Michael Saturno

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Manufacturing & Agriculture
Michael Saturno

Florida in World War II: The Surge of Manufacturing and Agriculture

World War II provided significant economic growth in Florida, leading to rebuilding and economic expansion after the Great Depression. War contracts helped to rebuild Florida's manufacturing, agricultural, and tourism businesses. Florida's strategic location, with its warm weather and ocean access, made the state an ideal location to support the war effort. The defense industry in Florida grew dramatically during the war. Throughout the 1930’s and by the end of WWII, over 170 military installations were established in Florida. Additionally, the citrus industry surged following a significant market decline during the 1920’s. Local farmers now had the opportunity to grow crops to support the increasing number of military personnel that flocked to the state during WWII.

The resulting influx of trainees, government personnel, and defense contractors changed the appearance of Florida cities. Overall, the state's population grew to about 2.75 million by 1950. The country's population grew 15% after the war, but Florida's rose a startling 46%! Equipment and supplies necessary to conduct the war were produced in the state, such as the Liberty Ships built by Tampa Shipbuilding & Engineering Company, the Wainwright Shipyards in Panama City, as well as shipyards at Jacksonville and Miami. The Tampa Shipbuilding & Engineering Company built four cargo ships. TASCO, as it was known in later years, became Tampa’s largest employer by 1943. The Wainwright Shipyard produced 108 ships for transporting tanks, airplanes, and tankers. The St. Johns River Shipbuilding Company was in full force from 1943-1945. They built 82 Liberty Ships and 12 tankers. The Miami Shipbuilding Company built the first patrol-torpedo boats. The planes and ships based on the coast of Florida were vital to protecting the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. Florida was a very important first line of defense in protecting the US and the Panama Canal.

Similarly, Florida’s agricultural industry saw significant growth during WWII, and was able to revitalize a languishing private sector. Florida’s governors decreed a “Work or Fight” mandate to supplement labor shortages. In 1942 and 1943, for the first time in history, the Florida citrus harvest was greater than California’s, producing 80 million boxes of oranges and grapefruit. In direct support of the war effort, Florida citrus was not as readily available for consumers throughout the United States. The Florida Citrus Commission produced advertisements to reassure American citizens that citrus products were being used to support the war effort, and would once again be readily available to the general public after the war. Scientific ingenuity resulted in the perfection of a process to freeze citrus concentrate. Concentrated orange juice (FCOJ) was initially created to satisfy the demands of American troops and our allies struggling to provide adequate vitamin C to soldiers on the battlefield. Following the war, the citrus industry was transformed when frozen concentrate was available for mass consumption. FCOJ consumption increased dramatically, leading to an increase in production from 43 million boxes of citrus in 1945 to 72 million in 1952.