In 1912 Miami was a sleepy town of 7,500 people and Miami Beach, three and a half miles away across a tidal lagoon, was an untidy sand bar populated primarily by crabs and mosquitos. In that year an enterprising young Indiana automobile millionaire named Carl Fischer descended on the town and, with the assistance of two elephants, Nero and Rosie, began turning it into a winter resort. Miami and Miami Beach have been booming ever since. Currently Miami has a population of about 140,000 and Miami Beach of 20,000. The two are easily the No. 1 playground of the world’s most playful nation.
Of course Miami and Miami Beach had even more growth ahead, as captured in the photos LIFE took in succeeding years. Today the populations for Miami and Miami Beach have ballooned to around 439,000 and 80,000. And that mirrors the growth of Florida as a whole. In 1940 Florida was only the 27th most populous state in America, coming in right behind West Virginia and South Carolina. Today Florida ranks 3rd in the country in population, trailing only Florida and Texas.
Many forces contributed to that population growth, including immigration, but the promise of the kind of life that Eisenstaedt captured in his photos was surely was a psychological magnet to the retirees who came to Miami and to the rest of the state to spend their retirement years among the palm trees.