Settlement in Tampa began with an Indian fishing village. Native tribes called the village by the bay "Tanpa," which meant "sticks of fire." On maps made by the early explorers, the spelling became "Tampa." The area has certainly come a long way since 1521, when the search for the fountain of youth began just south of Tampa Bay with Ponce de Leon. Then in the spring of 1539 Hernando de Soto sailed into the Tampa Bay area to search for gold. After that, the area was left largely untouched for 200 years.
A Dutch cartographer named Bernard Romans, gave the name "Hillsborough" to the local river, county and upper arm of Tampa Bay in 1772. This was done in honor of Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the Colonies. The United States purchased Florida from Spain in 1821. Three years later, Fort Brooke attracted traders to what is now downtown Tampa and enabled the settlement to become the town of Tampa in 1855. Meanwhile, in 1834 Hillsborough was organized as Florida's 19th county and was a sprawling area that included what is now Pinellas, Polk, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, DeSoto, Hardee and Hilghlands counties - but despite the size, its population only numbered 836.
Then a man named Henry B. Plant came to town. He extended the railroad to Tampa in 1884 and started a steamship line from Tampa to Key West to Havana, Cuba. In 1891, Plant further boosted the area with the opening of the Tampa Bay Hotel. The hotel cost $3 million to build and furnish and attracted entertainers, sports figures and dignitaries from around the world.
When the United States declared war on Spain in 1898, Tampa was the port of embarkation for troops headed to Cuba. A colorful colonel named Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt organized his "Rough Riders" at the Tampa encampment.
With the opening of the Henry B. Plant's Tampa Bay Hotel, the city's attention was turned to a sparsely populated area west of the Hillsborough River. In 1886, O.H. Platt purchased 20 acres of land across the Hillsborough River creating Tampa's first subdivision, Hyde Park. Platt named the area after his hometown Hyde Park, Illinois. During the land boom between 1910 and 1925, this residential area became home to many prominent citizens.
Don Vicente Martinez Ybor, an influential cigar manufacturer and Cuban exile, moved his cigar business from Key West to a palmetto-covered area east of Tampa in 1885. The following year the first cigar factory opened and more Spanish cigar manufacturers began moving their factories and workers to Tampa. The Spanish, Italian, German and Cuban workers who settled here to work in the cigar industry created a strong, vivacious Latin community known as Ybor City (pronounced EE-bore). Nearly 12,000 people worked in more than 200 factories making Ybor City the "Cigar Capital of the World." That reputation endured until the emergence of Fidel Castro and the embargo on Cuban tobacco. Now designated as one of three National Historic Landmark districts in Florida, Ybor City is a mixture of historic buildings, artisan galleries, shops and nightclubs.
Today, Tampa is as much a multi-cultural city as ever with a thriving and powerful Hispanic population that represents all different Latin American countries. In all, approximately 10% of Tampa's population are Latino and one recent study reported that one out of every three people in Tampa bears a Hispanic surname. Tampa Bay is such a multi-cultural hotbed that the area was named one of the five most diverse, integrated urban areas in the country by the U.S. Census Bureau.