Among the first European settlers in the present-day Renton area were Henry Tobin and his wife Diana. The town of Renton was accessed via the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad, the first example of railroad transportation in Seattle. Its location which was home to many coal mines attracted people such as Erasmus M. Smithers, who is credited with the founding and establishment of the town. Smithers discovered coal there and brought in Charles D. Shattuck as the coal mine operator. Renton was incorporated as a city on September 6, 1901. Coal mining and timber processing were the most important economic industries in the area. The town was prone to flooding from the Cedar and Black Rivers. In 1916 the completion of the Lake Washington Ship Canal lowered the surface of Lake Washington several feet which consequently eliminated drainage of Lake Washington through the Black River. The Cedar River was then diverted to drain into Lake Washington instead of the Black River. The culmination of these actions reduced the threat of annual flooding.
The population sharply increased during World War II when Boeing built their Renton Factory to produce the B-29 Superfortress.
In the mid-1990s, Renton undertook a major redevelopment effort to revitalize its downtown core, which had declined in commercial prominence since the opening of the Southcenter Mall in Tukwila in 1968. The many car dealerships that had previously occupied the center of downtown Renton were encouraged through economic incentives to relocate to a newly created auto sales zone close to the I-405/SR-167 interchange. In place of the old dealerships downtown, a new transit center and parking garage were built in partnership with King County Metro. Simultaneously, a number of privately developed mixed-use residential and retail buildings were also built within a one block radius of the transit center, allowing for one-bus commutes to Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, and other employment centers.
A new town square, The Piazza, was constructed next to the transit center, and an existing car dealership building was heavily remodeled into an events center, now known as the Pavilion Building.
Starting in the 2000s, The Piazza became home to a weekly Farmers' Market during the summer months.
Located along the shore of Lake Washington, the city began to develop a new area called The Landing in the mid 2000s. By 2008, they had their first tenants.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 23.54 square miles, of which, 23.12 square miles is land and 0.42 square miles is water, most of which is the Cedar River.
Renton is bordered to the north by the city of Newcastle. Along the east side of Renton is the border of the Urban Growth Boundary established by King County, as such there is no incorporated city directly east of Renton. The geographical characteristics of Renton's eastern border are varied and include (from north to south) the south flank of Cougar Mountain descending southward merging with the community of May Valley. The terrain then elevates south of May Valley to the communities of the East Renton Plateau before descending to the north bank of the Cedar River. Renton is bordered to the south by the city of Kent. The western border consists of the city of Tukwila. To the west is Bryn Mawr-Skyway and Seattle.
Renton has a warm-summer mediterranean climate (Köppen Csb) with warm and dry summers mixed with cloudy, wet and cool winters, as is the norm of the Pacific Northwest. Being located in a partial rain shadow and shielded from the coastal summers, Renton has more of a climate influenced by the interior than many other areas nearby.
Renton is among a handful of cities in the Puget Sound Region with an independent street grid system. Roads names beginning with sectional divisions (N 32nd ST) generally follow a latitudinal direction, while roads names ending in a sectional direction (Duvall Ave NE) generally follow a longitudinal direction. Many of the avenues in the city are named in honor of other cities in Washington.