One of the largest and most significant museums of American history, the Henry Ford is a vast complex of indoor and outdoor exhibits. The complex includes the Henry Ford Museum and Benson Ford Research Center as well as two other major attractions: Greenfield Village and the Ford Rouge Factory. Among the one-of-a-kind treasures on display in the museum are the chair that Abraham Lincoln was sitting in the moment he was shot, the bus that Rosa Parks boarded in Montgomery, JFK's presidential limousine, and of course, many historic Ford vehicles. The museum places a special emphasis on mechanical innovation.
Automotive pioneer Henry Ford was a great collector. He was
especially fascinated with anything that exemplified scientific innovation and
ingenuity, from everyday agricultural tools to advanced technological marvels
that changed the course of human history. On October 21, 1929, he dedicated the
Henry Ford Museum (and nearby Greenfield Village) to share his vast historical
collection in the hopes of inspiring the American public. Ford specifically
chose the date as it was the fiftieth anniversary of his hero Thomas Edison’s
successful experiment creating the incandescent light bulb. Ford invited Edison
and President Hoover to attend his “Light’s Golden Jubilee” dedication
ceremony. The men made a grand entrance to the event, arriving for dinner at
the museum in an 1850s steam locomotive.
From the beginning, the Henry Ford Museum has showcased
exhibits on the history of American technological progress. Architect Robert O.
Derrick designed the exterior of the museum to resemble Independence Hall in
Philadelphia. Henry Ford rejected the idea of having storage facilities and
insisted that the entire collection be out in the open for visitors to see. The
museum layout was therefore in flux for years even after opening to the public
in 1933. 1
The museum has sections dedicated to agriculture,
manufacturing, power and energy, furniture, railroads, aviation, and of course,
automobiles. Henry Ford loved tinkering with various mechanical objects when he
was young, and the museum also has his collections of smaller items like watches,
clocks, firearms, violins, and telephones. Antique agricultural equipment on
display includes an early John Deere plow, a 1917 Fordson tractor, and a 1938
Massey-Harris gas-powered grain combine. Visitors can tour the Dymaxion House,
a 1945 prototype of a circular aluminum house designed by architect R.
Buckminster Fuller to be the most cost-efficient home in the world. Hands-on
activities such as building a Model T and participating in an assembly line
engage visitors young and old.
Transportation appropriately plays a large role in the
exhibits of the Henry Ford Museum. The “Heroes of the Sky” exhibit features
significant historic airplanes such as the 1925 Fokker flown by Richard Byrd on
an exhibition to the Arctic Circle and a replica of the Wright Brothers’ 1903
Flyer. Railroad transportation is represented by a huge 1941 Alleghany steam
locomotive, one of the largest and most powerful ever built. The “Driving
America” section has the world’s oldest car in existence, the 1865 Roper, and
Ford’s first gas-powered car, the 1895 Quadricycle, among many others. There is
also a collection of vehicles owned and used by US Presidents, including the limousine
John F. Kennedy was in the day he was assassinated.
In the “With Liberty and Justice for All” exhibit, guests
are taken through four important movements in US history: the Revolutionary
War, the Civil War, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and the Civil Rights
Movement. Important artifacts in this exhibit include a copy of Thomas Paine’s “Common
Sense” pamphlet, George Washington’s camp bed, the chair that Abraham Lincoln
was shot in, and the bus that Rosa Parks was riding when she refused to give up
her seat to a white man in 1955.