Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan

1917 Overland Light Four Touring Car

One of the greatest collections of interesting American artifacts can be found in the exhibits of Henry Ford’s Museum. These artifacts tell the story of important inventions and events that defined U.S. history and culture. I found it to be a wondrous step back in time. Mr. Ford not only developed a car industry, but found the time and interest to preserve one of a kind items and begin a museum that has continued his legacy. In my opinion, this truly must be one of the best museums in America. It is so large that it takes a day to see it all, but for museum lovers or lovers of history, it is a day well spent! Come along as I show some of the museum highlights we found.

Rosa Parks made history on this bus

The museum is divided into a number of sections. Let’s first go to “With Liberty and Justice For All” where two artifacts are in the MUST SEE category. It is in this section where we learned about America’s struggle for freedom with an emphasis on the Civil Rights movement. One of the most noteworthy moments from this period was on December 1, 1995, when Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. After she was arrested and convicted, blacks in the city boycotted public buses for 381 days, marking the country’s first large scale demonstration against segregation. The boycott led to the Supreme Court outlawing racial segregation on public buses in Alabama.

The volunteer staff person sat me in the seat she claimed was Rosa’s.

Before the bus was obtained, it had sat unused for 30 years in an Alabama field. In 2001 it was put on auction and the Henry Ford Museum outbid other interested parties including the Smithsonian Institution by paying $492,000. The bus needed major restoration which cost an additional $300,000. The restored bus was first exhibited at the Museum in 2003, two years before Rosa Parks passed away in 2005.

The second MUST SEE in this section is one I found both mesmerizing and chilling – the rocker Abraham Lincoln sat in at Ford’s Theater when he was shot. For its age, the chair looks to be in good condition. The dark spots on the rocker look like blood and makes this exhibit that much more sobering. The chair was purchased by Henry Ford in 1929 after it was auctioned for $2,400. It was first housed in the Logan County Courthouse in Greenfield Village (my previous blog posts) until 1980 when it was moved into the museum.

Another presidential artifact in this section is George Washington’s camp bed and camp chest from the years 1775 – 1780. Washington carried folding beds, tents, eating utensils and other equipment while camping with his troops during the Revolutionary War. While visiting the Yorktown National Historic Site in Virginia we were able to see a tent that Washington used while in the field, so it was great to also see more artifacts from Washington’s days as commander.

From the serious to the whimsical we have the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, built in 1952 and considered the oldest of this type of vehicle. I believe I last ate a hot dog 🌭 more than 40 years ago and don’t plan to ever eat another one, but this vehicle couldn’t help but make me smile as it is just too cute. There are still Wienermobiles touring the country to promote the product with the drivers called “hotdoggers.” Amazingly, a little later on in our journey Mark and I actually saw one on the Interstate.

Kennedy’s limousine – view of the back where he sat when shot

The Ford Museum has many vehicles on display. One of the more notable sections is the “Presidential Vehicles” with Kennedy’s 1961 Lincoln Continental Convertible limousine the standout. It was in this vehicle on November 22, 1963 that he was assassinated in Dallas, TX. after his death, the car was rebuilt to make it more secure including titanium armor plating and a permanent roof. It was used occasionally by Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter until retired in 1977.

FDR’s Sunshine Special

There are four other presidential vehicles on display here: Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Reagan. FDR’s vehicle was the first vehicle built especially for presidential use in 1939. It was called the “Sunshine Special” because FDR loved to ride in it with the top down.

Quadricycle – Ford’s first car

In the “Driving America” section we were able to see a number of historic cars including the first designed by Henry Ford. Built in 1896 and called the Quadricycle, it was Ford’s first attempt to build a gas powered automobile. He sold it for $200.00 then used the money to build his second car. It had an iron frame, a leather belt and chain drive for the transmission and a buggy seat.

It is hard for me to imagine a time when service station pumps didn’t calculate the amount of gasoline and price. At the Texaco station exhibit, the Texaco Fire Chief gasoline pumps from 1940 did away with the price charts used by service station attendants. Next to the pumps was a 1939 Dodge Tanker Truck that brought gasoline directly from the refinery to the service station.

Not surprising, we love a road trip, even a long one across the U.S., so I liked the exhibit of the Packard Model F Runabout, the 2nd car to cross the U.S. in 1903. Crossing America during that time though would have been extremely difficult. Some roads were surfaced with gravel but most were simply dirt paths. West of the Mississippi there were few roads. Two men made the journey: Tom Fetch, a packard plant foreman and Maurius Krarup, a journalist. Traveling from San Francisco to New York took them 61 days. Fetch summed up the trip by saying, “It was hard, very hard and I do not care to make the trip again.” Some times the good old days are just not that good. This car was not shined up for the exhibit as it still has dirt plastered all over.

This adorable looking 1927 Blue Bird School bus is claimed to be the oldest surviving school bus in America. It is the first in a long line of buses made by Blue Bird, one of the country’s major school bus builders. The creator, Albert Luce from Georgia, constructed a strong steel framework under the wood body and mounted it on a Ford Model TT truck.

Some of the exhibits at the Museum are hands on including the ”Build a Model T” in the
“Made in America” section. Each day an entire Model T is assembled with the help of visitors. When we stopped by, several girls were working on putting a running board back on the car. What a great idea and activity! In a nearby area was an assembly line to put together miniature Model T’s. A volunteer staff asked for eight participants to man the different stations, for example putting together the chassis, body and wheels. My job was to turn the wheel to operate the conveyor belt and control how fast it went. Everyone had to work quickly to put together as many cars as possible in the allocated minutes.

Even the littlest visitors could try their hand at car repair and maintenance – there were tires to change and fluids to replace in the engine.

House of the future – Dymaxion

Moving away from automobiles we now have something completely different – the Dymaxion House. It was designed in 1945 by a visionary architect to be the strongest, lightest and most cost effective housing ever built. This domed roof, aluminum exterior home was to be mass produced on an assembly line and shipped pre-assembled. It was created to be an inexpensive solution to the postwar American housing shortage. The home has two bedrooms, living area, galley kitchen with all steel built in appliances and bathroom. Special features include revolving closets and shelves to maximize storage space. The bathroom was designed to conserve water by using a “fogger” or mist system in the shower and a shrink wrap packaging waste system for the commode. A ventilator on the top of the home allowed fresh air in but kept the wind out. This is the only prototype for the home as it could never be mass produced as planned. I wasn’t too wild about a house with so much metal. It just felt too industrial and not cozy.

Interior of the Dymaxion

The Ford Museum exhibits railroads and “Heroes of the Sky,” with historic aircraft like a replica of a Wright Brothers plane. In four simulated aircraft I experienced flight from different time periods and got dizzy practicing to be a “wing walker” while on a biplane projected from a large screen. In the “Agriculture” section were examples of innovative machines for farming and I sat inside a 1975 Sperry-New Holland Columbine. There were huge stationary steam engines to marvel at in the ”Made in America” section. We wandered in ”Your Place in Time” to see artifacts and technology from the different generations, including our own. In the 80’s area I couldn’t pass up making a video of myself with the Van Halen rock band for MTV.

1939 Douglas DC-3 – first successful commercial airliner

We found this Museum to be filled with an amazing variety of exhibits with something to interest everyone! We are so thankful for visionaries like Ford who saw the need to preserve these pieces of history for later generations. I hope you liked seeing some of what this museum has to offer.

Stay tuned for my next blog when we move from technology to nature and visit the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore area in Michigan.

4 thoughts on “Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan”

  1. Wow Ford continues to amaze with his collection of trinkets and souvenirs. Lincolns chair is definitely the most mindblowing peice. That school bus is adorable. I would totally live in a Dynamax House! Such a cool museum!

    1. Thanks for commenting Matt! Yes, this is one cool museum, a must see in my opinion. So much to admire and think about here!

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