Then & Now: 1958 Florida vs. Florida today
Politics, demographics, the economy and headlines.
“We saw, really for the first time, how diversified and far flung Florida industry is. We saw how different industries varied in maturity. We began to see how one industry begets another; how combined, they breed others. We saw the importance of ‘feeling’ the whole picture.”
— Harris Mullen, founder, FLORIDA TREND, in his first column
1958: The Dawn of Modern Florida
“The date, May 1958, captures the Florida dream perfectly. America and Florida exuded confidence and optimism in 1958. True, the Soviets had launched Sputnik into orbit the previous year. But we had Cape Canaveral and in Tom Wolfe’s words, ‘the right stuff.’ Civil rights incidents in Little Rock, Montgomery and Tallahassee disturbed many Americans, but never had there been more confidence in our institutions and future. In Florida, Gov. LeRoy Collins would soon exhibit the courage of his convictions and pay a heavy price for speaking his mind and soul. New universities were booming, in large part due to the extraordinary success of the GI Bill.
“In 1958, Americans and Floridians embraced technology and the material comforts it had created. Never had so many Americans driven cars, and soon they would be driving non-stop on a new interstate highway system. DDT, by killing saltwater mosquitoes and other pests, allowed year-round living on Florida’s barrier islands. Television and air conditioning, once a luxury, were becoming necessities.
“Confidence, of course, can easily cross the line into hubris. We learned painfully that technology has its limits. DDT was also killing osprey and songbirds. Interstate highways tended to obliterate poor neighborhoods and old landmarks. Our faith in technology allowed the dredging and filling of Boca Ciega Bay. Once Florida’s most fertile fishing grounds, it became a painful teaching lesson.
“In 1958, the development of Cape Coral began. It counted four houses. Today, Cape Coral is the largest city on the Gulf coast south of St. Petersburg.” — Gary Mormino, Florida historian
The Big Picture, Since 1958
- Florida has moved from the 10th-most populous state to the third.
- The state’s population grew more than 300%, from 4.5 million in 1958 to 21.3 million today.
- Florida’s share of the nation’s population grew from 2.8% to 6.3%.
- Population density grew from 84.2 per square mile to 382 (but about 25% of the state remains farmland).
- The state’s economic output has grown from about $14 billion to more than $925 billion.
- The number of residents under 14 has grown by 133%, but the number of those 65 and older has grown by nearly 600%. The share of the state’s senior population has increased from 11.2% in 1960 to 19.2% — roughly the same as the share that’s under 18.
- In 1960, 12% of Miami-Dade (then called just Dade) County’s residents were foreign-born. Today, 52% were born outside the U.S. The share of the state’s population that doesn’t identify as black or white grew to 3.6% of the state population. Meanwhile, the share of the white population (including Hispanics) fell from 82.1% in 1960 to 78.9%; the share of the black population also fell slightly — from 17.8% to 17.5%.
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