Kuala Lumpur History Facts and Timeline

(Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory, Malaysia)

Scene showing the Petronas Twin TowersKuala Lumpur is a relatively new city, with its history only dating back to the middle of the 19th century, when tin mining became prosperous in the area.

It was a fairly small settlement for its first three decades of existence and had to contend with many problems, including warring Chinese gangsters trying to gain control of the town's tin production, as well as the Selangor Civil War, diseases, floods and fires.

Flood and Redevelopment

In the year of 1881, a serious flood devastated the town, not long after it had also been severely damaged by a fire. The two disasters destroyed Kuala Lumpur's predominantly wood and thatched structures. In response, British colonial official Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham insisted that all future buildings should be made of brick, with tiled roofs.

The brick industry was subsequently set up in the area of town now known as Brickfields, or Little India. A railway line was built and road access expanded as the city began to grow. It would be a significant time in Kuala Lumpur history, as more and more people moved to the area.

History of the Capital City

Kuala Lumpur was selected to become the capital of the newly created Federated Malay States in 1896. A mixture of different ethnicities settled in various parts of the city. The Chinese communities settled near what is today known as Chinatown, to the east of the Klang River and around Market Square - which was then the city's main commercial centre. The Indians and the Malays stayed on Java Street, which is now named the Jalan Tun Perak. Meanwhile, the British administrative offices were located at the Padang, better known today as the modern Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka).

World War II and Ensuing Years

When World War II came along, the Imperial Japanese Army gained control of Kuala Lumpur in 1942 and continuously occupied it until the summer of 1945. The Japanese surrendered to the Allies just a few days after the Nagasakiand Hiroshima bombs were dropped. The city had, however, continued to expand through the war and even survived the tin and rubber commodity price crashes. The Federation of Malaya was granted its independence from Britain in 1957, with Malaysia being formed six years later. Kuala Lumpur remained as the capital.

View of Jame Mosque (Masjid Jame)

Race Riots

One of the darkest days in Kuala Lumpur's history occurred in 1969, after a build-up of racial tensions between the Chinese and the Malays resulted in the infamous race riots, with the Malays said to have been unhappy with their socio-political standing at the time. Almost 200 people died during the riots, although the day did lead to notable changes to Malaysia's economic policy, aimed at reducing the weighted power of the Chinese. The resulting affirmative action policy, which favours Malays for government positions, remains intact to this day.

Becoming a City and the Twin Towers

Kuala Lumpur was officially declared a city in 1972, becoming Malaysia's first town to be awarded this prestigious status after independence. As Kuala Lumpur grew in size and stature, it developed into a key Asian economic centre.

The Petronas Towers were built to symbolise the city's increasing importance, with construction beginning in 1992 and being completed in 1998. They were the world's tallest buildings until 2004, when the Taipei 101 skyscraper was completed. The towers still remain the tallest twin buildings in the world, dominating the Kuala Lumpur skyline when lit up during the evening.

The city has, in recent decades, been characterised by its sensible national policies under the 22-year rule of Malaysia's fourth prime minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad (in office between 1981 and 2003). The administrative centre of the country was moved to Putrajaya, a purpose-built precinct residing to the south of the city, and a new airport arrived.

Today, Kuala Lumpur is surprisingly laid-back compared to other regional capital cities, with a blend of modern shopping malls, cultural or traditional quarters, and much greenery. The suburban part of the city sprawls over a large area and contains the heart of the country's industrial production.