The Tennessee General Assembly created Gibson County on October 21, 1823, out of lands ceded by the Chickasaws in the Jackson Purchase. It was named in honor of Colonel John H. Gibson, who served under Andrew Jackson in the Natchez campaign, the Creek Wars, and the New Orleans campaign.
In 1819 Thomas Fite built the first cabin in Gibson County, which was then part of Carroll County. Luke Biggs, Davy Crockett, and others followed. Settlement progressed rapidly, and residents soon petitioned the general assembly for the formation of a new county, citing the difficulty of getting to the courts of Carroll County.
Commissioners appointed by the general assembly selected a county seat site near the center of the county where Thomas Gibson, a brother of John Gibson, operated a trading post. Initially called Gibson-Port, the name was soon changed to Trenton. County government was organized in January 1824, when the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions met at Biggs's residence. Following terms of the court met in the residence of William C. Love until April 1825, when the first term of court met in a temporary courthouse made of hewn logs.
From its beginning, agriculture has played an important role in Gibson County. Fertile lands along the river bottoms of the North and Middle Forks of the Forked Deer River and the Rutherford Fork of the Obion River and numerous creek bottoms made farming profitable. Diversification has characterized Gibson County's agricultural history. Some sixty years ago the county ranked second in the number of farm products. During the last decades of the nineteenth century and until World War I, truck crops (cabbage, tomatoes, and strawberries) were an important source of income. Difficulties in securing labor and competition from other states caused large-scale production of these crops to be discontinued. Today, agriculture still accounts for a significant portion of the county's economy, with cotton, corn, soybeans, swine, and beef the leading products.
Industrial development in the nineteenth century complemented agricultural needs. In the 1800s there were numerous grist, flour, and sawmills scattered along the waterways. Before the Civil War, at least one spinning factory operated within the county. By the 1880s Gibson County had at least one cotton mill and acquired another one at a later, unknown date. Since World War II the county has experienced significant industrial growth. In 1941 a military arsenal was located in Milan. For the first time in the county's history, employees at the Milan Arsenal worked around-the-clock shifts, seven days a week. In addition, the new industry employed a large number of women. Today, Gibson County's industrial sector is as diversified as its agriculture. The largest industry remains the production of ammunition, now supervised by Lockheed Martin. Other industries include automotive parts and services (Douglas and Lomason; A. O. Smith Automotive Products Company; Eaton Corporation), electric motors (Emerson Motor Company and Wis-Con Total Power), sporting equipment (Wilson Sporting Goods), textiles (Kellwood Company), and metal fabrication (Ceco Door Products, Ecko/Glaco, and Allsteel).
A number of incorporated towns hold special celebrations. Trenton, the county seat, is the home of the world's largest collection of Veilleuse-Theieres. This collection, numbering 525 porcelain pieces, was donated to the city by Dr. Frederick Freed. A teapot festival is held each year. Since 1934 Humboldt has been the home of the annual West Tennessee Strawberry Festival. Both the Strawberry Festival Historical Museum and the West Tennessee Regional Center for the Arts are housed in the old City Hall. Milan is the home of the West Tennessee Agriculture Museum, where the annual No-Till Field Day is held. Dyer stages the Dyer Station Days each summer. The event takes its name from the original name of the town. Yorkville, one of the oldest settlements in the county, holds the annual International Washer Tournament each year. Rutherford observes Davy Crockett Days. The restored last Tennessee home of Crockett and the grave of his mother are found here. Kenton, on the Obion County line, is the home of the “White Squirrels,” and the town holds a celebration in their honor each year. For a number of years, Bradford observed the Doodle Soup Festival. Doodle Soup, a delicacy unique to the area, is made from the drippings of cooked chicken. At one time Gibson was known as the truck farming capital of the area. Medina celebrates its location as the midpoint from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
Davy Crockett–hunter, storyteller, and politician–stands out among the notable personalities of Gibson County. Although many Tennessee counties claim Crockett as a citizen, he was living in Gibson County when he announced his candidacy for his term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Peter Taylor, the author of several novels and short stories, is a native of Trenton. Historians Mary U. Rothrock and Samuel Cole Williams both called Gibson County home, and Gentry R. McGee, an early educator, wrote McGee's School History of Tennessee, which was used as a textbook for over thirty years. Andrew D. Holt, a native of Milan, served as president of the University of Tennessee, 1959-70.
In 2000, Gibson County had a population of 48,152. The county has three hospitals and seven nursing homes. American Ordnance in Milan is the largest private employer, with eleven hundred workers. Gibson County does not have a county system of schools, but supports four special school districts and one city system.