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Tropic of Hopes

California, Florida, and the Selling of American Paradise, 1869-1929

Knight, Henry

Publication Year: 2013

Just after the Civil War, two states prominently laid claim to being America's paradise destinations. Private companies, state agencies, and journalists all lent a hand in creating a seductive, expansionist imagery that promoted semitropical California and Florida and helped "sell" Americans on the idea of an attainable paradise within the United States.

In Tropic of Hopes, Henry Knight examines the promotion of California and Florida from the end of the Civil War to the eve of the Great Depression, a period when both states were transformed from remote, sparsely populated locales into two of the most publicized and dreamed-about destinations in America. Using the discussion of climate, geography, race, and environment to link agricultural, tourist, and urban development in these regions, Knight provides a highly original and informative account.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-ix

List of Tables

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pp. x-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-16

In 1882, a journalist in the Los Angeles Times wrote, “There is no portion of the United States which presents so interesting a study as that known as the semi-tropical States.” Southern California and the U.S. South were soon to be linked by railroad, and the writer explained that “semi-tropic California” and “the semi-tropic States fringing the Gulf of Mexico” both had a “diversity of...

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1. "Our" Tropical Lands: Reinventions of California and Florida after the Civil War

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pp. 17-44

Before the U.S. Civil War, both California and Florida were conceived of as far off and exotic lands that had little in common with the North or Midwest. In the 1870s, the previously negative trait of tropicality that both states shared became the impetus for the reinvention and marketing of California and Florida as the “two summer-lands of our country.”1 This vision, however, was crafted...

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2. A Climate for Health and Wealth: The Lure of Tropical Leisure on American Soil

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pp. 45-80

In the late nineteenth century, California and Florida were sold as tropical destinations for American health-seekers and pleasure tourists. Railroad and hotel companies, periodicals, travel writers, and tour agencies deployed visions of recuperative leisure that demonstrated a fascination with the “primitivism” of the environments, incorporating American beliefs that tropical regions existed...

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3. The Fruits of Labor: Boosterist Visions of Republican Renewal and Semi-Tropical Agriculture

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pp. 81-116

Reaching beyond efforts to attract health and pleasure seekers, visions of semitropical America pervaded the selling of settlement and agriculture in California and Florida. Designed to add to the permanent population and increase the number of acres used for agriculture in each state, this literature was dominated by conceptions of labor rather than leisure. Railroad agents, landowners, and...

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4. Desert and Swamp: The Conquest of Tropical Nature in the Progressive Era

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pp. 117-154

Around the turn of the twentieth century, as agricultural development further altered the physical and social conditions of their states, promoters of southern California and peninsular Florida looked to untouched internal domains as new sites for settlement, tourism, and agricultural expansion. Although these undeveloped regions were topographical opposites—one was...

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5. "New Edens of the Saxon Home-Seeker": Los Angeles, Miami, and Semi-Tropical Urban Life

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pp. 155-188

In the first decades of twentieth century, cities became increasingly prominent in the promotion of southern California and peninsular Florida, and Los Angeles and Miami emerged as iconic destinations for those who sought America’s tropic of hopes. To an extent, this involved a shift in emphasis, if not an apparent contradiction, since the promotional imagery had long emphasized how the fecundity of nature in the two states offered settlers and visitors alternatives to...

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Conclusion: Beyond America's Tropic of Hopes

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pp. 189-198

Writing in 1903, a settler in Florida penned a letter in which he confessed how, for years back in Ohio, he had dreamed “of a land of flowers” resplendent with “orange, grapefruit and lemon trees” surrounding a “neat cottage with its wide well-shaded porches.” He explained that “I only knew of two countries where my wishes could be gratified: California and Florida.”1 This book has argued...


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pp. 199-236


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pp. 237-254


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pp. 255-266

About the Author

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pp. 267-267

E-ISBN-13: 9780813048413
E-ISBN-10: 0813048419
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813044811

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 21 b&w illustrations, 4 tables
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 858654707
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Tropic of Hopes

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Florida -- Economic conditions.
  • California -- Economic conditions.
  • Florida -- Population -- History.
  • California -- Population -- History.
  • Florida -- Social conditions.
  • California -- Social conditions.
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