The natural salt deposits found in Jackson attracted animals and people to the location for thousands of years. Prehistoric animals inhabited and migrated to the area because it was a source of salt. In the 1970s, the fossilized remains of a woolly mammoth were found near Jackson and this particular species of the mammoth was subsequently named Elephas Jacksoni.
The City of Jackson was founded in 1817 and was one of the first settlements established in the Northwest Territory. Prior to the incorporation of the city, the original settlement was established in 1795 and known as Salt Lick Town. This name reflected the many natural salt deposits in the area. At the height of production, twenty salt furnaces (boilers) were operating along Salt Lick Creek, a small stream that runs through the city.
Jackson is located in what is referred to as the Hanging Rock Region, which spans from Kentucky to Southern Ohio and is rich in iron deposits. Other settlements along the Salt Lick Creek include Poplar Row (named for the tulip poplars that are plentiful in the area), Purgatory (most likely named for the salt furnaces), and Salt Lick Town (currently Jackson). In 1804 the first post office opened in Salt Lick Town, and in 1817 the city of Jackson was established, named after Andrew Jackson who was already nationally popular for his victory at the Battle of New Orleans.
By 1826, the salt industry in Jackson had halted and was replaced by the iron industry. Over sixty iron furnaces operated in the region during the iron boom of the mid 19th century, and eleven of these were located in Jackson County. During the Civil War, most of the iron produced in Jackson County was purchased by the Union army. As an example of the significance of iron produced in this region during the war, the U.S.S Monitor was made from iron from the Jefferson Furnace.
In 1885 the first apple orchard was established in Jackson, and during the mid 20th century, agricultural apple production replaced iron as Jackson's leading industry. In 1950 Jackson produced 500,000 bushels of apples. Although the Richards Brothers Orchard is the only orchard that remains in operation, Jackson continues to honor this heritage annually with its Apple Festival which features the largest annual parade in the state.
After World War I, all of the charcoal furnaces in the Hanging Rock Region had ceased production. The only iron furnaces left in operation were the more advanced coke furnaces that were developed in 1870. However, in Jackson, the iron industry remained the basis of the city's economy. In the 1930s, Globe Iron was the world leader in the production of silvery pig iron, a form of iron with that features a high silicon content. Globe's leading competition was Jackson Iron &Steel Company (JISCO), also located in Jackson. On September 4, 1960, the Globe Furnace exploded. At this time the Globe's sister foundry Fulton Furnace was still in operation. By 1969, however, both Globe Iron Company and JISCO were closed.
Famous residents of the town include explorer John Wesley Powell, the first person of European descent to reach the Grand Canyon. Powell lived in Jackson during the 1930s and became an amateur historian and archaeologist. Among other notable inhabitants of Jackson are country musician Bobby Bare, Ohio's longest-serving governor James A. Rhodes, and Frank Crumit, a musician and author of the Ohio State fight song.