Ford Motor Co. revealed photos so delicious that they crashed the computer system.
Public response to free access to images of classic Ford, Lincoln and Edsel vehicles and vintage sales brochures (including Mustang, Bronco and F-150) wowed collectors and gearheads on June 16.
“We created demand for people across middle America to go see the cars they grew up with,” Ford archivist Ted Ryan told the Free Press. “Unfortunately for us, everybody went at the same time and it took the site down.”
In the first two weeks, 64,000 users generated 750,000 searches of the Ford Heritage Archive site, he said Friday.
The sales brochure file already includes Mercury vehicles with photos to follow soon.
“My car was a 1977 Mercury Capris,” Ryan said. “People had to hunt for brochures of vehicles on the Internet. Often, they’re behind paywalls.”
What may sound like a gearhead convention to some people is a fantasy come true for others.
“I warned everybody this would be popular. No one believed me,” Ryan said. “It’s not just a website, it’s sharing Ford history.”
The company booked him for more media interviews than any single topic except the launch of the all-electric 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning, he said. They weren’t The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. It was small broadcast news outlets, ranging from a community station in Howell, to a syndicated car show in San Diego to a Christian radio program in North Carolina.
“Station after station after station,” Ryan said. “I got a note from (Ford CEO) Jim Farley that said, ‘Ted, thanks for breaking the internet.’ He gets it. People love their cars.”
To host the site, Ford hired Minisis, a software company based in Vancouver, British Columbia. The firm is known for its museum and library relationships, Ryan said.
“We warned them a dozen times to be ready for massive traffic. We went up on a Thursday at 6 am and we were down by 9 am,” Ryan said. “Ford IT helped work things out.”
The reaction to this project is visceral, he said.
People form an emotional bond with their cars — naming them right along with kids, pets and boats.
“My wife still talks about the paneled banana, which was a (Ford) Country Squire station wagon, yellow with wood paneling on the side,” Ryan said. “She can still describe that car in detail and talk about road trips from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale to visit her grandmother.”
As someone who spent 21 years at Coca-Cola, Ryan has discovered a different kind of passion that America has for its cars and trucks and tractors.
This latest project launched in conjunction with the automaker’s 119th anniversary.
When news of the archive popped on Twitter, people responded with joy:
- “My father was a @Ford engineer and worked in both the headquarters and Parklane towers from 1967 until he passed in 1982. I would love to see some of his work!” tweeted @AthenaAI2 June 21.
- “Thank you good sir, this is amazing,” David Burge tweeted from @iowahawkblog June 24.
At least one fan has already downloaded every single Mustang brochure, Ryan said. For the archive site’s success, he credited a team guided by Ciera Casteel that worked tirelessly over two years to bring this project to life.
At Ford, launching such a project has to meet strict criteria that includes meeting a business purpose, can it be executed and is it accessible financially.
Ford is also making the website accessible to hearing and vision impaired users, Ryan said. Already some 100 requests have been received for machine readable searches.
‘Where we came from’
Dave Stall, host of “You Auto Know” weekly car talk show that airs on KCBQ-AM (1170) in San Diego, interviewed Ryan about the archive project.
“Listeners… loved it,” Stall told the Free Press Friday. “History is extremely important in today’s society. We really need to know where we came from.”
Stall, a car service manager for 30 years, said looking at the history of the automobile helps provide helpful context as major decisions are made affecting the future.
After Ford’s longtime historian Bob Kreipke retired, the company cast a wide net.
“We felt we should go after a world-class historian,” Truby told the Free Press. “When you have a company as unique as Ford, led by the great-grandson of Henry Ford, it would be a miss not to have a modern and sophisticated view on how you think about your history and heritage and link it to where it is a company is headed.”
Then they heard about Ryan.
This archive project is a long-term effort that will grow as material is digitized. The site is expected to expand to include historic photos and advertising campaigns, which reflect not just the products but societal attitudes of the day.
Truby said there can be tremendous brand value when companies leverage their history effectively. He referenced the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland. The brewery now provides tours, talks about its founders, how recipes came about, why it tastes a certain way, how the company grew over time and how advertising influenced it all.
“My dad always drank Guinness. Growing up, I never thought about it,” Truby said. “After I went there, it changed my relationship with Guinness. I had an affinity for it that I didn’t have before. It costs more than $20 to get in and people line up. It’s more than revenue. It brings you closer to the brand.”
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By comparison, The Henry Ford and Rouge Factory tour have also grown into tourist attractions for millions of domestic and international visitors.
man with vision
On Thursday, Ford announced Ryan would be inducted as a fellow of the Society of American Archivists in an Aug. 25 ceremony in Boston.
It is like the Oscars for archivists, recognizing outstanding contributions to the profession. Ryan has a history with the Atlanta History Center that resulted in an Emmy Award-winning documentary. He established the Atlanta Braves Museum and led unique and unusual projects the have involved the Library of Congress, British Film Institute and art exhibitions in 15 countries.
“His research, writing, teaching and speaking demonstrate his commitment to the profession,” wrote David Ferriero, former national archivist, in a news release.
Ryan is one of six new fellows named in 2022. There are currently 195 fellows of the Society of American Archivists. Ford Motor becomes the first company to have two acting archives directors named a fellow, with Elizabeth Adkins selected in 2002.
Go to https://fordheritagevault.com to find the searchable archives site.
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Contact Phoebe Wall Howard firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow her on Twitter@phoebesaid. Read more on Ford and sign up for our newsletter cars.