Michigan - The Henry Ford Museum

Need a lift!


One of the most exciting, biggest and best museums I have ever had the good fortune to set foot in was recommended to me by, no-one! Like truly cool people, this cool museum doesn’t clamber for attention, it doesn’t need to. The only thing missing from the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is a leather jacket casually draped over it’s granite shoulder. 

[Pre Covid] As we drove to Dearborn, a short 20 minute ride from Detroit, we assumed we were heading to  a run of the mill museum, a place to kill a few hours left by the closed Motown Museum. But when we drove into an estate that looked more like a university campus, we knew the potential for awesomeness was afoot!

Dom was keen to do the Ford Factory Tour but alas it was closed for the day. At the ticket desk we found the general museum wasn't particularly cheap, we hummed and hawed, the salesgirl was very helpful and discounted us given we had arrived “late” in the day. I didn't think arriving at noon was late in anyone's books. She said usually the museum can take 5 hours and the Ford Village another 2 hours! In my head I was thinking ‘Get over yourself! We'll be done in 2 hours, MAX, including general dawdling and lazy lolling’... Oh how wrong I was.

Happy Out!

Turns out it's the largest indoor/outdoor museum in the US with 21 million artifacts! For 5 bucks we rented a wagon and threw Róisín in it. I saw a sign that read "Be prepared to be astounded". A bold declaration even in Trumpian times, but twas no exaggeration. I heralded “Ohmygodlookatthis!” so many times while touring the museum that I thought it might trigger a looping neurogenic stutter. The President of the Ford motor company Patricia Mooradian (a woman in charge of a car company, go girl) described the museum as "A place that awakens the dreamer, doer, mover and maker in you" (job done, go Pat!).

Locals call it "The Henry Ford" but its official title is “The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation”. I had expected just Ford products, perhaps snap a pic of a Model T, maybe read about Henry Ford's childhood in this very locale, and root around for where it said his Dad was from County Cork (no lie!).

Where were you when Kennedy was shot?

Boy, was I wrong, the place was as big as a planet and was an homage to all types of innovation, past and present, from transport to houses to furniture to technology to maths to culture to human rights to agriculture to cinema. No money was spared by Ford in acquiring the real deals, from the limo JFK was shot in, moving swiftly to the very bus Rosa Parks refused to take a back seat in. Americans don’t like to just read about history, they want to be able to touch it, smell it, and if they can put two burger buns around it, they’ll eat it!

We ambled around this stadium size tardis going "No...no way... Really??... Nooo". We lost each other a few times (the Ikea effect) especially in and around the monstrous locomotives.


Although Ford had not invented the motor car he was the first to mass produce it (the famous Ford assembly line) and made it more affordable for mass consumption. As Americans embraced the automobile their world changed around them. Landscapes and culture changed, driving vacations became popular with Holiday Inns springing up on every roadside. Even dinner dates took on new form with the advent of drive-in diners and drive-thru McDonalds. Henry Ford was the “disruptor” of his day!

How can I direct your call?

The museum also had a telephone display from the 1890s to the 1990s. Wow, talk about change (there’s a pun in there). They probably had to stop at the 1990s because there isn’t a display cabinet big enough to house the changes to phones since the 90s, from brick to flip to smart to watches. Some people even have chips implanted in their hands now, and I’m not talking about the McDonalds variety. I can’t keep up!

We moved away from the phone section the only way an Irish person knows how; “Bu-bye, bye, bye, bye, bu-bye, see you now, bye, this is it, goodbye, sure enough, bye, bye, by-bye”. On to the buses!

"Not moving, Mom"

Róisín ran up and down the old bus from Montgomery Alabama (ironically refusing to get out of the back seat). I didn't know at first that it was the actual Rosa Parks bus. I just thought it was an example of how they used to make good quality vehicles to last (take note SF Muni). When I realised it was the very bus African American Rosa Parks refused to move to the back seat of, therefore taking a stand for the black civil rights movement, I was bowled over. It was emotional to think of the impressive diminutive Rosa and how we owe it to her to keep change going.

How about a 'Mrs' President??

Nearby was paraphernalia from the suffragettes, it's so mind bending to think women didn't get the vote in the US until a 100 years ago. An interesting plaque stated by the time women got the vote it was instantly taken for granted by the next generation who were more into discovering their own self expression (and nowadays capturing that self expression in a selfie!). 

I got lost in the furniture section (deliberately) . My favourite was a chair owned by the prominent American family the Vanderbilts, it was displayed in its own case, nakedly deconstructed, as my daughter would say “in its nipperydoo!”. (see here for our visit to the Vanderbilts home in North Carolina)


Within this time capsule of a museum the cafe choices were all from time gone by, we opted for retro hotdogs. I was a bit worried that might mean the hotdogs were in fact 50 years old but they were fresh (as hotdogs get) and delectable. 

With our time closing in on us we decided we couldn’t leave without checking out the 1950s "House of the future" -A circular house made in one day from lightweight airplane aluminum. In a 1950s ad for the house, it pointed out that it was easy for the housewife to clean because of the rounded edges - I do agree that corners are a b*tch to clean, but you don’t have to be a housewife to know that, it's 1st grade geometry.

I'm on board

It was called the Dymaxion house, with revolving drawers and a stove & sink combo ?! I kinda liked it, but apparently it was not a hit, only 2 were sold, both bought by the same investor Mr Graham. The Graham family lived in it for 20 years but eventually adjoined it to a brick house. It didn't sell because traditional house problems like infrastructure and leaks we're not easily fixable in the circular home (that and the fact the Big Bad Wolf could probably huff and puff and blow it down). Given there is a trend right now for miniature houses, I think this 1950s gem should be revisited!

On our way out we hit up the technology section, it was divided into ‘Progressives’, ‘Baby Boomers’ and ‘Gen X’, complete with teenager bedrooms and the 'technology' of the day... "Speakandspell" anyone! 

This was seriously hi-tech stuff, my friend

Thanks to a green screen myself and Róisín got to dance in a Duran Duran music video…."Her name is Rio and she dances in the sand". I requested Dom suppress his recording of that video! Fingers crossed he didn't catch our efforts with the Madonna video. There was no ‘Millennial’ section because they are waiting for an On Demand app to be made to magically create the section (which will be an homage to the past through a deconstructed, reconstructed, gender agnostic lens - Mom & Dad will pay for it).  

Finally we did come across the Model T, the first car Ford mass produced with the famous quote "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it is black." Cleverly the car was deconstructed through a series of puppet strings, an ingenious display (would expect nothing less for an ingenious creation).

With the clock ticking we had to leave some sights unseen (I didn't even glimpse the aviation section, or the giant screen cinema, eegads!). We moved outside to the Greenfield Village.

A village Ford had created on the grounds of the campus that marked his birthplace (he preserved his family home) alongside the homes and workplaces of other great creators such as the Wright Brothers bicycle shop, Thomas Edison's workshop, even John Bennett's famous watch & jewellery shop. These buildings were brought brick by brick from their original settings in Ohio, New Jersey and London respectively. Even the plastering from Thomas Edison's workshop was melted down, transported, then reapplied!

The village was created as if these innovators had all lived together in this picture perfect town. Complete with a Frozen Custard shop (yum), a carousel, an excellent playground, a glass blowing forge, steelworks, pottery house, weaving shop and model T's driving folks around as the workers said hello dressed in their olde worlde garb. It was like an Inventors version of Colonial Williamsburg (for stories on our visit there - read here). 

"Excuse me...only geniuses allowed"

Inspired by the immersion in creativity, I bought myself and Róisín a wicker basket making kit. There's our mother-daughter time sorted for the next month (year)!

If this HAD been a real town in a dimension where Ford, the Wrights and Edison all lived at the same time in the same town, considering it's population would be 100% genius, I'm pretty sure the school district would be oversubscribed!

As the ticket seller had predicted, we did not have enough time, I had to forego a peep at the "Porches and Parlors"section of the village. I love a good ole porch and I'm up for a parlor trick or two. Another time. Oh, I nearly forgot, the village had a friggin working farm we never got near. Damn. I can see why people become members of the Henry Ford, SO much to do and see. I live thousands of miles away and I’m seriously considering a membership - the museum was right, it does awaken the dreamer, mover, doer and shaker in you. 

Is genius born? Or can you pick it up through a 1950s hotdog while you’re running your hoover around in circles? Watch this space…

Just to give you a feel for how genius works. In 1876 inventor Thomas Edison set a goal to create a major invention every 6 months and a minor one every 10 days... I wonder how his performance appraisals went "Look Edison, you have more chance of catching lightning in a jar".

The funny thing about the Henry Ford was that we had seen something very very similar on a much much smaller scale in Nebraska’s Pioneer Village, home to an avalanche of Americana (see story here).

After ‘going big’ it was time to ‘go small’ and find some fairies...