On this day in 1929, the 50th birthday of the incandescent light bulb, Henry Ford throws a big party to celebrate the dedication of his new Thomas Edison Institute in Dearborn, Michigan. Everybody who was anybody was there: John D. Rockefeller Jr., Charles Schwab, Otto H. Kahn, Walter Chrysler, Marie Curie, Will Rogers, President Herbert Hoover—and, of course, the guest of honor, Thomas Edison himself. At the time, the Edison Institute was still relatively small. It consisted of just two buildings, both of which Henry Ford had moved from Menlo Park, New Jersey and re-constructed to look just as they had in 1879: Edison’s laboratory and the boarding-house where he had lived while he perfected his invention. By the time the Institute opened to the public in 1933, however, it had grown much more elaborate and today the Henry Ford Museum (renamed after Ford’s death in 1947) is one of the largest and best-known museums in the country.
Ford’s museum was an epic expression of his own interpretation of American history, emphasizing industrial and technological progress and the “practical genius” of great Americans. Its collection grew to include every Ford car ever built, along with other advances in automotive and locomotive technology. There were also farm tools, home appliances, furniture and industrial machines such as the printing press and the Newcomen steam engine. On a 200-acre tract next door, Ford built a quaint all-American village by importing historic homes and buildings from across the United States. “When we are through,” Ford told The New York Times, “we shall have reproduced American life as lived; and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition.”
Today, there are more than 200 cars on display at the Ford museum, including the 15 millionth Model T, the Ford 999 racer that set the world speed record in 1904, the first Mustang ever produced and a 1997 EV1 electric car made by General Motors. More than 2 million people visit “The Henry Ford,” as it’s now called, every year.