A warehouse of wonders: The Henry Ford's new Main Storage Building

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

The upside to having a collection with 26 million artifacts and objects is that The Henry Ford has important pieces of history across nearly every genre. The downside is accessing that collection hasn't always been easy.

With much of the collection once stored in two off-site storage buildings — one in Dearborn, another on the Dearborn and Detroit border — that meant curators and staff had to go off campus to gather what they needed. And one storage building even had multiple levels.

"The conditions were not as easy to access," said Patricia Mooradian, The Henry Ford's president and chief operating officer. "A lot of things were crated up or boxed up."

A 1907 Ford Model K Touring car is stored inside the Main Storage Building at the Henry Ford.

But that changed recently when the The Henry Ford was able to take over a one-story 250,000-square-foot warehouse adjacent to its campus that previously belonged to Ford Motor Co., allowing the museum to consolidate 70% of its collection in one space.

The new building, now called the Main Storage Building, however, needs a new roof, a $2 million project that The Henry Ford is hoping patrons will help contribute to on Giving Tuesday. A portion of the donations will be matched by a $500,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The campaign for the new roof is the latest step in a multi-step process to not just consolidate The Henry Ford's off site warehouses into one space, organize, prep, move and store the artifacts in a logical way. The warehouse was once Henry Ford's engineering building.

Spinning Wheels from the mid 1850's are stored inside the Main Storage Building at the Henry Ford.

"We had to plan out what was in storage and how we wanted to move it and store it in a way that was logical and made sense, because there were so many different types of items, from very, very large old fire trucks and taxi cabs and wagons and vehicles to sewing machines and various different looms and tools," said Mooradian.

Anyone who has ever visited Greenfield Village knows just how extensive The Henry Ford's collection is, from its Model Ts that zoom around Greenfield Village to washing machines.

With the new building — which also has a garage for vehicles to be worked on and preserved — planning was key. And so was accessibility, said Moordian.

"There was a lot of planning that went on, things like which doors could things moved into easily," said Mooradian. "How do we get things out if we need to put it on exhibit? How do we move it out? How much spacing do we need to have between rows and items?...There were all kinds of things that had to be considered."

Exterior of the Main Storage Building at the Henry Ford.

The Henry Ford, for example, has an exhibition, "Collecting Mobility," on display now until Jan. 2, featuring a range of vehicles, from a 32-foot long Top Fuel dragster to Lincoln Continental Stretch limousine. All of those vehicles had to be moved from storage to inside the museum.

Originally, the museum planned to consolidate the off-site warehouses over a three-year but moved up the timeline when the pandemic hit to save rent money, which was significant.

"When the pandemic hit, we realized it would help us a lot if we were able to get out of those warehouses," Mooradian said.

But the new Main Storage Building needs a new roofing system. And as soon as the funds are raised, work will begin. It's about preserving artifacts for generations to come, said Mooradian.

"These artifacts represent ideas and innovations that change the world," she said. That's how people can learn. We have a responsibility to protect and steward these artifacts."


Giving Tuesday and The Henry Ford

To donate to The Henry Ford's campaign to replace its Main Storage Building roof, go to https://giving.thehenryford.org/giving-tuesday-.