No one knows for sure how
Orlando got its name. Some say it was named after Orlando
Reeves, a US soldier killed in 1835 by an Indian arrow while
on sentry duty. Or was it a local judge who named the town
after his favorite Shakespearean character, "Orlando,"
in "As You Like It?"
What historians do know is that farmer Aaron Jernigan came
here from Georgia in 1843. He
helped revitalize an old US Army post called Fort Gatlin. Prior
to the Civil War, Orlando was known for its cattle, which primarily
was imported to Cuba. Cattle rustling in the late 1800s led to street
gunfights similar to the old west.
Orlando branched out to develop a cotton industry. But cotton met
its doom when the Civil War stole away the industry's workforce.
And a devastating hurricane in 1871 brought a hasty end to the area's
cotton crops. But that was replaced by what has been called "orange
fever." Former cotton land was re-seeded with grapefruit, tangerines
and oranges. In Orlando's mild climate, the citrus industry flourished.
Helping to promote it: the growth of the railroad industry. In 1875,
by a vote of 2 men from its 85 residents, the two-square-mile city
of Orlando was officially incorporated. In the late 1800s, a series
of hard freezes hit Central Florida. The so-called "Great Freeze"
destroyed virtually the entire citrus crop. It took more than a
decade for the industry to recover. Citrus was what Orlando and
Central Florida was known for during the early part of this century.
At its peak, more than 80,000 areas of citrus trees thrived in Central
Florida (in the 1950s).
Orlando remained a sleepy place into the early 20th century. It
was a time when homes here began getting electricity and cars took
to the roads with speed limits of five miles an hour. The area's
now famous airport had a modest start in 1928, when it opened as
a facility to haul cargo. Orlando became one of the first places
to train bomber pilots in anticipation of the Second World War.
And Pine Castle Airbase here served as the site for the top secret
X-1 tests. In the 1960s, Orlando was perhaps best known worldwide
as the site of a significant Strategic Air Command unit. The area
had a major cosmetic change when the Glenn L. Martin Company bought
10 acres of land to build a missile factory. Martin Marietta became
the area's largest employers (setting the groundwork for the area's
technological industry base).
Walt Disney looked far and wide for an area to expand his California
theme park. He considered Miami and Ocala, Orlando's horse-farm-famous
northern neighbor. The most popular story has it that he was in
an airplane, saw the convergence of roadways around Orlando and
became convinced this was the place for his park. The Magic Kingdom
opened its gates in 1971, transforming the entire area. SeaWorld
soon followed. Over the years, Disney expanded and expanded again.
The theme park added new parks. And others followed such as Universal
Orange County Convention Center
Orlando's tourism industry became famous, but the area also got
on the fast track for meetings and conventions. Its Orange County
Convention Center opened in 1983 with just over 147,000 square feet,
Compared to 2.1 million square feet today, making it the nation's
second largest convention facility. More than five million convention
and meeting visitors came here in a recent year.
Today, Orlando has more than 95 major attractions, 112,000 hotel
rooms and 5,100 restaurants. More than 44 million visitors annually
come here. And the citrus industry is being plowed under by subdivisions
housing record-high numbers of new residents.