The Henry Ford in Dearborn Acquires Country’s Largest Collection of American Roadside Diner Artifacts

The Henry Ford in Dearborn has acquired the largest collection of American roadside diner materials in the country, put together by Richard J.S. Gutman, a leading expert on the subject. The collection includes thousands of 2-D and 3-D artifacts.
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photo from the American roadside diner collection
The Henry Ford in Dearborn has acquired the largest collection of American roadside diner materials in the country. // Photo courtesy of The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford in Dearborn has acquired the largest collection of American roadside diner materials in the country, put together by Richard J.S. Gutman, a leading expert on the subject. The collection includes thousands of 2-D and 3-D artifacts.

Photographs, slides, drawings, manufacturers’ catalogs, postcards, menus, tables, stools, tableware, promotional giveaway items, clothing, and more from diners across the U.S. are in the collection. This, along with the John Margolies collection, enhances The Henry Ford’s research offerings for materials related to roadside architecture and design in the U.S.

Gutman grew his collection over the course of his research for four books, numerous articles, three major exhibitions, and restoration and consulting projects. He helped with the move and restoration of The Henry Ford’s Lamy’s Diner, which now is used as a dining experience in the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, as well as the reconstruction of Greenfield Village’s Owl Night Lunch Wagon, the last surviving lunch wagon in existence.

“Through Richard’s efforts, the American diner is now generally recognized as an icon of roadside architecture and entrepreneurial enterprise,” says Patricia Mooradian, president and CEO of The Henry Ford. “With this acquisition, we are able to build upon the wonderful foundation that he helped us create many years ago and provide unprecedented access to those seeking inspiration from a design, manufacturing, or start-up perspective.”

Gutman began his fascination with diners while he was studying architecture at Cornell University in New York. He discussed their unique building type with British students who had never seen anything like them and was fueled by their curiosity. His collection began as part of his thesis and started with a slide collection of roadside diners that were still in existence. He ended up with more than 7,000 images.

Often referred to as The Diner Man, Gutman has been quoted in media pieces on diners many times over the last 30 years, and he continues to offer his expertise.

“My long-standing relationship with The Henry Ford led me to the conclusion that this was the place where I wanted my collection to reside,” says Gutman. “As I have gone through the material in preparation for its move, I’ve been delighted to see the scope that it represents. There are so many ideas and countless connections waiting to be discovered by those who are also fascinated by the subject.”

The materials in the collection will contribute to current and future Lamy’s dining experiences, along with potential opportunities for related exhibits and programs. The collection is being digitized for online accessibility.

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