Edison & Ford Winter Estates Blog - Edison & Ford Winter Estates Blog

Edison & Ford Winter Estates Blog

Edison & Ford Winter Estates Blog

Monthly Volunteer Meeting and New Volunteer Orientation

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On September 4th

● September 11, 9:30 a.m.
Chief Curator Alison Giesen and curatorial staff Mike Cosden and Matt Andres will present a gallery lecture and tour of the Estates newest exhibit, Edison & Ford in Cartoons: Then and Now in the Edison Caretaker’s House, as well as
demonstrate hands-on activities with the Museum Smart Cart.

Meetings and lectures are open to current Edison Ford volunteers as well as
prospective volunteers and the public.

For questions and additional information contact the Volunteer Department at 239-334-7419.

Edison Caretaker’s House

September 6, 2012 • 4:00 – 7:00 p.m.

The exhibit features a collection of editorial cartoons of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford from the 20th century into modern times.  At 5:30 p.m. tour the Gallery with Edison Ford Chief Curator, Alison Giesen and Cartoon Illustrator and Author, Doug MacGregor for exhibit insight.

The exhibit will continue through February 2013

Editorial cartooning has been part of journalism for centuries. It has not only become a tradition, but more importantly, has been used to help shape America’s history. Historically the role of cartooning was a way to transfer information with differing viewpoints during a time when the majority of society was unable to read. With visual clues, cartoonists are able to create images to draw attention or to make statements about current events, issues and the people involved.
The first editorial cartoon in America was created by Benjamin Franklin in 1753. Today, even though many more people can read than in years past, the tradition of editorial cartooning has carried on.
No two figures of the 20th century had more of an effect on the daily lives of Americans than Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Between them, they filed a total of 1,254 patents (1,093 for Thomas Edison, 161 for Henry Ford) for inventions ranging from the movie camera and the first incandescent light bulb to the Model T. Because of their fame these two men were very popular among editorial cartoonists for many decades.

The Edison & Ford Winter Estates is celebrating the two famous men in a new exhibit, “Edison & Ford Editorial Cartoons: Then and Now.” It features a collection of editorial cartoons from the 20th century into modern times with works from famous illustrators such as Joseph Keppler, J. N. Ding Darling, and local editorial cartoonist Doug MacGregor, who for 25 years created weekly editorial cartoons for the Fort Myers News-Press.

Happy Birthday, Mina Miller Edison!

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On July 6th

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

Wise Words from Thomas Edison

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On February 24th

book edison ford quotes“My philosophy of life: Work and look on the bright side of everything.” – Thomas Edison

In celebration of Thomas Edison’s Birthday on February 11, the Edison & Ford Winter Estates will be posting a quote a day for the entire month of February.  Many of these quotes can be found along with quotes from Henry Ford in The Edison & Ford Quote Book, available in our online store.

Phonograph Demonstration by John Kurdyla | Edison & Ford Winter Estates

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 10th

John Kurdyla, guest curator and phonograph collector, working with a replica of the 1927 Kruesi Phonograph at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, FL. Without the invention of this device, there would be no sound in this movie.  Then again, without Thomas Edison, there would be no movie.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNrvCv5z9Zo&w=425&h=349]

The Edison & Ford Winter Estates would like to thank John Paul Kurdyla Jr. for sharing his expertise and knowledge.

Origins | Edison Botanic Research Corporation & Lab Part I

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 9th

Did you know that Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Thomas Edison collaborated on a major research initiative?

Beginning in 1927, and with a research lab being built the following year, the Edison Botanic Research Corporation (EBRC) was created to find a domestic source for organic rubber.

EBRC founders Ford, Edison and Firestone sit on the front porch of the lab circa 1930 | Edison & Ford Winter Estates Archives

Why was organic rubber so important?
Having only recently emerged from the World War I, the three friends were only too aware of the volatile market fluctuations of the international rubber market. To secure a future source for rubber, the EBRC tested a variety of botanic specimens to determine their potential for rubber production.

Interior of the lab | Edison & Ford Winter Estates Archives

In typical Edison fashion, thousands of possible solutions were tested. Which produced the most rubber?  We’ll tell you all about it in Part II of the Edison Botanic Research Corporation series.

To learn more about Edison, Ford & Firestone’s quest for rubber, check out Growing American Rubber: Strategic Plants And The Politics Of National Security by Mark R. Finlay, available in the Edison & Ford Winter Estates gift shop.

For more information about requesting a copy of these images or any other images from the Edison & Ford Winter Estates archives, click here.

Into the Wild: The Camping Adventures of Edison, Ford, and Friends

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On July 22nd

by Chris Pendleton, President & CEO , Edison & Ford Winter Estates

Almost a hundred years ago, Thomas Edison and his good friend Henry Ford began a ten year exploration of America utilizing Ford’s new automobiles.  In 1914 Edison, Ford, John Burroughs, and assorted family members assembled their Ford motor cars and embarked on a camping and exploratory trip of the Florida Everglades.  It would begin a decade of exploration of America by the self-proclaimed ‘Vagabonds’ and the beginning of an unprecedented era of recreational travel that would transform America.

Edison, Ford, and Burroughs with family and friends on a camping trip in the Florida Everglades.

Edison had purchased riverside property in Fort Myers in 1885 and created a tropical retreat for himself, his family, friends and professional colleagues.  By 1914 he was ready to explore Florida and to engage his colleague Henry Ford with his automobiles in the project.

In the winter of 1914, the respected American Naturalist, John Burroughs, and automobile magnate Ford arrived in Fort Myers to much fanfare and excitement to visit Edison. At the time Burroughs, the author of dozens of nature essay collections, enjoyed immense national popularity. Ford was at the height of his fame, having produced his self-coined “motor car for the multitude,” and instituted the previously unheard of – five dollar per day pay rate and eight hour workday.

Burroughs marveled at the exotic subtropical plants and birds of the Caloosahatchee River region, noting how much the area reminded him of Honolulu and Jamaica. Ford always looked forward to spending time away from his busy industry with his mentor and hero, Thomas Edison. Although we don’t know exactly how the idea for their first camping journey into Florida’s wild country came about, it seems likely that Edison saw the trip as an adventure and opportunity to share his beloved Eden with his friends.

Pages from John Burroughs' journal documenting their camping adventures.

However the idea materialized, the three famous men journeyed into the Everglades and investigated the flora and fauna of the Big Cypress area. Roughing it off-road in the Florida interior gave the men a taste for discovery.  As a result, they, along with tire industrialist Harvey Firestone, embarked on a series of camping trips through the eastern United States.

For the next ten years, the “Vagabonds” and their guests explored America their way. They experienced the growing nation and its resources, as well as the interests of the American public, first-hand.  They also engaged in tree chopping contests, entertained curious onlookers, motored off-road, and enjoyed time away from their busy lives. Yet the camping trips merit a deeper significance when observed against the backdrop of a period of tremendous political, technological, and industrial change.

According to Harvey Firestone’s reminiscences, each of the famous campers had a pre-described role in the trips. Edison arranged a storage battery set-up to light the camps and provide electricity.  He also led late-night fireside discussions about politics, philosophy, and current events that became the hallmark of the trips.  Firestone made sure the vehicles were loaded with provisions and hired the cooks.

Ford scouted out potential camping areas, often taking a swim in nearby waters, climbing trees, chopping wood with gusto, organizing contests for entertainment (rifle shooting, high kicking, and sprinting) as well as the role of caravan mechanic. Ford had two Model T trucks outfitted with drinking water tanks and work tables for the cooks. (One of these trucks is on display in the Edison & Ford Winter Estates Museum Exhibit “Into the Wild”).

Early RV: This chuck wagon was loaded up with food and supplies for the camping trips Edison and Ford took with their friends.

Burroughs was the philosopher and nature-lover on the trips. A good deal older than the other campers, he enjoyed the role of instructor, taught bird calls, shared his knowledge of botany, and led nature walks.

Over the decade in which the trips took place, they evolved from relaxing getaways to heavily promoted events that included numerous publicity stops covered by the press and the Ford Motor Company’s newsreel cameras. Historians often note that Edison’s greatest invention did not garner one of his famous 1093 patents; it was his   propensity for self-promotion that may have been his utmost genius.

Similarly, Ford capitalized on his image as an “everyman” by using the camping trips as a means to promote the joys of recreational motoring, in turn, selling more Model Ts. It is no coincidence that tin-can tourism became the national rage at the same time that the “Vagabonds” highly-publicized camping trips took place.

Hunting was a popular pasttime on these camping adventures. Pictured here, is Henry Ford with a pheasant.

The fact that two sitting United States Presidents, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge made appearances during the camping trips, illustrating the influence that Edison, Ford, and Firestone wielded not just in business, but in politics.

Interestingly, the “Vagabonds” could not have chosen a more eventful decade to embark on their camping adventures.  World War I ushered out the innocent turn-of-the-century era and heralded in the Roaring Twenties, a time that social, technological, and communication developments reached new heights.

From 1914 to 1924 the world experienced intense change, much of it wrought by the giants at the center of the camping trips. The affordability of the automobile, due to Ford’s assembly line production, changed America from an agrarian to an urban nation in a relatively short period.

Henry Ford, Mina Edison, and Thomas Edison with the caravan camping in the Florida Everglades.

Edison’s legacy was perhaps even more apparent by this time. The accessibility of electrical power in the 1910s and early 1920s increased intensely, and changed the way in which people lived, worked, traveled, and communicated.

Edison, Ford, and Firestone were keenly aware of the role of politics and international affairs in their business success. It seems likely that their earliest discussions on the quandary of rubber availability may have occurred near the campfire, leading them to the incorporation of the Edison Botanic Research Corporation (1927), headquartered in Fort Myers, Florida, with a goal of raising and producing an organic source of rubber in the United States thus relieving the nations dependence on foreign rubber.

The colorful outdoor adventures of the famous friends spanned more than a decade of American history and captured the imagination and attention of the public.  The Vagabonds’ camping trips amounted to much more than a group of famous men cavorting across the countryside enjoying time away from it all; the trips were an adventure into a rapidly changing America, a venue for self-promotion and political influence, as well as a means of exploration and discovery in the midst of a time of great international change.

Into the Wild is a special exhibit at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates documenting the camping adventures of Edison, Ford and friends.

Today Thomas Edison’s estate and the neighboring estate of Henry Ford welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, proudly displaying the original old cars and camping vehicles from the past centuryThe Edison & Ford Winter Estates is a National Register Historic Site and one of the top ten most visited historic homes in America.  The property includes approximately 25 acres of historic gardens, a dozen historic buildings, a large museum full of artifacts and inventions and the original Edison Botanic Research Laboratory.

Additional information about tours, rentals and activities is available on the website at www.edisonfordwinterestates.org, or by calling the site at (239) 334-7419.

Chris Pendleton
President & CEO
Edison & Ford Winter Estates
2358 McGregor Blvd.
Fort Myers, FL 33901

July Events at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On June 22nd

July is a time for celebration here at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. This month, we’re not only celebrating our nation’s independence, but also the birthday of one of Fort Myers’ most famous snow birds: Henry Ford.

This 4thof July, join us with half priced admission to the Estates for all Lee County residents. There’s no better way to celebrate our independence than learning about two of the fathers of American Innovation.

The Mangoes Behind the Scenes

Henry Ford turns 148 on July 30! In his honor, we will be opening his winter estate, aptly named “The Mangoes” for behind the scenes tours every half hour beginning at 11 a.m. and the last one at 3 p.m. These special tours are included in the price of the Complete Estates Tour ticket, and as always are FREE for Estates Members.

Even though school is out for the summer, like Thomas Edison, we believe education should never take a break. The Estates Inventor’s Summer Camp is in full swing.  Registration is still open for your budding rocket scientist, film maker, animator, engineer, science detective, or inventor. Camps are open for grades 1st – 6th and sessions are separated by grade levels, 1st – 3rd and 4th – 6th. The Estates Inventor’s Summer Camp schedule is the following:
 NEW Super Solar Scientists July 5 – July 8
ESI – Edison Science Investigation, July 11 – July 15 
Movie Making Magic, July 18 – July 22 
Kitchen Chemistry, July 25 – July 29
NEW Smarts in Art, August 1 – August 5
Space is filling up fast, so don’t delay with some camps already full. Cost for Estates Members is $200; non members $230.  Scholarships are available.
Registration forms can be found online by clicking here or may be picked up at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates at2350 McGregor Blvd.  For more information contact the Estates Education Department at 239-334-7419.

Free Educators Day

Students aren’t the only ones continuing their education this summer; Teachers, School Support Staff, and Children can partake in a Free Educators Day at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. Admission is free and includes the opportunity to register for a variety of activities involving science, engineering, chemistry, history and art, teacher training and special tours. Registration is recommended by calling the Estates Education Department at 239-334-7419.  Teachers and school staff must present a school issued identification badge to receive free admission, children must be accompanied by a paid adult.

At the heart and soul of the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, lies a dedicated team of Volunteers that give tirelessly day in and day out. Come be a part of the team. Volunteer opportunities are available in various positions ranging from docents, to office work, to gardening. We even offer internships to students pursuing their degrees. On July 12, at 9:30 a.m., join the Estates curatorial staff and learn about the new EstatesMuseumexhibit, “Into the Wild:  Edison, Ford & Friends” as well as volunteer opportunities, policies and general Estates volunteer information.  This is a regular monthly volunteer meeting and mandatory training for all new Estates volunteers but potential volunteers are welcome. 

Come see the Estates in a whole new light. The history doesn’t stop after the tour, there are always new ways to see the Estates.  We are now offering four new tour options to the Edison and Ford experience:

  • NEW German Language Tour, Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m.
    For German speaking visitors we are now offering a German language tour led by an Estates Site Historian on Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m.  The tour includes the historic homes, gardens, and Edison Botanic Research Laboratory all in German. 
  • Behind the Scenes Tour, Thursdays, 10:30 a.m.
    Come enjoy a behind the scenes tour inside the Edison and Ford homes.  These unique tours are offered at no cost to Estates Members and $40 for non members.  Due to the intimate nature of the Behind the Scene Tours space is limited and registration is required. 
  • Estates Botanical Tour moves to Saturday mornings, 10 a.m.
    The Estates Botanical Tours will continue to be held on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. but will change from Friday mornings to Saturday mornings at 10 a.m.  The tour includes a walk through the historical gardens, and a behind the scenes tour of the Estates Propagating Nursery led by Estates horticultural staff.  Cost for the tour is FREE for Estates members; non members, $24 for adults and $10 for children ages 6 -12.  You can also upgrade your ticket for $6 to include a self-guided audio wand tour of the historic buildings andEstatesMuseum. 
  • Edison Ford Young Inventors Tour, Sunday – Friday 10 a.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
    The Edison Ford Young Inventor’s Tour is a hands-on Museum experience for children focusing on the inventions of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Children will learn how the inventions of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford work and have the opportunity to operate historic education artifacts including the light bulb, recorded sound, assembly line and rubber research.  The tour is offered on a first come, first served basis and includes admission to the Lab and Museum.  Estates Members are FREE; non members $12, $5 children ages 6 -12, children five and under FREE.  Tickets are available at an additional cost to upgrade to a complete Home and Gardens Estates Tour. 

Visit our new website for news, upcoming events, purchasing tickets and memberships, renewing memberships and shop on line at the Estates Museum Store and Garden Shoppe. 
The Estates is open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Visit the web site at www.edisonfordwinterestates.org.

Inventor’s Summer Camp space available, enrollment up 21%

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On May 4th


Chris Pendleton, President & CEO
Lisa Sbuttoni, PR/Marketing Director
photo attachments:  Edison & Ford Inventor’s Summer Camp, Kitchen Chemistry and Eager Engineers

Edison & Ford Winter Estates
Inventor’s Summer Camp space available, enrollment up 21%

Fort Myers, Florida (May 4, 2011) For budding rocket scientists, film makers, animators and science detectives, registration is still open for Estates Inventors’ Summer Camp at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. The Estates is a living lab where every project engages the campers in the sciences, arts, and history to ask questions and discover the answers for themselves while having fun.  Three new camps are offered this summer including Super Solar Scientists, Animation in Action, and Smarts in Art.  Summer camp enrollment is up 21% over 2010, and although many classes are near capacity, there is still time to register. 

Week-long camps begin June 13 and continue through August 5.  Camp hours are 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., Monday – Friday.  Camps are open for grades 1st – 6th and sessions are separated by grade levels, 1st – 3rd and 4th – 6th.  Cost for Estates Members is $200; non members $230.  Scholarships are available by calling the Estates at 239-334-7419. 

The Estates Inventor Summer Camp schedule is the following:
Eager Engineers, June 13 – June 17 
“To be a good inventor you need a good imagination and a pile of junk” said Thomas Edison.  The Estates will supply the junk and jump start the imagination.  Campers will use recycled materials and develop green inventions, conduct science experiments, participate in balloon car races, build bridges, and more!

Spaceships & Rockets, June 20 – June 24
The final Frontier!  Campers will explore the outer reaches of the universe with our resident spaceman.  Campers will get to visit planets, collect samples, float on our Lunar Lander, and tons more!

NEW Animation in Action, June 27 – July 1 
The perfect mix of science and art.  Campers will learn improvisation, comedy techniques and basic acting to develop original characters, write their own story, choose animation styles and make a short film.  Discussions are based on positive character traits, conflict resolution, and the power of making good choices.  All the films are edited and put on a DVD for participants to take home and share with the whole family. 

NEW Super Solar Scientists July 5 – July 8
Be a part of the new solar power project at the Estates.  Learn how the Estates powers our Museum, be a part of a solar cook-off, and take on different solar power challenges with our new solar science tools!  Learn how you can be a part of changing our future.  

ESI – Edison Science Investigation, July 11 – July 15 
Thomas Edison, known for his ability to turn normal objects into amazing inventions, made bamboo glow and tinfoil talk.  Now it’s your turn!  Each day, campers will be presented with a different mystery and they will only be given normal everyday items to solve them.  This fun and challenging camp will exercise your mind and body as the clock ticks away to solve the mystery!

Movie Making Magic, July 18 – July 22 
Act, direct, operate the camera and build sets.  Campers will be fully immersed in the art of filmmaking.  Participants will study Foley art (sound effects), movie magic (special effects), and script writing.  Campers will understand the basic techniques the pros use to get their ideas on the big screen.  After the camp is over each camper will receive a DVD of their film.

Kitchen Chemistry, July 25 – July 29
This mind-boggling camp is a combination of the best experiments the Wild Wizards have to offer.  Campers will learn how to take every day things found in the kitchen and make them do amazing things.  Top it all off with a solar cookout with hand made ice cream and root beer float party!

NEW Smarts in Art, August 1 – August 5
Have fun expressing yourself through multiple mediums such as legos, post-its, and organic environmental materials.  Let your creativity take over while exercising the right side of your brain to learn to see as artists.  Friday graduation will be a celebration of creativity with the Edison Inventor’s Summer Camp Art Exhibition 2011.

Registration forms are available on line at http://www.edisonfordwinterestates.org/education/summer-camp2/   or may be picked up at the Edison & ford Winter Estates at 2350 McGregor Blvd.  For more information or to sign up contact the Estates Education Department at 239-334-7419.
The Estates is open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. The Estates is the winner of the 2009 National Stewardship Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation 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.edisonfordwinterestates.org.

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Edison & Ford Holiday Nights: December 9 – January 1

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On September 14th

Spend the holidays with one of Southwest Florida’s holiday traditions, the 35th 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.  Visitors will have the option of a self guided tour or guided tour (6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.).  Guided tours include the historic homes, gardens, lab and museum with an historic site interpreter and are available on a first come, first serve basis.  
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; Horse and Wagon Rides; and a “Children’s Tree Trail.”  The “Trail” will be a veritable forest of lighted trees with handmade ornaments from Lee County students and is FREE to the public. 
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 for a self guided tour are $15 for adults and $1 for children (6-12); guided tours are $20 for adults and $11 for children (6-12).  Groups may schedule guided or unguided tours from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. and will receive discounted group rates.  In addition, the Estates will be offering Lee County residents special “hometown discounts” on December 9, 10, 11, 12, 2010.