The Founding of USF

From Bomb Field to Bull Country

The University of South Florida was the first state university founded in the 20th century. Previously a U.S. military airstrike field, the land was developed into what is now USF Tampa. A top ranked public research university today, it all began 60 years ago.

The beginning of the University of South Florida (USF) can be traced to a single conversation at a legislative session for the State Board of Control. The subject of higher education came into conversation at this meeting. It was recognized that the demand for post-secondary education was increasing due to population growth caused by in-migration to the state. According to the Sunland Tribune, in an article titled “Tampa at Mid Century,” the state’s population nearly doubled every two decades since 1900. The 1940s was a period when migration was at its highest in the South.

The start of World War II industrialized the South. When World War II began, the federal government invested billions of dollars in creating military bases and industry to assemble material needed for the war. These industries drew more people from rural areas to the cities. After the war, there was a sharp increase in people attending colleges and universities due to the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or the G.I. Bill. This act gave many veterans opportunities, including home loans, car loans, and most importantly, school loans. Because of the increase in aid to veterans, many of them went back to school. Due to this influx of students, new colleges and universities had to be established. After the war, soldiers returned to Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, where they began to develop families. USF was established to provide veterans with a government-sponsored public university in the Tampa Bay area.

The trek to getting the university to be established was a long one. There was an extended debate on whether the university would be in Tampa or St. Petersburg. After comparing real estate prices and locations, the Florida legislature decided that Temple Terrace would be the ideal location for a university. Once the plans for the USF passed through the state Senate and the House of Representatives, they broke ground off of Fowler Avenue in 1956. Prior to the construction of USF, the land was home to Henderson Air Field. The area was selected because of the vast space needed for a university. The federal government donated the acres from Henderson Field to Hillsborough County to use as land for the new state campus. Construction lasted four years and was completed by August 1960. USF opened September 26th, 1960.