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 railroad to be built to Seattle, and was in the vicinity of several coal mines that attracted entrepreneurs like Erasmus M. Smithers, who is credited with the founding and establishment of the town in 1875. Smithers named Renton in honor of Captain William Renton, a local lumber and shipping merchant who invested heavily in the coal trade. 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, when 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.
The game company Wizards of the Coast also is headquartered in Renton. Providence Health System has centralized its administrative offices in Renton, along with Group Health Cooperative.
Owing to its location at the confluence of three major freeways (I-5, I-405, and SR 167), Renton's economic development team has lured a number of specialty retailers that draw consumers from around the region, including Fry's Electronics and IKEA. Some retail establishments were unwanted though, and the city successfully defended zoning restrictions on pornographic theaters before the U.S. Supreme Court in Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc.
The Renton Public Library was built directly over the Cedar River and opened in 1966. It stretches 80 feet (24 m) across the river, next to Liberty Park, and was the main branch of the city's independent library system until its 2010 annexation into the King County Library system.
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