Its name is derived from being the meadow of Hempstead Plains east of the Meadow Brook (originally a brook, now replaced by a parkway of the same name). Many residents commute to Manhattan, which is away.
In 1655, two surveyors for Hempstead Town reported that the "east meadow" would be suitable for grazing. The area quickly became a grazing area for cattle and later, in the 18th century, for sheep. The sheep of the East Meadow, NY area provided the country with more than 50% of the United States' wool needs during that time.
During the American Revolutionary War, East Meadow was occupied by British forces when they discovered the vast amounts of livestock herded there, and remained under their control until the end of the war. Two large farms existed in what is now East Meadow: the Barnum farm (Barnum Woods), and the Carman farm. It is rumored that President George Washington spent a night on the Barnum estate during a trip across Long Island in 1790. A toll booth was operated near the Carman homestead on the Hempstead Turnpike.
Another early settlement was located near what is now the intersection of East Meadow Avenue (formerly called Newbridge Avenue; not to be confused with nearby Newbridge Road) and Prospect Avenue.
The community was home to many Gilded Era estates. The old Hoeffner homestead is now the site of veterans memorial park, and East Meadow's Post Office. The Barnum estate was rented by the Hoeffner family in 1914. Part of the old Barnum farm is now the site of Barnum Woods Elementary School, and the main road that passes by the school, Merrick Avenue, was originally called Barnum Avenue. The Oliver and Alva Belmont (formerly Alva Vanderbilt) estate of Brookholt once stretched across several hundred acres on both sides of Front Street to the east of Merrick Avenue.