The county's industrial history goes back to 1789 when the first grist mill in the county was established in the Town of Homer. Clearing of forests gave rise to saw mills, asheries, and tanneries. In the major communities could be found distilleries, carding mills, cooperages, carriage and harness makers, an ink factory in Homer and a shoe peg factory at Little York; cabinet-makers shops, gunsmiths, blacksmiths, tinsmiths - just to name of few that have joined the passing parade.
With the coming of the railroad in 1854 and a second one in 1872, Cortland industries were assured of easier access to raw materials, fuel, and new markets. The establishment in Cortland Village of two national banks and a savings bank provided a broader credit base. These factors, coupled with the nation-wide demand for more goods, spurred transformation of small shop enterprises into the county's first large-scale factories. Taking the lead was the Cortland Wagon Company which became the largest and best known of a dozen or more firms making horse-drawn vehicles or accessories. After a meteoric rise with impressive production figures, the firm quietly succumbed - victim of the automobile.
Wickwire Brothers turned from the hardware business to the manufacture of wire cloth, drawn wire and nails, fencing and even steel for making these products. Although the area's largest employer during most of the 20th century, the firm was forced to close in 1971, victim of the times.