Thomas Edison and the Vagabonds [not a rock group]

The Idea for annual camping trips was born in 1914 when Henry Ford and the great environmentalist John Burroughs took a road trip to visit Thomas Edison at his Ft. Myers, Florida home. Between 1916 and 1924, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs, embarked on a series of camping trips. Calling themselves the Vagabonds or Gypsies, they camped in style with big tents, servants, formal dining tableware, all transported by a caravan of automobiles; and a small truck with a refrigerator serving as camp kitchen.

Thomas Edison, John Burroughs, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone

Thomas Edison, John Burroughs, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone

Sometimes the wives went along. Photos and movies often documented the famous outings … maybe an early form of reality show?

Check out these great photos at:

Check out these great short movies at:

The vagabonds toured Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, California, New York, Michigan, Massachusetts and Vermont. These camping activities were often covered by local and national news outlets. The hardy campers would engage in tree-chopping contests, hunting, racing, horseback riding, talking and entertaining onlookers, “off-road” motoring-whatever caught their fancy-or maybe just relaxing in canvas chairs; or taking a snooze while stretched out on a blanket [Tom’s famous activity].

The Vagabonds at play--Henry Ford as the eccentric sheriff to a smiling Edison

The Vagabonds at play–Henry Ford as the eccentric sheriff to a smiling Edison

Each would have an assigned role to play on the excursion, with Edison tending to the electricity and battery needs, Firestone ensuring the cars were well equipped and stocked with food, Ford scoping out possible camp sites, and the elder Burroughs playing the role of wildlife resource, bird caller, and hiking instructor.
Imagine the conversations around the campfire!

John Burroughs died in 1921, but the vagabonds picked up a new member, President Harding who went along when his schedule permitted. Others sometimes joined in like Luther Burbank, George Eastman, and President Coolidge. By 1924, the distractions of the public eye became too much for the Vagabonds and the group ended its annual camping pilgrimage.

Editor’s note:
These camping trips may have helped inspire the use of cars for vacations and out-doors activities [perhaps later even inspiring famous 1950s slogans like “See the USA in your Chevrolet” and “Happy Motoring”].

Thomas Edison on Time Magazine“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.

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