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  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

Actors

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)

Musicians

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.

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