Henry Ford: The great innovator turns grumpy old man.

Did I say we don't go to living museums any more? Today we went to one of the best.  Greenfield Village  in Dearborn, Detroit was established by Henry Ford as an eclectic mix of historical buildings and other memorabilia.

Riding the museum's steam train was great fun but really dirty.

Ford was an admirer of Edison, the Wright Bros and many other innovators and inventors. At Greenfield he set out to create a museum to rival the Smithsonian. He intended it as a place to educate and inspire children. There is a school in the grounds. As well as buildings from his own life and career he bought and re-located dozens of structures such as Thomas Edison's Fort Myers Laboratory and Menlo Park complex and the bicycle shop where the Wright Brothers built their first aeroplane.

The early bicycles look really uncomfortable

The museum stands on 88 acres. This turned out to be a lot of walking but at least we left the bicycles behind for once. Most of the buildings had costumed guides anxious to talk to us about the place in history which their house, factory or shop occupied. David is a history buff and was in his element. I'm a bit of an airhead when it comes to history. Facts and dates melt in my brain like butter on a hot pan but I'm always happy to bask in the glow of D's knowledge.

The museum has a fleet of Model T Fords. I always wondered why it was called the Model T - it turns out there were Models A through S as well. Not all made it into production but many did. The Model T was the first automobile to be built on an assembly line. Until then cars were built individually.  Ford was able to reduce the cost of each car sufficiently that it came within the reach of ordinary workers.

One of the Model Ts we rode in.

The Model T was phenomenally successful.  By 1922 half the cars in the U.S were Model Ts. Sadly Ford believed his Model T was so perfect it had everything the driving public would ever want. Can you imagine driving around in one today? Having been one of the greatest innovators of his time he became a grumpy old man and refused to embrace the future. Car sales began to decline as a result of competition from other more modern cars. By 1936 Ford sales had fallen below those of General Motors and Chrysler Corporation.

This Quadricycle was the first car Henry Ford built

In the early days of aviation Ford also manufactured aeroplanes. In the late 1920s Ford Aircraft Division was said to be the largest manufacturer of aircraft in the world. 1.  Its Trimotor aeroplane was innovative and successful but as with the Model T, the company stuck with the design for far too long and the aeroplane division was ultimately closed.

The highlight of our day was riding in a Model T. I had to push D into it but he loved it. He spent the ride discussing the finer points of driving without synchromesh and power steering with our driver.  I just enjoyed stepping back in time relaxing on the comfortable leather seat. On a warm, sunny day it was very pleasant. I'm not sure it would have been so great in winter. There was a soft top roof but no windows. The doors came about half way up the sides of the car leaving a large gap for wind and rain.

Later in the afternoon we took a ride on a Model A bus (circa 1931) - more discussion between D and the driver of the quirks of the early age of automobiles. My mother would have been a child when these buses were operating. It was fascinating to see what they were like.  The museum also has an impressive steam train which runs around the perimeter. Riding in this I learnt that coal powered steam engines are really dirty - wearing light coloured shorts was a mistake.

For the next post in this series click - here

For all my posts on this road trip click - here

19 July 2014


  1. Fascinating. Must put this one on my "must see" list....

  2. i like you lyn may not have chosen to go to this museum but sounds like a really interesting place to go...

  3. It was great fun - but it is huge so one day was only just enough. There are other things to do in the same area like the Ford Factory Tour and the Henry Ford Museum which we didn't get to. We thought Detroit was unbelievable though. We took a bit of a risk and drove through one of the rough areas during the day - it was just like a post-apocalyptic scene in a movie.