Plan Your Visit > History Center > Crawford Auto Aviation Collection > Thompson Products Auto Album

The Crawford Auto Aviation Museum became part of the Western Reserve Historical Society in November, 1963. 
Prior to that, the collection was privately owned by TRW, Inc. and operated as the Thompson Products Auto Album.

The Thompson Products Auto Album began almost as an accident.  At the 1936/37 Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland, a display of antique automobiles was part of the overall automotive displays.  As the Expo ended, Thompson Products president Frederick C. Crawford heard that the exhibitor was going to literally junk one of the historical cars, a 1910 Duryea.  Mr. Crawford, aware of the impact of the Duryea brothers to early automotive history, had Thompson Products purchase the car, and display it in their factory.    

Inspired by his rescue of the Duryea, Mr. Crawford set out to try and save other early automobiles threatened with destruction.  He instructed his Thompson Products salesmen to keep on the lookout for antique automobiles as they served their sales regions, and to inform him if they located anything worthy of collecting.  When they would locate an interesting car, they would wire Mr. Crawford, who would authorize the purchase and shipping of the vehicle back to Cleveland.  Many of these cars were found in barns and garages, and could be had for virtually nothing.
After several years, Thompson Products had amassed a growing collection, and Mr. Crawford desired to display it to the public.  A former Cadillac showroom was leased on East 30th and Chester Avenue, and the collection was moved there from the main plant of Thompson Products.  The new museum, known as the Thompson Products Auto Album opened for business on August 13, 1943, making it one of the earliest car museums in the country.  In 1944, the museum was added to, as a 7/8 scale street of shops, set in the 1890s, opened.  The storefronts, which included a print shop, saloon, blacksmith shop, barber shop, and other mainstays of small-town America, proved to be quite popular from the start, and was featured in many newspapers and magazines across America.  Also at that time, Thompson Products began collecting airplanes, guided by the knowledge of Charles Hubbell, the noted aviation artist.
In 1945, Ruth Swihart was named curator of the museum, and she would continue in that role for the next 26 years.  At that time, and for many years thereafter, Swihart (later Franklin, after she married), was one of the only female curators in any automotive museum or collection in the U.S.  She quickly gained the respect of her male peers, and gained a nationwide reputation for her antique car knowledge  She was also the first woman on the Board of Trustees for the National Antique Automobile Club of America, and she soon gained a spot in Who's Who of American Women.      

By 1962, the lease was nearing expiration at East 30th and Chester, and Fred Crawford was interested in finding a new home for his renowned collection.  Because of his interest in and support of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Crawford felt that it would be a proper home for his collection.  By 1963, the deal was set for the collection to be transferred to the Historical Society, and construction commenced in 1964.  In the meantime, the Thompson Auto Album was closed so the cars could be prepared for the move.  As soon as the new building was completed, many of the cars from the former Thompson Auto Album were trucked to their new home, while others came in under their own power.    
The new museum, named the Frederick C. Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, opened to the public on September 11, 1965.  Ruth Franklin (later Sommerlad after she remarried) coordinated the move from East 30th to the new building, and was promoted to director of the museum, a post she held until 1971, when she retired.  In 1968, the Crawford Museum constructed a new street of shops, to replace the one from the old Thompson Auto Album.