The Henry Ford: A museum review.

22 10 2012

I have a new favorite museum in America. It used to be the National Museum of American History, but I really think they’ve shot themselves in the foot in the course of remodeling and I’ll never forgive them for destroying their bookstore. The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, however, keeps getting better every time I see it.

I went back last Friday while I was in Detroit for the North American Labor History Conference. You go to the Henry Ford for the cars and their collection really is quite amazing.

1914 Model “T” Touring Car

1931 Duesenberg Model “J”

When I first went during the 90s, the museum just had lines and lines of cars with almost no explanation. Now, the cars are not only explained, they have some of the best computer enhancements to any museum exhibit that I have ever seen.

For example, there’s a station where you can simulate driving a Model “T’ as if it were a driving game. What it does is illustrate all the steps you have to take to get a Model “T” running and moving forward, including getting out of the car at one point. I knew all these things, but I never quite realized how hard it was until I played the game. Now I’ll never forget.

The museum’s “Driving America” exhibit, however, is a lot more than just cars:

Traffic Light, c. 1920.

McDonald’s Sign, c. 1950s.

It really is the social history of the car as well, which I find much more interesting than just car after car. The film in the middle of the exhibit was particularly good. To paraphrase one of the curators in that film, he said, “In order for a new technology to take hold, people have to be convinced to do something in an entirely different way.” That was really easy when cars became relatively cheap.

It also seems quite clear that I have completely geeked out when I get excited over a McCormick Reaper and early steam engines. But then again, look at what I’ve been publishing lately.

McCormick Reaper, c. 1850.

Newcomen Engine, c. 1760.

PS You should all order that book one way or another as I’ve pitched writing a prequel to that book to the same publisher, and they’re looking at how early sales and requests go before deciding whether they’re going to give me a contract.

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One response

22 10 2012
Anne Corner

Well that takes me back. I first visited the Henry Ford Museum around 1958 with my girl scout troop. As much as the cars, I was impressed by the trains. Huge engines right indoors. Thanks for the memories.

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