History of Needham

Needham was incorporated in 1711 and has experienced numerous changes over its history. Early settlers relied primarily on agriculture and grazing plus some winter lumbering with orchards and tanneries as supplements in the 1700s. Saw and grist mills were opened along the Charles River through the 18th century. Extension of the rail and land speculation encouraged settlement, and the town saw the growth of industrial employment and production at the same time during the mid-19th century. 

Knitters from the English Midlands, displaced by economic changes in their own country, migrated to Needham and the surrounding towns to reestablish their businesses. The most famous of these was the William Carter Company, which still produces fine knitwear (though no longer in Needham). Needham manufacturers made knit goods, underwear, hats, shoes, and silk, although attempts to cultivate silk worms were short-lived.


Needham suffered a setback in its growth in April 1881, when West Needham was granted permission by the General Court to separate from Needham and form the new town of Wellesley. The town’s poor farm was included in the division with the site later becoming the Wellesley Country Club.

Post-World War Two
Land speculation, housing development and knitted underwear continued to be the foundation of Needham’s economy into the 20th century. The construction of Route 128 in 1931 opened portions of the town to development as part of the high-tech highway in the post-World War II electronic industrial boom. The creation of one of the nation’s first industrial parks in 1950, the later addition of high technology firms, the improvement of access to Route 128 and Boston, and Needham’s fine schools and public services have contributed to the town’s emergence as one of the more desirable suburbs of Boston. Today Needham is primarily a residential suburban community with easy access to Boston. A strong school system and strong sense of community keep the town vibrant and growing as it approaches its 300th anniversary. 

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