Ancient and medieval times
Although the part of town now called Buer was first mentioned by Heribert I in a document as Puira in 1003, there were hunting people on a hill north of the Emscher as early as the Bronze Age – and therefore earlier than 1000 BC. They did not live in houses as such, but in small yards gathered together near each other. Later, the Romans pushed into the area. In about 700, the region was settled by the Saxons. A few other parts of town which today lie in Gelsenkirchen's north end were mentioned in documents from the early Middle Ages, some examples being: Raedese (nowadays Resse), Middelvic (Middelich, today part of Resse), Sutheim (Sutum; today part of Beckhausen) and Sculven (nowadays Scholven). Many nearby farming communities were later identified as iuxta Bure ("near Buer").
It was about 1150 when the name Gelstenkerken or Geilistirinkirkin appeared up for the first time. At about the same time, the first church in town was built in what is now Buer. This ecclesia Buron ("church at Buer") was listed in a directory of parish churches by the sexton from Deutz, Theodericus. This settlement belonged to the Mark. However, in ancient times and even in the Middle Ages, only a few dozen people actually lived in the settlements around the Emscher basin.
Up until the middle of the 19th century, the area in and around Gelsenkirchen was only thinly settled and almost exclusively agrarian. In 1815, after temporarily belonging to the Grand Duchy of Berg, the land now comprising the city of Gelsenkirchen passed to the Kingdom of Prussia, which assigned it to the province of Westphalia. Whereas the Gelsenkirchen of that time – not including today's north-end communities, such as Buer – was put in the Amt of Wattenscheid in the Bochum district, in the governmental region of Arnsberg, Buer, which was an Amt in its own right, was along with nearby Horst joined to Recklinghausen district in the governmental region of Münster. This arrangement came to an end only in 1928.
After the discovery of coal – lovingly known as "Black Gold" – in the Ruhr area in 1840, and the subsequent industrialisation, the Cologne–Minden Railway and the Gelsenkirchen Main Railway Station were opened. In 1868, Gelsenkirchen became the seat of an Amt within the Bochum district which encompassed the communities of Gelsenkirchen, Braubauerschaft (since 1900,
Bismarck ), Schalke, Heßler, Bulmke and Hüllen.
Friedrich Grillo founded the Corporation for Chemical Industry (Aktiengesellschaft für Chemische Industrie) in Schalke in 1872, as well as founding the Vogelsang & Co. with the Grevel family (later Schalker Eisenhütte Maschinenfabrik), and also the Schalke Mining and Ironworks Association (Schalker Gruben- und Hüttenverein). A year later, and once again in Schalke, he founded the Glass and Mirror Factory Incorporated (Glas- und Spiegel-Manufaktur AG).
After Gelsenkirchen had become an important heavy-industry hub, it was raised to city in 1875.
Contrasts in the inner-city
In 1885, after Bochum district was split up, Gelsenkirchen became the seat of its own district (Kreis), which would last until 1926. The cities of Gelsenkirchen and Wattenscheid, as well as the Ämter of Braubauerschaft (in 1900, Bismarck), Schalke, Ückendorf, Wanne and Wattenscheid all belonged to the Gelsenkirchen district. A few years later, in 1896, Gelsenkirchen split off from Gelsenkirchen district to become an independent city (German: kreisfreie Stadt). In 1891, Horst was split off from the Amt of Buer, which itself was raised to city status in 1911, and to an independent city status the next year. Meanwhile, Horst became the seat of its own Amt. In 1924, the rural community of Rotthausen, which until then had belonged to the Essen district, was made part of the Gelsenkirchen district.
In 1928, under the Prussian local government reforms, the cities of Gelsenkirchen and Buer along with the Amt of Horst together became a new kreisfreie Stadt called Gelsenkirchen-Buer, effective on 1 April that year. From that time, the whole city area belonged to the governmental district of Münster. In 1930, on the city's advice, the city's name was changed to Gelsenkirchen, effective 21 May. By this time, the city was home to about 340,000 people.
In 1931, the Gelsenkirchen Mining Corporation (German: Gelsenkirchener Bergwerks-Aktien-Gesellschaft) founded the Gelsenberg Petrol Corporation (German: Gelsenberg-Benzin-AG). In 1935, the Hibernia Mining Company founded the Hydrierwerk Scholven AG GE-Buer  After 1937, Gelsenberg-Benzin-AG opened the Nordstern plant for converting bituminous coal to synthetic oil.
The 9 November 1938 Kristallnacht antisemitic riots destroyed Jewish businesses, dwellings and cemeteries, and a synagogue in Buer and one in downtown Gelsenkirchen. However, a new downtown Gelsenkirchen synagogue was opened on 1 February 2007.
Gelsenkirchen was a target of strategic bombing during World War II, particularly during the 1943 Battle of the Ruhr and the Oil Campaign. Three quarters of Gelsenkirchen was destroyed and many above-ground air-raid shelters such as near the town hall in Buer are in nearly original form.
Oberst Werner Mölders the legendary Luftwaffe Fighter pilot was born here.
The Gelsenberg Lager subcamp of KZ Buchenwald was established in 1944 to provide forced labor of about 2000 Hungarian women and girls for Gelsenberg-Benzin-AG. About 150 died during September 1944 bombing raids (shelters and protection ditches were forbidden to them).
From 1933 to 1945, the city's mayor was the appointed Nazi Carl Engelbert Böhmer. In 1994, the Institute for City History opened the documentation centre "Gelsenkirchen under National Socialism" (Dokumentationsstätte "Gelsenkirchen im Nationalsozialismus").
After the war
On 17 December 1953, the Kokerei Hassel went into operation, billed as Germany's "first new coking plant" since the war. When postal codes (Postleitzahlen) were introduced in 1961, Gelsenkirchen was one of the few cities in West Germany to be given two codes: Buer was given 466, while Gelsenkirchen got 465. These were in use until 1 July 1993. The "first comprehensive school in North Rhine-Westphalia" was opened in 1969. Scholven-Chemie AG (the old hydrogenation plant) merged with Gelsenberg-Benzin-AG to form the new corporation VEBA-Oel AG. In 1987, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass before 85,000 people at Gelsenkirchen's Parkstadion. The Pope also became an honorary member of FC Schalke 04.
In 1997, the Federal Garden Show (Bundesgartenschau or BUGA) was held on the grounds of the disused
Nordstern coalmine in Horst. In 1999, the last phase of the Internationale Bauausstellung Emscher Park, an undertaking that brought together many cities in North Rhine-Westphalia, was held. Coke was produced at the old Hassel coking works for the last time on 29 September 1999. This marked the shutdown of the last coking plant in Gelsenkirchen, after being a coking town for more than 117 years. In the same year, Shell Solar Deutschland AG took over production of photovoltaic equipment. On 28 April 2000, the Ewald-Hugo colliery closed – Gelsenkirchen's last colliery. Three thousand coalminers lost their jobs. In 2003, Buer celebrated its thousandth anniversary of first documentary mention, and FC Schalke 04 celebrated on 4 May 2004 its hundredth anniversary.
Today, Gelsenkirchen is a centre for sciences, services, and production, with good infrastructure.
The Jewish community of Gelsenkirchen was officially established in 1874, relatively late compared to the Jewish Ashkenazi communities in Germany. In a list of 1829 to determine the salary for the Chief Rabbi of Westphalia,
Abraham Sutro , three families were named: the families of Ruben Levi, Reuben Simon, and Herz Heimann families. With the growth of the town during the second half of the 20th century, its Jewish population also grew bigger, with about 120 Jews living in town in 1880, and a synagogue established in 1885. With the growth of the community, a bigger building was built to serve as the community school.
The community continued to grow and around 1,100 Jews were living in Gelsenkirchen in 1901, a number that reached its peak of 1,300 individuals in 1933. At the turn of the 20th century the Reform Jewish community was the most dominant among all Jewish communities in town, and after an organ was installed inside the synagogue, and most prayers performed mostly in German instead of traditional Hebrew, the town orthodox community decided to stop its attendance of the synagogue and tried to establish a new orthodox community, led by Dr. Max Meyer, Dr. Rubens and Abraham Fröhlich, most of them living on Florastraße. In addition, another Jewish orthodox congregation of Polish Jews was found in town. In 1908, a lot on Wanner Straße was purchased and served the community as its cemetery until 1936, today containing about 400 graves. In addition, another cemetery was built in 1927 in the suburb of
With the rise of Hitler and National Socialism in 1933, Jewish life in Gelsenkirchen was still relatively quiet. In August 1938, 160 Jewish businesses were still open in town. In October 1938, though, an official ban restricted these businesses and all Jewish doctors became unemployed. In the same month, the Jewish community of town was expelled. Between 1937 and 1939, the Jewish population of Gelsenkirchen dropped from 1,600 to 1,000. During Kristallnacht, the town synagogue was destroyed, after two thirds of the town's Jewish population had already left. On 27 January 1942, 350 among the 500 remaining Jews in town were deported to the Riga Ghetto; later, the last remaining Jews were deported to Warsaw and Theresienstadt concentration camp.
The Gelsenkirchen transport
On 31 March 1942, a Nazi deportation train set out from Gelsenkirchen and, carrying 48 Jews from the town area, made its way to the Warsaw Ghetto. The train was the first to deport Jews to Warsaw and not to Trawniki concentration camp in southern Poland, as used before. After it left Gelsenkirchen, the train was boarded by other Jews from Münster, Dortmund and a few other stops along the way, and mostly by the Jews of Hanover, 500 in number. The arrival of this transport from Westphalia and Upper Saxony was recorded in his diaries by Adam Czerniakov, the last chairman of the Warsaw Ghetto Judenrat. He stated that those older than 68 were allowed to stay in Germany. The majority of these deportees were killed later on the different death sites around modern day Poland.
After World War II
In 1946, 69 Jews returned to Gelsenkirchen and in 1958, a synagogue and cultural centre were built for the remaining community. In 2005, about 450 Jews were living in town. During the last decade of the 20th century, a noted number of Jews came to the town, after emigrating out of the former USSR. This situation made it necessary to extend the synagogue. Eventually, a new and bigger synagogue was built to serve the increasing Jewish community of Gelsenkirchen. The current community practices Orthodox Judaism, even though no family practices it at home. On 16 May 2014, antisemitic graffiti were painted on the town synagogue.
The building at Husemannstraße 75 belonged to Dr. Max Meyer, who built it between 1920 and 1921. A mezuzah sign can still be seen on the top right side of the door. On Florastraße, near Kennedyplatz, (formerly Schalker Straße 45), stands the house of the Tepper family, a Jewish family that vanished during the Holocaust. As part of the national Stolperstein project, five bricks, commemorating the Jewish inhabitants, were installed outside the house.