Greenville was named for Thomas J. Green, a general in the Texas Army in the war for independence from Mexico. He later became a member of the Congress of the Republic of Texas. The city was almost named “Pinckneyville” in honor of James Pinckney Henderson, the first Governor of Texas.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 34.7 square miles (89.9 km²), of which, 33.9 square miles (87.8 km²) of it is land and 0.8 square miles (2.1 km²) of it (2.30%) is water.
Entertainment includes the Kenneth Threadgill Concert series, which brings well-known Texas performers to the Municipal Auditorium stage in three concerts per year; the Greenville Entertainment Series, a subscription concert series featuring artists from a variety of musical genres; the Symphony Festival Series, which brings the world-famous Dallas Symphony Orchestra to Greenville for three concerts and an additional children's concert per year; and the Greenville Follies, a musical review showcasing local talent every other year. Local clubs with musical entertainment, live theater in nearby Commerce, local art shows, a movie theater, a bowling alley and year-round celebrations and special events offer additional entertainment.
Greenville legend tells of a local traveling insurance salesman of the 1920's, who spent much of his time riding trains from coast-to-coast. On his business cards he wanted some catchy slogan that would speak of the extreme blackness of the soil in the Texas Blackland Prairie (where Greenville is located), which was so rich, it made for the perfect ground to raise cotton. Cotton was still king in parts of Texas and none more than Greenville. The salesman's idea was to show one extreme against another. The most extreme opposite of black was white. On one hand, his use of the descriptive 'white' in relation to the people of his hometown was actually meant as a term of purity. But it is also important to point out that this was 40 years before desegregation, and the salesman and later the city fathers, gave no thought of the African-Americans one way or the other, when considering the use of the word 'white'. During a trip to Washington D.C., the salesman met and conversed with a gentleman who worked in The White House for President Calvin Coolidge. He presented the gentleman with one of his business cards, which was shown to the president upon the man's return to The White House. President Coolidge was said to be so impressed with the 'clever' play on words, that he invited the local salesman to have lunch with him on a later trip to Washington. This happening to a Greenville resident in the 1920's was big news, and the city chose to adopt as its city slogan "The Blackest Land and The Whitest People" in honor of the man's accomplishment. It was said that, for better or worse (depending on the moment in history) a person could mention they lived in Greenville, Texas nearly anywhere in the U.S. and they would be asked if that wasn't the town with the 'sign'.
Cotton brought the railroads to Greenville and with them growth and prosperity. The “cotton capital of the world,” Greenville soon boasted the world’s largest inland cotton compress, a population of several thousand and six railway lines. During the harvest season, cotton brought a “snowfall” to the downtown square as tufts of white pulled from bales for examination by cotton buyers floated into drifts around the courthouse.
There were 9,156 households out of which 31.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.4% were married couples living together, 13.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.6% were non-families. 28.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.56 and the average family size was 3.13.
In the city the population was spread out with 27.0% under the age of 18, 9.9% from 18 to 24, 28.2% from 25 to 44, 20.2% from 45 to 64, and 14.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 94.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $34,606, and the median income for a family was $41,808. Males had a median income of $31,556 versus $22,373 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,231. About 11.3% of families and 16.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 23.8% of those under age 18 and 14.4% of those age 65 or over.
Currently, the largest industry is L3 Communications Integrated Systems, formerly Esystems, Raytheon company, then to L3 Communications Integrated Systems, a major U.S. Defense contractor located at Majors Airport. This airport, created in 1942 and initially financed by the local Rotary club, was used as a training base for P-47 Thunderbolt fighter pilots in World War II, and since then has served as a focal point for economic growth in Greenville. Greenville is known internationally for its saddle making industry.