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In the late 19th century, reports described the area as a promising wilderness.
The Great Freeze of 1894–95 hastened Miami's growth, as the crops of the Miami area were the only ones in Florida that survived.
The Miami area was inhabited for thousands of years by indigenous Native American tribes.
The Tequestas occupied the area for a thousand years before encountering Europeans. In 1566 admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, Florida's first governor, claimed the area for Spain.
Julia Tuttle subsequently convinced Henry Flagler, a railroad tycoon, to expand his Florida East Coast Railway to the region, for which she became known as "the mother of Miami." Black labor played a crucial role in Miami's early development.
During the beginning of the 20th century, migrants from the Bahamas and African-Americans constituted 40 percent of the city's population.
Miami and its suburbs are located on a broad plain between the Florida Everglades to the west and Biscayne Bay to the east, which also extends from Florida Bay north to Lake Okeechobee.
The elevation of the area never rises above 40 ft (12 m) above mean sea level in most neighborhoods, especially near the coast.
As the seat of Miami-Dade County, the municipality is the principal, central, and the most populous city of the Miami metropolitan area and part of the second-most populous metropolis in the southeastern United States. For more than two decades, the Port of Miami, known as the "Cruise Capital of the World", has been the number one cruise passenger port in the world.
Downtown Miami is home to the largest concentration of international banks in the United States, and many large national and international companies.
It accommodates some of the world's largest cruise ships and operations, and is the busiest port in both passenger traffic and cruise lines.
The highest undulations are found along the coastal Miami Rock Ridge, whose substrate underlies most of the eastern Miami metropolitan region.
The main portion of the city lies on the shores of Biscayne Bay which contains several hundred natural and artificially created barrier islands, the largest of which contains Miami Beach and South Beach.