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Orlando History

Orlando history is rich and rooted in strong culture, diversity and beauty--still the pillars of Orlando today. While St. Augustine, founded by the Spanish in 1565, is just 100 miles away, the first permanent European settlement in Orlando wasn’t built until 1838 when the U.S. Army established Fort Gatlin during the Second Seminole War. The city’s name may—or may not—derive from a soldier killed during the conflict. After the war, some of the soldiers stayed on and white settlement gradually increased. The citrus industry produced the first Golden Age in Orlando history between 1875 and 1895, but devastating freezes in 1894-1895 drove many small farmers out of business, dampening further growth until the big Florida land boom of the 1920s. Citrus and cattle farming carried the region until World War II. Hundreds of military training bases were established in Florida including Orlando Army Air Base and the Pinecastle Army Air Field (now Orlando International Airport). After World War II, many soldiers who’d trained in the area moved back to live, and aircraft maker Glenn L. Martin Company (later Martin Marietta, then Lockheed-Martin) opened a plant to serve the military’s nascent rocket program. The big boost came in 1965 when the Walt Disney Company announced the building of Walt Disney World, which opened in 1971 shaping modern Orlando history. Other theme parks, hotels, restaurants and infrastructure followed, and the area now attracts 44 million visitors annually. Engineers from Martin were heavily involved in supporting the U.S. space program at Cape Kennedy (now Kennedy Space Center) in nearby Titusville. They also built Walt Disney World’s monorail. The presence of these engineers and Disney’s Imagineers, who created the rides and illusions at the theme park, led the Army to make Orlando the headquarters for its virtual warfare and military simulation research. That helped Orlando become a major video game development center, home to the EA Games Tiburon Studios. The extended metro area now has more than 2.6 million residents and has become a hub for biomedical research, medical lasers, financial software and services, video games and digital media, aviation and aerospace development and film and television production.
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