Luton is the home town of the Luton Town F.C football club. Their nickname, "The Hatters", dates back to when Luton had a substantial straw hat-making industry.
Settlements have existed on the site since the paleolithic era. The Roman settlement in the area was concentrated at Durocobrivis and Verulamium. The foundation of Luton is usually dated to the 6th century when a Saxon outpost was founded on the river Lea, Lea tun. Luton is recorded in the Domesday Book as Loitone, its population was 700. The town had a market for surrounding villages and grew steadily, if slowly. By the 14th century the town had two fairs each year.
The agriculture base of the town changed in the 16th century with a brick making industry and in the 17th century when the hat making began, by the 18th century the straw hat business dominated the town as its only significant industry. Luton Hoo was first built in 1757.
The town grew strongly in the 19th century, in 1801 the population was 3,000 by 1850 it was 10,000 and by 1901 it was almost 39,000. The town had its first town hall opened in 1847, was connected to the railway system in 1858 and had a complete water and sewage sytem by the late 1860s. Luton was made a borough in 1876 and the current football club was founded in 1885.
In the 20th century the hat trade vanished but was replaced by newer industries. Vauxhall Motors opened a car plant in the town in 1905 and a number of other light engineering businesses also opened in the early 20th century. The town had a tram system from 1908 until 1932 and the first cinema was opened in 1909. The old town hall was burned down in 1919 and not replaced until 1936. By 1914 the town's population reached 50,000. Luton Airport was opened in 1938, owned and operated by the council. In WW II the town suffered a number of air raids, although only 107 people died there was extensive damage.
Post-war the slum clearance continued and a number of substantial estates of council housing were built, notably at Farley Hill, Stopsley, Limbury and Leagrave. The M1 passed just to the west of the town from 1959 and a substantial covered shopping centre, the Arndale Centre, was opened in 1972.
Flights from the airport increased substantially from the 1960s as new charter airlines (e.g. Court Line) flew from there rather than the London airports. Despite problems in the 1970s a new terminal was added in 1985. The airport was renamed London Luton Airport in 1990, just before Ryanair took its business to Stansted. The growth of new low cost flights rejuvenated the airport and passenger numbers more than doubled from 1992 to 1998. In 1999 a new terminal was added and a new railway station, Luton Airport Parkway, was opened.
In 2000 Vauxhall announced the end of car production in Luton, the plant closed in March 2002. At its peak it had employed around 35,000 people.