Approximately 400 men voted for Miami's incorporation in 1896 in the building to the left.
The Miami area was inhabited for thousands of years by indigenous Native American tribes. The Tequestas occupied the area for a thousand years before encountering Europeans. An Indian village of hundreds of people dating to 500–600 B.C. was located at the mouth of the Miami River.
In 1566 admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Florida's first governor, claimed the area for Spain. A Spanish mission was constructed one year later in 1567. Spain and Great Britain successively controlled Florida, and Spain ceded it to the United States in 1821. In 1836, the US built Fort Dallas as part of its development of the Florida Territory and attempt to suppress and remove the Seminole. The Miami area subsequently became a site of fighting during the Second Seminole War.
Miami is noted as "the only major city in the United States conceived by a woman, Julia Tuttle", a local citrus grower and a wealthy Cleveland native. The Miami area was better known as "Biscayne Bay Country" in the early years of its growth. In the late 19th century, reports described the area as a promising wilderness. The area was also characterized as "one of the finest building sites in Florida." The Great Freeze of 1894–95 hastened Miami's growth, as the crops of the Miami area were the only ones in Florida that survived. Julia Tuttle subsequently convinced Henry Flagler, a railroad tycoon, to expand his Florida East Coast Railway to the region, for which she became known as "the mother of Miami." Miami was officially incorporated as a city on July 28, 1896 with a population of just over 300. It was named for the nearby Miami River, derived from Mayaimi, the historic name of Lake Okeechobee.
Black labor played a crucial role in Miami's early development. During the beginning of the 20th century, migrants from the Bahamas and African-Americans constituted 40 percent of the city's population.:25 Whatever their role in the city's growth, their community's growth was limited to a small space. When landlords began to rent homes to African-Americans in neighborhoods close to Avenue J (what would later become NW Fifth Avenue), a gang of white men with torches visited the renting families and warned them to move or be bombed.:33
During the early 20th century, northerners were attracted to the city, and Miami prospered during the 1920s with an increase in population and infrastructure. The legacy of Jim Crow was embedded in these developments. Miami's chief of police, H. Leslie Quigg, did not hide the fact that he, like many other white Miami police officers, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Unsurprisingly, these officers enforced social codes far beyond the written law. Quigg, for example, "personally and publicly beat a colored bellboy to death for speaking directly to a white woman.":53
The collapse of the Florida land boom of the 1920s, the 1926 Miami Hurricane, and the Great Depression in the 1930s slowed development. When World War II began, Miami, well-situated on the southern coast of Florida, became a base for US defense against German submarines. The war brought an increase in Miami's population; by 1940, 172,172 people lived in the city.
After Fidel Castro rose to power in Cuba in 1959, many wealthy Cubans sought refuge in Miami, further increasing the population. The city developed businesses and cultural amenities as part of the New South. In the 1980s and 1990s, South Florida weathered social problems related to drug wars, immigration from Haiti and Latin America, and the widespread destruction of Hurricane Andrew. Racial and cultural tensions were sometimes sparked, but the city developed in the latter half of the 20th century as a major international, financial, and cultural center. It is the second-largest US city (after El Paso, Texas) with a Spanish-speaking majority, and the largest city with a Cuban-American plurality.
Miami and its metropolitan area grew from just over 1,000 residents to nearly 5.5 million residents in just 110 years (1896–2006). The city's nickname, The Magic City, comes from this rapid growth. Winter visitors remarked that the city grew so much from one year to the next that it was like magic.