Lake Erie was the last of the Great Lakes to be discovered by Europeans. Although its existence was long rumored, it was not visited until 1669 by the French explorer, Louis Joliet.
French Canadian trappers and traders were the first European settlers in the area in the mid and late 1700s. Next came families from New England and New York in the years before and after the War of 1812. The war opened northwest Ohio to settlement and it quickly grew. German and Irish immigrants to Erie County arrived in waves in the 1840s and 1850s (in the 1860 census 14% of the male population was foreign born), and Italian and eastern Europeans followed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. African-Americans moved to Sandusky in large numbers during and after World War II seeking work in war industries.
Erie County’s economy has been dominated by three major industries: agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism. Agriculture has been a constant since frontier days and is a rich part of our heritage. Western Erie County is on the eastern edge of the Great Black Swamp and is some of the richest farmland in the United States. Manufacturing blossomed in the decades after the Civil War and large scale manufacturing peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. Tourism began in the mid-1800s as lake steamers used Sandusky as a home port to bring visitors to the Lake Erie islands. Cedar Point dates its beginning as a resort and amusement park to 1870. Today it is one of the largest parks in the world and attracts millions of visitors annually.
Along with the constants like agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism, there are industries like commercial fishing, steamship building, ice harvesting, and crayon and corrugated box manufacturing which once flourished in Erie County but are now gone.
The men who invented the electric light bulb and who financed the Union war effort during the Civil War, Thomas A. Edison and Jay Cooke, respectively, were born in Erie County, as were many other men and women who have accomplished great things and have played a role in America’s story.