In baseball terms, you might say that Thomas Edison posted Hall of Fame numbers:
- One patent per year for 65 straight years
- A total of 1,093 patents — the most awarded to one person in U.S. history
But his momentous inventions — including the phonograph, motion picture projector, incandescent light bulb and alkaline storage battery — had impact far greater than any baseball player.
Motorhomers headed to Florida for the winter or at any time of year might want to learn more about Edison’s prolific career by visiting his “hall of fame” — the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Fla.
The Edison home there, called Seminole Lodge, served as the Edisons’ winter retreat from 1886 until his death in 1931 at age 84. The 14-acre estate includes a tropical botanical garden and the laboratory where he conducted his last experiments. A museum also is on premises, offering insight into the Milan, Ohio, native’s life and the thinking behind his inventions.
Edison’s second wife, Mina Miller Edison, donated the Edison estate to the City of Fort Myers in 1947. The house next door, dubbed Mangoes, belonged to Edisons’ close friend Henry Ford and also is open for tours.
“The whole place is really something to see,” said Judith Donlan, public relations director at the Estates. “It’s really pretty. It’s right on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River.”
The main guided tour of the Edison and Ford estates costs $20 for adults. It’s a one-mile walk leading through the homes, gardens and lab. It takes about an hour-and-a half to complete.
The tour ends at the Edison and Ford museum, which visitors can tour at their leisure.
The Edison home still has its original furnishings, including wicker furniture, and electric chandeliers made in Edison’s own workshop. Also inside the home are calliopes, music boxes and a 16-foot Belgian dance organ.
Visitors get to see one of the first modern swimming pools, a cement structure built by Edison in 1910.
A tropical garden, originally an experimental garden, surrounds the Edison house. “The gardens are pretty spectacular,” Donlan said. “They include more than 1,000 of plants from around the world, including African sausage trees and a banyan tree from Calcutta, India.”
After the inventor passed away, Mrs. Edison enhanced the garden with roses, orchids and many other plants.
Edison used the laboratory, built in 1928, primarily to find a natural source for rubber. He and his workers found that the goldenrod weed was the best source. Flasks, beakers and other items, such as his “cat-nap” cot, are preserved in the lab just as the inventor left them.
Museum and more
The 7,500-square-foot Edison & Ford museum is filled with the largest collection of Edison memorabilia in the world. The 200 or so Edison phonographs are a tribute to his favorite invention, patented in 1878.
More than 1,200 musical instruments are on view, some with cabinetwork hand-made by European and American craftsmen. Also displayed is a prototype Model T Ford, given to Edison by Henry Ford.
Showcased in the Ford museum, in addition to the Ford artifacts, are more than 50 antique cars, including classic makes like Rolls Royce, Pierce Arrow, Auburn and Stutz.
On weekdays visitors can take a narrated river cruise aboard the Reliance II. It’s a replica of a battery-powered boat that Edison purchased in 1903. Cost of the cruise: $5.
Holiday House, in which the homes and gardens are adorned with more than 90,000 lights, is held each December. Local musicians and school groups perform nightly, and seasonal foods and arts and crafts are offered.
The Edison & Ford Winter Estates always welcomes volunteer staff to assist with tours, ticket sales, gift shop and other areas, Donlan said. ”We have about 100 volunteers. About 60 are seasonal — they go back north in summertime.”
The busiest time of year at the estates is January through April, she said.
Some positions require training before starting. Volunteers receive free admission to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates for themselves and immediate family. They’re also eligible for a 20 percent discount on gift shop items. Two volunteer recognition parties are held each year. Contact the Volunteer Office, (239) 461-2686, for more information.
When you go …
The Edison & Ford Winter Estates is open daily 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. year-round. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Various tours and ticket packages are offered. A museum store and a garden shop are open daily.
Plenty of free motorhome parking is available. Overnight stays are not permitted. A picnic area with tables is available. Wheelchair rental is offered for $1 per day on a first come, first served basis.
Donlan suggests allowing approximately two hours for your visit.
More information: www.efwefla.org