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Henry Ford Museum: 17 Must-See Exhibits

The henry ford museum in dearborn michigan

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation
20900 Oakwood Blvd, Dearborn MI

About the Henry Ford Museum

The Henry Ford Museum is a true Michigan gem; one of the top museums in the country and an amazing testament to American innovation and ingenuity.

It’s amazing place, and a top Michigan travel destination for visitors interested in exploring the rich history of America’s great inventors and their amazing inventions that have shaped the country.

Read on for our Ultimate Guide to Henry Ford Museum and 17 Must-See Exhibits.

History of the Henry Ford Museum

In 1929 Henry Ford established the Edison Institute, a collection of artifacts and stories that we know today as The Henry Ford, located in Dearborn, near Detroit Michigan.

Ford collected these artifacts with the belief that they hold the power to fuel the future by informing the innovators of today.

These artifacts serve as a salute to America – the “Innovation Nation” – by telling the stories of great inventors, leaders, and trailblazers who came before us and allow us to connect with them in ways we would never be able to in textbooks.

Through an unparalleled collection of national historic artifacts known as the Archive of American Innovation, guests engage with the past in powerful ways and become inspired to change the future.

Today The Henry Ford Museum is the largest indoor outdoor museum complex in Michigan including the museum, Greenfield Village, Ford’s Rouge Factory Tour, and an immersive giant screen experience in an IMAX theater.

It’s the perfect place to host an event, go on a school field trip, or just spend a chilly or rainy day during fall in Michigan. No matter the reason for planning your visit, here’s everything you need to know about and see at The Henry Ford.

costumes on display at the henry ford museum
Costumes from the movie Hocus Pocus /Photo by Bella DiMascio

The Art of the Disney Costume

Until the end of 2022, The Henry Ford is displaying a unique exhibit that appeals to children and adults alike. Explore the often overlooked art of Disney costuming and stoke your nostalgia and imagination with over 70 original pieces from over 30 Disney productions.

Nearly six decades of work will be housed here, including the costumes of some of America’s most beloved DIsney characters, including Cinderella, Belle, Captain Jack Sparrow, and even the Sanderson Sisters of Hocus Pocus.

A video features costume designers explaining how these iconic ball gowns, stately suits, and complex coats are made with every detail in mind.

plane at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, MI

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

For hundreds of years, Americans have been on the move. Large goals like crossing the continent, conquering the sky, and stepping on the moon drove innovation, leading to new transportation technology that was faster, more efficient, and more versatile than ever before.

From the automobile, the railroad junction, and barnstorming stunt planes, see transportation technology in a way unlike you’ve ever seen it before at The Henry Ford.

auto exhibit at the henry Ford museum
Photo by Bella DiMascio

Driving America

Witness the evolution of the automobile and connect with U.S. car culture. With over 100 cars and 20 interactive touchscreens with activities, information, images, and interviews, Driving America appeals to automotive enthusiasts and casual driver’s alike.

Take a journey and watch the automobile change as the decades pass with artifacts that defined their eras, including a horse-drawn buggy and stagecoach from the 19th century, the 1896 Ford Quadricycle, which was Ford’s first car and fueled his drive to start the Ford Motor Company, the 1956 Chevy Bel Air Convertible, and countless more.

Presidential automobile exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum
Photo by Bella DiMascio

Presidential Vehicles

Vehicles used by U.S. presidents are unique and special, with unique standards for balancing security and visibility. In the Presidential Vehicles exhibit, you will see the unique styles and shifting emphasis on safety and visibility through different presidential administrations.

This exhibit includes the horse-drawn carriage used by Theodore Roosevelt as well as the presidential parade cars used by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and more. However, the most prominent vehicle on display is the vehicle that John F. Kennedy was riding in when he was assassinated – the 1961 Lincoln Continental Presidential Limousine.

detroit riverwalk

More Must-See Exhibits at The Henry Ford Museum

Driven to Win: Racing in America

As soon as the second car was built, the first race occurred. At Driven to Win: Racing in America presented by General Motors, embrace the competitive spirit of American auto-racing culture by seeing the way it has changed over time from soap box derbies to Indy car, stock car, and drag racing.

Use interactive displays to learn about historic race cars and their drivers, become immersed in the experience at the multisensory theater, challenge yourself like a member of a pit crew, or even try your hand at a racing simulator.

At each turn you’ll see how passionate people engineered world-changing technology that began with the need for speed.

Railroads

As westward expansion dominated America around the 18th and 19th centuries, trains became an integral part of the infrastructure, and remain so today. The Railroads exhibit at The Henry Ford features street cars and trains that transported goods and people around the United States.

The Allegheny locomotive is housed here and is one of the largest steam locomotives ever built at 125 feet long and over 700,000 pounds. It could pull up to 160 coal cars, each carrying a 60-ton load, through the steep Allegheny Mountains.

heroes of the sky exhibit - henry ford museum
Photo from The Henry Ford

Heroes of the Sky

Discover the ingenuity and enterprise of flight as your imagination soars. At Heroes of the Sky, hands-on, multisensory experiences will allow you to get a closer look at the aircraft that brought man to the skies.

Over the course of 50 years, flight had been imagined and reimagined numerous times, resulting in the invention of countless unique and pivotal aircraft that now call The Henry Ford home, including the Ford Tri-Motor, Douglas DC-3, Curtiss JN-4, and more, all of which wouldn’t have been possible without the innovation of the Wright brothers, who turned from the Wright cycle, to the Wright Flyer, which is represented with a replica at the heart of the exhibit.

Social Transformation

When the collective consciousness of a society changes, a social transformation occurs. These transformations can be as simple and small as the next generation of youth adopting new and unique interests or beliefs, or as massive and groundbreaking as the movement for civil rights.

At The Henry Ford, you can see how these social transformations occurred, who shaped them, and how they’ve shaped us.

declaration of independence exhibit at the henry ford museum
Photo from The Henry Ford

With Liberty and Justice for All

It all began when America did, with the Declaration of Independence, which established the United States as an independent nation with the promise of freedom leading the way. As you walk through this exhibit, you’ll see over time how freedom evolved to include everyone.

Here, you’ll find Abraham Lincons chair, where he was sitting in at Ford’s Theater at the time of his assassination, representative of an era of conflict in U.S. history and serving as a symbol of Civil War remembrance. See the methods used by suffragettes to secure the right to vote for women and step aboard the Rosa Parks bus, where she refused to give up her seat.

Your Place in Time

The 20th century was a time of rapid social changes. Each decade brought distinct music, styles, and social transformations. Explore Your Place in Time to see how the decades shaped the people living at that time, and how the decades you grew up in have shaped you.

From the Progressive Generation of the 1890s to 1910s and the War Generation of the 1920s, to the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and beyond, each setting will immerse you in the cultural zeitgeist of the time, providing inspiration from ancestral experiences and nostalgia from childhood.

Power and Industry

Industry is the backbone of American society. Whether it’s the agricultural industry that works tirelessly to feed millions of Americans or the energy companies that keep your lights on, water running, and heaters or air conditioners operational.

It takes one power outage to realize how integral energy is to our daily lives, and one bad season to see how the growing of crops affects everything from our health to the economy. Explore how machines helped to make these industries more efficient and reliable and our lives more convenient.

Made in America: Power

From the 18th to the 20th century, American innovators were changing the way we completed work by creating machines to make the jobs easier.

The Newcomen Engine is the oldest in the collection and one of the oldest in the world, using steam to power a mechanism which pumped water out of the Cannel Mine in English coalfields around the mid 1700s. From this early steam engine you’ll see how steam engines evolved over the next hundred years and beyond as the industrial revolution changed the world forever.

You’ll even find a test tube said to hold Thomas Edisons final breath, representing the end of an era of innovation in power generation.

Explore the Henry Ford Museum

Made in America: Manufacturing

The world of manufacturing expanded greatly over the last few centuries and this exhibit shows how goods became manufactured in more efficient ways over time.

Witness the inventions that changed how goods were made, including the McCoy Lubricator, and Ingersoll Rand Planer. Even Henry Ford’s assembly line and its role in the popularity of the Ford Model T is highlighted in this exhibit in a hands-on assembling activity that demonstrates the efficiency of the system.

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Agriculture and the Environment

To raise livestock and grow crops requires specialized knowledge and skills. Specialized tools helped reduce the strain of this hard work on the farmers and these tools evolved over time into machinery that automated much of the process, making it easier to produce more with less.

Machines like plows, harvester, tractors and combines made farming on a massive scale possible, and plenty of these great machines throughout history are on display for visitors to see.

Design and Making Things

The Industrial Revolution led the way for items to be mass produced, which in turn provoked great designers of the era to ensure that their products would stand out from competitors and be unique. There are a few exhibits at The Henry Ford which highlight the importance and influence of design in different eras.

buckminster fuller house - the henry ford museum

Dymaxion House

The Dymaxion House is truly one of a kind. Designed by visionary architect R. Buckminster Fuller, this prototype house of the future circa the 1940s is the only remaining one in the world. The design placed emphasis on mathematics and engineering to fulfill the needs of its inhabitants with maximum efficiency, using modern manufactured materials.

Fully Furnished

The furniture you select says a lot about you, which has been true for generations. Historically, furniture might be a show of wealth or style, a means to make money or showcase skill, or simply utilitarian in its design and purpose.

As you browse the aisles of vintage and historic furniture pieces, imagine what they said about the people who made and owned them. Explore furnishings in the 18th century’s queen anne styles all the way to the rounded edges of mid-century modern pieces and learn about the people who used them every day.

mathematica exhibit at the henry ford museum

Mathematica

At Mathematica, the math that exists all around you in the world is brought to your attention through eye-grabbing displays.

Kinetic exhibits show math in action and inspire awe in the minds of visitors. Witness impossible bubbles, probability in action, perpetual motion, and more while you learn about how math influences everything around you including design, engineering, physics and beyond.

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About the Author-

Bella DiMascio is a Content Editor for mymichiganbeach.com. She grew up in the Detroit suburb of Westland. She later attended Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo where she majored in Communication Studies and minored in English: Writing. Creative writing has been a hobby and interest of Bella’s since she was in elementary school. She is thrilled to be using her talents to highlight the Great Lakes State. Outside of writing, Bella enjoys getting outside with her two Australian Shepherds, playing video games, and binging shows on Netflix.

Gerald Mull

Friday 7th of October 2022

This is a great site to review and use. It has great relevant historical and current information about our great state.

My Michigan Beach Team

Tuesday 18th of October 2022

Hi Gerald, Thanks so much for your kind feedback, we really appreciate it. Michigan has such an interesting past; the history in this museum, and in others around the state, is always fascinating.