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Edison & Ford Winter Estates Blog

Edison & Ford Winter Estates Blog

Archive for August, 2009

Estates Home School Program 2009-2010

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 31st

Home SchoolThe Edison & Ford Winter Estates Home School Program is a great way for children to experience history, science and the arts first-hand at the National Historic Register Site.

Beginning September 18 from 1 PM – 3 PM, Home School Programs will be offered each month throughout the year.  Activities are centered in the air-conditioned and restored Edison Caretaker’s House and include experiences throughout the historic site.

The Estates is a living lab, where each project or activity challenges students in the sciences, art and nature to ask questions and discover the answers for themselves while having fun. The following sessions are open for enrollment:

•           September 18, Living Lab:  Thomas Edison’s Fort Myers home was the site of his research lab and gardens.  Home schoolers will learn about Edison’s quest for rubber while performing hands-on botanical experiments. 

•           October 16, Can You Hear Me Now?:  The science of communication technology is advancing every day.  The phonograph was Edison’s favorite invention.  Home schoolers will learn about Thomas Edison and Henry Ford’s contributions to community technology, from phonograph to nano-iPod.

•           November 20, Rocks & Minerals & Thomas Edison:  Home schoolers will learn about minerals and rocks including what Edison did with iron ore and Edison’s own concrete mixture.

•           December 4, Experiments for the Holidays:  Home schoolers will study the science of the holidays, performing experiments including how a jolly chubby man can fit down a chimney, how reindeer fly and how a spinning dreidel keeps from falling, as well as a variety of new experiments. 

•           January 8, Eager Engineers:   Inspired by Henry Ford, Home schoolers will learn how simple machines become complex machines, as well as the science of building bridges.

•           February 5, Movie Making Secrets:  Home schoolers will act, direct, operate a camera and build sets to produce their own film. 

•           March 19, Power & Energy:  Home schoolers will study the power of different sources of energy that are used in today’s homes throughout the world. 

•           April 23, Ford Aerodynamics and Flight:  In addition to cars, Henry Ford built airplanes.  Home Schoolers will learn the history and science of flight. 

•           May 21, Stormy Weather:  Home schoolers will test their skills as meteorologists as they learn the science of predicting weather. 

Home schooled students and their parents can enroll in a half day of curriculum that follows the Florida Sunshine State Educational Standards for learning.  The program follows the Lee County mandated program and addresses environmental science, history and reading SOLS.  Pre-visit curriculum materials will be mailed to registered families.  Registration required. Estates members $5; non members $15 (one adult, one child) additional $5 per child.

Music, Movies and Dance with Edison & Ford

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 20th

The Edison & Ford Estates Presents a New Exhibit

by Pamela Miner, Estates Curator


When most people think of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, the light bulb and the automobile come to mind.  Though these ventures are worthy of the recognition received, Edison and Ford had a variety of interests, both business and personal.  Many projects Edison and Ford created converged to enhance their lives, and the lives of others.  This new exhibit particularly relates how music, movies and dance wove deeply through their lives.


On the subject of the phonograph, Edison’s goal was to create a machine to record and play back the human voice not only for entertainment, but for business, teaching, toys, and documentation.  Though Edison created a demonstration phonograph by 1879, it was not until 1887 that he returned his focus to its potential.  Many businesses found the machine too complex, and some companies found it to be profitable by using the phonograph for entertainment purposes. 

By 1889 Edison began to use musical recording to promote the phonograph. He also recognized the needed to produce the records and began to focus on creating the best type of record, as well as to select the best musicians and singers to record.  Edison continued in the phonograph business until 1929, finally conceding to the radio.


Even with his work and success with the phonograph, Edison did not think motion pictures would have commercial success.  He actually had the idea of motion pictures in the late 1870s, but it was not until 1888 that his interest peaked again.  He focused on making an “instrument which should do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear, and that by a combination of the two, all motion and sound could be recorded and reproduced simultaneously,” but was unclear of the potential for this machine as entertainment. 

Edison relied on the earlier work of Etienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge to create moving images from still photographs.   He asked his staff photographer, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson to develop a machine to project images.  Working with several other staff, a demonstration machine was completed by 1891.  The first film studio, the Black Maria, was running by 1894.  Later that year, 25 kinetoscopes were sold for commercial use.  Andrew and Edwin Holland purchased 10 at $200 each and opened a kinetoscope parlor in Manhattan.  Charging five cents to view each machine, they made $120 the first day. 

As the industry started to form and films became longer, the cost for production and distribution increased.  Edison decided to get out of the movie business in 1918, and sold the studio to Lincoln & Parker Film Company.  Edison created integral equipment, as well as over 4000 pictures, and became the first honorary member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1929.


As Edison exited the phonograph and motion picture business, Henry Ford began a new endeavor into music and dance.  The story is told that in 1924 a group of friends sat at the Ford’s Fair Lane home one evening telling stories, and Clara Ford said to her husband Henry, “[W]e have danced very little since we have been married.”  Looking to do something about that, they planned to hold a Halloween party in the Ford family homestead barn. After that, the Fords never stopped dancing.

Dance instructor Benjamin Lovett was brought to Detroit from Massachusetts in 1924 as Ford’s “dance master.”  Lovett, along with his wife Charlotte, stayed in Detroit until 1945.  Throughout these twenty years Lovett taught traditional dance to the Ford family, friends, staff, and local school children.  The school dance program expanded across the country.  Ford considered dancing to be a form of social training for boys and girls, saying to Lovett, “Courtesy makes friends and good manners keep them.”

In conjunction with the traditional dance, traditional music was also revived.  Ford organized the Early American Dance Orchestra to accompany the dancers.  The core instruments in the orchestra were the violin, cymbalum, dulcimer, and sousaphone; sometimes added were the banjo, guitar, xylophone, or accordion.  The public was able to enjoy Ford’s love of music when The Early American Dance Music radio program broadcasted from January 1944 through July 1945, with Lovett calling the steps.  To continue the tradition today, one can purchase Good Morning, a collection of music and dances published by Lovett and Ford.

Visitors to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates can wander through the exhibit “Music, Movies and Dance with Edison & Ford” to learn more about these endeavors through photographs, letters, advertisements, and artifacts.  Follow the blog for special performances and lectures being presented in association with this exhibit.

Free Admission for Educators and School Staff August 22

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 18th

Estates Tour

The Edison & Ford Winter Estates is extending free admission to educators, school staff and their families on August 22, 2009. Free admission includes a tour of the historic homes and gardens, and entrance into the Estates Museum and Edison Botanic Lab.  Special tours for educators will be held at 10 AM and Noon.  Registration for tours is required. 

In addition, Educators will receive a 10% discount on any Estates membership and 25% off any curriculum related materials in the Museum Store.  Sample lesson plans and educational materials will be available for classroom curriculums at the Estates membership desk.

Educators and school staff must present a school issued identification badge to receive free admission.

Spend the holidays with southwest Florida’s first “snowbirds,” the Edison’s and Ford’s, at the 34th annual Edison & Ford Holiday Nights at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers.  Edison & Ford Holiday Nights attracts visitors from throughout the world annually to view the lights and seasonal decorations that fill 20 acres of gardens, and the recently restored Edison and Ford historic homes. 

The theme for Edison & Ford Holiday Nights has always been a combination of historical decorations amidst the orchids, exotic trees and plantings that fill the gardens.

This year there will be events including the artist and craftsmen exhibits and appearances in the “Creative Cottage” as well as book signings and demonstrations located in the Edison Caretaker’s House;  nightly entertainment by local school and community groups; Santa visits; and a “Children’s Tree Trail.”  The “Trail” will be a veritable forest of lighted trees with handmade ornaments from Lee County students. 

During the holidays the homes of Thomas and Mina Edison and Henry and Clara Ford will be open nightly from 5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. The event also includes special exhibitions, nightly performances of dance, instrumental and choral music (by area groups and schools) and holiday items in the “Creative Cottage”, Museum Store, Garden Shoppe and the historic Ford Cottage Shoppe.  The Estates Museum and Edison’s Lab will be open nightly as well as the Estates Banyan Café for refreshments.  Tickets are $15 for adults and $1 for children (6-12).  Groups may schedule special times and group rates.  In addition, the Estates will be offering Lee County residents special “hometown discounts” on December 11 & 12. 

The Estates is open daily 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. For additional information call 239-334-7419 or visit the web site at www.efwefla.org.

Grab a Hammock and Your Lemonade: Suggested Summer Reads

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 6th

by Rebecca Jones, Estates Collections Information Specialist

Looking for an interesting title to help you while away the lazy days of summer? Several writers have recently produced factual books that are so engaging they read just like novels. Check out one of the following, several are available at our online bookstore;





Greg Grandin. Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City. (2009) Recently named one of Amazon.com’s Best Books of 2009 … So Far, Fordlandia presents the stranger-than-fiction tale of Henry Ford’s attempt to exploit the Brazilian rubber industry by setting up an American-style outpost in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest. The story of Fordlandia offers an engaging portrait of the often-contradictory, but always fascinating, Henry Ford.





Jill Jonnes. Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World. (2004) A fascinating and accessible account of not only the individual scientists responsible for bringing electricity to Gilded Age America, but the market forces on Wall Street that ultimately controlled this revolution. Also available in the Museum Store. 





Jane S. Smith. The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants. (2009) Unlike his friends Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, Luther Burbank’s name isn’t immediately recognizable today. Cultural historian Jane Smith does an admirable job of telling the story of Burbank’s fame as a bioengineer in an age when such a term had yet to be coined. Burbank developed more than 800 new breeds of plants, making him a folk hero during the early twentieth century, a time when Americans moved from farms to cities in droves and the fascination with man’s domination over nature was at its height. A captivating look at a forgotten celebrity.





 Joe Jackson. The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire. (2008) After World War I, Thomas Edison spent the last decade of his life working to end our dependence on international rubber by attempting to produce a domestic source right here in Fort Myers. Fifty years earlier, Englishman Henry Wickham ensured his country’s dominance of the worldwide rubber trade by stealing 70,000 seeds from the Amazon and smuggling them to scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, who in turn planted them in Britain’s Asian colonies. The Thief at the End of the World is the remarkably readable tale of this adventure in “biopiracy.”




 Tom Standage. The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers. (2007)  Standage highlights the competitions, successes, failures, and personal heartaches that comprised the creation of the telegraph (perfected by Thomas Edison) in the late nineteenth century. This quick history also demonstrates how technological advances bring about uncontrollable, lightning-fast cultural change. In the age of the Internet, smart phones, and instant communication, we can certainly relate.




 Randall Stross. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. (2007) Stross takes on Thomas Edison’s story through a different lens; that of Edison as self-created public icon. An entertaining look at Edison’s attempts at self-promotion, the ensuing extreme lack of privacy, and his status as the first American superstar. Stross argues that the greatest of Edison’s inventions was himself.




 Susan Orlean. The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession. (1998) The Edisons were fascinated with orchids and hung them in the trees throughout their Seminole Lodge estate here in Fort Myers. Mina Edison even named an outdoor walkway on the property “Orchid Lane,” in honor of these exceptional beauties. Susan Orlean’s bestselling tale of “orchidmania” takes readers on a wild ride through the swamps of Florida, chronicling one man’s journey from orchid fascination to criminal prosecution.




 Michael Grunwald. The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise (2007). The Florida Everglades may seem like a weighty topic for a summer read, but don’t let the title of this mesmerizing book fool you. Grunwald, an award-winning Washington Post journalist, chronicles the role of politics in the desecration and rebuilding of this ecosystem in a provocative, engaging narrative. Edison and Ford and their families were lucky enough to experience the unique environment of the Everglades during a 1914 camping trip to the area. Grunwald captures the “Glades” from that pristine era through modern times. You won’t be able to put it down.

National Night Out at the Estates

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 5th

Last night, the Fort Myers Police Department, Fort Myers Fire Department, and neighborhood watch groups from Edison Park, Sunset Park, Allen Park, and Manuel’s Branch gathered at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates to celebrate National Night Out.  Here are some photos of the great time that was had.