Ipoh came into existence in the 1820s as a village at the highest navigable point of the Kinta River. It was less prominent at that time compared to the early mining town of Gopeng, 20 km south of Ipoh. Following the great fire of 1892, the town was rebuilt.

From the turn of the early 20th century, when more British tin-mining companies were set up in the city, Ipoh gained greater prominence. Influential institutions such as The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China Limited opened offices in Ipoh in 1902. It provided credit to the Straits Trading Company and later the Eastern Smelting Company. More Colonial-era firms started to set up offices in the booming town such as the stockbroker Botly and Co., A.H. Whittaker & Co., Chartered Accounts, Evatt & Co., and Estate Visiting Agents Milne & Stevens.

Its geographic location in the rich tin-bearing valley of the Kinta River made it a natural centre of growth. It grew rapidly as a mining town, especially in the 1920s and 1930s. A local Hakka miner, millionaire Yau Tet-Shin started developing a large tract of the city in the early 1930s, today known as the ‘New Town’ section from the eastern bank of the Kinta River to Greentown. In 1937, Ipoh was made the capital of Perak, replacing Taiping.

Ipoh was invaded by the Japanese on 15 December 1941. In March 1942, the Japanese Civil Administration or Perak Shu Seicho had been set up at the St. Michael’s Institution. After the liberation of Malaya by British forces, Ipoh remained the capital of Perak, till this day.

Two of the largest entertainment groups then, the Cathay Organisation and Shaw Brothers Company, set up cinema chains in Ipoh.