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Before it was home Disney's Magic Kingdom, this central Florida area was nothing more than marshland. Its first development occurred in 1838, during the Second Seminole War, the U.S. Army built Fort Gatlin just south of where downtown Orlando currently sits. After the war, the fort was abandoned and cattleman Aaron Jernigan slowly built up a small town which he named after himself - Jernigan.
There are various stories as to how the name Orlando was chosen as the city's new and permanent moniker. Everything from folk lore about a fallen soldier to the name being an ode to Shakespeare's works have been bandied about, but when the Jernigans fell out of favor with locals, the name was officially changed to Orlando in 1857. The town became the seat of the newly created Orange County that year, incorporated as a town in 1875 and as a city in 1885.
During the late 1800s, Orlando's main industries were cattle, cotton and citrus. A great freeze in 1894-95 put an end to that, as many owners gave up their orange groves and the industry shifted to south Florida.
Orlando took its first step toward becoming a vacation destination when Cypress Gardens, its first theme park, opened in 1936.
By World War II, the Orlando Army Air Base and Pinecastle Army Airfield were home to many servicemen, a significant percentage of whom stayed after the war and settled in the area with their families . In 1956, the aerospace and defense company now known as Lockheed Martin established a plant in the city (which still exists).
Then, in 1965, Walt Disney arrived. He wanted to expand his popular Disneyland theme park to Florida and chose Orlando, in part because its inland location provided better protection from hurricanes.
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom opened on October 1, 1971. SeaWorld Orlando opened two years later. Disney expansion continued throughout the 70s and 80s, with the opening of Epcot in 1981, and MGM Studios (now known as Disney's Hollywood Studios) in 1989. Disney’s success drew other amusement park operators, including Universal Studios, which opened in June 1990.
All was relatively quiet on the theme park front until the end of the 1990s, when Disney's Animal Kingdom opened in April 1998, followed by Universal expanding to a second theme park with Islands of Adventure in May 1999. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened inside of Islands of Adventure in 2010 and is one of the most popular attractions of any of the theme parks. Central Florida's newest theme park, LEGOland Florida, slated to open in fall 2011, sits on the grounds of the former Cypress Gardens, just south of Orlando.
Even today, Orlando continues to grow as a vacation destination, with nearly 100 attractions, over 112,000 hotel rooms, more than 5,300 restaurants and over 50 million visitors annually.