The village of Kehl was first mentioned 1038. In 1338 the first permanent bridge between Kehl and Strasbourg was completed. In 1678 the city was taken over by France, as it was considered to be part of the defence system of Strasbourg. Hence the village was transformed into a fortress in 1683 by the French architect Vauban.
In 1689, the Imperial City of Strasbourg, a territory of the Holy Roman Empire that included Kehl, was annexed by Louis XIV, King of France. This annexation was recognised by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, but restored all right-bank territories to the Empire, leading to Kehl's cession to the Margraviate of Baden the following year, falling to Baden-Durlach on the partition of the margraviate in 1771.
On May 7, 1770, Marie Antoinette was officially handed over by Austria to France on an island on the Rhine near Kehl. This island was settled in the years before the First World War and became known as Kommissionsinsel after the commission that took over Marie Antoinette.
In 1774, Kehl received town rights by the Charles Frederick, Margrave of Baden. During the Great French War, Kehl was reunited with Strasbourg under the French First Republic, before being restored to Baden (now raised to an Electorate) in 1803. After briefly being subject to Austria, the city was finally returned to Baden (now a Grand Duchy) in 1815 and the fortress was dismantled.
Between 1842 and 1847, the first port facility was created by the Baden State Railway Administration. In 1861, the first railway bridge was built and the first direct connection from Paris to Vienna was established, with locomotives being changed over in Kehl.
After the First World War, under article 65 of the Treaty of Versailles the harbour of Kehl was placed under French administration for seven years to prevent possible German attacks on the opposite newly French town of Strasbourg.
During the Second World War, after the Battle of France, Kehl was turned into a suburb of Strasbourg. After the war, all citizens were expelled from Kehl. This state continued until 1953, when the city was returned to the Federal Republic of Germany and the refugees returned.
Germany and France co-hosted the Strasbourg–Kehl NATO Summit 2009, held partially in Kehl, in April 2009. Kehl's participation in the summit was limited to the official NATO Summit photo opportunity at the Passerelle pedestrian bridge.