Henry Ford on History

A lot of people have heard the quote from Henry Ford about history being bunk. Sadly, this quote is taken out of context. In context, it is something with which I agree wholeheartedly. His complaint was not about history, but rather about what was taught. History then, as now, rarely focused on things that made life possible, that connected with people’s lives on a day-to-day basis. While teaching about big events and turning points was (and is) necessary, he questioned ignoring the fact that everyday life consisted of something other than weapons and politics. But instead of explaining Ford, I’ll give you his words, and I think that will make clear his meaning. (And for those not familiar with farming implements, a harrow is a device used in agriculture to break up soil and pull up weeds before a field is planted.)

“History as it is taught in the schools deals largely with…wars, major political controversies, territorial extensions and the like. When I went to our American history books to learn how our forefathers harrowed the land, I discovered that the historians knew nothing about harrows. Yet our country depended more on harrows than on guns or great speeches. I thought a history which excluded harrows and all the rest of daily life is bunk and I think so yet.”

To make up for this lack in textbooks, Ford created Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The museum covers all the technological developments in U.S. history, including cars, trains, mines, housing, communications, and just about everything else that touches life. Greenfield Village is an astonishing collection of farms, historic buildings (saw mills, tin smiths, glass works — all with demonstrations of work as it was done in the 1800s), historic homes (Wright Brothers’, Noah Webster’s, Harry Firestone’s, Robert Frost’s, and far more), collections, trains, and Model Ts that recreates the late 1800s and early 1900s in the United States. It is an absolutely remarkable place and captures the essence of history that Ford thought was important to keep alive. I highly recommend visiting (but give yourself two days, one for the museum, which covers 12 acres, and one for the village, which covers 85 acres).

Here’s their website, to help you learn more — and maybe plan a trip. http://www.thehenryford.org/village/index.aspx

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Filed under Agriculture, Culture, Farming, History, Midwest, Travel

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