Visit the Legacy of Two Famous Friends in Southwest Florida
Edison & Ford Winter Estates’ recent lab restoration is just one more reason to visit the location where Thomas Edison created some of his most famous inventions.
Having lived in Fort Myers, Florida, my entire life, I have always known about the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. From celebrating Edison’s birthday in February (I was even a princess on the Edison Court when I was little) to visiting the estate multiple times a year for school and other occasions, I learned all about the famous inventor. But these experiences were not just filled with the talk of his magical lightbulb. I learned about his other patents and his monopoly on inventions. I still try and visit at least once a year, so the place has become a part of me.
The Edison & Ford Winter Estates showcase Thomas Alva Edison’s winter home and laboratory. While Edison lived in Florida, he made some of his greatest discoveries, including natural rubber. The property also includes Henry Ford’s winter home, The Mangoes. The pair got to know each other when Edison designed a battery for the self-starter on the Model T, and their friendship flourished in Florida. Ford purchased his home in 1916 so that they could vacation together, and today it displays some of his old cars and a riverfront view of the Caloosahatchee River.
Edison is most famous for his invention of the lightbulb, but he also gets credit for the telegraph, telephone, phonograph, alkaline battery and Kinetograph, a camera for motion pictures. His lab on the estate has been recently renovated and is one of the best ways to see how this brilliant man worked.
“Our goal was to understand Edison,” says estates president and CEO Chris Pendleton. “We wanted to put his equipment where he would have had it, not where it looked pretty. So, we brought in historians and scientists to help us with that. I think that makes us unique, because we really tried to understand how Edison’s brain worked.”
In Fort Myers, Edison invented his famous domestic rubber. Edison, Ford and Firestone were concerned about America’s dependence on foreign sources for rubber and formed the Edison Botanic Research Corporation in 1927. Under Edison’s leadership, the corporation sought a source of rubber that could be grown in the United States. After testing over 17,000 plants, Goldenrod worked. Another important thing Edison worked on was the Plant Patented Act of 1930. The act is still in effect today and really jumpstarted the need for patents in processes, not just inventions. “That is something truly special,” says Pendleton.
Edison was an early “green” scientist; all of the plants in his 20 acres of gardens had some sort of use. There were citrus trees to feed his love of fruit, “conversation plants” for the many visitors who stayed at the estates, royal palms (something Fort Myers is famous for) and bamboo that was used for filament in lightbulbs.
Aside from the Botanical Laboratory, the homes and gardens on the estates are open to the public. The homes can be seen through a group tour, and visitors can stroll through the gardens, where all the plants are marked. In the visitors center, there is a museum that takes you through the life of Thomas Edison while in Fort Myers and his friendship with Ford.
As for what you should do on your first visit, Pendleton suggests, “Take a guided tour, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.” An audio and exclusive behind the scenes tour are also available to heighten the experience. In addition, the new Clara Ford Rose Garden named for the wife of Henry Ford is now open.
Edison Ford is something extremely special and unique to Fort Myers. From his electric current to his rubber, he truly loved his time spent in the City of Palms, and 220,000 visitors a year understand the specialness of the estates as well. Edison Ford will remain a constant reminder that “There is a way to do it … and we must find it.”
The Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida, are open from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is $20 for adults and $11 for children (under 5 get in free). For more information, visit edisonfordwinterestates.org.