The village of Kehl was first mentioned in 1038. In 1338 the first permanent bridge between Kehl and Strasbourg was completed. In 1678 the city was taken over by France, as it was considered to be part of the defence system of Strasbourg. Hence the village was transformed into a fortress in 1683 by the French architect Vauban.
In 1681, the Imperial City of Strasbourg, a territory of the Holy Roman Empire that included Kehl, was annexed by Louis XIV, King of France. This annexation was recognised by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, but all right-bank territories were restored to the Empire, leading to Kehl's cession to the Margraviate of Baden the following year.
On May 7, 1770, Marie Antoinette was officially handed over by Austria to France on an island on the Rhine near Kehl. This island was settled in the years before the First World War and became known as Kommissionsinsel after the commission that took over Marie Antoinette.
In 1774, Kehl received town rights by the Charles Frederick, Margrave of Baden. The village was badly damaged during the French Revolutionary Wars, especially during the Rhine Campaign of 1796, during the first and second battles of Kehl, and it was besieged by the Austrians in late 1796 until its surrender on 9 January 1797. During the First French Empire, Kehl was reunited with Strasbourg under the French First Republic, before being restored to Baden (now raised to an Electorate) in 1803. After briefly being subject to Austria, the city was finally returned to Baden (now a Grand Duchy) in 1815 and the fortress was dismantled.
Between 1842 and 1847, the first port facility was created by the Baden State Railway Administration. In 1861, the first railway bridge was built and the first direct connection from Paris to Vienna was established, with locomotives being changed over in Kehl.
After the First World War, under article 65 of the Treaty of Versailles the harbour of Kehl was placed under French administration for seven years to prevent possible German attacks on the opposite newly French town of Strasbourg.
During the Second World War, after the Battle of France, Kehl was turned into a suburb of Strasbourg. After the war, all citizens were expelled from Kehl. This state continued until 1953, when the city was returned to the Federal Republic of Germany and the refugees returned.
Until 1519, Kehl was part of the diocese of Strasbourg. Then, the village had to change religion at the order of the margraves and the first Lutheran minister took office. During the French occupation of the 1690s, Kehl became Roman Catholic again, only to revert to Lutheranism after being ceded back to the margrave of Baden. From the early 19th century up to 1914, Lutherans and Catholics shared one church building; then, as the first building on the Kommissionsinsel the Catholic Church of St. Johann Nepomuk was erected.
Several free churches are situated in Kehl, as well as Mennonites and the New Apostolic Church.
The French city of Strasbourg lies next to Kehl over the Rhine river. Kehl station is located near the Pont de l'Europe bridge, which can be crossed on foot to enter Strasbourg. Bus line 21 used to connect Kehl with the nearest tram stations in Strasbourg. A tram link to Strasbourg has since been completed, as part of the extension of Strasbourg's tram line D. It opened on April 28, 2017 to Kehl station and will be extended to Kehl city center by the end of 2017 or 2018.