Exploring the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn Michigan

As we left Ann Arbor Michigan, we drove to Dearborn Michigan. Why? Our primary objective was to visit three primary venues of the huge “The Henry Ford” historical complex:

  • Henry Ford Museum, which displays a number of national treasures and mementos (such as the bus in which Rosa Parks staged her protest and the Ford’s Theater chair in which Lincoln was assassinated) and some of the country’s most important inventions;
  • Greenfield Village, a 90 acre collection of historic districts and buildings indicative of the country’s history; and
  • Ford Rouge Factory Tour which begins with an historical video, followed by a multimedia edutainment show and a narrated overview of the facilities, followed by a largely self-guided walk on a catwalk overlooking the assembly line on which the factory produces its large, quad-cab F-150 pickup trucks.

And, since we were in the neighborhood, and in the mood for nostalgia, we desperately hoped to add one additional site in downtown Detroit—the Motown Historical Museum, which was the original site of Motown Records, where Barry Gordy, Jr. created a recording studio that reinvented the sound of 1960s music by discovering and recording songs from artists including the Supremes, Temptations and Aretha Franklin. Unfortunately, timing prevented us from visiting this site.

This blog covers the Henry Ford Museum. We will cover the other components in subsequent blogs.

Henry Ford Museum

This amazing and comprehensive museum highlights areas of dramatic change in American history. The museum is divided into ten sections, each of which focuses on a different theme or component of our history. For example:

  • The “Liberty and Justice for All” section focuses on four primary areas: the country’s struggle for independence, women’s suffrage, the civil right movement and the drive to unionize. The exhibits profile each of the movements, identifies the driving forces and displays artifacts of the time. The revolution section, for example, had a field cot that was made specifically for George Washington and the civil right section had the chair in which Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated and the bus in which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seats.

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  • “Driving America” highlighted the evolution of the automobile from the early experiments with steam, electric and gasoline-powered cars, through the Model T and discussed the evolution of autos with more than 100 examples, from the Volkswagen to the Duesenberg. It discussed American car makers shift to large cars, the opening created for the Japanese to enter the market, and the changes brought about by the oil embargo. It traced similar evolutions in camper vans, presidential limos (including the one in which Kennedy was assassinated) and race cars and showed the 1967 Goldenrod that held the world land speed record (409 MPH) for over two decades. The exhibits also had exhibits that demonstrated some of the cultural changes brought about by the auto, including gas stations, drive-through, fast-food restaurant chains and roadside lodging chains.

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  • “Agriculture” highlighted the evolution of agricultural tools from the earliest generations of mechanical plows and tractors through giant combines that cut corn that is growing in fields, separates the corn cobs from the husks, shells the corn and cuts the stalks so they can be used for fodder.

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  • “Made in America” focused on the inventions that changed the country and how the Industrial Revolution changed both work and home life (both for better and for worse). It showed examples of inventions that automated discrete functions (such as threading screws) and continuous flow machines that automated entire processes (such as the making of light bulbs from molten glass). It demonstrated how inventions changed housework and how standardized parts revolutionized gun making. One large section of the exhibit examined the invention and evolution of steam engines and how they enabled the industrial evolution.

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  • “Fully Furnished” traced the evolution of furniture, from handcrafted colonial-era chairs, desks and chests through Eames chairs and showed examples of furniture owned and used by famous people such as Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Cornelius Vanderbilt and George Washington’s mother. It also showed dozens of different types of home heating furnaces and cutaway models of different style homes.

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  • “Your Place in Time” had artifacts of items and cultural references that would be familiar to children who grew up in different generations, including the war generation, the Eisenhower generation, Baby Boomers and Gen X.
  • “Heros of the Sky” examined the evolution of flight, from the Wright Brothers, to Barnstorming pilot shows, to Lindberg’s trans-Atlantic flight, the first flight around the world, Amelia Earhart, Byrd’s flight to the Arctic and the evolution of commercial aircraft from the Boeing 40 to the 747.
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A somewhat different, but equally fascinating exhibit included a one of the very few examples of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Houses that was ever built. This innovative genius invented an inexpensive ($6,500), pre-fabricated, modular, circular, aluminum house that was intended to relieve the critical housing shortage that faced the nation when veterans returned home from WWII. The home, which provided a highly efficient utilization of space and innovative features such as central cores for utilities, revolving closets and water capture and recycling systems, were intended to be built in aircraft plants that were no longer needed. But, since he was unable to raise the $10 million required to finance purchase of the factory and set-up the venture never got off the ground. Even so, a number of his innovations have since been applied to other types of structures.

Overall, the museum provided a fascinating view of the history of the United States and provided a collection of historical artifacts that rivals that of the Smithsonian. And by the way, The Michigan Café at which we had lunch (grilled Lake Erie Trout and farm-fresh roasted turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato) provided quite a decent meal from locally produced foods at a very reasonable price.

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