The property was called The Mangoes because it held so many mango trees

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford’s Estates in Fort Myers, Florida (Part II)

By —— Bio and Archives--October 30, 2017

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Thomas Edison and Henry Ford’s Estates in Fort Myers
Thomas Edison and Henry Ford met in 1896 at a convention when Ford was working as chief engineer at the Detroit Edison Illuminating Company. “Sixteen years later the two men would meet again to discuss using Edison’s storage battery for the Model T.”

Edison invited Ford and his family to go camping in the Everglades in 1914; it was the first time Ford visited Fort Myers. He was so enchanted with the area that he purchased three acres of riverfront property adjacent to his friend’s estate and a Craftsman-style bungalow, The Mangoes, for $20,000, which he sold in 1945 for the same price.

The two industrialist friends spent many winters exploring Florida, relaxing, bird watching (one of Clara and Henry’s favorite activities), fishing, and planning business strategies, new inventions, and innovations. Their lengthy discussions and planning yielded products and innovations that would change the world.

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford’s Estates in Fort Myers, Florida (Part 1)

Few know for example that the Ford Motor Company sold soybean flour among other products. Henry Ford created a suit and an entire car body using experimental soybean products.  Ford had built in 1930 an experimental soybean lab in Dearborn, Michigan. 

According to the museum archives, by 1936 Ford had tested 300 varieties of soybeans on 8,000 acres of farmland for industrial uses, spending $1.2 million in the process. “Ford manufactured soybean-based paints, lubricants, and plastics such as gear shift knobs, horn buttons and door handles.” In 1940 Ford created a soybean car.

Trying to find a natural source of domestic rubber, Ford, Edison, and Harvey Firestone partnered in 1927 and formed the Botanic Research Corporation located in Edison’s winter estate in Fort Myers. Ford planted experimental rubber crops in the adjacent Hendry County. Additionally, Ford spent $20 million to start a massive rubber plantation along the Amazon River in Brazil.

Henry Ford (July 30, 1863-April 7, 1947), his son Edsel, and wife Clara explored southwest Florida in the Model T Touring car that Ford gave to Edison.

The Model T changed how America traveled and developed into towns and suburbs. This vehicle freed America to develop and explore the wide-open roads and areas less traveled. Americans were able to visit their beautiful country even in remote areas but they had to be able to make quick fixes to the car themselves. To help them do that, the early Model T came with a tool box that fit under the driver’s seat: pliers with screwdriver blade on handle, gas gauge, transmission and combustion wrenches, monkey wrench, grease gun, Ford oil can, and spark plug cylinder head bolt wrench.

In addition to the fact that Ford’s car could not go faster than 40 MPH, starting a Model T was a challenge and not for the faint of heart because of the several steps that had to be taken in order for the engine to crank and run smoothly:

  • Set parking brake, throttle and spark lever
  • Get out of car, pull out choke, turn crank slowly, push in choke
  • Get in car, turn key
  • Get out of car again and turn crank quickly
  • Get in car, adjust spark lever until engine runs smoothly. (Museum Archives)

Born on a farm, Ford did not have much use for farming even though his father was disappointed that Henry was fascinated by mechanics and left the farm in 1879. The future machinist repaired pocket watches in 1876.

He started repairing watches at the age of thirteen as a hobby. He would scour the neighborhood for watch parts. This hobby helped him develop his future skills as a machinist and engineer. Taking a fine watch apart is easy, putting it back together to make the intricate mechanism work, is much harder.

“My father was not entirely in sympathy with my bent toward mechanics. He thought I ought to be a farmer,” said Ford.

He founded in 1902 the Henry Ford Automobile Company and began producing the Model T. By 1914, he was paying his employees $5 wages. In 1919 he became the sole owner of the Ford Motor Company and his son Edsel Ford was named President. After the death of Edsel Ford in 1943, Henry Ford resumed the presidency until 1945 when he transferred it to his grandson, Henry Ford II.


Continued below...

Ford: The Mangoes

When Ford purchased it in 1916, the estate in Fort Myers was surrounded by many citrus plants. There were 100 grapefruit and 50 orange trees, mangoes, paw-paws, lemons, limes, guavas, tangerines, coconuts, and bananas. The property was called The Mangoes because it held so many mango trees.

Henry bought The Mangoes fully furnished. Killian Melber, a local florist who was preparing the home for the arrival of the Fords, told Henry that “all they needed was silverware, bedding, and table linens.”

The Caretaker’s Cottage “evolved from a garage built in the style of the Ford house with accommodations for a good-sized car, a sleeping room for staff, a tool room, and a storeroom overhead.”

Ford: The Mangoes

The Biggar family bought the estate from Henry Ford in 1947 and added a building to house the Edison/Ford antique car collection and other memorabilia.

Henry was a big supporter of the arts. He learned how to play the violin and played tunes such as Turkey in the Straw on his Stradivarius. His collections of Americana, including well-preserved quilts, are on display at Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford.

It was a lucky strike for our modern mobility and urban development that one farmer’s son out of six siblings chose to become a machinist instead of a farmer like his dad and matured into the titan of America’s automobile industry.

Ford: The Mangoes

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