In a major step forward in honoring its heritage, Ford Motor Co. is going live with its new Ford Heritage Vault, a new online database with more than 5,000 curated photographs and product brochures from the Ford and Lincoln vehicles.
The vault contains materials dating from the company’s founding in 1903 to its centennial in 2003. Ford plans to add to the site over time. The searchable database’s downloadable items are free to use.
“We’re opening up in a way we’ve never done before,” said Ted Ryan, Ford archive and heritage brand manager. “Our archives were established 70 years ago, and for the first time, we’re opening the vault for the public to see. This is just a first step for all that will come in the future.”
While Ford didn’t say what that future would be, the initial batch of photos were curated by Ford’s archives team during the past two years, with the site comprised of product photography and brochures. The company hasn’t posted TV or radio commercials, nor video.
Ford archivists worked with graduate students from Wayne State University’s library and information science program in Detroit, as well as Ford employees and retirees to guide the collection for its launch. All of Ford’s automotive brands are here, including Ford, Mercury, Merkur, Edsel and Lincoln vehicles, including some provocative models, like the Ford Pinto or Lincoln Versailles.
When tested prior to its launch, the most common searches were for the Ford Bronco and Ford F-Series — hardly a surprise. Other popular searches included Meteor, Fairlane, Galaxie, Model A and Edsel.
For the initial group of material, archivists have been sure to upload brochures from the 1970s and ’80s that were aimed at younger consumers at the time, many of whom are senior citizens, or about to be.
“Brochures like these add so much more information and impact for people who want to learn about our products, heritage and accessories,” said Ciera Casteel, processing archivist, who prepared materials for the Heritage Vault.
“These assets were born analog, and we have worked hard to bring them to the digital world,” said Casteel.
Not the first
The move is welcome, and serves as a soft-sell marketing effort. But Ford is far from the first automaker to make its archives available to consumers, or future consumers.
The GM Heritage Center has been online for years and is far more extensive, offering downloadable brochures, and photos, reproduction neon dealer signs and billboards, as well as videos, vehicle information kits, club lists and more.
Other automakers, such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volkswagen, don’t offer items from their archives, opting instead for lifestyle collections. This is common among European manufacturers. Instead, like many others, their heritage is on their websites, but nothing is downloadable.
In this regard, the GM and Ford heritage sites are unique.
An archive’s history
Ford’s archives were established during the company’s 50th anniversary at Fair Lane, Henry Ford’s estate. It moved to the Rotunda in 1957, where it remained until the Rotunda was destroyed by fire in November 1962. Two years later, a large part of the collection moved to The Henry Ford, in what is now the Benson Ford Research Center.
In 1998, it moved back to Ford Motor Co. property. Its current home, the Ford Motor Co. Engineering Laboratory, has been its home since 2015.
Its stats are impressive: includes 25,000 square feet of climate-controlled storage with 3 miles of movable shelves and three walk-in coolers for film-based media. They hold 16,000 cubic feet of paper-based records, roughly 5,000 electronic records, nearly 51,000 moving image assets, about 2 million negatives, a few thousand 3-D artifacts, and hundreds of works of art.
It’s home to not just American records, but also those of Ford of Europe, Ford of Canada, Ford UK, Ford of Denmark, and the Ghia Design Studio in Italy.
The staff handles 1,100 requests from inside and outside the company.
2 responses to “Ford Puts Its Archives Online — For Free”
Do you have old employee records? Trying to confirm that my grandmother worked for Ford st one time, perhaps in the 1920s.
We are a news organization, Michael. You’ll have to go to the Ford archive site to check.
Paul A. Eisenstein