Located in Dearborn, a suburb about 25 minutes from downtown Detroit, The Henry Ford Museum is, well, exactly what is says on tin: a museum founded by the very man behind the Model-T. The museum is situated next to the entrance to Greenfield Village (practically a museum in its own right), more on that in a later blog post. Officially known as The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation you will find yourself transported to another time and place when trains were more important and cars were just a novelty.
A little background: Henry Ford decided he wanted to preserve American history so, in 1929, he and his friend Thomas Edison inaugurated the museum and Greenfield Village to celebrate the innovations brought forth by American ingenuity. As for the museum itself, it is a mix of social commentary, political reference, science, historical reference and some pretty neat automobiles and steam engines.
As I toured the museum, I felt that there was no concrete theme but rather a cacophony of collections that Ford took interest in. I now know that I only saw a fragment of the whole museum. We covered the trains, the automobiles, the service industry that blossomed from the American discovery of travel. We missed the short film shown in the real movie theatre within the museum, part of The Giant Screen Experience.
There’s a portion on the history of racial relations in the States, which features the seat Abraham Lincoln was shot in and the bus where Rosa Parks made her famous stand. There’s a tour of mass-produced automobiles from when they first became commonplace to the modern day, including things like pre-Model-T vehicles and a WWII era military Jeep. There’s also the automobiles used by US presidents (up to Reagan) and a showcase of various locomotives, such as a private train used by the president of the time and a replica of Stephenson’s Rocket, as well as some stuff we didn’t see, like some planes and a collection of American products and furniture.
All around, the museum is nicely paced, with you being able to sequentially work your way through the attractions without so much as coming to a dead end. There are some real stunners in the collection, too, like a gargantuan snow plow from the Canadian Pacific Railway, one of only SIX Bugatti Type 41 Royales in the world, and plenty of other artefacts of a bygone era. The décor’s pretty stellar, with plenty of timely neon signs and even a real café decked out to look like an old McDonald’s (heheheh). Now, personally, the museum itself was pretty fun. There’s plenty to see, and you’ll learn quite a bit about cars and American history along the way. It’s really fascinating, providing plenty of insight into the evolution of mass-produced automobiles, which provides a nice contrast to the “life back in the day” feel of Greenfield Village. The other displays offer a bit of context (as no industry exists within a bubble but rather must adapt to the times in which it exists), showing how the country was evolving socially and politically in different ways all at the same time.
Overall, the Henry Ford Museum is probably the most interesting “history” museum I’ve ever been to, even if “history” fits rather loosely. I loved its open concept showroom and easy to follow exhibitions. Even with a limited knowledge of American history, anyone of any age can enjoy this display of ingenuity. I look forward to visiting again to explore the rest of this great museum soon!