Location: Dearborn, Michigan
General Description: By the late 1920’s, Henry Ford had become the primary collector of Americana and built two separate facilities on the edge of Ford manufacturing facility in Dearborn. These two facilities have grown into an indoor museum of America’s technological progress and an outdoor village to demonstrate how these objects were made and used. The continuing mission of the facilities are to provide “unique educational experiences based on authentic objects, stories, and lives from America’s traditions of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and innovation.” The Museum of American Innovation includes the following exhibits: Agriculture, Dymaxion House, Your Place in Time, Fully Furnished, With Liberty and Justice for All, Heroes of the Sky, Made in America: Manufacturing, Made in America: Power, Driving America, Presidential Vehicles, Railroads, Firearms, Home Arts, Lighting, Dollhouses, Henry Ford’s Violins, Telephones, Coverlets, Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery, and Clockwork. The Greenfield Village consists of 7 historic districts: Working Farms, Liberty Craftworks, Henry Ford’s Model T, Railroad Junction, Main Street, Edison at Work, and Porches and Parlors. If museums are not your thing, there is also the Ford Rouge Factory Tour with the Living Laboratory Tour, the Legacy Theater, Manufacturing Innovation Theater, Legacy Gallery, and Assembly Plant Tour.
1) Each and every one of these three opportunities will take a full day to explore. As we only had a single day, we choose to explore the Museum of American Innovation and spent over 6 hours in the museum. If you have ever explored any of the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C. be expected to be blown away again. In many ways this museum is more impressive then any of the Smithsonian Museums.
2) The Agriculture exhibit is a vast collection of agriculture “machines” that trace the history of farming from the simple plow to modern harvesters. Whereas, most agriculture museums have examples of worn out and rusty tractors and farm equipment, these exhibits all look brand new fresh off the production line.
3) The Dymaxion House is a hemisphere home that was designed to answer the huge demand for inexpensive and prefabricated homes following World War II. Available housing was in very short supply for the returning servicemen and new materials such as aluminum and plastics were now available. Since the most innovative factories of the times were the airplane factories and with the end of the war, many were looking for other opportunities. The architect and inventor, Buckminster Fuller, saw an opportunity to mass-produce homes in airplane factories that would be shipped and constructed in less than a month. While only two prototype homes were built in 1946 in Wichita Kansas, it is a great example of American innovation. It is an amazing circular house suspended on a central pole above the ground. The natural convection heating and cooling are an interesting concept, although I still question whether it could adequately heated or cooled.
4) The “Your Place in Time” is an interesting section with separate exhibits for each period of time from the 1920 to the present day. Included in each section are numerous household artifacts from furniture and appliances to toys and games. It was fun to see how many objects you recognize from your childhood that were either new or keepsakes of your parents.
5) The Power exhibit is an amazing collection of steam engines, from the biggest to the smallest that span the history of steam engines. The earliest steam engines were massive extending 30 feet high and as much as a hundred feet long and the museum is large enough for all of them. There are also the steam engines used to produce electricity, both DC current developed by Edison, as well as, AC current. Truly an amazing collection.
6) The Firearms collection has examples of most of the pistols and rifles produced in America since its founding. The collection extends from the smallest 0.22 caliber pistol that would fit in your hand to target rifles large enough that they had to rest on a tripod or small table.
7) Of course, the Ford Museum includes a huge collection of automobiles arranged to give a history of the automobile industry and the changes it caused in society. Beginning with horse drawn carriages and stagecoaches, through bicycles, to the first automobiles. Once again, the entire collection look brand new and ready to roll. All makes are represented from the least expensive family cars to the expensive luxury vehicles.
8) The Presidential Vehicles exhibit includes most of the automobiles used by past Presidents. Included are the Kennedy Presidential Vehicle and FDR Sunshine Special.
9) The Railroad exhibit is not as impressive as the automobile exhibit, mostly due to the relative sizes. However, they do have examples of some of the more interesting trains including a snow plow train from Canada and the largest steam power train ever made.
10) The Heroes of the Air exhibit include some notable historic aircraft including the Fokker used by Robert Perry’s arctic expedition to both the North and South Poles and the original prototype Sikorsky Helicopter.
10) Even with 6 hours in the Museum we ran out of time and did not spend much time in any of the other exhibits. For instance, I did not realize there was an exhibit on clockworks until I wrote this blog. A truly amazing museum!!