By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – Aside from a few of Henry Ford’s personal items, including a hat and a tuxedo, the Historical Museum displayed artifacts from the magnate’s era March 24 to tell his story.
From yellowed newspapers proclaiming Henry Ford’s death in 1947, to a Model T instruction book, the display provided a way for attendees to learn more about the automotive pioneer’s life through the objects that chronicle his world.
Assistant Curator Matt Graff said the exhibit followed four themes: personal artifacts belonging to Henry Ford and his close friends and associates, Ford Motor Co. artifacts, items from the era when Henry Ford’s father first arrived in the United States in 1847, and photos and pamphlets, including secondary source material, about Henry Ford.
Graff said the most personal items the museum has of Ford’s are a hat of his, which was donated by Roy Bryant, who was the brother of Clara Bryant Ford; and a tuxedo, purchased in 1913, and was passed down to his son, Edsel, then to his grandson, Henry Ford II, who gave it to a servant at the Ford estate as a Christmas present. The servant eventually gave the tuxedo to Floyd Radford, who was a supporter of the Dearborn Historical Museum.
Graff said Henry Ford is indelibly associated with the Rouge Plant and Dearborn’s subsequent population boom.
“Dearborn was a sleepy little town of about 1,000 people until Henry Ford opened the Rouge Plant,” he said. “But after the Rouge Plant opened, 20,000, 50,000, and now we are like at a 120,000, so, Dearborn was really put on the map by Henry Ford.”
Graff said the Fair Lane Estate in Dearborn is strongly reflective of Henry Ford as well, as are the contradictions of his larger-than-life personality.
“Henry Ford, like everyone else, was a man,” Graff said. “He had his faults and he also had his strengths.”
He said Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism isn’t talked about as much, but it exists alongside the legacy of the automotive pioneer.
Museum Assistant Mason Christensen said some of the artifacts, like a tomato juice bottle, illustrate Henry Ford’s fascination with agriculture and his exploration of experimental uses for different plants.
He said he was also fascinated by a recently restored globe from 1844 which shows what the world looked like from a geo-political standpoint 180 years ago when Henry Ford’s father immigrated to the United States from Ireland. The globe was found in a Dearborn house in the 1920s and was donated to the historical society.
“It has areas like California that are still basically part of Mexico, before the Mexican-American War,” Christensen said.
He said Henry Ford is associated with negative things, like the brutality that was employed against striking workers, while at the same time he is responsible for a once-small community becoming the strong city it is today.
“Everything in Dearborn history has some connection to Ford,” he said. “The city really is this big because of Ford.”
For more information about the Dearborn Historical Museum and its collections, go to thedhm.org.