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 1646, the Saugus Iron Works, then called Hammersmith, began operations. It was the first integrated iron works in North America as well as one of the most technologically advanced in the world. The Iron Works produced over one ton of iron a day, but was not financially successful. It closed around 1670.
In September 1687, Major Samuel Appleton was said to have given a speech from a rocky cliff near the Iron Works denouncing the tyranny of Colonial Governor Sir Edmund Andros. The place where he is said to have delivered the speech became known as Appleton's Pulpit.
Nearly 100 men from Saugus fought in the American Revolutionary War. Saugus' preacher, Parson Joseph Roby, worked to strengthen the spirit of independence in Saugus and was instrumental in seeing that Saugus sent a large contingent to fight in the war.
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.
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.
Passenger trains ran through Saugus from 1853 to 1958 on the Saugus Branch Railroad. There were three Saugus Branch stations in Saugus (Saugus Center, Cliftondale, and Pleasant Hills) and two just outside the town's borders in Lynn (East Saugus) and Revere (Franklin Park).
Following the Civil War, the Cliftondale section of Saugus became a major producer of tobacco as many of the southern tobacco plantations had been destroyed. Waitt & Bond 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".
From 1859 to 1905, 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.
On October 8, 1900, George E. Bailey was murdered at Breakheart Hill Farm in Saugus. His legs and torso would be found nine days later in Floating Bridge Pond in Lynn. His head and arms were found there the next day. After a highly publicized investigation and trial, John C. Best was found guilty of murder. He was executed on September 9, 1902.
In 1934, Breakheart Hill Forest, a private hunting retreat located in North Saugus, was purchased by the Metropolitan District Commission for use as a state park. Shortly after purchasing Breakheart, the MDC turned the land over to the Civilian Conservation Corps, which built roads and trails, planted trees, and restored two dams on the property. In 1936, Breakheart Reservation was opened to the public.
Saugus is home to the oldest barber shop in the United States. The 112-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.
The Saugus American Little League team represented New England in the 2003 Little League World Series. The team finished the tournament in 4th place. Its come-from-behind victory over Richmond, Texas in the tournament's quarterfinals was nominated for the Best Game ESPY Award.