In 1853, the area was settled by Joseph Foster, a Canadian pioneer who had traveled to the northwest from Wisconsin. Foster would become known as the "Father of Tukwila" and serve King County, Washington Territory in the legislature for 22 years. Today, Foster's legendary home on the banks of the Duwammish River is preserved as Fort Dent Park, as it also served as a military base during 1850s Indian Wars. Foster's name is also memorialized in the Foster neighborhood of Tukwila where Foster High School is located.
In the early years of "Foster, Washington", the small village would grow into an agricultural center and a vital trading point in the upper-Duwammish River Valley. Population began to grow as well, and expanded industry would soon follow. Although with the largely farm-oriented commerce in Tukwila, other businesses found fertile land in which to grow from.
Early electric rail trains traveled along Interurban Avenue in Tukwila, connecting to Renton and a line to Tacoma. The Interurban Railroad operated a commuter line from 1902 to 1928, making it possible to travel from Seattle to Tacoma in less than an hour. The first Macadam paved road in Washington State was in Tukwila and bears the name of this new method of street paving. One of the earliest paved military roads is located in the city.
Tukwila was incorporated as a city in 1908.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 9.1 square miles (23.5 km²), of which, 8.9 square miles (23.1 km²) of it is land and 0.2 square miles (0.4 km²) of it (1.65%) is water.
There were 7,186 households out of which 28.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.4% were married couples living together, 12.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 45.0% were non-families. 34.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 5.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.38 and the average family size was 3.09.
In the city the population was spread out with 24.0% under the age of 18, 10.4% from 18 to 24, 37.3% from 25 to 44, 20.5% from 45 to 64, and 7.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 109.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 108.9 males.
Poverty has long been associated with Tukwila via media-fueled stereotypes and other means of publication. Homelessness has been (and continues to be) an issue in the last decades, with city leaders struggling to find good solutions for the vicious cycle that poverty and homelessness create. In recent years however, the city and local churches have taken a different approach to dealing with the matters of poverty. In 2003 and 2004, Riverton Park United Methodist Church located in northeast Cascade View, Tukwila and The Church by the Side of the Road located in south Cascade View hosted controversial homeless camp Tent City. And since 2003, city government has increased poverty-ending oriented legislation to further resolve issues.
The city is not without its share of wealth in commerce and income, either. Tukwila is home to a median income for a household of $40,718, and the median income for a family of $42,442. Males had a median income of $35,525 versus $28,913 for females. The per capita income for the city was $22,354. About 8.8% of families and 12.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.0% of those under age 18 and 7.7% of those age 65 or over. Southcenter Mall, shopping centers, trendy stores and nearby car dealerships glamorize a once farm-based economy.