1946 – 1959: Florida’s Golden Age of Tourism (Mermaids & Dolphins & Mammoths, Oh My!)

And then the war ended. From 1941 through 1945 Florida became seemingly one giant military installation. Some 1.2 million acres of land were used by the military, hotels and hospitals were converted to service personnel facilities and about 200 military installations were created or expanded. Millions of Americas, many of which had never been to Florida before, passed through the state in the Army, Navy & Marine Corps or as civilian workers to support military camp work and industry. Those men and women were the ones who visited Florida’s attractions, parks and beaches during the war. Unnecessary driving was prohibited so many natives couldn’t go to Silver Springs, Cypress Gardens or even the beach unless they lived close.

Dick Pope of Cypress Gardens used to say that they developed their water ski shows for the guys at the local bases. Major resort hotels were converted to military housing. The roads and rail lines were also improved. All this set up Florida for a boom immediately after the war.

Florida actively promoted itself as a “post-war paradise” and millions came, settled down and bought homes. Many more came to visit the land of sunshine, citrus and bathing beauties – some on the first family vacations of their lives.

Many of the classic roadside attractions appeared at this time. Developers saw the numbers of tourists coming to the state and came up with as many creative ways as possible to draw the crowds. Weeki Wachee had mermaids, Caribbean Gardens had duck vaudeville, the Circus Hall of Fame had clowns, Potter’s had wax figures imported from London, the Great Masterpiece had a giant re-creation of a great masterpiece, and Ripley’s had, well, what they proudly described as oddities. There were more alligator farms, aquariums and zoos filled with exotic animals. Times were great for Florida and tourism. Every major road leading from the rest of the country into and around Florida had places to entertain the masses.

1946

Dupree Gardens closes

Theatre of the Sea opens

President Harry Truman begins visiting Key West for vacations at the “Little White House”

The state of Florida officially takes ownership of the John and Mable Ringling estate including the Ringling Museum of Art, Ca’ d’Zan Mansion and formal gardens

Ca’ d’Zan, the former John and Mable Ringling residence, opens to the public

1947

Collier-Seminole State Park opens

Everglades National Park established

Miami Serpentarium opens

Weeki Wachee holds its first underwater mermaid show

Thomas Edison home deeded to the city of Ft. Meyers and opens to the public

South Florida Museum opens

1948

Snooty the Manatee born in captivity in Miami

Ringling Circus Museum opens

The Lightner Museum opens

De Soto National Memorial established

Crandon Park Zoo opens

1949

Anastasia State Park opens

Big Talbot Island State Park opens

Fort George Island Cultural State Park opens

Florida Wildlife Institute (Gatorland Orlando) opens

Little Talbot Island State Park opens

Manatee Springs State Park opens

Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park opens

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park opens

Snooty the Manatee moves to the South Florida Museum where he lives until 2017

Paradise Park opens

Potter’s Wax Museum opens

Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park opens

1950

Faver-Dykes State Park opens

Jonathan Dickinson State Park opens

St. Andrews State Park opens

Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center opens

Tiki Gardens opens

The first Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum opens in St. Augustine

The first missile/rocket launches at Cape Canaveral

Sebring International Raceway holds its first race

1951

Africa USA opens

Suwannee River State Park opens

Thomas Gaskins Cypress Knee Museum opens

1952

The Great Masterpiece opens

Phosphate Valley Exposition opens

1953

First Florida Folk Festival presented

Black Hills Passion Play’s Winter Season presented for the first time

Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park opens

Fort Caroline National Memorial established

James Melton’s Autorama opens

The Ancient Spanish Monastery opens

Viscaya opens to the public

Horns’ Cars of Yesterday (the Sarasota Classic Car Museum) opens

Operation of Mead Botanical transfers to the city of Winter Park

1954

The original Sunshine Skyway Bridge completed

Caribbean Gardens opens on the site of Henry Nehrling’s tropical gardens

Tupperware Headquarters opens

Alfred B. Maclay State Gardens opens

1955

Gulfarium opens

Miami Seaquarium opens

Mote Marine Laboratory opens

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary opens

The Sunshine State Parkway (Florida’s Turnpike) begins construction

Storyland USA opens

Three Rivers State Park opens

Martin County purchases Gilbert’s Bar House of Refuge and opens it as a museum

Sunshine Springs & Gardens opens

1956

Aquafair opens

Circus Hall of Fame opens

Constitution Convention Museum State Park opens

Oscar Scherer State Park opens

Citrus Tower is built

1957

Gatorama opens

Dreher Park Zoo (Later Palm Beach Zoo) opens

Lowry Park Zoo and Fairyland opens

1958

John Gorrie Museum State Park opens

Orlando Science Center opens

Asolo Theatre at the Ringling Museums opens

Key West Conch Tour Train begins operations

Santinis Porpoise School opens

1959

Daytona International Speedway opens

Miami Wax Museum opens

Busch Gardens opens

Sunshine Springs & Gardens closes