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The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

by | Destinations, USA | 11 comments

Visiting The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Detroit is an unforgettable experience. Really. I like cars, but Peter is passionate about them. I was happy to go along and spend a couple of hours admiring a few jalopies, but I was completely wowed by The Henry Ford, as it is commonly called.

Yes, it has cars and lots of them, but it has so much more. After five hours, we managed to leave, absolutely exhausted. I say “managed to leave” because once we decided that we had seen as much as we could for one day, it then took us well over an hour to actually make it to the exit as we kept seeing other exhibits that we simply had to check out. Even then, there were whole areas of this extensive facility (eg. the Greenfield Village, the factory tour) that we did not even approach. It would take several days to fully explore the whole of The Henry Ford Museum. We will go back and visit these areas on another occasion.

The Henry Ford Museum is located in Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit in Michigan. It is quite easy to find and there was plenty of parking available when we visited.

Planes, trains, automobiles…..and lots of moving parts!

The Henry Ford Museum is a celebration of American innovation, but it also applauds European contributions as well. Inevitably, the museum traces the development of the motor car and there are some truly iconic cars on display.

John F Kennedy's car

The car in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was later restored and used by Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon.

Model T in the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

The “Model T”. The first car fabricated on a production line, it was affordable by the middle classes.

A Model T displayed in all constituent parts

Exhibition: how to build a Model T.

Golden Rod in the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

Golden Rod: the fastest wheel-driven car between 1965 and 1991.

Classic VW camper van in the Henry Ford

Classic VW Camper Van (well, we were touring in our camper van!)

Bugatti Royale in The Henry Ford

Bugatti Royale, a luxury car built for people with lots of money! Only seven were built.

The museum also demonstrates the development of the steam engine, trains and many other machines.

Examining a steam engine in the Henry Ford

 

Newcomen Steam engine in The Henry Ford

The Newcomen steam engine, the oldest known surviving steam engine in the world. (Newcomen was British, course!)

 

There is a large section featuring the development of the aeroplane.

The Wright Flyer

A full-size replica of The Wright Flyer which made the first powered flight in 1903.

The Ford Trimotor

The Ford Trimotor

Bleriot's plane and Sikorsky's helicopter in the aviation section of The Henry Ford

On the left, the plane in which Bleriot made the first cross channel flight. On the right Sikorsky’s helicopter, the first fully controllable machine on which future helicopters were based.

There are examples of engines and generators from every stage of their evolution.

Engines and generators in The Henry Ford

 

People Stories in The Henry Ford Museum

I love the personal stories behind the exhibits. I was unaware before visiting the museum that Henry Ford was close personal friends with Charles Lindbergh and Thomas Edison. Ford and  Edison went on camping trips together! Ford presented Lindbergh, also a keen camper, with this camping trailer which was well used.

Lindbergh's Travel Trailer

Linbergh’s Travel Trailer

Storyboard about Lindbergh and Ford

In return, Lindbergh took Ford for his first ever flight and also introduced him to the helicopter pioneer, Igor Sikorsky whose original helicopter prototype was there in the museum, of course!)

 

Another “people story” is about Ford himself. Apparently, in his spare time he liked to fiddle! Who knew?  His collection included two Stradivari and an Amati, among others.

Ford's violins

The Henry Ford Museum: in the home

There are displays of domestic innovations over the last couple of centuries, not just gadgets, although they are there. Design, furniture, architecture are all featured.

Home exhibit in The Henry Ford

 

Social History in The Henry Ford Museum

Another section of the museum is devoted to tracing the development of social history in America: the War of Independence and the Declaration of Independence; the Civil War which threatened the Union; the abolition of slavery; the emergence of equal rights for women; and the civil rights movement.

Lincoln's chair

The chair in which President Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated, shortly after he had delivered a speech which spelled the beginning of the end of slavery.

One of the most moving exhibits for me was this bus.

Me standing outside Rosa Park's bus

 

It is the very bus on which Rosa Parks said “no” and was subsequently arrested. This was the spark, which resulted in the boycott of the public buses and the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King. A little over a year after she was arrested on this bus, the law was passed which said that Rosa Parks could sit anywhere she wanted on this bus.

The bus was bought by The Henry Ford Museum and restored. This is me sitting in the very seat where Rosa was arrested.

Sitting on the bus

 

The Edision Institute

The museum was originally named for Thomas Edison: The Edison Institute. Edison was Henry Ford’s personal hero and great friend. Edison came along to help his friend celebrate the opening of  the museum in 1929. This is his signature in the concrete and his footsteps.

Edison's mark in concrete

The accompanying video footage shows the marks being made.

 

Is it worth visiting The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation?

Absolutely! We explored only a fraction of this The Henry Ford, but it was so incredibly interesting, we will be back to discover more. So much of what we saw is still familiar today. There was an Atari games consul on display; we had one. There was an Apple Classic; I used one ( – and not that long ago). There was a VW Beetle; we still see them. The aeroplanes in the museum look primitive in many respects, but it is easy to see how the modern aircraft evolved from them. History has moved especially quickly over the last hundred years and it was absolutely fascinating to see the developments in the exhibits.

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11 Comments

  1. Clearly, you had an enthralling visit to the Henry Ford Museum. Your photos show two very excited “kids” allowed into the Chocolate Factory! ???? thanks for sharing, Jane,

    Reply
  2. You know it’s a good museum when you spend 5 hours and that isn’t enough! I’ve never heard of this museum but I’d love to learn more of Ford’s history and see all those incredible cars. That Bugatti Royale is so nice! Getting to sit on the Rosa Parks bus would be an awesome piece of history to experience!

    Reply
  3. Leaving exhausted is certainly a sign of a good museum, it is something I certainly would be interested in especially the part of the development of the steam engine.

    Reply
  4. Such an interesting museum to visit. I’m sure my boys would have a blast in it! 🙂 Loved the picture of ‘how to build a Model T.’ and the story about the bus where Rosa Parks was arrested.

    Reply
  5. I learnt about Henry Ford in Geography at school so would find the Henry Ford Museum very interesting. There’s obviously so much to see here and learn about – I also had no idea Ford and Edison were friends.

    Reply
  6. How fortuitous! I’m heading to Detroit next month for a few days. I’ll definitely have to fit this in my schedule. If I have 5 hours to spare 😉

    Reply
    • It is worth the trip, Lannie. Honestly!

      Reply
  7. I bet Hank, Chuck and Tom had some lively stories to tell around the camp fire at night..

    Your great post made me realise I haven’t been to a non-art museum in too long. Love the concept behind The Henry Ford.. so comprehensive and compelling.

    The sheer size just blows my head.

    Reply
    • I like to think that they did! Conjures up a wonderful picture.

      Reply
  8. Jane, this is fascinating. We are anxiously waiting for a chance to go back. We were there once but could only watch from the outside since it was closing time. I enjoyed reading this!

    Reply
  9. I love all things history so would love to visit The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Definitely adding to my list!

    Reply

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Hello!  I’m Jane. I live in the Lake District in the north of England with my husband, Peter. We love to travel, but this is a great place to call home.

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