Huge collection of American artifacts at Henry Ford museum complex

November 18, 2018
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One of the most dramatic displays in the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is the “exploded” Model T touring car with all its many parts suspended by wires.

DEARBORN, Mich. – The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation houses one of the largest collections of artifacts from American history. It was founded by one of the country’s most innovative and successful businessmen, Henry Ford.

The 523,000-square-foot museum building was designed by architect Robert O. Derrick and contains thousands of historic artifacts. Ford once said of his museum, “I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used. ... When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition.”

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation began as Ford’s personal collection of historic objects. He began collecting around 1906 and today the 12-acre site is home to antique machinery, farm equipment, airplanes, cars and many historic artifacts from American history.

Visitors can climb aboard the bus where on a cold December evening in 1955 Rosa Parks refused to move to the designated black section. Her act of defiance led to a bus boycott and prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to outlaw racial segregation on public buses in Alabama.

Also in the museum is a collection of presidential limousines, including the one President John F. Kennedy was riding in when he was assassinated. The collection also features a horse-drawn carriage used by Theodore Roosevelt and presidential parade cars that carried Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Although cars are a large part of the Ford Museum, the collection also includes a great many other historic artifacts. One of the most unique of these artifacts is the Dymaxion House. Designed by R. Buckminster Fuller, the house was made of high strength aluminum alloys and was circular in shape. It was estimated the 1,017-square-foot house weighed about 4 tons compared to a house made of wood and traditional materials that would weigh in at approximately 150 tons.

One important historic artifact is the rocking chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot at Ford’s Theatre.

Trains are also a part of the Ford collection. They include a 1941 Allegheny steam locomotive that was one of the largest and most powerful ever built. Visitors can even press buttons to hear what the locomotive’s bell and whistle sounded like. Adults and kids can climb inside the engineer’s cab and find out what it was like to operate the 389-ton locomotive.

Just outside the museum is Greenfield Village, a 240-acre collection of historic buildings and homes that began in 1919 when Henry Ford restored his birthplace and childhood school. The village opened to the public on Oct. 21, 1929. By the mid-1940s the village had grown to over 70 buildings.

Among the buildings in the village is the Bagley Avenue Workshop, where in 1893 Ford completed his first gasoline powered engine. He tested the engine on the kitchen sink of his home with his wife Clara’s help. Ford also designed and built his first working automobile, the quadricycle, in the workshop. Orville and Wilbur Wright’s home, built in 1870, is also a part of the collection in Greenfield Village.

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were lifelong friends and Greenfield Village has an area devoted to Edison and his many inventions. Edison at Work features his reconstructed Menlo Park laboratory, the Sarah Jordon Boarding House where Edison’s unmarried male workers lived, and Edison’s Ft. Meyers Laboratory where he did research while at his winter home in Florida.

Transportation around the site includes a railroad, a carriage or a ride in a Ford Model T. A Taste of Honey and the Eagle Tavern provide excellent dining experiences for young and old.

Visitors to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation can also take the nearby Ford Rouge Factory Tour and see Ford F-150 trucks being made. Buses to the Rouge plant leave the museum every 20 minutes.

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