I’m not even going to wait until the end of this blog post to tell you that you need to go to the Henry Ford. I’m telling you now…figure out a weekend or whatever 2 or 3 day span of time and plan your trip up to Dearborn, Michigan. Take the kids. Plan for the weather and dress appropriately. You’ll love it.
I firmly believe that every American needs to take a pilgrimage to the Henry Ford at some point in their lifetime. There is a wealth of information and history in this place that will blow your mind.
This was my first time to the Henry Ford, but Erica has visited before and really loved it. We always knew that someday, we’d make it up to Michigan for a visit, and finally decided to make the trip over the Thanksgiving holiday. The bonus was that we were also going to be able to visit with our dear friend, Meredith, who was visiting her family in the area over the weekend.
The first thing that struck me as we drove through the complex on the way to the museum, was just the sheer size of the place. It is an enormous building that rivals the size of any Smithsonian museum. Huge…like how-in-the-world-are-we-going-
to-see-everything-in-this- building, huge.
We purchased a membership to the museum instead of single day tickets, since we were planning on coming back the next day to visit the Greenfield Village, which ended up being a better deal in the end. So, consider becoming a member when you go to visit.
The basic idea behind the Henry Ford museum was to preserve the artifacts and history of some of humanity’s greatest innovations and achievements, along with objects that serve as symbols of our American history. Thank goodness Henry Ford had the foresight to purchase and preserve many of these objects that speak of our story as a nation.
Of course, the first item we saw upon entrance of the museum was the original Oscar Weiner-mobile. Maybe not the most earth-shaking historical item, but an important one in the world of business and marketing. And people love taking their pictures with it.
We walked through a section of farming equipment that showed the progress of innovation that has made our agricultural economy what it is today…everything from a plow connected to an early motorcycle, to the complex harvesting machines used in modern farming. I don’t know much about farming, but this was a pretty impressive collection of items that exemplified industrial progress.
One of my favorite items in the museum was the Dymaxion House, labeled the “House of the Future.” The prototype in the Henry Ford was the work of architect R. Buckminster Fuller and this 1946 model is the only remaining prototype in the world. As someone who loves the idea of the Tiny House movement, I thought this house was awesome and I would totally live in it.
Next, we moved on to the Your Place In Time exhibit, which housed items from the 20th century…everything from old radios, to the first forms of the birth control pill, chunky cell phones from the early 90’s, and books meant to guide you through the survival of a nuclear attack and Y2K.
We then found ourselves all kinds of turned around in the With Liberty and Justice for All exhibit, which feels like the heart and soul of the museum. What I enjoy about places like the Henry Ford is that the museum isn’t afraid to explore some of the more painful and ugly parts of our history. History is meant to be honest and while some museums only serve to deify our nation’s progress, the Henry Ford confronts visitors with the good and bad, creating a space where we can reflect on where we have come from and truly appreciate the sacrifices made for our progress as a civilization. The focus of this exhibit was the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century, the Civil War, the Revolution, and the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s. You’ll see everything from some of our country’s original founding documents, to the chair that President Abraham Lincoln was sitting in the night he was assassinated, to the chains used on slaves, to the very bus where Rosa Parks sat in that cataclysmic moment in the 60’s. I was in awe of the entire exhibit, and thankful again that Henry Ford and the curators of the museum sought to preserve these important items.
Following along that same path, we saw the Presidential vehicles collection, which is super impressive. The collection includes one of the first Presidential vehicles, the horse-drawn Brougham of Theodore Roosevelt. It was surreal seeing the John F. Kennedy limousine, the actual car he was riding in the day that he was assassinated. The entire feel of the museum shifts in that spot and you can feel how somber people still feel about this event.
After that, we walked through the Heroes of the Sky exhibit, which tells the story of the first 40 years of aviation history. It’s no surprise that this exhibit takes up a significant amount of the museum, as Henry Ford was extremely interested in aviation and it’s potential from the very start. There are some truly remarkable pieces of history in this exhibit, including some early model helicopters and prototype aviation models. There is even a large area where visitors can build and fly paper airplanes.
Nearing the end of the museum, we found the Driving America exhibit, an extensive collection of cars, trucks, early model RV’s, race cars, and just about anything and everything that a person could drive.
All in all, we pretty much made it through the entire museum in a day and really enjoyed it. We knew we were coming back the next day to explore Greenfield Village.
When Erica first told me about Greenfield Village and how Henry Ford bought a number of historical buildings and examples of specific types of architecture, just to move them to this village, I thought it made Ford sound a bit eccentric. However, after taking some time to research Henry Ford, it’s clear that he had a desire to preserve artifacts that would tell the story of how our country has lived and worked since its founding.
Greenfield Village is one of those places where you truly feel like you’ve stepped back in time and have the opportunity to see how life was lived before so many of our modern conveniences. One of our first stops was to the home that was Henry Ford’s birthplace, where we were treated to a tour by a couple of amazing costumed interpreters who told us all about the history of the home and the humble beginnings of Henry Ford’s life. What was super interesting is that the ladies in costume were decorating the home for Christmas and were starting to bake bread in the old kitchen, using old recipes and the antique kitchen tools that would have been used at the time.
Just outside the home was a flock of sheep in a fenced in area, which of course, resulted in my animal-loving wife’s efforts to whistle them over to her so she could pet them. This gave me flashbacks of our cross-country bicycle trip, when Erica would do this same whistle every time we rode by a cow farm or any farm with animals that she would try to befriend.
Some of the highlights of the village included the Wright brothers’ bicycle shop and home, where they first started developing their flying machine. When Ford purchased the property, one of the Wright brothers helped oversee the move and installation of the building in Greenfield Village, and even served as one of the interpreters after the installation.
There is also a replica of Menlo Park, the laboratory of Thomas Edison, who was a close friend and mentor to Henry Ford. This was one of my favorite parts of the village. It was really incredible to see some of the original tools and machines that Edison used.
Another favorite spot was the Logan County, Illinois courthouse, where Abraham Lincoln practiced law. There was an interpreter in this building and we really enjoyed talking with her about how court cases were social events during this point in history, all while enjoying the nice fire she had built in the courthouse fireplace.
You can walk through smaller scale replicas of Henry Ford’s first Ford automotive plant and factory, take a ride in an old Model T, and walk through another small scale replica of Edison’s electricity factory. In one part of the village, you can see glassblowing and other artisans who still practice tin making and woodworking, as well.
While walking around in the chilly weather down one of the streets in the village, we spotted a friendly little black cat, no doubt one of the barn cats on the property. Guess who immediately walked up to the cat, picked it up, and made a friend? Yup, that would be Erica. This friendly little black cat kind of wandered around the village and followed us for a bit as we visited some of the sights. The cat was quite the little tour guide and was always willing to come over to us and get a little scratch behind the ears.
We filled the entire day with just strolling around the village, seeing the sights, stopping for some hot chocolate and lunch later on, and just enjoying this visit back in time.