Begun as a camp on the New York, Texas, and Mexican Railroad in 1882, El Campo initially was known as Prairie Switch and served as a supply and shipping center for area ranchers. By the 1890s the town had grown to include a post office, homes, businesses, schools, and churches. An influx of European immigrants produced a strong ethnic heritage. Fires in 1896 and 1901 destroyed much of the downtown area, but the city rebuilt. Oil and gas discoveries in the 1930s provided an economic boom, although agriculture remains the primary local business.