The Henry Ford Blog - The Latest on American History & Innovation (2024)

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December 31, 2013 Archive Insight

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Bobby Unser is one of auto racing’s major figures, counting among his victories three wins at the Indianapolis 500 and 13 wins at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. In 2009, Bobby and his wife Lisa donated papers and photographs documenting Bobby’s racing career and the family’s life to The Henry Ford, and over the course of 2013, we added nearly 2300 of these photographs to our digital collections. Just added is this photo of Bobby and some of his military colleagues, with a handwritten note on the back lamenting too-large Air Force shorts. Explore all our digital Bobby Unser material on our collections website.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

digital collections, photographs, by Ellice Engdahl, race car drivers, racing

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December 30, 2013 Archive Insight

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The centerpiece article in the January 1954 issue of Popular Mechanics introduced its readers to the technical world of color television. Its title, “Color TV is Here” implies a sense of relief – finally we can see the televised world in a palette that reflects reality. Color was far from new when it came to moving images. At the cinema, the 1939 double-dose of Technicolor brilliance captured in Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz helped to anchor color film in popular culture. And, by 1950, Eastman Kodak’s monopack system made color film production even easier. At home, color television had been a long-standing promise with a lot of fanfare, but its lack of realization had begun to frustrate its supporters. Much like the early history of color photography, many complicated experiments occurred before the process was simplified and perfected enough to make a mass impact. Although test broadcasts using color equipment had been made in 1951 by CBS Broadcasting, it was not feasible to execute this mode of television on a large scale. Slow sales, bitter lawsuits, and a halt on broadcasting experiments as a result of the Korean War all played their part in a sluggish beginning for the new medium.

One of the biggest hurdles for color broadcasting was the need to conserve bandwidth. Many companies tested ideas, but it was RCA’s “all-electronic” system that eventually won the approval of the National Television Systems Committee (NTSC) in June 1953. By splitting information related to image and brightness into separate signals, less bandwidth was used. In the television studio, RCA TK-40 and TK-41 cameras were the first favorites to broadcast live color images, and remained the preferred technology through the 1960s.

When NBC finally debuted coast-to-coast color broadcasting, its subject matter was the Tournament of Roses parade on January 1, 1954. At this point, the ability for Americans to experience telecasts in color was no longer a futuristic fantasy, but an achievable reality. The full spectrum of the parade’s spectacle, however, was only viewable on a handful of prototype televisions by an elite group of advertising executives and investors. Mass production of televisions soon began, but the cost for early color models remained extraordinarily high. RCA Victor’s first production television for the home, the CT-100, cost $995 in 1954—the equivalent of $8500 today! Sales remained slow in the 1950s.

Marie McNamara, a test model who became known as “Miss Color TV” for her role in NBC late-night color tests. [Broadcast News. Color Television Issue. Camden, N.J: Radio Corporation of America, Number 77, January-February 1954.] (ID: 99.190.2)[/caption]Before telecasts went live, each camera had to be “tuned,” much like a musical instrument. Cameramen were trained to make adjustments to the camera by focusing on and matching large color wheels wheeled onto the filming stage. Set and costume design played up a range of bright hues to be broadcast: colorful backgrounds and multi-layered costumes on actors highlighted the medium’s potential. The NBC peaco*ck’s rainbow tail confidently fanned its plumage across the screens of viewers.

In preparation for the adoption of color programming, New York’s NBC-TV conducted late-night experiments with their “test girls,” who would appear for work in the small hours of the morning after the network had signed off. Marie McNamara was employed as a “living color chart” for two and a half years, and was referred to as “the loveliest guinea pig of the electronic era.” Her porcelain skin tone and shocking red hair put McNamara in a difficult telecast range, but if camera operators could get “Miss Color TV” looking good, the cameras were considered to be perfectly aligned. McNamara built up a cult following, as night owl viewers began to stay up past The Late, Late Show to see the silent, smiling woman. Some viewers even learned to lip-read in order to understand what she was chatting about with the television engineers working in the background.

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In spite of NBC’s national color broadcast in 1954, programming for the next decade remained spotty. A small ratio of network programming was broadcast in color, but the majority of local programming stayed in black-and-white. And the lack of color programs is one reason why monochrome television owners were suspicious of making the switch. It took until the mid to late 1960s for viewers to indulge in the purchase of a color set.

Several factors are thought to have helped to catalyze this decision. First, in 1961, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color began broadcasting on Sunday evenings. The self-referential title reminded black-and-white viewers of the spectacle they were missing. In this same spirit, popular shows like The Andy Griffith Show, The Adventures of Superman, and The Lucy Show began to transition from filming in black-and-white to color. Second, 1966 was the first year of a full color prime time schedule, and NBC became the first all-color network that same year. More programming in color led to more viewer interest and willingness to invest in a stable technology. And finally, by the end of the 1960s, color sales were starting to pick up, with a more approachable set on the market for $495.

Once, Allen B. Dumont, television inventor and network owner, assured the public:

Nobody believes that color will completely replace black and white. There wouldn’t be much point in seeing wrestling bouts or horse races in color. […] There will always be plenty of monochrome shows to watch. (Popular Mechanics, Jan 1954, 282)

From the patience of engineers to that of businesses waiting selling the product, the early days of color television production and commerce were as finely calibrated as cameras upon a test girl. In 1972 color television sales finally defeated those of their monochrome cousins; two years later, two-thirds of American households had color sets.


  • Day, Michael. “Color TV is Here,” Popular Mechanics Magazine. Jan 1954.
  • Lind, A.H. “RCA Model TM-10A Color Video Monitor,” Broadcast News, Camden, N.J.: Radio Corporation of America, No.77, Jan/Feb 1954.
  • Magoun, Alexander B. Television: The Life Story of a Technology. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2007.
  • Ovington, Reg. “TV’s Only Silent Star,” Detroit Times Sunday Pictorial Review. April 18, 1954.
  • Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

    technology, TV, by Kristen Gallerneaux

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    December 26, 2013 Archive Insight

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    Industrialist. Outdoorsman. Race car driver. Henry Ford did a lot, and we have photos to prove it - lots of photos.

    Here are 10 more of my favorites... The first is our main image, posted above.

    Henry Ford driving his Quadricycle, Detroit, Michigan, 1896 (THF206457).

    Henry Ford driving his "Sweepstakes" race car against Alexander Winton, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, 1901 (THF94819).

    Henry Ford feeding a deer, circa 1912 (THF97195).

    Henry and Clara Ford birdwatching at “the bungalow,” the future site of their Fair Lane estate, Dearborn, Michigan, 1910-1915 (THF96013).

    Henry Ford, lacing his boots during a camping trip, 1919 (THF96265).

    Henry and Edsel Ford with a player piano during a camping trip in Maryland, 1921 (THF96578).

    Henry Ford operating a Westinghouse portable steam engine, Dearborn, Michigan, 1922 (THF96847).

    Henry Ford and George Washington Carver at the Tuskeegee Institute, Alabama, 1938 (THF213775).

    Henry Ford and chemist Robert Boyer unveiling the “Soybean Car,” a prototype with a plastic body, Dearborn, Michigan, 1941 (THF98874).

    Jim Orr, Image Services Specialist, forgot to pack the player piano the last time he went camping.

    archives, photographs, Henry Ford, by Jim Orr

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    December 24, 2013 Think THF, Archive Insight

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    Earlier this month I was sent this blog post from Target showcasing some of their holiday ads from the past 60 years. From Christmas tree-filled print ads to YouTube-ready TV commercials, the post was a hit with many of my co-workers here at The Henry Ford.

    The post got me thinking to some of my favorite holiday memories of THF. Growing up in southeastern Michigan, my parents were (and still are) proud members of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. One of our Christmas traditions every year was to visit the museum on Christmas Eve. We looked forwarded to making ornaments, adding our names to the huge visitor paper chain and, of course, taking our family picture by the Christmas tree.

    As I thought about my favorite memories here, I wondered what kind of holiday programming memorabilia we had in our collections? Turns out, there's quite a bit!

    Take a look at just a few samples of holiday programming from over the years at The Henry Ford.

    Visitors to Greenfield Museum in 1964 were treated to "period decorations" for the first time. What could guests expect as they toured the Village? From this 1964 pamphlet:

    Appropriate Christmas decorations, authenticated in each instance by careful research, have been installed in the 17th-century Cotswold Cottage, the 18th-century Secretary House, and the 19th-century Noah Webster House, Wright Homestead, and Ford Homestead, as well as in the Clinton Inn and the Martha-Mary Chapel. These buildings will be highlights of the regular guided tours during the holidays.

    In the mood to learn more about crafting? Henry Ford Museum was the place for you during Christmas 1976! During the holiday season guests could learn about toymaking, counted thread embroidery, lace making, crewel embroidery, Christmas card painting, quilting, tinsmithing, broom making, candle making, glass blowing, weaving, doll making, cookie baking, basket making AND tole painting. Phew!

    Need to know more about what was going on in the museum that year? Dial the Village Party Line!

    In the 1980s, visitors enjoyed "Yuletide Evenings" in Greenfield Village, complete with sleigh ride tours and dinner inside Eagle Tavern.

    While you might not think of a safari when you first think of the museum, children were definitely on the lookout with Santa in 1986 thanks to this holiday scavenger hunt. Chances are pretty good that I was one of those kids!

    In the 1990s, the holidays were all about being a "unique event" in the museum and Village.

    Does this sound more familiar? This dinner reservation form for Holiday Nights in 2005 offered holiday fun for groups of all sizes in Greenfield Village.

    Did you ever attend any of these events? Make sure to let me know!

    Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford. The ornament pictured in this blog post still hangs on her parents' Christmas tree.

    21st century, 20th century, Michigan, Dearborn, holidays, Holiday Nights, Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, events, Christmas, by Lish Dorset

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    December 23, 2013 Archive Insight

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    Lights have been a part of the Christmas tree tradition since at least the seventeenth century, when German families decorated evergreen boughs with wicks burning in tallow, oil, or more expensive wax. By the 1800s, candles had become commonplace in German and American homes, and people devised clever ways to affix them to Christmas trees.

    Some selected long, thin rope candles that could be wrapped around Christmas tree branches. Others used wire to secure thicker candles, “glued” them to the tree with melted wax, or stuck them to branches using tacks or stick pins. The first commercially manufactured Christmas tree candleholders employed the stick pin method but offered additional support—turned-up metal tabs that held the candle.

    Into the nineteenth century, innovators sought a remedy for dripping wax—a perennial holiday annoyance. A home lighting technology, the bobeche, or wax-catching dish, was patented for Christmas trees in 1867. Christmas tree candleholders soon featured crimped tin bobeches and wire or sharp tacks that united candle, wax-catcher, and tree branch.

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    As one might imagine, the clunky combination of tall candle, flimsy tin, and drooping branch—secured only by a bit of wire or small tack—lacked stability. Candles that leaned, even slightly, dripped wax onto ornaments or the floor. They were also potential fire hazards.

    On Christmas Eve 1867, New Jersey inventor Charles Kirchhof received a patent for his counterweight candleholder—a solution to the tilting candle problem. Kirchhof designed a candleholder that hooked simply over a Christmas tree branch. Beneath it, a weight suspended from a wire ensured that the candle stayed upright. The effective, attractive design was a hit.

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    But the weight that made Kirchhof’s design so effective and so popular was also its biggest flaw. Counterweighted candleholders were heavy. They couldn’t be hung from small or dry boughs and caused even healthy branches to droop, sometimes sending a lighted candle tumbling into the tree or onto the floor.

    In New York, inventor Frederick Arzt worked to improve the Christmas tree candleholder. In 1879, he introduced the spring clip candleholder. Light, reliable, and available in a variety of eye-catching designs and colors, the Christmas candle clip would remain prevalent into the 1920s.

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    These are Christmas Lights?

    Candles weren’t the only nineteenth-century lighting source, even for the Christmas tree. Manufacturers applied other existing technologies, producing Christmas tree lanterns made of tin or thin glass. One inventor even patented a miniature Christmas tree oil lamp. A very early and popular American alternative to candleholders were glass “Christmas lights,” manufactured to be hung with wire from Christmas tree branches. Beautiful patterns in the clear or colored glass reflected light from inside, where a wick burned in cork or wood floating atop oil or water.

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    After Electricity

    The Edison Electric Company released the technology that made electric Christmas lights a possibility in 1879, but American and German companies produced Christmas tree candleholders into the 1920s. Candle clips remained common, although they became less colorful and much simpler in form. Manufacturers continued to experiment, using soft wire and strips of tin in search of ever-safer designs.

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    Eventually, as electrification reached more American households and people gained trust in the new technology, electric Christmas tree lights caught consumers’ attention. Manufacturers wisely advertised the advantages of electric Christmas lights over candles: strands of electric lights (called “festoons”) could be turned on or off all at once—even better, they could stay lit for any desired amount of time with minimal attention. By the 1930s, Americans had made the switch from Christmas tree candles to electric Christmas lights—but the spirit of innovation that drove the development of Christmas tree candleholders lives on.

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    Saige Jedele is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford.

    20th century, 19th century, holidays, Christmas, by Saige Jedele

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    December 20, 2013 Archive Insight

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    It’s cold at the Ford-Wyoming Drive-In Theatre. The first shockingly dry-crisp days of autumn in the Midwest were overdue this year, trailing an already belated Indian summer. While the arrival of cool weather in Dearborn, Michigan, was inevitable, most of us have not yet adjusted to the sudden snap. Virgil, the manager in charge of the theatre, is standing high on a ladder, repairing the roof of the streamlined ticket booth. He waves a gloved hand and climbs down. We are both bundled up against the cold in all manner of hunter green, plaid, and wool.

    Drive-in theatres like the one I’m standing in peaked in popularity during the post-WWII era. In the late 1950s there were 4,000 throughout the United States. Today, approximately 350 remain, and the Ford-Wyoming is the last example in southeast Michigan. The first patent for a drive-in theater was awarded to Richard M. Hollingshead in 1933. He worked out the details in his New Jersey driveway, by putting a projector on the hood of his car and nailing a sheet onto a tree for a screen. To simulate bad weather, he hooked up his lawn sprinkler. The family stereo came out of the house for an impromptu sound system. Hollingshead sat in his car, to test drive the show. He liked what he saw.

    Virgil ushers me toward the corrugated metal opening through which vehicles enter the theatre. Once through, I’m in a wide expanse punctuated by randomly-leaning speaker posts, my eyes stinging from the wind gusting uninterrupted across the empty space. Most patrons choose to tune into their movie’s sound via their car FM radio, but strangely, when the theatre owners tried to decommission the ranks of poles with their perched and weathered speakers, there was something akin to a mutiny: whether deployed in the car or not, the grey speakers had become an essential part of the drive-in landscape.

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    The Ford-Wyoming drive-in was built by Charlie Schafer, opening for business in May 1950. He and his family grew a veritable movie house empire in the Metro-Detroit area under the umbrella of Wayne Amusem*nts, but the Ford-Wyoming is the only evidence of the legacy that remains. When it was first built, there was only one screen—the backside of the immense Streamline Moderne structure that sits at the front of the property. One screen with accommodation for 750 cars grew to nine screens and a 3,000-car capacity, and the theatre began to make the claim of being “the largest drive-in in the world.” Today the theatre has downsized to five screens, showing double-features from dusk until dawn. As of 2013, at 92 years of age, Shafer remains an active manager, working from home, disinclined to retire.

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    Right now, the emptiness of the Ford Wyoming—no cars, blank screens, dead silence—is amplified by our presence, two figures buffeted by the wind. I look down and see a discarded pine tree car deodorizer lying in the sandy gravel. Virgil and I are headed toward the one place that drive-in patrons never get to go – the projection booth. Like most theatres, the Ford-Wyoming is converting their projectors to digital, and this is the reason I am here. The previous morning, I had received a call with a certain sense of urgency. The last of the 35mm machinery was headed for the dumpster, and I made an appointment to take a look to see if there were any items that might be added to the museum’s collection. We climb steep industrial iron stairs, up to the booth, and I wonder how the projectionists don’t trip down them in the dark carrying flashlights and film cans. Virgil tells me that he used to get the occasional flustered phone call from late-night projectionists: “I dropped the film reel down the stairs and it unraveled.”

    “All this stuff is just going to get scrapped in the dumpster. Anything you see here… it’s up for the taking. The boss just wants it gone,” Virgil tells me. He pauses and asks: “Have you ever worked in film?” “A little, when I was in college,” I tell him. He nods and walks over to the shoulder high stack of table-sized film platters, where a few reels of forgotten 35mm film are wound around the circular cores. These mechanisms hold up to four hours of footage, making the projectionist’s life easier with fewer changeovers of reels. “We have some old intermission commercials wound on here that are ours.” “What’s on them?” “Oh, you know… Dancing hotdogs and popcorn, that kind of stuff. They’re pretty scratched up. We’ve been using the same ones out here for decades. I think we’ve only changed it over once.” This is very exciting. I tell him, “If you’re willing to part with one of those reels, I’d argue to the death that it has a home in our collections.”

    Intermission films belong to a film category known as “snipes,” collections of generic promotional material used to advertise theater services. Perhaps the most famous of these films is the Dave Fleisher animated Let’s All Go to the Lobby, produced in 1957 by Chicago’s interstitial trailer company, Filmack Studios. A “clock shell” is a basic countdown reel sold to theatre owners, which creative projectionists could use to make a custom animated clock unique to their theatre. By tape-splicing together sections from the generic clock shell with blackout film, music interludes, generic food advertisem*nts, policies, and short cartoons (all of which again, pointed towards the snack bar), a mix-and-match intermission film was created.

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    The film reel that Virgil is about to give to me is one such clock shell, beginning with the Hungry Martian, and followed by a unique version of Refreshment Time. The reel was produced by the animation department at the National Screen Service, a company that began in 1920 as a movie trailer production outfit, and in 1940 became the monopoly for poster distribution. The NSS also made intermission films, but suffered competition from companies like Filmack and Pike Studios, who specialized in the genre. The animation on the two snipes here is rumored to be by Jay Ward, animator of Rocky & Bullwinkle and designer of the Cap’n Crunch logo.

    The concession stands and snack bars of drive-in theatres provided ready-made food that could be gathered quickly and returned to the car before the next feature began. Roadside America author John Margolies tells us this was a time when: “Watching and eating became, and still are, ritualistically and irrevocably intertwined.” Onscreen, the drive to sell snack items and drinks to patrons was decidedly transparent. Animated anthropomorphic dancing, trick-wrangling food things, psychedelic abstractions of wild shapes and colors, and other oddities have continued to be a nostalgic oddity. The Ford-Wyoming remains a site where dancing hotdogs stay limber.

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    While Virgil searches for an empty reel to feed the intermission film onto, we talk a little more about his life at the theatre. He has worked for Shafer since 1976, and used to manage the Ford-Wyoming 6-9 Theatre. When those screens were demolished in 2010, he relocated across the street to the 1-5 Theatre. Virgil started working as a projectionist in 1986 because “there was no one else wanted to do it.” When asked about the bizarre schedule related to working at an all-night movie theatre, he explained that he arrives at 8pm, and ends his shift at 3am. After a short rest, he returns at 7am to test equipment and do building maintenance until the early afternoon. Apparently, he doesn’t get much sleep. The Ford-Wyoming has a history of dedicated employees, and Berean is one of them.

    Passing the reel to me, Virgil seems eager to get back to work. Before I go, he asks if I’m good with computers. “Good enough to get what I need to done,” I joke. He strides over to the new digital projector and swipes his finger around on the touch-screen. It glows awake with cold and even LED light, a docket of possibilities for film arrangements appear on the screen like entries on a recipe card. The screen acts as a digital slot system to swipe in and orchestrate trailers, advertisem*nts and messages. I look at the text and scan it for hints of familiarity. I can’t help but wonder if drive-in theatres still project the “Anti-Love Bug” and “No Necking” messages for teenagers acting out their part in the archetype of the “passion pit.” Tonight, this projector will show a double-feature of horror films. Behind me, there are two more projectors, pointing out through windows, towards two more screens. I realize I’m standing in a film house Panopticon, next to a dusty brown La-Z Boy recliner that commands the space from the center.

    I look up to see Virgil waving something in his hand that looks like an external computer hard-drive. “So you just take this thing, it sucks it up into the slot, extracts the files, and away it goes! They told me I could make everything work from a laptop… I could just stay at home if I felt like it!” Looking at the files arranged on the touch screen, I wander to thoughts about the demise of 35mm film stock. Film enthusiasts who did not grow up with digital foresaw this harbinger when Kodak ceased production of 35mm slide film. Struggling to resist giving in to the comforting hum of those sleep-inducing machines was the bane of many college level art survey courses, my own included. And sitting at the back of a movie theatre, you could enjoy the physicality of the sounds: the whir of the film flying through the projector, the metallic rhythmic clacking when the sprockets let the end leader fly. The reasons for converting to digital are many, and I’m sure Virgil would agree. But at the risk of sounding like a Luddite: the dust floating through the blinding arc lamp of a true film projector just settles differently.

    Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.


  • “Ford Drive In.”
  • Liebs, Chester H. Main Street to Miracle Mile: American Roadside Architecture. Baltimore, Md. [u.a.: Hopkins, 1995. Print.
  • Margolies, John, and Emily M. Gwathmey. Ticket to Paradise: American Movie Theaters and How We Had Fun. Boston: Little, Brown, 1991. Print.
  • Segrave, Kerry. Drive-in Theaters: A History from Their Inception in 1933. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 1992. Print.
  • Various Detroit Free Press and Dearborn Times articles, 2002-2006.
  • * With thanks to interstitial film expert, Walter Forsberg.

    food, communication, technology, Dearborn, Michigan, cars, popular culture, movies, by Kristen Gallerneaux

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    December 18, 2013 Archive Insight

    The Henry Ford Blog - The Latest on American History & Innovation (42)Edison vs. Pathé and the Rise of the Movie Rental

    Just a few years after cinema made its public debut in 1893, the marketing of home projectors began. Though by 1912 the market was flooded with them, the appeal had been limited. That was about to change. Soon two of the biggest companies in the movie business—one French, one American—went head-to-head, marketing their own home projectors as well as offering films for rent by mail, making them available through pioneering delivery systems. Yet only one of these companies would succeed.

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    Thomas Edison is considered the father of motion pictures. He invented the original movie camera, the kinetograph, which was used to film movies shot at his movie studio, the Black Maria, the foremost of its kind. His lab developed the earliest films in motion picture history, and those movies were exhibited on a peep hole-like device, the kinetoscope—yet another Edison creation. On November 30th, 1897, Edison’s Projecting Kinetoscope was used to show movies on a screen in a commercial setting for the first time. In December 1903, the Edison Manufacturing Company released The Great Train Robbery, which would go on to be the initial motion picture blockbuster. The film industry would prove to be successful, yet rocky, for Edison over the next few years, but in 1912, the year his company launched the Home Projecting Kinetoscope, optimism was in the air.

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    Charles Pathé, previously a phonograph importer, established the French company Pathé Frères in 1896. In 1902, the company introduced an improved movie camera, and soon it would become the leading model used in filming movies across Europe and America. The same year, they began shooting their own productions—completing them at a very fast clip—and distributing them, as well. They would soon dominate the European industry, so much so that Pathé Frères had few serious rivals. The Pathé K-O-K home projector was launched in 1912 in Europe, and the following year they introduced the device in the United States under a different name: the Pathescope. It was in this environment that home projectors finally became a product that the public could get behind.

    The Pathescope and the Home Projecting Kinetoscope (also known as the “Home P.K.”) were similar products in many ways, yet had distinct differences. Both Edison and Pathé produced their own unique film size, which meant the films they rented out could be played only on their respective projectors. The companies also introduced a non-flammable film stock—a positive development in the minds of the general public—thus playing a major role in the appeal of the projectors to homeowners. The cost of the machines differed significantly, with Edison’s Home P.K. selling in the $75-$100 range (roughly $1,770-$2,360 in 2013 dollars), while the budget-priced Pathescope would set one back set one back $150 (about $3,540 today). Pathe's premium offering was priced at $250 (a whopping $5,900 in today’s dollars), making it far and away the priciest home projector available.

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    The fact that the companies offered movies for rent was also of considerable appeal to consumers, as was the system of home delivery by mail. In order to accomplish this, both Edison and Pathé established “exchange” hubs to ship and receive their films. Owners of the Home P.K. initially had to purchase a film, which ran in the $2.50 to $20 range ($59-$472 if priced today), and then pay an exchange fee of $0.30-$1 ($7-24 in 2013) when swapping one movie for another. Pathé’s method differed, as Pathescope owners instead paid a yearly subscription of $50-$100 ($1,180-$2,360 today), fees based on how many movies were rented at a time. Edison offered 50 films at launch, a number that grew to 160 by 1914; Pathé had 700 films by that time—a momentous disparity.

    Due to a number of factors, including that it was notoriously difficult to operate, the Home P.K. never caught on. Edison’s company manufactured 4,600 projectors, but in the end sold just 500 (more than 8,000 Pathescopes had been sold at that point). Pathé Frères had a huge advantage not only in the number of titles available, but because their projectors were superior. It seems quality and quantity was just too much for Edison, and the Home Projecting Kinetoscope was retired in 1914.

    Fast forward to the home video era: 1972 marked the year films became available on videocassette to rent, but it would take the arrival of the DVD format in 1997 before an entity had great success with home delivery of movie rentals. That same year, a new company called Netflix was founded. Their concept of offering films for rent by mail seemed revolutionary, and for modern America it most certainly was an innovative (and appealing) model. It was also an idea whose time had come—again.

    Bart Bealmear is former research support specialist in the Archives & Library at The Henry Ford.


    Europe, 20th century, 1910s, Thomas Edison, technology, popular culture, movies, by Bart Bealmear

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    December 17, 2013 Archive Insight

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    The Henry Ford, dedicated in 1929 as The Edison Institute, has a long institutional history. Over the years, exhibits have come and gone, programs have evolved, and events both anticipated and unanticipated have changed the look and feel of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. We’ve recently been digitizing some of our own history in the form of photos and documents from previous decades. For example, this activity sheet encouraged young visitors during the holidays in 1986 to find animals in our collections items—but today, you might be even more interested in the included map that shows how much the Museum’s footprint has changed in 27 years. To see the map and the quiz questions, visit this collections record in our online collections—or view additional historic photos and documents related to Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum.

    Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections and Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

    Greenfield Village, digital collections, by Ellice Engdahl, Henry Ford Museum

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    December 17, 2013 Archive Insight

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    A Scrapbook Documenting the Original Interiors of the Dearborn Inn

    One of the great attractions in Dearborn, inextricably linked with Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, is the Dearborn Inn. A unique historic institution, the hotel was conceived by Edsel and Henry Ford as their vision of a “real New England Inn” welcoming travelers transiting through the Ford Airport, located adjacent to the Inn, across Oakwood Boulevard. Within several years of the inn’s opening in 1931, the airport closed as Ford exited the aviation business. The inn, however, has endured and prospered, as a first-class hostelry serving visitors to The Henry Ford, Ford Motor Company and the Dearborn community. The building, designed by noted Detroit architect Albert Kahn, was created as his update of an 18th- or early 19th-century New England inn, complete with all of the conveniences necessary for the discriminating traveler in the 1930s. Henry and Edsel Ford viewed the inn very much as the “front door” of Dearborn to the rest of the world, and they gave Albert Kahn and his designers free rein to create a singular structure.

    The management of the inn was contracted to the L. G. Treadway Service Company of New York City, which operated a chain of historic inns in New England. The Treadway Company was responsible for the interior arrangements, subcontracting the furnishings to a variety of sources, local and national. Most of the furnishings were reproductions of 18th- and 19th-century antiques according to Treadway’s advertisem*nts. Today, the inn is operated by the Marriott Hotel Corporation, which maintains the high standards of décor, ambience and service set during the 1930s.

    I was first introduced to the Dearborn Inn in the summer of 2008, when I interviewed for my current position at The Henry Ford. Having come from a similar curatorial position in New England, I was familiar with real 18th-century inns, including the first inn of the Treadway chain. I was charmed by the 1930s “Colonial Revival” ambiance of the Dearborn Inn and the conscientious service that the Marriott Corporation maintains. When you walk into the elegant lobby and are warmly greeted by the staff, it seems like time stands still. Now that I am a five-year resident of the community, I continue to visit the inn on special occasions and make it a point to bring out-of-town guests there.

    One of the many joys of working at The Henry Ford is the opportunity to make new discoveries in our vast collections. This is a story of one of these discoveries.

    In the late summer of 2012, the Museum’s Chief Registrar brought a large loose-leaf scrapbook containing a variety of photos, ledger pages, correspondence, fabric samples, design renderings, and floor plans. All of the individual samples were carefully identified as to their location in the building, the name of supplier, and item or model number. Several pages are accounting price lists for each room. The samples were meticulously arranged, most as overlays, and glued into the cardboard pages. Nearly all of the glue on the samples had dried out over the decades and the samples were loose

    Even after a cursory examination it was clear that this was a careful documentation of every aspect of the furnishings to the smallest detail. Over time, the pages were shuffled out of order, making a clear examination nearly impossible. Nevertheless, our Registrar believed that this scrapbook documented the original furnishing plan of the Dearborn Inn.

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    Examining the scrapbook was at once a delight and a challenge – after carefully arranging and rearranging the loose items, concurrently shuffling through pages, we stumbled on the index page, which was the “Smoking Gun” identifying the Dearborn Inn. We can only surmise the original purpose of the scrapbook, perhaps as an aid to staff in reordering furniture and fixtures, carpets, wallpaper and draperies that had worn or broken through heavy use in a commercial environment The text on the index page states, “This collection of pictures, cuts, drawings, samples and swatches is to be used in connection with the complete itemized inventory of Dearborn Inn equipment and furnishings (bound separately), [sic] and file of Purchase Orders and Invoices." To date, we have not located those documents.

    Once we located the index, we quickly reassembled the scrapbook into its original arrangement and began the process of evaluating this treasure.

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    Possibly the most interesting item included is found on the second page, following the index: A bound copy of the trade publication Hotel Monthly from August 1931, includes a feature article on constructing and furnishing the Dearborn Inn. The index describes that it “contains valuable reference material”. The article goes into great technical detail on the construction, emphasizing the modern features found in the inn.

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    The Henry Ford Blog - The Latest on American History & Innovation (55)

    My favorite pages are two-page spreads illustrating the original lobby in photographs and the blueprint of the furniture arrangement. What is truly amazing are the fabric and wallpaper swatches. When one compares them with the black and white photographs, one gains a true sense of the colors and textures of the lobby. On separate pages are photographs of individual pieces of furniture. This partner’s desk and the chest of drawers are still in the lobby.

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    The use of reproduction antiques is best seen in the guest rooms. This is described as the “Mahogany Bedroom” and contains a group of 18th-century high style pieces including a slant-front desk and tea table and wing chairs. These are mixed with vernacular Windsor and "Hitchco*ck" chairs. The botanical wallpaper is reminiscent of an 18th-century print.

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    In all, the scrapbook is a wonderful record of a truly remarkable structure. The images presented here are the highlights, intended to provide a glimpse into a genteel past. As I mentioned, the inn remains a bastion of 1930s service, décor and gentility.

    For a detailed history of the Dearborn Inn throughout its history, the best source is Jennifer Czerwick Ganem’s Images of America: Dearborn Inn. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2011.

    Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts. The Dearborn Inn scrapbook has opened up exciting new areas of research. While documenting the scrapbook, Charles discovered new stories of the Dearborn Inn's past. He continues telling these stories in future installments.

    Collections References

    • Ford Tri-Motor Airplane in Flight over Dearborn Inn, Dearborn, Michigan, 1931
    • Scrapbook Documenting the Furnishing of the Dearborn Inn, Michigan, 1936

    Michigan, hotels, furnishings, Dearborn Inn, Dearborn, by Charles Sable, archives

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    December 13, 2013 Think THF

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    The American celebration of the holiday season (Christmas and New Year's) has evolved over several centuries and today offers us a wide range of customs and practices. Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village embraces many of these historical traditions and brings them to life 14 evenings in December each year.

    One interesting custom, now most associated with New Year’s Eve, was the “shooting in of Christmas.” In the decades just prior to the Civil War, both urban and rural Americans took part in similar activities on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's. All these activities had the same goal in mind - making as much noise as possible. In rural areas, which made up much of what was the U.S. in the 1840s and 1850s, guns were the noise makers of choice. Either as an individual, shooting to make their presence known, or as a gang roaming from farm to farm shooting a coordinated volley just outside an unfortunate’s occupant’s window, bringing in the holiday as loudly as possible was met with much enthusiasm.

    In urban areas these activities were even more intensified. For instance, in 1848 it was noted that in Pittsburgh “the screams of alarmed ladies, as some young rogue discharges his fire crackers at their feet” augmented the din created by “juvenile artillerists” who have invaded that city at Christmas time. “Wretched is now the youngest who cannot raise powder; and proud, indeed, is the warlike owner of a pistol…”* All manner of home-made explosive devices, including crude rockets, flares, and roman candles were highly prized and used in great abundance to welcome the holiday.

    The larger-scale firework displays we are more familiar with today have origins in the 18th century and “illuminations” involving large bonfires and aerial fireworks were popular in London for special celebrations throughout that century. They became popular in America even before the American Revolution and through the end of the 18th century and well into the mid-19th century, marking special occasions well beyond just the Fourth of July. Today, this tradition of making noise has been relegated to New Year’s Eve.

    During Holiday Nights, we celebrate the finale of each evening with a fireworks display.

    * Restad, Penne L., Christmas in America, Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 1995, pp.39-40.

    Jim Johnson is Director of Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford.

    1850s, 1840s, 19th century, holidays, Holiday Nights, Greenfield Village, events, Christmas, by Jim Johnson

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