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Nathan Mayo Papers

Identifier: MS 267

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.


  • Creation: 1923-1960



The collection is open for research.

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.


7 Linear feet (11 boxes)

Language of Materials



Contains correspondence pertaining to campaigns for reelection; a smaller amount of correspondence and subject files about the Department of Agriculture; newspaper clippings; speeches; photos.


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.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

Gift of Nat Mayo.

Related 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).

Separated Material

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.

A Guide to the Nathan Mayo Papers
Finding aid created by Department Staff and Interns
December 2009
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America