Europeans first came to Long Island in the early 1600s, joining the Native-American tribes that had lived there for a few thousand years, enjoying good sustenance from farming and fishing. The island was an important region during the American Revolutionary War, and has several historical spots designated historic buildings and places.
But it was the economic growth and suburbanization of the New York metropolitan region after World War II that made Long Island most of what it is today. Between 1930 and 1990, Long Island was one of the aviation centers of the U.S., with companies such as Grumman Aerospace, Republic, Fairchild and Curtiss having headquarters and factories there. Long Island has played a prominent role in scientific research and in engineering as well; it is the home of the Brookhaven National Laboratory for nuclear physics and U.S. Department of Energy research. There's also the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which was directed for 35 years by James Watson (who, along with Francis Crick, discovered the double-helix structure of DNA.)
In recent decades, companies such as Sperry Rand, Computer Associates (CA) and Motorola Enterprise Mobility have made the island a hot spot for the computer industry, while Stony Brook University conducts far-ranging medical and technology research. Long Island is home to the East Coast's largest industrial park, the Hauppauge Industrial Park. The park has over 1,300 companies employing more than 55,000 Long Islanders.
Interestingly, the most recent industries to mature on the island, particularly on the eastern half, are agricultural in nature—in fact, the local phrase "grass, grapes and golf" sums up the new direction. Sod farms have replaced many old potato farms, as supplying the local grounds and greens is big business. There are more than 50 wineries and vineyards on eastern Long Island and most will host group events. Golf courses, from the venerable Shinnecock Golf Course to the brand-new courses that have been popping on former farm tracts over the past 20 years, are plentiful.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2008 Nassau and Suffolk counties had the 10th and 25th highest median household incomes in the nation, respectively. Nassau County is more developed than Suffolk County, and has pockets of significant affluence within the famed Gold Coast of the North Shore. Wealthy Americans and Europeans in the gilded age of the early 1900s built lavish country mansions there. Today, many still exist in their original state, while others have become parks, arboretums, universities and museums—one is even a sophisticated conference facility.
South shore communities in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties are built alongside protected wetlands, overlooking a bay separating them by 3 to 4 miles from the white-sand beaches of the outer barrier islands on the Atlantic Ocean. And in the far eastern area of Long Island, small-town rural life is much more common, as on the North Fork and in the Hamptons. But all across the island, towns such as Babylon, Cold Spring Harbor, Greenport, Freeport, Huntington, Oyster Bay, Port Jefferson, Sag Harbor, Sayville and Westhampton have quaint, historic Main Street districts perfect for walking tours, shopping and dine-arounds.