On this day in 1947, Henry Ford died at the age of 83 in Fair Lane, his Dearborn estate. A public viewing was held at Greenfield Village where up to 5,000 people per hour filed past the casket. Funeral services were held in Detroit's Cathedral Church of St. Paul and he was buried in the Ford Cemetery in Detroit.
Henry Ford made his first trip to Fort Myers in 1914 at the invitation of his friend and mentor, Thomas Edison. Ford and his family camped in the Everglades with the Edisons, and when the 1911 Craftsman bungalow next door to the Edisons' winter estate became available for purchase two years later, Ford purchased the property for $20,000 without hesitation.
For the next several winters, Ford took a few weeks out of his busy schedule to vacation at "The Mangoes" each year, often around Edison’s February 11 birthday celebration. During his stays in Fort Myers, Ford enjoyed fishing, sightseeing, dancing, and entertaining. The latter had an especially salutary impact on the fledgling town.
During this time, notes Edison Ford historian Alison Giesen, "the Edison guest list continued to grow with influential people such as President-elect Herbert Hoover and many others." Ford was often part of all these festivities, and "this activity continued to popularize the area and put Fort Myers in the national news."
After Edison's death in 1931, Ford quit coming to Fort Myers - although he did not sell The Mangoes for another 14 years. But he finally sold the property in 1945 to Thomas and Gladys Biggar. Not wanting to profit from his friendship with Edison, Ford reputedly sold the estate to the Biggars for the same $20,000 he paid for it - even though he had made substantial renovations in 1928, adding north and south wings that increased the Craftsman's size to nearly 3000 square feet.
While Ford may have played a supporting role in Edison's efforts to bring the outside world to the tiny burg of Fort Myers, Ford led the way in taking their escapades in the Florida Everglades and other camping venues to the outside world. It was Ford who chose the site of the Vagabonds' trips. It was Ford who supplied the cars and trucks. It was Ford who brought along the Ford news reel teams. And while Ford's intent was undoubtedly to promote the Ford Motor Company and the sale of his cars, the publicity also served to let the world know about the town. And for that Fort Myers should take a moment to remember Henry Ford.