Florida, known as the Sunshine State, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. With its pristine beaches, vibrant culture, and rich history, Florida offers a diverse range of experiences to its visitors and residents. Home to world-famous theme parks like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, and natural wonders such as the Everglades National Park, Florida is a state of endless discovery and adventure.
Florida is located on a peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Straits of Florida. Spanning two time zones, Florida extends northwesterly into a panhandle, extending along the northern Gulf of Mexico. It is bordered by Georgia and Alabama to the north, and by Alabama to the west as well. Florida is also the southernmost of the 48 contiguous states, although Hawaii reaches farther south. Florida is 90 miles (140 km) north of Cuba, which played an important role in the history of the state.
At 345 feet (105 m) above mean sea level, Britton Hill is the highest point in Florida and the lowest “high point” of any U.S. state. Much of the state is at or near sea level, however, places such as Clearwater have promontories that rise 50 to 100 ft (15 to 30 m) above the water. The highest point in peninsular Florida, Sugarloaf Mountain, is a 312-foot (95 m) peak in Lake County, thus making Florida, on average, the flattest state in the United States.
Florida People and Population
Florida is the third-most populous state in the United States. Its residents include people from a variety of ethnic, racial, national, and religious backgrounds. This is most evident from the attraction of immigrants to Florida, particularly from Latin America. While most people living in Florida identify as White, the second most populous ethnic group identifies as Hispanic/Latino. This is due to the proximity of Cuba which saw a mass migration from Cuba to Florida in the middle of the 20th Century.
The basic structure, duties, functions, and operations of the government of the State of Florida are defined by the Florida Constitution. Much like the federal government of the United States of America, Florida's government consists of three separate branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The Florida Legislature comprises the Florida Senate, which has 40 members, and the Florida House of Representatives, which has 120 members. The current governor of Florida is Ron DeSantis. As for the judicial branch, it is headed by the Florida Supreme Court which consists of a chief justice and six justices.
The state government's primary revenue source is sales tax. Florida is one of eight states that do not impose a personal income tax.
The economy of the state of Florida is the fourth-largest in the United States, with a $1.3 trillion gross national product (GDP) as of 2022. According to the International Monetary Fund, if Florida was a sovereign nation it would rank as the world’s 16th largest economy.
Florida Interesting Facts
Florida is world-renowned when it comes to its beaches, amusement parks, and warm climate. Whether it is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Everglades National Park, the beaches of Miami, or Walt Disney World, Florida became an important part of the 20th and 21st century United States zeitgeist as the state attracts millions of tourists each year who visit the state. Additionally, sporting events from Florida state universities bring in millions of dollars each year and people pay to see teams from the University of Florida, Florida State, and the University of Miami play sports such as football and basketball.
The history of Florida dates back to the time of European exploration and colonization by Spain. Let’s take a closer look at this fascinating area and its journey to statehood!
It is thought that ancient indigenous peoples first entered Florida from the north around 12,000 years ago. The first evidence of farming of the state dates to around 500 B.C.E as indigenous peoples continued to arrive and settle into the area. These early settlers appear to have contacted groups in Cuba, as well as the “Mississippian Culture” of the Midwest and Southeastern portions of what is now the United States. Up until European contact with Florida in the 16th century, it is estimated that several hundred thousand natives lived in the area that became the state of Florida.
The name Florida comes from the famous Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León who first landed on the peninsula in 1513. As he arrived during the Easter Season (in Spanish it is called Pascua Florida, or “Season of Flowers”) and saw a variety of vegetation during his initial visit, Ponce de León decided to name the land Florida. Thinking he was on another island within the Caribbean, Ponce de León did not establish a settlement during his first trip to Florida. Historians believe that his initial voyage led him to the region of Florida that is not much further north than present-day West Palm Beach. Returning in 1521, he established a colony near what is now Fort Myers. Juan Ponce de León died later in 1521 near Havana Cuba.
Throughout the rest of the 16th century many Spanish explorers traversed the Florida peninsula. In 1528 Pánfilo de Narváez landed on the shores of present-day Tampa Bay with more than 400 men who wanted to see how Florida was connected to Mexico as it was less than a decade since Cortes overthrew the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan near modern-day Mexico City. Within a year of Pánfilo de Narváez’s voyage, only 15 members of his crew survived, with de Narváez drowning in a storm in the Caribbean. Of this group, four Spaniards and Estebán, a Moorish slave who was the first black man known to have entered Florida, reached Culiacán, Mexico in 1536. Hernando de Soto came in 1539, landing near Tampa and Sarasota. Tristán de Luna y Arellano attempted to set up a Spanish colony at Pensacola Bay nearly 20 years later. Unfortunately for the Spanish, this settlement was destroyed in 1561 by a hurricane. The first successful colony came in the form of St. Augustine by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565. To this day, St. Augustine is considered the oldest “city” in the United States. For the next 250 years, Florida was simply a wilderness that saw countless battles between European powers in the race for colonization of the Americas.
The French arrived at the area in 1564 when a group of French Protestants who originally established Fort Caroline on the banks of the River of May (St. Johns River), near modern-day Jacksonville. French colonizers battled with frequent raids by the English, including famed English explorer Sir Francis Drake in 1586. Battles for the region continued through the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries by the Spanish, French, and British.
These battles led to the systematic destruction of almost all native groups in Florida by the mid-1700s. Whether it was by war or disease, the death and displacement of the indigenous population by Europeans shifted the demographic landscape of Florida.
Pre-Civil War History
Spain essentially traded Florida to England in 1763 for Havana, Cuba. England replaced the military government with civilian officials. Following the American Revolution however, there was political upheaval as the British lost much of its influence within the American colonies with the establishment of the United States of America. This led Florida returning to Spain not long after the war and followed up with decades of conflict between the people of Florida and the new United States.
During the War of 1812, the British employed (or convinced) indigenous Floridians to attack U.S settlements. These minor incursions gave way to the first expanded armed conflict between natives in Florida and the United States: The First Seminole War (1817-1818). Future U.S President Andrew Jackson (who was a General at the time) captured Pensacola in 1818 as there were around 5,000 Seminoles who were in Florida at the time. In 1821, Spain ceded Florida to the United States, and by 1831 the Seminole were coerced to accept a treaty removing them from Florida to Oklahoma. The Second Seminole War erupted from 1835 to 1842 as Seminole leader Osceola refused to give up his land. However, most of the Seminoles were defeated and were forced to move to Oklahoma over the course of the 1840s and 1850s.
Statehood of Florida
With Florida becoming an American-owned territory in 1821, a legislative body was needed. The Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida was created in 1822 and they decided on factors for the new territory, such as the capital. Pensacola and St. Augustine were selected as rotating capitals, but long trips from one city to the other brought upon a new capital in Tallahassee. Located in north Florida, Tallahassee was the midway point between Pensacola and St. Augustine and remains the capital to this day.
By 1845, when Florida was admitted to the union, only a few hundred Seminoles remained in the state. The Third Seminole War (1855–58) was their final conflict with the federal government.
Slave owners in Florida led the state to secede from the United States in 1861 and join the Confederacy. During the American Civil War (1861–65), military action in the state was mostly limited to the capture of coastal cities by Union troops.
Post-Civil War History
During Reconstruction (1865-1877) following the Civil War, Florida was occupied by the U.S. Army. Their initial goal was to enforce equal rights for African Americans. This period saw black Floridians collaborating with white citizens in the Republican Party, and Republicans dominated the governorship from 1868 to 1877. In 1877, however, Democrats, who were led by former Confederates, regained control of the state government. Over the next several decades they enacted legislation called Jim Crow Laws which disenfranchised blacks and established a system of legalized racial segregation that lasted until the mid-1900s.
Until the 1880s, Florida’s economy had been dominated by small-farm and plantation agriculture such as cotton and tobacco. This explains the rather slow economic growth of the state, especially when looking at 20th-century growth. In 1881 phosphate was discovered in the Peace River valley, and extensive mining began immediately. During this period, both the lumber industry and cigar industry began to flourish in the state as well. The lumber industry was based in the northern and western parts of the state, while cigar manufacturers came from Cuba to establish their networks in the U.S.
While growth in Florida during its first 250 years of colonization was rather slow, its growth during the 20th century was exponentially large. During the first few decades of the 1900s, many people went to Florida to buy up the land. This time period saw the emergence of popular movements such as the strive to drain the Everglades to create new farmlands. This effort was spearheaded by Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, who eventually became governor of Florida and is the namesake for the current Broward County. World War II saw the U.S military move into the state and the post-war period saw a sudden and sustained population growth. Americans were excited by the prospect of relocating to the state for its warm climate. The 1950s and 1960s saw thousands of Cuban exiles who were fleeing from Fidel Castro’s regime. In terms of U.S politics during this time, Florida remained Democratically conservative since the end of Reconstruction in the 1870s, and they dominated state and local politics. Opportunities and influence arose for Latin Americans, but this was mostly confined to the Miami and Tampa Bay regions. Much like the rest of the United States at the time, opportunities for African Americans were extremely limited throughout the state.
During the second half of the 20th century and leading into the 21st century, Florida’s growth has continued in terms of entertainment, construction, and services. In 1962, the John F. Kennedy Space Center was opened, and the site has been NASA’s main launch center for human space flight since 1968. Opened in 1971, Disney World attracts nearly 58 million visitors a year. Additionally, since 1966 Florida has been given numerous professional sports teams, with nine of them coming since 1988 alone. This has led Florida to become one of the largest economies in the world, as tourism exists year-round.
Since 2000, Florida has played a crucial role in the political landscape of the United States as the state determined the 2000 Presidential Election and has seen itself embedded in the current Republican Party world between former U.S. President Donald Trump and current Florida Governor Ron Desantis. More recently, the political climate of the state factored into the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Public records show that state agencies passed Florida statutes that significantly affected the health care of millions of Floridians, including those with Medicaid and disabilities as healthcare providers were overwhelmed by people getting sick in 2020 and 2021.
People Also Ask...
That’s everything you need to know about Florida, but how well do you know the other U.S. states and their geography? For the ultimate test, try out this challenge in which you identify states by their shapes: Infoplease's State Outlines Quiz.
What is Florida’s main source of income?
Sales taxes make up around 80% of the general revenue collected by the state of Florida. The tax is used on goods and services. Its rate is set by the government, and the current rate is 6% for the state.
What is the #1 college in Florida?
Based on U.S News and World Report rankings, the #1 college in Florida is the University of Florida. The University of Florida is roughly two miles away from downtown Gainesville, a college town bolstered by the school’s more than 50,000 students. The University of Florida came in as the 29th best university in the United States.
What city in Florida is the cheapest to live in?
The cheapest city to live in Florida is Bartow. Located between Tampa Bay and Orlando, Bartow is a small town with around 20,000 people. Buying or renting a home or an apartment is about 8.5% cheaper than the national average.
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Selected famous natives and residents:
- Julian “Cannonballâ€ 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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