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, state, United States

Florida (flôrˈĭdə, flŏrˈ–), state in the extreme SE United States. A long, low peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean (E) and the Gulf of Mexico (W), Florida is bordered by Georgia and Alabama (N).

Facts and Figures

Area, 58,560 sq mi (151,670 sq km). Pop. (2020) 21,538,187, a 14.2% increase since the 2010 census. As of the 2020 census, the state's population was: White alone, 77.3%; Black alone, 16.9%; Hispanic or Latino, 26.4%; American Indian and Alaska native alone, 0.5%; Asian alone, 3%; Two or More Races, 2.2%. Capital, Tallahassee. Largest city, Jacksonville. Statehood, Mar. 3, 1845 (27th state). Highest pt., 345 ft (105 m), Walton co.; lowest pt., sea level. Nickname, Sunshine State. Motto, In God We Trust. State bird, mockingbird. State flower, orange blossom. State tree, Sabal palmetto palm. Abbr., Fla.; FL


The Florida peninsula, warmed by surrounding subtropical and tropical waters and cooled by the trade winds, is famous for its pleasant climate, abundant sunshine, and scenery. The NW of Florida is a gently rolling panhandle area, cut into by deep swamps along the Gulf coast. The St. Marys River in the northeast and the Perdido River in the northwest form part of the boundary with Georgia and Alabama. Much of the east coast is shielded from the Atlantic Ocean by narrow sandbars and barrier islands that protect the shallow lagoons, rivers, and bays. Immediately inland, pine and palmetto flatlands stretch from the Georgia border almost to the southern tip of the state. Central Florida abounds in lakes, with Lake Okeechobee being the largest. The Everglades, which includes Big Cypress Swamp, is a unique wilderness region of subtropical plant growth and animal life and extends over the center of the southern part of the peninsula. Florida's SW coast, on the Gulf of Mexico, is dotted with tiny islands, and the Florida Keys, extending south and west from the southern tip of the state, are linked to the mainland by a causeway. Florida is separated from Cuba to the south by the Straits of Florida.

Tallahassee is the capital, and Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, Saint Petersburg, Hialeah, and Orlando are the largest cities.


Tourism plays a primary role in the state's economy; in 1996 visitors to Florida spent over $48 billion. Walt Disney World, a massive cluster of theme parks near Orlando that is one of the world's leading tourist attractions; Universal Studios, a combination theme park and film and television production facility, also near Orlando; and other attractions draw millions yearly. Famed beaches, such as those at Miami Beach, Daytona Beach, and Fort Lauderdale, attract hordes of vacationers. With more than 4,000 sq mi (10,360 sq km) of inland water and with the sea readily accessible from almost anywhere in the state, Florida is a fishing paradise. Other attractions include Everglades National Park, with its unusual plant and animal life; Palm Beach, with its palatial estates; and Sanibel Island's picturesque resorts.

Famous for its citrus fruits, Florida leads the nation in the production of oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, and market-ready corn and tomatoes. Other important crops include sugarcane and many varieties of winter vegetables. Cattle and dairy products are important, as is commercial fishing, with the catch including crabs, lobsters, and shrimp.

Cape Canaveral is the site of the John F. Kennedy Space Center, and many defense and scientific-research companies are in the area. Space flights, including those to the moon and the space shuttle missions, have been launched from Cape Canaveral. There are also major air and naval facilities, especially near Tampa and Pensacola. Construction is a major industry in fast-growing Florida, and Miami is a center of international (especially Latin American) trade.

Florida's leading manufactured items are food products, printed and published materials, electrical and electronic equipment, and transportation equipment. Lumber and wood products are also important. Most of the state's timber is yellow pine. Florida's mineral resources include phosphate rock, sand, and gravel.

Government, Politics, and Higher Education

In 1968, Florida adopted a new state constitution. The governor is elected for a term of four years, and the legislature has a senate of 40 members and a house of representatives of 120 members. The state elects 27 representatives and 2 senators to the U.S. Congress and has 29 electoral votes. Florida has generally favored Republicans in presidential elections, and since 1998 has elected Republican governors.

The state has authorized the creation of special governing districts that give to commercial entities certain rights usually restricted to elected governments. A special district approved for Disney World in the 1960s allows it to oversee land drainage, and its powers have since been vastly expanded.

Florida's institutions of higher education include the Univ. of Florida, at Gainesville; the Univ. of Miami, at Coral Gables; Florida State Univ. and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical Univ., at Tallahassee; Univ. of Central Florida, at Orlando; Rollins College, at Winter Park; the Univ. of Tampa and the Univ. of South Florida, at Tampa; Florida Southern College, at Lakeland; Stetson Univ., at DeLand; Barry College, at Miami; and Bethune-Cookman College, at Daytona Beach.


Early Spanish and French Exploration

Although the Florida peninsula was probably sighted by earlier navigators, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León is credited as the first European to visit the area. Landing near the site of Saint Augustine in 1513, he claimed the area, which he thought was an island, for Spain, naming it Florida, probably because it was then the Easter season (Pascua Florida). The legend that he was seeking the fabled fountain of youth was fabricated after his death by an enemy at court who sought to discredit him. Other Spanish adventurers, notably Pánfilo de Narváez and Hernando De Soto, later explored the region and established that Florida was not an island. The vast region that comprises most of the SE United States was claimed for Spain, the whole being known as Florida.

It was the activity of the French in the area, however, that led to actual Spanish settlement of the Florida peninsula. In May, 1562, Jean Ribaut had discovered the St. Johns River, and two years later René de Laudonnière built Fort Caroline at its mouth. Alarmed at this encroachment by the French, Philip II of Spain commissioned Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to drive the French out of the area; this he did ruthlessly. Spanish colonization began when Menéndez founded St. Augustine in 1565. Florida had no precious metals to spur conquest (as in Mexico and Peru), its soil seemed infertile (Spanish Florida was never self-sufficient agriculturally), and the Native Americans resented their encroachment. However, the Spanish were compelled to hold Florida because of its strategic location along the Straits of Florida, through which rich treasure ships from the south sailed for Spain.

English Colonization

In the 1600s the English, who were trying to expand their American colonial holdings after 1607, began to threaten Florida. St. Augustine was attacked several times by English corsairs and in 1702–3 was besieged by a force from the English colony in South Carolina. In 1742, English colonists from Georgia under James Oglethorpe, Georgia's founder, defeated the Spanish in the battle of Bloody Marsh on St. Simons Island, making Florida's northern boundary the St. Marys River. Spain's last-minute entry (1762) into the Seven Years War cost her Florida, which the British acquired through the Treaty of Paris (1763).

Under the British (1763–83), Florida was divided into two provinces, and St. Augustine and Pensacola were respectively made the capitals of East Florida and West Florida. After the American Revolution, the Treaty of Paris (1783) returned Florida to Spain. Many colonists in Florida abandoned the region and moved to British possessions in the West Indies. Spain's hold over Florida, however, was extremely tenuous. Boundary disputes developed with the United States (see West Florida Controversy). In the War of 1812, Pensacola served as a British base until captured (1814) by U.S. General Andrew Jackson.

U.S. Occupation

In 1819, after years of diplomatic wrangling, Spain reluctantly signed the Adams-Onis treaty ceding Florida to the United States in return for U.S. assumption of $5 million in damages claimed by U.S. citizens against Spain. Official U.S. occupation took place in 1821, and Andrew Jackson was appointed military governor. Florida, with its present boundaries, was organized as a territory in 1822, and William P. Duval became its first territorial governor.

Settlers poured in from neighboring states, settling especially in the area around the newly founded capital of Tallahassee. A plantation economy flourished there, with cotton and tobacco the chief crops, and slavery became widespread. Settlement expanded southward and displaced the Seminoles, and wars with them seriously impeded Florida's development. A group of Seminole, under Osceola, resisted attempts to move them to the West, but eventually most of them were transported out of the region at the end of the Second Seminole War (1835–42). A small band fled to the wilderness of the Everglades and their descendants live on reservations in the Lake Okeechobee area.

Statehood, Civil War, and Reconstruction

Florida was admitted to the Union in 1845 as a slaveholding state. After Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860 proslavery sentiment in Florida led the state to secede from the Union in 1861 and join the Confederacy. Florida furnished vital supplies (particularly salt and cattle) to the Confederacy. The most important Civil War engagement fought in Florida was the battle of Olustee (Feb. 20, 1864), a Confederate victory.

After the war Florida was placed under military rule by Congress. A constitution was drafted providing for black suffrage, and the state was readmitted to the Union in 1868. The constitution had been drafted by moderate Republicans, some of whom were from the North, and these same Republicans held most political offices until 1876, when the Democrats were returned to power and African Americans were once again relegated to an inferior position. In 1885 a new constitution replaced the Reconstruction charter of 1868.

Land Booms

In 1881 Florida sold 4,000,000 acres (1,618,800 hectares) of land to real-estate promoters. Northern capitalists such as Henry M. Flagler built railroads and hotels, and Florida began to develop. The drainage of the N Everglades, begun in 1906, precipitated one of the state's periodic land booms. Because of environmental degradation due to farming these drained lands, areas are now being restored to their natural state. The most famous of Florida's land booms started after World War I and reached its peak in 1925 when land values achieved fantastic heights, only to collapse completely the following year.

From Depression to Postwar Growth

Florida weathered the depression of the 1930s with the help of the federal government, and during World War II prospered from army, navy, and air force installations. After the war the state enjoyed phenomenal growth. Virtually unlimited water resources, as well as the pleasant climate, were important factors in attracting new industries. Manufacturing, particularly industries related to aeronautics, developed at an extraordinary rate.

Relations with Latin America and the Caribbean

Close to Cuba, Florida has often been involved in the affairs of that island. During the latter half of the 19th cent., Cubans rebelling against Spain received sanctuary and aid in Florida, and the state enthusiastically supported and profited economically from the Spanish-American War (1898), in which Tampa was the chief U.S. base. Florida's relationship with Cuba became even closer in the 20th cent. Political refugees from the Cuban revolution of 1958–59 poured into Florida by the thousands, creating acute resettlement problems. In 1980 more than 100,000 Cuban refugees came to the United States, mostly through Florida, after Fidel Castro briefly opened the port of Mariel to a flotilla of privately chartered U.S. ships (see Cuba).

In the early 1990s, Florida was again the receiving ground for thousands of refugees, this time from Haiti, following the 1991 military coup in that country, as well as another wave from Cuba in 1994. In the 21st cent., central Florida has seen a significant immigration of Puerto Ricans. Miami has been profoundly influenced by the massive influx of Cubans and other Caribbean and Latin American people, both culturally and commercially. The city functions as the trade center of Latin America.

The Late 20th and Early 21st Centuries

Florida has been one of the fastest growing states in the country for many decades. During the 1980s it surpassed Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania to become the fourth largest state, and has retained that position. Thousands of retired persons have settled in the state, particularly in St. Petersburg on the west coast and on the eastern coast from West Palm Beach to the vicinity of Miami, nicknamed the “Gold Coast.” The central interior of the state is the fastest growing region, particularly the corridor along Interstate 4, which connects the Tampa Bay–St. Petersburg area through Orlando to Daytona Beach.

Florida is subject to hurricanes, and the extensive development during the late 20th cent. has led to an increase in the damage caused by such storms. Hurricane Andrew devastated much of S Florida in 1992, leaving over 200,000 people homeless and costing property insurers more than $15 billion. In 1995, Hurricane Opal raged along the Panhandle coast. Four hurricanes struck Florida in 2004, resulting in widespread damage, and Hurricane Wilma also caused extensive damage in S Florida the following year. In 2017 Hurricane Irma affected much of Peninsula Florida, and struck the middle and upper Keys especially hard; in 2018 Michael, a category-5 storm and one of the most intense hurricanes to hit the mainland United States since the 1850s, devastated areas in the state's Panhandle.

In 1994 the state approved a $685 million program to restore the deteriorating Everglades ecosystem, and in 1996 the federal government substantially enlarged the Everglades plans. Those plans, however, were complicated by expenses associated with the state's 2008 decision to purchase sizable farmland acreage in the N Everglades, but in 2010 the proposed purchases were scaled back significantly.

In Nov., 2000, Florida became the focus of unlooked-for national attention when George W. Bush and Al Gore found themselves separated by a thin margin in the contest for the state's electoral votes, which both needed to win the presidency. With Bush holding a lead of a few hundred out of several million, the outcome was fought over in the state government, state and federal courts, and the media. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on Bush's side in December, but deficiencies that were exposed in voting systems, recount methods, and even ballot design guaranteed that victory would be tarnished no matter who won (and led to an overhaul of Florida's election system).

Lawton Chiles, elected governor in 1990 and reelected in 1994, was the last Democrat to serve in this office to date. He was succeeded by moderate Republicans John Ellis “Jeb” Bush (1998-2006) and Charlie Crist (2006-10). A more conservative Republican Rick Scott was elected to succeed Christ in 2010. Scott was reelected in 2014, defeating Crist (who ran as a Democrat); he susbequently was elected to the U.S. Senate (2018-). Scott pursued conservative positions, tightening voter ID laws, opposing legalizing marijuana and restricting its medical use, and opposing Obamacare and the expansion of Medicaid in Florida. In 2018 Ron DeSantis, another conservative Republican, was elected governor. DeSantis gained national attention for his strong opposition to any restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19, becoming a hero to conservative supporters of Trump.


See R. B. Marcus and E. A. Fernald, Florida: A Geographical Approach (1975); C. W. Tebeau, A History of Florida (rev. ed. 1981); D. Marth, ed., Florida Almanac, 1988–89 (1989); T. D. Allman, Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State (2013).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

Florida State Information

Phone: (850) 488-1234

Area (sq mi):: 65754.59 (land 53926.82; water 11827.77) Population per square mile: 329.90
Population 2005: 17,789,864 State rank: 0 Population change: 2000-20005 11.30%; 1990-2000 23.50% Population 2000: 15,982,378 (White 65.40%; Black or African American 14.60%; Hispanic or Latino 16.80%; Asian 1.70%; Other 5.80%). Foreign born: 16.70%. Median age: 38.70
Income 2000: per capita $21,557; median household $38,819; Population below poverty level: 12.50% Personal per capita income (2000-2003): $28,509-$30,098
Unemployment (2004): 4.70% Unemployment change (from 2000): 0.90% Median travel time to work: 26.20 minutes Working outside county of residence: 18.10%

List of Florida counties:

  • Alachua County
  • Baker County
  • Bay County
  • Bradford County
  • Brevard County
  • Broward County
  • Calhoun County
  • Charlotte County
  • Citrus County
  • Clay County
  • Collier County
  • Columbia County
  • DeSoto County
  • Dixie County
  • Duval County/City of Jacksonville
  • Escambia County
  • Flagler County
  • Franklin County
  • Gadsden County
  • Gilchrist County
  • Glades County
  • Gulf County
  • Hamilton County
  • Hardee County
  • Hendry County
  • Hernando County
  • Highlands County
  • Hillsborough County
  • Holmes County
  • Indian River County
  • Jackson County
  • Jefferson County
  • Lafayette County
  • Lake County
  • Lee County
  • Leon County
  • Levy County
  • Liberty County
  • Madison County
  • Manatee County
  • Marion County
  • Martin County
  • Miami-Dade County
  • Monroe County
  • Nassau County
  • Okaloosa County
  • Okeechobee County
  • Orange County
  • Osceola County
  • Palm Beach County
  • Pasco County
  • Pinellas County
  • Polk County
  • Putnam County
  • Saint Johns County
  • Saint Lucie County
  • Santa Rosa County
  • Sarasota County
  • Seminole County
  • Sumter County
  • Suwannee County
  • Taylor County
  • Union County
  • Volusia County
  • Wakulla County
  • Walton County
  • Washington County
  • Counties USA: A Directory of United States Counties, 3rd Edition. © 2006 by Omnigraphics, Inc.

    Florida Parks

    Parks Directory of the United States, 5th Edition. © 2007 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
    The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



    a state in the southern USA, comprising the Florida peninsula, an adjoining continental strip, and the Florida Keys. Area, 151,700 sq km. Population, 7.3 million (1972), of which 80 percent is urban. The capital is Tallahassee.

    Florida occupies a plain. Most of the state has a subtropical climate, except for the south, which has a tropical climate. The average January temperature ranges from 12°C in the north to 20.7°C in the south, and the average July temperature ranges from 26°C to 28.7°C, respectively. Annual precipitation varies from 900 to 1,400 mm. There are many lakes. Twenty percent of the land is swampy, and 70 percent is forested, with subtropical forests in the north and tropical forests in the south. Everglades National Park is located in Florida.

    Approximately 5 percent of the land is cultivated, of which about one-quarter is irrigated. In 1969 there were 36,000 farms, occupying 5.7 million hectares. Citrus fruits, Florida’s principal crop, are grown mainly in the central part of the state. Florida is the USA’s leading producer of oranges. Early and winter vegetables are also grown. Cotton, peanuts, and tobacco are cultivated in the north, and sugarcane is grown in the south, near Lake Okeechobee. There is dairy and poultry farming near the cities. In 1974 there were 2.9 million head of cattle (including 204,000 cows) and 304,000 swine. The economy is also devoted to fishing and oystering.

    Phosphorite mining occupies an important place in the state’s economy; the annual production of approximately 25 million tons accounts for two-thirds of the total phosphorite extracted in the USA. The main branches of the manufacturing industry, which employs 375,000 (1975), are the food-processing, pulp-and-paper, wood-products, chemical, and radio electronics industries and the production of rockets and rocket engines. The capacity of electric power plants is 20 gigawatts (1974). The major seaports are Tampa, Jacksonville, Port Everglades, and Miami. Florida is a winter resort. A rocketry testing ground and a space center are located on Cape Canaveral.

    Florida was discovered by the Spaniards on Easter Day 1513 and takes its name from Pasqua florida, the festival of flowers traditional for the season. After the Seven Years’ War of 1756–63, it passed to Great Britain; under the Treaty of Versailles of 1783, it reverted to Spain. In 1819, the USA seized Florida and forced Spain to relinquish all rights to the territory. The Spanish and English colonialists waged a continuous war of extermination against the indigenous Indian population. In 1845, Florida became part of the USA as a slave state. During the Civil War, Florida was part of the slaveholding confederacy of southern states.

    The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


    Twenty-seventh state; admitted on March 3, 1845 (seceded from the Union on January 10, 1861, and was readmitted on June 25, 1868)

    Florida does not hold regular admission day celebrations, but a centennial observance did occur in 1945. A three-cent stamp was issued, schools gave presentations, and there were local exhibits and commemorations. The Library of Congress host­ed an exhibit on Florida from March 3 through May 31.


    State capital: Tallahassee

    Nicknames: The Sunshine State; Alligator State; Everglades State; Southernmost State; Orange State

    State motto: In God We Trust

    State animal: Florida panther (Felis concolor)

    State beverage: Orange juice

    State bird: Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

    State butterfly: Zebra longwing

    State fish: freshwater: Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides); saltwater: Atlantic sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus)

    State flower: Orange blossom; wildflower: Coreopsis

    State gem: Moonstone

    State marine mammals: Manatee (Trichechus manatus) and porpoise (dolphin) (Tursiops truncatus)

    State reptile: American alligator (alligator mississippiensis) State shell: Horse conch (Pleuroploca gigantea)

    State soil: Myakka fine sand

    State song: “Old Folks at Home” (also known as “Swanee River”)

    State stone: Agatized coral

    State tree: Sabal palm (Sabal palmetto)

    More about state symbols at:



    AmerBkDays-2000, p. 181 AnnivHol-2000, p. 38


    State web site: www.myflorida.com

    Office of the Governor State Capitol Tallahassee, FL 32399 850-488-4441 fax: 850-487-0801 www.myflorida.com

    Secretary of State 500 S Bronough St Tallahassee , FL 32399 850-245-6500 fax: 850-245-6125 www.dos.state.fl.us

    State Library of Florida 500 S Bronough St Tallahassee, FL 32399 850-245-6600 fax: 850-245-6651 dlis.dos.state.fl.us/stlib

    Legal Holidays:

    Day after ThanksgivingNov 25, 2011; Nov 23, 2012; Nov 29, 2013; Nov 28, 2014; Nov 27, 2015; Nov 25, 2016; Nov 24, 2017; Nov 23, 2018; Nov 29, 2019; Nov 27, 2020; Nov 26, 2021; Nov 25, 2022; Nov 24, 2023
    Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


    1. a state of the southeastern US, between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico: consists mostly of a low-lying peninsula ending in the Florida Keys a chain of small islands off the coast of S Florida, extending southwest for over 160 km (100 miles). Capital: Tallahassee. Pop.: 17 019 068 (2003 est.). Area: 143 900 sq. km (55 560 sq. miles)
    2. Straits of. a sea passage between the Florida Keys and Cuba, linking the Atlantic with the Gulf of Mexico
    Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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    Based on the approval, the company anticipates closing the acquisition of Great Florida on January 31, 2014.
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    The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has issued a cease-and-desist order to Great West Growth L.L.C., Minneapolis, in connection with allegations that Great West has been buying policies in Florida without holding a Florida life settlement provider license.

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