Herzogenrath began in the 11th century as a settlement called Rode near the river Wurm. In 1104, Augustinian monks founded an abbey, called Kloosterrade, to the west of this settlement.
It became 's-Hertogenrode or 's-Hertogenrade (Dutch: the Duke's Rode) after the Duchy of Brabant took control of the region; in French it was called Rolduc (Rode-le-Duc).
As is the case for many parts of Duchy of Brabant, Herzogenrath changed hands several times in the last few centuries. Together with the rest of the Southern Netherlands, it was under Spanish control from 1661, Austrian between 1713 and 1795 and French between 1795 and 1813. In 1815, when the Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed under the terms of the Vienna Congress, the border was drawn through the town, the eastern part being Prussian Herzogenrath and the western part Dutch Kerkrade. The former abbey is now the Rolduc Congress Center in Kerkrade.
Until the 1950s, Herzogenrath's economy was dominated by coal mines and a nearby coking plant. While some remains of the mining industry still form parts of the landscape in the form of overgrown slag heaps, today's Herzogenrath has moved into other industries. Large-scale employers include Saint-Gobain, Aixtron, Vetrotex (textile glass) and Ericsson Eurolab (electronics). The city hosts a number of electronics start-ups, profiting from the neighbouring Technical University RWTH Aachen.