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A Guide to the Nathan Mayo Papers

Finding aid created by Department Staff and Interns

University of Florida Smathers Libraries - Special and Area Studies Collections
December 2009

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Mayo, Nathan, 1876-1960
Title: Nathan Mayo Papers
Dates: 1923-1960
Abstract: Contains correspondence pertaining to campaigns for reelection; a smaller amount of correspondence and subject files about the Department of Agriculture; newspaper clippings; speeches; photos.
Extent: 7 Linear feet. 11 boxes.
Identification: MS 267
Language(s): English

Biographical/Historical Note

Nathan Mayo (1876-1960) was born in Whitakers, North Carolina, December 1, 1876 and moved with his parents to Ocala, Fla., in 1886 at the age of 10. His first business enterprise as a young man was a country store (later the Mayo-Lyles Store) in Summerfield, to the south of Ocala, in Marion County. In the years leading up to World War I he expanded his business ventures into citrus growing, the turpentine industry (1905) and cotton ginning (1916). Mayo represented Marion County in the Florida legislature in 1921 and 1923. By appointment of Governor Cary A. Hardee, he became the state Commissioner of Agriculture in 1923 and then won re-election eight times, holding the position for 37 years. His two most hotly contested election campaigns came early on, the first in 1928 against Will S. Sparkman and the second in 1932 against state senator Franklin O. King.

Mayo's duties in the Department of Agriculture were the most broad-ranging of any state official. Besides his responsibilities for the inspection of poultry, livestock, citrus, and seeds, he also oversaw the state highway patrol system and the state prison system. In addition, he was head of the state bureau of immigration and ran a full-scale publishing house that churned out bulletins, pamphlets, and promotional materials about Florida, its business opportunities, and its agricultural production.

Known as "Mr. Florida" for his boosterism of state interests, Mayo was a fixture in the state government throughout the Depression, World War II, and the Fifties. In the opinion of many, he ran the most powerful political machine in the state (although it still was not sufficient to win him the governor's office). When news of his possible retirement began to circulate in 1959, a reporter for The Tampa Tribune commented that, without Mayo, "Tallahassee will feel somewhat as if it awoke one morning to find the statehouse rotunda gone." His official retirement from the Department of Agriculture was slated for January 1961, coming in the midst of a major reorganization of his department, but Mayo never lived to see it. Throughout 1960 he battled lung cancer and remained on the job until illness put him in the hospital. He died at home April 14, 1960 at the age of 83.

Mayo's long career with the Department of Agriculture saw him both lionized as a defender of agricultural production and sharply criticized for the department's sometimes draconian policies. He had a stormy relationship with Florida's twenty fourth governor John Martin (1925-1929). In 1926 the two men blamed each other in the press over the escape of the convict Joe Tracey from custody. An even bigger confrontation came in 1928 when Mayo refused to put his signature on a $20 million bond issue to finance draining of the Everglades, effectively scuttling Martin's efforts to spark another Florida land investment boom. Two other long term issues that marked Mayo's tenure in office were a campaign to eradicate the cattle tick and efforts to prevent the shipment of unripe or "green" fruit out of Florida. As early as 1923, Mayo voiced concerns that a few Florida growers could damage the state's reputation for quality citrus if they sold unripe fruit to northern markets. He advocated inspections and regulations to prevent such shipments and ultimately his concerns led to creation of an oversight agency, the Florida Citrus Commission, in 1935. Other agricultural issues from his time in office included the program to contain fruit fly and a controversy over the use of arsenic spray on citrus. Mayo's most popular initiative was probably the creation and promotion of the Florida State Farmers' Markets.

His tenure as administrator for the state prison system also saw numerous controversies. Besides local outcries against escapes like the "Tracey Affair" (see above) he weathered national scandals about locking prisoners inside sweat boxes and other forms of abuse in the state penal system. However, he received credit for ending the convict lease labor system and modernizing the state's prison facilities. The latter part of his time in office saw the rise of rehabilitative programs in prisons, including the operation of dairies, farms, license plate manufacturing shops, and vocational education programs.

By his third decade in office, much of Mayo's legacy rested on his reputation for promoting Florida. The Miami Herald called him the "No. 1 booster of Florida farm products" and "one of the state's super-salesmen." His massive publishing house, begun in 1925 with a legislative disbursement of $50,000, often drew criticism for its expenditures but spearheaded Florida's efforts at national advertising. By 1957 the Department of Agriculture was publishing more than 200 titles a year and building Florida's image as a boom state, tourist mecca, and land rich in investment opportunities. Mayo also created the "Cracker Breakfast" celebrations that became a major promotional gimmick for foods grown in Florida.

Mayo was a noted family man who spent weekends at home and had a lifelong fondness for Marion County. He married Nora Newsom of Ocala in October 18, 1899 and the couple had two sons, Nathan (Nat) Mayo and William T. Mayo, and a daughter Gertrude Lyon Mayo. Throughout his political career Mayo maintained his farm, store, and residence in Summerfield where Mrs. Mayo served as post-mistress.

Among the many honors accorded to Mayo was the inauguration of the Nathan Mayo Building in Tallahassee to house the Department of Agriculture.

Citations: Florida Today, by Clarence M. Gay "Mayo called Mr. Florida," n.d., copy on hand in biographical folders; "Personality of the Month, Hon. Nathan Mayo," News Desk, the Florida State Capitol Monthly Magazine, Nov. 1946; Pioneer Florida, by D.B. McKay, "Commissioner Mayo's First Job was on Milk Wagon," Tampa Sunday Tribune, June 16, 1957; "It may be for a lifetime," Tampa Tribune, Saturday, Oct. 17, 1959; biography of Nathan Mayo written by his son Nat Mayo, copy on hand in biographical folders; "Nathan Mayo, Commissioner of Agriculture, State of Florida, November 1, 1923-April 14, 1960," memorial pamphlet produced at the time of Mayo's death. Martin M. LaGodna, "Agriculture and Advertising: Florida State Bureau of Immigration, 1923-1960," The Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 3 (Jan., 1968), pp. 195-208; "Greens, Grist and Guernseys: Development of the Florida State Agricultural Marketing System," The Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 2 (Oct., 1974), pp. 146-163.

Scope and Content

The Nathan Mayo Papers supplement the official papers of the Florida Department of Agriculture maintained at the State Archives (see "Related Materials" section of this guide). The UF collection consists of materials donated by the commissioner's son, Nat Mayo, and consists of files returned to the family or in the family's possession after Mayo's death in 1960. It should be noted that while UF's collection is valuable for particular aspects of Mayo's career, it is not a comprehensive record of the Department of Agriculture or of his life.

The largest part of the collection relates to Mayo's successful bids for reelection as Commissioner of Agriculture in 1928, 1932, and 1936. At the time of the original gift, these files were approximately three times the size of what is currently in the collection. The 1928 and 1932 correspondence has been preserved in tact. However, the 1936 correspondence-by far the largest section-contained many carbon-copy form letters sent out to supporters as well as many routine letters that gave simple statements of support. These letters, which contained nothing of historical interest, were eliminated from the collection. Retained were folders of letters with particular correspondents, bundles of related letters, and longer letters discussing the activities of Mayo's opponent, grassroots support for Mayo in a variety of cities, and, at times, issues of concern to particular constituents. They provide an interesting snapshot of political issues related to agriculture and the prison system in 1936. The collection also includes some general correspondence (1926-1960) and some additional political correspondence related to Mayo's gubernatorial ambitions between 1932 and 1948.

Mayo was noted for his promotion of state fairs and other events that spotlighted Florida's success in agriculture and livestock. His involvement at these events is documented in both his speeches and in the photo files. There is a particularly good photographic record of the "Cracker Breakfasts," one of Mayo's tools for enlisting support for department initiatives and showcasing Florida's ability to feed America.

There are also important materials on the scandals plaguing Florida's prison system, which fell under the jurisdiction of the Commissioner of Agriculture. These include: a photo album of Raiford Prison in 1937 (including operation of the inmate farm); several subject files about prison conditions, escapes, pardons, and other matters; and a newspaper clippings file that covers the public controversy over use of sweat boxes, other abuses in the prison system, and treatment of juvenile inmates. These materials primarily document the 1940s and 1950s.

Several subject files and a portion of the newspaper clippings also cover Mayo's refusal to sign off on a bond issue to drain the Everglades in 1928. The file on the Everglades bond contains an example of a bond from 1925 that he did sign as well as explanations about why he objected to the bond issue of 1928.

By the end of Mayo's tenure, between 1958 and 1960, there was growing concern that the Department of Agriculture administered too many state activities. Proposals to reorganize the department, and to downsize or curtail some of its responsibilities, are covered in the subject files and newspaper clippings files. Although Mayo felt his department was over-extended, he opposed efforts to restructure it. Ultimately he had to bow to them when Governor LeRoy Collins signed the Agricultural Services Reorganization Act in 1959.

Mayo maintained a clippings service and the newspaper clippings in the collection cover highlights in his career and in department policies. Although not comprehensive, they do provide an overview of both the successes and controversies of his years in office.


The collection is arranged in the following groups: Biographical Materials, General Correspondence, Campaign Correspondence, Subject Files, Speeches and Misc. Writings, Photographs, Newspaper Clippings, and Oversized Materials. Arrangement of correspondence follows the original order for the papers. Files of general correspondence and of campaign correspondence for 1928 are in chronological order. The 1932 campaign correspondence is by subject. The 1936 correspondence is alphabetical, with named or major correspondents first. There is one box of oversize material for the collection. A copy of the Tallahassee Democrat printed on cloth (January 5, 1937) to commemorate the inauguration of Governor Fred B. Cone has been removed, encapsulated, and stored with other poster-size materials.

Access or Use Restrictions


The collection is open for research.

Related or Separated Material

Official files pertaining to the Florida Department of Agriculture during Nathan Mayo's tenure (1923-1960) can be found at the State Archives under the following headings: S532-Washington Representative W. D. Outman administrative files, 1942-1950; S1218-Receipts and disbursements, 1932-1954; S1219-Division of Dairy Industry Correspondence, 1957-1965; S1223-Division of Marketing Applications and licenses for dealers of agricultural products, 1944-1962; S1224-Division of Marketing Applications Biennial reports, 1934-1962; S1231-Division of Animal Industry Records, 1958-1968; S1831-Florida Forest Service Program and project photographs, 1931-1940; S1833-Florida fair association files, 1957-1972; S1875-Screw worm infestation scrapbooks, 1957-1962; S1877-Forest fire prevention public service program sound recordings, 1949-1959; S1889-Division of Animal Industry Marks and Brands Chief Supervisor's correspondence files, 1945-1961; S1890-Division of Animal Industry Marks and Brands Inspectors' files, 1946-1959; S1894-Division of Animal Industry Marks and Brands administrative files, 1946-1959; S2176-Division of Animal Industry Minutes of the State Livestock Sanitary Board and Animal Industry Technical Council, 1917-1998.

In addition, the State Archives has a collection of Nathan Mayo papers and memorabilia: M82-18-Nathan Mayo Memorabilia collection, 1920-1960; M75-85-R.A. Gray Papers Box 21, FF 39: Democratic Testimonial Dinner honoring Nathan Mayo and R. A. Gray, March 26, 1960; M75-85-R.A. Gray Papers Box 24, FF 8: Includes a tribute to Nathan Mayo, Commissioner of Agriculture; S419-State Defense Council Subject Files Box 1, FF 6: Agriculture, Dept. of - Mayo Nathan; S1026-Southwest Florida Water Management District Lake Apopka correspondence Box 1, FF 18: Mayo, Nathan - Commissioner of Agriculture

(Information provided by Beth Golding, State Library and Archives of Florida).

A copy of a history text book Mayo owned as a youth has been transferred to the Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature: First lessons in our country's history: bringing out its salient points, and aiming to combine simplicity with sense: with numerous illustrations by William Swinton. (New York), 1872.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Nathan Mayo Papers, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Nat Mayo.

Contents List

Biographical Materials

1 Biographical: Typescripts, Biographical Notes, Excerpts From Interviews
1 Biographical: Published articles, honoraria
1 Biographical: Newspaper Clippings
1 Cartoon Editorials
1 Obituaries, Memorial Service
1 Mayo Store, Summerfield, Fla.-Receipts, Checks, Stationary
1 Family letters about genealogy/memoirs

General Correspondence

1 General Correspondence 1926
1 General Correspondence 1927
1 General Correspondence 1928
1 General Correspondence 1930
1 General Correspondence 1932
1 General Correspondence 1933
1 General Correspondence 1934
1 General Correspondence 1935
1 General Correspondence 1936
1 General Correspondence 1937
1 General Correspondence 1938
1 General Correspondence 1941
1 General Correspondence 1943
1 General Correspondence 1946
1 General Correspondence 1947
1 General Correspondence 1948
1 General Correspondence 1949
1 General Correspondence 1951
1 General Correspondence 1952
1 General Correspondence 1953
1 General Correspondence 1954
1 General Correspondence 1955
1 General Correspondence 1957
1 General Correspondence 1958
1 General Correspondence 1959
1 General Correspondence 1960

Campaign Correspondence

2 1928 Campaign Administration Outline
2 1928 Campaign Wilbur T Cash Letter
2 1928 Campaign Letters mentioning Carlton and Martin
2 1928 Campaign Nov-Dec 1927
2 1928 Campaign January 1928
2 1928 Campaign February
2 1928 Campaign March
2 1928 Campaign April
2 1928 Campaign May
2 1928 Campaign June
2 1928 Campaign July-December
2 Campaign Correspondence 1932 April
2 Campaign Correspondence 1932 May
3 Campaign Correspondence 1932 May Continued
3 Campaign Correspondence 1932 June-July
3 1932 Campaign Mayo Radio Address
3 1932 Campaign Keen Fruit Controversy
3 1932 Campaign Arsenic Spray Law Green Fruit Shippers
3 1932 Campaign New Releases
3 1932 Campaign Mayo-King Debate
3 1932 Campaign Mayo's open letter to King
3 1932 Campaign Orlando Audit Company Controversy
3 1932 Campaign Misc. Items
3 Mayo/Bishop Platforms-1936 Campaigns
3 Appointment Book 1936
3 1936 Campaign Correspondence with W.B. Bishop
3 1936 Campaign Correspondence with George Burr
3 1936 Campaign Correspondence with J.B. Hiers
3 1936 Campaign Correspondence with Spessard Holland
3 1936 Campaign Correspondence with R.F. Millikin
3 1936 Campaign Correspondence with Thomas Mullin
3 1936 Campaign J. Harden Petersen regarding opponent
3 1936 Campaign Correspondence with Lucian Monroe Rhodes
4 1936 Campaign Correspondence with Neill Rhodes
4 1936 Campaign Correspondence with Ray W. Robie
4 1936 Campaign Correspondence with Peter L. Rollo
4 1936 Campaign Correspondence with R.R. Ropper
4 1936 Campaign Correspondence with Joe Tyler, State Chemist
4 1936 Campaign Correspondence with J.B. Taylor
4 1936 Campaign Correspondence with Phil S. Taylor
4 1936 Campaign Correspondence with A.D. Tomasello
4 1936 Campaign Correspondence with C.B. Treadway, Chairman, State Road Department
4 1936 Campaign Correspondence with Thomas Turnbull
4 1936 Campaign WPA
4 1936 Campaign Correspondence A-B
4 1936 Campaign Correspondence C
4 1936 Campaign Correspondence D-E
4 1936 Campaign Correspondence F-G
5 1936 Campaign Correspondence H-J
5 1936 Campaign Correspondence K-L
5 1936 Campaign Correspondence M
5 1936 Campaign Correspondence M-N
5 1936 Campaign Correspondence P-R
5 1936 Campaign Correspondence S
5 1936 Campaign Correspondence S
6 1936 Campaign Correspondence T-U
6 1936 Campaign Correspondence W-Z
6 Correspondence (Bid for Governor 1937-1939)
6 Clippings (Bid for Governor 1936 Race)
6 Correspondence (Bid for Governor 1933-1935)
6 Clippings (Bid for Governor 1940 Race)
6 1948 Campaign for Governor

Subject Files

6 Agricultural Conf. 1926 Proceedings
6 Beef Industry
6 Bureau of Immigration-Advertising
6 Citrus Clearing House
6 Citrus Inspection
6 Citrus Industry
6 Cracker Breakfast
6 Dairy Industry(inspection)
6 Everglades, development of Clewiston
6 Everglades, Southern Sugar Co.
6 Everglades Drainage Bonds
6 Future Farmers of America, 1951
6 General Inspection Fund
6 Inspection Division
6 Kiwanis Agriculture Committee 1928
6 Land Division
6 Lee Thompson (interview, 1966)
6 Marketing
6 Martin Controversy over Milk Bill of 1927
6 Mayo Day Banquet
6 Mayo in the state Legislature 1921-1923
6 Mediterranean fruit fly
6 Poultry Industry
7 Prisons
7 Prison Conditions
7 Prison-Pardons
7 Raiford Prison 1937-reproduction of original photo album
7 Ramie
7 Reorganization 1958
7 Review of Dept. of Agriculture "Florida Food and Grocery News.
7 State Farmers Markets and Pavilions
7 US Dept. of Agriculture, 1945 memo

Speeches and Miscellaneous Writings

7 Publication "Activities of the Dept. of Agriculture, 1955"
7 Publication "Reorganization of Agricultural Service 1959"
7 Florida's Agricultural and Industrial Future 1925(?)
7 Growth of Agriculture and the Department of Agriculture in the State of Florida 1926
7 State Federation of Labor Feb 29, 1928
7 Future Farmers of America 1929
7 Why insist on quality 1930
7 Florida Products Week 1932
7 Strawberries 1934
7 National Assoc. of Commissioners, Secretaries, and Directors of Ag 1936
7 National Association of Commissioners 1942
7 State Conference, Jacksonville, Dec 1st 1942
7 Water control as it relates to Agriculture 1945
7 State Farmers Market, Lee Co. 1946
7 National Association of Commissioners 1951
7 Dedication of Citrus Museum Feb 20, 1952
7 Resolution Honoring William L. Wilson 1952
7 Minute Maid Dedication March 25, 1953
7 American Legion Inspectors Conference November 30, 1953
7 Boys State June 24, 1953
7 Dedication of Robert A. Gray Park December 1, 1953
7 Mayo Day Luncheon, Florida Citrus Exposition February 17, 1954
7 Florida Citrus Exposition February 15, 1956
7 History of Florida Agriculture, 1957
7 Belle Glade-undated
7 Campaign Speech-undated
7 Campaign Speech-undated
7 Florida's Dairy Industry
7 Florida's Poultry Industry
7 General Facts about Florida-Undated
7 Livestock Industry
7 Marian Co.-undated
7 New uses for Florida Crops
7 Old Spanish Trail.-undated
7 Ramie
8 Tavares, Fla.-Undated
8 Taxation as it relates to Loans on Farm Values
8 Transportation and Agricultural Development
8 Undated Speeches
8 Unidentified Speech Material
8 Urban and Rural Relations
8 Tom Linder Speech, Georgia State Commissioner of Agriculture
8 Speeches (Nat Mayo, son of Nathan Mayo) 1943-1956
8 Governor David Sholtz Speeches 1934-1935
8 Florida in 1933 by Manily Updike
8 Speeches-1930
8 Mayo Speeches-The Depression 1933
8 Speeches-1948
8 Speeches-1949
8 Speecehs-1950
8 Speeches-1951
8 Speeches-1952
8 Speeches-1953
8 Speecehs-1954
8 General Speeches
8 Clippings/Notes
8 Misc: Writings
8 The Everglades News 1945 Misc.
8 Political Memorabilia: Misc.
8 Sample Appointment Books, 1938-1959


9 Mayo early life
9 Mayo photo portraits (various)
9 Mayo in group shots
9 Mayo shark fishing
9 Mayo with P.G. Waldron
9 Elect Nathan Mayo poster
9 Nathan Mayo's office
9 Mayo receives Florida Fruit and Vegetable Assn. Award 1952
9 Mayo at portrait-unveiling
9 Pan American Airways: Florida Cabinet meets in Air 1947
9 Proclamations for Agriculture Week and Honey Week 1954
9 Mayo and Gov. Spessard Holland
9 Gov. Leroy Collins posing with Hereford cow
9 Gov. Leroy Collins signing Agricultural Services Reorganization Act June 16, 1959
9 Mayo and Gov. Leroy Collins
9 Gov. Fuller Warren
9 Charles O. Andrews (damaged)
9 Paul G. Rogers
9 The Cabinet: Govs. Carlton and Shultz
9 Pres. Dwight Eisenhower with Cecil M. Webb, Fla. State Road Dept.
9 Ken Strumwell (?), Martin Co.
9 Eddie Rickenbacker
9 Arcadia State Livestock Market
9 Belleglade: Extension Station, Ramie Crop, Sugar Cane
9 Citrus Inspection Building groundbreaking (?)
9 Citrus Inspection Station (?) under construction
9 Florida Citrus Building
9 Hogshaw, Trenton, Florida 1939
9 North Florida Fair, Tallahassee
9 Pompano Market
9 State Farmers Market, Ft. Pierce
9 State Farmers Market, Sanford
9 Tampa State Fair
9 Florida Ambassador of Goodwill promotions
9 Award Cups: Florida Baby Chick and Egg Show 1941
9 Cracker Breakfasts
9 Florida Citrus Queen, 1955
9 Florida State Advertising commission, 1953
9 Future Farmers of America, Florida Chapter 27th meeting 1955 Daytona
9 Mayo with Miss Florida and Miss America, 1955
9 Florida promotional campaign-New Zealand
9 Dedication of State Fair Pavilion to Mayo
9 Dept. of Agriculture Events (not identified)
9 Grapefruit, Haines City, 1925
9 Oil Drill Rig, Barnes Sound, Key Largo, 1945
9 Mayo holding ramie fiber, 1945
9 Mrs. J. Hubert Chamblee presenting Bible to Prison Chapel
9 Unidentified Church and congregation
9 Raiford Prison, 1937 Photo Album Folder 1
9 Raiford Prison, 1937 Photo Album Folder 2
9 Raiford Prison, 1937 Photo Album Folder 3
9 Raiford Prison, 1937 Photo Album Folder 4
9 Raiford Prison, 1937 Photo Album Folder 5
9 Raiford Prison, 1937 Photo Album Folder 6
9 Raiford Prison, 1937 Photo Album Captions

Newspaper Clippings

10 Migrant workers
10 Prison reform
10 Prison youth
10 Prisons: Joe Tracey escape
10 Prisons: Raiford
10 Prisons: Road camps
10 Prisons: Sweat boxes
10 Reorganization 1958-1959 Folder 1
10 Reorganization 1958-1959 Folder 2
10 State Fairs
10 Various Topics 1923-1928 (1)
10 Various Topics 1923-1928 (2)
10 Various Topics 1923-1928 (3)
10 Various Topics 1927-1935 (1)
10 Various Topics 1927-1935 (2)
10 Various Topics 1927-1935 (3)
10 Various Topics 1927-1935 (4)

Oversized Materials

11 Thank you card, 20th anniversary 1943
11 A Toast to the Sun Seaboard Railway flyer
11 June Proclaimed Dairy Month flyer
11 June is Dairy Month flyer
11 Campaign brochures and cards
11 Official Vote 1928
11 Sample Ballot 1932
11 Tabulation of Official Vote-Primary 1936
11 Poster: "Re-elect Mayo" 1928
11 Poster: "Nathan Mayo" 1932
11 Poster: Franklin O. King 1932 (2 copies)
11 Poster: "Elect Mayo," 1936
11 Poster: "Vote for Mayo" 1948
11 Tampa Tribune editorial n.d.
11 Semi-Weekly Highlander (Polk County) "We Want Mayo," 1932
11 Winter Park Herald, "Mayo will debate with his Opponent," 1932
11 Ocala Morning Banner, "Crowd Awards Noisy Verdict to Mayo," 1932

For further information, please contact: Special Collections Access Services.

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