Monday, September 5, 2011

A Labor Day Tribute to an American Labor Creator: Henry Ford

Big Guy will be speechifying in Detroit today. Complete with a parade, Labor leaders and musical headliners including Aretha Franklin who – like labor unions – is butt a shadow of her former self.


I could go on (and on) about Big Guy and Big Labor, butt it’s a holiday and I think we all deserve something a little more fun.

So I have something special for you today. I happen to know a bit about the once great Detroit metropolitan area as I spent quite a bit of time there, on special loan to the Ford Foundation, reflecting on various eras of American history at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village complex. So today, I’m going to take you on a brief tour of some of the wonderful things that reside in Henry Ford’s visionary paean to all things Americana. 

Detroit itself, of course, has a glorious past,

bildeLobby of Detroit’s former Guardian Trust Building, aka the Temple of Finance

despite its ignoble present and highly questionable future.

detroit-skylineMoon waning on Detroit’s skyline

No small part of Detroit’s glorious past was the result of one man’s vision, conviction and hard work: Henry Ford.

Founder of the Ford Motor Company and inventor of the modern assembly line, Henry Ford very nearly invented the middle class in America.


henry ford"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."  — Henry Ford, visionary. Not community organizer

I’ll leave the criticism of his methods and philosophy to others as I just want to share a bit of the wonder housed in his museum that is a sprawling collection of American industrial and cultural arcana in Dearborn, Michigan, also home to the headquarters of the Ford Motor company.

The entire experience was founded and funded by one guy in the private sector who thought free enterprise was a major part of what made America great. He may not have been perfect, but he had that part right. That might be what people are looking for in a President these days: not perfection but a sincere belief in America, as it was originally conceived.

Anyway, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village is a force majeure of American spirit, industry and faith in the future. It may be one of the most amazing places in the country that most people have never heard of let alone visited.

christmasChristmas time at Greenfield Village

It was founded by the Ford foundation in 1929, shortly before the last Great Depression. The complex has two distinct parts. Greenfield Village, which houses original buildings, reconstructed on site, reflecting all eras of American history from pioneering days to the early industrial era. The Henry Ford Museum houses all things American from colonial times to the present.

Here are just a few of the wonderful things you will find there:


Both outside,

Screenshot Studio capture #208

and inside:

Dewitt Clinton trainMy favorite – the Dewitt Clinton Railroad



HF trains



FordTrimotorFord Tri-motor


DC 10 suspended from ceilingDC-3 suspended from ceiling

washspiritstlouisLindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis


The Suwanee Steamboat in the Village pond:



Screenshot Studio capture #211Steam engine from  a Great Lakes freighter



And of course, Cars:


“The Automobile in American Life” is a big section of the 12 acre museum (currently being revamped)



henry-ford-museum-kennedy limo300x232Lincoln that JFK was riding in when he was assassinated

…and things cars pull:

Henry_Ford_Museum_082210_027Airstream and Burma Shave signs

and places cars visited:

henry ford diner

HF holiday inn

Old_McDonalds_Henry_Ford_Museumearly Micky D’s

Or, if you like phones, they have some of  them too.



And that doesn’t even scratch the surface. Awesome!

Butt wander over to the Village and you will find the same American theme, only translated into relocated buildings that you can wander through.There is everything from a Cotswold cottage community


to a working farm:

walter-bibikow-the-henry-ford-museum-greenfield-village-detroit-michigan-usaoutbuilding on the Firestone Farm

Then there’s the Wright Brothers’ original bicycle shop:

Screenshot Studio capture #206

and a working early 20th century carousel for the kids,


Here’s Detroit Edison’s original generating station A:

The Edison Illuminating Company Station A was one of the first establishment to provide electricity to the homes and businesses of the City of Detroit

which, like everything else in the village, you can tour and see the inner workings of an early generator up close (it’s still working):


Other early generators housed in the Henry Ford Museum

Screenshot Studio capture #210

Or if that’s not your cup of tea, you can get penny candy at the general store, with a genuine wooden Indian outside (If it’s still there, that may not be politically correct any more):


Down the street is Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory where he invented the incandescent light bulb which is still one of the best inventions of all time, soon to be replaced by the curly-fry bright-white. It’s replacement is thanks to politicians rather than market pressure, so  it’s historical from several perspectives.

 Menlo Park Lab

Plus there are glass blowers and operating machine shops and blacksmiths and birthing barns and old train depots and trains and… well, you get the idea. Wear comfy shoes.

What started out as a home for Henry Ford’s private collection has grown into one of the most amazing immersions in the American experience: even PBS would be impressed.


We could use a few more Henry Fords about now.

And a few less community organizers. Detroit has nearly been community organized out of existence.


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