The town was incorporated in 1639. At that time, the boundaries of Sudbury included (by 1653) all what is now of Wayland (which split off in 1780), and parts of Framingham, Marlborough, Stow and Maynard (Maynard split off 1871). The Sudbury Center Historic District has changed little since 1800.
Sudbury also contributed the most militia during King Philip's War and was the site of a native raid. Ephraim Curtis was a successful leader of the militia of West Sudbury and would lend his name to the town's junior high school.:24–75 Sudbury militia participated in the Battle of Lexington and Concord, in 1775, where Sudbury members sniped on British Red Coats returning to Boston.
One of Sudbury's historic landmarks, the Wayside Inn, claims to be the country's oldest operating inn, built and run by the Howe family for many generations. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote Tales of a Wayside Inn, a book of poems published in 1863. In the book, the poem The Landlord's Tale was the source of the immortal phrase "listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere." Henry Ford bought the inn in 1923, restored it and donated it to a charitable foundation which continues to run it as an operating inn to this day. Ford also built a boys' school on the property, as well as a grist mill, and the Martha–Mary Chapel. He brought in the Redstone Schoolhouse from Sterling, which was reputed to be the school in Sarah Josepha Hale's nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb. However, Giuseppi Cavicchio's refusal to sell his water rights scuttled Henry Ford's plans to build an auto parts factory at the site of Charles O. Parmenter's mill in South Sudbury.
In the period after World War II, Sudbury experienced rapid growth in population and industry. Defense contractor Raytheon was a major employer, operating a large research facility in Sudbury from 1958 until 2016. Another major employer in that period was Sperry Rand. In the 1970s, the town was home to many of the engineers working in the minicomputer revolution at Digital Equipment Corporation in nearby Maynard. Sudbury was also one of the largest carnation-growing towns, with many greenhouse operations.
From 1960–1969, Sudbury challenged and prevailed against a proposal by Boston Edison Company which would have installed overhead transmission lines through what is now Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Ultimately the line was instead buried under streets to Maynard.
Residentially, Sudbury's 1-acre (4,000 m2) zoning bylaws helped the town maintain a more rural character through the 1970s and 1980s, when developments of single-family Colonials and large Capes established it as an affluent location. Commercial growth was restricted to the town's main thoroughfare, US Route 20. Significant tracts of open space—including much wetland—were preserved in the northern half of town and along the Hop Brook corridor flowing from the Wayside Inn Historic District in the southwest part of town through the King Philip Historic District (site of a conflict in King Philip's War) and into the Sudbury River at the southeast border with Wayland, Massachusetts.
The town's ZIP code of 01776 was specially assigned in recognition of the town's historical connections to the Revolutionary War, according to the Sudbury Historical Society.
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