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State of Florida
State flag of Florida State seal of Florida
(Flag of Florida) (Seal of Florida)
State nickname: Sunshine State
Map of the U.S. with Florida highlighted
Other U.S. States
Capital Tallahassee
Largest city Jacksonville
Governor Jeb Bush (R)
Senators Bill Nelson (D)

Mel Martinez (R)

Official language(s) English
Area 170,451 km² (22nd)
 - Land 137,374 km²
 - Water 30,486 km² (17.9%)
Population (2000)
 - Population 15,982,378 (4th)
 - Density 114.43 /km² (8th)
Admission into Union
 - Date March 3, 1845
 - Order 27th
Time zone Eastern: UTC-5/-4
Central: UTC-6/-5 (western panhandle)
Latitude 24°30'N to 31°N
Longitude 79°48'W to 87°38'W
Width 260 km
Length 800 km
 - Highest point 105 m
 - Mean 30 m
 - Lowest point 0 m
 - ISO 3166-2 US-FL
Web site www.myflorida.com



is a Southern state in the United States, situated upon a large peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Straits of Florida. "Florida" is a Spanish adjective which means "flowery." The peninsula was discovered and settled by Juan Ponce de León on Easter Sunday, March 27, 1513, which is known as Pascua Florida in Spanish. Its U.S. Postal abbreviation is FL.


The five flags that have been flown over Florida through the centuries
The five flags that have been flown over Florida through the centuries
Main article: History of Florida

Archaeological finds indicate that Florida had been inhabited for many thousands of years prior to any European settlements. Of the many indigenous people, the largest tribes were the Calusa, Tequesta, Timucuan, and the Tocobago tribes. Juan Ponce de León, a Spanish navigator, named this new land in honor of his discovery of the land on Easter Sunday, March 27, 1513, which is called by Spaniards Pascua Florida, "Holy Day of Flowers." From that date forward, the land became known as "La Florida." Over the following century, the Spanish and French both established settlements in Florida, with varying degrees of success. Spanish Pensacola was established by Don Tristan de Luna as the first European settlement in the current United States in 1559 (its settlement was interrupted by a hurricane). Six years later, in 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés established Saint Augustine as the first permanent European settlement. These two cities would come to be the capitals of the British and Spanish colonies of East and West Florida.

The area of Florida diminished with the establishment of British colonies to the north and French colonies to the west. Control of parts of Florida passed among Spanish, British, and American control. Spain finally ceded Florida to the United States with the Adams-Onís Treaty in 1819, in exchange for the U.S. renouncing any claims on Texas. On March 3, 1845, Florida became the 27th state of the United States of America. Florida seceded from the Union on January 10, 1861 and was one of the founding members of the Confederate States of America (CSA, also known as the Confederacy). Florida joined the CSA on February 10, 1861. After the fall of the Confederacy in 1865, Florida was readmitted into the Union on June 25, 1868. Until the mid-twentieth century, Florida was the least populous Southern state. Today, Florida is the fourth most populous state in the Union and second most populous in the South.

The USS Florida was named in honor of this state.

Law and Government

Main article: Government of Florida

The basic structure, duties, function, and operations of the Government of the State of Florida are defined and established by the Florida Constitution, which also establishes the basic law of the state and guarantees various rights and freedoms of the people. The state government consists of three separate branches, the judicial, executive and legislative. The Florida Legislature enacts legislation, such as those in the Florida Statutes, which are signed into law by the Governor of Florida.

The Florida Legislature has a Senate of 40 members and a House of 120 members. The current governor is Republican Jeb Bush, brother of President George W. Bush and son of former President George H. W. Bush.

Though Florida has traditionally been a Democratic state, in recent years explosive population growth has brought with it many Republicans, leaving the state approximately evenly split between the two parties. Despite this demographic parity, Republicans control the governorship and most other statewide elected offices, both houses of the state legislature, 18 of the state's 25 seats in the House of Representatives, and one of the state's two Senate seats. The 2000 Presidential election in Florida was extremely close. As such, and because of its high population and large number of electoral votes, Florida is considered by political analysts to be a key swing state in Presidential elections. The Tampa area, once a major center of Democratic union support, is now almost evenly split between registered Republicans and Democrats, making it part of the important I-4 Corridor swing region.


Florida is one of the nine states which do not impose a personal income tax (list of others). The state sales tax rate is 6.5 percent. Local governments may levy an additional local option sales tax of up to 1.0 percent. A locale's use tax rate is the same as its sales tax rate, including local options if any. Use taxes are payable for purchases made out of state and brought into Florida within 6 months of the purchase date.


Map of Florida
Map of Florida - PDF

Florida consists of the Panhandle extending along the northern Gulf of Mexico and the large Peninsula with the Atlantic Ocean as its eastern border and the Gulf of Mexico as its western border. It is bordered on the north by the states of Georgia and Alabama and on the west, at the end of the panhandle, by Alabama. It is near the countries of the Caribbean, particularly the Bahamas and Cuba.

At 345 feet (105 metres) above mean sea level, Britton Hill is the highest point in Florida. This is also the lowest highpoint of any U.S. state. Contrary to popular belief, however, Florida is not an entirely "flat" state. Some places, such as Clearwater, feature relatively high vistas rising 50 to 100 feet above the water. Much of the interior of Florida, typically 25 miles or more away from the coastline, features rolling hills with elevations ranging from 100 to 250 feet in many locations. Lake County holds the highest point of peninsular Florida, Sugarloaf Mountain , at 312 feet. The amount of topographical change will surprise many visitors.


The state line begins at the Atlantic, traveling west, south, and north up the thalweg of the Saint Mary's River. At the origin of that river, it then follows a straight line nearly due-west and slightly north, to the point where the confluence of the Flint River (from Georgia) and the Chattahoochee River (down the Alabama/Georgia line) used to form Florida's Apalachicola River. (This point is now under Lake Seminole since Woodruff Dam was built.) The border with Georgia continues north through the lake for a short distance up the former thalweg of the Chattahoochee, then with Alabama runs due west along latitude 31°N to the Perdido River, then south along its thalweg to the Gulf via Perdido Bay.


Hurricane Frances near peak strength.
Hurricane Frances near peak strength.
Florida taken from NASA Shuttle Mission STS-95 on 31 October 1998.
Florida taken from NASA Shuttle Mission STS-95 on 31 October 1998.

The climate of Florida is tempered somewhat by its proximity to water. Most of the state has a humid subtropical climate with the extreme tip of Florida and the Florida Keys bordering on a true tropical climate. However, Florida averages 300 days of full sunshine a year. The seasons in Florida often called "Hot and Hotter" are actually determined more by precipitation than by temperature with warm, relatively dry winters and autumns (the dry season) and hot, wet springs and especially the summers (the wet season). The Gulf Stream has a moderating effect on Florida climate and although it is common for much of Florida to see a high summer temperature over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, it is not common for the mercury to go above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Florida. The hottest temperature ever recorded in the state was 109 °F set on June 29, 1931 in Monticello. The coldest was 2 °F below zero, on February 13, 1899 just 25 miles away, in Tallahassee. Mean high temperatures for late July are primarily in the low 90's. Mean low temperatures for late January range from the low 40's in North Florida to the mid-50's in South Florida.

While Florida's nickname is the "Sunshine State", severe weather is a common occurrence in Florida. Central Florida is known as the Lightning capital of the U.S. as it experiences more lightning strikes than anywhere else in the country. Statewide, Florida has the highest average precipitation of any state, due in large part to afternoon thunderstorms which are common throughout most of the state from late spring until the early autumn. However, a sunny day may be interrupted with a storm only to return to regular gorgeous weather. These thunderstorms, which are caused by airflow from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean colliding over the peninsula, seemingly "pop up" in the early afternoon and can often bring heavy downpours, high winds and sometimes tornadoes. This is frequently due to "onshore flow," or a collision of sea breezes from the east and west coasts. Florida leads the nation in tornadoes per square mile, although the tornadoes in Florida do not get as large as those in the Midwest or Great Plains. Hail is not an uncommon occurrence in some of the more severe thunderstorms.

Snow is a rare occurrence in Florida. During the Great Blizzard of 1899, Florida experienced blizzard conditions for possibly the first time since explorers had arrived. During that time, the Tampa Bay area had "Gulf effect" snow, similar to lake effect snowfall. The Great Blizzard of 1899 was also the only time the temperature has fallen below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, registering -2° F in Tallahassee on February 13, 1899. The most widespread snowfall in Florida history happened in February 1978 with snow falling over much of the state in different times of the month, extending as far south as Homestead. Snow flurries fell on Miami Beach for the only time in recorded history. In 1989, there was a severe hard freeze that created lots of ice and also caused minor flurries in sections of the state and resulted in rolling blackouts due to power failures caused by massive demands on the power grid for heating.

Although some storms have formed out of season, hurricanes pose a threat during hurricane season, which is from June 1 to November 30. Florida saw a slew of destruction in 2004 when it was hit by a record four hurricanes. Hurricanes Charley (August 13), Frances (September 4-5), Ivan (September 16), and Jeanne (September 25-26) cumulatively cost forty-two billion dollars to the state. In 2005, Hurricane Dennis (July 10) became the fifth storm to strike Florida within 11 months. Later, Hurricane Katrina (August 25) passed through South Florida and Hurricane Rita (September 20) swept through the Florida Keys. Hurricane Wilma made landfall in Florida in the early morning of October 24 as a category 3 hurricane, with storm's eye hitting near Cape Romano, just south of Marco Island, according to National Hurricane Center.

Florida was also the site of the second most costly single weather disaster in U.S. history, Hurricane Andrew, which caused more than twenty-five billion dollars ($25,000,000,000) in damage when it struck on August 24, 1992. Among a long list of other infamous hurricane strikes were the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane, the Lake Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Donna in 1960, and Hurricane Opal in 1995.


A Space Shuttle launch from Kennedy Space Center.
A Space Shuttle launch from Kennedy Space Center.

The gross state product of Florida in 2003 was $550 billion. The per capita personal income was $30,098, ranking 26th in the nation.

Florida's economy is heavily based on tourism. Warm weather most of the year and hundreds of miles of beach provide a thriving vacation spot for travelers from around the world. The large Walt Disney World Resort with four theme parks and over twenty hotels plus countless water parks, shopping centers and other facilities, located in Lake Buena Vista drives the economy of that area, along with more recent entries into the theme park arena such as the Universal Orlando Resort. The great amount of sales and tourist tax revenue is what allows the state to be one of the few to not levy a personal income tax. Other major industries include citrus fruit and juice production, banking, and phosphate mining within the Bone Valley region. With the arrival of the space program at Kennedy Space Center in the 1960s, Florida has attracted a large number of aerospace and military industries to the state. Florida did not have any state minimum wage laws until November 2, 2004, when voters passed a Constitutional Amendment requiring inflationary increases to the minimum wage every six months.

Historically, Florida's economy was based upon cattle farming and agriculture (especially sugar cane, citrus, tomatoes, and strawberries). As land speculators discovered Florida in the early 1900's, and when Plant and Flagler developed the railway systems, more people moved in, drawn by the usually good weather. From then on, tourism boomed, fueling a cycle of development and tourism that overwhelmed a great deal of farmland.

Other key industries, commercial fishing and water-based tourist activities (sports fishing and diving) are threatened by severe Red Tide outbreaks in 2004 and 2005 off the west coast.


Historical populations

1830 34,730
1840 54,477
1850 87,445
1860 140,424
1870 187,748
1880 269,493
1890 391,422
1900 528,542
1910 752,619
1920 968,470
1930 1,468,211
1940 1,897,414
1950 2,771,305
1960 4,951,560
1970 6,789,443
1980 9,746,324
1990 12,937,926
2000 15,982,378

As of 2004, the state's population was estimated to be 17,397,161.

Race and Ancestry

  White 65.4%
Hispanic 16.8%
Black 14.6%
Asian 1.7%
Native American 0.3%
Mixed Race 2.4%

Blacks, who during the cotton and sugar plantation era made up fully 50 percent of the state's population, have a large presence in the deeply southern middle Florida region of North Florida and in the cities of Jacksonville, Gainesville, and Fort Lauderdale. Transplanted Northerners are prominent on the West Coast, particularly in the Tampa suburbs. Floridians of British ancestry are dominant in most coastal cities, while Floridians of white American ancestry dominate the culturally Southern areas of inland North Florida. Florida's large and diverse Hispanic community consists particularly of Cubans in Miami and Tampa, Puerto Ricans in Tampa and Orlando as well as Dominicans in the latter, and Mexican migrant workers in inland West-Central and South Florida. There is also a number of Haitian Americans in Miami and other parts of Florida.

Native Floridians who have descended from long-time Florida families are affectionately referred to as "Crackers." This is because many early settlers were cattle farmers, and used bullwhips to "crack" over the cattle to move them.

Florida is one of the only states in which Hispanics predominantly vote Republican. This descrepancy arises because people classified as "Hispanic" come from widely diverse backgrounds. People whose race is identified as "Hispanic" in Florida are mostly of Cuban descent, as opposed to Mexican descent (who live largely in the southwest of the U.S.) or Puerto Rican descent (who live largely in the northeast of the U.S.). Florida's fast-growing Hispanic population is heaviest in Miami, Orlando, and the Gulf Coast. Black Floridians are overwhelmingly Democratic voters. Blacks comprise a large fraction of the populations of North Florida, Fort Lauderdale, and the Tampa Bay Area.


As of 2000, 76.9% of Florida residents age 5 and older speak English at home and 16.5% speak Spanish. French is the third most spoken language at 2.2%, followed by German at 0.6% and Italian at 0.4%.

Article II, Section 9 of the Florida Constitution provides that "English is the official language of the State of Florida." This was adopted in 1988 by a vote following an Initiative Petition.


Florida is mostly Protestant, but with a growing Roman Catholic community due to immigration. There is also a sizable Jewish community in some parts of Florida which makes Florida unique among Southern states (no other Southern state has a large Jewish community). Florida's current religious affiliations are shown in the table below:

Important cities, towns, and communities

Main articles: List of cities in Florida, Florida locations by per capita income

Metropolitan Area Population > 5,000,000

Metropolitan Area Population > 2,500,000

Metropolitan Area Population > 1,000,000

Metropolitan Area Population > 400,000

City Population > 200,000

City Population > 100,000

City Population > 75,000

City Population > 50,000

City Population > 25,000

Miscellaneous information

Orange blossoms.
Orange blossoms.


The sample version of Florida's license plate
The sample version of Florida's license plate

Florida's interstates, state highways and U.S. Highways are maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Florida's interstate highways include:

Florida's interstate highway system contains 1,473 miles of highway, and there are 9,934 miles of non-interstate highway in the state, such as Florida state highways and U.S. Highways.

Florida has several toll roads. The state has 515 miles of toll roads in the state highway system. The section of Interstate 75 passing through the Everglades is a toll road. The Florida Turnpike, which begins off of Interstate 75 just south of Ocala, continues southeast to Orlando, and down to West Palm Beach is also a toll road. Connecting I-75 to the southwest Tampa area is the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway.

Florida has nearly 100 different specialty license plates to choose from for automobiles. There are plates for various issues and causes, such as environmental, and as well for various organizations and colleges.

In 2000, voters approved a constitutional amendment to construct a high speed rail system to interconnect Florida's major cities. A committee was formed by the Florida Legislature to oversee the project. However, Jeb Bush and other lawmakers pushed for an amendment in 2004 to remove the amendment, which succeeded. They stated that the cost would have been too high to construct the system; however, proponents of the system have said the claims regarding high cost were exaggerated and taken out of context, compared with the cost of building roads, maintaining automobiles, and so forth.

Amtrak service exists in Florida, but it is considered by many not to be extensive or convenient enough for anything but vacation travel.

Public transportation systems exist in many major cities. Miami has a monorail system, and most cities have bus service. However, the bus service is often criticized for being poorly funded, and too infrequent, sparse, inconvenient and spotty for serious use. Efforts, such as the high speed rail system, monorails, and improved bus service, have been proposed by many to help remedy this situation.

Greyhound provides bus service between different cities in Florida. The service here as well is said to be too infrequent and slow. A trip between Tampa and Miami can take 10 hours, for instance.

All major cities in Florida have airports, such as Miami International Airport, Orlando International Airport, Tampa International Airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Jacksonville International Airport. There are many other smaller regional and international airports, including one in Key West.

Education and culture

Florida's public school revenue per student and spending per $1000 of personal income usually ranks in the bottom 25% of U.S. states. Average teacher salaries rank near the middle of U.S. states.

Florida public schools have consistently ranked in the bottom 25% of many national surveys and average test score rankings. It should be noted that many education surveys are not scientific, but do measure prestige. Governor Jeb Bush has been criticized by many Florida educators for a program that penalizes underperforming schools (as indicated by standardized tests, such as the FCAT) with fewer funding dollars. Major testing organizations frequently discount the use of state average test score rankings, or any average of scaled scores, as a valid metric (see psychometrics for more details on scaled test scores).

In 2000, Governor Bush and the state legislature acted to abolish the Board of Regents that governed the State University System of Florida. Instead, each public university is now controlled by its own Board of Trustees who are directly appointed by the governor. As is typical of executive-appointed government boards, the appointees so far have been overwhelmingly Republican. This has not been without controversy. [1] In 2002, Democratic Senator Bob Graham started a ballot referendum designed to revert to the Board of Regents system.

Colleges and universities

Century Tower, University of Florida.
Century Tower, University of Florida.
The Westcott Building, Florida State University.
The Westcott Building, Florida State University.


Professional sports teams in Florida

Spring training

Florida is the traditional home for Major League Baseball spring training, with teams informally organized into the "Grapefruit League." As of 2004, Florida hosts the following major league teams for spring training:

Minor League teams

Florida also hosts the following minor league baseball teams:

External links

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