Edison, Ford, and Citrus: A Sweet History
February 27, 2019
You may have heard about our exciting new project to recreate the historic Henry Ford Citrus Grove, but many visitors are unaware of the historic connections both Henry Ford and Thomas Edison had with citrus and fruit trees. Did you know:
When Henry Ford purchased his Fort Myers estate, mango and citrus trees were laid out in “grove-like” lines. In fact, the property was known as “The Mangoes!”
By the 1940’s, “The Mangoes” was described as having “50 budded orange and grapefruit trees.”
As many as 300 fruit trees stood on the Edison property at one point, located in closely-spaced groves at both the north and south borders of their property!
The Edison family had many varieties of citrus on their estate, including “golden oranges, deep colored mandarins, bright yellow lemons, shaddocks, red tangerine oranges, grapefruit,” and many others.
Fruit squeezers are on the list of items purchased by the Edisons to be shipped to Fort Myers.
The Edison family regularly had citrus jellies made on the winter estate shipped to their year-round residence in West Orange, New Jersey, and crates of citrus fruit were shipped to friends and families as gifts.
Mina Edison established a citrus grove near the Edison Botanic Research Corporation laboratory across the street in the 1930’s.
Edison and Ford aside, the citrus industry has deep roots in southwest Florida. Oranges were grown in Fort Myers as early as the 1860’s, but truly blossomed in the 1890s, when a deep freeze in north Florida caused many growers to move their crops further south. Oranges were typically shipped on steam boats until train service to the area arrived in the early 1900’s. Piers extending into the Caloosahatchee River (no longer existing today) housed several prominent citrus packing facilities.
Moving forward, the replanted Henry Ford Citrus Grove represents an opportunity to interpret this often-overlooked horticultural history. The grove will help to educate visitors about the significant history of citrus in the Sunshine State, and its relevance to Edison, Ford, and Fort Myers, and our staff will continue to focus on educating visitors about growing citrus in their own backyards!