Oak Island was founded in 1999 by the consolidation of the towns of Long Beach and Yaupon Beach. Its main industry is tourism; the town has an average summer population of 30-40,000.
It is believed that Native American tribes used Oak Island as fishing grounds before the arrival of Europeans. The first permanent buildings on the island were at Fort Caswell, which was built in the 1830s. The site was occupied by Confederate troops in the Civil War, and later by both the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy until the end of World War II; this property would later become the N.C. Baptist Assembly. In the 1930s, the commercial development of the rest of the island began; the towns of Long Beach and Yaupon Beach were incorporated in 1955 (Caswell Beach incorporated 20 years later). One year earlier, Hurricane Hazel struck the town with a direct hit; most of the vacation homes along the beach were destroyed. The island quickly recovered and tourism remains the main industry; construction continues on the island at a rapid rate, in spite of facing other hardships such as hurricanes like Fran and Floyd, and being cut off from the mainland for a short time after a barge destroyed the island's original pontoon bridge.