Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village

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HENRY FORD MUSEUM AND GREENFIELD VILLAGE. An indoor-outdoor museum of American history in Dearborn, Michigan, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village was founded by Henry Ford in 1929 as the Edison Institute. The twelve-acre Henry Ford Museum focuses on American innovation. Greenfield Village consists of eighty-one public acres of historic homes and buildings.

While other wealthy Americans were collecting fine art, by 1912 Henry Ford was assembling a collection of objects produced and used by ordinary Americans, including spinning wheels and steam engines. Ford believed that these objects told the real history of America, a history that was not reflected in textbooks. Ford's agents also began collecting buildings of both ordinary and great Americans, such as the homes of the Wright brothers and Noah Webster. The public, learning of Ford's interest in everyday things, began shipping objects to Dearborn as well. The centerpiece of Greenfield Village was Thomas Edison's reconstructed Menlo Park, New Jersey, laboratory. Ford, who idolized Edison, named the museum in his honor and dedicated it on 21 October 1929, the fiftieth anniversary of Edison's invention of the electric light. The international publicity arising from the 1929 event generated more interest in Ford's historical venture, although regular visiting hours for the public did not begin until 1933. Following Ford's interest in "learning by doing," students at the Edison Institute School studied in the buildings and learned from the collections. More than 270 students were attending kindergarten through college by the late 1930s.

After Ford's death in 1947, the pace of collecting slowed and the staff struggled to fund the operation. In 1966, the institution was reorganized as an independently supported educational organization. The school system closed in 1969. The museum's highest attendance was over 1.7 million in 1976, sparked by the celebration of the American bicentennial. In the 1980s, the museum began a process of institutional self-evaluation, wrote its first mission statement, and developed a rigorous collections program. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the mission focuses on developing educational experiences centered on themes of American ingenuity, resourcefulness, and innovation.

In 2000, Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village was Michigan's leading cultural attraction with 1.6 million visitors. In 1997, the museum opened the Henry Ford Academy, a public charter high school, serving four hundred students from Wayne County, with classes held in the museum and the village. Recent additions to the complex included an operating railroad roundhouse in Greenfield Village, Buckminster Fuller's futuristic Dymaxion House, and a 400-seat IMAX Theatre in the Henry Ford Museum. The Benson Ford Research Center opened in 2002.


An American Invention: The Story of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. Dearborn, Mich.: Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, 1999.

Barnard, Eunice Fuller. "Ford Builds a Unique Museum." New York Times Magazine (5 April 1931).

Upward, Geoffrey C. A Home for Our Heritage: The Building and Growth of Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum, 1929–1979. Dearborn, Mich.: Henry Ford Museum Press, 1979.

Wamsley, James S. American Ingenuity: Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. New York: Abrams, 1985.

Judith E.Endelman

See alsoScience Museums .

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