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Collaborivals? GM donates $5 million to The Henry Ford

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The Henry Ford. Photo by Jim Culp.

Calling it “one of the most historical and game-changing partnerships” in the history of the institution, The Henry Ford officials on Tuesday announced a $5-million donation from perhaps the most unlikely of sources: Ford Motor Company rival General Motors.

“Needless to say, there were a few raised eyebrows in that room,” Patricia Mooradian, the president of The Henry Ford, said of the initial suggestion that GM and The Henry Ford partner.

As Mooradian related when announcing the donation, it’s been nearly four years in the making. In 2013, Edsel Ford II invited Mark Reuss, GM’s executive vice president for global product development, to a lunch that in turn led to a mass tour of the GM Heritage Center for GM and The Henry Ford executives. After the tour, they all gathered in a conference room “where Edsel asked Mark and the GM team to imagine a world where two companies that are intense rivals in the marketplace can come together to support our nation’s museum of American innovation,” Mooradian said.

Reuss, who reflected on visiting The Henry Ford as a child and credited those visits with inspiring him to become an engineer (and who joined the board of The Henry Ford last February), lauded the museum as a national treasure and said that the donation fits into the GM corporate philanthropy philosophy of supporting STEM-intensive organizations and non-profits.

While Reuss acknowledged that The Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company “will always be inextricably linked,” he also argued that a museum such as The Henry Ford can’t present the history of transportation in America “without General Motors and Ford together.”

Photo by Michael Kappel.

Indeed, The Henry Ford already displays or has displayed a number of GM vehicles and though instances of collaboration between the two carmakers–such as the CMP World War II trucks, Lincoln’s use of the Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, and the GTO’s use of the Dearborn three-speed manual transmission in base trim–are exceedingly rare, the intense competition between the two corporations spurred a good deal of American automotive innovation.

Neither Mooradian nor Reuss elaborated on exactly what the money will fund, though Reuss hinted at an upcoming GM versus Ford motorsports-themed exhibit and Mooradian said that one of the museum’s galleries will be renamed The Gallery by General Motors. Mooradian also noted that The Henry Ford now considers GM a “partner in innovation,” and alluded to future collaborations between the museum and the carmaker.

Greg Wallace, director of the GM Heritage Center, said he doesn’t see the “partner in innovation” status altering the Heritage Center’s role within GM. “We have had a great relationship with The Henry Ford and will continue to foster that relationship in the future,” he said.

Of the $61.6 million in revenue The Henry Ford reported in 2015, $7.1 million–or about 11.6 percent–came from contributions. The Henry Ford officials did not return calls seeking comment on how much Ford Motor Company contributes to the museum.

Established in October 1929 as the Edison Institute of Technology, The Henry Ford includes both the recently renamed Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village, both of which opened to the public in 1933. Today it operates as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit.