In it's relatively short but rich history Nova Gradiska has from the beginning had the characteristics of a typical border town, always fighting and struggling for national identity and independence: with the Turks, with Austrian and Hungarian colonizers and with Serbian aggressions. During the times of peace, its inhabitants have tried to improve the town's economic and social status.
The founding of Nova Gradiska in the middle of the 18th century is connected with a decision made by the Austrian empress Mary Theresa to set up a region called "Vojna Krajina" (The Croatian Military Border) in order to strengthen the Empire's southern border, after the Turks had been forced back across the river Sava. Nova Gradiska was founded on May 1 in 1748 as a future commanding post of the Gradiska border regiment. Lieutenant-colonel Phillip Lewin Beck, the commanding officer of the regiment, was in charge of the building of the new military community and he first "had a little church built, then a house for the colonel and the lieutenant-colonel, and a big guard house with a jail and an inn…". Those first houses were wooden and Beck "
endeavoured to build roads and bridges, to furnish schools and to attract manufacturers and merchants into the town…"
Nova Gradiska was founded during the baroque period and its architecture shows the absolutistic spirit of that time, with straight parallel streets, rectangular crossroads and a spacious quadrangular main square surrounded by churches, private and public buildings. One of the first concrete buildings in the town was the single-nave late baroque Church of St Theresa with a unique baroque pyramid-shaped tower in a cement form. Its construction started in 1756 and it was completely finished in 1765 when a roman-catholic parish was established. This religious, cultural and architectural monument holds a central place in the "old town" today and in the town arms. Other architecturally and historically dominant buildings in the town centre are the old guard house with its arcades (built around 1770, today known as "the old court house"), parish-church of St Stephen (now Church of the Immaculate Conception) with its classicistic details and paintings by Celestin Medovic, and a somewhat younger Art Nouveau (1896) Grammar School building (Gimnazija) as well as the Forestry administrative building (1913).
After the Croatian Military Border was abolished (1871) and the region was reunited with the rest of the Croatian territory (1881), Nova Gradiska became a county centre and it was connected with Zagreb by rail (1888) thus getting the opportunity for further and faster development. A steam-powered brewery owned by Dragutin Lobe, the first of its kind in Croatia, was built in 1837, followed by openings of wood processing factories, brick and tile works and mills - which were later to become successful factories (Kruljac and sons - furniture, Nektar - fruit syrups and liquors, Steam mill Matokovic, Brick works in Nova Gradiska, Cernik and Resetari etc). This was also the time of growing national awareness and of political fights against Hungarian and German influences in Slavonia. Many Croatian associations were founded: Volunteer Fire Department (1871, the first in Slavonia), Croatian Library (1874), Croatian Choral Association Granicar (1886), Croatian Hawk and others.
The first printing house was built in 1882 and a year later Nova Gradiska already had its first local paper "Gradiscanin". The town had asphalted pavements in 1910 and electric streetlights in 1913 as the 6th town in Croatia. The overall picture of the town was improved at that time - streets were paved, the town park, the cemetery, the market and the pedestrian area were decorated - the most of which happened thanks to one of the town's most popular mayors, Ivo Kramaric who was born in 1856 and died in 1932 and was the town's mayor from 1907 until 1927. Other famous townspeople were the industrialist and politician Dragutin Lobe, who was the first elected county representative in the Croatian Parliament in 1883; Josip Pliveric (1847-1907), a university professor and the founder of the public law science; Josip Freundenreich (1827-1881) and Adam Mandrovic (1838-1912), famous Croatian actors and directors, also founders of the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb; Josip Ettinger, a forestry expert and founder of the Zoological Museum in Zagreb; Josip Janko Grahor (1855-1918), an architect and constructor, the first president of the Zagreb Fair; Vladimir Nikolic, a writer and many others.