In 1513, Ponce de LeÃ³n, seeking the mythical â€œFountain of Youth,â€ discovered and named Florida, claiming it for Spain. Later, Florida would be held at different times by Spain and England until Spain finally sold it to the United States in 1819. (Incidentally, France established a colony named Fort Caroline in 1564 in the state that was to become Florida.)
Florida's economy rests on a solid base of tourism, manufacturing, and agriculture. Leading the manufacturing sector are electrical equipment and electronics, printing and publishing, transportation equipment, food processing, and machinery. Oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits lead Florida's agricultural products list, followed by potatoes, melons, strawberries, sugar cane, peanuts, dairy products, and cattle.
Major tourist attractions are Miami Beach, Palm Beach, St. Augustine (founded in 1565, thus the oldest permanent city in the U.S.), Daytona Beach, and Fort Lauderdale on the East Coast; Sarasota, Tampa, and St. Petersburg on the West Coast; and Key West off the southern tip of Florida. The Orlando area, where Disney World is located on a 27,000-acre site, is Florida's most popular tourist destination. Also drawing many visitors are the NASA Kennedy Space Center's Spaceport USA, Everglades National Park, and the Epcot Center.
In the presidential race of 2000â€”an election cliffhangerâ€”the whole country looked to Florida. With George W. Bush having won 246 electoral votes and Al Gore 255, the election hung on which of the candidates would win Florida's crucial 25 electoral votes. But on Nov. 11, after the mandatory machine recount in Florida revealed that Bush held the lead by only a few hundred votes, the election began its tortuous journey through various Florida county recounts and judicial system, ultimately ending in the U.S. Supreme Court.
On February 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by crime watch volunteer George Zimmerman in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. The death of an unarmed, African-American teenager and the decision by Sanford police not to charge Zimmerman sparked protests across the nation. In April, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder.
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Selected famous natives and residents:
- Julian â€œCannonballâ€ Adderley jazz saxophonist;
- Pat Boone singer;
- Fernando Bujones ballet dancer;
- Steve Carlton baseball player;
- Faye Dunaway actress;
- Gloria Estefan singer;
- Stepin Fetchit (Lincoln Theodore Perry) comedian;
- Lue Gim Gong horticulturist;
- Zora Neale Hurston writer;
- Daniel James air force general;
- James Weldon Johnson author and educator;
- Frances Langford singer;
- Butterfly McQueen actress;
- Jim Morrison singer;
- Osceola Seminole Indian leader;
- Sidney Poitier actor;
- A. Philip Randolph labor leader;
- Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings author;
- Burt Reynolds actor;
- Charles and John Ringling circus entrepreneurs;
- Joseph W. Stilwell army general;
- Norman E. Thargard astronaut;
- Clarence Thomas jurist;
- Ben Vereen actor.
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