Looking Back—Way Back—at Spring Break
The Origins of a Collegiate Rite of Spring
You may have been away from scholarly pursuits on Spring Break, but that doesn’t mean the scholars weren’t pursuing you.
Academics have had college students on Spring Break in their sights for years, mostly examining and analyzing variations in alcohol use and sexual activity, but also looking at race and gender issues, impacts on the travel industry, service-focused alternative vacations, and more.
We’ll spare you the scholarly details here – consider it a little extension of the Break. Instead, let’s see what research resources available from the BC Libraries reveal about how the Spring Break phenomenon got started in the first place.
There are Web sites claiming Spring Break started with the ancient Greeks, but that probably tells us more about the variable quality of information on the Web than it does about Spring Break. More reliable sources trace Spring Break’s origins to a 1930s swim meet in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
It began when swim coach Sam Ingram of Colgate University in upstate New York brought his team to Fort Lauderdale to swim at the beachfront Casino Pool – the first Olympic-sized pool in the state of Florida. Ingram and local officials then organized an annual Aquatic Forum (later known as the College Swim Forum).
By 1938, more than 300 swimmers were competing at the event – and spreading the word about Fort Lauderdale as a fun-in-the-sun escape from the cold weather further north. By the 1950s, an estimated 20,000 students were heading to Florida each year on Spring Break.
The growing phenomenon drew national attention: Time magazine first highlighted Spring Break in an April 1959 article called “Beer & the Beach” and January 1961 saw the release of the Spring Break-themed hit film “Where the Boys Are,” set in Fort Lauderdale and starring (among others) a young George Hamilton. (Maybe that’s where he started working on that famous tan.)
Fort Lauderdale remained the number one destination for Spring Breakers well into the 1980s. It peaked in 1985 – two years after the release of “Spring Break,” another movie set there – when 350,000 revelers descended on the Florida city.
But by the end of the ‘80s, Fort Lauderdale had had enough: stricter laws against public drinking were enacted and enforced; Mayor Bob Cox went on Good Morning America to tell students they were no longer welcome; marketers focused on an older demographic; and by 1992 student visitors were back down to 20-30,000 a year.
Other locales took up the slack. Daytona Beach, Florida was the number one destination in the 1990s before that city, too, cracked down on disorderly behavior. Panama City, Florida then became number one, with as many as 540,000 student visitors in 2003. Outside of Florida, leading Spring Break destinations have included: South Padre Island, Texas; Lake Havasu, Arizona; Cancun, Mexico; and various spots in the Caribbean.
And what about the Casino Pool in Fort Lauderdale, the place where Spring Break was born? Torn down in 1966, the site is host today to history of another sort as the home of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Tracing the History of Spring Break in the BC Libraries
The following library sources and services were used in compiling information used in this article:
- LexisNexisAcademic, Factiva, and TheNewYorkTimes(1851 - 2002) for newspaper articles about Spring Break;
- Expanded Academic ASAP for magazine articles;
- Business Source Premier for a look at the business side of Spring Break;
- O’Neill Microfilm for the 1959 Time magazine article “Beer & the Beach”;
- PsycINFO , SociologicalAbstracts, ERIC, and other databases for scholarly research on Spring Break;
- Interlibrary loan for a key article, “Spring Break Student Travel – An Exploratory Study” in the Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing;
- And, yes, Google, for good information on the Web sites of the City of Fort Lauderdale; the International Swimming Hall of Fame; the College Swimming Coaches Association of America; and others.
By Kenneth Liss
Subject Specialist for Communication and History
O’Neill Library Reference