This is a feature provided by almost all if not all Unix and Unix like running on x86 hardware. Interestingly, virtual consoles were introduced first in a Unix by Microsoft Xenix in the early eighties, and was also available in concurrent CP/M.
This feature was later integrated in AT&T SVR4 Unix, Solaris, and borrowed by BSDs and Linux.
Why does UNIX/Linux provide multiple terminal emulators?
When they were first introduced, there was no graphic environment available for the machines running these Unix implementations. While having a physical terminal connected to a central Unix server through RS232 lines was the standard, connecting multiple terminals to a standard PC running Xenix was overkill if the goal was just for a single user to run multiple interactive programs simultaneously. Virtual terminals provided an elegant and convenient solution to that issue.
Other Unix implementations later provided that same feature to meet the same need.
When graphic environments, especially X11, spread out, being able to see multiple terminal emulators at the same time on the same screen was a significant improvement. The virtual console feature was however generally kept if only because it was still convenient to be able to switch to a console should the graphic environment is frozen or dysfunctional for some reason.
Note that utilities like
tmux came much later than virtual terminals to generalize the same functionality. Their advantage is they can be used non only on the local physical console, but also on whatever session, either local or remote (e.g.
ssh). When used on the physical console, virtual consoles are still useful as they are functional in some situations where
tmux can't help, like if X11 is frozen, or if a window has captured the focus and doesn't release it.
Container based virtualization like Solaris zones or Linux LXC also provide a method to connect to the container console through
zlogin -C zone and
lxc-console -t 0 -n container respectively.