Limeira was the center for coffee culture and production in the State of São Paulo, with a great coffee plantation surrounding the city in the 19th century. Later Limeira came to be known as the Orange Capital of Brazil because of the very large production of citrus fruits. Today however the dominant agriculture in the region near Limeira is sugarcane and the production of seedling citrus trees. Recently, Limeira has developed a large plated jewelry industry, and more than 450 companies produce half of all the plated jewelry exported from Brazil. Customers from around the world come to Limeira to buy this beautiful jewelry.
The origin of the city’s name comes from a popular legend. It is said that in 1781, a Franciscan friar named João das Mercês was camping near a local stream on the Blue Hill Ranch, and he was carrying some picuá de limas (a kind of lime orange), which were reputed to prevent and cure fevers. But during the night, after he ate some of these limes, he fell very ill, and died, after claiming that someone must have poisoned the limes. The next day he was buried, and the limes were buried with him, because people feared they had been poisoned, as he claimed. Then a lime tree (limeira) grew from those limes. Years later, the Blue Hill Ranch (Rancho do Morro Azul) would be called the Ranch of the Lime Orange Tree (Rancho de Limeira), and Limeira was the name given to the town, and now city, that grew up in the area.
Limeira was also one of the first cities in Brazil to use workers from Europe to replace slave labor, receiving Portuguese, German, and Swiss workers starting in 1840. Because of this, the city became known as the cradle of European immigration into Brazil.
Limeira was considered to be officially founded in 1826, but by the 1860s Limeira was no longer a town, but a city. After 1940 Limeira came to be known for its heavy industry, which today accounts for approximately half of the registered jobs in the city. Major industries in Limeira include metalworks, auto parts, clothing, food, ceramics, pulp and paper, packaging, sugar refining, and machine tools.
Many old parts of the city remain and are popular attractions. These include historic homes in the center of Limeira, in particular on Baron and Senator Vergueiro Streets, and Plaza Toledo Barros. The former railway station of FEPASA, the Church of our Lady of the Good Death and Assumption, and the Palacete Levy, are also all worth seeing.