The American story. That's why The Henry Ford complex in Dearborn was created 83 years ago: to preserve it here in southeast Michigan – and to teach it to future generations. Today, it's still bringing history to life, right in metro Detroit.
From vintage neon marquees, presidential limos and furniture to a 50-ton 1930s steam engine at the Henry Ford Museum to the veritable "80-acre time machine" that is Greenfield Village, there's tons to explore here. And, as you'd expect from its title, that includes cars, cars, cars!
Auto mogul Mr. Ford himself – and inventor pal Thomas Edison – indeed established the site back 1929. Their goal? "To inspire young people and prepare them for the real world," explains modern-day chief marketing officer Carol Kendra.
In fact, the spot was originally created as a school. Now, this National Historic Landmark upholds those roots with some 26 million artifacts ripe for exploration – between Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.
Henry Ford Museum
At the museum, you'll find a multitude of memorabilia documenting the innovations, individuals and ideas that helped shape our nation. Like the chair Abraham Lincoln was shot in. And the bus Rosa Parks sat on when she stood for civil rights. Or a reproduction of The Wright Brothers' first flyer.
The permanent exhibits here are eye-popping displays worth a visit. Driving America is a big bear-hug for car culture, featuring a exhaustive collection of historically important vehicles. And groundbreaking With Liberty and Justice for All shows how generations past fought inequality.
"There is a profound impact on a child's learning when parents share history in ways that are real and relevant," Kendra says. To that end, you'll also find a variety of events and activities here geared at families. That includes monthly "Macy's 2nd Mondays" events, which run 10 a.m.-noon and feature kids' activities (included with admission).
Watch for a variety of traveling exhibits, too, which have ranged from the Titanic and World's Fairs to LEGOs. Be sure to grab a bite at the Winermobile Cafe, too – complete with the zany mobile, right on site.
Outdoors, find loads more to explore in the spring months – mid-April through early November – in and around the 83 historic buildings at the village, right next-door.
Scope out Edison's contributions at his "idea factory," or witness some old-school trades at Liberty Craftworks, from glass making to weaving, pottery and tin working. Farm traditions come to life here, too.
The village is also renowned for its annual festivals and events. Kick off the season with Day out With Thomas, the iconic kids' train, who usually rolls in around late April/early May. Come summer, catch historic "base ball" games, the Motor Muster auto blowout in June and a fantastic, orchestral Salute to America Independence Day to-do.
More to explore
Ford's vision has grown in other ways, too. It leaps off the screen at the IMAX theater, playing regular shows at the museum. And it hums at the nearby Ford Rouge Factory in Detroit, which lets families tour the legendary plant that's still producing F-150 trucks (tours depart from The Henry Ford).
All told, these attractions lure some 1.5 million visits a year. And, whatever the program, they're designed to engage kids in lessons "that are more than just words," Kendra says.
"From creating meaningful family memories," Kendra says, "to personally inspired moments," visit The Henry Ford to discover the past – and get a peek into the future.