Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Were Both Iconic Inventors and Best Friends

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Two iconic inventors. One adorable tale of best friends. Their world-changing accomplishments are well known, but the genuine friendship of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford makes for a delightful story not many people have heard. Just one brief encounter led to a lifelong bond so strong that the men even ended up buying neighboring vacation homes in Fort Myers, Florida. Friendship goals.

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford

BFFs 4 Life

In 1896, Henry Ford attended the convention of the Association of Edison Illuminating Companies in New York. Also in attendance (no surprise) was Thomas Edison, who happened to be Ford's boyhood hero. As any fan would, Ford snuck some candid shots of the man he admired during the conference. Then, it happened: a brief encounter between the two inventors. Edison, who was convinced that electric cars were the way of the future, gave Ford a few words of encouragement on his newly invented quadricycle: "keep at it."

Apparently, that little bit of advice was enough to set the foundation of a friendship that would last for the rest of their lives. Soon enough, the men were exchanging heartfelt birthday messages, like this 1915 greeting of "sixty eight thousand congratulations" from Ford to Edison. And in response, he received a thank you message from Edison that opened with "My dear Mr. Ford," and concluded, "Yours very truly."

Road Trip!

With a best friendship formed, the next step was obvious: road trip! Between 1914 and 1924, Ford and Edison toured the eastern U.S. in Ford cars for a series of camping trips. The BFFs were joined by other famous figures, tire-maker Harvey Firestone and essayist John Burroughs, and branded themselves "the Vagabonds" for their cross-country adventures. The trips functioned as advertisements for Ford cars and Firestone tires, generating headlines like "Millions of Dollars Worth of Brains off on a Vacation" and "Genius to Sleep Under Stars." Of course, the trips were also just a good ol' time with the boys out in the wilderness, where they'd challenge each other to races and tree chopping and high kicking contests during the day and tell stories around the campfire at night.

Edison and Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers, Florida

Till Death Do Us Part

Edison and Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers, Florida

In 1916, the two became neighbors. Vacay neighbors, at least. That year, Ford purchased an estate next to Edison's winter home in Fort Myers, Florida that Edison had purchased in 1885 on his first trip to the Sunshine State. Because, apparently, the two couldn't get enough of their adorable kinship.

Ford's estate, "The Mangoes," sat adjacent to Edison's "Seminole Lodge," and remains there today for visitors to enjoy. In 2003, a nonprofit called The Thomas Edison & Henry Ford Winter Estates was established to protect and preserve the sites. Even now, the estates remain one of the most popular historical attractions in Southwest Florida. The lush site looks exactly as it did back when Edison and Ford were chumming it up.

As for the end of the Edison/Ford saga? Try not to shed a tear. Before death separated the two, Ford bought his own wheelchair so he could commiserate with (and race!) the now wheelchair-ridden Edison. Just after Edison's death, his son Charles noticed test tubes in the room where Edison passed away. He had one sealed up, considering it to hold his father's last breath, and gave it to his best friend, Henry Ford. How's that for a storybook ending?

Edison and Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers, Florida

The Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida

Written by Joanie Faletto March 1, 2018
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