is the 27th state
of the United States of America
, and the fourth most populous state with 16.4 million residents.
Florida is a peninsula jutting out from the southeastern corner of the United States, about 450 miles (720 km) from north to south. The state also incorporates a panhandle that extends west to the Perdido River, 360 miles (575 km) from the Atlantic Ocean.
Most of Florida was swampy or marshy 200 years ago. The Everglades, which still takes up most of southwestern Florida, is the world's largest swamp. Nowadays, there's plenty of dry land in Florida, but it's still a very flat, very greenish-brown place, best suited for alligators and mosquitoes. In the southern half of Florida, the water table is so close to the ground that it's impossible to build a basement, and any sufficiently deep hole will quickly turn into a sinkhole. There are no mountains in Florida, besides Big Thunder Mountain.
Weather in Florida ranges from muggy to humid. During the summer, temperatures often top 90 deg F (33 deg C); winter temperatures range from 60 (15) in the north to 70 (22) in the south. It rains very often for most of the year, and constantly during the summer, although springtime droughts are not unheard of. Snow is basically out of the question (except for isolated sprinklings every few years by the northern border), but the northern areas can get ice and frost in the wintertime.
The state of Florida has been settled since about 10,000 BC, although the beginning of the state's recorded history was the arrival of Juan Ponce de León, an explorer from Spain, in April of 1513. He gave Florida its name in honor of the Pascua Florida festival, which is celebrated in Spain at Easter. Florida literally means "flowery."
Several other Spanish explorers, including Hernando de Soto and Tristán de Luna y Arellano, came to Florida after Ponce. One group of missionaries, led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, founded the town of St. Augustine in 1565, which is now the oldest city in the United States. At that time, France was jockeying with Spain for control of the area, so skirmishes were frequent: by the end of the century, Britain also had its eyes set on Florida, best symbolized by Sir Francis Drake's looting of St. Augustine in 1586.
The French conflict died down over time, but the British conflict kept up until 1763, when Britain won Florida in the Seven Years' War. The British divided the state into East Florida and West Florida, with capitals at St. Augustine and Pensacola, but their rule only lasted until 1784, when the state ended up back in Spanish hands at the Treaty of Paris.
Even though the Spanish were back in control, Florida's population began increasing as more Americans began arriving, lured by land grants and, in the case of black settlers, by freedom from slavery. Spain gradually lost its sovereignty over Florida, especially when General Andrew Jackson led an American army into Florida to fight the Seminoles in 1818. In 1821, Spain officially ceded Florida to the U.S., and Jackson became its first provisional governor. The modern capital of Florida, Tallahassee, was completed in 1824.
As more settlers began arriving, they began conflicting with the Native American tribes of Florida, particularly the Seminoles. After Jackson became president, he established Indian reservations in Oklahoma and ordered the Seminoles to pack up and move west. Chief Osceola refused to do so, sparking the Second Seminole War that lasted from 1835 to 1842. By the end of the war, the U.S. had complete control over the entire territory, paving the way for statehood in 1845.
Like its neighbors, Georgia and Alabama, the new state of Florida practiced slavery, and at the beginning of the Civil War, the state moved to join the Confederate States of America. Because of its isolation from the rest of the country, it was completely spared from the fighting, and so it was the most developed area of the South by the time the war ended in 1865.
Shortly after that, the state's tourist boom began. Henry Flagler and Henry Plant received massive subsidies from the state government to build new railroads, and many of the southern swamps of the state were drained to clear the way for new farmland. The new railroads made citrus growing a major industry in Florida, since it was now possible to get the fruits to the populous North before they spoiled. Land speculation in Florida was a big business for most of the late 1800's and early 1900's.
Although the state was hit particularly hard before and during the Great Depression (it suffered two major hurricanes in the 1920's, as well as a fruit fly infestation), World War II brought massive infrastructure investments to Florida, especially in the south. The U.S. military set up new facilities across the state to ferry aircraft, train soldiers, and handle other logistical tasks.
After the war, air conditioning brought wave after wave of Northerners to Florida, and political unrest in Cuba and Haiti brought millions of "boat people" to the southern cities. The development of Walt Disney World, the Kennedy Space Center, and other tourist attractions in central Florida spurred a major wave of development in the 1970's and 80's. Today, Florida is huge, and it is still one of the fastest-growing areas of the U.S.
Florida is, without a doubt, one of the most diverse states in the USA from a casual onlooker's perspective, so I'll try to describe the different parts of the state.
Miami and many of its neighboring cities are basically part of Latin America. Spanish will get you farther in Miami proper than English will.
South Beach in Miami is another planet entirely. There's no other place in the world like it. (This is not necessarily a bad thing.)
The rest of South Florida is a sprawling grid of identical houses and clogged freeways, markedly similar to Phoenix, Arizona but much more humid. Everyone there speaks English, often with an aggravating Northeastern accent. During the wintertime, Canada invades.
The southern side of Orlando is essentially a gigantic theme park that takes up several cities. (Disney has two cities of their own.) Some people live there, but they are not real people; they are cast members.
Everything else south of Interstate 4 is a collection of small cities linked by four-lane highways, each centered around a Publix.
Tampa and Jacksonville are actually fairly typical North American cities.
The rest of Florida is horses, cows, hicks, and state universities, which cooperate in many areas. The only difference between this region and the rest of the South is that there are 'gators and occasional manatees.
All of these regions are blessed with easy access to some of the best beaches in the United States. (The Gulf coast beaches are better, though, especially the northern "Redneck Riviera.")
- Andrew Jackson (commissioner, 1821)
- Henry Laurens Mitchell (territorial governor, 1822 - 1834)
- John Eaton (1834 - 1836)
- Richard Call (1836 - 1839)
- Robert Reid (1839 - 1841)
- Richard Call (1841 - 1844)
- John Branch (1844 - 1845)
- William Moseley (1845 - 1849)
- Thomas Brown (1849 - 1853)
- James E. Broome (1853 - 1857)
- Madison Perry (1857 - 1861)
- John Milton (Confederate governor, 1861 - 1865)
- A. K. Allison (Confederate governor, 1865)
- William Marvin (1865)
- David Walker (1865 - 1868)
- Harrison Reed (1868 - 1873)
- Ossian B. Hart (1873 - 1874)
- Marcellus L. Stearns (1875 - 1877)
- George F. Drew (1877 - 1881)
- W. D. Bloxham (1881 - 1885)
- Edward Perry (1885 - 1889)
- Francis Fleming (1889 - 1893)
- Henry L. Mitchell (1893 - 1897)
- W. D. Bloxham (1897 - 1901)
- W. S. Jennings (1901 - 1905)
- Napoleon Bonaparte Broward (1905 - 1909)
- Albert Gilchrist (1909 - 1913)
- Park Trammell (1913 - 1917)
- Sidney Catts (1917 – 1921)
- Cary Hardee (1921 – 1925)
- John W. Martin (1925 – 1929)
- Doyle E. Carlton (1929 – 1933)
- David Sholtz (1933 – 1937)
- Fred Cone (1937 – 1941)
- Spessard Holland (1941 – 1945)
- Millard F. Caldwell (1945 – 1949)
- Fuller Warren (1949 – 1953)
- Dan McCarty (1953)
- Charley Johns (1953 – 1955)
- LeRoy Collins (1955 – 1961)
- Farris Bryant (1961 - 1965)
- Haydon Burns (1965 - 1967)
- Claude Kirk (1967 - 1971)
- Reubin Askew (1971 - 1979)
- Bob Graham (1979 - 1987)
- John Mixson (1987)
- Bob Martinez (1987 - 1991)
- Lawton Chiles (1991 - 1998)
- Buddy Mackay (1998 - 1999)
- Jeb Bush (1999 - 2006)