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DEARBORN - Henry Ford was a true visionary – his innovations helped put the world on wheels. But Ford also had a deep respect for the men and women who through hard work built America.
He has been quoted as saying that “History is bunk.” But he insisted that what he meant was that history is not found in dates, battles and textbooks; it is in the pioneering spirit of man.
In 1919, Ford told an associate that to help correct this misconception, he intended to build a museum to teach how ordinary people lived and worked in the past. By 1920, he had started acquiring the material that would form the core of The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.
His agents sought out items documenting all eras of American history. Ford and the team gathered machinery, clothing, vehicles, farm implements, pottery and buildings – items from every aspect of American life. One collection of wagons and early autos filled 52 train cars as it was shipped to Dearborn.
The growing collection soon filled various buildings, including a former tractor factory.
The site selected for the museum and village was between the Ford Engineering Building and the Ford Airport (near today’s PDC and Dearborn Test Track).
In 1928, the first building arrived – a general store from Waterford, Mich. Soon other buildings arrived at the village, including the courthouse from Logan County, Ill., where former President Abraham Lincoln practiced law. Ford also brought the house where he was born and the Scotch Settlement School that he had attended as a child.
Ford sent his team to Menlo Park, N.J., to obtain the buildings used by his friend Thomas Edison. In the nearly 50 years since Edison had invented the electric light at the Menlo Park lab, the building had fallen into disrepair.
His team gathered measurements and building materials, including seven carloads of soil, to rebuild Edison’s lab as completely as possible. With an eye to the future, Ford also built a soybean laboratory at the village, where researchers explored uses for early plastics.
There are now more than 80 buildings in Greenfield Village.
Because Ford’s goal was to teach, the Edison Institute Schools were established, and students began attending the Scotch Settlement School even before The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village were officially dedicated.
By the 1930s, more than 200 students attended school on village grounds. In 1937, the schools graduated their first high school class.
Today, the vision continues with the Henry Ford Academy, a charter school, held on the grounds. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people visit Greenfield Village to experience a bit of history and to learn.
To learn more about The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, visit www.thehenryford.org.