The modern history of the district starts with the advent of European planters to this region. The Duke of Wellington is reputed to have been the first European visitor to Munnar, in 1790. An entry in the diary of Madras army Lieutenant made in 1817 describes a bullock-road heading across the Kanan Devan hills into Coimbatore.
In 1877, the Poonjar King, Kerala Varma, a subordinate prince to the Maharaja of Travancore, leased a large tract of land comprising 588 sq. km. of Kannan Devan Hills to a lawyer in the employee of the Travancore Government named to John Daniel Munroe. This has led to the birth of Kannan Devan Hill Produce Company. Kannan Thevan is an Adivasi leader who showed the hills to the Planters a. This tract, henceforth called the Kanan Devan Concession Land, was completely undeveloped, largely unexplored, and covered with thick jungle full of wild elephants and tigers.
In 1878 the Maharaja of Travancore confirmed the sale. In Conjunction with Munro and H. G. Turner of the Madras Civil Service was founded the North Travancore Land Planting and Agricultural Society, whose members developed their own estates in various parts of the High Ranges. This first cultivation was undertaken by A. W. Turner near Devikulam in 1877.
The pioneers tried many crops such as Coffee, Chinchona, Sisal and Cardamom, before discovering tea as the crop best suited for this area. Tea was first planted by A.H Sharp at Parvathi hills, now in Seven Mallay Estate by clearing 50 acres on a dense forest. In 1895 the concession area was purchased by Finlay Muir & Company which later became James Finlay & Co. Ltd.
The Kanan Devan Hills Produce Company was formed in 1897, and together with other subsidiaries of the Glasgow, UK - based Finlay Group, namely, the Anglo-American Direct Tea Trading Company and the Amalgamated Tea Estates Company it opened or came to purchase 33 estates in the high range and 9 in the the Anamalai.
With the entry of large business houses possessing capital and technical skill, the pace of development was accelerated. Experienced tea planters were brought from Ceylon and large areas were planted with tea. Roads were opened, transport organised, houses and factories built and production rose rapidly in the succeeding years. Later M/s Tata Finlay Ltd., a company incorporated in India, purchased the Tea Estates from them and is running them now, under the name M/s Tata Finlay Ltd. Their operations are mainly confined to Munnar - Devikulam area.
In 1964 a collaborative venture between Finlays and Tatas was established to develop value-added tea, and in 1976 Tata-Finlay Ltd. purchased the black tea producing, marketing, operation and other interests. The name of the company was changed to Tata Tea Ltd. in 1983 when Finlays sold their remaining share holdings including the considerable landholdings and manufacturing facilities in Northeastern India. Tata Tea Ltd. justifiably claims to be the largest integrated tea company in the world, with activities spanning the entire spectrum of the industry.