Do you ever wonder how one event could change the course of history? I do this all the time. Like, what if my grandfather would have died in World War II? What if Michael Jordan would have never picked up a basketball? What if Henry Ford would have never worked on a farm in Redford?


A recent discovery during a visit to the Benson Ford Research Center, on the grounds of The Henry Ford, left our jaws on the floor. We were so stunned by the connection between a Redford farmer and Henry Ford, that we physically had to see it for ourselves. After we did a happy dance, we collected ourselves, and snapped a few photos.

The Back-Story

In 1882, a small 40-acre farm, owned by John Gleason, sat at the northwest corner of present day Plymouth Rd & Outer Dr. [Before Detroit annexed this area in 1926, the eastern border of Redford ran all the way to Greenfield Rd] Henry Ford was 19 years old at the time and was responsible for running a portable steam engine on the Gleason farm, when an older man could not.

Gleason Farm, October 3, 1923. [From the Collections of The Henry Ford]

His work on the engine left such an impression on him that he later tracked down the engine, bought it, and returned it to operating condition.

Henry Ford, with the portable Westinghouse steam engine, at his home in 1941. [From the Collections of The Henry Ford]

At the Museum

Today, this piece of farm equipment is on display at The Henry Ford Museum, shining in all its glory. The informational marker does not identify the men in the photo (with the easily recognizable Henry Ford) or note the connection to Redford, but we know.  Next time you visit, be sure to stop by the Agriculture exhibit, stand proud in front of the 1881 Westinghouse steam engine, and give a slow clap for how a Redford farmer helped revolutionize the auto industry.

Photo and artifact description on the informational marker:

Pictured here with the steam engine is (L->R) Hugh McAlpine, James Gleason, and Henry Ford. This photograph was taken in 1920 on the Ford Farm in Dearborn. [From the Collections of The Henry Ford]


Before tractors, engines fueled by steam often provided the power to run large farm equipment.

At harvest time, a team of horses would have pulled this portable engine from farm to farm to power a crew’s threshing machine. When he was only 19, Henry Ford operated this engine for a threshing crew. He later sought out and restored the engine, claiming that running it inspired his confidence in working with machines.

Made about 1881
George Westinghouse & Company
Schenectady, New York

Check out more information on the Westinghouse steam engine:

A huge thanks to the staff at the Benson Ford Research Center!


4 thoughts on “Gleason Farm & Henry Ford

    1. Mac,

      Just finished the article on the Redford farm and Henry Ford. Very cool information and I have heard so many stories about Henry Ford and my family – my mother (Rachel Churches (Gleason)) and the neighbor and friend of the family (Margret Dunning) tell many of the stories. My mother will soon be 92, we just had the chance to go to the Ford’s Garage which was great. Know that my Grandfather was one of Henry’s best friends and grew up with him around the farm. I love the history and the care the Henry Ford Museum has taken care of the old steam engine. I look at the barn that my great grand father had and see a great structure – I am a carpenter and find myself restoring these old barns ready to stand another 150 years after I finish my work. The oldest barn have restored to date is about 1835 here in Macomb area.
      Best Regards,

      Joe Churches

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s