“There is only one Fort Myers, and 90 million people are going to find out.” – Thomas Edison
As One of the Top 10 Most Visited Historic Sites in the United States, Edison Ford is a Must See featuring Estate Homes, Gardens, Museum and Laboratory on 20+ Acres along the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Florida.
In the late 1800s, Fort Myers was a small town with a population of only 349 and McGregor Boulevard was a dirt cattle trail. Little did the local residents know that their little town was about to change and one day the property owned by Thomas Edison and Henry Ford would be known around the globe as a world-class tourist destination.
On their honeymoon, Thomas Edison and his bride, Mina, arrived in Fort Myers in 1886. At that time, the railroad didn’t reach the city, so travelers either arrived by boat or horse and buggy. The Edisons traveled from Jacksonville on trains and steamer boats to the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. They found a piece of land along the river with bamboo growing and since Edison was experimenting with bamboo lightbulb filaments, it is believed that this is one of the
reasons he was interested in the property.
Edison purchased 13.5 acres for $2,750 and set to work on designing a winter vacation home for him and his young wife. Completed in 1886, the home would come to be known as Seminole Lodge – after the local Native American tribe – and was where the Edisons spent dozens of winters.
Many friends and famous visitors dined with the Edisons over the years, including President-elect Herbert Hoover, the Colgate and Kellogg families and even the Athletics baseball team. John Burroughs and Harvey Firestone were regular visitors, as was Henry Ford who first visited in 1914 and purchased the neighboring estate two years later.
Edison, Ford, Firestone and Burroughs were avid explorers and enjoyed camping in the wilderness. The four vagabonds, as they called themselves, took many trips together. On the first excursion, Edison, Ford and Burroughs traveled into the Florida Everglades. These trips were not only opportunities for the men to relax, hunt and fish, but also to collect plant samples that would be used in their rubber research.
The quest for natural rubber was Edison’s last major research project. In 1927, Edison, Ford and Firestone formed the Edison Botanic Research Corporation (EBRC). More than 17,000 plants were tested while searching for one that would provide enough latex to supply the United States in an emergency. Out of all the plants and trees tested, goldenrod was found to be the most promising. A dried example of this giant plant is on display in the Fort Myers lab.
The laboratory at Edison Ford was built in 1928 and was operational until 1936, when the rubber research project was transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The lab included a chemical processing area, grinding room, machine shop, dark room and office space.
The famous laboratory has since been restored, and in 2014 the American Chemical Society designated it a National Historic Chemical Landmark. The lab today looks as though Edison and Ford never left. The original glass test tubes and equipment sit atop lab tables and allow for
visitors’ imagination to picture the men hard at work.
All of the historic structures, including the homes, gardens and other buildings have been restored to the 1929 time period. Visitors can imagine what it was like back then as they meander through 20 acres of gardens and marvel at the towering Banyan and Mysore Fig trees.
Touring the homes, museum, lab and gardens offers a fun and educational experience for all ages. There are events each month, so local visitors can always see something new. Memberships are available and enable guests to visit an unlimited number of times throughout the year and even
include free admission to many other museums and gardens across the nation.
Site historians give guided tours daily and offer inside-the-lab and inside-the-homes tours at special times throughout the year. There are also hand-held audios that visitors can listen to if they prefer to take a leisurely, self-guided tour.
While visiting, guests will see Thomas Edison’s and Henry Ford’s winter estate homes, Edison’s guest house, the caretaker’s homes of both inventors, Edison’s study, the 15,000-square-foot inventions museum, the Botanic Research Laboratory, the swimming pool complex, and a new river pavilion.
Highlights of the gardens include the award-winning Moonlight Garden, Orchid Lane, the largest Banyan Tree in the continental U.S., the Mysore Fig, Clara Ford’s rose garden and hundreds of other botanicals. Behind-the-scenes garden tours are offered weekly and include the propagating nursery where staff horticulturists propagate heirloom plants from Edison’s gardens.
Annual events include the Garden Festival, held each November and February; several car shows during the winter and spring months; Edison’s birthday party on February 11; Ford’s birthday on July 30; a quilt show in the fall; and Holiday Nights runs from the day after Thanksgiving through December. In addition, new exhibits open throughout the year.
Education opportunities for both adults and children are available, including painting and scarf making classes, summer and school break camps, homeschool programs and early learning classes.
Today, Edison Ford is a not-for-profit 501c(3) corporation. The site has received many awards: it is a National Register Historic Site, a Florida Historic Landmark and the botanic research laboratory is a National Historic Chemical Landmark. It was also awarded the National Stewardship Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is an official project of “Save America’s Treasures.”
The site offers history, science, art and nature all in one place.
A lot has changed since Edison first arrived. His inventions and experiments continue to educate and spark the curiosity of more than 250,000 people from around the world that visit this historic landmark annually.