The Vagabonds

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Four men standing on water wheel in river

The Vagabonds

Between 1915 and 1924, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs, calling themselves the Four Vagabonds, embarked on a series of summer camping trips. The idea started in 1914 when Ford and Burroughs visited Edison in Florida and toured the Everglades. The following year, Ford, Edison and Firestone traveled to California for the Panama-Pacific Exposition and explored the state, leading to plans of further trips across the U.S.

The trips were well organized and equipped. There were several heavy passenger cars and vans to carry the travelers, staff, and equipment. Ford Motor Company photographers also accompanied the group. The 1919 trip involved fifty vehicles, including two designed by Ford: a kitchen camping car with a gasoline stove and built-in icebox presided over by a cook and a heavy touring car mounted on a truck chassis with compartments for tents, cots, chairs, electric lights, etc. On later trips, there was a huge, folding round table equipped with a lazy Susan that seated twenty. After 1924, the growing fame of the campers brought too much public attention and the trips were discontinued.

The Vagabonds trips:

  • 1915California

    • Henry Ford Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone Sr., Luther Burbank
    • Travel stops include: Santa Rosa to visit Luther Burbank, San Quentin prison, Riverside to view mission at San Diego de Alcala, and San Diego.
  • 1916, August 28-September 9. New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont

    • Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone Sr., John Burroughs, A.C. Miller, J.G. Robertson, H.L. Adams, H.W. Smith, John Myers
    • Travel stops include Roxbury, Catskills to Albany, Pine Woods (near Corinth, NY), Babcock Place at Indian Lake, Sharow Farm (near Elizabethtown, NY), Ausable River (near Ausable Forks), Malone, NY, Behan Farm (near Plattsburgh, NY), Winooski (near Burlington, VT), Arlington, VT, Reverend Allen's (Poughkeepsie, NY).
  • 1918, August 16-September 1st. Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina 

    • Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone Sr., Harvey Firestone Jr., John Burroughs, Professor R.J.H DeLoach, Commissioner Edward N. Hurley
    • Travel stops included: Pittsburgh, Camp Hurley (near Greensburg, PA), Uniontown, PA, Keysers Ridge, MD, Horseshoe Run, WV, Camp Cheat (Cheat Mountain), Bolar Springs, VA, Camp Tuckhoe (near White Sulphur Springs, WV), Wolf Creek, VA, Tazewell, VA, Jonesborough, TN, Hotsprings, NC, Asheville, NC, Hickory, NC, Martinsville, VA, Lexington, VA, Hagerstown, MD.
  • 1919, August 2-24. New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut.

    • Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone Sr., Harvey Firestone Jr., John Burroughs, Edward G. Kingsford,  
    • Travel stops included: Syracuse, NY, Green Island (near Troy, NY), Loon Lake, Long Lake, Lake Placid, Behan Farm (near Plattsburgh, NY), Benson Farm (near Stowe, VT), Elliot Farm (near Waterford, VT), Tilton, NH, Hatfield, MA.
  • 1920, November 15-18. New York

    • Henry and Clara Ford, Thomas and Mina Edison, Harvey and Idabelle Firestone, John Burroughs, Carl Ackley, Roy Chapman Andrews
    • Travel stops included: Yama Farms Inn, Napanoch, NY; Burrough's home, Riverby, West Park, NY.
  • 1921, July 21-August 3. Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia

    • Henry and Clara Ford, Harvey and Idabelle Firestone, Harvey and Elizabeth Firestone, Russell Firestone, Edsel and Eleanor Ford, Thomas and Mina Edison, Bishop and Mrs. William Anderson, President Warren G. Harding, George B. Christian Jr.
    • Travel stops included: Bedford Springs, PA, Pecktonville, MD, Swallow Falls, MD, Elkins, WV, Uniontown, PA.
  • 1923, August 14-27. Michigan

    • Henry and Clara Ford, Thomas and Mina Edison, Harvey and Idabelle Firestone, Russell Firestone, Lucy Bogue, Mr. and Mrs. Langford, Edward and Mary Kingsford.
    • Travel stops included: Alma, MI, Traverse City, MI, Escanaba, MI, Iron Mountain, MI, Michigamme, MI, L'Anse, MI, Sialia (docked near Houghton, MI).
  • 1924, August 10-20. Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire

    • Henry and Clara Ford, Harvey Firestone, Russell Firestone, Thomas and Mina Edison, President Calvin Coolidge, Grace Coolidge, Colonel John Coolidge. 
    • Travel stops included: Wayside Inn (South Sudbury, MA), Ludlow, VT, Plymouth, VT, Sialia (docked at Portsmouth, NH Harbor), Bretton Woods, NH, Exeter, NH.

Bibliography

Any digitized content on the Vagabonds can be found on our Digital Collections website.  

Archival

  • Acc. 1 Fair Lane Papers
    • box 111
      • Camping with the Vagabonds, 1911-1942
      • Burroughs correspondence, 1913-1919
    • box 112
      • Edison correspondence, 1927-1930s
      • Firestone correspondence, 1922-1946
    • box 193 "Box for Electrical Kit for Ford Camping Party," June 19, 1920 (2 blueprints) 
       
  • Acc. 62 Henry Ford Office Papers
    • box 80 Camping trip, 1918
    • box 84 Edison, Thomas A., Camping trip 
       
  • Acc. 285 Henry Ford Office Papers
    • box 26 F60 Hi 65; Harvey S. Firestone (re: camping trip with President and Mrs. Harding), 1921
    • box 173 FO 170 Hi 175, Henry Ford - Camping trip, 1923
       
  • Acc. 23 Henry Ford General Personal Records
    • box 1 Camping trip, 1916
       
  • Acc. 13 Engineering Library Vertical File
    • box 10 Vagabonds, undated
       
  • Acc. 1630 Thomas A. Edison Collection
    • box 2 H.S. Firestone telegram to Thomas A. Edison regarding camping trip, August 17, 1917
      ​​​​​​​
  • Acc. 512 Sidney Olson Research Notes
    • box 5 Vagabonds Camping Trips, 1916-1921 (includes photographs)
      ​​​​​​​
  • Acc. 93.205 John Burroughs Papers
    • box 2 In Nature’s Laboratory Design Layout (2 versions), circa 1916
    • boxes 8 and 9 Photographs
      ​​​​​​​
  • Acc. 536 Public Relations Research Library Press Releases
    • box 17 Camping Trips of Henry Ford, Edison, Firestone, Burroughs
      ​​​​​​​
  • Acc. 423 Collected Research Papers
    • box 1 "The Four Vagabonds" by Bayard Johnson, October 15, 1954
      ​​​​​​​
  • Acc. 1117 David Lanier Lewis Papers
    • box 1 folder 18 Camping, The Illustrious Vagabonds  
       
  • Acc. 1502 A Weekend with the Edison-Ford-Firestone Camping Party, Henry Ford album 
     
  • Acc. 1503 A Weekend with the Edison-Ford-Firestone Camping Party, Edsel Ford album
     
  • Acc. 00.1334.61 Robert John Henderson De Loach Photograph Album, 1918
    ​​​​​​​
  • Acc. 34 Topical Albums for Henry Ford
    • box 2 Camping trip photographs, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1923, 1924 
    • box 4 Camping trip photographs (8 small albums)
      ​​​​​​​
  • Acc. 1660 Photograph Vertical File
    • box 64 Camping-Ford, Edison, Firestone, Burroughs, 1913-1918 
    • box 65 Camping-Ford, Edison, Firestone, Burroughs, 1919-1921
    • box 66 Camping-Ford, Edison, Firestone, Burroughs, 1923-1924
    • box 171 Camping-Ford, Edison, Firestone, Burroughs, 1918 (OS)

Ford News

  • Campers in Maryland Mountains, 1:1F:1:1-4, 1:19L:1:1-4

Audio-Visual (materials may be restricted due to format, please contact reference staff in advance for access)

Oral Histories

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  • Ford, Henry-Camping

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  • Last Updated Mar 27, 2024
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