February 17, 2011


La Florida – Trains Planes and Automobiles

Continuing the theme about Florida’s history, I’ll delve into stuff thats not normally taught into school with this blog. Most people, at least in Southwest Florida, know that Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone spent winters here.

In 1885 Thomas Edison purchased property near current downtown Fort Myers, Florida. Being the cutting edge inventor that Mr Edison was, the house he had built was one of the first pre-fab house built in the United States, having been built in Maine and shipped down on two schooners and assembled in 1886.  In addition to the home he also had a lab built so that he could continue to work on experiments and ideas while wintering in the tropical climate.

It wasn’t long before Thomas Edison convinced his friend Henry Ford to join him in Florida for the winters. Mr Ford acquired property adjacent to Edison’s and the two wintered together until Mr Edisons death in 1931.  Mr Ford was also known to bring prototype vehicles down (or have them shipped down) to drive around and test. There is a story told of a news paper reporter who found Mr Edison and Mr Ford sitting on the running board of a Ford vehicle chatting and asked the two for a brief interview. The reporter asked all manner of questions but never asked about the car, had he done so he would have had the story of the year as Mr Ford fully expected the young reporter to ask about the vehicle and share about this new vehicle with him. It turned out that the vehicle Mr Edison and Mr Ford were sitting on was the prototype sedan with the first V8 motor developed just inches away from this young man who interviewed them. Think about that the next time your asking people questions…. are you asking the right ones?

While Ford and Edison cavorted around the south western parts of Florida, another man and budding auto manufacturer,Rasnom E. Olds, part time resident, auto racer and developer was making his name on the packed beach sands of Daytona and Ormand beaches.  Olds, already famous for racing on the beaches with his first timed run sometime between 1894 and 1897. About 1896 or 1897  he and Alexander Winton (Winton Motor Carriage Company), arranged the the first unoffical staged event. Winton beat Olds by .2 seconds and planting the seeds for future beach auto racing! In 1902 Winton, driving The Bullet, and Olds, piloting the Pirate, were at it again racing on the beach, having rounded up about 50 spectators, put on a show between two different approaches to a stock racing car. Officials clocked them both as having achieved the same speeds of 57 MPH, a somewhat unlikely occurrence  but allowing for them both to advertise their results and promote for better results next time. It’s speculated that the Ormand Beach hotel may have played a part in that to entice the return of the drivers and specators. It worked! The following year the drivers returned as did thousands of spectators, and a new driver, James Hathaway and his car The Stanley Steamer. Rich people brought out their cars and were persuaded to take them on speed runs, and a reporter described the crowd which had gathered as a mix of “crackers” and “pickaninnies”. After the activities, participants and representatives of Daytona and Ormand gathered together to create the Florida East Coast Automobile Association. Olds is also credited conceiving and developing whats now known as Oldsmar in the north side of Tampa.

About the same time Edison was building his winter estates, another well known name in the United States was setting up shop in North Florida. Henry Morrison Flagler, a known as a developer, tycoon with Rainroads,  and a partner with John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil, was instrumental in the development of Florida’s east coast. It started by following physicians advice to that his first wife, Mary, winter in Florida to ease her illness. Mary died two years later and in 1881 Mr Flagler married the woman who was his wifes caregiver, Alice. They traveled to St Augustine and had the seeds planted for future business ventures after finding the hotel and transportation options lacking. In 1885 Flagler began building the 540 room Ponce de León Hotel (amazing influence that Ponce had!). To support his new hotel ventures, he also created a series of short line railroads which became known as the Florida East Coast Railway. In 1888 the hotel opened and was an instant success. It wasn’t long before Palm Beach then to an area that was little developed, now Miami! By 1905 Flagler decided that the railroad needed to be extended again all the way to Key West. If you’re thinking he was crazy, he is a businessman and he saw opportunity! At the time Key West was Florida’s most populated city and the one with the deepest ports. In 1912 the overseas railroad was complete and for the first time in modern history, the ability to go from Key west to the mainland was able to be done without taking a boat!

Of course, while all of this was going on Aviation was quickly soaring into its own significance. Some may know about Lincoln Beachey, an aviator who was nationally renown and considered to be one of the best in the business. Mr Beachey is also credited as being the first aviator to take off from Florida soil. After winning a contest for powered flight time aloft in Orlando in 1910 (5 minutes, duplicated each day of the fair), Lincoln Beachey then took the next logical step by making the worlds first successful night flight over Tampa. In 1912 another aviation pioneer established the first Florida flight school on Miami beach. In 1917 the military selected Florida for flight training and used Carlstrom Field, near Arcadia for principle training . In 1919 the first “guided missle”, a radio controlled plane carrying a bomb, was also flown from Carlstrom field. On August 21, 1920 Lt A.G. Hamilton recorded the highest parachute jump by descending 20,900 feet lasting about 12 minutes. And in 1926 Florida Airways was founded by Eddie Rickenbacker, who later took over as general manager then owner of Eastern Airlines in 1935 and 1937 respectively.

And thats how Florida went from a swampy appendage hanging off of the southeastern tip and began a new age of growth and prosperity for the entrepreneurs who thought with no boxed boundaries!

Colin Bulla is a Certified Life Coach and Professional Network Marketer. Call 239-878-2328 or email colin@colinbulla.com to arrange an interview to receive coaching or to work with his amazing networking team of sharp men and women changing their financial stars!

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