Jurong is probably derived from the Malay word jerung, which means a "shark". Jurong Road was cut around 1852-1853, during the time of John Thomson's tenure as Chief Surveyor. Many roads within the Jurong Industrial Estate named in the late 1960s and early 1970s drew inspiration from the nature of industrial activities in the estate and related aspects of industrialisation.
For the local Chinese population, Jurong was formerly called peng kang, a reference to a gambier plantation located in the area. After 1906, rubber plantations dominated the area — Bulim Estate, Lokyang Estate, Chong Keng Estate, Seng Toh Estate and Yunnan Estate, giving rise to many of the local names for areas in Jurong. Jurong was also once called "Goh's Folly", as some Singaporeans doubted the success of Dr Goh Keng Swee's plan to develop the area.
The government saw industrialisation as a solution to the country's economic problems and Jurong was picked as a prime area for development. Jurong's coastal waters were deep, making it suitable for a port; the land was mostly state-owned; and landfill was readily available from the area's many hills. It is also relatively far from Singapore's Central Business District and residential areas, and thus it is suitable to locate heavy industries there.
In 1961, the Economic and Development Board (EDB) was formed to industrialise Jurong and earthworks began that same year. In 1962, the then Finance Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee, laid the foundation stone for the National Iron and Steel Mills, the first factory in the new industrial estate. In 1963, 24 factories were established. In the same year, the then Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, made Jurong the initial constituency on his first visit to constituencies in the Republic. At that time, Jurong was without a citizen's consultative committee. In May 1965, Jurong Port became operational.
In 1968, the Jurong Town Corporation was created to manage Jurong's development. By this time, 14.78 square kilometres of industrial land has been prepared, 153 factories were fully functioning and 46 more were being constructed.
With the Singapore economy constantly expanding, finding space for new industries is an ever-present challenge. Seven islets off the coast of Jurong were merged to create the 30 square kilometre Jurong Island, which is to be the base for oil, petrochemical and chemical industries. Construction of Jurong Island began in the early 1990s and is scheduled to be completed in 2010. A number of plants began operating there in the late 1990s. A bridge, the Jurong Island Causeway, links Jurong Island to the mainland. Access to the island is restricted which may improve its security against terrorist attacks.
Jurong is also home to the Jurong Bird Park, the Chinese and the Japanese Gardens, the Science Centre with its Omnimax Theatre, three golf clubs and the Raffles Marina. Extensive public housing has brought an influx of residents, who are well served by shopping centres, sports facilities, schools, good road connections and the Mass Rapid Transit system.
The Keretapi Tanah Melayu railway from Malaysia used to have an extension branching out from the Bukit Timah railway station to Shipyard Road and Jurong Port via Teban Gardens. This railway extension was intended for goods transportation as Jurong lacked good roads at the time. It was opened in 1965 amid much fanfare, but failed to generate satisfactory traffic. It was consequently closed in the early 1990s, and has since been partially dismantled.