Located 25 miles north of Miami, Fort Lauderdale is the county seat and largest city of Broward County. The city has an estimated population of 183,000. Fort Lauderdale is in the Miami metropolitan area, home to more than six million people.
History with U.S. Navy
U.S. Army soldiers built the first namesake fort along the New River in 1838. During the Seminole Wars, the Army outpost depended on resupply by U.S. Sailors and Marines from aboard Navy ships.
When World War II began, the city became a major U.S. base, with Naval Air Station, Fort Lauderdale, to train pilots, radar operators and fire control operators. The 41st U.S. President, George H.W. Bush trained there for WWII service. A Coast Guard base at Port Everglades was also established.
The first Medal of Honor recipient in World War II was 2nd Lt. Alexander R. Nininger Jr., a graduate of Fort Lauderdale High School. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on January 29, 1942, for his actions in the Philippines.
The city is named for U.S. Army Maj. William Lauderdale (1782–1838), one of the Tennessee Volunteers in the War of 1812. He served as a lieutenant under Gen. Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans, which claimed the life of his brother, Lt. Col. James Lauderdale.
Lauderdale served President Jackson in two engagements against the Seminoles. During his first campaign in Florida, he and his Tennessee Mounted Infantry Battalion cut the “military trail” that expanded U.S. territory into modern Broward and Dade counties. Built in four days, the supply trail was 63 miles long and five miles wide, linking Fort Lauderdale with modern towns of Palm Beach and Jupiter.
After the Battle of Pine Island, Lauderdale joined his volunteer regiment in Baton Rouge for their final salute. Pulmonary disease claimed his life on May 10, 1838, the very day his battalion was discharged.
The trail and three forts along the New River were named for him.
Who were the Seminoles?
With the decline of Florida’s indigenous peoples, the Tequesta Tribe, from disease and conflict, small bands from various Native American tribes of the South began moving into unoccupied lands of Florida. The Spanish in St. Augustine referred to the Creek as “Cimarrones,” translated “wild ones,” the likely root of the Seminole name.
Many runaway slaves also called Florida home and mixed with the various tribes. They became known as Black Seminoles, the most famous of which is Billy Powell, who changed his name to Osceola and led many engagements against U.S. soldiers.
The Seminole Wars became the longest and most expensive of the U.S. Indian Wars.
Start of the City
The New River Settlement was inhabited by shipwreckers (salvage divers) before the Seminoles displaced them. Fort Lauderdale was largely abandoned by American settlers by the end of the Seminole Wars in 1842.
That changed in 1893 when Frank Stranahan came from Ohio to manage his cousin’s camp and ferry at Tarpon Bend on the New River. Stranahan is credited as Fort Lauderdale’s founding father. He and his wife Ivy, the area’s first school teacher, established a thriving trading business with the Seminoles. They gained a reputation among them as a fair businesspeople. Large groups of Seminole families would arrive in dugout canoes to camp at the post for days at a time.
The city was incorporated in 1911. In 1915 it was designated the county seat of newly formed Broward County. Fort Lauderdale’s first major development began in the 1920s, during the Florida land boom. And a population explosion came at the end of World War II.
Several mobsters called south Florida home and set up “carpet joints” for illegal gambling. In Fort Lauderdale is a home once owned by Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, the infamous racketeer, gangster and hitman who was a kingpin in the Las Vegas Casino scene and founder of Murder Inc.
Cap Knight first opened Cap’s Place in the 1920s as Club Unique, a combination bar, restaurant and gambling house. Today it is the oldest restaurant in Broward County, and was frequented by World leaders like Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, the obscenely wealthy, like Rockefellers and Vanderbilts, Pop culture icons George Harrison and Mariah Carey and mobsters like Al Capone and Meyer Lansky.
Modern Fort Lauderdale
Known for its nightlife and beaches, highlighted in 1960 film “Where the Boys Are” and MTV’s “Spring Break,” greater Fort Lauderdale hosted 13 million overnight visitors in 2018. The city boasts more than 560 hotels and around 36,000 hotel rooms.
Nearly 3.9 million cruise passengers pass through Port Everglades, making it the 3rd largest cruise port in the world. The area has over 4,000 restaurants, 63 golf courses, 12 shopping malls, 16 museums, 132 nightclubs, 278 parkland campsites and 100 marinas.
Fort Lauderdale, with its many canals and proximity to the Bahamas and Caribbean, is the Yachting Capitol of the World. It is homeport for 45,000 resident yachts and is a manufacturing and maintenance center for yachts. The annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show puts 500 boats, yachts and mega-yachts on display, drawing around 125,000 yearly visitors.
Companies based in the Fort Lauderdale area include: AutoNation, Citrix Systems, Commcare Pharmacy, DHL Express, KEMET Corporation, SEACOR Holdings, Spirit Airlines, and National Beverage Corporation.
The largest employers in the county are Tenet Healthcare, which employs 5,000 people; American Express, which employs 4,200; FirstService Residential, which employs 3,900; Motorola, which employs 3,000; and Maxim Integrated Products, which employs 2,000.
Gulfstream International Airlines, a commuter airline, is headquartered in nearby Dania Beach. Fort Lauderdale was recently listed as 2017’s third best city out of 150 U.S. cities by WalletHub for summer jobs, and the 24th best city to start a career in.