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Calw was first mentioned in records in 1037. In the 11th century, the town grew around the older castle of the Grafen (Earls) of Calw. In the Middle Ages, Calw was an important commercial town, especially for the trade of cloth and leather. In 1345, Calw became part of Württemberg, and by the 16th century, it had become the summer residence of the Duke of Württemberg. In 1634 the town was taken by the Bavarians, and in 1692 by the French. In the 18th century, Calw flourished from the lumber trade and rafting of timber on the river Nagold.
Due to her romantic relationship with a Polish guest worker, seventeen-year-old Calw resident Erna Brehm was publicly shaved bald in the town's market square in August 1941. She served eight months in jail in Calw and Stuttgart for violating NaziRassenschande ("racial shame") laws before being deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp. She was released on 1 April 1944 because she was in such poor health that she was no longer able to work. She was extremely underweight (reportedly only 34.5 kilograms or 76 pounds) and died on 19 August 1951 at the age of twenty-seven.
The district reform of 1 January 1973 gave Calw its current size. It became a part of the newly founded Northern Black Forest Region, which itself was assigned to the administrative region of Karlsruhe. On 1 January 1975, Calw was combined with the municipalities of Altburg, Hirsau and Stammheim into the town of Calw-Hirsau. On 1 January 1976, it was renamed as Calw.
Since the municipal elections of 7 June 2009 the municipal council of Calw has had a total of thirty members (previously there were only twenty-seven). Furthermore, the Lord Mayor (in German "Oberbürgermeister") acts as the chairperson of the council. The result of the last election was:
Calw is heavily pedestrianised, and has begun catering for the tourist trade with numerous shops, restaurants, bistros and ice-cream parlours being opened. This growth has allowed Calw to be considered a large town at the centre of its district.