Rugby was an early Iron age settlement,and a few miles outside what is now Rugby, a Roman settlement known as Tripontium was founded.
Rugby became a small Anglo-Saxon farming settlement, and was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Rocheberie. Rugby obtained a charter to hold a market in 1255, and soon developed into a small country market town.

The name's likeliest origin is Anglo-Saxon Hrōca burh or similar = "Rook fort", where Rook may be the bird or may be a man's name. Another theory is that the name is originally derived from an old Celtic name Droche-brig meaning "wild hilltop". The change to -by is because of Viking influence: there are other place names ending in -by in the area ('By' meaning town in Norwegian, Swedish and Danish even today).

Rugby School was founded in 1567 by money left in the will of Lawrence Sheriff, a locally born grocer, who moved to London and earned his fortune. Rugby School was originally intended as a school for local boys, but over time became a mostly fee-paying private school.
The Lawrence Sheriff School was eventually founded in the late 19th century to carry on Sheriff's original intentions.

Rugby is most famous for the invention of rugby football, which is played throughout the world. The invention of the game is credited to William Webb Ellis whilst breaking the existing rules of a football match played in 1823, by picking up the ball and running, at Rugby School.
Rugby School is one of England's oldest and most prestigious public schools, and was the setting of Thomas Hughes's semi-autobiographical masterpiece Tom Brown's Schooldays. A substantial part of the 2004 dramatisation of the novel, starring Stephen Fry, was filmed on location at Rugby School.The town also inspired Thomas Hughes, (author of Tom Brown's Schooldays) to set up a colony in America, for the younger sons of the English gentry, who couldn't inherit under the laws of primogeniture. He named the town Rugby. The town of Rugby, Tennessee still exists today.

Rugby remained a sleepy country market town until the 19th century and the coming of the railways.

In 1838 the London and Birmingham Railway was constructed around the town, and in 1840 the Midland Counties Railway made a junction with the London and Birmingham at Rugby. Rugby became an important railway junction, and the proliferation of rail yards and workshops attracted workers to the town. Rugby's population grew from just 2,500 in 1835, to over 10,000 by the 1880s.

Rugby became famous for its once hugely important railway junction which was the setting for Charles Dickens's story Mugby Junction. In the 1890s and 1900s heavy engineering industries began to set up in the town, and Rugby rapidly grew into a major industrial centre.
Rugby expanded rapidly in the early decades of the 20th century as workers moved into the town. By the 1940s, the population of Rugby had grown to over 40,000.

In the 1960s-70s Rugby became well served by the motorway network, with the M1 and M6 merging close to the town.

Rugby is also a birthplace of the jet engine. In April 1937 Frank Whittle built the world's first prototype jet engine at the British Thomson-Houston works in Rugby, and between 1936-41 based himself at Brownsover Hall on the outskirts of the town, where he designed and developed early prototype engines. Much of his work was also carried out at nearby Lutterworth.
Holography was also invented in Rugby by the Hungarian inventor Dennis Gabor in 1947.
 
The modern town of Rugby is an amalgamation of the original town with the former villages of Bilton, Hillmorton, Brownsover and Newbold-on-Avon which were incorporated into Rugby in 1932 when the town became a borough;all except Brownsover still have their former village centres. Rugby also includes the areas of New Bilton, Overslade and Hillside. The spread of Rugby has reached the villages of Clifton-upon-Dunsmore, Cawston, Dunchurch and Long Lawford.

The town centre is mostly Victorian and early 20th century, however a few much older buildings survive, along with some more modern developments.
Rugby was described by Nikolaus Pevsner as 'Butterfieldtown' due to the number of buildings designed by William Butterfield in the 19th century, including much of Rugby School and the extension of St Andrews church.

Rugby town centre includes numerous restaurants of various kinds and many pubs.
The town centre is noted for its large number of pubs; in the 1960s it was recorded as having the second-highest number of pubs per square mile in England.
The main shopping area in Rugby is in the streets around the Clock Tower, two of which - High Street and Sheep Street - are pedestrianised. The town centre has an indoor shopping centre called The Clock Towers which opened in 1980. A street market is held in the town centre several days a week. In recent years several out-of-town retail centres have opened to the north of the town.
The Junction One Retail park has a multiplex cinema and a large tenpin bowling alley.

 Rugby also contains several large parks, most notably Caldecott Park near the town hall,which won a Silver Gilt Achievement award in the Britain In Bloom competition.

Rugby's economy is mainly industrial. It is an engineering centre and has a long history of producing gas and steam turbines at the GEC and at the AEI. The AEI was earlier British Thomson-Houston or BTH. They used to dominate employment in the town. They are now amalgamated to form Alstom. Engineering in Rugby is still the most important sector.Another major industry in Rugby is cement making; Rugby Cement works, on the western outskirts of the town, makes cement from the local Jurassic Lias limestone. The cement industry in Rugby dates back to the 1860s. In the 1990s the Rugby Cement works was dramatically expanded, and in 2000 other Rugby Cement plants
at Southam and Rochester were closed, with all production moved to the Rugby plant,now one of the largest of its type in Europe.
Since the 1980s several large industrial estates have been built to the north of the town, and warehousing and distribution have become major employers.

Tourism is also important to the town's economy, especially related to Rugby football.

The town has statues of three famous locals: Rupert Brooke (Poet), Thomas Hughes (Writer) and William Webb Ellis (Inventor of Rugby Football).
The Rupert Brooke statue is situated at the forked junction of Regent Street on the green and commemorates his contribution to poetry. Thomas Hughes' statue stands in the gardens of the Temple Reading Rooms (the central library of Rugby school) on Barby Road. Since England won the Rugby World Cup, the William Webb Ellis statue outside Rugby School is one of the most visited parts of the town.

St Andrew's Church, in the town centre, is Rugby's original parish church. A church has stood on the site since the 13th century. The church was extensively re-built and expanded in the 19th century, designed by William Butterfield. The expanded church included a new east tower, which has a spire 182 feet (55 m) high. However some parts of the older medieval church were retained,most notably the 22 metre high west tower which bears strong resemblance to a castle turret. The west tower was probably built during the reign of Henry III (1216–1272) to serve a defensive as well as religious role, and is Rugby's oldest building. The church has other artefacts of medieval Rugby including the 13th-century parish chest, and a medieval font.

Rugby's main Roman Catholic church is St. Maries on Dunchurch Road. It is one of the town's most well-known landmarks as it is quite dominant on the skyline. Its spire is the tallest in Warwickshire.The church was built in 1872, designed by Pugin in the Early English style.

Places of interest in the town include:
The Rugby School Museum, which has audio-visual displays about the history of Rugby School and of the town.
The combined art gallery and museum. The art gallery contains a nationally recognised collection of contemporary art. The museum contains, amongst other things, Roman artefacts dug up from the nearby Roman settlement of Tripontium.
The Rugby Football Museum, where traditional rugby balls are handmade. It contains much rugby football memorabilia.

Places of interest around Rugby include:
Brandon Marsh
Coombe Abbey and Coombe Country Park
Draycote Water - Reservoir and nature reserve
Oxford Canal
Stanford Hall
Ryton Organic Gardens

Rugby, being located near the center of England is well served by transport links. The M1 & M6 Motorways link just outside the town and the A5, A45 and A46 trunk roads are also all nearby.
By rail Rugby is served by the West Coast Main Line railway, and has services to London - Birmingham and the North West of England and has a recently refurbished railway station.
Stagecoach Ltd has a large bus depot adjacent to the railway station.
The nearest Airport is Birmingham.