On February 23, 1914, Henry Ford and naturalist John Burroughs arrived in Fort Myers to visit Thomas Edison. They were greeted by a crowd of 2,000 people and were escorted to Edison’s estate by every automobile owner in town - all 31 of them. Upon his arrival at Seminole Lodge, Ford gave Edison and Burroughs “Tin Lizzies,” keeping a third for himself, which used whenever he came to town.
"At the time Burroughs, the author of dozens of nature essay collections, enjoyed immense national popularity," notes the Edison & Ford Winter Estates blog. "Ford was at the height of his fame, having produced his self-coined 'motor car for the multitude,' and instituted the previously unheard of – five dollar per day pay rate and eight hour workday." Edison, Ford, Burroughs and assorted family members assembled their Ford motor cars later that year and embarked on a camping and exploratory trip of the Florida Everglades. "It would begin a decade of exploration of America by the self-proclaimed ‘Vagabonds’ and the beginning of an unprecedented era of recreational travel that would transform America."
"Although we don’t know exactly how the idea for their first camping journey into Florida’s wild country came about," writes Edison & Ford President and CEO Chris Pendleton, "it seems likely that Edison saw the trip as an adventure and opportunity to share his beloved Eden with his friends."
However the concept evolved, Fort Myers' famous winter residents made our town the birthplace and epicenter of recreational travel, a status that is recognized by Uncommon Friends, a sculptural installation that has served as the symbol of Fort Myers since its installation by artist Don J. Wilkins in Centennial Park in 1988.
"The Vagabonds’ camping trips amounted to much more than a group of famous men cavorting across the countryside enjoying time away from it all," Pendleton adds. "[T]he trips were an adventure into a rapidly changing America, a venue for self-promotion and political influence, as well as a means of exploration and discovery in the midst of a time of great international change.
But to learn more about the inventors' off-road exploits and explorations, you will have to visit the Edison & Ford Winter Estates or take True Tours' Public Art Walking Tour of the artistic landmarks interspersed throughout the downtown Fort Myers River District.
For more information about the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, please visit www.edisonfordwinterestates.org or call 239-334-7419. And for days, times and reservations for True Tours' Public Art Walking Tour, please telephone 239-945-0405 or visit www.TrueTours.net.