Visiting the Past: Automotive History – Aug. ’96 American History Feature

8/19/1996 • American History

TIME TRAVELERvisiting the past

Americans wishing to join in the celebration of the automotive industry can visit a number of musuems and attractions around the country dedicated to preserving the history of one of the most important inventions of the modern era.

Spurred by the 1996 centennial anniversary, the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village (HFM&GV) in Dearborn, Michigan (313-271-1620), has Highway 100 - 8 Krevamped its acclaimed exhibition “The Automobile in American Life.” Installed in 1987, the popular display was the first major exhibition to highlight motor vehicles in context. Rather than simply spruce up the existing exhibit elements, the museum staff devised “Highway 100,” a two-lane “roadway” that winds through 60,000 square feet of recreated American landscape–urban and rural, past and present–providing visitors with a view of the automobile industry’s profound and far-ranging influence. Included in the display are an actual 1960s Holiday Inn room, a 1930s Texaco service station, a 1940s diner, a 1950s McDonald’s sign, and a recreated camp ground.

In connection with the anniversary, the museum has moved the only existing 1896 Duryea Motor Wagon–whose manufacture by Charles E. and J. Frank Duryea a century ago marked the beginning of the auto industry–from the exhibition to a place of prominence; its parking space in the larger display is now occupied by the “Quadricycle,” the first car built–also in 1896–by Henry Ford, the man whose mass production of the automobile made the then-new means of transportation more readily available to consumers. Visitors to the museum village can once again tour the Henry Ford Birthplace, recently restored following a fire in October 1995. Later this year, the HFM&GV will open a new permanent exhibition highlighting the life of Ford as an innovator and industrialist.

After being housed for more than fifty years on the campus of Northland College in Midland, Michigan, the Automotive Hall of Fame (313-240-4000) has moved in this centennial year to a site immediately adjacent to the HFM &GV. Its new quarters is a contemporary, granite-and-glass structure dedicated to the men and women who have had a major impact on the auto industry and the way Americans live. The stories of all those who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame–including such contributors to the industry’s advancement as Lee Iacocca, Soichiro Honda, Harvey Firestone, and Albert C. Champion–are told through informative interactive exhibits.

Some of the most beautiful automobiles ever built can be seen at the Auburn-Cord- Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana (219-925-1444), where more than a hundred classic vehicles are displayed in the art-deco sales showroom of the Auburn Automobile Company, producer of America’s greatest luxury cars of the 1920s and ’30s. In addition to examples of the three marques manufactured by the Auburn Automobile Company, the museum also boasts luxury cars produced by Packard, Cadillac, and Rolls Royce, as well as steam and electric cars, and automotive art and memorabilia.

To celebrate the sport of auto racing, Daytona USA (904-947-6782) has opened at Daytona Beach, Florida. This entertainment complex allows guests to experience the excitement of auto racing and relive the history of the sport through interactive exhibits. The highlight of the new attraction is the “Bluebird V,” which was returned to Daytona Beach in March. The 29-foot-long, 12,000-pound racer, with a 2,227-cubic-inch V-12 engine, set the land-speed record in 1935 with a posted speed of 276.82 miles per hour. *