1. Florida

Not just ‘Florida Man’: The people and innovations that came from the Sunshine State.

Florida has given the world so much more than wacky headlines.
Vintage postcards from the heyday of Florida tourism. [Times archives]
Published Mar. 22
Updated Mar. 26

Yesterday we wrote about the Florida Man challenge, a viral phenomenon that has people googling their birthday and “Florida Man” to see which ridiculous headline pops up. The trend has once again thrust our state’s dirty laundry into a national spotlight.

I have conflicting feelings about Florida Man. Weird crimes and wacky characters are as much a part of living here as hurricanes and alligator sightings. Journalists are obligated to report on the things that are newsworthy, which includes events that occur under unusual circumstances.

Florida Man stories can also be problematic. The strange factors that make for the funniest headlines often take the focus away from the victims of crimes or people who have been harmed. The stories can also make a punchline out of individuals who are mentally ill or struggle with substance abuse. We often forget that these are actual human beings.

There’s no denying that the Florida Man meme is firmly wedged into our state’s identity. But just because it’s a part of who we are doesn’t mean that it’s all we have to offer.

Florida has contributed a lot to the world, from creative innovators and performers to inventions that make our life better. Here are some things from Florida to be proud of.

Inventions and innovations

If you’re a fan of air conditioning and refrigeration, you can thank John Gorrie. He invented the life-changing technology in Apalachicola during the 1800s. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford both had homes in Fort Myers. Philip Don Estridge, of Jacksonville, helped develop the IBM personal computer. Additionally, brands like Spanx and Lily Pulitzer were both invented in Florida.

You can also thank the state for Publix, key lime pie, Famous Amos Cookies (invented by Tallahassee-born Wally Amos) and Clearwater-based breastaurant Hooters. Thirsty? How about a refreshing Gatorade, or frozen concentrated orange juice, also from Florida.

Nutritionist and body care specialist Rachelle Roach, right, talks with Nancy Duncan during an invitation only event at the a Publix GreenWise in Tampa. [CHRIS URSO | Times]

Florida is also the originator of the Sunshine Law, which has gone on to be the blueprint for open-record laws across the country. This is a big reason why we are able to report on bizarre news stories: There’s simply more information out there.

Notable individuals


This photo released by NBC shows Maya Rudolph in a scene from "The Maya Rudolph Show." [Paul Drinkwater | AP]
  • Maya Rudolph (Gainesville)
  • Faye Dunaway (Bascom)
  • Wesley Snipes (Orlando)
  • Sarah Paulson (Tampa)
  • Bob Ross (Daytona Beach)
  • Norman Reedus (Hollywood)
  • Brittany Snow (Tampa)
  • Josh Gad (Hollywood)


Music legend Ray Charles performs in Zurich, Switzerland. [Franco Greco | AP]
  • Ariana Grande (Boca Raton)
  • Ray Charles (born in Georgia, but grew up in Greenville, Fla.)
  • Debbie Harry (Miami)
  • Julian Cannonball Adderley (Tampa)
  • Pat Boone (Jacksonville)
  • Jim Morrison (Melbourne)
  • Jason Derulo (Miami)
  • T Pain (Tallahassee)
  • Flo Rida (Carol City)
  • Rick Ross (Carol City)
  • Pitbull (Miami)
  • Tom Petty (Gainesville)
  • Bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Matchbox Twenty, the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC all formed in Florida.

Writers who did some of their most notable work in Florida

Author Judy Blume sign copies of her books during a book signing event in New York, Tuesday Nov. 16, 2004. [Bebeto Matthews | AP]
  • Zora Neale Hurston (Eatonville)
  • Carl Hiassen (Plantation)
  • Dave Barry (Miami)
  • Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (Cross Creek)
  • Ernest Hemingway (lived in Key West)
  • Judy Blume (lives Key West and owns a bookstore there)
  • Shel Silverstein (lived in Key West)
  • Jack Kerouac (lived in St Petersburg for quite some time)
  • There are many more, as Colette Bancroft writes.

What other contributions has Florida made to the world? Let us know in the comments below.

Times staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report.


  1. Mohammed "Mo" Haitham, 19, was a track star at Lakewood High School. He was one of the victims of the Naval Air Station Pensacola shooting on Friday, according to his mother and Lakewood High principal Erin Savage. CARRY PRATT  |  Photo by Carrie Pratt
    Mohammed Haitham just finished boot camp and had been reassigned to Pensacola.
  2. This photo taken from video provided by WEAR-TV shows emergency responders near the Naval Air Base Station in Pensacola, Fla., Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.  The US Navy is confirming that an active shooter and one other person are dead after gunfire at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. Area hospital representatives tell The Associated Press that at least 11 people were hospitalized. The base remains locked down amid a huge law enforcement response.   (WEAR-TV via AP) AP
    Family members on Saturday identified one of the victims as a 23-year-old recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who alerted first responders to where the shooter was even after he had been shot...
  3. A huge number of homes owned by Baby Boomers will sell in the next 20 years. How will the trend affect the Florida housing market? CAMERON GILLIE  |  NAPLES DAILY NEWS
    The enormous generation born between 1946 and 1964 owns about 40 percent of the homes across the country.
  4. In this Dec. 5 photo authorities investigate the scene of a shooting in Miramar, Fla. The FBI says several people, including a UPS driver, were killed after robbers stole the driver’s truck and led police on a chase that ended in gunfire at a busy South Florida intersection during rush hour. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP) TAIMY ALVAREZ  |  AP
    A lawyer for the union where Rick Cutshaw worked said Cutshaw had just left his office before being killed. “He was going home.”
  5. Congressional aides maneuver a Christmas tree to the office of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, on Capitol Hill earlier this month. No word on whether they washed it first, but experts say hosing down a live tree can be a good way to keep allergens from causing respiratory problems during the holiday season. J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP
    Hosing off a live tree or wiping off an artificial one are two ways to keep allergens at bay during the holidays.
  6. Motorists head north of Key Largo on U.S. 1, in anticipation of Hurricane Irma on Sept. 6, 2017.  Keys officials announced a mandatory evacuation Wednesday for visitors, with residents being told to leave the next day. [Associated Press]
    Elevating less than 3 miles of Old State Road 4A by 2025 could cost $75 million.
  7. Frank Ordonez was the UPS driver who was taken hostage by two armed robbers and later killed during a shootout with police in Miramar Thursday. Facebook
    Frank Ordonez, was a father to two young girls and had worked with UPS for five years.
  8. Four people, including a UPS driver, were killed Thursday after robbers stole the driver’s truck and led police on a chase that ended in gunfire in Miami. Youtube
    Family members have identified the UPS driver to be Frank Ordonez, a father of two young girls.
  9. Bryan Bruton, as seen in a still image from one of his videos, hosts a YouTube channel dubbed "Crazy Prison Stories" in which he discusses his experiences during the 11 years he spent in Florida's prison system. YouTube
    Bryan Bruton’s YouTube channel is part of a niche of prison-focused video blogs that offer a frank look at life incarcerated.
  10. A helicopter lands at Tampa General Hospital, one of 66 Florida hospitals that could benefit from a proposal contained in Gov. Ron DeSantis' new budget, a new analysis finds. JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Tampa General is among the hospitals that would receive money from a proposal seeking to hand out $10 million in new funding.