Located east of Tampa Bay, growing outward from the spot where the Hillsborough River flows into Hillsborough Bay, Tampa is the county seat of Hillsborough County, Florida; with a 2000 census population of 303,447, it is the third-largest city in Florida.

The name Tampa comes from the Caloosa Indians, but the exact meaning is unknown. A 16th century explorer named Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda compiled a list of place names in use by the natives, including "Tanpa," which Spanish mapmakers changed to "Tampa."

In 1824, the U.S. Army established Fort Brooke near the mouth of the Hillsborough River. It served as a command post during the second and third Seminole Wars. After it was no longer needed, it was decommissioned in 1883 and later torn down. Today, the Old Fort Brooke Municipal Parking Garage in downtown Tampa marks the spot where it once stood.

A town grew up around the fort, at first called Fort Brooke, but then named for the nearby prominent body of water Tampa Bay. The "Bay" was soon dropped, and the town became known as Tampa. It was incorporated as a city in 1855, and then reincorporated on July 15, 1887, which is now considered the official date of the city of Tampa's founding.

In 1886, Vicente Martinez Ybor and Ignacio Haya purchased 50 acres of land near Tampa on which to build cigar factories. With the workers living nearby, a company town sprang up, called Ybor City. Later, cigar factories were also established in West Tampa, incorporated in 1895 and annexed by Tampa in 1925. Tampa became famous as "Cigar City."

In 1891, Florida railroad magnate Henry B. Plant, hoping to draw more people to ride his trains all the way to the end of the line, opened the Tampa Bay Hotel across the Hillsborough River from downtown Tampa. A grand, opulent hotel, its architecture was inspired by that found in the Ottoman Empire, including most notably several large minarets atop the roof. After Plant died in 1899, the hotel ended up as the property of the city of Tampa. It closed as a hotel in 1932, eventually reopening as a University of Tampa classroom building with a museum inside. A new high school was named for Plant in 1927; a small city east of Tampa is named Plant City in his honor.

Throughout the 20th century, Tampa steadily grew as the center of commerce for the west coast of Florida, with the city limits expanding in all directions not cut off by water, and unincorporated suburbs beyond the limits, filling the swamplands and palmetto scrublands with roads, houses, and strip malls.

Tourism remained a principal industry, helped along in the late 1950s when the local Anheuser-Busch brewery started beautifying their grounds and didn't stop until they ended up creating the Busch Gardens theme park (originally known as "The Dark Continent").

The cigar industry declined beginning in the 1930s, as cigarettes grew in popularity and machine-rolled cigars made in Central America began to be sold at a much cheaper price than cigars from Tampa. There was a small boom in cigar smoking in the United States beginning in the late 1980s, but Ybor City's revival began in the early 1990s, when new restaurants, bars, and nightclubs suddenly began to sprout, and the area became the premier nightspot of the Tampa Bay area.

Tampa also became infamous as a symbol of futility, when the NFL expansion team Tampa Bay Buccaneers began play in 1976 and lost their first 26 regular season games over a span of almost two years. Later expansion teams, first in hockey and then in baseball, continued the tradition.

Vaguely creepy addendum: After I finished this writeup, I went to another window and refreshed my Yahoo! home page, and the AP top story was "Plane Crashes Into Tampa Building."