Made in Florida: Gatorade, Air Conditioning, Spring Break and More

The Sunshine State is a cultural force in America; here are just a few of the things we’ve invented

AIR CONDITIONING

Florida evolved from a godforsaken swamp fit for mosquitoes and alligators to the high-end, luxury vacation destination and year-round paradise we know today because of two words: air conditioning.

In 1851, Apalachicola physician John Gorrie received a patent for a machine to make ice, as a way of cooling sick patients with tropical diseases. The father of modern air conditioning, Willis Haviland Carrier, created an electrical air conditioning system in 1902, to control the temperature and humidity for a paper manufacturing plant.

And the rest is history.

“The importance of air conditioning cannot be underestimated in the development of Florida,” says FAU Associate History Professor Evan Bennett, who specializes in the history of Florida. “Nobody would move here to deal with the bugs, the swampland, the sun and the heat. Florida would remain off-limits during the summer months, for most people. Because of our climate-controlled environment, Florida now boasts a large permanent year-round population.”

Which means we probably invented snowbirds, too.

LIGHT BULB

Ok, so we have to share this one with New Jersey, but let’s keep in mind Thomas Edison spent his winters in Fort Myers, where he also worked on the light bulb—and more than 1,000 of his other inventions.

FLORIDA MAN

Minnesota has Paul Bunyan, Tennessee has Davy Crockett. Even Kansas—boring by any standard—has Buffalo Bill, for God’s sake. But what do we get? Florida Man, that dumber-than-dirt hapless bonehead who has become an enduring meme since 2013 on the internet for almost daily news stories that always begin with “Florida man…” Like “Florida Man Arrested After Argument Over Cheesesteak” or “Florida Man Accused of Robbing Chinese Restaurant at Finger Point” or “Florida Man Caught on Camera Licking Doorbell.” And we wonder why no one gets us.

HAPPY HOUR

Happy Hours R Us, and we think we can justify this state as their launch pad. Literally. According to Emily Bell, writing for VinePair, “the term ‘happy hour’ stumbled into its unofficial ‘discount drinks’ meaning somewhere in the late ‘40s or early ‘50s,” and was more literally documented in a Saturday Evening Post article about employees at Cape Canaveral’s Patrick Air Force Base in 1959: ‘They came seeking a place where a man, without neglecting his job, can still find time to fish and swim. Except for those who spend too much during ‘happy hour’ at the bar—and there are a few of those.’”

So there you have it. Our happy hours may have had a noble beginning by our very own airmen, whose hallowed traditions we hope to honor as best we can, happily ever after.

NASCAR

Credit Image: ©Sutton Motorsports/ZUMA Press)

It was during the Great Depression when auto mechanic and stock car driver Bill France moved his family south from Washington, D.C., to Daytona in the spring of 1935 to better their chances. He took a number of odd jobs, eventually setting up a car repair business, the 316 Main Street Station. Stock car racing was big, but Daytona was losing its races to places like the Bonneville Salt Flats. France stepped in and helped organize the town’s efforts to retain these races, protect drivers from unscrupulous promoters and set up some ground rules.

On December 14, 1947 France met with drivers, mechanics and car owners at the Ebony Bar at Daytona’s Streamline Hotel, a gathering that ended with the formation of the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing, or NASCAR, on February 21, 1948. On April 4, 1953, he proposed a new superspeedway called Daytona International Speedway.

THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

Nathaniel Reed, former Assistant Secretary of the US Department of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, poses for a portrait at his home on Jupiter Island in Hobe Sound on Nov. 24, 2014. Reed has dedicated his life to public service and working to protect the environment. (Credit Madeline Gray/The Palm Beach Post/ZUMA Wire)

We all knew that the late Jupiter resident Nat Reed, who died a year ago, was one of the fiercest protectors of the Everglades—and an environmental hero. But he was also co-author of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 during his tenure as the deputy secretary for the Department of the Interior, after shutting down a proposed airport north of the Everglades and preserving the diminishing habitat for the endangered Florida panther. In later years, he also founded the 1000 Friends of Florida group.

SUNSET CELEBRATIONS

We are taking credit for sunset celebrations, given the origin of the one at Mallory Square in Key West, which began in the 1960s when a group of hippies routinely gathered at the square’s pier while tripping on LSD—and in search of the ultimate light show. The ritual grew, evolved into a de facto flea market and then became problematic (as was invariably the case when love children were in charge). Ultimately, key members of the tribe, including Marilyn Kellner (the Cookie Lady), formed the Key West Cultural Preservation Society, Inc. (a not-for-profit corporation) in 1984 and negotiated a lease with the City of Key West for the nightly ritual. We do not know what year the performing cats came on board.

“COPS”

According to history.com, the first episode of “COPS” aired in 1989 and featured the men and women of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department headed by then-Sheriff Nick Navarro. Thrillist writer Matt Meltzer says “the thought of following around regular people with TV cameras and calling it entertainment seemed ridiculous. But the show that resulted—’COPS’—became an international sensation” and helped launch dozens of reality TV shows.

GATORADE

Gatorade was launched in 1965 at THE University of Florida (UF) when its football coach, Dwayne Douglas, teamed up with Dr. Robert Cade, a kidney disease specialist at the university, after he noticed the ill effects of heat on his players, from weight loss to dehydration to heat stroke. Cade subsequently developed a drink designed to restore carbohydrates, salt and electrolytes to ailing Gators.

In 1966 (under coach Ray Graves), the Gators started drinking Gatorade during summer practices. Not only did the weight loss problem improve, but they also saw a significant drop in the number of players hospitalized for heat exhaustion. Cade also credited the drink with his team’s 8-2 record that season.

Pepsi now produces and markets Gatorade (the University of Florida has made more than $100 million from it) with $1.3 billion in overall sales. Although it is marketed today largely as G2 or G in several different flavors (and actually tastes good), Gator fans know what G really stands for: the Florida Gators—and the scientist who helped build a mighty SEC contender.

BOAT PARADES

Boat Parade

Only in Florida do we celebrate Christmas on the water, with a string of boats of all sizes festooned with Christmas lights, blaring music, creating a dazzling procession along canals and waterways to usher in the season.

STREAKING

In 1973, two FSU students jumped from a car and ran naked across the college’s legendary Landis Green in the middle of campus, diving into a second car on the other side. Pictures were picked up by UPI and went “viral” before viral was even possible. This was the first recorded incident of streaking, which became a worldwide fad.

THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT

Legendary Scottish-American explorer John Muir may have launched today’s environmental movement from an experience he had in Florida. During his walk from Kentucky to Florida in the mid-1800s, Muir contracted malaria and went through a “time for contemplation,” according to Jack Davis, professor of environmental history at the University of Florida.

It was then he had a “personal revelation,” wrote Hannah Brown in the Tampa Bay Times, in which he would write about the equal value of man with “the smallest transmicroscopic creature” when it comes to the universe.

“It was this moment that reframed his way of thinking that perhaps nature is not meant for man, and that some areas of the natural world should be left undisturbed by human influence—a point of view that would later become instrumental in the dawning of conservation movements in the states,” Brown wrote.

This led to Muir eventually convincing President Teddy Roosevelt to establish our national parks, and becoming the father of the environmental movement we know today.

PERSONAL COMPUTER

Inside the Boca Raton Innovation Center on Yamato Road is a tech titan: IBM. The company’s roots in the city go back to the ‘80s, when William Lowe and Philip “Don” Estridge introduced a new personal computer in 1981 that would forever change the technology landscape. Their production was revolutionary in that it pulled products from other companies—such as Microsoft, Intel, Epson and Zenith—rather than building it all themselves.

They also thought outside of the box when it came to sales, turning to stores like Sears and Roebuck rather than selling it internally. People clamored for the product, and IBM sold twice the estimate of 250,000 machines in the first 18 months and the staff grew to more than 10,000 employees. Today, IBM is an internationally recognized company, continuing to pave the way in technological progress.

A1A

Jimmy Buffett didn’t exactly invent A1A, but he canonized it in 1974 with his album by the same title. This is the ultimate Florida coastal road—large parts of it designated a Scenic Highway—running along the Atlantic Ocean from Key West all the way up to Fernandina Beach, just south of the Georgia border.

FOOD FROM FLORIDA

Joe’s Stone Crab

STONE CRABS are a statewide delicacy, costing roughly the same amount as one year of college tuition, but worth the splurge now and then during season (Oct. 15 through May 15).

Wally Amos, born in Tallahassee, founded the FAMOUS AMOS cookie brand, which he modified from his aunt Della’s recipe. Little-known facts: One of his first backers was Marvin Gaye, and he also worked as a talent agent and discovered Simon & Garfunkel.

ORANGE JUICE CONCENTRATE belongs to us—and for 50 years our Florida Welcome Stations have been treating visitors to free glasses of OJ.

It’s not people food, but it’s CHEWY, now an online giant pet food and pet product retailer based in Dania Beach. In 2017, Chewy logged in revenues of about $2 billion and was acquired by PetSmart for $3.35 billion.

SPRING BREAK

This whole thing was launched in 1934 when the Colgate University men’s swim team came to Fort Lauderdale during Christmas break to practice. So it is true: This really is where the boys were. Things progressed from there, but the rocket booster was Glendon Swarthout’s novel, Where the Boys Are, published in 1960, followed by a movie of the same title later that year. These days, Fort Lauderdale is just one of a gazillion places spring breakers gather—from Florida to other sunny spots across the country.

COPPERTONE

The iconic Coppertone girl

Florida may not have been the place that suntan lotion was invented, but it appears ours was the one that took off, according to Pharmacy Times (and they would know). The first one was invented in 1938 by one Franz Greiter, a Swiss mountain climber who got sunburned on the way up and concocted the first sunscreen. But his product was eclipsed by the one that Miami pharmacist (and WWII airman) Benjamin Green developed in 1944. At first this wartime invention was described as “heavy and unpleasant” by the New York Times, but it evolved after the war into what we know today as Coppertone, adrift in that coconut aroma generations of people now associate with a trip to the beach. In 1956, Coppertone introduced its famous logo of a dog and a little girl in a bathing suit; that sign still stands in homage to Miami’s own suntan lotion, at 7300 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami’s MiMo Historic District.

LILLYS

Lilly Pulitzer in her first shop off Via Mizner in 1962

When young socialite Lilly Pulitzer moved to Palm Beach with her husband Peter in the 1950s, she opened a fruit stand in Via Mizner to sell fruit drinks from her husband’s orange groves. The operation turned out to be a messy one, so Lilly “ran up” some brightly patterned shifts that would camouflage the citrus stains. The dresses were a surprise hit with customers and friends, so Lilly opened her own company as president in 1959 to produce them. The craze continued into the ‘80s, when Lilly shut down the company, which was revived in 1993 when Sugartown World bought the rights to Lilly Pulitzer. The brand was reborn, and today there are 75 signature Lilly Pulitzer stores.

This story is from our September/October 2019 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.