The Collections

“New Coke”: Success or Failure?

Can of New Coke, THF 304647

Can of New Coke, THF 304647

Remember “New Coke”?  April 23, 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of its celebrated—and controversial—introduction. This soft drink lasted less than three months but its legacy lives on as a cautionary tale of marketing and branding. Was this attempted innovation a great marketing blunder or did it turn out to be a great marketing success? It depends on how you look at it.

On April 23, 1985, The Coca-Cola Company introduced “New Coke” as a replacement to the old Coke that had been around for almost 100 years. The sweeter, more syrupy taste of New Coke—based on the company’s Diet Coke formula but without the artificial sweeteners—was intended to compete successfully with Pepsi. Over the years, more and more people—especially young people—had come to prefer the taste of Pepsi over Coke. Now, in numerous blind taste tests among consumers, New Coke successfully beat out Pepsi time after time. Coca-Cola spent over four million dollars developing, testing, and marketing New Coke. The company was sure they had a winner on their hands. Continue reading

The Rise and Fall of the Osborne Computer Corporation

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The Osborne 1, the first portable computer. THF65083

“Adequacy is sufficient: everything else is irrelevant.”

Adam Osborne, founder of the quintessential boom-and-bust Silicon Valley tech company, built the first portable computer in 1981. The Henry Ford holds examples of the few products the ill-starred Osborne Computer Corporation ever developed. What can Osborne’s innovative products and boom-and-bust company history tell us about computing and the high-tech economy? Continue reading

Just Added to Our Digital Collections: Lincoln-Related Artifacts

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On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot and mortally wounded by assassin John Wilkes Booth while sitting in a chair at Ford’s Theatre. This week, 150 years later, The Henry Ford is holding events to commemorate the fallen leader. As part of this effort, we’ve digitized a substantial amount of material from our Lincoln-related collections, going beyond the well-known chair and the Logan County Courthouse (where a young Lincoln practiced law).  One newly digitized item is this copy negative showing the presidential box at Ford’s Theatre the day after the assassination, but visit our collections website to browse all our curators’ selections.  The topically arranged sets cover the Logan County Courthouse, the Lincolns in Springfield, preserving the Union, the Lincolns in the White House, Lincoln’s 1864 reelection, the assassination, the Lincoln rocker, mourning the slain president, remembrances of Lincoln, Lincoln portraits, and Henry Ford’s interest in Lincoln.

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

Abraham Lincoln: Remembered

This statue was designed to reveal Lincoln’s “essential nobility,” while the inscription above him was intended to reinforce national unity. THF121596

This statue was designed to reveal Lincoln’s “essential nobility,” while the inscription above him was intended to reinforce national unity. THF121596

By the first decade of the 20th century, memories of the real Abraham Lincoln had faded. A new generation of Americans came of age who had only heard the stories, the myths, and the legends. It was this generation who transformed Lincoln the real man into Lincoln the hero.

During the early decades of the 20th century, America was becoming a complex place—an urban-industrial nation, a serious player on the world stage, and a place with an increasingly diversified population of foreign-born residents. Struggling to come to terms with the change and uncertainty of the era, people looked to Abraham Lincoln—the humble, imperfect, self-educated “common man”—for comfort and reassurance. Abraham Lincoln, better than any single individual, seemed to embody the democratic principles upon which the country had been founded. It was during this era that Abraham Lincoln replaced George Washington as America’s most venerated president.

Just about everyone could find something meaningful by invoking his image, his name or his character.

Read more about Abraham Lincoln, from Curator of Public Life Donna Braden, here.

Newcomen Engine

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Newcomen Engine, circa 1750 (29.1506.1)

 

The broad iconic power of steam engines is maintained by the continued appeal of steam locomotives—an appeal kept fresh no doubt by Thomas the Tank Engine or the Hogwarts Express of the Harry Potter series. The visual impact of the earliest stationary steam engines, while less defined in the popular imagination, is undeniable when encountered in person: early beam engines exert a powerful presence, whether through their immense scale, exposed mechanical elements, or general complexity. And there is often a note of recognition—they are often identified by visitors as distant relatives of the familiar bobbing pumps found in oilfields. Continue reading

Just Added to Our Digital Collections: The Lincoln Futura

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The Henry Ford has an active program through which we loan artifacts from our collection, particularly those that we are not actively displaying, to other museums and institutions. We currently have more than 200 objects out on loan, and we digitize each object before it leaves our campus. This week, we’ve digitized a couple of renderings of the Lincoln Futura, including this one. These drawings will be included in a short exhibition at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich., along with an already-digitized scale model of the Futura from our collections, beginning in mid-April. If you’re in the metro Detroit area, be sure to check out these artifacts at Lawrence Tech, and if you’re not, keep an eye on our collections website to see what other treasures from Henry’s attic are going on loan.

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

Steam-Powered Agriculture

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Before the Age of Steam, American farmers hand-threshed wheat or oats with a flail. Threshing machines powered by horses or portable steam engines increased daily production of threshing by a hundred times.

In the 1800s, the large number of horses required for farming consumed a lot of grain. Starting in the 1860s, farmers began threshing grain to feed those horses with a cousin of the “iron horse” – a steam traction engine like the Port Huron Thresher shown above.

As a Michigan farm boy, Henry Ford recorded his first sight of a traction engine: “I remember that engine as though I had seen it only yesterday, for it was the first vehicle other than horse drawn that I had ever seen. It was intended to drive threshing machines and power sawmills and was simply a portable engine and a boiler mounted on wheels.” The steam traction engine inspired Ford to design and manufacture automobiles. To other rural people it represented a grand transition in American agriculture, and a new community activity. Continue reading

Abraham Lincoln Remembered

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, by Alexander Gardner, November 8, 1863. THF 99129

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, by Alexander Gardner, November 8, 1863. THF 99129

Many people know that The Henry Ford has in its collection the rocking chair in which President Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated.  This chair is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum.

But our Lincoln-related collections encompass much more than this rocker.  They include materials that relate to such topics as his two presidential campaigns, life before his Presidency, his efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War, his assassination, the public mourning after his death, and the ways in which he has been remembered over time.

The 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination gave us the unique opportunity to assess, study and organize these collections into digital galleries we call “Expert Sets.”  Links to these are included below, along with links to five essays written by curators that delve more deeply into some of these topics. Continue reading

Just Added to Our Digital Collections: Do-Not-Disturb Signs

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Over the last couple of months, we’ve digitized a couple of groupings from the John Margolies Roadside America collection: slides and travel-related pennants, both documenting the strange and interesting sights one would have found along the American roadside in the mid-20th century. This week we’ve added one more category from the same collection: do-not-disturb signs from hotels and motels, collected by John Margolies and mostly dating between 1920 and 1970.  The example shown here, likely from the late 1930s or 1940s, advises hotel staff to “go ‘way and let me sleep.” Selections from this collection will be featured in the upcoming Margolies exhibit in the Henry Ford Museum a bit later this year. In the meantime, visit our collections website to browse additional “do not disturb” signs.

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

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