Harriet Beecher Stowe's
early days, only wealthy and famous people could afford to vacation there.
Some were so fond of Florida that they decided to stay and farm or start
another business. Henry S. Flagler was one of those people who fell in
love with the Sunshine State and he decided to invest in Florida after a
visit in 1883. He began to invest his wealth by building hotels and
railroads in Florida. As the railroads grew, it was easier for people to
travel to Florida. By 1890, the railways were completed and travel to
Florida was made easy for people as far away as New York.
In the early 1900s,
thousand of tourists were coming to Florida to see everything from Ostrich
racing in Jacksonville to Alligators living in an abandoned beach house
near St. Augustine. They came to stay in the new
hotels, rest in the warm weather, enjoy the natural beauty, and some even
came to recover from illnesses. Many wealthy people, such as Thomas
Edison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Henry Ford, built winter homes in
Florida and visited for months at a time.
While the development of huge railroad
lines in the 1890's would forever end the glamour of riverboat
transportation, the Gilded Era was a time of wonderful steamboat
transportation for visitors and Floridians alike. The Yulee rail line
from Jacksonville to Cedar Key offered an eighteen hour excursion where
the engineer often stopped the train to check his game traps along the
For thirty short years, steam boating down
the St. Johns River and along the Atlantic Coast became the winter
activity for thousands of Northerners. These Gilded Age travelers started
the first regular tourist industry in Florida and helped establish dozens
of hotels and restaurants that catered to vacationing tastes.
The invention of the automobile
also made travel easier for people. As cars became less expensive and
people had more leisure time, more people had time to go on vacation.
Hotels and resorts were still expensive, so some travelers brought their
own beds and food. They slept in their cars. Since their food was usually
in tin cans, these travelers were known as "tin-can tourists."
In the 1930s,
airlines opened up travel schedules to Florida. This provided the way for
even more tourists to travel to Florida. Airports were built in major
cities, making travel easier for tourists into and around Florida.
In the 1930s,
architects designed buildings in Miami Beach in a style called Art Deco.
This cheerful, colorful style was popular in the Depression era. Visitors
are still attracted to the Art Deco district. Why else would someone go to
After World War II,
the tourist industry quickly became Florida's biggest source of income. At
first, the only thing for tourists to see was the natural beauty of
Florida. The miles of white sandy beaches, the Everglades with its
alligators, panthers and birds, the Florida Keys, with its coral reefs and
sport fishing, and the forests of the national parks attracted many nature
lovers. There were activities such as fishing, hiking, boating, and
swimming taking place throughout the state, but above all, the visitors
came to soak up the sun and relax.
There are theme
parks built all over Florida. In 1971, Florida became home to one of the
largest resorts in the world, Walt Disney World Resort. In the first year,
this 28,000-acre park brought about $14 billion dollars to Orlando's
economy. This one resort is like a city in itself. It includes Disney's
Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, the MGM Movie Studio center, Camp Wilderness,
Islands of Adventure, and Animal Kingdom. This theme park has continued to
grow throughout the last thirty years and has encouraged other developers
to build many other attractions in Florida.
In addition to Walt
Disney World Resort, the Orlando area is also home to Sea World, Cypress
Gardens, and Universal Studios. In fact, Orlando is the biggest vacation
spot in Florida. On the west coast, Busch Gardens and Lowry Park Zoo are
two popular attractions. Tampa Bay has hosted two Super Bowl Games. On the
east coast is Kennedy Space Center's Spaceport USA. With the popularity of
boat cruises increasing, Florida waters have become a major location for
people taking cruises in the Caribbean.
Today, tourism is
the most important factor driving Florida's economy. About forty million
people visit Florida yearly. The money visitors spend in Florida supports
many businesses. Amounting to over $40 billion dollars each year, tourism
is the state's greatest source of income. As tourism continues to grow, so