Although the first account of its existence dates from 1332, Łódź remained a small town until the beginning of the 19th century (the population in 1800 was a mere 428). In the 1820s the government of the Congress Kingdom of Poland – eyeing the town's advantageous position between Russia and Prussia – chose Łódź as a new textile centre.
Enterprising industrialists – primarily Jews, but also Poles, Germans and Russians – rushed in to build textile mills, closely followed by thousands of workers. The wealthy mill owners built opulent palaces (the Historical Museum of Łódź and the Cinematography Museum currently fill two of them), while workers occupied purpose-built tenements surrounding the factories. By 1921 Łódź had grown a thousandfold, reaching a population of 432,000.
Following WWI, the city's fortunes began to falter. With the newly created independent Poland, the city lost access to the huge Russian market, and then came the Great Depression. WWII changed the city forever, as the Nazis first incarcerated Łódź's massive Jewish community, and then transported the residents to extermination camps. More than 200,000 people passed through Łódź's wartime ghetto, and only a fraction survived.
The communists continued textile production into the modern age, but skimped on investment and the city lost its competitive advantage. The fall of the regime in 1989 left a city in decline, with a largely impoverished population dependent on an industry that was rapidly disappearing.
Around the year 2000, the city's leaders decided to embark on a path of renewal, embracing the city's industrial heritage and carving out today's quirky, likeable and historically complex destination.