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History of Florida/Modern Florida, 1900-1945

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Florida during the first half of the 20th Century experienced rapid change. The Great Migration, mass immigration, and the Land Boom of the 1920s made millions of people aware of Florida and its attractions for the first time. A booming post war economy after World War One and mass tourism greatly diversified and expanded the population of Florida. New communities and attractions now suddenly dotted Florida's coasts and interior, reflecting Florida's increased popularity. The first fifty years of the 20th century would greatly impact the culture of Florida.

Jim Crow and the Great Migration[edit | edit source]

Newspaper describing massacre in Rosewood Florida 1923

Jim Crow was the name for a system of laws passed in the Southern States during, and after the Reconstruction period of the Southern United States. The laws were passed as a legal means to re-establish and uphold white superiority after the abolition of slavery. These laws were not a thing of the past for Southerners of both races during the first half of the twentieth century, and Florida, being a former slave state, was no exception. In the past, there had been laws passed to segregate public life, but during the 1910’s and 1920’s the laws continued, with laws prohibiting a difference between the student’s and the teacher’s race in the classroom. Evidently the tension and opposition that existed between the races was highlighted in a racial conflict in Rosewood, Florida in 1923. Allegations of the rape of a white woman, Fannie Taylor, lead to a white mob killing several blacks and two white people in a shootout. These acts of violence were common throughout the South and throughout Florida, especially as the Ku Klux Klan gained power in the region. Another man accused of rape in 1921 was hung from a telephone pole in Wauchula. It was clear to the black residents of Florida that the Jim Crow laws were not going away and it was best to find a way to deal with it. Racism was not what blacks wanted in their lives.

In an effort to escape the economic hardships or Jim Crow laws many African Americans moved to the cities where the opportunity to gain an economic advantge was higher than within the rigged tenant farm system many black people worked and lived in. This agriculture industry was a big driving force of economic growth for black communities in developing states like Florida, but many left as the system fell apart during the Great Depression. This happened in three waves occurring; during and after World War 1, and in the 1930’s during the Depression. In the South as many as two million black families abandoned farm life for the cities during the 1930’s alone, while approximately 400 000 of them left the South to venture to the industrialized North to pursue a greater economic opportunity. This movement to the cities was named the Great Migration and it grew to define Florida’s urban culture. As the Depression set in, black families in Florida moved to cities like Jacksonville and Miami, creating a population and labour boom within those cities. Entrepreneurs looking to get into real estate used the subsidies on the National Housing Act to create low-income housing for black communities. Throughout the urban areas in Florida the creation of large Coloured Towns became existent, and as moderate portions of the cities were sectioned off as coloured areas. To put it into perspective, the white population of South Florida on average lived with 15 people per acre, but in Miami’s Negro District blacks lived in a concentration of 600 per acre. Despite the large explosion of housing in Miami’s Coloured Town, less than 10% of the black residents actually owned their own homes. This was the main reason why after the housing boom of the mid-1920’s many blacks found their way back to the returning tenant agriculture industry, only to return during the Depression.

African-Americans in Florida faced many of the same challenges that their kin were facing throughout the South and the United States as a whole. It showed that in Florida violence and fear was especially prevalent inside of the black communities. The first half of the twentieth century saw a major urbanization of Florida’s black population, but only new problems and prejudices would be faced in the cities.

Draining the Everglades[edit | edit source]

The drainage of the Everglades was a consequence of the United States push for progressive action within the late nineteenth, early twentieth century. The transformation of the Everglades was designed under the pressure from an increasing population along with the commercialization of the Florida dream. With this growth in population and the increased technological advancements of the 20th Century, the political necessity for the landscape reclamation in Florida’s Everglades became an imperative issue. The first estimation for drainage of the Everglades cost, was produced by Buckingham Smith’s “reconnaissance” of the region in 1847. Smith believed that the region could be reclaimed at the cost of $300,000 to $500,000. The United States Army Corps of Engineers later estimates for enhancing the water-control structures as a permanent solution for flood protection and water control, from Lake Okeechobee to South Florida, came at the price of $208,135,000.

Florida Everglades

The drainage of the Everglades began in 1906, without much preparation and was accelerated by the determination of Florida’s governor, Napoleon Broward. According to Broward, growth in infrastructure and the following economic boom would pay for the costs of draining the wetlands. The canals installed by developer Richard J. Bolles saw the sale of newly reclaimed land, first starting at $15 an acre, eventually becoming more complex in price due to a lottery based scheme. This proved to be a success, by 1911 more than 10,000 farms had been sold and by 1912 land developers had sold over 20,000 lots. This land distribution would become a significant factor for the developmental growth of Florida’s agricultural economy and the Land Boom.

The drainage of the Everglades would cause a significant environmental repercussion and would lower the surface of the land, inevitably causing Florida’s vulnerability for water damages through hurricanes and floods. The most devastating floods came from the 1926 “Miami” and the 1928 “Okeechobee” hurricanes. This caused the political-ecological shift to prioritize water control within the state of Florida, along with the South, throughout the 1930s on-wards. Projects such as the construction of the Tennessee and Tombigbee Waterway would show Congress’s concern in ecological matters within the South.

By 1920 the commercial sugarcane cultivation on drained Everglade soils had become a falling point for land sales. With the formidable task of land drainage, waterway control and the expansionist globalization of U.S. foreign imports, the Florida tropical frontier for sugarcane had been displaced by areas such: as Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Philippines and Cuba. This shift would affect the political goals for Florida during the 1928 election. The Drainage of the Everglades would later be considered an environmental disaster to future critics. The Everglades remained to be an issue within American politics and was one of the main topics of concern for the presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000.

Miami Billboard Real Estate Advertisement

Florida Land Boom[edit | edit source]

During the 1920s, Americans experienced a new wave of technological and economic prosperity. The national economy was increasing at a rapid pace, spurring a growth in infrastructure because Americans could now afford to spend money on consumer goods. In this period, Florida was highly popularized because it was only a few days drive from the North, mosquito-borne diseases had been eradicated, and middle-class Americans began to vacation there. Florida’s tropical weather gave it great potential for tourism. To capitalize on this, advertisers labeled Florida as a paradise; a last frontier, and a source of eternal youth and industry. This, and in addition the symbiotic relationship between tourism and real estate advertisements easily sparked the land boom in Florida. This was also aided by Florida experiencing rapid immigration due to the expanded infrastructure which made travel very easy for middle class Americans. Florida’s population increased by approximately 300,000 from 1920-1925, this population surge resulted in huge inflation of the property market in Florida and Miami. This subsequent property inflation meant many land developers were attempting to purchase as much land as possible to construct hotels and homes to accommodate for the influx of people.

Following the conclusion of World War I, Florida remained largely the same as it had during colonial times. Its population of about a half a million split evenly between white Americans and African-Americans. For years the economy of Florida was driven primarily by agricultural industries such as sugar and cotton. That all changed in the 1920s when Florida real estate was coveted by a newly emerging American middle class. As the dust settled in Europe and a modern United States emerged, working hours began to shrink. The emergence of nine to five workdays and weekends introduced working class Americans to leisure, recreation and free time. Vacations and travel, that at one point were only reserved for the rich, became the pursuit of many different Americans. The Roaring Twenties enriched many Americans and ensured the continued growth of the middle class.

The emerging American middle class was largely responsible for the elevation of Florida from Spanish colonial sauna to America’s playground. Tourism began to take off following the First World War and this led to a burgeoning tourism industry, providing an economic boost and contributing to the diversification of Florida’s economy away from its primarily agrarian economy of old. Today, the tourism industry in Florida has grown to become one of the world’s largest economies which relies on this same industry, which is made evident by the existence of such institutions as Disney World. People began moving to Florida in large numbers in the early 1920s due to the relative ease of travel brought about by increased infrastructure. During World War I many American soldiers trained in Florida, after the war's conclusion many of them found themselves wanting to go back, thus veterans were among the first wave of migrants. Furthermore, innovations like air conditioning made Florida attractive to large numbers of Americans, causing thousands to pour into the state in search of the paradise promised by the weather and booming economy.

The numbers present a clear picture of the enormity of this land boom. In 1910 the population of Miami was about 5,000, however by 1930 that number had swelled to over 110,000 people. The boom created new cities and towns with many small communities growing to be cities of thousands during this period. However, in the early to mid 1920s, the boom turned into a full-blown bubble. In Miami Millions, Kenneth Ballinger wrote in 1936 that “the coasts where pirates under Morgan and Lafitte once plied their evil trade sprouted such riches that in one place ocean-side developers actually abandoned a pirate chest they could feel with their dredges, to get on with the more remunerative work of building a subdivision to sell.” Speculation was so rampant, developers didn’t bother collecting pirate treasure because it would take too long to extract! At its height, the boom fueled speculation to such dizzying heights that in some cases properties were exchanging hands up to ten times a day. However, not all of this growth was lost on speculators; there were countless of tangible investments to be found in Florida’s infrastructure, for instance The Dixie Highway connecting Chicago to Miami was completed in 1927 and had a lasting impact on the state. The Dixie Highway was one of the many projects undertaken during the 1920s designed to modernize Florida. As stated in the Florida Handbook: “…[the] spending of inestimable sums by public and private agencies for improvements” allowed for continued growth in the state.

Unfortunately that growth was postponed. Just as the boom was beginning to slow, a devastating hurricane hit in 1926 and before the state could fully recover it was slammed with another hurricane in 1928. As if Mother Nature couldn’t summon enough misery, the market crash of 1929 and the depression that followed prevented Florida from fully recovering until the run up in industrial production immediately preceding World War II. Although the bursting of the real estate bubble coupled with the Great Depression robbed Florida of meaningful growth for almost 15 years, the benefits of the Florida Land Boom and the bubble it produced were lasting and the impact it had on shaping Florida’s future was significant. The boom resulted in an increasingly urbanized Florida, with infrastructure like highways, bridges and public works which were by-products of an increasing population and enhanced political clout. Perhaps even more important was Florida’s image within the rest of the United States. No longer was Florida a southern, colonial backwater state, instead, from the 1920s onward, Florida would forever be seen as a sun-kissed ocean playground, the tropical Jewel in the American crown.

Real Estate Advertisement

The Highway[edit | edit source]

One of the largest causes of this great migration to Florida was the accessibility of highways which middle-class families used to travel to Florida. In such a sense, highways such as the Dixie and Lincoln were primary contributors to the Florida Land Boom in that they allowed potential land buyers to travel quickly across the country and reach Florida while the land was still inexpensive. The first highway in Florida was built in 1911 connecting Jacksonville to Miami which ultimately established the first road that could take you from the northern part of Florida too its south. Prior to the action taken by the Federal government in 1916, highway building was mainly pushed for and funded by highway associations composed of different interest groups. In order to meet the requirements of the newly established Federal Roads Act in 1917, state highways funded by the government were starting to be created. The U.S. 90 opened in 1923 and connected Jacksonville to Lake City becoming the first concrete highway in the state. Soon after, in 1928 the Tamiami Trail connecting Miami to Fort Myers was completed, establishing a road that allowed tourists to see the everglades but also linked the west coast to the eat coast. One of the main aspects of this highway which appealed to investors was the idea of a “loop road” for tourists which would allow them to drive along both Florida coasts, which obviously provided motivation for countless tourists to move to Florida, thereby partly causing the land boom. Ultimately, this highway which had such a large impact on the land boom showed Florida’s reliance on private capital to provide public infrastructure.

In order to attract tourists from other states it was also important to develop highways that linked Florida with other states across the nation. In 1926, the U.S. 1 - Highway was completed which connected Florida to New York but also intersected with the Dixie Highway that connected Florida all the way to Chicago. This gave citizens living in the North-Eastern parts of the U.S. a valid form of access to Florida for vacation opportunity. By 1930 it was estimated that approximately 2.5 million tourists were arriving to Florida primarily by automobile and once inside Florida had access to over 3,800 miles of designated roads that could take them all over the state. In 1937 a tourist booklet by the name of Highways of Florida was put out by the Florida State Road department. The 1940’s saw a surge in tourism with the new highways that had been built making it easier to travel.

Real estate activity started gaining traction in Florida with the state’s ambitious land reclamation program of the Everglades along the southeastern coast of Florida, especially around Miami. This caused several national companies to acquire large parcels of property and extoll the virtues of the soil for agriculture, community building, or sites of future industry . The advertisement of them and others, such as Carl Fisher who installed a billboard in Times Square stating that it’s “June in Miami” during the winter created frenzy. Because of that, masses flocked to Florida to profit off of the potential riches there.

Media Portrayal of Florida[edit | edit source]

Aside from accessibility, another main cause of the influx of newcomers to Florida was the use of media to paint a picture of Florida as a “vision of paradise.” Media at the time, especially newspapers, wrote about the tropical setting that was Florida, with large advertisements in popular newspapers which discussed up and coming developments of Florida real estate. Many of these advertisements were accompanied by illustrations which romanticized the state and was very appealing to the average citizen who was looking for a warmer climate. This portrayal of Florida coincided heavily with the adventurous attitude of the Roaring Twenties in which the suddenly wealthy middle class was looking for excitement and a new environment. Carl Fisher and George Merrick were the prime developers for starting the land boom in Florida because their heavy promotion allowed lots to be quickly bought for potential development, whether for leisure or industry. Easy credit from low yields in high grade investments also made it easier to invest and get bonds earmarked for infrastructure; e.g. hotels, golf courses, buildings, factories . Because of that, it allowed Carl Fisher, George Merrick, and others to create planned communities with amenities to entice many to Florida. George Merrick’s planned community of Coral Gables is a prime example of this. With a $3 million advertisement budget and 3,000 salesmen across the country, as well as William Jennings Bryan to extoll Coral Gables, it easily gained buyers across the country.

File:William Jennings Bryan Florida.jpg
William Jennings Bryan in Coral Gables, Florida

People called Binder Boys also invested in buying the land to become rich quick by selling these lots as quick as they bought it. Binder Boys precipitated the peak of the land boom by buying the options of land parcels that had a payment due in thirty days or less, which was more than the cost itself. After buying the land parcels, they would get an ownership document and flip the document for a higher price. This process would repeat again and again, rapidly driving up land prices.

Despite the frenzy in Florida, it did not spur the economic development it was thought to. Most of the planned physical structures for industries and tourism from the bonds were mostly on paper, leaving majority of the lots empty. Coral Gables and others were empty, because the buyers bought the land unseen. These issues were compounded with the failure of Florida’s logistics, stalling development.

The "planned" Aladdin City

Collapse and Aftermath[edit | edit source]

During the mid-1920s, Florida’s property market was incredibly profitable and investors of all sizes raced to purchase and develop land as quickly as possible to accommodate for the rapid influx of families looking to move to the Sunshine State. While peaking in 1925, this rapid development began to stutter and eventually came to a screeching halt in the summer of 1926, with buildings to be found throughout Florida in various stages of incompletion. This rapid decrease in development of Florida real estate was caused by a lack of potential buyers since the price of land had risen to ludicrous amounts. It was also hampered by the Bureau of Internal Revenue decreeing the entirety of purchase price had to be reported as income creating problems because the huge profits were only on paper; sellers only gained a portion of it. In addition, Florida’s rail lines and Miami port became unable to handle construction supplies to Miami. Because of that, the rail lines declared an embargo on all shipments, except food and fuel, from August of 1925, lasting until the spring of 1926. The Port of Miami had several ships sit outside of the harbour because of a lack of docks or workers stalled port activities. These issues thereby increased the price of these building materials, making them more difficult to acquire.

All of this created bad publicity from outside of Florida. The news caused the Land Boom to bottom out in 1926. Florida was also hit by a hurricane and a smallpox epidemic in 1926. Destruction from the hurricane and state officials covering up smallpox destroyed Florida’s image of prosperity and future innovation. The severity of Florida’s economic destruction from the Land Boom is exemplified by the fact that Coral Gables was burdened by credit claims of $35 million in 1929. Ultimately, Florida was hit by the Great Depression sooner than other states since the real estate bubble, which had so heavily relied on credit from banks, subsequently burst and as a result banks began to fail, being unable to pay back their creditors.

Birth of Tourism[edit | edit source]

In modern day Florida, tourism is a large aspect of the state’s day to day affairs. The rise of tourism began before the second world war and exploded into a major industry in 1945. At the turn of the twentieth century, the state of Florida awakened to the idea of developing tourism as a prominent industry into their economy. With its year round tropical climate, and advances in transportation with the recent invention of the automobile, Florida became an ideal destination during the winter months for American people across the nation. It gained a reputation for being a playground for the rich and slowly began to sway away from its designation as a traditional “Southern” state. The term “snowbird” was developed as many northerners flocked to Florida during the winter months to get away from the cold. Resorts and hotels to attract the wealthy upper class began to open up across Florida in cities such as Pensacola and St. Petersburg. In these cities, locals began to see the wisdom of encouraging tourism as a way to increase further settlement and investment. Lavish resorts with Spanish, and Victorian themes began to appear creating established resort communities in these cities. Tourism has been present in Florida since the early 1920’s, however due to the depression few people could afford to travel resulting in the industry being rather small. By the 1920s America was experiencing a revolutionary wave of prosperity amongst lower and middle class workers as wages began to increase, and working hours began to decline. Being able to go on a vacation finally became an option for these workers, and Florida became an ideal location for them. These tourists became known as “tin-can tourists” a name given to them by natives due to the fact that these travellers would bring canned food with them. Unable to afford the lavish resorts that the upper class vacationed at, motels and campgrounds with running water were created to support these groups of tourists. This rising number of automotive tourists inspired many citizens living in Florida to venture into entrepreneurial businesses. Restaurants and gas stations were soon established beside motels and campgrounds. As these developments across the state began to grow so did the number of jobs. Between 1920 and 1930 it was estimated that the overall employment in Florida increased by more than 55 percent, and the total number of jobs in the tourism industry doubled.

With a rise in tourism, the minority group known as the Florida Seminole tribe became subjects to cultural exploitation. The Seminole tribe were a curiosity to most of the tourists who visited Florida as they had previously lived in secluded areas of the Florida Everglades. With the completion of the Tamiami Trail that attracted many tourists to the everglades, the Everglades National Park was established forcing the Seminole tribe to have to relocate and abide by new laws which prohibited hunting inside the everglades. The Seminoles realized that the only way to survive would be to join the tourism industry themselves. The Musa Isle Village and trading post was developed by the Seminoles which attracted many tourists due to its exotic nature. At this post tourists were presented to native Seminole rituals such as; dancing, clothing, and alligator wrestling.

Florida and the Second World War[edit | edit source]

Based off of its geographical location Florida became an ideal location for the United States to establish military bases here once they joined the war in 1941. One of the most important institutions that came about was Camp Gordon Johnston. When the base was first established the living conditions that the soldiers became exposed to were awful. Buildings were made of light wood and had no floors, which left to many soldiers to suffer from the cold. The inhabitants of the base had limited facilities, and were unable to visit populated cities such as Tallahassee due to a lack of transportation. Many soldiers where unpleasantly surprised when they arrived at the base, expecting palm trees and balmy weather. This was not the case, and one soldier even referred to the base as “Hell by the sea” when writing letters to home . However, as the institution progressed, it became one of the most important places for training in an aspect that would help the United States win the war. Amphibious training, which incorporated attack from sea on land, would ultimately find the Americans victorious when storming the beaches of Europe.

Soldiers in line for lunch at Camp Gordon Johnston

Although some American soldiers faced unfavorable conditions during the war, nothing could compare to the discrimination and social issues faced by African Americans. From the beginning of the 20th century, there was a ‘separate but equal’ mentality when it came to African Americans, and this became even more present during the war. Racial disorders accounted for ix civilian riots, twenty military riots and forty lynchings . White officers mistreated many black soldiers, and although it was thought to be separate but equal, there was no equality inside of the military bases. When Camp Gordon Johnston implemented more facilities including theaters and a library, they were only available to the white soldiers. When the possibility for to visit neighboring cities came about, black soldiers were only allowed to be transported after the white soldiers had their choice. On such visits to places like Tallahassee and Frenchtown, riots would occur between black soldiers and civilians, and on one occasion, a black soldier was shot and killed by a white civilian officer. This was one of the many events that eventually led to 250 black soldiers from Dale Mabry Field and Camp Gordon Johnston storming Frenchtown in a large riot. The aftermath of this event left black soldiers even fewer opportunities, as they were not allowed to leave the bases. The World War II era set the stage for a black revolution but it would take another 15 years before a true civil rights movement would happen in America. Until than the African Americans would continue to have to live in an unrealistic world of separate but equal.

World war two was an important time for the state of Florida. Many military training facilities were built. Turning out troops and making products for the war became Florida’s second largest industry next to tourism at the time. The attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 saw great changes in the tourism industry of Florida. The start of the second world war and the bombing of Pearl harbour increased the flow of tourists. Miami became a hotspot for tourists, earning the name “Magic City” in 1943. By the end of the second world war there was a growing Hispanic and Latino population. This would see tourism in a more broadened demographic which helped solidify Florida as a leader in the tourism industry.

Race Relations in the 1920s[edit | edit source]

The race relations that existed in Florida between African Americans and Whites was not strong in the 1920s. One of the prominent African American newspapers in the country described one of Florida’s biggest cities, Miami, as the “forbidden city.” This was evident as African Americans were forced to settle west of the railroad, in inland Florida away from the shoreline were white settlers and tourists would predominantly be. Furthermore, those African Americans living west of the railway were forced to endure unsanitary living conditions. As a result, they succumbed to disease more easily and the infant mortality rate doubled compared to that of the rest of Florida.

A case that portrays race relations in Florida during this time period is the Rosewood Massacre of 1923. Rosewood was a community that was located in Midwest Florida and was inhabited by both African American and White people. This event proves to be an example of race relations during this time as the property damage and riots that ensued during the Rosewood Massacre were sparked by racial conflict. The destruction of the community was described as a race riot and resulted in houses owned by African Americans to be burned to the ground and never repaired. The Rosewood Massacre resulted in the deaths of eight people, two of which were white and six African Americans. This event was also significant because it was the first time where Black people were compensated for injuries sparked by racism, although this would come much later in 1994.