Fort Myers, Florida, is a small city in the United States of America. When I was a child, my memory of it was where the Pittsburgh Pirates conducted their professional baseball “Spring Training.” The Pirates have long gone north on the Gulf of Mexico coast to Bradenton, Florida.
However, aside from my childhood musings, Fort Myers is better known as the location of the winter estates for American icons Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. This story is about Edison.
When I think of Edison and his laboratories, New Jersey comes to mind, not Florida. Edison decided to set up shop at his “winter estate,” Fort Myers was nothing more than a no man’s land in southwest Florida.
A population of around 350 souls with European heritage inhabited the town and its dirt streets. There likely were more alligators along the banks of the Caloosahatchee River than people in the neighborhood at the time! But Edison wasn’t deterred.
Surprising to me is a factoid that Edison had two houses constructed in Maine and literally shipped them by schooner to Fort Myers where they are today on his estate.
Edison must have been a persuasive guy to entice his 12 years younger buddy Henry Ford to “winter” in Fort Myers too! His estate borders Edison’s. A regular parade of American inventor barons including Firestone, Burbank, and others regularly traveled to Fort Myers to consult with the aged genius Edison.
Fort Myers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was still a backwater. It must have been oppressive with high humidity and winter temperatures in the 90 degrees F. There was no air conditioning then either. I can’t imagine wearing the heavy clothing that is seen in the old photos.
Fort Myers must have been a wild place with “gators” lurking in the swampy areas of the broad Caloosahatchee and tributaries. Occasionally they still show up in swimming pools and at front doors! There were vast areas where steamboat travel was essential (as pictured).
Today the city remembers its “snowbird” resident inventor-genius. His name is liberally applied to streets, restaurants, shopping centers, and the like. Most notable though is the inverted “V” shaped Thomas Edison Bridge that spans the Caloosahatchee River.
The Edison bridge is different from other spans that I have seen as it consists of two bridges with three lanes in each direction. My new residence is along the river and centrally located in downtown Fort Myers, convenient for both coming to and going from the city.
According to the Edison Innovation Foundation, “Thomas Edison’s record 1,093 patented inventions have greatly improved the world we know today. In fact, Edison is recognized as one of the greatest inventors of all time.
“His key inventions include the light bulb and electric utility system, recorded sound, motion pictures, R&D labs, and the alkaline family of storage batteries. His 4,000 invention notebooks chronicle the invention challenges of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, telling a vivid story of man’s progress to a technological society.”
Come and visit me! Together we can absorb Edison’s Estate with tropical gardens and laboratories. We can revel in the genius of his time and ignore the “woke” society of the day that often wants to dismiss great people like Edison and Ford. We can live in the moment of the steamy environment along the Caloosahatchee.