Dymaxion House, at The Henry Ford Museum


Are you still living in an old-fashioned, square house?  How very 1800’s of you.  Maybe it’s time to step into the future!  Boldly enter the 20th century, by moving into a Dymaxion House!

One of the best reasons to visit the Henry Ford Museum is to take a walk through this odd-shaped aluminum prefabricated home.  It was once the dream of inventor R. Buckminster Fuller: an easy-to-manufacture, efficient home that could be cranked out to handle the post-World War II population boom.  And who wouldn’t want to live in a giant foil-wrapped baked potato?

Bucky Fuller thought the Dymaxion (DYnamic MAXimum tensION) House would be strong enough to survive a tornado, hygenic, and easy to build in airplane factories that had been idled at the end of the war.  But, only two were ever made, and only one survived — the one that’s now on display in the Henry Ford Museum.

Visitors are allowed to walk through the restored house…

… including a stop in the kitchen, where a very tiny sink will have to accommodate all your dishes.  After all, there’s no dishwasher.

Notice the central core of the house.  The roof is supported by a single pole, in the center, which also carries all of the house’s utilities.  These “guts” would be covered in the finished house, but they are left uncovered for the sake of the exhibit.

You can also peek into the layers that make up the roof.  It’s almost all aluminum.  The round design was meant to improve structural strength and energy efficiency, while the roof collected rainwater, and the central core provided ventilation (the windows didn’t open).

The Dymaxion House would have offered almost no privacy.  The walls that separate the rooms don’t go all the way to the ceiling, so someone in one room would have heard everything that’s happening in the other rooms (except for the bathroom — it was made of two “stamped” copper bubbles, put together).  The only “doors” separating the rooms were more like curtains that could be pulled closed.

But on the plus side, the house did have some innovative ideas — like cabinets with rotating shelves, allowing items in the back to spin around to the front for easy access.

Guests aren’t allowed to walk through the retro living room.  Can you picture where you’d put the flat-screen TV?  I guess Bucky wasn’t thinking that far ahead.

Your Place In Time

Of all the exhibits in the Henry Ford Museum, this one was the most depressing.  Almost everything else I had seen on display had come from the distant past — distant, at least, for someone in his mid-30’s, who doesn’t have any concept of time before 1975.  So imagine my shock as I walked through the “Your Place In Time” exhibit…

… arrived at the far end of the 1960-1979 display, and discovered that someone had put my old Snoopy telephone behind glass.


I realize that I grew up in a time before the internet, cell phones, and 500-channel cable TV.  But c’mon, am I really old enough that my childhood should be on display in a museum?

It got worse as I headed over to the 1980’s display…

… where items like Swatches, a Nintendo Gameboy, a giant VCR, an Apple computer, an AOL floppy disk, and bulky cell phones were all on exhibit.

The electronic educational toy exhibit made me feel even older.  Of these seven items, I used four of them as a kid: the See ‘n Spell, Merlin, Simon, and Little Professor calculator.

Yes, there are boxes in my garage that contain genuine museum-worthy artifacts.  My place in time, it turns out, is the 1980’s.


As depressed as I was, there was only one thing that could lift my spirits.  A Wienermobile.  I had no idea that the Oscar Mayer’s iconic vehicle wasn’t a new idea.  The first one was made in 1936 — and this version dates back to 1952.  Obviously, it’s a classic.

The Wienermobile sits in front of the Wienermobile Cafe, in the corner of the Henry Ford Museum.  I’m willing to bet that hot dogs are the restaurant’s best sellers.

I didn’t hesitate for a moment, when I spotted one of the museum’s Mold-A-Rama machines, which would make me my own Wienermobile.

There it is, the chunk of freshly molded hot plastic, being shoveled into the hopper — well worth the $2 investment.

There is a lot more to see and experience at the Henry Ford Museum, so much that I can’t possibly tell you about all of it.  Historic furniture is on display, along with agriculture equipment, and even a history of clocks (imagine that, there was a time — no pun intended — when people didn’t have a watch on their wrist or a digital alarm at their bedside!).  You’ll have to visit, to see it all for yourself.

I had spent about half of my allotted 5 hours inside the museum.  The rest would be devoted to the extraordinary “village” of historic houses Henry Ford assembled outside, in the neighboring Greenfield Village — our next stop.

The Henry Ford Museum is open 7 days a week, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Greenfield Village has similar hours, but only during the summer — and during the shoulder seasons, it may only be open Friday-Sunday.  A tour of the Ford Rouge Factory is available Monday through Saturday, with buses departing every 20 minutes, starting at 9:20 a.m.  Admission to the Village + Museum or Factory is $29.50 for adults, $21 for children (2011 prices, check for updates here).

No comments

You might also enjoy this...

World’s Largest Sitka Spruce

Heading east on US 26, you’ll pass a roadside park that promises the “World’s Largest Sitka Spruce”. Indeed, it’s big, but there’s a bit of ...