaging that had to be emptied and cleaned of decades-old contents. One such project we’ve just completed is material related to the Atari Video Game Burial, in which a struggling Atari, Inc. buried hundreds of thousands of video game cartridges and gaming equipment in a New Mexico landfill in 1983.  The Henry Ford’s collection contains photos and other material documenting the excavation of the landfill in 2014, as well as recovered cartridges (like E.T., shown here) and equipment—and even some of the dirt from the landfill.  We can now vouch that material recovered from a landfill continues to smell like a landfill for quite some time. View our digitized Atari Burial collection (sans the unpleasant odor) on our collections website now, and watch for an upcoming blog post by Curator of Communication & Information Technology Kristen Gallerneaux to learn more about this material.

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

Celebrating a Patriotic Fourth of July

15-1205_Salute to America Collectible Postcard 2015-01

Happy Fourth of July! If you stopped by Greenfield Village this week you might have received one of these patriotic postcards we created for this year’s series of Salute to America concerts. The illustration we created was inspired by the how-to books produced by the Dennison Manufacturing Company. We have a 1925 copy of their Bogie Book, a manual that helps shape many of our own Hallowe’en ideas every October in Greenfield Village. If this image gets you excited for this weekend’s holiday, you can print your own postcard by downloading our file here.

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

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