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Edison & Ford Winter Estates Blog

Edison & Ford Winter Estates Blog

Happy Birthday, Mina Miller Edison!

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On July 6, 2012

In honor of Mina Edison’s 147th birthday, here are some fun facts!

  • Born July 6, 1865 in Akron, Ohio, Mina Miller was the seventh of eleven children.
  • Her father, Lewis Miller, was an inventor, manufacturer and co-founder of the Chautauqua Institute.
    • The Chautauqua Institute, an outdoor camp founded in 1874, offered cultural, religious, educational and musical programs.  It quickly became an American Institution.
    • Lewis Miller’s inventions helped to revolutionize agriculture and included early mowers and harvesters.
  • Mina attended a ladies finishing school in Boston, MA in 1885, studying music – one of the things that would later attract Thomas Edison to her.
  • Also in 1885, mutual friends Ezra and Lillian Gilliland introduced Mina to Thomas Edison, where she was playing piano and singing.  Thomas described Mina as “a yardstick for measuring perfection.”
  • Thomas and Mina married on February 24, 1886 and honeymooned in Fort Myers, staying at a local hotel.
  • Mina and Thomas had three children: Madeleine, Charles and Theodore.
  • Describing herself as a “home executive,” Mina closely managed two homes and their staffs.  She also raised her three children with Thomas and helped raise Thomas’s three children from his first marriage.
  • Mina was active in a number of civic and charitable organizations and co-founded the Fort Myers Round Table, an influential group of community leaders.
  • Mina was also instrumental in beautifying the city (through various garden clubs and beautification councils) and assisting the city’s less fortunate.
  • A dedicated conservationist long before the word entered popular vocabularies; Mina was a member of the National Audubon Society and the Chautauqua Bird & Tree Club.  Mina also became close friends with renowned cartoonist and conservationist, Jay “Ding” Darling.
  • Thomas Edison passed away in 1931 after 45 years of marriage to Mina.  Even after her husband’s death, Mina continued to visit Fort Myers and stay closely involved with the local community.
  • In 1935, Mina married a childhood friend named Edward Hughes.  Hughes passed away in 1940, and Mina resumed using the Edison surname.  She continued wintering in Fort Myers throughout this time.
  • In 1947, she deeded Seminole Lodge to the City of Fort Myers to serve as a botanical garden and preserve the legacy of her late husband.  Mina passed away in the same year.

Suggested materials on Mina Edison: DVD: Mina Miller Edison – The Wizard’s Wife, The Edisons of Fort Myers: Discoveries of the Heart by Tom Smoot

Multi-Colored Holiday Lights Make an Historic Return to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On October 20, 2009

by Rebecca Jones, Estates Collections Information Specialist

Southwest Florida is home to the winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Best known for his work with electricity and the light bulb, Edison also created early Christmas lights. The Edison & Ford Winter Estates is celebrating Edison’s concept in a different way with a different look this December. In fact, local residents will remember seeing lights of many colors in years past on the Estates grounds. And looking even further back, Thomas and Mina Edison would have used multi-colored lights to decorate for the holidays in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

More than 120 years ago, Thomas Edison created the very first strand of electric light bulbs for use as a Christmas decoration. During Christmas 1880, he strung these strands around his Menlo Park complex in New Jersey, including on the outside of his famous laboratory. Those who passed by via a nearby railroad would have had the privilege of glimpsing the first holiday electric light display.

In 1882 Edward Johnston, Edison’s friend and partner in the Edison Illuminating Company, put together the first strand of electric Christmas tree lights by hand. He wired eighty red, white, and blue bulbs together, and strung them around his Christmas tree at his home in New York City. Interestingly, the tree was not only lighted; Johnson also rigged it to revolve.

In 1894 President Grover Cleveland displayed the first electrically lighted White House Christmas tree, which was lit with numerous small multi-colored lights. The first White House Christmas tree received a lot of press and helped spur the popularity of Christmas trees in private homes.

However, electricity was still expensive and only in minimal usage in private homes at the turn of the century. Businesses took the next step in promoting the use of Christmas lights. In the late nineteenth century, businesses began using Christmas lights in window displays. At this time, the services of a “wireman” (similar to our modern-day electrician) were necessary to wire the lights to an existing outlet.

Because electricity was both expensive and mistrusted, it took another ten years for Christmas lights to become popular in the home. In 1903, General Electric offered kits of electric Christmas lights to the public for the first time. These lights included miniature base GE/Edison carbon filament lamps. The kits included blue, green, red, and white bulbs.

In 1919, General Electric first introduced the cone shaped Christmas light, which became the industry standard until the 1970s. The Edisons would have used these popular lights to decorate their homes for the holidays.

In 1927 General Electric and the associated Edison Electric distribution companies began to sponsor neighborhood “decorating with color-light” contests as a marketing tool. This strategy was quite successful. By the end of the 1920s communities all over the United States began to hold decorating competitions featuring multi-colored lights. You can imagine the Edison and Ford Estates and the surrounding neighborhood homes brightly lit with multi-colored Christmas lights during this time.

This year, historic McGregor Boulevard Royal Palms will be decorated with colorful holiday lights. The two Estates will include colored lights and historic decorations as well as some high tech lighting examples that Edison would have enjoyed, such as new LED versions and laser projections in the trees.

Edison & Ford Holiday Nights will be held from December 11 – January 2, 5:30 PM – 9 PM, closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Tickets are $15 adult, $1 for children 6 – 12 years, $8 for students (13 – College – with College ID). Group reservations and prices are available with advance scheduling by calling 239-334-7419

The Estates is open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.  The Estates was awarded the National Trust for Historic Preservation Award in 2008 and is an official project of “Save America’s Treasures” at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a Florida Historic Landmark and a National Register Historic Site.  For additional information call 239-334-7419 or visit the web site at www.efwefla.org.