Marketing slogans go way back in Orlando, the City Beautiful

Perhaps, like me, you caught the recent news reports announcing a fresh branding slogan for greater Orlando. It’s “Unbelievably Real.”

It’s part of a $28.5 million marketing campaign launched by Visit Orlando and the Orlando Economic Partnership and a follow-up to the slogan “Orlando. You Don’t Know the Half of It,” launched in 2017.

Such slogans are part of a venerable Orlando tradition that began long before folks used the term “branding.” They go back to the 1880s, when the railroad was new.

Orlando’s first brand began in 1886, when the population was small — only 3,528 — but city leaders’ determination to lure travelers and their dollars loomed large. They declared Orlando the Phenomenal City.

“The growth of Orlando is phenomenal,” a brochure for the South Florida Railroad proclaimed in 1886. The city had more than doubled since the railroad arrived in 1880, the brochure noted, a boom based “entirely on its orange groves, truck gardens and unrivaled climate.” Orlando, promoters proclaimed, was “built on the peel of an orange.”

“The tenderfoot on arriving here sees nothing but business,” another 1886 publication declared, picking up the Phenomenal City theme. On Orlando’s Pine Street, then more prominent than Orange Avenue, newcomers would find themselves in the thick of things, meaning real estate offices. Salespeople were happy to take prospective clients by buggy rides out into the surrounding country for a look-see. In those early years, the blossoming city was built less on orange crops than on a push to sell land to potential orange growers.

Soon, the Orlando Record newspaper proclaimed itself “a phenomenal daily published in the phenomenal city.” The name turned up elsewhere in the state, too — in August 1898, Ocala’s evening newspaper reported that a hearty pineapple crop was reviving the prosperity of Orlando, the Phenomenal City.

By the early years of the 20th century, city leaders thought it was time for a fresh image, and in 1908, they sponsored a contest to select a new, more modern motto. Candidates included the Magic City (adopted by Miami), the Picturesque City and the Health City, but it was Jessie Branch who proved the winner with her suggestion, “The City Beautiful.”

By the way, Orlando doesn’t have a monopoly on that nickname. Coral Gables has also declared itself “The City Beautiful” at least since 1933, and in 2007 the two Florida cities engaged in a kind of battle of the Beautifuls after Coral Gables applied for a federal trademark for the slogan. In the end, an agreement was reached, allowing each city to use the slogan in marketing and promotional materials in its own geographical area.

But the Florida Beautifuls aren’t the only communities to declare themselves such. Other cities have used the motto at various times, from tiny Storm Lake, Iowa, to Kansas City, Missouri. The term was quite popular around the turn of the 20th century, thanks to the “City Beautiful” urban-planning movement that influenced the plans of many cities, including Washington, DC, Cleveland, and Denver.

By the way, the mother of the City Beautiful, Jessie Branch, and her husband, WS Branch, ran a bookstore in downtown Orlando, In 1904, Jessie wrote in her journal about hearing a monstrous noise outside — a boom-boom-boom, produced by a horseless carriage traveling at the “outrageous speed of fifteen miles an hour.”

Several decades later, when a serious bid to replace the City Beautiful next came along, speeds in the area were considerably faster, all the way to beyond the sound barrier, and in the 1960s, the Chamber of Commerce got behind a new nickname for Orlando : the Action Center of Florida.

You can see that motto in action in a 14-minute Chamber of Commerce video that can be found both at FloridaMemory.com, the website of the State Archives of Florida, and on YouTube. Just put “Orlando Action Center of Florida 1969″ into your search engine and you should find it easily.

“The 20th century has produced a new breed of man,” the narrator intones, amid shots of rockets blasting off. The new man was “curious, alert, with his eyes on the stars and his feet solidly on the ground,” the narrator goes on. In the film, he’s personified by a fellow wearing “Mad Men” glasses who breezily guides a white convertible down Interstate 4, hot stuff in those days. Nowadays, the Action Center seems to have gone the way of the Phenomenal City, but the City Beautiful is still with us, on Orlando’s official seal.

Joy Wallace Dickinson can be reached at joydickinson@icloud.com, FindingJoyinFlorida.comor by good old-fashioned letter to Florida Flashback, c/o Dickinson, PO Box 1942, Orlando, FL 32802.

Leave a Comment