On Saturday, after a hot morning at the driving range, we headed for what seems to be the only cultural tourist attraction in Fort Myers: the winter holiday homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

We went expecting it to be a pleasant diversion for an hour, walking around a couple of homes with old furniture (it’s not like I haven’t done that a lot in Europe!). In fact, it was fascinating and we ended up staying over three hours.

I knew very little about either man before I went. I knew Edison invented the electric light and some other things and that Ford had made the famous assembly line to make his cars cheaper. That was about all.

Did you know Edison had over 1000 US patents in his name and more in other countries?! This man was seriously brainy. And we loved that he wasn’t just inventing randomly. He’d invent one thing, and then try and figure out how the same thing could be used in a different way, and bam, new invention.

It’s my dream to one day have a veranda that wide!

Edison bought this bit of land on the river for far too much after falling in love with it, and came back most winters for holidays here with his wife Mina. The gardens are an extension of his laboratory – he had trees from all over the world sent there so that he could study them and see how he might use them – including the most amazing Banyan tree which covers over an acre! There were also mango trees, palm avenues, fig trees, multiple rubber trees, lychee trees… I was just gutted you weren’t allowed to carry the fruit away with you :)

Yes, that’s all one tree!

One winter Edison invited his friend Henry Ford, and he promptly bought the house next door. They spent a lot of time together, inventing and building businesses. Together with two other friends Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs, they would take week long camping trips into the Everglades or up in the northern states. The photos, video and stories show four old men having so much fun together. They were all celebrities of their era – the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of the time. So crowds would turn up in towns that they were rumoured to be driving through, and presidents would join them on their camping trips. And yet between themselves they’d compete in tree felling competitions, declare the trips no-shaving periods, and drive wherever the wind took them.

L to R: Edison, Burroughs, Ford and Firestone

It was really an inspiring afternoon. To be that successful in business, having lunches with presidents and applying for new patents every year, and yet still make time for that camping trip with your best buddies (and some staff…) every year? That’s awesome.

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