Through archaeological finds made in what is now the city of Esslingen there is evidence of permanent settlement since the Neolithic Stone Age. Traces of human settlement found at the site of the city church date back to around 1000 B.C.
In the 1st century AD the Esslingen region became part of the Roman Empire. During this period a Roman warehouse was located in the area of Oberesslingen. The nearest major Roman settlements and garrisons were at Cannstatt and Köngen.
Esslingen was first mentioned in 777 as Ezelinga in the last will of Abbot Fulrad from Saint-Denis (near Paris), the chaplain of Pippin and Charlemagne. He bequeathed the church sixth cell upon the river Neckar to his monastery, Saint-Denis. He also brought the bones of Saint Vitalis to Esslingen, which made it a destination for pilgrims and led to its growth.
Around 800 Esslingen became a market town, its market rights being certified in 866. In 949–953 it was a possession of Liudolf, Duke of Swabia. Esslingen received city rights in 1229 under Emperor Frederick II. During the same period the still extant Neckar bridge was built, making Esslingen a major centre for trade on the route between Italy, Switzerland, and northern Germany. Taxes provided by the bridge and market led to further growth of the town, as did the export of the highly regarded wines from the region.
The period between the 13th century and 16th century saw many conflicts between the Free Imperial City and the Counts of Württemberg (later Duchy of Württemberg). About half the population lost their lives in the Thirty Years War between 1618 and 1648 through famine or epidemics. Esslingen lost its independence as an Imperial city in 1803, becoming part of the Duchy of Württemberg.
19th century to date
The beginning of 19th century was characterised by industrialisation. Glove manufacturing, food processing, textiles, and metal working were early industries in Esslingen. On 20 November 1845 the first train ran from Cannstatt to Esslingen station.
Esslingen was occupied by U.S. soldiers in April 1945, towards the end of World War II. During the war the city suffered very little damage, thus most of the medieval appearance of its city centre has been preserved.
After the Second World War about 47,000 people moved to Esslingen, mostly refugees and displaced persons from East Germany. Housing developments in Oberesslingen and Zollberg were created to overcome the shortage of housing.