The original inhabitants of the area now occupied by the city of La Puente were the Tongva. They lived in a village called Awingna, which linguists translate as "abiding place." The Awingna chief Matheo (who also held sway over several other nearby villages) was baptized at Mission San Gabriel in 1774.
With the establishment of Mission San Gabriel, the area encompassing Awingna and what is now the city of La Puente became part of Rancho La Puente, established as a mission outpost and ranch. The rancho was visited by the Jedediah Smith party in November 1826, the first Americans to travel overland to California.
Following secularization of the missions in the 1830s, former mission ranchos passed into private ownership. In 1842, John Rowland and William Workman were granted the Rancho La Puente. In 1884, the area was named Puente (bridge in Spanish; in old Spanish the noun was often feminine, as opposed to modern Spanish el puente).
The area was known for its fruit and walnut groves during the 1930s. The city was even home to the world's largest walnut packing plant. Today, the city is heavily urbanized, but the area still has some historical landmarks from its founding days nearby, for instance, the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum in neighboring City of Industry.
Redevelopment of the business districts in La Puente have been ongoing. However, the local government has been relatively unsuccessful in its attempts to attract big-box retailers and restaurant chains. La Puente retains many aging 1950s-era strip malls.