Skip to main content

The History of Atlanta

aerial view looking down street with large mural of man's face

Atlanta wasn’t always the international hub that it is today. From humble beginnings, the city has seen major growth, destruction, and renewal. It is the city that rose from the ashes to become the capital of the new south, which is why the phoenix has become Atlanta’s symbol. Here’s a brief overview of the history of the city that we know so well and love so much! If you’re after a truly in-depth insight, catch us on our Atlanta history tour and our other informative tours.


The area that is now known as Atlanta was the original territory of the Muscogee (Creek) and Cherokee nations who were then systematically removed from northern Georgia at the beginning of the 19th century. The city of Terminus was founded in 1837 at the termination (original!) of the Western and Atlantic Railway but soon renamed Marthasville. The name quickly changed to Atlanta (the feminine of Atlantic) and the location quickly became the railway hub for the entire south of the US. During the Civil War, the city was the major supply distribution center for the South, which made it a target for the North (or Union) campaign. In 1864, much of the city’s buildings and its assets were burned to the ground, except for its churches and hospitals. Despite this, Atlanta remained a vital railway hub, as well as growing as a manufacturing center after the war. Coca-Cola launched here in 1886 and still has its headquarters in our backyard. The World of Coca-Cola was opened in 1990: one of the city’s top attractions and a stop on our sightseeing City Tour!

Civil Rights

Historically, and within the context of the American Civil War, the slavery of African Americans was economically important to southerners. In 1850, around 500 black people were enslaved in Atlanta making up around 20% of the population at the time. Post-war and during the early 20th century, a prosperous, black middle and upper class emerged, overcoming many obstacles placed before them. As a result, Atlanta became the center of the civil rights movement: Blacks in Atlanta were experiencing a social and political awakening. A non-violent campaign against racial discrimination and segregation that was led by the renowned and respected Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The movement was tumultuous and lengthy but ultimately successful, with the city’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, elected in 1973. He continued to support black communities and black businesses, sowing the seeds for a city that would soon blossom into the capital of the south and the center of black triumph. Visit our Atlanta Black History and Civil Rights Tour for an authentic take on the resilient culture and its heritage, or read our article on the King for more information about this time in Atlanta.

Modern Developments

With the construction of the Georgia World Conference Center in 1976, Atlanta rose to become a major convention city. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport continued to grow to become the world’s busiest airport today, so it wasn’t a difficult decision for ATL to be the host of the 1996 Olympic Games. But the city continues to evolve and grow, although it lost around 20% of its population between 1970 and 1990, increasing gentrification after the mid-1990s has created a new growth. The city has emerged today as the world’s top filming location for Hollywood movies and tv shows, a banking center with the third-largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the country, as well as an educational center, with 40 degree-granting institutions, including various historically black colleges.

The changing names and faces of Terminus, Marthasville, Atlanta, and ATL are ones that we can only try to keep up with. We were “The city too busy to hate,” then “The city not too busy to care,” where “Every day is an open day”. If you’re heading to Atlanta, even for a layover, try out one of our tours to discover more about this impressive city, or we can transport you from the airport or customize a tour so we can show you the history and change that you want to see for yourself. Get in contact with us today to find out more!

– your Roundabout Atlanta team

What to do in Atlanta in 24 Hours or Less Previous Article Atlanta Virtual Tours Next Article