The area encompassing Fountain Valley was originally inhabited by the Tongva people. European settlement of the area began when Manuel Nieto was granted the land for Rancho Los Nietos, which encompassed over 300,000 acres (1,200 km2), including present-day Fountain Valley. Control of the land was subsequently transferred to Mexico upon independence from Spain, and then to the United Staes as part of the Treaty Of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
The city was incorporated in 1957, before which it was known as Talbert (also as Gospel Swamps by residents). The name of Fountain Valley refers to the very high water table in the area at the time the name was chosen, and the many corresponding artesian wells in the area. Early settlers constructed drainage canals to make the land usable for agriculture, which remained the dominant use of land until the 1960s, when construction of large housing tracts accelerated.