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

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

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

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


"Pushes aside the palm fronds celebrated by boosters to explain how the nineteenth-century frontiers of barren southern California and waterlogged southern Florida were reimagined as havens for American leisure and agriculture. This is the story of the birth of modern America."--Anthony J. Stanonis, author of Creating the Big Easy: New Orleans and the Emergence of Modern Tourism, 1918-1945

"A refreshingly original and subtly nuanced study of how nineteenth- and twentieth-century boosters sold Florida and California as 'semi-tropical' lands worthy of serious attention. With clarity and insight, Knight provides an instructive and provocative look at the peculiar machinations of identity formation in America."--Rebecca McIntyre, author of Souvenirs of the Old South: Northern Tourism and Southern Mythology

After the Civil War, two states emerged as America's paradise destinations. Transformed from remote, sparsely populated locales into two of the most publicized destinations in the country, California and Florida also became the most desirable. Private companies, state agencies, and journalists all lent a hand in creating the seductive, expansionist imagery that promoted the semitropical states, selling the idea of an attainable paradise within the United States.

Henry Knight examines and compares the way the two states were promoted, adding to existing historiographies on California and Florida while providing expert analysis of how railroad kingpins, land barons, agriculturalists, and chambers of commerce invented and popularized an image of these states as the American Paradise.


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 climate, of products, of people and of customs, which is unknown to any other portion of the habitable globe.” the two regions of “semi-tropic North America” were both profoundly similar and distinctly different: “In many respects they could not be more different if an ocean separated, instead of two great oceans inclosing them. Again, in many other respects, their similarities are so great as to strike one with the likeness.” One particular comparison stood out. Across semi-tropic North America, the journalist wrote, “Florida more than any other of these resembles Southern California.”

Taking up the comparative theme articulated by the Times writer, this book traces how, in the decades after the U.S. Civil War, promoters of California and Florida created new images of those states that emphasized their tropical qualities. California and Florida were not the only American states to be viewed this way: Texas and Louisiana were also often described as tropical regions by boosters and writers. However, California and Florida were the states about which the words “tropical” and “semi-tropical” were used most often in promotions and descriptions. While it lacked a fixed scientific or geographical definition, the term “semi-tropical” was applied to lands, climate, products (especially citrus), and peoples that shared qualities with—even though they remained . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.