October 4, 2022

Celebrating 50 Years

Florida's Turning Points Since 1958

Pivotal events over the past 50 years that have helped to shape Florida today.


1958: Gulf American Land Corp. builds the first homes in Cape Coral, dredging and filling wetlands on a 103-square-mile tract known as Redfish Point. Florida later passes anti-dredge laws like the 1967 Randell Act and other environmental laws, but statewide more than 700,000 acres of wetlands have disappeared since the 1970s. Cape Coral today is the largest city in southwest Florida.

Fidel Castro

1959: Fidel Castro takes over as ruler of Cuba after the abdication of Gen. Fulgencio Batista. Castro’s victory sets off a flood of immigration to the U.S. that changes Florida as much as any single event in the last 50 years. Post-Castro Miami becomes the epicenter of the state’s Cuban population — and ultimately, of hemispheric trade; Cuban entrepreneurs vitalize the city’s and state’s economy; exile politics continue to dominate the regional landscape and influence state and national politics.

Daytona 1959
[Photo: AP]

1959: In February, nearly 42,000 people pay $8 apiece to watch the first running of what would become the Daytona 500.

1960: Amid racial violence in St. Augustine and a trial of civil rights protesters in Tallahassee, Gov. LeRoy Collins makes a speech, broadcast statewide, declaring it morally wrong to discriminate. The move is credited with setting Florida on a more moderate racial course than its southern neighbors.

1961: The Atlantic Coast Line railroad moves its headquarters from Wilmington, N.C., to Jacksonville, at the time the largest single move of employees by a southeastern company. Subsequent mergers and acquisitions transform ACL into CSX.

[Photo: NASA]

1961: Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut, is launched into space from Cape Canaveral Space Center, inaugurating the space industry in Florida and leading to the Apollo moon exploration program and the space shuttle.

1962: Federal regulators’ rejection of a proposed merger by four big Florida banks — along with state banking laws that limit branch banking — constrains Florida banks’ ability to grow. Lawmakers ease restrictions in 1975, but after barriers to interstate banking fall in 1986, every major bank headquartered in the state is ultimately acquired by an out-of-state firm. NationsBank acquires the last large Florida-headquartered bank, Barnett, in 1997.

Wayne Huizenga
H. Wayne Huizenga

1962: H. Wayne Huizenga starts what would become Waste Management in Pompano Beach. Over the next four decades, he builds two other Fortune 500 companies — Blockbuster Entertainment and AutoNation — and becomes Florida’s best-known billionaire.

1962: A U.S. Supreme Court decision opens the door to federal court intervention in state legislative reapportionment decisions, leading to the election of a number of urban, progressive legislators and the decline in power of so-called “pork choppers” — rural legislators. The reconstituted Legislature rewrites the state Constitution, enacts a corporate income tax and expands social services.

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