Hawthorne's first known residents were Indians of the Shoshonian linguistic group, occupying the Southbay area as early as the 1500's. Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo caught sight of the area in October 1542, and 30 years later Sir Francis Drake sailed past the nearby coast. In 1769 title to all land in California became vested in the King of Spain, and the Southbay lands were used for the grazing of cattle. In 1822 Mexico obtained title to California from Spain. One of the ranchos subsequently formed was Sausal Redondo, named after a round clump of willows in the area. Sausal Redondo consisted of approximately 22,460 acres and included the present-day cities of El Segundo, Gardena, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Inglewood, Lawndale, Manhattan Beach, Playa del Rey, Redondo Beach, and Torrance.
In 1837 Governor Alverado of Mexico granted title to Sausal Redondo to Don Antonio Avila. When California became a United States territory in 1848 and a state in 1850, disputes arose over the ownership of the rancho. Finally, in 1855 Avila was issued a U.S. Land patent for the rancho and thus became the first legal and recorded owner of the land of present-day Hawthorne.
In 1860 Sir Robert Burnett of Crathe's Castle, Scotland came to California and purchased Sausal Redondo from Avila's heirs. He expanded the sheep and cattle raising operations and planted thousands of eucalyptus, pepper, and fruit trees. Burnett returned to Scotland in 1873 and leased (with an option to buy) the rancho to Daniel Freeman, a Canadian. Freeman restocked the ranch with sheep and cattle and continued planting trees, adding more than 13,000. After the severe droughts of 1875 and 1876, during which he lost thousands of sheep and cattle, Freeman started dry farming and grew barley. By 1880 the area was producing a million bushels of barley a year. Freeman finally used his option to buy Sausal Redondo land and in 1885 received title from Sir Robert Burnett.
In 1887 several groups of investors, encouraged by the narrow-gauge railroad being built, organized several companies and purchased large amounts of towns. One of these was the Hawthorne Land Company. Hawthorne was founded by Benjamin I. Harding and Harry Dana Lombard, who in 1905 purchased acreage from the land company, thus creating the Hawthorne Improvement Company whose purpose was to build an 80-acre town site on the waving barley fields. The name of Hawthorne was chosen by Harding's daughter, Mrs. Laurine Harding Woolwine, who shared her birthday with author Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Hawthorne was advertised as the town between the city and the sea. Special appeals were made to those who wished to raise poultry and grow vegetables. Mr. and Mrs. W.J. Anderson were the first settlers and began building their house in November of 1906 at 515 Freeman Avenue. Their son, Glenn, later served as mayor of Hawthorne, Lieutenant Governor of California, and congressman from the California 17th District.
By 1907 Hawthorne had grown to a thriving little town of over one hundred homes. Advertisements lauded Hawthorne as ideal for Homes or Investment Situated directly on the Redondo Electric Car Line - Three Stations on Property,30 Minutes Ride from the Heart of Los Angeles and right in line of Rapid Growth Toward the Harbor.
In its early days Hawthorne had but one grocery store, and meat was brought by wagon from Inglewood three times a week. There was a furniture factory, an overall factory, a glove factory, and an art leather firm. A small building served as both church and school. The school had 16 pupils ranging from kindergarten to 18 years of age. Mail service began in October 1908.
By 1921 the population had reached 2,000, and Hawthorne was incorporated in July 1922. The area was largely settled by emigrants from the Oklahoma and Texas dustbowl.
The city has a council form of Government. The first city council consisted of Mayor C. C. Butler and Councilmen Lorig, Mason, Haylett, and Millhouse. W.B. Shaw served as City Clerk.
The first census was taken in 1930 and showed 6,595 residents. In 1939 Northrop Aircraft Inc. (later Northrop Corporation and even later Northrop Grumman Corporation) moved to Hawthorne with 50 people on the payroll. Dozens of firms moved to Hawthorne to acquire Northrop subcontracts. From that time on industrial and commercial development in Hawthorne proceeded at a steady pace. Northrop and Hawthorne enjoyed a long period of prosperity and cooperation. With the growth of the aviation industry and the subsequent aerospace industry, Hawthorne became known as the Cradle of Aviation and enjoyed a boom for many years in both jobs and real estate.
The City of Hawthorne has grown from a small, largely rural community to a well-rounded mixture of business, industries and homes.