Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn is making a century of its archival material available to the public through a new online database called the Ford Heritage Vault.
Ford created the Heritage Vault (https://fordheritagevault.com) for fans, journalists, and car enthusiasts. The searchable artifacts are downloadable for personal use, free of charge, for the first time as part of the American auto industry’s most comprehensive online database.
The Ford Heritage Vault contains more than 5,000 curated photographs and product brochures from Ford and Lincoln vehicles, spanning from the company’s founding in 1903 to its centennial in 2003. Ford will grow the Heritage Vault over time, drawing from its archives.
“We’re opening up in a way we’ve never done before,” says Ted Ryan, Ford archive and heritage brand manager. “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.”
The materials available in the online collection today were curated over the past two years by Ford’s archives team. Many of the high-resolution images showcase the design and functionality of Ford and Lincoln vehicles. Others are memorable images that bring Ford’s heritage to life for fans and car enthusiasts, while also educating newcomers to the Blue Oval.
One set of brochures serves as a time capsule for the 1970s and 1980s. The series was created to market specific vehicle design packages to younger consumers and shows beach outings, racing, and skydiving, accentuated with vivid oranges, browns, and yellows.
“Complementing all of the vehicle photos available in the Ford Heritage Vault, brochures like these add so much more information and impact for people who want to learn about our products, heritage, and accessories,” says Ciera Casteel, a processing archivist who prepared materials for the Heritage Vault.
Ford worked with graduate students from Wayne State University’s library and information science program in Detroit, as well as Ford employees and retirees, to pilot the Heritage Vault in advance of its launch.
The collection appealed to both casual browsers and dedicated automotive enthusiasts, who reported a better appreciation for Ford and its heritage after using the site. A Ford employee even remarked that seeing the old photos brought tears to his eyes.
Ford Bronco and Ford F-Series were common search items among testers. Meteor, Fairlane, Galaxie, Model A, and Edsel were also popular, with one user finding the Tempo models their mother and grandmother owned in the 1980s and ’90s.
Ford Heritage Vault has been created with accessibility features that translate photos, charts, and graphs and other pre-digital assets for compatibility with assistive technology now used by blind and visually impaired site visitors, such as screen readers, to interpret websites. Heritage Vault users can request remediated versions of additional brochures as needed.
“These assets were born analog, and we have worked hard to bring them to the digital world,” says Casteel, who led the effort to make the assets accessible. “But digitizing isn’t enough. It was important to us that the Heritage Vault is accessible for everyone to enjoy.”