Edison had a set of tires made from his goldenrod rubber and put them on the Model T. Four of them wore out, but the fifth, a spare, still leans against the car.
Edison died in 1931 at age 84. Using his notes, Ford continued the rubber project, planting fields of goldenrod at his plantation in Ways, Ga.
Research funds dried up during the Depression and the work was forgotten until World War II, when the government used Edison's formula to make synthetic rubber belting and water bottles.
Edison's wife, Mina Miller Edison, died in 1947 and deeded the estate and all its furnishings to the city on the condition that it be maintained as a shrine to him. It was opened to the public a year later.
The laboratory is almost exactly as Edison left it, with the flasks and racks of glass test tubes he used in his rubber experiments. The lightbulbs, shaded by hand-made brass tents, are the same ones Edison used. The bulbs in the house are also the Edison originals.
'The lightbulbs burn 10 hours a day, seven days a week and have since the 1920s. They are plain old carbon filament bulbs. They could make these things last like that today if they wanted to,' Halgrim said.
The 15,000-square-foot museum was added in 1970 to house the growing collection of Edison memorabilia.
It includes more than 200 gramaphones, many painted like morning glories. Some operate with foot treadles like the old sewing machines. One is powered by a water pump. And one wooden model has deep teethprints in it.
'Edison was deaf in his later years and he would bite it in order to feel the vibrations,' Halgrim said.
There are Edison spark plugs and batteries, electric meters, irons, electric fans, nickelodeons and moving picture machines. There are bags from Edison's cement company, which provided cement for the Panama Canal and Yankee Stadium.
And there are cases and cases of electric light bulbs.
'We've been collecting them or buying them for almost 40 years,' Halgrim said. 'Everybody knows somebody whose grandfather worked in the old Edison factories years ago.'
Ford stopped visiting Fort Myers after Edison died, and his family sold the Ford home to Thomas and Gladys Biggar in 1945. Mrs. Biggar, an 88-year-old woman who once suggested the city change its name to 'Ford Myers,' sold the gray-shingled, two-story home to the city for $1.5 million.
'It's in basically good condition. It's a credit to her that she kept this historic home in its present condition. She was very conscientious about not changing the original structure,' Halgrim said.
Much of the purchase money came from revenues from the Edison home, which attracted 400,000 visitors last year.
Halgrim estimated the Ford home would open to visitors within two years. By then, the chain link fence that now separates the yards will be replaced by a replica of the old wooden fence.
The friendship gate, however, will have to be moved slightly from where the original stood because a huge royal palm tree has taken over the spot.
'It is my understanding that it sprang up there as a seedling in 1931, the same year Edison died,' Halgrim said. ---
Address: Edison Winter Home, 2350 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers, Fla., 33901. Open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Guided tours are offered from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. other days. Tickets are $5 for adults, $1 for children under 12 and free for children under 6.