ford

A workspace, tools, a project or two — hardly an unfamiliar scenario for readers of MAKE, except that this is Henry Ford’s workshop, his first car, and on the bench, his first engine.

But not exactly. In fact, the engine and car, even the workshop itself, are reproductions.

The original space, a small brick outbuilding behind Ford’s modest house on Detroit’s Bagley Avenue, was intended to store coal and wood. Ford established a workshop there and equipped it with a small lathe, drill press, and basic tools. After reading about an engine design in American Machinist he decided to build a vehicle he came to call the Quadricycle; his neighbor, fascinated by the project, allowed expansion into his half of the structure.

In early June 1896 — the precise date is uncertain — the finished vehicle was ready for its first run. The workshop’s door onto the alley, too narrow for the now fully assembled vehicle, was swiftly modified with the help of a handy axe.

By the time Henry Ford began to collect historic buildings for Greenfield Village — his educational site in Dearborn, Mich. — the original workshop had been demolished. Charles Brady King, an old friend (and the first person to drive a horseless carriage on the streets of Detroit) did the detective work needed to re-create the little building.

In a 1932 letter to Ford, King pondered the vast changes brought about by his friend’s accomplishment. Marveling at how Ford had achieved such success from humble beginnings, King made a startling suggestion regarding the power of a workspace: “Perhaps ‘58 Bagley’ did it. Who knows?”

A space for storing fuel instead becomes the fuel? It’s not too alien a notion for Ford, who, after all, regarded the artifacts and buildings he was then assembling as capable of teaching “more than books will teach.”

The re-created Bagley Avenue workshop stands not only as testament to the convergence of talents, dreams, and fingertip knowledge that played out there in 1896, but also as inspiration — and provocation. How about your space — where is it pointing you?