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Thomas Edison re-enacts his invention of the electric light bulb as Henry Ford looks on, October 21, 1929
Thomas Edison re-enacts his invention of the electric light bulb as Henry Ford and Francis Jehl look on, October 21, 1929. Photo from the collections of Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village

Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village

The world's largest indoor-outdoor history museum provides educational experiences based on the authentic lives, stories, and objects from America past, focusing on the country's traditions of ingenuity and innovation. More than one million people visit the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village each year.

Automotive pioneer Henry Ford (1863-1947) could have purchased great works of art by the truckload, but he chose to collect commonplace items like toasters, farm machinery, kerosene lamps, and steam engines. Ford felt that these everyday objects told a truth not written in history books. He also collected historic buildings, brought from different parts of the U.S., that represented a variety of time periods. He wanted his museum to be a place where people could see how their ancestors lived and worked, so that these traditions could inspire people to help shape a better future.

Ford began storing these items on property next to his engineering laboratory while his 13-acre museum building and 81-acre outdoor village site were being constructed. On September 27, 1928, Thomas Edison pushed a small garden spade once owned by botanist Luther Burbank into a block of hardening concrete that would become the cornerstone for Ford's new museum. One year later, on October 21, more than 100 dignitaries, including President Herbert Hoover and Edison, attended formal dedication ceremonies inside the partially completed building. The dedication date also commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Edison's invention of the first practical incandescent lamp and electric lighting system. The museum, in fact, was originally named the Edison Institute in honor of Ford's mentor and friend.

After Ford's death in 1947, it was renamed Henry Ford Museum. The Edison Institute name, however, remains the registered name for the entire complex. Because Ford wanted all of the museum's public areas to be located on one floor, the main exhibition hall is a single eight-acre room with a distinctive teak floor. The front facade of the museum is a replication of Philadelphia's Independence Hall, one of the best known symbols of American freedom.

The museums celebrate the accomplishments of American innovators, such as Ford himself, Edison, the Wright Brothers, George Washington Carver, Noah Webster, and others. Among themed exhibitions are "Made in America," which explores how production of goods impacts society, and "The Automobile in American Life." This auto exhibition, which illustrates how rapidly the car changed America in the twentieth century, includes a restored diner; a 1952 Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, one of the world's most famous "productmobiles;" a rare hand carved Lalique crystal hood ornament for a 1920s luxury car; the Ford Mark IV race car; the Allegheny (steam) Locomotive, stretching 125 feet long and weighing 600 tons; and more than 100 vintage cars. Unique historical items include the chair that President Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was assassinated, and a folding camp bed that General George Washington actually slept in during the Revolutionary War. A sampling of other "everyday" items in the museum are a 1930s era kitchen; and collections of American clocks, American glassware, and treadle sewing machines.

Greenfield Village, which opened in 1933, consists of more than 80 historic structures on a site laid out like a small New England community-farmhouses, workshops, shops, mills, a railroad depot, and a bandstand. It is also divided into themed areas which include: crafts and trade, historic homes, transportation, pre-industrial farm life, and town buildings. The village also includes the restoration of moved homes and workplaces of famous innovators, like the Wright Brothers' Home and Cycle Shop and Ford's first automobile assembly plant. The centerpiece is the reconstruction of Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory Complex, originally in New Jersey, where he created some of his most famous inventions, such as the phonograph and the light bulb. The result is a unique history park.

Documentation comprises a pictorial souvenir book and the book, An American Invention, about the museums, and photographs.

Originally submitted by: John D. Dingell, Representative (16th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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