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Selling the Sunshine State

Florida started curating its image more than 100 years ago.
Published Nov. 12, 2020

Florida is all about the sun. It’s the image that drives the state’s largest industry, one that generates billions of dollars a year. But you might not realize just how long Florida has been selling itself.

In 1919, St. Petersburg hired the first city publicity agent in U.S history. Once the smallest state in the American south, Florida is now the nation’s third largest by population, and its theme parks are among the most-visited places in the world.

Billed as the place “no worries exist” — even through the Great Depression and civil unrest — the sand-coated image undeniably established the state’s identity.

Hidden Histories, a monthly video series by the Tampa Bay Times, highlights untold, overlooked and underreported local history. Have a story to share? Email jglenfield@tampabay.com.

Missed the first episode? St. Petersburg’s Black voter turnout is 10 percent over the national average. That’s been true for generations. The story of Chester James Sr. helps explain why.

Learn more about the footage used in this episode: Florida’s bizarre old tourism films, explained