The Henry Ford

Imagine…

Imagine creating a machine so incredible that you wanted to share it with the world; a machine so large that it would require a building of its own to contain it.

You may be imagining this:

The Ford Model T

But there’s actually another machine — a bigger machine — that Henry Ford built and wanted to show others: the engine/generator that generated the power necessary to create that automobile. Its immense size meant that Ford would need to also create a place to show it, and that resulted in what is now The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

Innovation can be a tricky word. So many people are unsure of what innovation is. Is it invention? Is it creating something entirely new where there was nothing before? Or is it the mother of necessity that was then further improved?

Let’s use Webster’s definition. (Which seems almost mandatory here, since Noah Webster’s homestead is now on The Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village grounds.)

INNOVA’TIONnoun [from Innovate.] Change made by the introduction of something new; change in established laws, customs, rites or practices.


Henry Ford innovated constantly. In fact, the museum itself is innovative in its concept. Here, on acreage in Dearborn, Michigan, is where Henry Ford moved one of the nine electric generators from his plant in Detroit and then built a museum around it in order to show the world how his machines could change the world we live in.

I’m making Henry Ford sound too arrogant. He was not the only scientist/inventor in the world. He knew that, and was awed by all the innovation springing up in various facets of American life. The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation encapsulates a broad spectrum of machinery, technology, thought, arts, and lifestyles that shaped the 20th century. It is a museum that has something for EVERYONE. I can’t imagine anyone not being excited and impressed with all the different collections within its walls.

Popular Mechanics Brought to Life

Do you know someone who thinks that reading Popular Mechanics magazine = reading for pleasure? I have many men in my life who are fascinated with machines, mechanics, technology, and motors. And I was smart enough to know to bring one of those mechanically-minded enthusiasts with me. 😉

Walking past gigantic structures of metal that had no conceivable utility to me would not have lured me in. But to walk around them with someone marveling at the parts and the ingenious progress of the technology made me appreciate them in a way I never would myself. My companion Dave even stopped to ask questions and make conversation with the staff standing near some of these machines on display, who obviously loved having conversations about the machines with visitors.

(Here is where I would fascinate you with details about various machines, except that I understood very little of what Dave and the guides talked about. But find someone with a mechanical/engineering mind and have them explain it to you. Better yet, take them to The Henry Ford!)

The generator was so big that we could walk under it.

The beauty of The Henry Ford is that it didn’t matter whether I could appreciate the genius of all the tools I saw before me; there was so much to see that missing out on the impact of technological progress made no difference to my enjoyment.

American Heritage

One of the wings in this massive museum is devoted to America’s heritage. It begins with a display of the Declaration of Independence and goes on to cover America’s part in the World Wars, iconic moments in American history, the Civil Rights movement, and pop culture.

The Rosa Parks bus
The chair President Lincoln sat in at the Ford Theater when he was assassinated.
You can even watch a short film about Barnstormers who dazzled crowds by standing on the wings of airplanes flying loop-de-loops

One innovative idea that was new to me was the Dymaxion house. It is a circular house designed to reduce water use by a greywater system, a packaging commode, and a “fogger” to replace showers. Similar to a yurt, the house contained some partial walls to divide the rooms. I’d never heard of Dymaxion houses before, but apparently it was the wave of the future in 1946!

A new way of living for 1946!

Noteworthy Automobiles

Not surprisingly, the “Driving America” and “Driven to Win” displays were fun to explore. After all, Henry Ford is known for cars. Motorheads are sure to love looking at all the design innovation contained within the hundreds of cars exhibited. But even people who aren’t motor enthusiasts will love looking at some of the cars displayed as artifacts.

Oh, I wish I drove an Oscar Mayer wiener… what a fun way to market a product!
Jim Clark’s legendary winning racecar
This car gets more than 100 miles per gallon!

Presidential Vehicles

Also on display were a few of the limousines used to transport American presidents over the years.

Pretty snazzy, President Eisenhower!
The car driven during JFK’s tragic ride.

Innovation Nation

There is absolutely no way I could share all the wonderful surprises and artifacts inside The Henry Ford. We explored for more than four hours and still missed at least half of the displays within. I have since discovered that there is a television program that airs on Saturday mornings on CBS called “Innovation Nation.” In its 7 seasons, it covers many of the innovative exhibits within The Henry Ford more in-depth. In fact, there’s an episode on Barnstorming, like the picture I shared above, that would be fun to watch. I know I plan to check out episodes to see what I missed and want to see when I someday return.

If You Go

If you do visit The Henry Ford, here are my two biggest tips:

  1. Take a machine enthusiast, engineer, motorhead, or other mechanically-inclined person with you. They will love you for it!
  2. Plan to spend the whole day inside the museum. The Museum of American Innovation is only one part of the experience. Greenfield Village and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour are the other must-see’s while you’re at The Henry Ford.

I’ll share more about Greenfield Village next. Equally impressive and just as vast. Stay tuned…

What would draw you to The Henry Ford?

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*A sincere thank you to The Henry Ford for hosting our visit. I am thrilled to share my experience with you.

14 responses to “The Henry Ford

  1. My mom and I made a girls day of it at the Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford. I actual found due to our novice backgrounds that we both enjoyed exploring while there. Happy Exploring – Enjoy – cannot wait to hear more about your explorations 🙂

  2. Great post, Juliann. The museum is a must-see place for me if I get near Dearborn. I’m not mechanically inclined, but I have always loved automobile museums for the beauty of the old cars. They seem to have a classiness and individuality that modern vehicles lack. If you ever find yourself near Reno Nevada, be sure to check out the national Automobile Museum there. –Curt

  3. I’ve been there! Years ago, but I remember really enjoying the museum. (We also happened to go on a weekend with a festival on the property, so that was fun too.) As you say, it’s really about so much more than cars.

  4. I we ould have loved to take with me my first husband who was a mechanical engineer. And I would have loved to touch many things like the JFK car!

    • It was definitely fun to see everything through Dave’s eyes when we went. He saw so many details I would have otherwise missed. I needed him to decipher what was cool about some of the machines. But regardless, I was fascinated by all the different exhibits and displays.

  5. Having spent very little time in Michigan, we were completely unaware of this place. Oh my, we really need to make a trip to Dearborn. The Henry Ford looks like a collection of some of the most amazing American history artifacts ever assembled. This is certainly going on our bucket list.

  6. Wow! What a collection! I would love to visit this in person, but if I never do, you have given me a wonderful taste f the place!!

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