Donora was incorporated in 1901. Donora got its name from a combination of William Donner and Nora Mellon, banker Andrew W. Mellon's wife. Donora's nickname is "The Home of Champions" mainly because of the large number of famous athletes that have called Donora their home. Agriculture, coal-mining, steel-making, wire-making, and other industries were conducted in Donora early in its history. In 1910, 8,174 people lived there; in 1920, 14,131; and in 1940, 13,180 people lived in Donora. The population was 5,653 at the 2000 census. Donora is a Rust Belt place which has lost most of its industrial capacity. It is in the "Mon valley" downriver from Charleroi and upstream of Braddock, Pennsylvania.
Recently, Donora and other Mid-Mon Valley communities have seen an economic re-emergence as a result of the increased economic activity in the area of the newly emerging Marcellus Shale natural gas industry. Local government leaders hope that the natural gas boom will renew the prosperity that was once a trademark of the Mon Valley region.
In 1794, east of Donora, the Whiskey Insurrectionists held several meetings at Fells Church.
A trolley line opened in Donora on December 15, 1901, linking First and McKean and Fifteenth Street and Meldon. It was extended in 1911 to Black Diamond to connect to the Charleroi to Pittsburgh interurban trolley. The line was abandoned on May 5, 1953.
The town was the scene of the infamous Donora Smog of 1948. Between October 26, and October 31, 1948 an air inversion trapped industrial effluent (air pollution) from the American Steel and Wire plant and Donora Zinc Works. "In three days, 20 people died... After the inversion lifted, another 50 died, including Lukasz Musial, the father of baseball great Stan Musial. Hundreds more finished the rest of their lives with damaged lungs and hearts. But another 40 years would pass before the whole truth about Donora's bad air made public-health history." Today, the town is home to the Donora Smog Museum which tells the impact of the Donora Smog on the air quality standards enacted by the federal government in subsequent years.
Donora is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its famous neighborhood known as "Cement City". The homes built in the neighborhood are completely made out of pre-formed and poured concrete. This structural building technique was championed by Thomas Edison and there are additional neighborhoods throughout the United States that have also used this technique. The homes were built as employee housing for the Donora Wire and Steel Mill in the early 1900s."