Henry Ford Museum
Milford, MI - Events of Tuesday, August 30, 2011
After our weekend visits with family and friends and our Monday tour of the GM Assembly Plant in Flint, we drove back to Dearborn on Tuesday to see the Henry Ford Museum. The village and the museum are located adjacent to one another and are part of what is used to be called the Edison Institute. Today, it is called The Henry Ford.
Henry Ford began the institute to preserve items of historical significance and to portray the Industrial Revolution. The museum started out with Henry Ford's personal collection, which he began accumulating as far back as 1906.
The entrance to the museum is designed to look like Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
The museum is divided into several sections - railroads, automobiles, Heroes of the Sky (airplanes), Made in America (power and manufacturing), Your Place in Time (artifacts of American life and pop culture), agriculture, Fully Furnished (American furniture back to 1670), and Liberty and Justice for All (America's quest for freedom - independence to civil rights). On top of all that, there is also a temporary exhibit on the Civil War.
We decided to make our way through the museum from right to left, mostly because the nearest rest room was to the right. We passed the display of presidential limousines that include one belonging to President Reagan, one with a plastic bubble top that was used by Truman and Eisenhower, and even a horse-drawn brougham belonging to Theodore Roosevelt. The one we thought most interesting was the 1961 Lincoln that Kennedy was riding in when he was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.
In the railroad section, there are numerous trains on display including the behemoth 2-6-6-6 Allegheny locomotive. At 600 tons, these were some of the largest steam locomotives ever built. They were designed to haul long coal trains over the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia. The locomotives were so powerful they could pull coal trains over a mile long at speeds up to 60 mph.
Visitors can also climb into the cab and try the controls.
The Ford Museum has an excellent collection of old cars and trucks; but, unfortunately, the automobile exhibit is closed for renovation until sometime in December. However, they have relocated some of the cars to an area on the far side of the trains, so we got to see at about a dozen of them. The car in the foreground is a 1905 Ford Model B.
From the temporary automobile area, we went to Heroes of the Sky. One of the planes on display is a replica of the Wright Flier.
Other planes range from 1909 to 1939. The Ford Motor Company had a division that built airplanes from 1925 to 1932. One of their best known planes is the Ford Trimotor. The one on display at the museum was used by Admiral Byrd in the first-ever flyover of the South Pole.
Ford got out of the airplane business in 1932 because they lost $5.5 million during the 7-year period they built planes, and they never turned a profit.
Heroes of the Sky also has test flight area where visitors can make and test-fly paper airplanes. There are instructions for folding...
...and an area for testing. Paul didn't hit the target, but he did have one flight that almost made it to the end.
The next area of the museum we came to was called Made in America. Here, there are exhibits of some of the machines from the late 1700s through the early 1900s that helped turn America into a manufacturing superpower. There were lots of generators, but one that caught Paul's eye was this water turbine-powered generator. The generator is to the left, and the water-powered turbine that drove it is behind.
To illustrate how much work it is to generate electrical power, they have a hand-cranked generator. The faster you turn the crank, the more lightbulbs light up. We both got up to 4 or 5 bulbs lit for short periods - only about 400 watts.
The exhibit also featured many steam engines including the one shown below that is 30-feet tall. It used to drive machinery that was used to make lead products such as pipe. The machine features decorative gothic design elements even though it was never intended to be displayed to the public.
An interesting piece of manufacturing equipment on display is a ribbon glass machine that was used by Corning Glass. This machine was introduced in the 1920s and revolutionized the manufacture of lightbulbs. It could take a ribbon of molten glass and blow it into moving molds to make 600 to 700 glass lightbulb casings a minute. There are 600 glass casings in the stack in the photo.
At the edge of Made in America is a display showing all the parts of a Model T. It is really quite remarkable in its simplicity.
There was also a room where you could watch technicians working on restoration projects. It is a painstaking process.
The dominant feature in the Your Place in Time exhibit is the Dimaxion House. The name comes from dynamic maximum tension. An aluminum house was first designed by Buckminster Fuller in the 1920s as strong, low-cost, mass-produced housing. Several prototypes were built in the 1940s, and this is the only one to survive. One of Fuller's investors used the house as an addition to an existing ranch house until 1970. The Dimaxion was donated to the museum in 1990 and underwent extensive restoration. It didn't go on display until 2001.
The next photo shows the living room-dining room.
The agriculture section had a lot of farm equipment similar to what we have seen in other museums. One unique item was the experimental tractor designed by Henry Ford around 1907. He called it his "automotive plow." One reason Henry Ford was so interested in things mechanical was his dislike for back-breaking farm work. He had a lifelong desire to make farmers' work easier. Therefore, it is no surprise he would eventually begin manufacturing tractors.
With Liberty and Justice for All has numerous exhibits of historical American artifacts. They have Lincoln's chair from Ford's Theater where Lincoln was shot. Unfortunately, the lighting was very low to prevent fading of the chair's fabric, so we couldn't get a good photo.
They also have the camp box and folding cot used by George Washington. The mattress sure doesn't look like it would provide much comfort, but it was still probably better than sleeping on the rocky ground.
Liberty and Justice for All also has several displays on the Civil Rights Movement. The refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat on a bus in 1955 was one of the first acts of civil disobedience that was to become the hallmark of the movement. The Henry Ford Museum has the actual bus that Rosa Parks was riding that day back in Montgomery, Alabama.
We were a little earlier leaving the museum than we were leaving Greenfield Village the week before. That helped us avoid heavier traffic on the way back to the motor home. We had the rest of that day and the following day to relax and do our usual pre-departure chores before heading to our next destination. We'll have more info in our next post.