Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Eight Watershed Moments

From the 1950s to the 2020s, Floridians experienced monumental change influenced by global events, a dynamic economy and Mother Nature herself. These are some of the events that shaped the state as we know it.


  • On New Year’s Eve, Fulgencio Batista resigned as Cuba’s president and fled, ushering in a Communist dictatorship and an exodus that transformed every aspect of Miami’s cultural, political and economic future, positioning the city to become the gateway to Latin America. Between 1960 and the 1980 Mariel boat lift, Miami’s Hispanic population swelled from 50,000 to 580,000. Another 54,000 Cuban refugees settled in South Florida during the rafter crisis from 1994-1996.


  • On Aug. 4, NASA announced it would purchase 12 square miles of land in Brevard County to stage manned missions to the moon. Eight years later, American astronauts launched from then-Cape Kennedy, becoming the first humans to walk on the moon with the Apollo 11 mission. By the time the Apollo missions came to an end in 1972, a dozen astronauts had walked or driven on the moon and the space era had transformed the region into a high-tech hub with thousands of space-related workers. To provide talent for the growing industry, the Florida Legislature in 1963 funded a new public university, Florida Technological University, which opened in 1968. Eventually renamed the University of Central Florida, it became the state’s biggest university and one of the largest in the nation.


  • A new state Constitution was adopted, dismantling the political power of North Florida’s Pork Chop Gang, a group of 20 segregationist Democrats who dominated the Legislature in the 1950s and 1960s. The new Constitution ended decades of malapportionment that favored rural North Florida over more populated Central and South Florida, while also eliminating mandatory school segregation. The new Constitution also provided Floridians with the ability to revise the document via referendum and created a unique periodic review process that allowed the rapidly changing state to govern itself accordingly.


  • Disney’s Magic Kingdom opened on Oct. 1 to a crowd of 10,000 visitors, with admission costing $3.50 for adults and $1 for children. The entertainment giant — along with Sea World Orlando (1973) and Universal Orlando Resort (1990) — reshaped the state’s tourism industry and remade Central Florida from a sleepy region dependent on cattle ranching and oranges into a worldwide destination and one of the most visited regions in the U.S.


  • Hurricane Andrew slammed into Florida south of Miami near Homestead, destroying or damaging more than 125,000 houses and leaving 160,000 people homeless. The severity of property loss in Florida was attributed in part to shoddy construction and weak building codes, leading to adoption in 1994 of a new South Florida Building Code, raising standards for roofs and impact resistance. In 2002, the state adopted a new statewide Florida Building Code, requiring that new construction be able to withstand hurricane-force winds, with features including stronger roofs and impact-resistant coverings for all openings. Broward and Miami-Dade were singled out for even higher hurricane-resistance standards.


  • Florida, Florida, Florida: The presidential contest between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore came down to just 537 votes out of almost 6 million cast. Through 36 days of hanging chads, butterfly ballots, recounts and lawsuits, the fate of the presidency hung in the balance. It ended when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an order by the Florida Supreme Court for a selective manual recount of some ballots and let Bush’s tiny margin of victory stand.


  • When the Great Recession ripped through the U.S. economy, Cape Coral in Southwest Florida earned the moniker of “ground zero” of the nation’s foreclosure crisis. Tens of thousands of foreclosure cases there and around the state clogged court dockets and turned neighborhoods into ghost towns. Three of Florida’s major metropolitan areas — Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando — were in the nation’s top 10 with the highest foreclosure rates. Job losses also skyrocketed, with 11% of jobs disappearing between January 2007 and the end of 2010. Ripple effects of the crisis would be felt for years to come, with a decrease in housing starts becoming a contributing factor in Florida’s ongoing affordable housing crisis.


  • The COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly every aspect of life in Florida, with the virus claiming nearly 90,000 lives to date. The immediate 2020 shutdown cost more than 1 million jobs, most of which were regained within two years. Florida’s reopening also sparked a massive migration of people and companies to the state, with more than 329,700 new residents settling in Florida between April 2020 and April 2021. By 2022, Florida was the fastest-growing state in the nation for the first time since 1957, with its population increasing by 1.9%. The surge left much of Florida with an ongoing housing crisis.