Key West is Also Known as The Conch Republic – And This is How it Started

a passport from the key west conch republic

Key West, Florida is a unique and colorful place with a rich history. One of the most interesting aspects of this small island city is its nickname as the “Conch Republic.” In this blog post, we will explore the history of Key West as the Conch Republic, including its origin story, key events, and cultural significance.

The Origin Story

The Conch Republic is a tongue-in-cheek “micronation” that was established on April 23, 1982, when Key West declared itself to be independent from the United States. The reason for this declaration was a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint that was causing significant traffic congestion on the only road connecting Key West to the mainland. The checkpoint was put in place in 1982 as part of a federal effort to crack down on illegal drug smuggling.

The Key West City Council protested the checkpoint, but their complaints fell on deaf ears. In response, Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlow and a group of local businessmen formed the Conch Republic, a tongue-in-cheek secessionist movement. They even went so far as to “surrender” to the federal government and then declared war, firing a loaf of Cuban bread at a U.S. Navy officer.

Key Events

While the Conch Republic’s independence was largely symbolic, the movement quickly gained popularity and became a cultural phenomenon. Some of the key events in the Conch Republic’s history include:

  • The establishment of the Conch Republic Passport: In 1985, the Conch Republic began issuing its own passports, which were meant to be a humorous jab at the federal government’s strict immigration policies. The passports are still available today and can be used as a form of identification on the island. You can order your own right now!
  • The “invasion” of the U.S. Coast Guard: In 1995, the U.S. Coast Guard set up a checkpoint on the Overseas Highway, the only road connecting Key West to the mainland. The Conch Republic responded by “invading” the checkpoint and demanding that it be removed. The Coast Guard eventually backed down, and the checkpoint was dismantled.
  • The Conch Republic’s bid for the 2000 Olympics: In 1998, the Conch Republic announced its intention to bid for the 2000 Summer Olympics. While the bid was not successful, it generated significant media attention and helped to boost tourism on the island.

Cultural Significance

Today, the Conch Republic is a beloved cultural icon in Key West and beyond. The movement has become a symbol of the island’s independent spirit, its laid-back lifestyle, and its unique blend of cultures. The Conch Republic’s flag, which features a conch shell on a blue and yellow background, can be seen flying all over the island. And every April, Key West hosts a week-long Conch Republic Independence Celebration, which includes parades, parties, and other events.

In conclusion, whether you’re a resident of Key West, a visitor, or somewhere in between, the Conch Republic is worth learning about and experiencing for yourself. GREAT NEWS! You can do so during the 41st Anniversary Celebration taking place from April 21-30, 2023!

conch republic 41st anniversary celebration

Check out the full schedule of events and other details here!

Finally, for more information on the extraordinary shops, unique eateries, and unforgettable events year round at the Key West Historic Seaport, visit