Taylor County was established in 1858. Named after brothers Edward, James and George Taylor — defenders of the Alamo — the county was created from former areas of Bexar and Travis counties. Largely unsettled until the U.S. Army defeated the area’s Penateka Indians, European settlers did not arrive until the 1870s. Early settlers consisted of buffalo hunters and bone gatherers. In 1878, a small settlement near the center of the county, Buffalo Gap, became the seat of government. However, when the Texas and Pacific Railway bypassed Buffalo Gap its population began to decline. The railroad promoted Abilene as the “future great city of West Texas,” and it became the county seat in 1883.
While ranching had dominated the local economy, crop farming significantly increased throughout the 1890s. Hundreds of farmers moved to the area, and cotton cultivation expanded rapidly. By 1910, there were more than 2,400 farms and the population had risen to more than 26,000. Droughts in the 1910s and the Great Depression wiped out many cotton farmers, and the sharp decrease in cattle prices hurt ranchers as well. In the years after World War II, the local economy diversified. Oil, which had been discovered in the county in 1929, became an important part of the local economy in the early 1940s. Along with oil production, the completion of Dyess Air Force Base in 1956 helped boost the local economy.
A decline in petroleum production in the 1970s and 1980s encouraged industrialization. In 1985, 145 industrial plants employed 5,800 workers. Though a large part of county’s land and economy was still in farms and ranches, the county’s industries included meat packing, soft-drink bottling, men’s clothing manufacturing, plumbing fittings, watches, clocks and aircraft equipment.