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Then & Now: 1958 Florida vs. Florida today

“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%.

Business Headlines of 1958

  • Houston Corp.’s natural gas pipeline connecting Florida to Texas was nearing completion.
  • Pratt & Whitney’s engine testing facility in Palm Beach County was less than five years old.
  • The Sunshine State Parkway — now Florida’s Turnpike — was a year old, opening in 1957 from Miami to Fort Pierce.

Sources: Bureau of Economic and Business Research; U.S. Census; National Association of Theater Owners, FBI, Winn-Dixie, Publix, Florida Citrus Hall of Fame, Loews, Gary Mormino, Florida Secretary of State; FLORIDA TREND research

Events in 1958 That Shaped Florida’s Future

  • Just a few months after the Soviet Union put Sputnik in orbit in October 1957, the free world got on the scoreboard from Cape Canaveral with Explorer I. Launched Jan. 31, 1958, the first U.S. satellite weighed just under 30 pounds, but it began an industry like no other. Space Florida expects in the next 10 to 15 years to see 100 to 200 launches a year from Florida.
  • One 1958 development critical to Florida’s future happened quietly, out of the public eye. That year, Walt Disney hired Economics Research Associates to help him find a site for an East Coast Disneyland. News of Florida’s selection didn’t break until 1965.
  • On New Year’s Eve 1958, Fulgencio Batista resigned as Cuba’s president, clearing the way for Fidel Castro and his chaotic Communist takeover, ensuing dictatorship and a decades-long migration of Cubans to Florida, reshaping the state.
  • A record cold winter in 1957-58 devastated vegetables, citrus and cattle. Tampa recorded a low of 24 while Miami got into the mid-30s. “The Florida cold wave, third of the season, forced tourists to don furs, froze tender vegetables. Cattle were reported dying by the hundreds on the ranges,” a newspaper reported.

Then and Now: Florida by the Numbers

Then and Now: Biggest 5 Cities

In 1960, the five biggest cities - and their population - were:

  1. Miami - 291,688
  2. Tampa - 274,970
  3. Jacksonville - 201,030
  4. St. Petersburg - 181,298
  5. Orlando - 88,135

In 2017, the five biggest cities, their population, and the percentage increase, were:

  1. Jacksonville* - 891,207 -343.3%
  2. Miami - 467,872 - 60.4%
  3. Tampa - 373,058 - 35.7%
  4. Orlando - 279,789 - 217.5%
  5. St. Petersburg - 264,768 - 46.0%

* The city of Jacksonville consolidated with Duval County in 1968.

Then and Now: Biggest 5 Counties

In 1960, the five biggest counties - and their population - were:

  1. Miami-Dade - 935,047
  2. Duval - 455,411
  3. Hillsborough - 397,788
  4. Pinellas - 374,665
  5. Broward - 333,946

In 2017, the five biggest counties, their population, and the percentage increase, were:

  1. Miami-Dade - 2,743,095 - 193.4%
  2. Broward - 1,873,970 - 461.2%
  3. Palm Beach - 1,414,144 - 520.0%
  4. Hillsborough - 1,379,302 - 246.7%
  5. Orange - 1,313,880 - 398.6%

Then and Now: Crime

Per 100,000 population, the rates of murder and burglary have fallen compared to 1958. The rates of aggravated assault, larceny and auto theft have all increased compared to 1958, but assaults have decreased notably in the past decade.

Then and Now: Race and Ethnicity


  • White — 82%
  • Non-white — 18%


  • White non-Hispanic — 55%
  • Hispanic* — 25%
  • African-American — 17%
  • Asian and other — 3%

* Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race

Then and Now: State Taxes

  • 1958 Sales Tax — 3%
  • 2018 Sales Tax — 6%
  • 1958 Corporate Income Tax — 0%
  • 2018 Corporate Income Tax — 5.5%

Then and Now: Wages

  • $240 — The gain in Florida’s average weekly wage from 1959 to 2016 in inflationadjusted dollars.
  • $122 — The gain in Florida’s average weekly teacher salary from 1958 to 2016 in inflationadjusted dollars.

Then and Now: The Big Shift

How the federal government classifies businesses among industry sectors has changed through the years, making comparisons problematic. The figures below offer a rough comparison between 1963, the earliest year with available state-level data, and 2016, the most recent full-year data available from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.


Then: 13% of GDP
Now: 5%

In 1958, as reflected in FLORIDA TREND and other publications, an influx of manufacturers such as the predecessor of Lockheed Martin and a surge of chemical plant construction left business observers speculating that in Florida’s future, manufacturing would come to rival tourism. They and we didn’t see the long-term changes ahead in U.S. manufacturing.


Then: 6% of GDP
Now: 5%

Call it even. Construction has picked up since 2016.

Wholesale Trade

Then: 8% of GDP
Now: 7%

Retail Trade

Then: 12% of GDP
Now: 8%

Transportation and Utilities

Then: 10% of GDP
Now: 5%

Finance, Insurance, Real Estate

Then: 17% of GDP
Now: 23%


Then: 14% of GDP
Now: 28%

It’s safe to say that Florida’s economy in the last six decades has moved, along with the nation, more toward services.


Then: 16% of GDP
Now: 12%


Then: 4.4% of GDP
Now: 0.7%

Agriculture always has had an outsized hold on the perception of the state economy. In current dollars, agriculture today is larger than any individual sector of the Florida economy was in 1963, but it hasn’t grown as fast as other sectors.


Then: 0.8% of GDP
Now: 0.15%

Phosphate mining has had a big impact on the state’s development and look but contributes relatively little to GDP.


1997: 5% of GDP
Now: 4%

The category didn’t exist until 1997. Before then, some components of it — publishing, broadcasting — fell under other industry classifications while others such as internet service providers didn’t exist.

Every sector of the state’s economy has grown over the decades, some faster than others.

Then and Now: Where Floridians Work


Then: 16% of non-farm workforce
Now: 4%


Then: 10%
Now: 6%


Then: 16%
Now: 13%

Finance, Insurance, Real Estate

Then: 6%
Now: 7%

Trade, Transportation, Utilities

Then: 35%
Now: 20%


Then: 16%
Now: 48%


Then: NA
Now: 1.6%

Information didn’t exist as a category in the 1950s.


Then: 45,100 farms
Now: 47,000


Then: 136 per 100,000 Floridians
Now: 505


Then: 120 per 100,000
Now: 253 (2012)


Then: 46 per 100,000
Now: 52 (2016)

Then and Now: Politics


1958 — LeRoy Collins, Democrat
2018 — Rick Scott, Republican

U.S. Senators

1958 — George Smathers, Democrat Spessard Holland, Democrat
2018 — Bill Nelson, Democrat, Marco Rubio, Republican

State Senate President

1958 — William Shands, Democrat
2018 — Joe Negron, Republican

Speaker of House

1958 — Doyle Conner, Democrat
2018 — Richard Corcoran, Republican


In 1958, Democrats ruled Florida. Registered Democrats totaled 1.2 million to the GOP’s 216,000 (and just 12,000 as “other”), and the party’s power showed in its domination of elected office. Republicans didn’t have an edge in any county in Florida. Indeed, the total number of Republicans across several North Florida counties could have fit on a school bus with room to spare for a pep band. But, as Florida historian Gary Mormino has written, “In the summer of 1958, the Sunshine State’s Republican Party stood on the threshold of change.”

Today, 4.8 million Floridians are registered Democrats to 4.55 million Republicans. Minor parties have nearly 69,000 members, and 3.5 million Floridians have registered with no party affiliation — the fastest-growing sector of the electorate.

1958: The Leadership

LeRoy Collins (born 1909, died 1991)

Remembered as Florida’s “model governor,” the Tallahassee native turned to politics after having trouble making a living as a lawyer in the Great Depression. A lifelong Democrat, he earned his place in Florida history with his commitment to good governance and his moderate leadership, compared to other Southern governors, on civil rights. His good government reforms and commitment to economic development elevated him in the eye of the populous South Florida counties, while he fought powerful rural legislators. He expanded state public universities and colleges and promoted tourism. He initially defended segregation but urged the state to abide by Brown v. Board of Education and, as he came under attack, came to see segregation and racism as immoral. He chaired the 1960 Democratic Convention that nominated John F. Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson appointed him to head a federal service that aimed to peacefully implement the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He lost a U.S. Senate bid in 1968 after being labeled “liberal LeRoy.” After his death, the Legislature passed a resolution calling him “Floridian of the Century.”

George Smathers (born 1913, died 2007)

A lawyer, the New Jersey native was a product of 1920s Miami, where he was an athletic star at Miami High and later student body president at the University of Florida. He left a government lawyer career to serve as a Marine officer in World War II. The war convinced him of the importance of the United States taking an internationalist, rather than isolationist, view. He successfully ran for Congress against an opponent who labeled Smathers “gorgeous George.” Smathers joined the class of 1946 in Congress that included John Kennedy — he was an usher at Kennedy’s wedding — and Richard Nixon. He defeated the unloved — though later loved — Claude Pepper for U.S. Senate, in part with a daily attack that tagged groups Pepper had supported as a “Communist front a day.” Smathers is often remembered for a speech he never gave. After the campaign, some reporters promulgated the ruse that Smathers had tried to sway ignorant rural Floridians by, among other things, calling Pepper’s sister a “thespian” and saying Pepper “practiced celibacy before marriage.” Smathers never said it, but the fiction became accepted as gospel. Smathers was unpopular with liberal critics but became a top senator under Lyndon Johnson. He focused American attention and aid to Latin America in the Cold War to the degree that he became tagged as the “senator from Latin America.” He helped pass the 1957 Civil Rights Act but didn’t support subsequent civil rights legislation.

1958: Business Heavyweights

Ed Ball

Trustee of the DuPont estate, Ball built it from $33 million at Alfred duPont’s death to $2 billion when Ball died in 1981. Ball, based in Jacksonville, hated racial integration and liberalism and was the “most powerful man in Florida … may have wielded more power than any figure in Florida history,” according to historian Gary Mormino. He in essence was the state’s largest landowner and controlled railroads, paper mills, banks, timberland and legislators. The bank Ball controlled through the trust, First National, became the second-largest bank in Florida. In 1971, Congress forced the trust to divest its control of the bank; Florida National Group was acquired by First Union in 1990.

Arthur Vining Davis

The founder of longtime Florida developer Arvida was nearly 90 by the time FLORIDA TREND got going. The Massachusetts native rose to head the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), which he still chaired as late as 1957. He moved to Coral Gables at age 82 and, no longer active in Alcoa management, invested in real estate — about 30 Florida companies from shipping to vegetable farms and hotels — and spent time on philanthropy. He helped fund the University of Miami and start Baptist Hospital in Miami. He believed Florida real estate would have an “inevitable increase in value” and at one time owned oneeighth of Miami-Dade County.

Ben Hill Griffin Jr.

The Florida native, who turned 48 in 1958, was “one of the greatest citrus barons Florida has ever known,” according to his Florida Citrus Hall of Fame bio. He started in the family’s groves at age 5 and later attended the University of Florida. He became a university benefactor, and its stadium is named for him. His holdings reached 10,000 acres of groves and 85,000 acres of ranch and timber land. He followed his dad’s advice in buying groveland relatively protected from freezes, a move that paid off in 1962, when a freeze wiped out other groves, drove up the price of concentrate and made him rich. He also founded a bank, spent 12 years in the state Legislature, ran unsuccessfully for governor and served in industry groups. He died in 1990.

A.L. Lewis

In 1958, Afro-American Life Insurance Co. in Jacksonville was the state’s fifth-largest insurance company, with nearly $9 million in assets. The company was founded in 1901 by A.L. Lewis and several associates to provide health and life insurance to black Americans, who found it difficult to buy any kind of insurance in the days of segregation. The company, which expanded into Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, also offered mortgages and other financial services. Lewis was born in 1865 in Madison, the son of former slaves. He moved to Jacksonville to work in a lumber yard. Lewis became Florida’s first black millionaire. He also founded the Lincoln Golf and Country Club in Jacksonville and American Beach — where African- Americans could enjoy “recreation and relaxation without humiliation” — on Amelia Island. He was a philanthropist, giving to black churches and historically black colleges, and served on the board of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach. Lewis, who also created several black cemeteries, died in 1947. The company closed in 1987.

Mackle Brothers

The Mackle brothers of General Development Corp. and Deltona fame sold lots at $10 down and $10 a month. Their father began in construction, but the three sons went big, first with 227 acres on post-war Key Biscayne before realizing the money was in selling land, building Port Charlotte and then in 1958 platted and began developing Port St. Lucie. They went on to Deltona, built throughout Florida and, going upscale, developed Marco Island.

1958: Business Heavyweights

Jim Walter

The Tampa delivery driver, like a lot of vets in post-World War II America, couldn’t find an affordable home until he saw an ad for an unfinished house. He bought it, flipped it and realized vets like him would jump at buying a water-tight shell they could finish themselves inexpensively. He borrowed to become the builder’s partner, bought out the partner in 1948 and formed Jim Walter Corp. in 1955. His model worked perfectly in Florida. He took his company to a peak of 25,000 employees and billions in revenue and into other industries. For decades it was the only Fortune 500 company based in Tampa. The company sold to what’s today KKR in the 1980s. It went through a bankruptcy and emerged as Walter Industries in 1995. Walter himself retired a bit later and died in 2000. In 2009, the company closed its homes division — it tallied 350,000 homes over its life — and relocated its heavy industry-focused business to Alabama.


Tropicana was the Florida creation of Italian immigrant Anthony T. Rossi, a pioneer in flash pasteurization. Minute Maid and its frozen concentrate business — frozen concentrate took off in the 1950s — was another major player in Florida. An antitrust action broke up Minute Maid in 1958, and Tropicana is now owned by Pepsi.


International Minerals and Chemical was one of about a dozen companies in Florida that mined and processed phosphate in 1958. It’s the corporate ancestor of Mosaic, which continues to mine phosphate and is one of Florida’s largest single landowners.

Made in Florida

Along with orange juice, other prominent products made in Florida were King Edward cigars, Maxwell House coffee, Glidden paints, Owens-Illinois glass and Hudson napkins.


In 1958, Florida’s business scene was only partly taking on its presentday contours. The Tisch family out of New York — now the leaders of Loews — had completed their Americana Hotel just a couple years earlier. Designed by Miami Beach architect Morris Lapidus, designer of the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc, the Americana today is the Sheraton Bal Harbour. Today, the Tisches, through Loews, have the Loews Miami Beach and — at Universal Orlando — the Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Portofino Bay, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort and Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort and soon Universal’s Aventura Hotel.

Florida had 11.3 million tourists in 1959. In 2017, Florida had 116 million.


When FLORIDA TREND was founded, the grocery power in Florida was Winn- Dixie, founded by W.M. Davis in Miami and his four sons. From Jacksonville, the sons built it into a major industry player after W.M.’s death in 1934, while the sons themselves became movers and shakers in Florida.

Winn & Lovett was the first “Florida industrial corporation” to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It became Winn-Dixie with the acquisition of Dixie Home markets.

George Jenkins’ Publix proved the enduring one, however. With just 40 stores at the end of 1958, Publix grew to dominate the state grocery market and move beyond. Winn-Dixie peaked early this century, went through a bankruptcy reorganization in 2005 and 2006 and was bought by Bi-Lo in 2011. Parent company Southeastern Grocers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March.


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