Tampa Bay history is long and diverse, with some of the best-known Tampa facts revolving around Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon's visit to Tampa Bay in 1513. Although he landed on the west coast of Florida, the explorer concentrated to the peninsula's east coast in search of the Fountain of Youth. In 1539, Hernando DeSoto sailed into Tampa Bay.
The Seminole Indians are an important part of the history of Tampa. In 1818, the Seminoles, who had lived in the area and claimed the land as theirs for decades, began the First Seminole War in protest against treaties by the U.S. government. After years of additional treaties and broken truces, the Second Seminole War erupted in 1836. Today, the Seminoles have established themselves as a positive influence in Tampa's economy with the opening of the Seminole Hard Rock & Casino, but their history in Florida is bloody.
A turning point in Tampa Bay history came when the territory became part of the United States in 1845 and played a role in the Civil War. Because of the vast waterways needed for supplying guns, ammunition, and supplies to the Confederates, Union blockades were put in place during the war. In June 1862, a Union ship sailed into Tampa Bay, opened fire on the Confederate camp, and called for their surrender, but the ship withdrew a day later leaving the camp in Tampa Bay intact. The city ultimately survived the war, and though times were difficult, Tampa experienced relatively steady growth.
A significant period in the history of Tampa is related to the development of the city due to the railroad built by Henry B. Plant and Vicente Martinez Ybor's 1886 purchase of 40 acres to build the first cigar factory. Over a number of years, Tampa earned the title of Cigar Capital of the World. Another important event was the city's being named as the main headquarters for deployment of troops during the Spanish-American War. Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, stationed in Tampa, were part of the deployment prior that began in June of 1898.
In the late 1880s, the discovery of phosphates in the area caused an influx in mining operations. Exporting the materials became a big business and played a part in shaping Tampa history into the 1890s. Today the Port of Tampa is the largest port in Florida and one of the largest and most diversified ports in the U. S.
One of the little known events in the history of Tampa occurred on March 1, 1908, when a fire started in Ybor City. The fire began in a Twelfth Avenue boarding house and culminated in seventeen blocks being destroyed, making it the city's largest fire to date. 1914 was another important year in Tampa history, as scheduled commercial flight services, introduced by Percival E. Fansler, made use of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. The city's population grew, and during the mid-1920s, subdivisions became popular. One area constructed during this period was the man-made Davis Island, built across from Bayshore Boulevard.
Entrenched in Tampa history, MacDill Air Force Base is the headquarters for special U. S. Operations Command and U. S. Central Command. Annually, the two-day MacDill Air Fest is open to the public and features new and vintage aircraft and aerial shows; thousands of people attend this free event.
Tampa Bay history is continually evolving, and the city has continued to grow and change, establishing itself as having the largest science museum and performing arts center in the southern region. It is also home to the top-ranked zoo for children in the U.S. Travelers on a Tampa vacation will find no shortage of things to do, and history buffs will be especially interested in the city's many museums, such as the Plant Museum.