Saugus was first settled in 1629. Saugus is an Indian name believed to mean "great" or "extended". In 1637, the territory known as Saugus (which also contained the present day cities and towns of Swampscott, Nahant, Lynn, Lynnfield, Reading, and Wakefield) was renamed Lin or Lynn, after King's Lynn in Norfolk, England.
The Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site, in operation from 1646–1668, was the first integrated iron works in North America. It is now a U.S. National Historic Site.
The nineteenth century ice industry began in Saugus when in 1804 Frederic Tudor cut ice from a pond on the family farm and shipped it to Martinique
The Lynn territory was shortened beginning in 1814 with the incorporation of Lynnfield. On February 17, 1815, present day Saugus was officially incorporated as a town. The first town meeting was held on March 13, 1815 in the parish church. At the time of its incorporation, Saugus' population was 784. Its main industry was agriculture. During the Industrial Revolution, many new industries moved to Saugus. Shoes and woolen goods were made in Saugus Center and tobacco was manufactured in Cliftondale and East Saugus.
The first town hall was built in 1837. It was built with $2,000 of the United States revenue surplus distributed by President Andrew Jackson. It is currently an American Legion hall. In 1875 the town built its second and current town hall on Central Street. The construction of the town hall put the city in a $50,000 debt. For this and other reasons the neighborhood of East Saugus sought to be set of from Saugus and annexed to the city of Lynn. East Saugus was unable to get a bill in both houses of state legislature and the issue was dropped after the town appropriated $5,000 for the laying of water pipes through East Saugus.
Saugus' first post office was established in 1932 in East Saugus. In 1858 two more were established - one in Saugus Center and one in Cliftondale. Now only the Cliftondale post office remains in Saugus.
In 1805 the Newburyport Turnpike (now U.S. 1) was built. About four miles of this road was built in Saugus. William Tudor built a summer estate on the turnpike. At first it was considered a mistake, as it was built over hills and swamps. Grass soon grew over the road bed of the turnpike. In 1840 the tolls were discontinued and it became a public highway. The toll house, located at what is now the junction of Routes 1 and 99, was tended by the Felton family, whose son Cornelius became president of Harvard University.
The invention of the automobile brought new life to the Turnpike and in 1933 the road was widened and an overpass was added to separate the traffic on Route 1 and Main Street. In the 1950s new businesses began moving to Route 1. Today the businesses along Route 1 generate millions in dollars for Saugus.
Passenger trains ran through Saugus from 1854 until the mid-1950s. The Eastern Railroad, Boston and Maine Railroad, and Grand Junction Railroad all ran on the Saugus Branch Railroad at some point. The Saugus Branch included three stations, one in Saugus Center, one in Cliftondale, and one in Pleasant Hills.
Saugus was also home to a harness racing track known as the Franklin Trotting Park, Atwood Racetrack, and the Old Saugus Race Course. This racetrack and adjacent hotel opened in 1870. The half-mile oval track and the four story hotel and grandstand was a big attraction. It closed in 1905 after local citizens complained about the questionable patrons that the racetrack attracted.
In 1911 the racetrack became an airfield. The airfield saw the first airmail delivery in New England on May 30, 1912. It was later named Atwood Aviation Park after Harry Atwood the pilot of the historic delivery. Pioneer aviators Ruth Bancroft Law and Lincoln J. Beachey flew at Saugus.
Laurence G. Hanscom a pilot, aviation enthusiast, State House reporter for the Worcester Telegram Gazette, and namesake of Hanscom Air Force Base and Hanscom Field was killed in a plane crash while performing stunt maneuvers over marshland in Saugus on February 9, 1941.
Saugus is home to the oldest barber shop in the United States. The over 100 year old George's Barber Shop is located in the Cliftondale section of Saugus.