The Tongva had a settlement called Wapijangna in the Santa Ana River watershed. Some residents of Wapijanga were baptized at Mission San Gabriel, which was established in 1771. The Spanish crown claimed the land until Mexican independence was finalized and possession fell to the Mexican government.
Some twenty years later, Mexican governor of Alta California Juan Bautista Alvarado granted Rancho Santa Ana del Chino to Antonio Maria Lugo of the prominent Lugo family. Two years later, his successor, Governor Micheltorena, granted an additional three leagues to Lugo’s son-in-law Isaac Williams, who took charge of the rancho. Williams kept large quantities of horses and cattle, which attracted the envy of raiding Native Americans as well as unscrupulous whites. One of the latter was James Beckwourth, who, in 1840, posed as an otter hunter and stayed at Rancho Chino to determine the location of the area’s animals, which he then reported to Walkara, the Ute mastermind of the raids.
Early in the Mexican–American War, the Battle of Chino took place at Williams’ rancho. The battle ended prior to the arrival of the Mormon Battalion, dispatched on behalf of the United States, who instead labored in the rancho’s agricultural harvest and constructed a grist mill.
During the California Gold Rush, the rancho was a popular stopover for travelers, and in the mining fury, coal was discovered there. In 1850, California was admitted to the union, and the process of separating privately held lands from the public domain began. The Williams claim to the Chino Rancho was patented in 1869.
Richard Gird was the next owner of the Rancho. Beginning in 1887, his land was subdivided and laid out. It became the “Town of Chino,” and incorporated into a city in 1910. Sugar beets, corn, and alfalfa were raised there.
The Chino Valley, located at the foot of an alluvial plain with fertile topsoil reaching depths of 4 feet (1.2 m), was an agricultural mecca from the 1890s up through the mid-20th century. Sugar beets were a significant part of the economy in the early 1900s, followed by sweet corn (marketed as “Chino corn” throughout the Pacific coast area), peaches, walnuts, tomatoes, and strawberries. The city’s official logo/crest features an overflowing cornucopia.
The dairy industry flourished from the 1950s through the 1980s, with dairy-friendly zoning in the southwest corner of San Bernardino County encouraging many ethnic Dutch families to locate there and become the cornerstone of the industry. Chino’s large, highly efficient dairies made it the largest milk-producing community in the nation’s largest milk-producing state.
Because of its pastoral setting and rural flavor, Chino was a popular site for Hollywood crews to shoot “Midwestern” settings. 1960s movies included Bus Riley’s Back in Town starring Ann-Margret and Michael Parks; The Stripper, with Joanne Woodward; and the mid-1960s TV series Twelve O’Clock High, refashioning Chino’s rural airport into a British airfield with quonset huts among farm fields.
In the 1970s, Chino developed into a small suburban city, forming the western anchor of the Inland Empire region, and now the city’s development has gradually taken on a more middle-class character. There are still many industrial areas as well as farm animals such as goats and chickens. According to the 2004 FBI UCR, the city had about 3.6 violent crimes per 1,000 population, which is typical for an American suburb, and its property crime below average.
On July 11, 2017, in a special election, Chino voters voted against Measure H, which would have allowed 30 acres (12 ha) of rural land located near Ontario to be used to build a total of 180 new homes by home builder D.R. Horton. The measure faced considerable opposition from city residents, despite support from the Chino Chamber of Commerce and school district.