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Highlights of the Henry Ford Museum: A Michigan Family Day Trip

Updated on August 26, 2016

JFK's Limousine, Mark Twain's Table, Edison's Last Breath and the House of the Future!

The Henry Ford is a large museum complex outside Detroit, Michigan, dedicated to preserving Americana and illustrating the industrial revolution, but it really is much more than that. Located in Dearborn, the complex consists of the Henry Ford Museum itself; an outdoor museum of historical and recreated buildings called Greenfield Village; a Ford truck factory tour; an IMAX theater; and a research center. More than 26 million objects and documents are part of the complex's collection.

In other words, it simply is too much to absorb in one day. So we focused on the museum proper, and that is a daily adventure all by itself because the museum sprawls over 12 acres! There are 13 sections to the museum, with the largest being the one dedicated to automobiles of course.

Following are some of the highlights we saw during a recent visit. Shown here is the actual Montgomery City bus that Rosa Parks was riding in when she refused to give up her seat, a major event in the U.S. Civil Rights movement. All photos are by us unless otherwise stated.

JFK's Limousine and Other Presidential Vehicles

The museum has several sad objects from bad events in America's history, and this 1961 Lincoln is the one that President John F. Kennedy was riding in when he was assassinated in Dallas in November, 1963. It is amazing to stand and look at knowing what happened in the car. Nearby are two videos about that horrible event you can watch to learn more or re-live those dark days. I found it fascinating that the government kept the car in use for years after JFK's assassination.

The car is one of a series of presidential vehicles in a row that starts with Theodore Roosevelt's horse-drawn Brougham carriage. Surprising for such a progressive politician, he didn't much like automobiles. There are also cars that Eisenhower and FDR used, as well as the presidential limo that Reagan was pushed into when he was almost killed by an assassin in 1981.

The museum says the Reagan vehicle will be the last of the presidential cars to be preserved because the Secret Service now destroys retired ones for security reasons.

Ford Museum Michigan
Ford Museum Michigan

Tracing Henry Ford's Path to Today's Automobiles

From the Quadricycle to the Model T And Beyond

One row in the Driving America section of the museum is dedicated to showing the early development of Henry Ford's vehicles, from the 1896 Quadricycle shown here to the Model T cars that would dominate U.S. roads in the 1920s.

Believe it or not, the museum says that in 1923 half of all the cars in America were Model Ts!

The 1908 Ford Model S roadster is a pretty cool red, and I also thought the 1909 Model T touring car looked pretty sharp. But by the time the 1930 Model A touring car arrived the look was getting a bit stodgy.

The car exhibits go way beyond Ford vehicles, though. Make sure you see the 1865 Roper, which the museum says is the oldest surviving American automobile. The car was such an oddity that people paid to see it go around a track.

Some of the other historic vehicles in the collection include a 1965 Lotus Ford that won the Indy 500 race in 1965, the first rear-engine car to achieve victory, and the 1948 Tucker 48, a rather mythical vehicle that was chronicled in the movie ''Tucker."

Also seek out the 1931 Bugatti Royale, one of the grandest and most beautiful-looking vehicles ever. It is also one of the rarest, since only six were ever made.

You can skip the area that highlights the cars from the 1970s -- wow they were ugly. But do check out the section on alternative-energy cars, which have a history dating back to the beginning of automobiles. I thought the 1980 Comuta-Car Electric Runabout, with its two seats, sloped front and square back was one of the ugliest cars ever.

Books About the Ford Museum's Collection

From Wing-Walkers to the 1939 Douglas DC-3, the Most Successful Airplane Ever

Autogyro Ford Museum
Autogyro Ford Museum

The Heroes in the Sky section of the museum traces the early history of flight, starting with an exhibit showing film of the early wing-walkers and barnstormers who were a popular entertainment in the first decades of the 20th century. It is fun to sit in the recreated stadium seats and watch some of the daredevils at work.

The exhibit includes the 1925 Fokker F-VII Trimotor that Richard Byrd claimed he used to fly over the North Pole in 1926 (a claim that has been disputed ever since). Also on display is the 1928 Ford 4 AT-B that Byrd used to fly over the South Pole in 1929, a feat that I don't think has been contested.

A 1939 Sikorsky VS-300A helicopter is pretty cool, because it shows just how fragile these early copters appeared to be. My favorite part of the exhibit was the 1931 Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro, an aircraft I have read about but never actually seen in person. Apparently, I'm not the only one who found this craft fascinating. The museum says that it was used by the Detroit News for taking aerial photographs but was more known for causing a scene wherever it flew.

The exhibit ends with a complete 1939 Douglas DC-3 suspended above the floor. The museum's display explains the history of its development and calls it the most successful passenger airplane of all time.

''Oh, I Wish I Were An Oscar Mayer Weiner...''

Weinermobile Ford Museum
Weinermobile Ford Museum

Is there anybody who grew up in the U.S. who doesn't know the jingle for Oscar Mayer hot dogs?

It was a lot of fun to see a full-size Wienermobile at the Ford Museum, and it is just as kitschy as you can imagine. This one was built in 1952 and looks to be in really great shape.

Behind it is one of the museum's eating places -- the Wienermobile cafe -- that serves, well, Oscar Mayer wieners of course!

Thomas Edison's Breath Ford Museum
Thomas Edison's Breath Ford Museum

Henry Ford's Great Friend, Thomas A. Edison

Henry Ford and Thomas A. Edison were contemporaries and close friends, which isn't surprising because they were both very interested in improving the way Americans lived. Edison, of course, was the inventor of the phonograph and practical electric light bulb, among other every-day objects, while Ford developed manufacturing processes that enabled the construction of cars at affordable enough prices that the average worker could afford them.

The museum was dedicated on Oct. 21, 1929, the 50th anniversary of that first successful incandescent bulb. Edison attended the ceremony, and there is even a concrete slab in the museum showing his footprints and signature from that time. The museum contains an Edison dynamo generator from 1880.

But oddest Edison object in the collection is the test tube shown here. The display says it was held near Edison's mouth just before his death in 1931, then stopped shut. It was sent to Ford containing Edison's "last breath" as a symbol of their close friendship. Very bizarre.

George Washington's Bed Ford Museum
George Washington's Bed Ford Museum

George Washington's Bed, Abraham Lincoln's Chair

The folding camp bed shown here was used by General George Washington from 1775-1780 during the Revolutionary War. He was supposed to be a very tall man for the age, so that bed probably wasn't very comfortable.

Next to it his camp chest from 1783, when the war ended with American independence.

Also in this area of the museum is an official copy of the Declaration of Independence from 1823. Two hundred official copies were made that year under an Act of Congress. This is one of only 30 known to still exist.

Nearby is another of the sadder items in the museum. It's the upholstered chair that Lincoln was sitting in when he was assassinated in Ford's Theatre by John Wilkes Booth in April 1865.

And not far away from that is a genuine Ku Klux Klan robe and hood from about 1925, a stark reminder that the issues surrounding freedom for blacks in the United States didn't end when the shooting stopped in the Civil War.

More uplifting is an exhibit about Jackie Robinson, who helped break Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947.

Edgar Allan Poe Desk Ford Museum
Edgar Allan Poe Desk Ford Museum

American Furniture Highlighted By Items That Belonged to the Famous

There's a whole exhibit on the furniture styles and breakthroughs that dominated American life throughout the country's history, though in all truthfulness looking at each individual piece got to be daunting after awhile.

But there was a display of some furniture that had famous owners that is worth checking out. The portable writing desk shown here was owned by author Edgar Allan Poe from 1830 until his death in 1849, and it is fun to imagine him writing the first modern detective story or his poem about the raven on it.

A table belonging to another writer is nearby. Mark Twain used the drop-leaf table on display for writing in his later years, and his daughter gave the table to Ford after her father's death. Behind the table is a 1904 portrait of the writer, who had been invited to speak at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. He was unable to go because of his wife's poor health, so he sent this painting in his place saying it was "better than the original," according to the museum.

Buckminster Fuller House Ford Museum
Buckminster Fuller House Ford Museum

Buckminster Fuller's House of the Future

Set off in one corner of the Ford Museum is a house that looks like what someone in the 1940s or 1950s would have imagined people in the future would live in.

Inventor and architect Buckminster Fuller designed this circular house in 1945 with the intention that these space-saving structures would be used to ease the anticipated housing shortage that would occur as the World War II veterans returned home and married.

The idea was that the house would be constructed from factory manufactured kits, assembled on site by 10 workers in only two days. It was intended to be suitable for any environment and to use resources as efficiently as possible. And it does. For instance, the windows are sealed shut while drop down wall panels allow air in more effectively. The kitchen doesn't have a refrigerator -- instead food is placed in built-in refrigerated drawers and shelves. Clothes are hung in closets on a rotating device, so you can bring to the front the item you want.

Apparently, another big plus was that the house was supposed to be easy to clean. Walking through it you get the sense that the people who envisioned this round, very tightly enclosed house were also the ones who thought we'd all have flying cars by now.

But the house never went into production as Fuller and the company involved squabbled until the Levittowns being built ended the need for Fuller's house. Two prototypes that had been built were used by one of the company's investors, who salvaged some parts of the house in a hybrid dwelling with a ranch home. The house was donated to the Ford Museum in 1990 and reconstructed.

Don't miss going into the house. It is a real highlight of the Ford Museum.


The museum is holding a special exhibit of Beatles memorabilia through Sept. 18. It costs an extra $5 per adult, and is well worthwhile.

The exhibit details the rise of the rock group from the boyhoods of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr to their post-Beatles careers.

Early artifacts include a drum set used by the Quarrymen (John's band prior to the Beatles). John, Paul and George were known to have played on the set at one time. Also on display is a guitar that John ordered by mail in 1957.

The exhibit then chronicles the early beginnings of the Beatles and continues into Beatlemania, when the whole world seemed to go crazy over the band. You can see pieces of hair collected from John and Paul during 1964 U.S. tour!

The psychedelic period and the break-up are chronicled, though they were less interesting I think because by then the band was so well-known. Post-Beatles memorabilia include a 1976 guitar pick that Paul used and perhaps the saddest item in the exhibit: The Double Fantasy album John signed to his killer Mark David Chapman on Dec. 8, 1980, just before getting shot.

The museum describes the exhibit as the largest collection of Beatles memorabilia ever assembled. I can't say whether that is true or not. But it doesn't matter. It's a great experience for any fan of the Beatles!

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I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as we enjoyed our travels and writing it. Now it's your turn!

Thanks for visiting!

Now It's Your Turn!

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    • RobertConnorIII profile image

      Robert Connor 3 years ago from Michigan

      Girls love the ford Museum!

    • profile image

      GrammieOlivia 3 years ago

      I will put this on our road trip for sure.... thanks for this wonderful idea!

    • profile image

      dannyosgirl 3 years ago

      We recently went around Thanksgiving, for my son and I it was our first trip, my husband grew up in the Detroit area so he had been a few times for field trips. I loved it, and so did my son. I love looking at history, and to get up close to so many great things from our past is amazing. We plan on going again soon, since you really can't enjoy everything in just one day. Highly recommend!!

    • profile image

      marsha32 3 years ago

      I so wish we could travel this far to see this!! It all looks so interesting, most especially that house of the future.

      Maybe some day!

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 3 years ago from France

      It looks fascinating. Unless we win the National Lottery I very much doubt if I'll ever make it to Michigan or the Ford Museum so this is probably the closest I'll get. Many thanks for yet another wonderful tour around the best places in the States.

    • JanetG LM profile image

      JanetG LM 3 years ago

      Love. love, love your lense on the museum It is one of my favorite places to visit in Michigan. Greenfield Village right on the grounds near the museum is another favorite spot. Doesn't the Oscar Meyer wiener car just make you giggle when you see it? You have outstanding photos here too.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 3 years ago

      What a fascinating place and so well done in this lens. I watched a house being built from sections made in a factory recently on Grand Designs and it went up in about 10 days. Yesterday the local news showed a rocket propelled devise that people strap on and it can fly them anywhere and its now for sale. Looking at what people dreamed for the future was not so far out. Great topic.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I enjoyed this review very much. These things are part of our American history, and as such, I'd love to put it on my Hand in Glove With History Facebook page, and also my blog. I hope you will consider allowing it. Excellent work!!

    • profile image

      andyk2 3 years ago

      Awesome stuff!

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 3 years ago from Europe

      I've been about a dozen times to the museum +/or Village, I absolutely love it. It's always best if the WeinerMobile is there (sometimes it's on tour) as well as Rosa Parks' bus. I even had a mini "How to drive a Model T" tutorial which was fun. I miss it.

    • MartiLawrence profile image

      Marti Lawrence 3 years ago from Grain Valley, Missouri

      How interesting!

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 3 years ago from West Virginia

      Looks like a fun museum, well at least most of it. Amazing that the JFK car was kept in service for awhile.

    • goldenrulecomics profile image

      goldenrulecomics 3 years ago

      @CherylsArt: kind of creepy, right?

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      I had to chuckle when I saw the Oscar Myers car. I would have to visit the museum simply to see that vehicle.

    • Zeross4 profile image

      Renee Dixon 3 years ago from Kentucky

      What an interesting place to visit, great lens!

    • DecoratingEvents profile image

      DecoratingEvents 3 years ago

      Awesome tour through the Henry Ford museum!! Thanks for taking us along!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 3 years ago

      This is a place I would love to visit.

    • PaigSr profile image

      PaigSr 3 years ago from State of Confussion

      Once when visiting relatives we had gone there. Just looking at the pictures they all look familiar. The fountain is where we had all met if separated.

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 3 years ago from Lakewood New York

      I always enjoys your tours! Thanks for another Great one!!!

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 3 years ago from New York City

      It's a pleasure to enjoy a tour I'll probably never get around to in a firsthand account. Thanks for the ride!

    • davenjilli lm profile image

      davenjilli lm 3 years ago

      beautiful and interesting, thanks for sharing!

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Very interesting lens. I love museums. Hope I get to see this one some day.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 3 years ago

      I believe that Detroit is going to go through a Renaissance. Thanks for letting us know about this fine attraction.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I would LOVE to see this museum live and in person - you really presented it well here. My sons would enjoy it as well, I'm sure of it.