The river is a recent geological formation, formed by the advance and retreat of the last ice sheet during the last ice age. When the final retreat occurred 10-12,000 years ago, the glacier scooped the land and caused changes in the drainage pattern near Akron which resulted in the south-flowing Cuyahoga precurser to turn north and cause the "U" we see today. As the Cuyahoga river found it's way to Lake Erie it had to flow around glacial debris left by the receding ice sheet. The meanderings caused the river to take a 100 mile journey from its headwaters to it's mouth, which was only 30 miles when travelled directly.
Fires plagued the Cuyahoga beginning in 1936 when a spark from a blow torch ignited floating debris and oils. Fires erupted on the river several more times before June 22, 1969, when a river fire captured national attention when Time magazine described the Cuyahoga as the river that "oozes rather than flows" and in which a person "does not drown but decays." This event helped spur an avalanche of pollution control activities resulting in the Clean Water Act, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement , and the creation of the federal and state Environmental Protection Agencies. As a result, large point sources of pollution on the Cuyahoga have received significant attention from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency in recent decades. Water quality has improved and, in recognition of this improvement, the Cuyahoga River was designated as one of 14 American Heritage Rivers in 1998. Yet, pollution problems, particularly nonpoint source problems, remain. For this reason, the Environmental Protection Agency classified portions of the Cuyahoga River Watershed as one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern.