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.
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.
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.
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:
WESTINGHOUSE ENGINE #345
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: https://www.thehenryford.org/collections-and-research/digital-collections/card/22382
A huge thanks to the staff at the Benson Ford Research Center!