At the beginning of the 19th century, the area now known as Elkhart was mainly inhabited by the Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi Indian tribes. In 1829, the Village of Pulaski was established, consisting of a Post Office, mill, and a few houses on the north side of the St. Joseph River. Two years later, Dr. Havilah Beardsley moved westward from Ohio and purchased one square mile of land from Pierre Moran (a half French, half Native American Potawatomi Chief) in order to establish a rival town named Elkhart. In 1839, the Pulaski Post Office was officially changed to Elkhart.
By the late 19th century and early 20th century, musical instrument factories, Miles Medical Company, and numerous mills set up shop and became the base of the economy. In 1934, the first recreational vehicle factory opened in Elkhart. Similar companies followed suit for the remainder of the decade, and the economy continued to grow until the rationing of materials in World War II. After the war, growth picked back up and, by 1949, Elkhart was officially dubbed the "RV Capital of the World."