In 1800, Ebenezer Zane helped establish the settlement of Lancaster where Zane's Trace crossed the Hocking River. Many German settlers used the road to travel westward from Pennsylvania and settled in the new community. Signs in this community were printed in both English and German. Enough people of Germanic descent lived in Lancaster by 1809 that a German language newspaper, Der Ohio Adler, was published. The town became an important commercial center in the region and a number of skilled craftsmen and small businesses were located within its boundaries. By the War of 1812, the community had approximately 350 residents and was the Fairfield County seat.
The community grew quickly after the completion of the Lancaster Lateral Canal in 1834. The Hocking Canal also connected Lancaster to Athens, Ohio, in 1841. The community gained additional markets for its products in 1854, after a railroad came to town. Most early businesses were linked to agriculture, but glass production, cloth production and the discovery of natural gas also spurred Lancaster's economic growth. Glass dinnerware produced in the city spread across the United States thanks to the canals and railroads.
Numerous prominent Americans were either born or lived in Lancaster. Among the most famous is William Tecumseh Sherman, a Civil War general. His brother John Sherman also lived in Lancaster. He was a Secretary of the Treasury and a Secretary of State, as well as a United States Senator. Thomas Ewing, another United States Senator and the first Secretary of the Interior, lived in Lancaster for part of his life. Henry Stanberry, an Attorney General of the United States, also came from Lancaster. In addition to these men, three Ohio governors have called Lancaster home.
Other claims of fame for Lancaster include the Fairfield County Fair. The Fairfield County Fair is the longest operating county fair in Ohio. It has been held every year since 1850.
Today, Lancaster has more than thirty-five thousand residents. Many of these people have found employment in various glass production companies, including Anchor Hocking Glass Company, located in the community, while other residents make the thirty-mile commute to Columbus each day. Lancaster also has a growing tourism industry. Among the city's more prominent sites are the Sherman house, birthplace of William Tecumseh Sherman, the Georgian, the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio, and the Glass Museum of Ohio.