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History of Florida/The "Sunshine State" in Popular Culture, 1865-present

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Florida State Seal

Home to sunshine, beaches, oranges and Mickey Mouse, the "Sunshine State" has become a popular image in American culture. From its early days of statehood, tourism and vacationing have been incredibly popular industries in Florida. While Florida's earliest tourism attractions were more primitive, such as sport hunting and fishing, the state's tourism industry diversified over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to include major attractions like Disney World. Outside the realm of tourism, Florida also has a strong sporting culture. The state is home to many sports teams at both professional and college levels, while hosting Major League Baseball's Grapefruit League. Another claim to fame for the "Sunshine State" is its identity as the retirement paradise, as many seniors chose to spend the golden years here. Moreover, Florida has a strong influence in the film industry. This chapter is dedicated to examining these elements, as well as others, that have made Florida a staple in the United States and world popular culture.

Vacation in Florida[edit | edit source]

Welcome To Daytona Beach

Florida’s climate, entertainment, and recreational opportunities offer a uniquely exotic and romantic way of life. This fantasy lifestyle is the main pull factor making Florida a primary destination for a tropical escape. In the early twentieth century, Florida boasted approximately 1.5 million visitors each year. In the 1940's, Seagrove Beach was a popular and semi-isolated family place to unwind, relax, swim, and fish. A sudden increase in popularity is seen after the state built Highway 30-A in the 1970's, as it created convenience and ease of access. In the mid-1980's, Seaside Beach became popular and was quite successful as it was designed to free people of the modern urban life. Florida’s tourism and vacationing greatly benefited from the post-World War II boom and from the prosperity and promise of the 1950's.

Daytona Beach[edit | edit source]

Daytona Beach Bike Week, 2008

Located along the East coast line of Florida, with over twenty three miles of white sand beaches and clear blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Daytona Beach is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Florida. John D. Rockefeller created the character of Daytona Beach in the late 1800's which is still thriving today. The beach offers a unique history, cultural activities, coastal pleasures, and adventure. Activities such as golfing, sailing, surfboarding, parasailing, and deep sea fishing are regularly offered. At the turn of the twentieth century, Daytona Beach became most well-known for famous automobile racing along its beaches. Today, it is known as the home of the Daytona International Speedway, home of the Daytona 500 stock car races. (See section on culturally significant sporting.) Daytona Beach is also the home of "Daytona Beach Bike Week", one of the United States' largest motorcycle events. First held in the late 1930s, Daytona Beach Bike Week attacks hundreds of thousands of patrons each year.

Disney in Florida[edit | edit source]

Disney's Construction and Impact[edit | edit source]

Walt Disney World Resort Logo

Florida's Walt Disney World is a prominent cultural icon for America and is often referred to as the popular culture capital of the world. Based on his dream of an idealistic utopia, Walt Disney built Disneyland in California in 1955. Not long after suffered a major setback when there was limited room for expansion. Walt and his brother Roy turned to the area surrounding Orlando, Florida as a strategic location to build their new park because of the cheap land prices, freeway proximity, and potential for millions of customers from east of the Mississippi River. In October 1965, the park was officially announced and Disney’s Imagineers quickly began constructing Walt’s dream. Although the park’s namesake died in late 1966, construction continued. After years of diligent work, Walt Disney World officially opened on October 23, 1971. Within its first year, the Florida park far outdistanced its Californian predecessor, claiming a total of 10,712,991 visitors and grossing over $139 million. Dependent on the season, Disney World employs between 8,000 and 15,000 individuals which, when added to daily visitor population, can amount to over 80,000 people within the park at any given time.

The construction and opening of Walt Disney World had a tremendous influence and catalytic effect on Central Florida. As the most expensive tourist destination ever built and the most widely publicized business venture in history, the Disney project has been deemed the most important economic event in Florida’s history. In the years following Disney World’s unveiling, land prices tripled, jobs far outnumbered available labourers, and Florida’s population skyrocketed. Tourists were drawn from the furthest corners of the country, and the world. This lead to an exponential boom in Florida’s tourism industry. Some of the main destinations that benefited were Orlando, Daytona Beach, and Tampa, while facilitating the construction and expansion of sights like the Kennedy Space Centre and Busch Gardens. Disney World itself emerged as a touristic phenomenon with its packaged vacations and ideas of a self-contained “total destination” resort, providing both convenience and entertainment to its guests.

Cultural Significance[edit | edit source]

Cinderella's Castle, Magic Kingdom

Mickey Mouse has been a cultural icon since the 1930's. Walt Disney World greatly expanded the influence of Disney in American popular culture. In the fabrication of his many worlds, including Magic Kingdom, Tomorrowland, and Fantasyland. Walt Disney was able to gauge common values and desires to influence Americans on a massive scale. Main Street USA, which welcomes guests into the park, recreates a typical turn of the century American Main Street that taps into American nostalgia and a desire to return to one’s own childhood and the childhood of the nation. Likewise, Tomorrowland embodies American dreams and desires for a brighter tomorrow. Cinderella’s storybook castle acts as the magnet of the entire park emphasizing the public’s longing for Walt’s fantastical utopia and a society much different from their own. In this way, Disney selects parts of the American experience and disseminates them in ways that are easy to understand, creating a symbol of American culture and commonality among Americans.

By creating a common culture, the Disney brand is able to promote the consumer and commercial cultures that are so central to the American ethos. Consumerism in the United States has reached unprecedented levels since the end of World War II as a result of increased leisure time and middle class influence, conveniently allowing Walt to expand his brand and influence in American popular culture. As time has progressed, the Disney brand had done nothing but increased in scope, size, and diversity. New Disney films and products are released annually allowing Disney to become an integral part of American childhoods and experiences. Within Florida, Walt Disney World has continuously expanded adding new parks like Animal Kingdom and constructing iconic landmarks like the Disney Monorail to enhance visitor experience.

Theme Parks in Florida[edit | edit source]

Universal Studios in Orlando

Since their emergence in Europe during the early 1500's, theme parks have remained an iconic image in American culture from the countries very beginning. Serving as a place of entertainment for the entire family to enjoy, amusement parks and theme parks alike have sprouted up across the nation since the early 1850's. Although these parks may be found in various locations across the nation, Central Florida has evolved into the hub for all things amusement.

Walt Disney World was innovative and like nothing before it, millions of people began to flock here quickly propelling the park onto the global stage. By the late 1980's Walt Disney World led all amusement parks in attendance, attracting visitors from across the globe. This shakeup brought in all sorts of new people. With this the image of culture of Central Florida began to suddenly evolve and change. Prior to Disney’s expansion Central Florida was predominantly home to many retired senior citizens. Since then, the region has been called home for a short time by hundreds of millions of tourists who have quickly taken over the surrounding industries.

Walt Disney World was able to successfully introduce a new culture to the region, causing the growth of that niche market and inspiring competitors like Busch Gardens, Sea World, and Universal Studios. These secondary competitors helped to ingrain and solidify the new culture that Walt Disney introduced. Executives at other entertainment companies were noticing the growing popularity of Walt Disney World, and began expand operations into this unique market. Having already been established since the 1950's, executives at Anheuser Busch realized they would be ruined if they did not expand their operations as well. Slowly adding to the growing thrill seeking culture, Busch Gardens also began to install thrill rides in their park in order to directly compete with Disney throughout the 1970's. Soon after, Sea World Orlando was opened for business in December of 1973, giving people yet another alternative to the already popular Disney World. As the entertainment and thrill seeking culture was seeing continued growth across the globe throughout the late 1980's. Universal Entertainment had a plan in the works that would enshrine the Central Florida region as one of the greatest family vacation spots in the world. By tapping into a niche market of extreme adrenaline junkies in 1990, Universal was able to successfully scale up operations, and has consistently placed second in global attendance ever since. Unlike its competitors Universal Entertainment was able to successfully target a different segment of the market, allowing the entire industry to evolve technologically as a whole into the new age. Although these parks continue to remain successful, they will forever be indebted to Walt Disney’s original vision that introduced an entirely new culture to the world.

The Elderly in Florida[edit | edit source]

The Retirement State[edit | edit source]

Elderly Man Playing Shuffleboard in Florida Retirement Community

Florida has long been unofficially deemed the “Retirement State”. This cozy spot on the Sunshine Belt is home to a vast array of seniors who are looking to live out their days in this worldly paradise, before passing on to the next. Florida provides the elderly with the greatest opportunity to live life to the fullest. A large pull factor is that it is often a place that these individuals vacationed in their youth. The static weather in Florida is incredibly attractive to seniors because one of the biggest hassles that they face is the maintenance of their dwellings. Slush, sleet, snow and falling leaves clogging up eaves-troughs become worries of the past as Florida has an average temperature of 22*C. In an interview, an elderly man summed up the appeal of Florida for himself and countless others when he said “In New York, I had cold, work, crime, and noise. Here, I have everything good”. A generation that is known for having sacrificed their own needs in the pursuit of bettering their children's lives is finally able to put themselves first. One way of doing this is to exploit the variety of activities that the constant warm weather allows. For example, residents may swim in beautiful pools, play bocce ball, or engage in a round of shuffle board. Many retirement homes offer less strenuous physical activity and replace it with cerebral acrobatics such as language classes. A popular language that is taught in these communities is Yiddish due to the large Jewish population. Events to occupy one’s time not only take place on the grounds of the community but also outside of it. Newspapers advertise breakfast and lunch specials that are specially catered to the senior’s preference and schedules. As a retirement state, Florida attracts many people from outside of the state especially in the northern United States and Canada.

Demographic Impacts[edit | edit source]

Florida Age Distribution, 2000 Census

Florida's population distribution is unique in that it includes a majority that is elderly. This demographic is unique because it challenges a major societal stereotype. This generalization is that the use of alcohol decreases as your age increases. However, in Florida, this is not the case. Senior Floridians boast the highest amount of risky drinking which is identified as 10 or more drinks in a week and or five or more drinks in a single sitting. When contrasting the amount of risky drinking done by the elderly in Florida to the rest of the country one finds that 24.1% versus 21.8%. Moreover, another social problem that is encountered by a certain section of this demographic is a lack of inclusiveness. This specific section is also referred to as the “snow birds”. A snow bird is a person who spends a significant amount of time living “up north” each year. When moving from one locus to another and back it is hard to maintain lasting relationships. Seniors are noted for being especially set in their ways. This is evident when one is organizing a weekly card night or golf game. During this process snow birds are commonly over looked. Another boundary that the aging population in retirement communities of Florida faces is that of transportation. The choice of many elders is to rely on their family and friends for rides to and from destinations. This often makes the seniors feel like a burden when asking for a ride, so only essential trips make the cut when querying for availability. An attempt to remedy this problem has been made by communities by providing a personal shuttle to and from shopping centers. The senior migration movement in Florida is still relatively young in the scheme of the state’s history. Hopefully these various barriers can be remedied.

Sports in Florida[edit | edit source]

Major Professional Sports[edit | edit source]

Sports Teams by State

Sports have always played a prominent role in the popular culture of Florida, both for residents of the State and visiting tourists. Although collegiate sports remain more popular, Florida has also produced a number of professional sports franchises across the 'Big Four' North American sports; this includes football, basketball, baseball and hockey. Currently, Florida is home to nine professional sports teams, the first of which was the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League (NFL), established in 1966. The team was initially a member of the American Football League, a competitor of the NFL, before moving to the NFL in the 1970 during the AFL/NFL merger. Despite being the only major team in Florida at the time, the Dolphins were able to make history, becoming the first and only team in NFL history to go undefeated throughout an entire season. The 1972 Dolphins outscored opponents 440-209, on route to winning Super Bowl VII. By the 1980's, the major professional leagues of North America, the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) had yet to expand to Florida to any great extent.

During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, professional franchises expanded into Florida. In one decade, Florida gained seven franchises and, as a result, became the home of a number of other champion professional sport teams. The Florida Marlins (now Miami Marlins) won the World Series in 1997, just four years after being established as a Major League Baseball franchise in 1993, along with NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars and NHL's Florida Panthers. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, also of the NFL, won the Super Bowl in 2002. The Tampa Bay Lightning of the National Hockey League won the 2004 Stanley Cup after entering the league as an expansion franchise in 1992. In 1988 and 1989, the NBA placed two expansion teams in Florida. The three time NBA champions, Miami Heat (2006, 2012, 2013) in 1988, became Florida’s first NBA team. Located in downtown Miami, the Heat are in a prime location to attract thousands of fans to their games. The following year, 1989, the State was granted its second NBA team, the Orlando Magic. The Magic had strong fan support in their first seasons, however, an aging arena and lackluster talent into the 2000's resulted in falling attendance numbers, which continue to be an issue for the franchise today, as mentioned by Michael A. Mitrook. In 1993, the Florida Panthers joined the NHL, David Whitson discussed how the Panthers lack the success and fan base of the Lightning, rendering them as one of the least attended teams in the league. The last franchise to come to Florida would be the MLB’s, Tampa Bay Rays in 1998. In total, the professional franchises in Florida have combined to win a total of nine championship trophies, and at least one in every of the "Big Four" American sports.

The Grapefruit League[edit | edit source]

Grapefruit League Spring Training Venue

Arguably, Florida’s greatest tie to professional sports is the Grapefruit League. Located in cities across the "Sunshine State", the Grapefruit League is home to the Major League Baseball spring training, currently hosting the pre-season training of fifteen MLB teams. The Grapefruit League began in 1888, long before a major league was established in Florida. Studies by the Florida Sports Foundation estimate that spring training produces more than $500 million in revenues annually. Thousands of tourists and fans plan vacations to Florida yearly to watch their favourite athletes play, with a total game attendance of over 1.7 million in 2015.

College Sports[edit | edit source]

Florida Gators Logo

Florida sports were traditionally dominated by college athletics. Two of the most popular teams are the Florida State Seminoles and the University of Florida Gators. Football being the sport of choice for most Floridians and each year, both teams attract roughly 80,000 people per home game. Florida’s loyalty is divided over the two teams but the common theme is that the team has become part of the identity of the fans. Both teams play in separate conferences in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and each year manage to have a powerful football program. The University of Florida pays homage to the symbolic alligator, while Florida State uses that of the Seminole. The name was chosen by students in 1947 and is officially sanctioned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.[1]

Culturally Significant Sporting[edit | edit source]

Daytona 500, 2008

In the second half of the nineteenth century, as the railroad came to Florida, it became known as a sportsman’s paradise, as discussed by Larry Youngs. Florida had many exotic species such as alligators, sharks and various birds, which were unknown to the North. Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, many sportsmen came to the State to hunt. Unfortunately, this resulted in the major disruption of the ecosystem, as well as destruction of the animal species populations in Florida, which the State still deals with today.

In 1895, golf, a sport Florida is nationally renowned for, was first played in the northern parts of the United States. Migration south brought the game along, turning it into a year round sport, as discussed by Gary Ross Mormino. In the twentieth century, golf began to boom in Florida. First, courses were built for resorts, then, to housing developments in the State. By the year 2000, Florida had over one thousand golf courses. These factors allowed Florida to become one of the most popular golf destinations in North America. Due to its high concentration of golf courses it should be of no surprise that Florida has bred some of the top golfers on both the men's and women's Professional Golf Association Tour, like Matt Kuchar, Lexi Thompson and two time masters champion, Bubba Watson.

One of Florida’s most acclaimed sporting heritage is in that of motor sport, which is discussed extensively by Steve Glassman. Florida is home to the oldest race track in the United States, Sebring Race Way. Each year the race hosts what is perhaps the biggest race of the NASCAR season, the Daytona 500. The race first ran modestly in the 1950's, however, today NASCAR is the second highest rated spectator sport in the United States. Each February the State attracts over two hundred thousand fans flocking to Daytona International Speedway to watch the premier race of the season. The Daytona 500 each year features some of the best racers NASCAR has to offer, and each year is a new spectacle, however no race may trump the tragedy that was the 2001 running of the Dayton 500. It was in this year that a name synonymous with the sport of racing was killed. Dale Earnhardt was involved involved in a crash during the final lap which causing sever head trauma to Earnhardt, who refused to wear the restrictive helmet straps that may have significantly reduced the trauma. The race is now known as Black Sunday in the NASCAR community.

Gaming Industry[edit | edit source]

Greyhound Racing Track

Along with its collegiate and professional sport franchises, Florida also boasts a long history in the gaming industry. In the 1920's horse racing and dog racing became an integral part of the 'Golden Age' of sports and was attributed to the rapid increase of discretionary income associated with the economic boom of the period. The oldest greyhound track in the United States, Derby Lane, opened in 1927 and is located in St. Petersburg, Florida and the Miami Jockey Club opened Hialeah, the first thoroughbred horse racing track in Florida in 1925. The legalization of horse racing and dog racing in 1931 was a result of the economic need created by the Great Depression and the land boom of 1924-25. As part of the pari-mutuel industry horse racing and dog racing contributed to the $1,968,649.30 of the industry’s revenues by the end of 1939. By 1949, revenues had an increase of 1176.9% from when the sport began in 1931-32.

Jai Alai Fronton in Miami

In 1935, Jai alai was added to the list of legalized pari-mutuel events. This ball game came to Cuba from Spain in 1898 and from Cuba it was successfully introduced to Miami, Florida as a professional sport in 1926. Jai Alia’s addition to sport betting created quinella, perfecta, exacta and trifecta bets. To this day Florida has more Jai alia playing courts, known as frontons, then any other country. Together with Jai alia, horseracing and dog racing the pari-mutuel industry has created a sustainable source of entertainment and income for Florida that continues today. The industry has expanded from six dog tracks and three horse tracks in 1931 to eighteen dog tracks, seven Jai alia frontons, five thoroughbred tracks and one harness track in 2004. The pari-mutuel industry continued to grow and flourish up until the 1980s, when it experienced it first decline in patron attendance and revenues, a trend that continues today. This decline can be attributed to the increase in competition from the State lottery, slot machines and casinos.

Oranges in Florida[edit | edit source]

History of Orange Production and Usage[edit | edit source]

Florida: The Land of Sunshine, Oranges, and Health by the Belmore Florida Land Company in 1885. To see full document, visit: https://archive.org/details/floridalandofsun00belm

When one thinks of Florida, oranges may immediately come to mind. There are some more prominent Floridian symbols, such as Disney, but citrus production has been well-known for many years. In 1966, Florida was producing approximately ¼ of the world's orange crop. The fruit plays a key role in the history of the State because of the success Florida claims within the industry. Florida is well-suited for growing oranges due to its warm climate and the heavy amounts of rainfall it receives. The birth of the orange tree in Florida occurred after Ponce de Léon arrived in the area in 1513. De Léon and his crew had brought seeds with them from Spain and spread them everywhere they went in the New World. Native Americans expanded the growth of orange trees even further inland from the Spanish colonies by bringing seeds back to their homes as well. After Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821, the orange business started to grow in areas such as St. Augustine and the St. Johns River. Around 1835, oranges along the Indian River made Florida groves a worldwide hit.

Orange production began to have a significant influence on the State after the Disston Purchase in 1881, in which Hamilton Disston bought four million acres of land in Florida and re-sold much of it to land prospecting companies. These organizations began to use the success of the orange business to attract buyers. An example of this kind of advertising is a booklet made by the Belmore Florida Land Company in 1885 (see image on right). Its purpose was to convince settlers to come to Florida. A majority of the information it contains refers to orange production, strongly emphasizing the large income that orange farmers were making. The Belmore Florida Land Company made Florida look quite attractive when it portrayed orange production with descriptive and engaging language, for example: “the aesthetic cultivator becomes a true lover of his sweet and beautiful pet… when this beauty is accompanied with useful, golden, and gold-bearing fruit, affording a living and promising all other material luxuries, then the lover appreciates his grove only less than he does his wife…”. These sorts of advertisements influenced new settlers to immigrate to Florida and expand the industry.

Oranges continued their fame in Florida with the invention of frozen orange juice concentrate. Canned orange juice had been around since the early 1900s, but people did not overly enjoy the flavour, as it was said the production process tainted its original taste. Frozen concentrate on the other hand, was a huge success. During World War II, scientists in Florida came up with the idea when they were trying to figure out ways to ensure American soldiers were getting the vitamins they needed while out on the battlefield. The recipe was not successful until after the war, but consumers still went crazy for it.

Oranges and Tourism[edit | edit source]

Florida Oranges

Oranges became a symbol for Florida due to the tourism pull that they created for business purposes. In the first half of the twentieth century, fresh oranges and orange juice stands lined the highways of Florida and became quite popular for travelers. Unfortunately, as time has passed, Florida has become less well-known for its capital on oranges. Overall, the State is producing less than it used to. Until the 1980's, Florida was the leading international producer of orange juice, which changed due to a series of atypical winters causing frost damage to a large amount of orange trees. Today, Brazil has taken the reigns as the world leader in orange production, which can be largely attributed to the lost costs of available labour. Another theory on Florida's decline in orange production is attributed to the new tourist attractions in State. While this chapter lists the positive changes that Disney World brought to the State, there were also many negative side effects from the theme park opening in 1971, as well as the creation of SeaWorld in 1973. Citrus growers and other farmers sold their land to developers due to the huge boom in tourism that resulted from these theme parks. Even still, the orange became a symbol of the State itself and today represents its abundance, “golden” atmosphere, warmth, beauty, and vitality.

Film in Florida[edit | edit source]

Follow That Dream Premiere

History of Floridian Films[edit | edit source]

While Hollywood, California is the major center of film culture in the United States, Florida has been given the name of “Hollywood East” and is considered another major center of film. Florida’s film industry has been part of its culture for over half of a century and has managed to showcase Florida’s cites as well as its natural beauty. As a result, the film industry generates millions of dollars each year for the State. Whether it be a feature film, a television series, or a commercial, film productions help to show of the prestige of the State to the world. In the late 1930's, the Florida State government published Florida, A Guide to the Southern Most State, which was made to help bring business to Florida. The film industry became heavily interested in Florida due to its vivid scenery and potential for movie sets. During this time, two films, Seminole and Distant Drums, were set in Florida and played off of the Native American roots of the region. It would be during the 1950s that the film business in Florida would explode, as actors, producers, and film crews flocked to the State, making it a major centre for film and the new television industry. During this time, popular films like Follow That Dream, starring Elvis Presley, and arguably the best instalment of the James Bond series, Goldfinger, were filmed in Florida. In the 1980's, Florida would be the setting for the Bill Murray cult classic Caddyshack and the instant hit Scarface. Into the twenty first century, Florida continues to be a major center of the film industry, valued at over thirty billion dollars in 2007. Notably, the industry has had major trickle down impact on the States restaurants, hotels, and tourism.

Recent Films in Florida[edit | edit source]

Iron Man 3
Marley & Me

The following is a list of recent movies that have been filmed or created in Florida:

  • Tomorrowland (2015)
  • Iron Man 3 (2013)
  • Pain and Gain (2013)
  • Magic Mike (2012)
  • Marley and Me (2008)
  • Sydney White (2007)
  • Miami Vice (2006)
  • Red Eye (2005)
  • 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

References[edit | edit source]