In 1209, Stade received the "Stadtrecht" (Town privileges). In medieval times (from the 1200s to the late 1600s), Stade was a prominent member of the Hanseatic League, but was later eclipsed by Hamburg. Stade was also a part of the Swedish province of Bremen-Verden-Wildeshausen Sweden from 1645 to 1712, and some of the buildings built by the Swedes are still in use today. During the Swedish times Stade was the capital of the province.
In 1355 and in 1712, Stade suffered from the plague epidemic, which killed at least 30-40% of the city's population.
During World War II, Stade remained completely untouched by allied bombings.
In past decades, Stade has benefited greatly from the presence of chemical and aerospace industry at the Elbe River, such as Dow Chemical and Deutsche Airbus. There is also a nuclear power plant at the Elbe River, which was connected to the power grid in 1972, making it Germany's second oldest reactor. Following Germany's 2002 decision to phase out nuclear power generation, Stade was the first German plant to be affected, closing down permanently on November 14, 2003. The process of dismantling the facility is supposed to be completed by 2015. Close to the nuclear plant there is an inactive oil-fired power station, the Schilling Power Station.