Stuck in the Mud

As Michigan emerges from our lockdown and we slowly begin driving to more places and contemplating summer road trips, I thought we’d look back to a time before asphalt, air conditioning, and safety features.

Ellen Scripps Booth, Jean McLaughlin Booth and Henry Scripps Booth on Lahser Road with the 1908 Pierce-Arrow in the ditch, 1911. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Here, we see Ellen Scripps Booth, daughter-in-law Jean McLaughlin Booth, and young Henry stranded somewhere along Lahser Road. I love the ladies’ wide hats and wraps, intended to keep their hair in and dust out. Henry looks particularly pleased with the situation (sort of like me when my own mom got a speeding ticket—she didn’t appreciate my backseat smirking, either).

Instead of AAA, the family turned to their own skills. Here’s Henry Wood Booth, Ellen’s father-in-law, addressing the situation:

Henry Wood Booth works on the Pierce-Arrow on Lahser Road, 1911. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

The Booth family’s Pierce-Arrow Limousine was one of several cars they used to move about here in Michigan and in Europe (where they traveled with the Pierce-Arrow and chauffeur). Purchased for $7,750 in July 1908 ($215,984.08 in 2020), the seven-seater, 6-cylinder touring car came with two bodies: a closed limousine body for winter use and a sports-touring body for summer. As Henry Scripps Booth later wrote:

The original garage at Cranbrook House had a traveling crane in it so the Pierce-Arrow’s winter and summer bodies could be conveniently changed with the seasons.  The crane spanned the depth of the garage, having an iron track bolted to the east and west walls on which the crane with a hand operated hoist could be pulled to the spot where the two respective bodies could be removed or hoisted into place. 

The accident on Lahser Road wasn’t the first time Ellen had been betrayed by poor road conditions. In 1908, she wrote in her diary of a similar event that took place as the family traveled from Grand Rapids to Lake Michigan:

“Wed. Aug. 12. We decided to take the auto as far as Holland on the way to Ottawa Beach but I wish we hadn’t for it took us five hours to go the 25 miles—We got off the road and one place slid into a ditch. It took an hour & a half to get a team to pull us out. We later frightened a horse and it ran down this deep ditch and horse, top-buggy and all just lay right down flat. The old couple in it were not hurt at all.”

If you want to learn more about the history and social impact of cars, register for our free virtual Bauder Lecture this Sunday, June 28, 2020, at 3:00pm EST. Brendan Cormier, Senior Design Curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, will be speaking about his recent exhibition and publication, Cars: Accelerating the Modern World. Center for Collections and Research Director Greg Wittkopp will deliver an introduction about Cranbrook and cars, featuring more treasures from Cranbrook Archives relating to our place in automobile history.

—Kevin Adkisson, Associate Curator, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

Cranbrook and the Car, Part 4: On the Road Again

A Driving Force: Cranbrook and the Car may have closed to the public, but we’re not done with it yet here at the Center for Collections and Research. As Cranbrook Art Museum switches out exhibitions (and gets ready to install the yearly Graduate Degree Exhibition, a show everyone must check out), staff of both the Center and the Museum are busy dismantling cases, assessing the condition of objects as they come down from the display, and preparing spaces to hold new and exciting displays of art and design.

While A Driving Force: Cranbrook and the Car was not a huge show, it did have one very sizable object: the 1914 Scripps-Booth Rocket Cyclecar. In the collection of the Detroit Historical Museum, the Rocket came to us from the Owls Head Transportation Museum where it had been on loan for a number of years (if you missed it, read more about the move here). Now, nine months after going on view, it was time to return it home. This morning our registrar Roberta Frey Gilboe and associate registrar Gretchen Sawatzki helped to wheel the Rocket out onto Cranbrook Art Museum’s loading dock and send it back to the Detroit Historical Museum.

Museum objects need to be preserved in as best condition as possible, which means that driving the Rocket is pretty much out of the question. Even if we wanted to drive it out the building, though, that would be impossible – the car is not in working condition. Instead, we hired a car transporter to pick up the Rocket and drive it the twenty-something miles down to DHM. The following videos (filmed by Gretchen) give a sense of what is involved in moving a vehicle of this size and age. In the first video, Roberta and our truck driver roll the Rocket out into the dock and onto a lift. In the second, the three of them (Roberta, driver, and Rocket) ride the lift up to meet the bed of the truck. In the final video, they roll the Rocket onto the truck. As you can see, moving objects (especially ones as large and as complicated as antique cars) is a complex task. With a team of talented professionals, though, and given enough time, we can safely transport objects from space to space and make room for the new and exciting exhibitions to come.

<p><a href=”″>Video 1: The Rocket Starts Rolling</a> from <a href=”″>Cranbrook Kitchen Sink</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

<p><a href=”″>Video 2:The Rocket Rises</a> from <a href=”″>Cranbrook Kitchen Sink</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

<p><a href=”″>Video 3: The Rocket Rolls into Place</a> from <a href=”″>Cranbrook Kitchen Sink</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


– Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow

Photo Friday: The Rocket Takes Off (and Says Goodbye)

James Scripps Booth showing off the JB Rocket prototype in Indianapolis, the conclusion of a test-drive from Detroit to Indiana, 1913. Cranbrook Archives.

James Scripps Booth showing off the JB Rocket prototype in Marion, Indiana, at the conclusion of a test-drive from Detroit to Indiana, 1913. Cranbrook Archives.

Today’s Photo Friday comes courtesy of A Driving Force: Cranbrook and the Car. The exhibition, organized by the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research and hosted at Cranbrook Art Museum, features objects, renderings, and historic photographs that connect the Cranbrook community with Detroit’s long and venerable history of car production. And of course we also brought in actual 1914 car, because how could we not? Anyone who reads this blog regularly already knows quite a bit about the exhibition, so we won’t go on. If you haven’t had a chance to see the show, though, be sure to stop by Cranbrook Art Museum on Saturday or Sunday before the whole thing comes down once and for all!

Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellows

Cranbrook and the Car: A Different Look

Currently on display, the exhibition A Driving Force: Cranbrook and the Car thoughtfully illustrates two key ways in which Cranbrook has been affiliated with the automotive industry throughout its history.  James Scripps Booth was an avid artist and inventor, even taking apart, rebuilding and designing cars in the garage of Cranbrook House from an early age.  Later on, the Academy of Art encouraged students to enter competitions which included designs for Packard Motor Car hood ornaments (1934) and exterior design, hood ornaments and trunk lid medallions (1950).  Graduates were employed by the Big Three automakers in a variety of ways—working in the design studios building models for new cars, as part of Harley Earl’s “Damsels in Design,” and as textile designers for automotive interiors.

But Cranbrook’s relationship with the car goes beyond the realm of design.  The Booth family’s list of cars includes a Winton (1904), a Christie (1904), a Cartercar (1907), two Pierce Arrows (one was a limousine), a Brush Runabout (1910), a Chalmers 40 (1910), a Lozier “Briarcliff” (1911) and a Detroit Electric (1921) which was driven by Henry Wood Booth at the age of 88.

Warren and Grace Booth with chauffeur in the Chalmers 40 in front of Cranbrook House. Circa 1910, Cranbrook Archives.

Warren and Grace Booth with chauffeur in the Chalmers 40 in front of Cranbrook House. Circa 1910, Cranbrook Archives.

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Happy Birthday, Raymond Loewy!

Anyone who did a search on Google today probably saw the sketched-out train engine that forms the word “Google” on the homepage.  Honoring the 120th birthday of pioneering American designer Raymond Loewy, the Google doodle pays homage to Loewy’s trademark streamlined look.  While we can’t claim Raymond Loewy as a Cranbrook designer, we took his birthday as an opportunity to identify what sort of material and ephemera we have connected to this design powerhouse. Continue reading

Cranbrook and the Car, Part 3: Suzanne Vanderbilt

If AMC’s long-running television show Mad Men has taught us anything, it is that it is hard being a woman in a man’s world.  And while Peggy Olsen’s struggle to be taken seriously as an advertising professional in the 1960s is fictional, many talented, driven, and creative women found themselves fighting a similar battle in their own professions in the 1960s and 1970s.

Suzanne Vanderbilt was one such woman, and her work as a designer at General Motors is highlighted in A Driving Force: Cranbrook and the Car, now open in the lower galleries of the Cranbrook Art Museum.  A Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate, Vanderbilt was an active member of the “Damsels of Design,” the young women hired by Harley Earl to work on the interiors of vehicles for General Motors in the 1950s and 1960s.

1998-02 Vanderbilt in car, c1950s (2)

Suzanne Vanderbilt in her Corvette, mid 1950s. Suzanne Vanderbilt Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

Though the assembling of these women into a charming and attractive group of “damsels” was a PR ploy, the fact remains that these women designers did real work for GM, re-thinking car interiors at the exact moment that the auto industry began recognizing women as significant consumers of their products.  Women have historically made the majority of household purchasing decisions, and as cars increasingly became associated with domestic American life it became clear that women would have a greater role in buying them.  Recognizing this trend, GM acknowledged that its design, engineering, and marketing of cars would have to shift.  And who better to understand the female consumer than women themselves?

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Cranbrook and the Car, Part 2: The Rocket Arrives

Putting together an automobile exhibition without a car is like making a custard without using eggs: you can use other ingredients as replacements, but you’ll have a hard time achieving that perfectly smooth texture without them.    At the heart of any show about the automobile industry is the car itself.

It was with this thought in mind that I arrived at the Cranbrook Art Museum at 7:45 AM yesterday morning, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a truck that was carrying the eggs for my custard – a 1914 Scripps-Booth Rocket Cyclecar.

The Rocket arrives!  May 9, 2013.

The Rocket arrives! May 9, 2013.

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