The Original Snowbirds – Edison Ford Winter Estates

It’s a warm afternoon and people are milling about in Mina Edison’s garden, wandering through Thomas Edison’s laboratory, visiting the onsite museum and touring the custom built homes at the Edison Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were two of the most creative inventors in history, but it’s doubtful that either one of them ever imagined that their winter homes would one day become a tourist attraction.

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Edison Ford Winter Estates Built Side-by-Side

Thomas Edison built his winter home in southwest Florida in 1885. Edison wintered in Florida for many years and his good friend, Henry Ford visited on many occasions. In 1916, Ford bought the house next door, so he could more easily vacation with Thomas Edison.  

An image of a model T Ford with a cutout of Henry Ford at the Ford Edison Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida.
Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were such good friends that they built their winter homes right next to each other. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Sunny Florida is Good for Burn-Out

Thomas Alva Edison was the 20th century’s most prolific inventor, so it’s little wonder that before his 40th birthday he was showing signs of burnout. At the age of 38, his doctor advised him to seek out a warmer climate during the winter months to help preserve his health. On Edison’s first visit to Florida in 1885, he purchased a large estate along the shores of the Caloosahatchee River on which to build his vacation home. The property has stunning views of the water, but the real attraction for Edison was the large stand of bamboo that was growing on the land. At the time, Edison was using carbonized bamboo as a filament for the electric light bulb and he needed a good supply. He may have been building a vacation property, but he had no intention of sitting back and taking it easy.

An image of the laboratory in Thomas Edison's winter home in Fort Myers, Florida.
Thomas Edison had a fully functioning laboratory in his winter home in Fort Myers Florida. Photo by Greg Olsen.

A Winter Home is Not Complete Without a Laboratory

When Edison designed his home, he also built an onsite laboratory to aid him in continuing his experimental research. During his winters in Florida, he continued to invent and experiment and by the end of his life he had 1093 US patents in his name and operated several companies including the General Electric Company, a successful business that is still in operation today.

Related: In Florida, you should consider doing a Florida Everglades Airboat Tour. We saw amazing scenery and LOTS of alligators.

An image of a tree on the Ford Edison Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida.
The botanical gardens at the two estates are beautiful. There are also some beautiful trees. The banyan tree at the top of this post is believed to be the largest in the continental USA. Photo by Greg Olsen
An image of a statue of Mina Edison at the Ford Edison Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida.
Mina Edison loved her gardens and spent many hours there. Photo by Greg Olsen.
An image of an orchid in the botanical gardens at the Ford Edison Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida.
The botanical gardens are a highlight of a visit to the Ford Edison Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Botanical Gardens at the Edison Ford Winter Estates

Touring the Edison Ford Winter Estates opens a window into the lives of two of the most fascinating men in history. With more than 20 acres of botanical gardens, it is also a wonderful outing for those interested in gardening and botany. Owned by two creative inventors, it is not surprising that the Edison and Ford estates were an ever-changing experimental botanical garden. There are more than 1700 plants on the estates including what is believed to be the largest banyan tree in the continental United States.

An image of the living room of Thomas Edison's winter home in Fort Myers, Florida.
Here’s a look at the living room in Thomas Edison’s winter house. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Kindred Spirits – Edison Ford Winter Estates

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford changed the world through their inventions. Though they were more than 15 years apart in age, they were kindred spirits and dear friends. They were also celebrities in their time with an income substantial enough to allow them to be amongst America’s first snowbirds.   

An image of the swimming pool at Thomas Edison's winter home in Fort Myers, Florida.
The Edison and Ford families spent many happy hours at this private pool on the Edison estate. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Interesting Facts About Edison and Ford

-Thomas Edison had 1093 US Patents to his name at his passing in 1931 at the age of 81. Though he did not actually invent the light bulb, he did manage to create a long-lasting practical bulb that was commercially viable. He also invented the phonograph and the motion picture camera and developed the first industrial research laboratory.

-Edison only received three months of formal schooling and his teacher is said to have described him as “addled.” After three months, his mother removed him from the formal school setting and educated him at home.

-Henry Ford did not invent the automobile. He developed and manufactured the first automobile that middle class North Americans could afford to buy. He is credited with developing the assembly line and mass production technique.

-Henry Ford was an engineer at the Edison illuminating Company and Edison encouraged him in his private experimentation with automobiles. They later became good friends. 

Famous Quotations From Edison and Ford

“Opportunity is missed by most people, because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” -Thomas A. Edison

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
-Thomas A. Edison

“Thinking is probably the hardest work there is, which is why so few engage in it.-Henry Ford

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” -Henry Ford

An image of Edison Little Folks Furniture seen at the Ford Edison Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida.
Did you know that Thomas Edison produced children’s furniture? The line was called Edison Little Folks Furniture. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Tourist Info and Where to Stay

-For more information about visiting this region of Florida, check out Lee County’s official tourism website.

-The top ranked hotel in Fort Myers, Florida is the Drury Inn and Suites Fort Myers Airport. The hotel has a free shuttle, free breakfast, afternoon snacks and social hour (including 3 alcoholic beverages per guest), an outdoor pool and hot tub, a business center, free popcorn, good Wi-Fi, comfy rooms with microwaves and fridges, and it’s well located near restaurants and shops.

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