It stands grandly on its own, rising from the flat surrounding Dearborn real estate like the most dignified turn-of-century civic building ever, all grand entrance hall stone mullions, clock tower and flagpole, invariably with the stars and stripes floating on the breeze.
However, this is much more than some domain for pampered legislators. It is The Henry Ford, one of the greatest museums in America, established by the great inventor and industrialist in his pomp, a couple of years after his Model T had given way to the Model A.
He was 66 years old when he opened it – originally as the Edison Institute, to do honour to his scientist friend who, 50 years before, had invented the light bulb. He continued developing it for the rest of his life, and his heirs have done the same ever since.
If you’re a British hack, The Henry Ford probably looks the more spectacular because it is surrounded by snow since your visit probably coincides with January’s Detroit show. But if you’re near Detroit or even Michigan at any time, The Henry Ford and its associated ‘village of living history’, Greenfield Village, are unmissable. And one of the chief reasons for its appeal is that it is about much more than cars.
Of course, it was cars that generated the money to put it there. By 1929 Ford was already a billionaire, having pioneered mass production 15 years before and then used it to build the 15 million Model Ts that put America on wheels.
At one stage 50 per cent of the cars on American roads were Fords. However, the founder never forgot his own humble beginnings. “I will build a car,” he declared, “so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one.”
The museum began as a school to “tell the story of America”, as Ford put it. Some called it “an animated textbook”. For years before the opening of the building, Ford had been sending teams out to all corners of America to acquire the items of real life that people had designed, produced and used.