Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are two of the most influential people of the last couple of centuries. They became close friends later in life, often deferring to each other for ideas in their respective areas of expertise. Nowhere is their friendship more evident than at the Edison/Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida. We visited these grounds using the American Horticultural Society’s reciprocity program, which is included with our Meijer Gardens membership back in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Admission is normally $25 each, so gaining access to the estate for free was a nice bonus. We opted for the guided tour, which was an additional $5 each.
Mr. Edison purchased this land along the Caloosahatchee River in 1885. He and his wife Mina had this home, which they named Seminole Lodge, built the following year. He was 39 years old at the time. To put things in perspective, Henry Ford was 23 years old in 1886 and 10 years away from building his first automobile. There wasn’t much happening around Fort Myers at that point in history. The town of 349 people was simultaneously being incorporated, the road in front of the estate was a cattle path and the railroad was 12 years away from finding its way to the area.
In 1916, Henry and Clara Ford purchased this Craftsman style home next door to the Edison estate. It had been built 5 years earlier by Robert Smith. Over time, Mina and Clara transformed the grounds of their estates into a combined horticultural oasis. The variety of species is remarkable, and everything is labeled…to our delight! 🙂
After World War I, Thomas Edison began to explore alternatives to the imported raw materials for rubber. He was concerned about the United States’ dependency on foreign suppliers. He built a laboratory on the grounds across the street from his estate, and he partnered with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone to come up with a solution.
This is a single banyan tree that Mr. Edison planted in the late 1920’s. It has since grown into this giant, covering well over an acre. Edison was hoping that the tree would be a source of rubber, a hope that didn’t pan out. He also tried a multitude of other source including goldenrod. Eventually, synthetic, petroleum-based rubber became the choice of domestic manufacturers.
The interior of the lab is very well organized. Flasks, test tubes and beakers on one side, and a machine shop on the other. It was interesting to think back to my visits to Edison’s Menlo Park lab at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan and see the similarities.
Next door to the lab is a small museum. A couple of interesting pieces caught my eye.
This was a phonograph that Edison had one of his workers build a wooden frame around. The inventor was totally deaf in one ear and 90% deaf in the other. To ‘hear’ the record, he had to bite the frame to feel the sound through his jaw.
Another was this Barcalo offset box end wrench. I own one of these in a 3/4″ – 13/16″ combination. It was passed down to me from my paternal grandfather, and it is probably one of the most useful wrenches in my collection. In essence, the card in the display case needs updating, as some Ford owners still do use this wrench on their Fords!
Back over at the Edison estate, we were able to look inside through the open doors and windows at some of the rooms.
Mr. Edison sat at the head of this table, using this chime to call everyone to dinner. The seat has a commanding view of the Caloosahatchee.
Over at the Ford estate, the home had more of a ‘cottage’ feel to it.
Here I am with a statue of Henry Ford. I grew up 3 miles from Ford headquarters and the Rouge plant, so my childhood was heavily influenced by what this man had accomplished in the first half of the 20th century. By mass-producing affordable cars and paying high wages, he essentially created the middle class. He was far from perfect. We watched an hour long biography of him in the museum that was truly fascinating.
We spent 7 hours at the Edison-Ford Winter Estates. Most people wouldn’t take that long, but we were soaking it all in. After the hour long historian led tour, we wandered the grounds and explored buildings that weren’t included in the tour. We also enjoyed lunch with a view of the river at Pinchers, which we were able to walk to from the property. The estates are definitely worth the visit, if you happen to be in Fort Myers. We thoroughly enjoyed it!
Henry Ford: A Biography is available here for your Kindle through exploRVistas and Amazon for $2.99…or free to Kindle Unlmited members.