Cincinnati Museum Center: Learning History While Making History

Cincinnati Museum Center: Learning History While Making History

Henry Boyd was born in Kentucky in 1802. Although born into slavery, Boyd was given a chance to buy his freedom. So, at the tender age of 18, he trekked to present-day West Virginia and worked at Kenhawa Salt Works, where he chopped wood and kept watch on the salt kettles. After earning enough money, Boyd returned to Kentucky and paid to become a free man. He used his new-found freedom to learn more about a trade that had always piqued his curiosity — carpentry. 

Around 1825, Boyd gathered his life savings and moved to Cincinnati, where he hoped to find work. After facing a lot of rejection and quite a bit of discrimination, Boyd was hired to unload pig iron on the riverfront. His boss, a local merchant, was so impressed with Boyd’s loyalty that he asked him to be the janitor for his store. While working there, Boyd proved his carpentry skills when he installed a counter that another carpenter had been too drunk to complete. The merchant asked Boyd to develop a frame building. 

Boyd used the money he earned from that job to open his furniture shop, which stood at the corner of Broadway and Eighth Streets in downtown Cincinnati. Bedframes were the focus of the business, and the establishment earned a favorable reputation thanks to the high finish and excellent quality of the products. It was in that shop that Boyd created the Boyd Bed — a “wood screw and swelled rail” bedstead that allowed bedframes to remain tightly assembled without the use of iron bolts. The revolutionary new design was a hit with the masses.

Boyd’s story is one of many featured in “Made in Cincinnati,” a brand-new gallery at Cincinnati Museum Center.

“Henry Boyd’s storefront was already a part of the Public Landing, located in the Cincinnati History Museum,” says Stacey Kutish, senior director of exhibit development. “Now, we’re able to use it as a threshold to transition people into a suggested re-creation of Boyd’s workspace.”

CMC guests will have an opportunity to snoop around Boyd’s office, tour his integrative wood workshop, see the tools he would have used and even help assemble a bed.

“We want people to appreciate the innovation behind Boyd’s work as much as the work itself,” says Kutish.

“Made in Cincinnati” is full of stories about prominent Cincinnati business leaders like Boyd. Corporations such as Procter and Gamble are also highlighted. 

“P&G was a pioneer when it came to building a marketplace,” Kutish says. “We talk about how the company connected with its consumers, and we also share some great stories about individuals who helped along the way.” When visiting the gallery, by the way, be on the lookout for an amusing anecdote about why the Swiffer Sweeper was invented.

CMC is known for its engaging, interactive galleries, and “Made in Cincinnati” is no exception. Guests can glaze a piece of Rookwood pottery or experiment with machine tools and learn how they function. The gallery also has a variety of 9x12 fashion sale cards, complete with fabric swatches, which women used when selecting outfits they wanted to purchase. 

“These cards are so tangible and lovely,” Kutish notes.

“Made in Cincinnati” includes a CMC first — an object theater. The theater houses many of the pieces that played a key role in Cincinnati becoming a leader in manufacturing, including the Cast-Fab ladle. Guests sit in a darkened room as a spotlight illuminates various objects. Video scrims hang from the ceiling, animations move across the screen, weaving in and out of the frame, and a narrator tells the stories of the amazing items.  

“We’re telling a narrative while engaging the audience,” Elizabeth Pierce, CMC’s president and CEO says. “The object theater will captivate people’s attention because it will cross a range of innovations.”

“The theater takes the stories from all of the different sections of “Made in Cincinnati” and ties them together,” Kutish adds.

Rounding out the “Made in Cincinnati” gallery is the History in the Making classroom and the Business Hall of Fame kiosk. The History in the Making classroom provides guests an opportunity to connect with, and learn from, some of the largest businesses in the city.

“One day Altafiber may lead a discussion on fiberoptics — what it is and how it works,” Pierce explains. “Another time, Lost Art Press might demonstrate how to use hand tools from the Henry Boyd era.” The Business Hall of Fame kiosk recognizes individuals who are inspiring tomorrow’s business leaders and explains how people continue to create business success and innovation throughout Cincinnati. CMC collaborated with longtime partner, Junior Achievement of OKI Partners, Inc., to develop the kiosk.

Just as Henry Boyd’s curiosity about carpentry led him to become one of the most successful furniture makers in Cincinnati, Pierce hopes “Made in Cincinnati” will inspire today’s youth to become the next generation of business leaders.

“We want everyone to leave ‘Made in Cincinnati’ with a sense of pride for the city and a better understanding of where this community can go in the future.” 

Want to learn more about the manufacturers, tinkerers and industry leaders highlighted in “Made in Cincinnati”? Visit for ticket information. “Made in Cincinnati” was made possible thanks to the generous donations provided by the late Thomas Huenefeld and the Ohio State Capital Budget.

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