Portrait: Hamilton Disston, industrialist and real-estate developer

Wednesday, 26 October 2022 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Miami / South Florida, Portrait
Reading Time:  4 minutes

Hamilton Disston © Florida Memory Archives

Hamilton Disston © Florida Memory Archives

Hamilton Disston was an industrialist and real-estate developer who purchased four million acres (16,000 km²) of Florida land in 1881, an area larger than the state of Connecticut, and reportedly the most land ever purchased by a single person in world history. Disston was the son of Pennsylvania-based industrialist Henry Disston who formed Disston & Sons Saw Works, which Hamilton later ran and which was one of the largest saw manufacturing companies in the world.

Hamilton Disston’s investment in the infrastructure of Florida spurred growth throughout the state. His related efforts to drain the Everglades triggered the state’s first land boom with numerous towns and cities established through the area. Disston’s land purchase and investments were directly responsible for creating or fostering the towns of Kissimmee, St. Cloud, Gulfport, Tarpon Springs, and indirectly aided the rapid growth of St. Petersburg. He furthermore oversaw the successful cultivation of rice and sugarcane near the Kissimmee area.

Saint Cloud Canal, a canal dredged by Disston's company, circa 1900 © J. F. Brown - Florida Memory Archives

Saint Cloud Canal, a canal dredged by Disston’s company, circa 1900 © J. F. Brown – Florida Memory Archives

Although Disston’s engineered canals aided water transport and steamboat traffic in Florida, he was ultimately unsuccessful in draining the Kissimmee River floodplain or lowering the surface water around Lake Okeechobee and in the Everglades. He was forced to sell much of his investments at a fraction of their original costs. However, his land purchase primed Florida’s economy and allowed railroad magnates Henry Flagler and Henry Plant to build rail lines down the east coast of Florida, and another joining the west coast, which directly led to the domination of the tourist and citrus industries in Florida. Disston’s immediate impact was in the Philadelphia area, where he was active in Republican politics and a philanthropist, but his legacy is often associated with the draining and development of Florida.

Regardless of the lack of success in Disston’s canals, the money he paid to the Internal Improvement Fund allowed other industrialists to take an interest in the development of Florida. In the early 1880s, railroad tycoon Henry Morrison Flagler spent a vacation in the town of St. Augustine, a brief distance south of Jacksonville, and, enchanted with it, decided to build an opulent hotel there. He extended the rail line—renaming it the Jacksonville, St. Augustine & Indian River Railway—to Daytona Beach, and then to Palm Beach. As the railroad was built, citrus farms followed, and Flagler constructed hotels down the east coast, envisioning a version of the French Riviera in Florida. A friendly competition developed between Flagler and another railroad magnate named Henry Bradley Plant. While Flagler oversaw the construction of rail lines and hotels along the east coast, Plant concentrated on extending the railroad from Sanford to Tampa, crossing the state and connecting the coasts. At the terminus of this line he built the exquisite Tampa Bay Hotel, opened in 1891.

Read more on Wikipedia Hamilton Disston (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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