Early Virginians looked at Petersburg, with its location on the Appomattox River, as a town of economic vibrancy and promise. Incorporated in 1748 by the Virginia General Assembly, the town fulfilled that early promise and grew to become the commonwealth's third independent city in 1850. But turmoil as well as prosperity for Petersburg were ahead.
Throughout its 270 years, three factors have dominated Petersburg's economic history: tobacco, trade, and transportation. The city's early economic prominence was due to its tobacco plantations and warehouses as well as various mills powered by the river's falls. Later, the mills were replaced by other types of manufacturing. Petersburg remained a transportation hub throughout the evolution from canal boats to railroads to interstate highways. It also became a busy retail center, beginning as a fur trading post and later broadening its activities to more general retail and wholesale trade. And all along, Petersburg was near tobacco cultivation and involved in manufacturing of tobacco products.