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The governor of Mississippi Territory, on December 13, 1808, established Madison County. It is the "birthplace", or the place where the state of Alabama was founded. Alabama was admitted to Union on December 14, 1819. Huntsville was the capital of the state's first republic.
The county's economy was heavily dependent on agriculture throughout its history, especially cotton plantations that were established in the highlands. The profits of these plantations and their owners depended on enslaved African Americans' labor prior to the Civil War. Madison County was the largest cotton-producing county in the state.
After the war, cotton was still important. Although African Americans provided most of the labor required to cultivate cotton, they were mainly sharecroppers or tenant farmers. Textile mills were established in the county by the end of the 19th century. However, they were only available to white workers due to Jim Crow racial segregation. The economy remained largely agricultural throughout the 20th century. However, textile mills increased their production.
Redstone Arsenal was established by the Army as a site for chemical weapon manufacturing during World War II. The county attracted other industries. It became a hub for rocket and new weapon development after the war. A group of German exile rocket scientists led by Wernher Von Braun arrived in Redstone Arsenal, Texas, in 1950 to do research and develop new types of rockets.
In the 1960s, space exploration was a major focus of research. Redstone rocket was modified in order to launch the first two Americans into orbit. In order to compete with the Soviet Union in the Cold War years, the US invested in the Space Race to improve scientific results. The area has thousands of jobs due to the work done in defense and space, with most of these being private contractors.