Museums Should Be More Popular Than Theme Parks

One of the field trips that we set up as part of our Detroit tour was a trip to The Henry Ford Museum. After a rather disappointing first half hour wandering around the static exhibits of nicely polished cars we latched onto the part of the museum that’s starts the serotonin pump for anyone who is engineering-minded. There are amazing displays of early industrialization, including steam engines for factories, early power generators, and examples of early assembly line machinery. We’re going to cover that stuff in depth but editing it all together will take some time.

For now we wanted to give you a quick glimpse at a delightful exhibit of a Model T. You don’t just look at it; every morning the museum staff takes apart the entire vehicle and throughout the day helps museum-goers walk through the process of putting it back together.

Why isn’t this the model to supplant amusement parks? This hands-on work with real equipment — not just a model made to stand up to the masses — is pure gold for occupying curious people of all ages. The interaction with museum staff adds a tangible human element to the institution, and you just might learn something more than history in the process!

[Full Disclosure: The Henry Ford provided Hackaday with free admission — Thank You!]

29 thoughts on “Museums Should Be More Popular Than Theme Parks

  1. Agree with your headline. I had no idea they had all that stuff, I thought it would all be just polished cars. And to think I just passed up a free 3 day trip to Detroit! I passed on it because I’m of the mind ‘Who the heck WANTS to go to Detroit?’ Guess now I know… sigh.

  2. If anyone is up in the Washington/Vancouver area, I’d recommend visiting the Radio History Museum in Bellingham, WA. It’s a great little museum for the technically minded on broadcast radio. Even better, the local amateur radio club has their meetings there, too.

  3. Greenfield Village is next door, where the Wright Brothers home and shop are. That is one of my favorite places to visit, true 19th century hacking that changed history!

  4. People want to be entertained, not think. And if someone does think and has success with it then people become envious. Unfortunately that’s just how the world works.

  5. “Museums more popular then theme parks?”

    That would require that the majority of the population of humans have an attention span and IQ higher then the average turnip.

    So probably NOT gonna happen.

  6. Does the Model T actually run at the end of the day?

    A bunch of…. amateurs tightening and loosening the same bolts time and time again is going to wear them out, strip them, whatever. Not to mention the occasional asshole who feels (s)he wants a free souvenir.

    I’m just wondering. The video is a little…. annoying…

    1. Probably. They are probably tearing down one of the 50 some odd units they have that cheffeur people around the village. I want to say it’s maybe a couple bucks to take a ride on one of the cars.

  7. Museums and amusement parks should be the same thing. It would be awesome to see how the roller coasters work and have an engineer talk about design considerations (could even have a business person talk about their stuff). I still want to go on the Jurassic Park DNA molecule ride. Could also have a fly through on those simulated rides of prehistoric landscapes or through atom demonstrations (maybe the parks could share the rides with museums?).

  8. It’s sad you didn’t go next door to the village. They have a TON of things working. Their locomotive shop is a working steam shop. They work on locomotives from all around the country. Plus they have edisons workshop and tons of other mechanical things.

  9. Another thought is have the museum next to an amusement park. It’ll be hard to ignore the museum if you’re on the way to the amusement park, plus people can kill two birds with one stone, visiting the museum in the morning then topping it off with the park.

  10. Do they still have the Rube Goldberg contraption used for team-building exercises? I don’t remember the details, but it involved multiple people, each manning a station with a particular task, which involved moving balls through the machine. You might have to turn a crank, flip a lever, pedal a bike, etc. The basic idea was that it required cooperation to make things work right, and it was sort of a model for the assembly line process.

    We did it when a bunch of people at my (at-the-time) employer flew up to Detroit for the International Car Show in ’94.

    1. The Innovation Station! That was my favorite part as a kid. I visited with family over the Christmas holiday and easy disappointed to see it was gone. I wish I had known about the Model T teardown/rebuild though. We didn’t see it in December but it sounds pretty cool!

  11. I remember being 16 in London, as class trip, and desperately wanting to go to the egiptian museum…there was no way to convince my classmates of going, they preferred walking around aimlessly and going eating or drinking…
    Children that age should want to go see museums in general, not only technical, and with age, they’ll choose wich ones to go see that fit their tastes.

  12. I agree completely. I used to live near enough that we took several field trips there with school when I was a kid. It’s important to note that it’s actually “The Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village”. Given how diverse the interests of hackers and makers are the Greenfield Village portion will be just as interesting to some as the Henry Ford Museum is. It’s one of the few places you’ll still see real craftspeople doing things like blacksmithing and woodworking. The employees there should be first on anyone’s ZA survival group membership list. ;’)
    Personally though I’m with you. I found the Museum fascinating every time I’ve been there. There’s so much to see and learn. It’s amazing how much we’ve forgotten in our post industrial lives. SO many unique and functional solutions to daily problems in both consumer life and manufacturing. Parts of the museum are stuffed with mind boggling densities of cool stuff we no longer use but should still learn about. It’s like taking a walk through Henry T. Brown’s classic “507 Mechanical Movements: Mechanisms and Devices” brought to life.
    I wish schools would flush drone creating nonsense like Common Core and create programs that teach kids to really think and understand the world around them and encourage them to analyze and solve problems in unique ways. This would include well curated visits to places like The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village as well as hands on courses in hacking and making Hackaday and Instructables style.

    1. Yes, yes, and yes! I’ve only been there once (and just for part of a day), but any school within reasonable range of the place has no excuse for not taking their kids there at least once a year (heck, once a semester)!

    2. I grew up with it as well, but it’s gone through a name change a few years ago. Now the whole complex is called “The Henry Ford”, and includes some other attractions (like the Rouge plant tour) under the same umbrella. That being said, I don’t think I’ll ever stop calling it “The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village”, and the village is a gem that should not be forgotten.

  13. It’s so great to hear about hands on museums like this one, and all the other ones that are being brought up in the comments (radio, Wright planes and so on). I just wanted to throw another one out there … only a few hours from Detroit, in Hamilton, Ontario, there is an incredible War Plane Museum ( which is a true working hanger where they are constantly refurbishing war planes. At the moment, they are finishing up the rebuilding of a WWII Lancaster Bomber getting it ready for a flight to London. You are literally feet away from the techs working on the planes, and they willingly stop to discuss what it is that they are doing.

  14. I hope the museum took a serious and uncensored look at Ford’s antisemitism. In America we have a tendency to only remember the good, when our bad history can be even more educational.

    1. What does that have to do with this post though? I think you are misinterpreting the name of the museum. Have you been there? Do you understand it’s focus? It is not a museum for the preservation of Henry Ford’s life and times any more than the Smithsonian is about James Smithson. It is a museum that, like many museums, is named in honour of it’s benefactor.
      I mean sure, HF was a Nazi collaborating a*hole, but what does that have to do with the museum?
      Where do we draw the line? Must we bring up the holocaust every time kids learn about Rudolf Diesel, or Albert Einstein because they were German?

      The HFM & GV does not have as it’s focus to glorify the Ford family, it is there to preserve an important part of American history and that is a job it does very well.

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