10 things you shouldn't miss at the Henry Ford Museum

Witness American innovation and get a history lesson, too

By Elizabeth Xu,

This October 9th marks 109 years since the Ford Motor Company introduced the Model T to America. And you can celebrate that pioneering spirit at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, where the legend of Henry Ford's innovation lives on.

A must-see for any car lover, the museum in Dearborn, Mich. (about 10 miles from Detroit), goes beyond the automotive and is heavy on history, America and clever inventions. From the rocking chair that Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot to the first car Ford ever built, here are 10 sights and activities that museum visitors, both young and old, won’t want to miss.

Dymaxion House

The outside of the Dymaxion House gives a peek inside, too — Photo courtesy of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

Architect Buckminster Fuller thought this round house was the wave of the future, but that wasn’t the case. Now the only prototype can be found at the Henry Ford Museum. Visitors can go inside the shiny structure and see the revolving closets, vintage furniture, and small kitchen and imagine what life was like inside in the 1940s.

A real family even lived in this house until the 1970s, though it was attached to a more conventional-looking house for added space.

John F. Kennedy limousine

John F. Kennedy was riding in this car when he was shot in 1963 — Photo courtesy of Gary Malerbra via Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

The limousine John F. Kennedy was riding in when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963 is one of many pieces of history with a sad backstory. Even with its history, the car, a 1961 Lincoln Continental Presidential Limousine, was repaired and put back into presidential use until 1977.

The limo is part of the museum’s Presidential Vehicles exhibit, which also features cars used by presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

Rosa Parks bus

Bus number 2857 was made famous by Rosa Parks' refusal to move to the back — Photo courtesy of Gary Malerbra via Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

Rosa Parks is well-known for her actions that helped lead to America’s Civil Rights movement. She defied segregation laws in 1955 by not giving up her seat on the bus to a white man and moving to the back. After an extensive renovation by the museum, visitors can see the bus where history happened – and even hop aboard and sit in the seats.

Other Civil Rights movement-era artifacts are nearby in the Liberty and Justice for All exhibit, including a “whites only” drinking fountain from 1954.

George Washington's camp bed

George Washington's camp bed is one of many presidential pieces on display — Photo courtesy of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

America’s first president lived a long time ago, so claims of him sleeping in various beds are hard to substantiate now. However, this camp bed in the museum’s collection was definitely used by George Washington during the Revolutionary War. A camp chest from 1783 is also on display.

Ride in a Model T

A Model T in Greenfield Village — Photo courtesy of Gary Malerbra via Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

In Greenfield Village, next to the museum, visitors can purchase a ride pass and travel back into the past to see what transportation was like in Henry Ford’s time. The pass allows visitors unlimited rides on a restored Model T, horse-drawn vehicles, the carousel and a Model AA Bus. The Model T seats five.

Lincoln's rocker

The chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot at Ford's Theatre — Photo courtesy of Shannon McGee

The rocking chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot in 1865 holds a prominent place in the museum’s With Liberty and Justice for All exhibit. Blood-stained and showing signs of wear, the historic artifact is stored in a clear case and has been at the museum since the 1980s.

1896 Quadricycle

An 1896 Quadricycle, the first car Henry Ford made — Photo courtesy of Gary Malerbra via Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

There are quite a few vehicles in the museum that car enthusiasts will be, well, enthused about! This is one of them. Although the Model T is better known, the Quadricycle was actually the first vehicle Ford ever built. It was originally sold for $200, but Ford bought it back for $65 after he became successful.

Help build a Model T

Museum visitors help build a Model T — Photo courtesy of KMS Photography via Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

The museum has several daily events to help visitors learn more about history and innovation. For instance, kids and adults alike can enjoy being hands-on as part of a Model T assembly line in the Made in America: Manufacturing exhibit.

Museum employees are available to assist, and visitors can spend as much or as little time as they want participating. This activity is included in the price of admission.

Replica of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park lab

A look inside the recreation of Thomas Edison's lab — Photo courtesy of KMS Photography via Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

Although he was born in Ohio and spent much of his childhood in Michigan, Thomas Edison’s greatest inventions happened in Menlo Park, N.J. Henry Ford himself recreated Edison’s Menlo Park lab in Greenfield Village, and today visitors can see how the space looked when Edison invented the phonograph, the light bulb and other marvels there.

An Edison lookalike is also on hand at certain times of day to meet and greet visitors.

1939 Douglas DC-3 airplane

The Douglas DC-3 has a prominent place in the museum's Heroes of the Sky exhibit — Photo courtesy of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation

Airplane fanatics will be happy to know that historic planes are a part of the museum, too. The 1939 Douglas DC-3 airplane is legendary because it was the first all-metal airplane, as opposed to the wood varieties before it.

The one on display in the museum was used from 1939 until 1975. Don’t worry about missing this one – it’s in the Heroes of the Sky exhibit and is nearly impossible to overlook as it hangs from up above.