Tampa's historical heritage is generally relative to the European exploration and settlement of the area. Before the arrival of the Europeans, Tampa Bay was occupied by the Tocobaga Indians. Disease and wars eventually drove the Tocobagans to extinction. Artifacts from the Tocobagans can still be found in the area today.
Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon was the first European to visit the west coast of Florida 1521. Numerous Spanish explorers followed including Panfilo de Narvaez and Hernando de Soto. Panfilo de Narvaez makes the first recorded exploration of Tampa Bay in 1528. These early explorers were searching for gold and did not establish permanent settlements. By the 1560s it was clear that there was no gold in Florida.
Over the next two hundred years, from the late 1500s into the 1700s, the Spanish, French and British dominated and fought for territory in Florida. In the early 1700s, the Creek Indians migrated from Georgia and Alabama to Florida where later all Indians in Florida would become known as the Seminoles. Three Seminole wars were waged in 1815-1817, 1835-1842 and 1855-1858.
In 1763 England acquired Florida in exchange for Havana, Cuba in the settlement of the Seven Years' War. The east and west regions of Florida became the 14th and 15th British colonies in the Americas. Spain regained Florida from England in 1784 as part of the peace treaty at the end of American Revolution. Florida becomes a territory of the United States 1821 in a deal with Spain.
The Tampa Bay area had few white settlers through the early 1800s. In 1824, the US government established a military post called Fort Brooke along Hillsborough River on grounds that are now the Tampa Convention Center.
With the establishment of this first permanent settlement, the town of Tampa took root. Growth was slow due to continued conflicts with the Seminoles, disease and an 1848 hurricane that hit the area.
Tampa incorporated as a city in 1855. Although the area was important to the Confederacy for its port and in proving supplies during the American Civil War in the 1860s, it saw economic decline afterwards.
The region recovered economically in the 1880s with the discovery of rich phosphate deposits (used in fertilizers), and more importantly, with the building of a railroad through the county by Henry B. Plant. Henry Plant also invested heavily into the fledgling tourism industry. He spent millions of dollars building the Tampa Bay Hotel, which is now a registered US National Historic Landmark on the campus of the University of Tampa.
The Cuban cigar industry moved into Tampa and provided further economic growth. Producing cigars became a hallmark of Tampa and one of its main industries. Vicente M. Ybor set up his cigar factory on the northeast side of Tampa. This area within Tampa is now known as Ybor City.
Large-scale commercial agriculture, citrus and cattle-raising industries also take root around this time. With a better transportation infrastructure, moving goods in and out of Tampa continue to boost its industries including commercial fishing and shrimping.
In 1914 P. E. Fansler introduced the world's first regularly scheduled commercial airline service with the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. Pilot Tony Jannus made the inaugural flight.
Real-estate speculation helped fuel further growth in the 1920s. Tampa continued to see growth as well as have its share of setbacks through the world-war periods and the 1930s depression era.
The University of Tampa was established in 1933 on grounds of the Tampa Bay Hotel. It is now a well-respected institution with over 5,000 students.
The University of South Florida (USF) was established in 1956 in north Tampa. USF is now the third largest university in Florida with over 44,000 students.
Tampa grew into an urban center, but began to experience expansion into the "suburbs". After some decline during the 1950s and 1960s, the city and businesses rallied to revive the downtown area.
Today, Tampa is a progressive and contemporary city with a thriving business and professional climate. It is the third largest city in Florida with a population over 300,000. The downtown area is defined by modern business buildings, convention centers, museums and performing arts centers.