America · Detroit

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village

I literally have no idea where to even start with this review. I’ve been wanting to visit The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation for years. So much so, that we diverted our holiday for two days purely so I could visit. The Museum and Village are filled to the absolute brim with iconic objects and buildings, displaying everything from President Kennedy’s Lincoln to the Wright Brothers entire bicycle shop. I am going to divide this post into the Museum and the Village. Happy reading.

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

The first place we visited was the Museum. I had a list of highlights to tick off including President Lincoln’s Ford Theatre chair and the Rosa Park bus. When we arrived, front of house staff (who were very welcoming) handed us a map and recommended some paths to follow.

For each section, the map suggests a few highlight objects for visitors to find. We basically followed this so we didn’t miss anything. If you do visit, I would strongly suggest hanging onto this map. We referred to it a lot!

Layout

The entire museum is on one level. I am not sure why, but, for some reason, I didn’t feel overwhelmed because of this. I guess it meant it was easier to keep track of where we had and hadn’t been.

There are 22 sections to explore including ‘Driving America’, ‘Fully Furnished’ and ‘Presidential Vehicles’. Each of the sections is easy to find and clearly labelled by an introductory panel. The sections also have their own colour which lessens confusion when moving between them.

When we first entered the Museum I was glad to see huge spaces both between the exhibitions and right at the entrance way. Considering huge groups of school kids were coming through on their excursions, the space just made things easier to navigate. I can imagine that even when it’s absolutely full of people, it doesn’t feel too cramped. Even around the objects themselves there was so much space.

There are no prescriptive paths in the Museum. There are a few suggested routes within sections, but, no overarching you must start and finish here. It’s really open to exploring on your own.

Select Themes/Sections

Here are a few of the highlight objects according to their theme/section.

1. Presidential Vehicles

This is the object I wanted to see above all else, President Kennedy’s 1961 Lincoln. Kennedy was sitting in this car when he was assassinated on 22 November 1963. I was quite surprised to learn that proceeding Presidents including Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon occasionally used this car. Due to the assassination, the Secret Service made adjustments to increase the security of the car. According to the label, this tension between safety and the President wanting to be seen, continues to grow over time.

2. With Liberty and Justice For All

This section has too many highlight objects to mention. Around every corner is something inspiring from either the fight for Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights or American Independence.

Two must-see objects are the Rosa Parks bus and Abraham Lincoln’s rocking chair from the Ford Theatre.

3. Fully Furnished

During your visit one thing becomes increasingly clear, Henry Ford collected anything and everything. This section on American home furnishings includes this adorable child’s table from 1956. Also on display are a few dollhouses from the 1800s to early 1900s.

I was also really excited to see the prototype of the Eames Fiberglass Chair. Ray and Charles Eames were a dynamic artist and designer duo who created not only furniture, but also, toys, exhibits and films.

4. Driving America

If you are like me and love vintage cars then do not miss this section. If you are also like me and don’t mind McDonalds from time to time then make sure you see the McDonalds sign from 1960. It is a huge flashing neon sign so really hard to miss.

It’s also worth finding the 1896 Ford Quadricycle, one of the few remaining Henry Ford vehicle experiments. His aim, to build a vehicle that didn’t require horses.

5. Dymaxion House

If you have ever wondered what it’d be like to live in a house that eternally makes you feel dizzy, look no further. Designed by Buckminster Fuller in the 1920s, this house was meant to fix all problems with housing. The Dymaxion House was affordable, easy to move and had plenty of space for two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and lounge room. The entire house is in a dome so to get from one room to the other you have to walk in a circle hence the dizziness. As amazing as it looks, I’m glad this never took off and only one family ever lived in one. Today, this is the only prototype that exists.

I have included a few more images below and you can find the details in the captions.

Holiday Inn Sign, Driving America, 1952-1982

Canadian Pacific Snowplow, Railroads, 1923
Allegheny Locomotive, Railroads, 1941
President Theodore Roosevelt’s Carriage, Presidential Vehicles

Other Notable Things

The one thing that impresses me the most about this museum is the mold-a-rama machines dotted around near some of the most significant objects. Basically, you pay the machine a small fee and it shoots hot plastic into a mould of the selected object creating a small replica for you to take home. I honestly love this idea so much. We got Rosa Parks bus and Kennedy’s Lincoln. I was tempted to get the Wiener Mobile, but, showed great restraint.

Another thing I want to mention is that we saw quite a few charging stations around the Museum for visitors to charge their devices. I take a lot of photos when I visit a museum (shock, horror) so having the ability to charge my phone at convenient locations was fantastic.

Greenfield Village

We originally didn’t plan on visiting Greenfield Village because we thought we’d be completely exhausted from the Museum. We spent from 9.30 am to 11.30 am in the Museum and decided last minute to go to the Village for lunch. Staff were so helpful transitioning our tickets over to include the Village.

The Village is intense. Think historical village on a really large scale. Here is how we managed to see almost everything in two hours.

11.30 am

Arrived in the Village and walked to Eagle Tavern Dining for lunch. A tavern from the 1850s serving food inspired by historical recipes.

12.00 pm

Lunch was quick. We then walked down to the section called ‘Edison at Work’. Here we saw Edison’s Fort Myers Laboratory and Menlo Park Complex.

12.15 pm

To return to Main Street, we walked through part of the ‘Porches and Parlors’ section where homes from America’s Past are on display. This did include slave quarters from the Hermitage Plantation in Savannah.

12.30 pm

We reached Main Street and walked through the Wright Brothers Bicycle Shop and visited the Main Street Emporium gift shop. Here I found old historical medicine bottles and purchased one used for castor oil.

12.45 pm

Towards the end of Main Street you will find the station for Model T Rides. For a small fee, you can ride around town in a T Ford. Definitely worth doing for the experience and to see more of the Village.

1.15 pm

To finish, we walked through Liberty Craftworks to see the glass blowing and pottery. We also managed to sneak a peak at Thomas the Tank Engine who is going on display for a few family weekends.

1.30 pm

We left the Village and started our long drive to Chicago.

End Notes

I am truly glad we spent the time and energy de-touring our holiday to visit. The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village are open daily from 9.30 am to 5 pm. I recommend buying tickets online before your visit. If you haven’t yet visited, I hope you have the opportunity to in the future. A truly remarkable place!

 

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