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Henry Ford Museum

Discover the work of the innovative industrialist celebrated in the Henry Ford Museum.

Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Company in 1903, introducing the Model T five years later. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Company in 1903, introducing the Model T five years later.

The Henry Ford Museum is a manifestation of industrialist Henry Ford's appreciation for Americana, invention and progress. Ford didn't collect art; instead, he collected commonplace items such as farm machinery and toasters. Such a collection was perhaps more fitting for the inventor of the Model T, the first affordable and mass-marketed automobile and an invention that revolutionized American life. Ford was fascinated by progress and innovation and wanted to display it. Ford originally named the museum the Edison Institute, even though it actually displayed the inventions of many people who had altered American life. As of 2009, the museum also contained an open-air, village-style area called the Greenfield Village.

The History of Ford and the Museum

Henry Ford was born on a farm in Dearborn, Michigan, in 1863. By 1891, he was working as an engineer for Edison Illuminating Company. He started the Ford Motor Company in 1903, and introduced the Model T five years later with the goal of creating a mass-market, affordable automobile. The plan worked; within 10 years, more than half of American automobiles were Model Ts. Ford's company became the world's largest automobile manufacturer. Time Magazine named Ford one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. He did more than just build a car; he pioneered the dealer-franchise setup and revolutionized American business and life. According to a University of Wisconsin history presentation on Ford, other entrepreneurs were only marketing automobiles to the wealthy. Eventually, Ford Motor Company drew competitors in the sale of affordable automobiles, and the company did not maintain its same level of dominance in the market.

The Henry Ford Museum opened in 1929 with great hoopla. The opening ceremony was attended by dignitaries such as Thomas Alva Edison (a mentor of Ford's) and President Herbert Hoover. Edison himself had placed the cornerstone of the new museum into the ground the year before. The museum covered 13 acres; the village covered 81. After Ford died, the museum was renamed the Henry Ford Museum in his honor. However, the Edison Institute is still its registered name.

Museum Exhibits

The Henry Ford Museum possesses one of the most important collections of Americana in the United States. Ford designed the museum to display three areas of American progress: manufacturing, farming and transportation.

As of 2009, exhibits included:

  • An automobile exhibit that contains everything from the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile to vintage Fords. The exhibit includes a collection of automobiles and explains the automobile's importance to 20th century life.
  • Presidential limousines. Visitors can see limousines that carried presidents ranging from Ronald Reagan to John F. Kennedy. The exhibit also includes a horse-drawn vehicle used by Theodore Roosevelt.
  • The museum also displays other historical items, such as the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
  • Liberty and Justice For All is an exhibit that explores the evolution of American freedom. Visitors can also sit in the bus seat that Rosa Parks refused to get up from during the Civil Rights Movement.
  • The first four decades of aviation come to life in Heroes of the Sky, an exhibit that is devoted to aviation pioneers. Visitors can see early planes, such as a replica of the Wright Brothers' flyer.
  • Rock Stars, Cars & Guitars is a special exhibit featuring both music and machine.
  • Dymaxion House. This exhibit includes a prototype of a futuristic house that was built in 1946. The house was designed for strength and lightness.

Greenfield Village

Greenfield Village was itself an innovation, a pioneer model for outside, interactive museum villages. The Greenfield Village contains seven historic districts. In many cases, the buildings in Greenfield Village were real historical buildings that were moved to the current property. The historic districts are:

  • Railroad Junction: contains an 1800s railway depot and steam-powered rail line.
  • Working Farms: living demonstrations of how farms worked without modern technology. Buildings in this district include a cider mill, Firestone Farm and Richart Wagon Shop.
  • Edison Park: includes the inventor's Menlo Park laboratory.
  • Porches and Parlors: includes family homes and a plantation and other buildings devoted to American neighborhood life.
  • Liberty Craftworks: devoted to early-American trades and artisans. This district includes a glass shop, carding mill and other workshops.
  • Main Street: designed to replicate the town center. It includes a general store, courthouse, tavern and other buildings.
  • Henry Ford's Model T: contains the industrialist's boyhood home, a replica of his first factory and other buildings associated with his life and work.

Other Activities

The Henry Ford Museum is on the national register of historic places. The Greenfield Village also showcases some unique activities. For example, every summer weekend, baseball games are played by 1867 rules, and the site contains an IMAX theater.

Visitor Information

The Henry Ford Museum, located in Dearborn, Michigan, is open every day from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., including weekends. The museum is closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving. The Greenfield Village portion of the museum is closed from January 1 to April 14. From April 15 to November 2, the Greenfield Village is open the same days and hours as the museum. For information about current exhibits, view Henry Ford Museum's official Web site.

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