The Florida Bubble


the florida bubble
"If I were to advertise in my paper tomorrow for 50 young men to go on a pirate ship and for 5 men to work on my farm, there would be 500 applications for the situation on the pirate ship and not one for the farm."


florida beachIn the early twenties the vision of riches wonderful, sudden boundless riches turned south. For there lay Florida, nested under a powder-blue sky, baked by the soft sun, caressed by tropical breezes wafted in from the West Indies. There she lay, an American Paradise, right off the paved road, there for the taking. No, not just a place to thrive on low-cost land and low-cost year-round sunshine (no heating bills), but also a place to grab off a fortune. If you moved fast, you could buy a piece of land for prosperitya few hundred or so and sell it for fifty times that much as soon as the promoters arrived, bearing blueprints for a dream village.

The papers were full of stories like that. Coolidge Prosperity was fanning out from the stock market to the sticks: You could make it even faster in Florida. And there was room for everybody. You could take your life savings into Miami ("The Fair White Goddess of Cities"), Coral Gables, Boca Raton, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Hollywood-By-The-Sea. Name it. They all had the same climate and they were all close to wherever you were New York, Cleveland, Fort Wayne, any place. miamiIf you were some kind of freak who didn't want to speculate, why not just pull up stakes and go down there and build yourself a house for, say, eight or ten thousand dollars. The same house would cost you twenty to twenty-five thousand in the Northeast, what with the high cost of labor and land.

The people went.

All roads paved, as noted led to the booming, bustling Florida-on-the-Sea. Somebody compared it to the opening of the Cherokee Strip in frontier days, but the Florida land run was more orderly. You didn't need a six-gun or a Winchester. Wherever you were going, there was a man waiting with the deed; you staked your claim with Mr. Waterman's pen bryanand some money. It was legal and clean from start to finish. After that the decision was all yours. You could settle down and suck in the dream climate (no winter clothes to buy) or you could sell to the guy who was snapping up lots to build a bigger and better community for tomorrow's arrivals.

For the late-starting American who needed a little more salesmanship Florida had some live walking and talking exhibits. The developer of Coral Gables "America's Most Beautiful Suburb" had none other than William Jennings Bryan, in person, lecturing the masses on the climate. gilda greyIf you needed even more persuasion, once the pearly tones of the Great Orator subsided, there was a dance by Gilda Gray. Other ballyhoo carnivals of the same nature, tent-show style, were put on across the state.

Naturally, there were some catches in the balmy Florida story.

By 1924 the Get-Rich-Quick legion had begun to suffer some casualties. Some long-distance buyers found that they had bought swamps or palmetto groves, not land to build on or resell; you couldn't give it away. Some found that their lots "outside of Miami Beach" were seventy miles from any community. Some found their little piece of the dandy future tucked away in deserts where there would be no water or electricity or anything else for years to come.

palmBut Americans gave up slowly in the New Era.

The boom ran through 1925 and values continued to soar. It wasn't until the next year that the bubble burst. By then, the Everglades State had hopelessly oversold itself and values dipped. The two great hurricanes of September and October of 1926 didn't help either; hundreds of investments were wafted away in the suddenly-angry tropical breeze. In another year, the boom was a forlorn memory, not just for the little men who had rushed to the seaside El Dorado with their life savings, but also for some of the shrewd and experienced operators who had taken millions of dollars into Florida.

But that was 1927.

There was still the stock market. Nothing wrong with that if you wanted to turn a fast dollar. The stock market went only one way UP.

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