Thursday, August 18:
Edison and Ford Winter Estates, Laboratory and Museum (Fort Myers)
For our Tech Talent “Digital Natives”, a trip to the Edison & Ford Museum provided an opportunity to see and touch some of the pivotal inventions and innovations of the 19th and 20th centuries – the analog, mechanical origins of the Digital Age. Thomas Edison – the “Wizard of Menlo Park” – received hundreds of patents during his inventing career, and examples of each and the story of their significant contribution to modern society are on full display at the museum. Eyes were opened wide at each exhibit – on display are the stories of the invention of the incandescent light bulb; the electrical grid; the storage battery; the stock ticker; the phonograph, “moving pictures”; and Portland cement.
Edison’s final project, begun in 1927 at the age of 80, was the search for a natural source of rubber and was headquartered in Fort Myers at the Edison Botanical Research Corporation Laboratory. Henry Ford, who invented assembly line production of cars, lived next door to Edison, and Harvey Firestone, the tire manufacturer was a frequent visitor. They were concerned about America’s dependence on foreign rubber sources for its industrial enterprises. The three men formed the Edison Botanic Research Corporation (EBRC), and the following year, built the Fort Myers Laboratory, which became the project’s international headquarters. After testing more than 17,000 plant samples, Edison eventually selected Goldenrod as the most suitable.
Tech Talent mission chair Kamal al-Masri, himself a mechanical engineer, provided background and context throughout the museum and the botanical laboratory. Museum staff warmly welcomed the Tech Talent team, and were so gratified that a new generation of innovators was learning from the past. One docent spent time talking about the mechanics of the original phonograph, and then, with gloved hands, cranked one up and played music for the group! The visit included walks through Edison’s botanical garden, the Edison and Ford homes, and the grounds on the Caloosahatchee River.