The city was co-founded by John C. Williams, formerly of Detroit, Michigan, who purchased the land in 1876, and by Peter Demens, who was instrumental in bringing the terminus of a railroad there in 1888. St. Petersburg was incorporated on February 29,1892, when it had a population of only some 300 people.
It was named after Saint Petersburg, Russia, where Peter Demens had spent half of his youth. A local legend says that John C. Williams and Peter Demens flipped a coin to see who would have the honor of naming the city. Peter Demens won and named the city after his birthplace, while John C. Williams named the first hotel after his birthplace, Detroit (a hotel built by Demens). The Detroit Hotel still exists downtown, but has been turned into a condominium. The oldest running hotels are the historic Pier Hotel, built in 1921, formally Hotel Cordova and The Heritage Hotel, built in 1926.
Philadelphia publisher F. A. Davis turned on St. Petersburg’s first electrical service in 1897 and its first trolley service in 1904. The city’s first major industry was born in 1899 when Henry W. Hibbs, 1862-1942, a native of Newport, North Carolina, established his wholesale fish business at the end of the railroad pier, which extended out to the shipping channel. Within a year, Hibbs Fish Company was shipping more than a thousand pounds (454 kg) of fish each day.