The Bus Where Rosa Parks Sat & Where JFK was Shot: The Incredible Henry Ford Museum in Detroit

By Abi King | Best Places to Visit USA

Jul 05
Where Rosa Parks Took A Stand by Sitting Down

Where Rosa Parks Took A Stand by Sitting Down

The Henry Ford Museum, Detroit.

It’s the kind of name that sounds like it does what it says on the tin. And in as much as Henry Ford founded it and in as much as it is a museum that’s fair enough.

But – and it’s a big but – it leaves people with the impression that it’s all about Henry Ford.

Or indeed, any Ford.

Which means cars, right? I’m sure it does to most people. It certainly did to me.

Ford caravan

Beneath the Surface

Since Detroit is the home of Ford cars and Ford cars practically represent American motoring history, I went along anyway to have a rummage around beneath the hood.

And it’s a good job I did.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me be sure to inform you that the Henry Ford Museum is an amazing collection of work, one that deserves almost a day to itself.

The first piece that opened my eyes came in the buttercup yellow of the bus in which Rosa Parks refused to stand up.

Around the corner, hung the withered cotton costume of the old Ku Klux Klan.

Votes for Women at the Ford Museum Detroit

American Social History

Original posters depicted the suffragette movement in the States, along with manuscripts from the Declaration of Independence and historical memorabilia from the American Civil War.

Ford stages a procession of Presidential Vehicles, all springing red, white and blue. Their stately rumps gleam in polished black but the signs beside them reveal hidden tragedies.

One was the car involved during the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, another where Kennedy took his final breath.

Presidential car at Henry Ford Museum @insidetravellab


There’s Henry Ford’s first car (one he built himself – a kind of horse wagon on wheels,) an entire section on the history of aviation and even a collection of steam trains (yes, actual steam trains) lined up across the signposted floor.

Aviation Henry Ford via @insidetravellab

Perhaps best of all is the unsung tribute to American neon cartoonery: luminous hot dogs, drive-thrus and luminous stars and stripes.

This isn’t so much the Henry Ford Museum: it’s one of modern American History.

McDonalds at The Henry Ford Museum via @insidetravellab

Car advert at Henry Ford Museum via @insidetravellab

Holiday Inn Neon via @insidetravellab

Hot dog car at The Henry Ford Museum via @insidetravellab

Travelling to Detroit

Disclosure: I travelled to Detroit as part of the celebration of the inaugural Virgin flight from London to Detroit. (I wasn’t actually on that one but I did join them there and hitch a ride home.)

I also travelled between London Heathrow Airport and London Paddington Station with a complimentary Heathrow Express Ticket. The Heathrow Express is the fastest way to reach Paddington, which connects on to Wales and the West Country as well as being within Zone One and on the District, Circle, Hammersmith and Bakerloo Underground Lines. 

As ever, as always I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise, there’s no point. 

To travel from London to Detroit with Virgin Atlantic, check out their fares here. 

Presidential car at the Henry Ford Museum via @insidetravellab



About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • What a perfectly timed post for us! We are heading to Michigan this weekend and the Ford Museum is on our list of things to do.Thanks! :)

    • Abi King says:

      Ah – enjoy! But look out – there are at least three museums around with Ford in the title. One that talks about the history of Ford cars, one at the assembly plant – and this one. The other two are still interesting but are very Ford focused (so to speak ;-) ) – whereas this one sweeps across America.

  • What a cool museum! I love the Detroit honors the history of the Fords with this place. What a collection!

    • Abi King says:

      It’s SUCH a cool museum – but it’s not so much about the Fords (there are another two museums about Henry Ford) – this is about the history of America. Which is why I think it’s not a great name for a museum – because it confuses people about what’s inside it.

  • Leah says:

    Detroit has never been high on my list of must-see US cities…but I have to admit, this museum looks pretty fun! I love the old neon signs and would love to see the procession of Presidential Vehicles :)

    • Abi says:

      It’s probably fair to say that Detroit has a pretty bad reputation among Americans…across the pond we know it more for Ford, Motown and, er, Eminem. So the history of the city is fascinating – and its “come-back” vibe!

  • Juno says:

    I’ve done a few projects with car companies when I was in grad school. I should go back and check if I remember about cars at all. :)

  • My husband would totally geek out over this museum! Reason enough to go to Detroit, I suppose =)

  • Sophie says:

    They have quite a few weirdly fascinating museums in the USA, like the Museum of Crime and Punishment. And the Spy Museum in DC. This seems to be another. Interesting.

    • Abi King says:

      Now THOSE sound amazing! If I ever get back to DC then I HAVE to check them out :-0 )

  • DG says:

    You should have stepped out into Greenfield Village as well- it’s part of The Henry Ford campus. It has all kinds of historic buildings like the Wright brothers bicycle shop and family home, and Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory.

    Originally, it was called The Edison Institute, after Henry Ford’s personal friend. The Museum has a television show called Innovation Nation which is on Saturday mornings on CBS.

  • Abi King says:

    Ah, if only I’d had more time. I didn’t realise they were there to be honest but it was a whistle stop trip. Both sound fascinating (though perhaps, also awkwardly named…) Thanks for the recommendation.

  • Izy Berry says:

    this museum is amazing!! it represents american history in cars

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