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Visiting the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Winter Homes in Fort Myers, Florida

The southern states have a charm all their own. From beaches to deserts, there is a wide array of landscapes to please almost anyone!

Lush gardens at the Edison & Ford winter homes in Fort Myers, Florida

Lush gardens at the Edison & Ford winter homes in Fort Myers, Florida

Two Luminaries: Edison and Ford

When my mother and I visited my aunt and uncle in Florida, they introduced us to the Edison and Ford winter homes. Both men were luminaries in their respective fields and were neighbors and friends.

Thomas A. Edison is known to many people as the inventor of the light bulb. While this is not entirely true, he did make the light bulb usable due to his inventions. He lived his entire life cranking out inventions at a fantastic pace. Upon his death, he had secured over 1,000 U.S. patents for his various inventions. Some of them were minor, and many of them were major ones that still impact our lives today.

Edison's neighbor was the industrialist Henry Ford who became one of the world's first billionaires due to his mass-marketing efforts of the Model T Ford automobile.

We were to walk the grounds of their gardens and see their homes along the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Florida. Ticket prices include seeing both of these men's gardens and homes. The Edison grounds are the largest of the two, comprised of fourteen acres out of the total of twenty that one gets to walk through and admire.

Bamboo on the Edison winter estate in Florida

Bamboo on the Edison winter estate in Florida

Edison Gardens and Inventions

Thomas Edison was not only interested in gardening for the beauty. Most, if not all, of the things grown in his extensive collection of trees, shrubs, and plants of various types originated in many parts of the world. He did gardening primarily for experimental purposes.

His inventive and curious mind was always searching for new ideas to transform into products that might be useful for practical purposes or even pleasure.

Many things were utilized for the filaments in the early light bulbs with some success. But getting them to remain hot and glowing for a long time was the challenge. Edison's idea of using a carbonized bamboo filament extended a light bulb's life, making it one of the primary advances in his career. But his creative mind did not stop there.

Even more important than the invention of the long-lived light bulb was to create a power source to keep that light bulb with the bamboo filament illuminated. Innovative ideas to generate electricity and deliver it to the masses helped transform the 19th century. The following quote by Thomas Edison says it all.

"We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles."

Banyan Tree

A sign posted at the banyan tree on the Edison winter estate shows the following:

"BANYAN TREE

Given to Edison by Firestone in 1925

Circumference of Aerial Roots: 390 ft."

We picked up a brochure when touring the Edison home and gardens. It portrays the Banyan tree was two inches in diameter when Harvey Firestone brought it from India in 1925 and gave it to Edison to plant in his gardens.

As Banyon trees age, they send down aerial roots, which thicken and become as large as the initial trunk in many cases.

The banyan tree at the Edison home in Fort Myers is credited as the third-largest one worldwide and takes up about an acre of land. We learned that the largest is in India, and the second-largest is in Maui. It is a fantastic sight to view in the Edison gardens if only for that fact alone!

Moreton Bay Fig Tree

Obviously, with the number of acres on the Edison estate, these Moreton Bay Fig trees found there have room to spread out and grow. And they do take up a lot of space! Their root system expands with much of it above ground, serving as a buttress to hold up the tree. It can eventually become 200 feet tall!

The curvaceous roots of this tree (Ficus macrophylla) originating in Australia are beautiful, and they grow tall. That can be viewed by looking at the people walking by one of the trees in my photo.

Bougainvillea and Other Plants

Bougainvillea originated in South America and are grown worldwide in warmer climates or inside as ornamental plants. Plants from all regions of the world that can be grown outside in temperate climates are in the Thomas Edison gardens. We were to see various palm trees, including Royal Palms, King palms, Hat palms, and many cycads.

An unusual tree coming from Africa is the Sausage Tree. I purchased a postcard showing it, printed in Italy, with no copyright indication, so I will post it here for readers to see. The official name of this tree with the dangling "sausages," which is the fruit of the tree, is Kigelia Pinnata.

People who love to garden and see well-known plus more unusual plants will truly enjoy wandering through Edison's gardens and the adjoining Ford grounds.

Edison Winter Home

Seminole Lodge was the name of the home that Thomas Edison had built on his property in 1886. He had drawn up the design plans for this home, and the guest home next to his primary winter residence, had them built in Maine, then shipped by boats and assembled on site.

Thus these were some of the first prefabricated homes in America. They were both Queen Anne-styled wood houses and had a generous wrap-around shaded porch, perfect for enjoying the mild winter temperatures in Florida.

Visitors to this property can see the original furniture and early inventions enjoyed at the Edison house, like his electrified chandeliers, which illuminated his house long before others in the area had electricity flowing to their homes. Notice the light bulb topping the cake in the dining room when looking at the photos. It was for some special occasion on the day of our visit.

Early Life of Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison, who was born in 1847, spent only three months in a formalized school setting, and according to accounts, just did not fit the norm. He was so curious and restless to learn that his mother, who had been a teacher, took over his education at home. A genius, he left home at age 12 and became an entrepreneur.

At age 14, he published a newspaper out of a train car. By age 16, he was operating a telegraph ticker and inventing a better universal stock ticker which earned him $40,000 when he sold the patent. That was a lot of money in those days!

Edison Patents

Edison was approximately 90 percent deaf after having scarlet fever, which he contracted during childhood. One of his inventions was the phonograph. Edison "felt" the vibrations on his phonograph with his teeth. We could see the bite marks on one early phonograph in the Edison museum. Supposedly, the phonograph was one of his favorite inventions.

People who like attending movies can also be grateful to Edison for creating movie projectors. His accomplishments are too many to list but suffice to say that with the help of his employees who also worked in his laboratories, he continued to make inventions and secured patents as long as he was alive, numbering well over one thousand.

It was fascinating to view all of the test tubes, bottles, and paraphernalia in the lab at his winter home.

Edison Museum

There are numerous exhibits in the Thomas Edison museum showcasing many of his inventions. One could spend hours in the museum to read about all of the presentations. Some of them include many original phonographs, movie projectors, light bulbs of various shapes and sizes, including one giant one that generated 75,000 watts of electricity, a three-wire generator, and more.

In the Automobile Museum, Edison's Model T Ford, given to him by his friend and neighbor Henry Ford is on exhibit along with many vintage "horseless carriages." Early automobile lovers would appreciate visiting this spot. Other things we learned from visiting this site included the following:

  • A 1917 truck cost $500 new.
  • A 1914 Model T touring car cost $490; it had 22.5 HP & could go 35 to 55 MPH.
  • The deluxe 1929 Model A cost $700 new.

Among other things, we learned that goldenrod was the best source for rubber out of thousands of plants tested before the discovery of synthetic rubber, used during World War 2.

Quotes

Enjoy the following collection of Thomas Edison quotes.

  • "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."
  • "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
  • "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."
  • "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
  • "Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work."
  • "What you are will show in what you do."
  • "There is no substitute for hard work."

Henry Ford Winter Home

Compared to Edison's home and guest house, Henry Ford's winter home he purchased in 1916 was more modest. It sits on about six acres of land adjacent to Edison's property and has water access.

Ford named his winter cottage The Mangoes. It was built five years earlier in a Craftsman style, incorporating natural ingredients and a simple but elegant design. It also had a covered veranda built onto the home, which would have been well utilized. It is quite a contrast to his massive mansion in Dearborn, Michigan, which was erected in 1914 and is now the property of the University of Michigan.

Ford's assembly line manufacturing of the Model T Ford automobile made vehicles affordable for the average family. It changed transportation mode from horses and carriages to the more modern vehicles that have continued to be manufactured and improved upon ever since the early days of the 20th century.

We learned that he was an avid square dancer and caller. He even published a small booklet of square dance calls.

The postcards of the Ford winter home shown above were printed in Italy and had no copyright displayed.

Edison and Ford Winter Estates

These estates are on the National Register of Historic Sites and offer interactive ways to enjoy them. From student summer camps to those interested in doing internships, from business meetings in that environment to those wishing to have their weddings performed on these gorgeous and lush grounds, that and much more can happen at the Edison and Ford winter estates.