This exhibit explores the history of Florida's citrus industry through various materials held by University of South Florida Tampa Library’s Special Collections: post cards, sheet music, rare books, promotional materials, industry documents, and political correspondence. If Florida's identity is irrevocably entwined with the citrus industry, some of these materials served as the glue that joined them in the public's mind. For Florida boosters, it was not just a matter of marketing citrus. They sold a bit of Florida sunshine in every crate of citrus and carton of orange juice.
Citrus is not indigenous to Florida, but traces its roots to Southeast Asia. Florida's citrus industry took root slowly. Neglected by the Spanish, the British took more interest in the fruit during their brief tenure in Florida (1763-83). Under U.S. ownership beginning in 1821, the citrus industry blossomed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The rhetoric of Florida and citrus boosters could not disguise the fact that citrus is not a foolproof industry. Insects, disease, hurricanes, and freezes threatened the industry.
During the Florida land boom (1920-25), boosters made citrus and the Sunshine State synonymous. Citrus became an icon of Florida and its recreational lifestyle.
By the 1940s, technology opened new vistas for those marketing citrus, including concentrated and frozen juice. The State of Florida and its citrus industry spread the word with brochures, cookbooks, and events such as beauty pageants.
The modern citrus industry in Florida faces a variety of issues that imperils its future in the state. Encroaching suburban development and foreign competition present the biggest problems. As the fourth most populous state in the nation, development has increasingly encroached on the historic areas of citrus production in central and south Florida, especially the surrounding regions of Tampa Bay, Orlando, and Miami-Palm Beach.
Foreign competition from Brazil continues to grow at an astounding rate, outpacing production in Florida in all categories. The Brazilian citrus industry utilizes low labor costs and cheap fertilizer to produce significantly cheaper citrus than Florida, even after the shipping and tariff costs to import it into the United States. While Brazil may dominate the concentrate and overseas markets, Florida citrus is coveted by fresh juice makers.
The acreage in Florida that is devoted to growing citrus is continuously shrinking, yet the Florida Citrus Commission remains steadfast in its confidence that Florida citrus will prevail. Marketing the quality of Florida grown orange juice and diversifying businesses to include shipping gift fruit remain the greatest hopes for the future of the industry in Florida.
Curation by Special & Digital Collections librarian Andy Huse and Department of History graduate student Joe Tamargo. Production assistance by School of Information graduate student Matt Deihl. Copyright 2012.