The first settler in Exeter Township, Fillmore County was Warren Woodard, who built the first house in 1870. The Burlington and Missouri River Railroad, building westward, determined Exeter's location in 1871. The town was laid out by the railroad on land donated by Dr. Horace G. Smith and James Dolan. Its name was suggested by former residents of Exeter, New Hampshire, and conformed to the Burlington's practice of naming towns along this line in alphabetical sequence. The railroad aided the growth of Exeter by promoting immigration from eastern states and Europe, and brought Czechs, Germans, English, Irish, and Scandinavians to the area. By the time the town was incorporated on April 1, 1879, sixteen businesses were in operation. In 1896, Charles C. Smith, son of Dr. Smith, patented an indexing method to be used in bookkeeping. Smith built a factory in Exeter to produce these index tags, which were used worldwide. The factory operated for sixty-six years and employed seventy people at the height of its production.