This prosperous industry was ruined by the competition from the Isle of Pines and Cuba, especially after the East Coast Railroad had extended its lines to Key West and established its car-ferry between Key West and Havana. Much bitter criticism has been levied at the railroad for giving, as is often charged, preferential through rates to foreign pineapples, enabling them to be laid down in the New York market at prices with which the Florida growers could not compete. That and the competition of Hawaiian pineapples free of duty after the annexation of Hawaii to the United States, practically put an end to the Florida pineapple industry, for many years. Since 1936, however, with changed conditions, the old pineapple region of Florida surrounding Fort Pierce has been looking, somewhat wistfully, toward a revival of pineapple growing. The State College of Agriculture has been experimenting with a new and allegedly superior variety of pineapple, better adapted than its predecessors to Florida’s soil and climate, and active promotion of pineapple farming got well under way in 1937.
It is by promotion at the hands of developers who have agricultural land to sell that most of Florida’s products have been introduced and established. It has been well demonstrated in the past that Florida can grow pineapples with little trouble and on a large commercial scale. It still remains to be seen whether it can be done profitably under present conditions. At any rate, Fort Pierce is watching the new development with great interest, in the hope of adding another kind of freight to its port output, and with the assurance to the new pineapple growers that this time there will be no discrimination against them in freight rates.
Fort Pierce takes particular pride in the success of its mosquito eradication campaign, which was begun in 1925 and has changed Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County from their former unenviable reputation of being the worst mosquito-ridden section of Florida to the least infected. This has been accomplished by the St. Lucie County Sanitary District Commissioners in less than ten years and at a cost of only about $100,000.
The system, which is fundamentally that which has been put into practice all over Florida, is one of narrow ditches connected with rivers and drainage canals so as to effectively drain off all standing water, and the introduction into the canals and ditches of the tropical Gambusia minnow, a native of the fresh waters of southern Florida, whose principal food is the larvae of the mosquito. So efficiently do these tiny fish frustrate the efforts of the mosquito to increase and multiply that the claim is set up that the pest is at last under better control, even in this once mosquito-ridden district, than in the New Jersey salt marshes, where surface oiling still has to be resorted to, at the height of the mosquito season.
Three hundred miles of mosquito ditches criss-cross the island or Atlantic side of Fort Pierce, lying east of the Indian River, as well as the back country of St. Lucie County, supple menting the drainage canals of the North St. Lucie River and Fort Pierce Farms drainage districts. These rural drainage systems cover nearly 100,000 acres and comprise nearly 400 miles of main canals and laterals, so planned that every forty-acre tract in either district can drain off its surplus rainfall by means of a simple farm ditch, while a system of dykes prevents the flooding of low-lying land. This drainage system, together with the elimination of the mosquito, has made possible the opening up of many thousands of acres of previously undeveloped agricultural lands.
With its agricultural background and the growing commerce of its port, Fort Pierce is naturally more interested in manufacturing industries than if it were primarily a resort city. That is not to suggest that Fort Pierce is not a good place to spend a Florida winter. It is one of the best, as the presence of the hundreds of yachts, which tie up every season in its fine new yacht basin, the many attractive winter homes along its Indian River drive and other outlying avenues, and the pressure every winter upon its hotels for tourist accommodations, testify. But there is a sense of underlying economic stability about Fort Pierce, a stability which would endure if vacationists suddenly ceased coming to Florida. Somewhat of that stability is suggested by the fact that the St. Lucie County bank, in Fort Pierce, is one of the only two banks between Jacksonville and Miami which survived both the Florida boom of the middle 20’s and its subsequent crash, and the bank panic of 1932-33.
Industrially Fort Pierce lays particular stress upon its fertilizer factory, which specializes in manufacturing special fertilizers to chemical formulas adapted to particular soils and crops, and which maintains a staff of chemists to make individual soil analyses for farmers. Canneries putting up grapefruit products and vegetables, an optical laboratory serving opticians in all parts of the state especially on prescription work; a bakery whose products are distributed as far north as St. Augustine, south to Miami and west to the Gulf; an ice manufacturing plant which turns out one hundred tons a day to supply the refrigeration needs of shippers of fruit, vegetables, fish and shrimp, with saw mills, boat building plants, battery factories and barrel factories are among the more important and active of Fort Pierce’s industries.
The city had a population by the State Census of 1935 of 6,376, being two-thirds of the population of the entire county, which includes only six other post offices.