Southeasternmost state of the USA, bordered to the north by Georgia and by Alabama; area 139,670 sq km/53,927 sq mi; population (2010) 18,801,310; capital Tallahassee. Florida is a low-lying tropical peninsula, and has large areas of swampland, such as the Everglades, as well as large bays, lagoons, and beaches along the coastline. The Florida Keys island chain extends to the southwest. Florida produces much of the citrus fruit crop in the USA, and the fishing industry is also important, particularly the shrimp catch. Tourism and finance are significant industries, and there is manufacturing based around the NASA space programme at Cape Canaveral. The largest city and urban area is Jacksonville, and other major cities include Miami, Tampa, St Petersburg, Hialeah, Orlando, and Fort Lauderdale. Florida was admitted to the Union in 1845 as the 27th US state and is governed under the 1969 state constitution.
Physical Florida consists of a 640 km-/400 mi-long peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean, which it separates from the Gulf of Mexico, with a 390 km-/240 mi-long ‘panhandle’ to the northwest. It is an extremely low-lying state, mostly less than 30 m/100 ft above sea level. At its most southerly end, Florida is less than 160 km/100 mi from Cuba. South Florida is the only tropical region in continental USA; the rest of the state is subtropical. Florida has three main land areas: the Atlantic Coastal Plain; the East Gulf Coastal Plain; and the Florida uplands. The Atlantic Coastal Plain has a series of sand bars, coral reefs, and barrier islands lying in the Atlantic Ocean, separated from the mainland by a highly indented coastline of lagoons and bays. In the south of Florida there is a region of swamp covered by Big Cypress Swamp and the Everglades, a 5,000 sq km/1,930 sq mi World Heritage Site. This area has tropical wildlife with mangrove, magnolia, palm, and cypress trees, alligators, and colonies of egrets, herons, ibises, and pelicans. At the peninsula's most southerly end is a 220 km/135 mi-long chain of islands called the Florida Keys extending to the southwest. The largest of these islands is Key Largo and the most populated is Key West. In its southern ‘Hurricane Alley’, Florida is especially prone to storm damage.
The East Gulf Coastal Plain stretches around the northern edge of the Gulf of Mexico and includes Florida's western panhandle. It has coastal swamps and barrier islands. The Florida uplands have pine forests and lakes formed from caves called ‘sinkholes’. Other trees in the state include hickories, maples, and oaks. Florida has many kinds of wild flower, including azaleas, camellias, gardenias, hibiscus, oleanders, and poinsettias. Wildlife includes opossums, black bears, grey foxes, and wildcats. Florida's coastline includes Biscayne Bay, on the Atlantic coast and on the western coast Tampa, Charlotte Harbor, San Carlos, and Sarasota, with Florida Bay in the far south separating Florida Keys from the mainland. In the Gulf of Mexico are the bays Apalachee, Apalachicola, St Joseph, St Andrew, Choctawhatchee, and Pensacola. The largest river is the St Johns River flowing north roughly parallel to the Atlantic coastline. Other major rivers include the St Mary's River and three rivers that empty into the Gulf of Mexico: the Perdido, the Apalachicola, and the Suwannee. Florida has numerous mineral springs. The largest lake in Florida is the vast freshwater lake of Okeechobee at 1,800 sq km/700 sq mi. Florida has an extraordinary diversity of fish, with bass, bream, catfish, and crappies in its freshwater lakes and offshore bluefish, mackerel, marlin, menhaden, red snapper, sea trout, as well as clams, conches, crabs, crayfish, oysters, scallops, and shrimp in its coastal waters.
Features Florida is known primarily for its beaches and holiday resorts on the Gulf and on the Atlantic, especially Palm Beach island resort and the 37 km/23 mi-long Ormond-Daytona Beach. Other world-famous attractions are Universal Studios and Walt Disney World, which includes Epcot Center, near Orlando. Florida has numerous historic sites dating from Spanish colonial days, of which St Augustine, the oldest city in the USA, with Spanish and British colonial homes, is most prominent. St Augustine includes Fort Mose, a colonial period sanctuary for Africans challenging slavery in the British colony of Carolina. Other historic sites in Florida include the town of Pensacola, which has Spanish colonial buildings, and the Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century Spanish fortress. Florida's oldest inland town is Micanopy, established in the 18th century, and on the national register of historic places. Tallahassee has pre-Civil War plantation mansions, and the old seaport of Key West has many fine 19th-century buildings.
Florida also has several important marine parks including: Biscayne National Park, with a living coral reef 320 km/200 mi long; John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, near Key Largo; and Marineland (1938), the first oceanarium. Apalachia, Ocala, and Oscoela are national forests. Tropical gardens are also important and the most famous is Cypress Gardens near Winter Haven. Miami has a famous zoo, Miami Metrozoo (1981). Sea World (1973), near Orlando, is home to dolphins and killer whales.
Culture Florida has Spanish colonial, southern, and African cultural roots. Many cultural events centre on St Augustine, with a summer concert series, playwriting competitions, and fishing tournaments. The state has a large population of retired people who move there from colder parts of the USA in order to seek out winter sun. It also has a large Hispanic – particularly Cuban – population, centred mainly in Miami, and has a long African-American history with large communities in Jacksonville, Tampa, and Miami. The Florida Folklife Program preserves and documents much of the state's folk history. The Stephen Foster State Folk Culture Center in White Springs has displays of Florida folk crafts and is the venue for the annual Florida Folk Festival, the nation's oldest state folk festival. Country and western, bluegrass, and gospel music festivals are held throughout the year, particularly at Spirit of the Suwannee Park. Florida's folk traditions are further reflected in an annual Florida Citrus Festival in Winter Haven, rodeos in Arcadia and Kissimmee, and the Florida State Fair in Tampa. In the south there are Swamp Buggy Days in Naples, and Old Island Days Art Festival in Key West, which celebrate Key West culture and history.
Florida has several art museums: The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (1927) in Sarasota, with a baroque art collection; the Cummer Museum of Art in Jacksonville (1961); the Museum of Fine Arts (1965) and the Salvador Dalí Museum (1982) in St Petersburg; and Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. The Hippodrome State Theater in Gainesville has many art galleries, and hosts many open-air festivals. The African-American Museum of the Arts (1995) in De Land is devoted primarily to African-American and Caribbean-American cultures and art, with drama, dance, reading and creative programmes celebrating African-American cultural heritage in Florida. Florida's other museums include the Florida Museum of Natural History (1891) in Gainesville, the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee; and the Historical Museum of Southern Florida (1963), and Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (1916), both in Miami.
Sport is important in Florida, with the annual Orange Bowl college football game in Miami and professional baseball, basketball, football, and hockey teams as well as horse racing, greyhound racing, and jai alai (pelota). Most Major League Baseball teams hold spring training in Florida. Recreational activities centre on swimming, fishing, and water-skiing. With its flourishing tourist industry, Florida abounds in nightlife and fine dining.
GovernmentFlorida's state constitution The current constitution was adopted in 1969. It dates from a period when a federal court ordered Florida to reapportion its legislature for more equal representation. Florida's previous constitutions date from 1861, 1865, 1868, and 1887.
Structure of state government The legislature has a 40-member Senate serving four years and a 120-member House of Representatives serving two-year terms. Members may not serve more than eight years in a row. Florida is represented in the US Congress by two senators and 27 representatives, and has 29 electoral votes in presidential elections.
Florida's governor and lieutenant governor are elected together, via one vote for the two posts by the electorate. Republican Rick Scott took the governorship in January 2011. Both governor and lieutenant governor serve four-year terms.
The governor appoints members of a cabinet consisting of attorney general, chief financial officer, and commissioner of agriculture, who also serve four-year terms of no more than eight years in a row.
The Florida Supreme Court has seven justices, who serve six-year terms and elect their own chief justice every two years. The five district courts of appeals have judges serving six-year terms, chosen by the governor from candidates selected by judicial nominating committees.
Florida has 67 counties, most of which are governed by a board of five district commissioners. Chartered counties and municipalities have the option of home rule and the power to consolidate as a single government. Municipal government varies in form, including the mayor-council, mayor-commission, and commission-manager forms.
Economy Florida's economy is dominated by tourism and associated service industries, but is also relatively diverse. Manufacturing includes electronics and US space programme equipment, and there has been a significant emphasis on the expansion of medical and bioscience research facilities. Florida's large-scale citrus fruit production includes world-famous orange and grapefruit crops. Other products include tomatoes, vegetables, sugar cane, fish, and shellfish. The state also has a large food processing and canning industry, and is a leading producer of fishmeal and phosphates, both used in fertilizers. Financial centres have become increasingly important and are found in Miami and Jacksonville. Investment firms and retirement-related financing are particularly significant. Other important products include X-ray equipment, chemicals, newspapers, magazines, and books.
Florida is also significant in military terms with the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral, and the Pensacola Naval Air Station.
HistoryFirst Spanish colonial period The first inhabitants in Florida were American Indians from the Ais, Calusa, Tequesta, Timucua, and Apalachee peoples, ancestors of the later Seminole people. The first European visitor to the region was Juan Ponce de León, who arrived in 1513 a few days after Easter, and named the region Pascua Florida (Easter of Flowers). Further gold-seeking expeditions in 1521 and 1528 strengthened Spain's claim to the region, although American Indians fought hard to maintain their lands. Hernando de Soto led an expedition arriving in the Tampa Bay area in 1539 and travelled beyond Florida to become the first European to reach the Mississippi River. French Huguenots arrived in 1564 and founded a colony near what is now Jacksonville. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés was sent from Spain to St Augustine, in order to drive them out, resulting in a massacre of French forces and the end of French involvement in the region. Spanish colonials sought to convert Florida's American Indians to Catholicism and fought off invasions from Spanish and French neighbouring colonies. But a year after British forces captured Cuba, Spain gave Florida to Britain in exchange for Cuba, in 1763.
Second Spanish colonial period Florida was a British colony for a short period until 1779 when Spanish troops took it back by force. Britain had divided Florida into East Florida and West Florida, the latter including parts of what are now Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, but by 1783 Spain had gained control of the entire Florida region and remained in control until 1821. By this time Florida was the only part of North America that did not yet belong to the USA. Spanish colonials successfully quelled native rebellions and Florida inadvertently provided a safe haven for runaway slaves and American Indians from other parts of the USA. But when Spain allowed the USA to use Florida as a naval base during the War of 1812, the USA stormed the region under General Andrew Jackson. After Jackson captured Fort St Marks in the Gulf of Mexico during the first Seminole War (1817–18), he defeated the Seminoles and Spain was forced to yield Florida to the USA in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819. Florida came formally under US control in 1821.
The Florida territory and statehood A huge wave of settlers flooded into the new US territory but quickly faced a land shortage. The second Seminole War (1835–1842) and the third Seminole War (1855–58) freed up more land as most of the American Indians were forced out of the region. Florida drew up a constitution in 1839 in readiness for statehood and was admitted to the Union as a slave state on 3 March 1845. On 10 January 1861, Florida seceded from the Union, later joining the Confederacy and supplying food to Confederate troops throughout the American Civil War. Union forces easily captured Florida's coastal towns but Confederate forces won the Battle of Olustee in 1864, and maintained control of the interior region. A largely improvised local army successfully defended Tallahassee in 1865. During Reconstruction Florida abolished slavery but remained defiant on other points. It finally ratified the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, and was readmitted to the Union on 25 June 1868.
Development Florida developed rapidly during the 1880s when phosphates were discovered and many of its swamps were drained. Railroad development facilitated the growth of manufacturing and agriculture. Henry Flagler and Henry Plant recognized the potential for the winter vacation industry and built northern railway links and hotels, initiating Florida's first boom period. Palm Beach, Tampa, and other coastal cities were soon playgrounds for the wealthy who flocked from the north to experience winter sun. The citrus fruit industry, based at first in Lakeland and other central highland centres, spread rapidly; the Kissimmee Prairies became home to a thriving cattle industry. By 1912, railroad lines had extended all the way to Key West. The state grew rapidly in the early 1920s, stimulated by feverish land speculation. Despite the 1926 collapse of this second boom, and two destructive hurricanes in 1926 and 1928, killing hundreds of people, migration continued, especially of retired people from the northern US states. Federal aid during the Great Depression and the development of paper mills by private industries spurred continued growth. The innovation of cooling plants and farmers' cooperatives helped to protect agriculture. The setbacks of severe hurricanes in 1935 and in 1941 were overcome. During World War II, land, sea, and air bases were established in order to protect Florida's strategic location. Resorts, agriculture, and industry grew in importance. The space centre at Cape Canaveral also contributed to the state economy.
Late 20th-century growth By the 1950s, Cape Canaveral had become the leading space and rocket centre in the USA, launching the first satellite in 1958, the first human space flights in 1961, and the first spaceship carrying astronauts to the moon in 1969. Desegregation took place without major incident during the 1960s. Higher education expanded and Florida grew massively during the 1970s with booming suburbs and a new state capitol constructed in Tallahassee in 1977. Electronics and high-tech manufacturing grew rapidly during the 1980s. More recently, Florida has become a banking centre, a development often partially attributed to the sizeable inflow of cash derived from the traffic in illegal drugs from Latin America. Because of its proximity to Caribbean nations, the state became a haven for refugees from such countries as Cuba and Haiti.
Florida has been hit by a succession of serious hurricanes and tropical storms during recent decades. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew ravaged southern Florida and Louisiana in 1992, killing over 60 people and making 250,000 people homeless; it caused $25 billion in damage. In 2004 and 2005 Florida was hit by further storms in the Atlantic hurricane season, including Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Katrina, causing considerable damage.
Over recent decades, many former conservative Democrats in the state have switched allegiance to the Republicans, making the Republicans the dominant party in the state. In the 2000 presidential election, the tight race between the Republican candidate George W Bush and the Democrat candidate Al Gore depended upon who received Florida's 25 electoral votes at that time, sparking controversy over the state's dated voting system and resulting in controversial recounts.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Florida was one of the fastest growing states in the USA, with a growing Spanish-speaking population especially in the south.
Famous peoplesport Chris Evert (1954– ), tennis player
the arts Zora Neale Hurston (1901–1960), writer; Sidney Poitier (1927– ), actor; Faye Dunaway (1941– ), actor; Jim Morrison (1943–1971), singer; Gloria Estefan, singer
society and educationOsceola (1799–1838), Seminole Indian chief; Abiaka (d. 1866), Seminole Indian chief; Joseph Stilwell (1883–1946), army general
economics Henry Plant (1819–1899), developer; Henry Flagler (1830–1913), developer
politics and law James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938), lawyer, diplomat, and writer; Asa Philip Randolph (1889–1979), labour and civil-rights leader; Janet Reno (1938– ), US attorney general
Florida – flag
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