Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were among Florida’s earliest snowbirds. The two innovators first met in 1896 at a convention in New York and began a friendship that brought both their families to Fort Myers to escape the cold northern winters. Edison and his wife, Mina, bought their property in 1885, and Ford and his wife, Clara, became their neighbors in 1916.
Today, visitors to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates can step back in time as they tour the properties, browse artifacts, and learn the history and contributions of these two famous inventors.
“There is really something here for everyone,” says Lisa Wilson, public relations director for the estates. “You can explore the historic homes and architecture. You can learn about the history in our museum, and you can see several antique vehicles, including a 1918 Roadster that Henry Ford modified into a vehicle to use for camping called the ‘Chuckwagon.’ Visitors also enjoy our beautiful gardens and the botanical lab, which is a national landmark. There is so much to see here and so many educational opportunities for the whole family.”
Two recent additions expand those family educational opportunities. The Estates is now home to a Smithsonian Spark!Lab, one of only nine museums located across the country. Here, children and adults get hands-on experience with inventing, a perfect complement to a museum that documents the history of two groundbreaking innovators. At activity stations in the lab, visitors can experiment with electricity, explore the capabilities of wind and even build a vehicle.
“Stations change frequently, so returning visitors will find something new,” Wilson says. “It’s a family-friendly gallery that ties directly to our educational mission.”
So does the 50-tree citrus grove established in October 2018 through a partnership with the University of Florida, Old Florida Citrus and Southern Gardens Citrus. Wilson explains that the agricultural connection ties directly to the history of the estates.
“The Ford Estate was named ‘The Mangoes’ because of the trees already growing there when he purchased it,” Wilson says. “Both Edison and Ford had an interest in agriculture. Ford grew up on a farm and also planted many fruit trees on the property. So, the grove is a great way for us to provide an opportunity for visitors to learn about the citrus industry in Florida in a way that ties to the history of the estate.”