Like the nearby island Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard was brought to prominence in the 19th century by the whaling industry, sending ships around the world to hunt whales for their oil and blubber. The discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania, producing a cheaper way to fuel lights, led to an almost complete collapse of the industry by 1870. The island struggled financially through the Great Depression, but since then its reputation as a resort for tourists and the wealthy has continued to grow.
It now has a year-round population of about 15,000 people in six towns, but in summer the population swells to 100,000 residents, with more than 25,000 additional visitors coming and going on ferries every day.
The island received international notoriety in July 18, 1969, when a former campaign aide named Mary Jo Kopechne was killed when a car driven by Sen. Edward Kennedy drove off a bridge connecting Martha's Vineyard with the small island of Chappaquiddick.
In summer 2000, an outbreak of tularemia resulted in one fatality, and brought the interest of the CDC as a potential investigative ground for aerosolized Francisella tularensis. Over the following summers, Martha's Vineyard was identified as the only place in the world where documented cases of tularemia resulted from lawn mowing. The research may prove valuable in preventing bioterrorism.