"The Portuguese explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, was the first official tourist to arrive in Rio in 1502, on January 1. He thought the Guanabara Bay was the mouth of a river, and named the city after it, River of January, or Rio de Janeiro. The bay itself is 380-square kilometers (147-square miles). The word “Guanabara” is an indigenous Tupi word meaning “breast of the sea.” The region has been settled, according to geological surveys, for thousands of years.

Indigenous groups such as the Tupi or TupiGuarani, Puri, Botocudos and Maxacali lived along the coast when the Portuguese arrived. Evidence in the form of sambaquis, giant mounds of shells left over from shellfish consumption, a primary staple of their diet, suggest that the region had been populated for 5000 years. None of the indigenous groups survived contact with the Europeans.

While the Portuguese attempted to live in peace with the local people they found on their arrival, they ultimately failed when French and Portuguese pirates in their hunt for wealth on the coast, prevented the possibility of harmony between them. Eventually, the indigenous locals were converted to Christianity, and put to work as slaves. Along the coast, isolated settlements were linked by trading routes.

The development of the state was based on these trading routes. Towns sprung up along the way. A road linking Paraty with the Rio Paraíba valley, and then continuing into southern Minas Gerais, built in the sixteenth century, the first, was eventually used for exporting gold in the eighteenth century. Later, the Caminho Novo, New Road, brought the gold to Rio, the primary port of the Guanabara Bay. 

The gold mines were exhausted by the time Brazil declared independence from Portugal in 1822. By then, a new treasure had emerged: coffee. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, the first plantations were developed. During the nineteenth century, the cultivation of coffee stretched in the Paraíaba Valley and other parts of Brazil, including the state of São Paulo. Mule trains brought the crop to growing ports on the Guanabara Bay. Roads such as Sepetiba and Ilha Grande served as the primary means of transportation until the railroad arrive after 1855. Rio’s trading dominance and political importance were established as railways from Petropolis, São Paulo, and Minas Gerais brought coffee and goods to rail terminal.

The state that is currently known as Rio de Janeiro was called Guanabara State until 1960. The city of Niteroi was the state’s capital. Rio itself, the city, was a federal district. When Brasília was built in 1960, and was designated the capital of the country, the state of Guanabara was name Rio de Janeiro, and its capital city was Rio.

A substantial financial powerhouse was created by combining the old capital with the state of Rio de Janeiro. It has become Brazil’s biggest petroleum producer, with the oil pumped from the Campos platform, which was discovered in 1974. Production levels have reached 330,000 barrels a day, using Brazilian-engineered deep water exploration technology, which is 70% of the country’s total production. Agricultural production began to diminish in the early part of the twentieth century in the state of Rio de Janeiro, and wasn’t the economic force it had been earlier.

The modernization of agricultural techniques was the factor behind major changes throughout Brazil in the 1970s, but wasn’t as important in the state of Rio. While the GDP in the Rio accounts for 12.5% of the country’s total. Industries such as metallurgy, steel, chemicals, food, mechanics, publishing and graphics, paper and cellulose, mining, as well as oil, are especially important. Today, sugarcane remains the primary crops, cultivated mostly in the region of Campos dos Goitacazes.

The modern port complex built in the Sepetiba Bay is projected to allow Rio to recover its position as busiest national port. Brazil’s national steel industry was base in Rio after the founding of the state-owed Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional, which has since been privatized. The Fabrica Nacional de Motores (FNM) was established in Rio as the nation’s first automobile factory, but has since been closed. The state is home to 95% of the national shipbuilding industry, along with major national shipyards. After enduring an extended period of a relative lack of growth, the industry is depending on major investments to stage a recovery.

The installation of a new Volkswagon plant in the city of Resende indicates that the state’s economy is on the rebound, after a period of slow growth. The presence of the factory, which produces commercial vehicles, demonstrates that Rio is set to receive a significant part of the international investment aimed at Brazil.

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