The Ford Motor Company has a long history going all the way back to its incorporation in Detroit in June of 1903. Now, of the automotive history and the Blue Oval itself can experience 100 years of materials kept in the automaker’s new digital archive called the Ford Heritage Vault. And it’s all available online for anyone to peruse.
All the images and brochures from both Ford and Lincoln are open and freely available to the public and press. Ford digitize the curated collection as well as offer the images to the public. The Vault spans materials from the company’s founding in 1903 to its centennial in 2003.
“We’re opening up in a way we’ve never done before,” said Ted Ryan, Ford archive and heritage brand manager in a press release. “Our archives were established 70 years ago, and for the first time, we’re opening the vault for the public to see. This is just a first step for all that will come in the future.”
You really don’t even need to be a gearhead to enjoy these incredible glimpses into past eras of American life. The flavor of each decade is distilled into its purest form in vintage advertising and promotional materials. The first thing that caught my eye was the brochure for this 1962 concept car, the Ford Seattle-ite XXI:
This weird vehicle has been one of my favorites since I was a kid. Reading the brochure for it answers so many questions I’ve carried around for decades. I honestly didn’t think I could love this thing more, and yet here we are.
A car dreamed up by Ford in the waning years of the Atomic Age, designers envisioned the Seattle-ite XXI as a vehicle powered by “interchangeable power units,” either fuel-cell or nuclear in nature. The idea of an atomic-powered vehicle is so absolutely batshit that it’s hard not to love, but a vehicle with swappable fuel cells actually makes a lot of sense today, 60 years later, with the advent of electric cars.
Battery pack swapping has been cited by Jalopnik and others for years as a crucial step towards promoting mass EV adoption. The technology would require automakers to coordinate across brands to standardize battery systems and mounting designs. The result would relieve range anxiety among American road trippers who might be hesitant to buy an EV. It’s not a technology that has caught on here in America so far, but China has seen some success with EV battery swapping.
But here’s Ford, 60 years ago, talking about the possibility or fuel cell swaps in a six-wheeled concept car that never saw production. Of course, the Seattle-ite XXI also experimented with other fantastic technological ideas, like “fingertip steering” and a front end that would break away from the passenger compartment, turning a huge cross-country hauler into an efficient, easy-to-park city car.
Other brochures and promotional materials give an incredible taste of every era of American life, from the ’50s:
To the ‘60s:
...and the ’70s:
I could spend all day cruising through these amazing vintage materials. Now, thanks to the Ford Heritage Vault, I can — and so can you!
Correction: This story originally implied that Ford worked directly with Wayne State University in Detroit to digitize the collection. Wayne State students were involved in the pilot program, but were not directly involved with the digitization process. We regret the error and our story has been updated.