Interest in draining the Everglades began in the early 1880s when millionaire developer Hamilton Disston of Philadelphia purchased four million acres of Florida land and implemented dredging operations. Disston had early success in creating canals, and his efforts led to a land sales boom in Florida. However, his drainage and development operations experienced a series of setbacks, and his ambitious vision for the region was never realized. His few successes, though, were more than enough to encourage several Florida politicians and wealthy developers around the country that the "reclamation" of land in the Everglades was feasible.
Two Florida Governors, William Sherman Jennings and Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, would serve as the primary designers and spokespersons for the draining of the Everglades. In 1904 Governor Broward famously promised to create an "Empire of the Everglades." Of course, in fulfilling this promise the state would have to destroy the ecological systems by dredging, creating canals, and altering the flow of water in the world's most famed wetlands.
William Sherman Jennings served as Governor of Florida from 1901-1905, and by the end of his term he was credited with approving the drainage and reclamation of over 3 million acres of Florida land, primarily in the Everglades. In 1905 he was appointed General Counsel for the Internal Improvement Fund, the state agency responsible for administering public lands. In this position, he was able to continue leading drainage activities in the Everglades. The Jennings Papers (1877-1928) document the drainage and dredging of South Florida, from early plans at the turn of the century to the subsequent development and land boom of the 1920s.
Napoleon Bonaparte Broward served one term as Governor of Florida, from 1905 to 1909. As Governor, he was instrumental in the drainage of the Everglades and he promoted development and settlement in South Florida. The Broward Papers date from 1879 to 1918 and include correspondence, speeches, articles, and photographs pertaining to the dredging and drainage of the Everglades. Broward, more than any other single person, was responsible for promoting Florida's efforts to drain the Everglades in the first decades of the 20th Century.