Florida and orange juice go together like America and apple pie. That association can feel like a happy accident of climate, but it is not: in fact, Florida orange juice is the consequence of decades of marketing dollars spent by the state’s citrus commission.
Tin cylinders of orange juice concentrate first populated frozen food aisles after World War II, and it was this concentrate that would first establish the idea of “Florida orange juice,” according to James Padgett. Commercials promised that each glass would contain the “refreshing taste of Sunny Florida.” Advertisements like these established orange juice as a staple of the American breakfast.
This campaign for Florida orange juice expanded well beyond the supermarket aisles and television sets of suburban America.
At the Florida pavilion of the New York World Fair of 1964, the Florida Citrus Commission built a 110-foot citrus tower with a giant orange on top. At its base, they installed a fresh-juice machine that spouted cups of fresh orange juice. They also sponsored a water show featuring teams of performers doing acrobatics on waterskis. Visitors could take home small plastic oranges as souvenirs. The gargantuan, saturated exhibit spoke to how much the citrus commission and the overall state administration hoped to link Florida to orange juice and vice versa.
But the behemoth of citrus industry marketing campaigns would soon make Florida orange juice a target in a civil rights battle.
“Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine,” sang orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant, who was hired as the brand ambassador for the commission in 1969. The former Miss America runner-up from Oklahoma had now become a Miami mainstay, her wholesome image emblematic of American family values.
Bryant used her so-called family values when she decided to launch a campaign in 1977 to repeal an ordinance in Miami-Dade County that protected gay individuals from discrimination.
“[This was] one of the first issues that allowed [religious conservatives] to exert their voice about what was happening to the country, culturally,” since the 1960s, says Fred Fejes. He wrote a book called “Gay Rights and Moral Panic,” which detailed the fight over this ordinance.
In response to Bryant’s activism, gay and lesbian activists cheekily called for a boycott of Florida orange juice. Across the country, no respectable gay bar would feature a screwdriver on their menu. (Though, a new cocktail, the Anita Bryant, featuring apple juice began to appear.) In zines and radio broadcasts, queer communities skewered Florida orange juice commercials, undermining the wholesome paradise that Bryant and the citrus commission sold. Popular culture, including The Carol Burnett Show, even followed suit.
The ordinance ended up being repealed — a loss for activists — but the next year, Bryant was let go by the citrus commission. They publicly thanked her for her free expression.
For some LGBT+ activists, Bryant and Florida orange juice remain an object of fascination: Ronni Sanlo—who lost custody of her children on account of her sexuality, largely because of laws passed in the wake of Bryant’s activism—wrote a whole play addressing Anita Bryant.
We thank the following individuals for help with this episode:
Katie King for fact-checking
Bill Cotter for permission to use his photos of the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City
Cypress Gardens for permission to use audio of the Florida Citrus Waterski show at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City
Featured music includes
“Darn that Weasel,” by Love and Weasel (Blue Dot Studio)
“Gallant Fantasie,” by Sugartree (Blue Dot Studio)
“Louver,” by Holyoke (Blue Dot Studio)
Photos by Bill Cotter. Water skiing at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City (top) and Florida Citrus Tower (bottom).