2015 Trip 1, March 14-15, Florida in Winter

Ruskin FL March 14-15, Saturday and Sunday

Saturday was a day of leisure around the resort so Sunday we returned to our job and vocation-travel. We set out for Fort Myers Florida, about 110 miles south of Ruskin. Our journey brought us to the Winter Estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. You might think it an unlikely combination but Thomas Edison was a mentor to Henry Ford, did some research for the Ford Motor Company, and they became friends, despite a 16 year age difference.

The Thomas Edison House and Guest House in Fort Myers FL

The Thomas Edison House in Fort Myers FL

The Edison and Ford Winter Estate Complex is located along the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers. Thomas Edison enjoyed fishing and was not pleased with the fishing or weather in St. Augustine, FL, his first foray in looking for a winter retreat. Upon a friend’s recommendation, in 1885 he headed for Fort Myers. At that time, Fort Myers was small and isolated. The railroad ended north of Tampa and Edison took a boat to this area. He found land that he liked along the river a few miles up from its mouth with the Gulf of Mexico. Within a year his home was built-although the building was made in Maine and shipped here for final assembly. His architect didn’t fully understand Florida and had the home made from spruce trees-juicy food for termites. As we learned in our visit to Apalachicola, long leaf pine construction was impervious to insect problems and Ford used that in his home built later.

The location where the pier at the Edison House had been located

The location where the pier at the Edison House had been located

While the title of the property is termed estate, it is not palatial. Certainly the homes are more than comfortable and required a large staff to keep the place running. Henry Ford did not purchase his property until 1916 and spent less time here. Edison maintained a research laboratory on the premises so he and assistant researchers could work here during the winter months. Ford only visited, his businesses required his presence up north at a more constant level.

The Ford House at Fort Myers

The Ford House at Fort Myers

The Florida research lab at Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers

The Florida research lab at Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers

We took a guided tour of the properties, visited the museum and research lab, and read exhibits and listened to videos. I won’t try to provide a biography but will note a few items. A. Edison always felt his invention of the phonograph was his greatest achievement. B. Edison’s early success came in improvements to the telegraph. C. Many of Edison’s patents (1,093) were due to his creation of an industrial research laboratory, probably the first one, where skilled researchers worked under his direction. D. He did not invent the lightbulb, but the first commercially successful one. E. He had many failures, including a decade long effort to improve the iron ore mining process. F. He ran for many years a large Portland Cement manufacturing concern that provided the concrete for the building of Yankee Stadium.

(Atlas Obscura has an interesting little video about Edison’s last breath being sent to Henry Ford in a test tube. http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/edisons-last-breath-henry-ford-museum)

Ed and Chris 3/15 11 pm

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