Reading's original settlers came from England in the 1630's to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Many arrived through the ports of Lynn and Salem. In 1639 some citizens of Lynn petitioned the government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for "place for an inland plantation." The General Court granted them six square miles, then an additional four. The first settlement called Lynn Village was on the south shore of the Great Pond, what is now known as Lake Quannapowitt. On June 10th, 1644 the settlement was incorporated by the House of Deputies as the Town of Reading, taking its name from Reading, England. The first church was organized soon after the settlement, and the first parish, later known as South Reading, became Wakefield in 1868. A special grant in 1651 added land north of the Ipswich River to the Town of Reading. This area in 1853 became the separate Town of North Reading. During its early years, the area which is currently the Town of Reading, was known as Wood End, or Third Parish.
In 1693, Town Meeting voted to fund public education in Reading. The funding consisted of "four pounds for three months school in the Town, two pounds for the west end of the Town, and one pound for those north of the Ipswich River." Within the present Town of Reading, the Parker Tavern is the Town's oldest remaining seventeenth century structure, built in 1694. This property is currently owned and operated by the Reading Antiquarian Society, which is a non-profit corporation. In 1769, the meetinghouse, in what is now Reading was built. It was constructed in the area which is currently the Common in Reading. A stone marker commemorates the site.
Reading played an active role in the American Revolutionary War. Minute Men were prominently involved in the engagements pursuing the retreating British Red Coats after the skirmish at Concord Bridge. Dr. John Brooks, Captain of the "Fourth Company of Minute" remained in the army for eight years of distinguished service, including White Plains and Valley Forge. He later became the ninth governor of Massachusetts. Only one Reading soldier was killed in action during the Revolution. Joshua Eaton died in the battle of Saratoga in 1777.
In 1791, sixty members of the "West Parish" which is the current Town of Reading, started the Federal Library. This was a subscription Library with each member paying S1.00 to join, and annual dues of S.25. The Town's public library was created in 1868.
The Andover-Medford Turnpike, a private corporation, currently Main Street or Route 28, was built in 1806-7. This provided the citizens of Reading with a better means of travel to the Boston area. In 1845, the Boston & Maine Railroad came to Reading and improved the access to Boston, and the southern markets. During the first half of the nineteen century, Reading became a manufacturing town. Sylvester Harnden's furniture factory, Daniel Pratt's clock factory, and Samuel Pierce's organ pipe factory were major businesses. By the mid 1800's, Reading had thirteen establishments that manufactured chairs and cabinets. The making of shoes began as a cottage industry and expanded to large factories. Neckties were manufactured here for about ninety years. During and after Civil War the southern markets for Reading's products declined and several of its factories closed.
Reading members of the Richardson Light Guard of South Reading fought at the first battle of Bull Run. The second company was formed as part of the Grand Army of the Potomac, and a third company joined General Bank's expedition in Louisiana. A total of 411 men from Reading fought in the Civil War, of whom 15 died in action and 33 died of wounds and sickness. A memorial exists in the Laurel Hill Cemetery commemorating those who died in the Civil War.
Following the Civil War, Reading became a residential community with excellent commuting service to Boston. Industrial expansion during that time included the precursor of General Tire & Rubber Company off Ash Street. Additional businesses created after World War I included the Boston Stove Foundry, Ace Art, and several other companies. The business community currently consists of a number of retail and service businesses in the downtown area, as well as the Analytical Sciences Corporation (TASC).
The governmental structure of the Town of Reading has evolved since its creation in 1644. Initially, the government consisted of a Town Meeting and a Board of Selectmen. During the early years of the Town, this governmental structure was adequate for the needs of the community. As the Town grew and the needs of its population evolved, the Town of Reading adopted the representative Town Meeting. This form of government replaced the open Town Meeting in 1944. More recently, the residents of Reading adopted the Reading Home Rule Charter in March of 1986. This form of government focused the policy and decision making function in a very few elected boards and committees, and provided for the creation of the Town Manager position to be responsible for day to day operations of the local government. In 1994, Reading celebrated its 350th Anniversary of incorporation as a Town.