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.
In 1805 the Newburyport Turnpike (now U.S. 1) was built. About four miles of this road was built in Saugus. At first the turnpike was considered a mistake, as it was built over hills and swamps and grass soon grew over the road bed. From 1840 to 1846, the tolls were discontinued and it became a public highway. The invention of the automobile resulted in an increase of traffic on the Turnpike. 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.
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. Following the American Civil War, the Cliftondale section of Saugus became a major producer of tobacco as many of the southern tobacco plantations were in ruins. The Waite & Bond tobacco house became a major producer of cigars and the snuff factory in East Saugus was the nation's largest producer of that product. Due to its thriving tobacco industry, Saugus was dubbed the "Winston-Salem of the North".
Saugus' first post office was established in 1832 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.
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 Saugus in a $50,000 debt. For this and other reasons the neighborhood of East Saugus sought to be set off from Saugus and annexed to the city of Lynn. East Saugus was unable to get a bill in both houses of the state legislature, and the issue was dropped after the town appropriated $5,000 for the laying of water pipes through East Saugus.
Saugus was home to the Franklin Park harness racing track, also known as the Old Saugus Race Track or Saugus Race Course. It closed in 1905 after local citizens complained about the questionable patrons that the racetrack attracted.
In 1911 the racetrack became an airfield. In 1912, the property was purchased by the General Aviation Corporation who named it Atwood Park in honor of their most famous pilot, Harry Atwood. The airfield saw the first airmail delivery in New England on May 30, 1912. Pioneer aviators Ruth Bancroft Law and Lincoln J. Beachey flew at Saugus. The airport closed in the 1920s.
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.
Following a June 2, 1947, referendum, the town adopted a Plan E form of government. Saugus became the first town in Massachusetts to accept this form of government. On February 16, 1948, James Shurtleff was unanimously chosen by the Board of Selectmen to become the first Town Manager of Saugus.
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.
In the 1970s, the town, led by Town Manager Francis Moorehouse, attempted to transform the area around Route 107 by having an oil refinery and a garbage incineration plant built. Although the refinery plans fell through in October 1975, the incineration plant was completed. It would become the first commercially-successful incineration plant in the U.S. and is still in operation today.
During the 1990s and 2000s, the town's Capital Improvement Plan, designed by Edward J. Collins, Jr., resulted in the construction of the new public safety building, senior center, library and public works facility. The Saugus Town Hall and the Stackpole Field clubhouse were renovated. In 2001, Town Manager Steven Angelo was able to secure federal funds to dredge the Saugus River, a project that had lingered since the 1960s.