HistoryBuff.com September 2009 Newsletter
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The Other Side of Henry Ford

Most people know that Henry Ford gained his fame with the automobile industry. However, there is another side to him that is not as well known. By 1912, his Ford Motor Company was making enough profit that he could afford to invest his "disposable" income in other fields. While other people of wealth spent their money on fine art, he spent his money on purchasing historic buildings and restoring them. The twist, however, was that he bought the buildings, had them dismantled, and reassembled on a 81 acre plot he owned in Dearborn, Michigan.

Among the historical buildings he purchased was the Wright Brothers Bicycle shop and home in Dayton, Ohio; Noah Webster's home in New Haven, Connecticut; Fort Myers laboratory; William McGuffey original school house; Stephen Foster's home; Luther Burbank's birthplace and office; Logan County Courthouse that Abraham Lincoln practiced law. He also purchased a blacksmith shop, a slave quarters from a plantation, a photography shop, and moved them to his Greenfield Village. In many cases, the historic buildings he purchased were in a state of disrepair and had been abandoned. Henry Ford did not open his Greenfield Village to the public until 1933.

For a slide show of some of the buildings in Greenfield Village, go to:

Ford also purchased several historically significant artifacts. Among the items he bought were the Rosa Parks bus that she was arrested on because she refused to give up her seat, the limousine that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in, George Washington's camp bed, the first airplane that flew over the North Pole, and the chair that Abraham Lincoln was sitting on when he was assassinated.

There is an interesting story behind Ford's purchase of the chair that Lincoln was assassinated in. Right after Lincoln was killed, the government confiscated, among other items, the chair that Lincoln was killed while sitting in as evidence. Long after the consirators' trial, they still kept the chair in storage. In 1921, a descendent of Harry Ford, the original owner of Ford's theater, (no relation to Henry Ford) petitioned the government to return the chair claiming it as the Ford family's personal property. It took eight years of litigation before the chair was returned to Blance Ford, wife of Harry Ford. In 1929, the chair was placed on auction in New York City. Henry Ford sent an agent to the auction to bid on his behalf. He had the winning bid of $2,400.

There is another interesting story behind an item he DID NOT purchase. On January 13, 1903 a man in Enid, Oklahoma, by the name of David E. George died. In his last dying statement, the man confessed to his landlord, Mrs. Harper, that he was in fact John Wilkes Booth.

The remains of David E. George's body were mummified and kept on display at the undertakers' for many months and stored it in his garage. He spent five years conducting what he called research to prepare a book about this matter. In 1907, Bates released his book The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth. He then took his mummy on the circus side show circuit. When Finis Bates died on November 29, 1923, his widow, knowing that Henry Ford was purchasing historically significant relics, in a letter to him, Mrs. Bates offered to sell Ford the mummy for $1,500. Ford did extensive research about the mummy legend and, as a result came to the conclusion that the mummy WAS NOT John Wilkes Booth and, therefore, DID NOT purchase the mummy. Mrs. Bates ended up selling the mummy to someone else.

First Wireless Telephone

Here’s a trivia question for you: In what decade was the first wireless telephone invented? If you answered the 80s, you are correct, however, which century? It was actually the 1880s and NOT the 1980s!!!! The inventor? Yes, Alexander Graham Bell as well as others.

Bell, expanding on his invention of the telephone, developed what he named the photophone that allowed for the transmission of sound on a beam of light, a precursor to modern day fiber optics, and Bell believed this device to be his most important invention. He used the photophone to transmit the first wireless telephone message on June 3, 1880.

Bell's photophone used a selenium crystal that made its electrical conductivity dependent on the intensity of its light exposure. The range of Bell's photophone never extended beyond a few hundred yards, and the device also failed to protect transmissions from outside interferences, such as clouds. These outside interferences disrupted transport by blocking the beams of light necessary for transmission.

Thomas Edison experimented with wireless telephones from 1881 to 1887. He invented a system of wireless telegraphy, (by induction) to and from trains in motion, or between moving trains and railway stations. The new system was installed on the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1887, and was used there for many years. He invented a wireless system of communication between ships at sea, ships and shore and ships and distant points on land.

Several other people made improvements to wireless telephone. They included Joseph Henry, Ernest Ruhmer, Lee De Forest, as well as others. The first practical mobile telephones were not in wide use until the 1940s.


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This Issue's Questions:

To enter Contest One, answer the question: John Phillips Sousa, known as the March King for all the marching tunes which he wrote while serving in what military branch that had a marching band?

To enter Contest Two, answer the question: What is the oldest military academy in the United States?

Contest Rules

  • Contest entry deadline is Friday, September 18, 2009. Later entries will be disqualified. Winners will be notified by email within 48 hours after the contest deadline. Winners' names and states will be published in the next issue of the HistoryBuff.com newsletter.

  • To enter Contest One or Contest Two, email your answer to curator at historybuff.com

  • To enter Contest One, use "Contest One Entry" for the emailed contest entry subject heading and answer the Contest One question. Any other subject heading will be disqualified.

  • To enter Contest Two, use "Contest Two Entry" for the emailed contest entry subject heading and answer the Contest Two question. Any other subject heading will be disqualified.

  • Subscribers may enter both contests, but only win one prize.

  • If entering both contests, entries must be sent in separate emails.

  • Each entry MUST select ONE prize from the appropriate prize list.

  • If answering the Contest One question, select your prize from the Contest One prize list.

  • If answering the Contest Two question, select your prize from the Contest Two prize list.

  • From subscribers entering the contest, submitting the correct answer, correct subject heading, submission received by the deadline, as well as advising which ONE contest prize they want to win, NINE will be selected to win ONE of the contest prizes below.

  • Subscribers to this newsletter that won a prize in my trivia contests in the last 90 days are ineligible to win.

September Contest One Prize

4-Disk DVD

20 John Wayne Movies
September Contest Two Prize Selection
(Only one of each offered)

DVD Movie

Biography of James Dean (1976)

DVD Movie

Rescue From Gilligan's Island
With the original stars

Original Historic Newspapers

Original Daily National Intellegencer (Washington, DC) historic newspaper from 1843

The Daily Atlas historic newspaper from 1867

Original Coldwater Republican historic newspaper from 1876
That's it for this issue.

Rick Brown

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