One year and $8 million worth of renovations will finally be revealed to the public Sunday, Jan. 29, at the with the opening of Driving America.
Making up the majority of the museum's main floor, the collection of cars, artifacts, interactive displays and personal accounts is the historic location's most comprehensive redesign in more than 25 years.
Driving America consists of 130 vehicles and more than 60 cases of artifacts–including 21 cars and trucks that most eyes have never seen. Additionally, the sprawling exhibition includes 18 interactive touch screens with activities, images and oral histories by the likes of Bill Gates, Jay Leno and Elon Musk.
“Driving America is more than an exhibition with cars on display,” said Patricia Mooradian, president of The Henry Ford. “It is really an interactive, state-of-the-art story of us–us as drivers, consumers and enthusiasts. It examines the car as an innovation and explores how it has changed almost every aspect of our lives and heavily influenced the decisions we make."
Senior Manager of Program Operations Tom Varitek adds that unlike the museum's past display of vehicles, Driving America focuses on the "accessibility of artifacts"–providing visitors with personalized experiences that move them to think about the way the automotive industry has changed over 100 years, and what impact drivers have had on its progression.
"This exhibit goes out of its way to link past and present," Varitek explained.
For example, the main automotive "timeline" has been designed so that visitors now start pre-automotives, move past Henry Ford's Quadricycle and work their way forward through time. Presentations focus on evolving elements of car travel, such as safety measures, the advent of the travel industry, and environmental concerns.
For the intense history fans, an online scrapbook will provide an opportunity to browse, organize and save favorite artifacts.
"In the past couple of years, the museum has dedicated itself to digitizing its collections," Varitek said.
Thousands of those electronic pieces will be available to visitors for free, who can use electronic cards to "download" artifact images and descriptions to a personalized account, which they can browse from a home computer at any time.
"You can look at it according to what interests you," Mooradian said, "and you can customize it and personalize it for you."
These unique uses of technology, as well as combining historic artifacts with present day automotive innovations, were the keys to making Driving America more than just a room full of cars, Mooradian said.
"It really is about getting people excited to learn about what happened in the past to see how it relates to today and to inform a better future," she said. "To make this much more relevant and contemporary for today’s audiences is what was important to us in keeping this museum current, relevant and important to our visitors."
Driving America opens to the public Jan. 29 at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. Hours are 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is $17 for adults, $15 for seniors over age 62, $12.50 for youth ages 5-12 and free for children age 4 and under. Memberships are also available.
For more information, visit www.thehenryford.org.