Located on the western coast of our state of Florida, Tampa boasts a rich and varied history. From the first native inhabitants of the region to the modern era, our city has played a significant role in the development of the 27th state, as well as our country as a whole.
Currently, Tampa is a thriving city with a population of nearly 400,000 residents, ranking it as the third biggest in the Sunshine State and 51st largest in the United States. Spanning over 176 miles, the metropolitan area composes Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater.
This measures the fourth largest metro area in the Southeastern part of our country.
Prior to European settlement, the area was inhabited by the Tocobaga tribe. Initially, they inhabited what is now known as Safety Harbor. The Indigenous lived in close proximity to both the bay and freshwater streams, fishing and gathering shellfish as their primary source of food.
During this time, our city was rich with animals, prompting the tribe to be both great hunters and foragers. But, primarily, the Tocobaga constructed their tools from tree branches, shells, and stones.
Spanish Exploration & Conquest
In 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León landed briefly with a trio of ships and claimed the new territory ‘La Florida’ for the Spanish crown. However, the explorers formed contentious relations with the Tocobaga; armed warriors surrounded the Spanish galleys until they left. Later, when de León returned, he was fatally shot in the leg with a poisoned arrow.
Over the next few decades, other Spanish explorers arrived in the area and were instantly violent toward the natives. In particular, Hernando de Soto was a masochist that enslaved, mutilated, or executed anyone that stood in his way. The Spanish persecution, as well as the diseases that they brought, eventually devastated the native population’s Tocobaga population.
In the early 1800s, the United States government began to encourage settlement in Florida. In 1824, only two months after the arrival of the first American settlers, a quartet of companies of the U.S. Army established Fort Brooke. Inevitably, a small community grew up around the strategic harbor. In 1845, the territory was officially annexed as part of the United States. A few years laters, the town was named Tampa, and it became a center of commerce and shipping for the region.
During the Civil War, Tampa was a vital port for the Confederacy and was secured in Federal occupation. Union forces attempted to blockade the port, but Confederate troops were able to defend it. After the war, Tampa underwent a period of Reconstruction, during which time the city’s economy struggled. In the late 1800s, however, the city began to recover and grow thanks to Henry B. Plant’s railroad extension.
Henry B. Plant
With his business Plant Investment Company headquartered in Sanford, Henry B. Plant acquired existing rail lines and laid new track from central to western Florida. Many of his contracts built vital stretches through Jacksonville and Tampa, with the Key West line running from Kissimmee to our city in 1883.
The following year, 70 miles of new track were completed, successfully connecting our city to the rest of the eastern seaboard. In total, more than 1,196 miles of tracks were linked throughout our state, effectively replacing the inconsistent, narrow gauge tracks, resulting in an ease and efficiency of train travel.
At the end of the century, Tampa became a vital terminus in our state.
The Spanish-American War
In 1898, the Spanish-American War broke out, and our city played a significant role in the conflict. The city was a major staging area for the U.S. military, and thousands of soldiers were trained and outfitted there before being sent to fight in Cuba.
At the end of the century, Theodore Roosevelt made a call to action, leading a cavalry known as The Rough Riders from Texas to our city. Unfortunately, the only place for a regiment to board ships for Cuba was Port Tampa — 9 miles from the city at the southern tip of the Interbay Peninsula.
The men trained in Tampa before embarking, taking 31 ships carrying 10 million pounds of rations, nearly three thousand horses, and close to 17,000 soldiers.
The Birth of Cigar Manufacturing in Ybor City
In the early part of the 20th century, our city was officially dubbed the “Cigar Capital of the World.” Founded by Spanish businessman Vicente Martinez Ybor, the constructed cigar factories were worked mainly by Cuban immigrants. The cigar industrialist chose the area due to its new port, rail transit, and more remarkable ability to control labor workforce issues — particularly, providing his workers with housing.
Ybor City quickly became a center of cigar manufacturing, with thousands of workers producing millions of cigars yearly. By 1910, more than two hundred cigar factories were producing over a million cigars a day. As a result, it is now one of only three National Historic Landmark Districts located in our state.
Flying High Over The City
In 1914, entrepreneur Percival Ellicot Fansler introduced the world’s first scheduled commercial airline service with a St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat line. The publicized event attracted 3,000 spectators, celebrating the festivities in a grand parade. An auction transpired during the festivities, and the winning big earned a spot as the lone passenger on the inaugural flight.
Piloting the airline’s flying boat was Tony Jannus; he is the namesake of the Tony Jannus Award presented each year by the Tampa Chamber of Commerce for achievement in commercial aviation. Numerous subdivisions were founded during this airline service.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The area was long associated with spring training baseball, dating all the way back to 1913. However, it wasn’t until a decade later that Tampa fielded the first pro football team: the Buccaneer’s initial iteration, dubbed the Tampa Cardinals. For the next five decades, there were several versions, before the Buccaneers made their debut in 1976.
Surprisingly, they were our city’s second-ever professional team; the first was the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team that took the pitch the year before.
In 2003, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII, defeating the Oakland Raiders 48-21. This victory was a moment of triumph for the city and its pro sports aspirations, which had struggled for years to achieve success. Later, the team won again in 2020.
Overall, the team contributes heavily to a sports tourism economy that sees $900 million in the last fiscal year. In addition, the Bucs are the most popular of all pro sports franchises in the city. The team is evaluated at $650 million, generating $364 million in annual net stadium revenues.