by Wes Davis
The epic road trips—and surprising friendship—of John Burroughs, nineteenth-century naturalist, and Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, inventors of the modern age.
In 1913, an unlikely friendship blossomed between Henry Ford and famed naturalist John Burroughs. When their mutual interest in Ralph Waldo Emerson led them to set out in one of Ford’s Model Ts to explore the Transcendentalist’s New England, the trip would prove to be the first of many excursions that would take Ford and Burroughs, together with an enthusiastic Thomas Edison, across America.
Their road trips—increasingly ambitious in scope—transported members of the group to the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, the Adirondacks of New York, and the Green Mountains of Vermont, finally paving the way for a grand 1918 expedition through southern Appalachia. In many ways, their timing could not have been worse. With war raging in Europe and an influenza pandemic that had already claimed thousands of lives abroad beginning to plague the United States, it was an inopportune moment for travel. Nevertheless, each of the men who embarked on the 1918 journey would subsequently point to it as the most memorable vacation of their lives.