Until the arrival of the canals in the 1770's the Rugby area was rural with only traditional village industries such as corn milling and blacksmithing. Rugby was not big enough to support any of the agricultural engineering industries that existed in larger market towns. The area's limestone and gravel was probably exploited on a small scale for local use. The lime industry developed once the canal could bring in fuel and distribute the burnt lime to a large area. Some firms converted to the new cement products in the mid 19th century.
Rugby got into the railway age early, being on the first trunk main line, that between London and Birmingham. Building started in 1835 and the line was opened in 1838. When the line to Nottingham and Derby opened in 1840 Rugby became the major junction of the period. Although the effect on the town was significant, because of the numbers of railway workers moving here, other industries were slow to arrive. During the 1890's railway locomotive and wagon engineering facilities were developed, both by the LNWR and by Thomas Hunter's.
The railway let the cement industry expand further and as the town grew a local brick industry developed. Also sand and gravel extraction on a major scale started. The brick industry has died out but sand and gravel extraction continues. The cattle market grew rapidly once the station gave an advantage over the traditional local markets.
Although some factories were developed in the 1880's employing local women it was the turn of the century before heavy industry arrived. The new industry developed the new technology - electricity -which had only started in general use in the late 1870's. Willans and Robinson were the first to arrive in 1899 to build high speed reciprocating steam engines to drive electric generators.
The British Thomson-Houston Company built their works in Mill Road in 1902 making electric motors and generators. They started making turbines in 1904, about the same time as the Willans and were in competition for 65 years. The rivals became united within GEC in 1969.
The first half of this century saw the development of other new technologies. Lodge Plugs moved to Eastlands in 1916 and around the 2nd World War the Rootes Plant at Ryton and the Rolls-Royce works at Ansty were built.
The last 30 years has seen another transport led influx as Rugby again became an important junction - this time for the motorway network. This development has been and continues to be to the north, near the motorways, and has not affected the town itself. However the decline of town centre industry has meant that many old industrial sites have been redeveloped, often for housing.