How Did Spring Break Get Its Start?

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Spring comes but once a year, and it comes with a rebirth of flora, warmer weather, and a week (or two) dedicated to enjoying the change—which many college kids take advantage of in mid-March with a little tradition known as Spring Break. Thanks to MTV, we all know what Spring Break is about: Bikinis, debauchery, plenty of alcohol, and collegiates flocking to beaches en mass to work on their tans and run amok. Where did this tradition start?

As far back as history has been recorded, people have celebrated the arrival of Spring—including the ancient Greeks and Romans, who were all about self-indulgence. Of course, those rowdy crowds centered their jamboree on their respect for Dionysus or Bacchus, the Greek and Roman gods of wine. But what we now know as Spring Break really began because of two events: When Fort Lauderdale built Florida's first Olympic-size pool in 1928, and when MGM released Where The Boys Are in 1960. 

Fort Lauderdale's pool, considered mammoth at the time, brought the nation's top competitive swimmers to the city during their break from classes, and by the late '30s, more than 1500 student-athletes were flocking to the city's College Coaches' Swim Forum. The first of these forums was hosted in 1938, and droves of college swimmers made Fort Lauderdale their exclusive Spring Break home well into the '60s. By that time, non-student athletes began to take part in what these swimmers had created; Time first mentioned the phenomenon in their 1959 article titled "Beer & the Beach." The bacchanal had gone mainstream.

A year later, MGM released Where The Boys Are, a coming-of-age film that followed four college women during their spring vacation. And just like everything in a postmodern society, reality reflects art. Spring Break became a very real thing for any collegiate male or female who wanted to escape to sand and sun. In 1986, MTV launched its first Spring Break special in Daytona Beach, Florida, and found an annual tradition in showing what really happens on this mid-semester get-away.

By the end of the '80s, the city that first made Spring Break famous—as evidenced by the 370,000 students who invaded in 1985—said it had had enough of the raunchy and unruly guests it had invited all those years ago. The city adopted stricter public drinking laws, and then-mayor Robert Dressler went on Good Morning America to say that Spring Breakers weren't welcome anymore. Of course, by that time, there were plenty of other cities hosting their own annual parties—ensuring that Spring Break is a tradition that won't die out anytime soon.

This article first appeared last spring.

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