at the confluence of Gombak
(left) and Klang
(right) rivers. The earliest settlement of Kuala Lumpur developed on the eastern side of the river bank (to the right in this picture).
Kuala Lumpur means "muddy confluence" in Malay; kuala is the point where two rivers join together or an estuary, and lumpur means "mud". One suggestion is that it was named after Sungai Lumpur ("muddy river"); it was recorded in the 1820s that Sungei Lumpoor was the most important tin-producing settlement up the Klang River. Doubts however have been raised on such a derivation as Kuala Lumpur lies at the confluence of Gombak River and Klang River, therefore should rightly be named Kuala Gombak as the point where one river joins a larger one or the sea is its kuala. It has been argued by some that Sungai Lumpur is in fact Gombak River (therefore the point where it joined the Klang River would be Kuala Lumpur), although Sungai Lumpur is said to be another river joining the Klang River a mile upstream from the Gombak confluence, or perhaps located to the north of the Batu Caves area.
It has also been proposed that Kuala Lumpur was originally named Pengkalan Lumpur ("muddy landing place") in the same way that Klang was once called Pengkalan Batu ("stone landing place"), but became corrupted into Kuala Lumpur. Another suggestion is that it was initially a Cantonese word lam-pa meaning 'flooded jungle' or 'decayed jungle'. There is no firm contemporary evidence for these suggestions other than anecdotes. It is also possible that the name is a corrupted form of an earlier but now unidentifiable forgotten name.
It is unknown who founded or named the settlement called Kuala Lumpur. Chinese miners were involved in tin mining up the Selangor River in the 1840s about ten miles north of present-day Kuala Lumpur, and Mandailing Sumatrans led by
Raja Asal and
Sutan Puasa were also involved in tin mining and trade in the Ulu Klang region before 1860, and Sumatrans may have settled in the upper reaches of Klang River in the first quarter of the 19th century, possibly earlier. Kuala Lumpur was originally a small hamlet of just a few houses and shops at the confluence of Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang (Klang River) before it grew into a town. It is generally accepted that Kuala Lumpur become established as a town circa 1857, when the Malay Chief of Klang, Raja Abdullah bin Raja Jaafar, aided by his brother Raja Juma'at of Lukut, raised funds from Malaccan Chinese businessmen to hire some Chinese miners from Lukut to open new tin mines here. The miners landed at Kuala Lumpur and continued their journey on foot to Ampang where the first mine was opened. Kuala Lumpur was the furthest point up the Klang River to which supplies could conveniently be brought by boat; it therefore became a collection and dispersal point serving the tin mines.
Kapitan Yap Ah Loy
, the third Chinese Kapitan of Kuala Lumpur
Although the early miners suffered a high death toll due to the malarial conditions of the jungle, the Ampang mines were successful, and the first tin from these mines was exported in 1859. At that time Sutan Puasa was already trading near Ampang, two traders from Lukut, Hiu Siew and Yap Ah Sze, then arrived in Kuala Lumpur where they set up shops to sell provisions to miners in exchange for tin. The town, spurred on by tin-mining, started to develop centred on Old Market Square (Medan Pasar), with roads radiating out towards Ampang as well as Pudu and Batu where miners also started to settled in, and Petaling and Damansara. The miners formed gangs among themselves; and fights between different gangs were frequent in this period, particularly between factions of Kuala Lumpur and Kanching, mainly to gain control of the best tin mines. Leaders of the Chinese community were conferred the title of Kapitan Cina (Chinese headman) by the Malay chief, and Hiu Siew the early Chinese trader was chosen as the first Kapitan of Kuala Lumpur. The third Chinese Kapitan of Kuala Lumpur, Yap Ah Loy, was appointed in 1868.
Important Malay figures of early Kuala lumpur also include Haji Mohamed Tahir who became the Dato Dagang ("chief of traders"). The Minangkabaus from Sumatra became another important group of peoples who traded and established tobacco plantations in the area. Notable Minangkabaus include their headman Dato' Sati, Utsman Abdullah, and Haji Mohamed Taib who was involved in the early development of Kampung Baru. The Minangkabaus are also important socio-religious figures, for example Utsman bin Abdullah was the first kadi of Kuala Lumpur as well as Muhammad Nur bin Ismail.
Beginning of modern Kuala Lumpur
Part of a panoramic view of Kuala Lumpur c. 1884
. To the left is the Padang
. The buildings were constructed of wood and atap before regulations were enacted by Swettenham in 1884 requiring buildings to use bricks and tiles. The appearance of Kuala Lumpur transformed rapidly and greatly in the following years.
Early Kuala Lumpur was a small town that suffered from many social and political problems – the buildings were made of wood and atap (palm frond thatching) that were prone to fire, lack of proper sanitation plagued the town with diseases, and it suffered from a constant threat of flooding. The town became embroiled in the Selangor Civil War due in part to the fight for control of revenues from the tin mines. The Chinese Kapitan Yap Ah Loy aligned himself with Tengku Kudin, and the rival Chinese gang allied themselves with Raja Mahdi. Raja Asal and Sutan Puasa also switched side to Raja Mahdi, and Kuala Lumpur was captured in 1872 and burnt to the ground. Yap escaped to Klang where he reassembled a fighting force. Kuala Lumpur was recaptured by Yap in March 1873 when Raja Mahdi forces were defeated with the help of fighters from Pahang. The war and other setbacks, such as a drop in tin prices, led to a slump, furthermore a major outbreak of cholera caused many to flee the town. The slump lasted until late 1879, when a rise in the price of tin allowed the town to recover. In late 1881, the town was severely flooded, following a fire that had destroyed the entire town in January that year. That the town was rebuilt a few times and thrived was due in large part to the tenacity and persistence of Yap Ah Loy. Yap, together with Frank Swettenham who was appointed the Resident in 1882, were the two most important figures of early Kuala Lumpur with Swettenham credited with its rapid growth and development and its transformation into a major urban centre.
The early Chinese and Malay settlements were along the east bank of the Klang River – the Chinese mainly settled around the commercial centre of Market Square; the Malays, later Indian Chettiars and Indian Muslims resided in the Java Street (now Jalan Tun Perak) area. In 1880, the state capital of Selangor was moved from Klang to the more strategically advantageous Kuala Lumpur by the colonial administration, and the British Resident William Bloomfield Douglas then decided that the government buildings and living quarters should be located to the west of the river. Government offices and a new police headquarters was built on Bukit Aman, and the Padang was created initially for police training. The Padang, now known as Merdeka Square, would later become the centre of the British administrative offices when the colonial government offices were moved to the Sultan Abdul Samad Building in 1897.
Frank Swettenham, on becoming the British Resident, began improving the town by cleaning up the streets. He also stipulated in 1884 that buildings should be constructed of brick and tile so that they would be less flammable, and that the town be rebuilt with wider streets to reduce fire risk. Kapitan Yap Ah Loy bought a sprawling piece of real estate to set up a brick industry for the rebuilding of Kuala Lumpur; this place is the eponymous Brickfields. Destroyed atap buildings were replaced with brick and tiled ones, and many of the new brick buildings are characterised by the "" as well as Chinese carpentry work. This resulted in a distinct eclectic shop house architecture typical to this region. Kapitan Yap Ah Loy expanded road access in the city significantly, linking up tin mines with the city; these roads include the main arterial routes of the present Ampang Road, Pudu Road and Petaling Street. As Chinese Kapitan, he was vested with wide powers on a par with Malay community leaders. Law reforms were implemented and new legal measures introduced to the assembly. Yap also presided over a small claims court. With a police force of six, he was able to uphold the rule of law, constructing a prison that could accommodate 60 prisoners at any time. Kapitan Yap Ah Loy also built Kuala Lumpur's first school and a major tapioca mill in Petaling Street of which the Selangor's Sultan Abdul Samad held an interest.
A railway line between Kuala Lumpur and Klang, initiated by Swettenham and completed in 1886, increased accessibility which resulted in the rapid growth of the town. The population grew from 4,500 in 1884 to 20,000 in 1890. As development intensified in the 1880s, it also put pressure on sanitation, waste disposal and other health issues. A Sanitary Board was created on 14 May 1890 which was responsible for sanitation, upkeep of roads, lighting of street and other functions. This would eventually become the Kuala Lumpur Municipal Council. In 1896, Kuala Lumpur was chosen as the capital of the newly formed Federated Malay States.
An arcade of shophouses
with a road sweeper at work in the street of Kuala Lumpur, c. 1915–1925
The area that is defined as Kuala Lumpur expanded considerably in the 20th century. It was only 0.65 km2 in 1895, but was extended to encompass 20 km2 in 1903. By the time it became a municipality in 1948 it had expanded to 93 km2, and then to 243 km2 in 1974 as a Federal Territory.
The development of rubber industry in Selangor fueled by the demand for car tyre in the early 20th century led to a boom of the town, with the population of Kuala Lumpur increasing from 30,000 in 1900 to 80,000 in 1920. Previously the commercial activities of Kuala Lumpur were run to a large extent by Chinese businessmen such as Loke Yew who was then the richest and most influential Chinese of Kuala Lumpur. The growth of the rubber industry led to an influx of foreign capital and planters, with new companies and industries becoming established in Kuala Lumpur, and other companies previously based elsewhere also found a presence here.
Japanese troops advancing up High Street (now Jalan Tun H S Lee
) in Kuala Lumpur in December 1941 during World War II.
During World War II, Kuala Lumpur was captured by the Imperial Japanese Army on 11 January 1942. Despite suffering little damage during the course of the battle, the wartime occupation of the city resulted in significant loss of lives; at least 5,000 Chinese were killed in Kuala Lumpur in just a few weeks of the occupation by Japanese forces, and thousands of Indians were sent as forced labour to work on the Burma Railway where a large number died. They occupied the city until 15 August 1945, when the commander in chief of the Japanese Seventh Area Army in Singapore and Malaysia, Seishirō Itagaki, surrendered to the British administration following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Kuala Lumpur grew through the war, and continued after the war during the Malayan Emergency, during which Malaya was preoccupied with the communist insurgency and New Villages were established on the outskirts of the city in an attempt to control community contacts with the insurgents.
The first municipal election in Kuala Lumpur was held on 16 February 1952. An ad hoc alliance between the Malay UMNO and Chinese MCA party candidates won a majority of the seats contested, and their success led to the formation of the Alliance Party (later the Barisan Nasional). On 31 August 1957, the Federation of Malaya gained its independence from British rule. The British flag was lowered and the Malayan flag was raised for the first time at the Padang on the midnight of 30 August 1957, and in the morning of 31 August, the ceremony for the Declaration of Independence was held at the Merdeka Stadium by the first Prime Minister of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman. Kuala Lumpur remained the capital after the formation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963. The Malaysian Houses of Parliament was completed at the edge of the Lake Gardens in 1963.
The Majestic Theatre on Pudu Road was an early pioneer in Kuala Lumpur's cinema scene. It was converted into an amusement park in the 1990s and demolished in 2009.
Kuala Lumpur had seen a number of civil disturbances over the years. A riot in 1897 was a relatively minor affair that began with the confiscation of faulty dacing (a scale used by traders), and in 1912, a more serious disturbance called the tauchang riot began during the Chinese New Year with the cutting of pigtails and ended with rioting and factional fighting lasting a number of days. The worst rioting on record in Malaysia however occurred on 13 May 1969, when race riots broke out in Kuala Lumpur. The so-called 13 May Incident refers to the violent conflicts that took place between members of the Malay and the Chinese communities. The violence was the result of Malaysian Malays being dissatisfied with their socio-political status. The riots caused the deaths of 196 people according to official figures, and led to major changes in the country's economic policy to promote and prioritise Malay economic development over that of the other ethnicities.
Kuala Lumpur achieved city status on 1 February 1972, becoming the first settlement in Malaysia to be granted the status after independence. Later, on 1 February 1974, Kuala Lumpur became a Federal Territory. Kuala Lumpur ceased to be the capital of Selangor in 1978 after the city of Shah Alam was declared the new state capital. On 14 May 1990, Kuala Lumpur celebrated 100 years of local council. The new federal territory Kuala Lumpur flag and anthem were introduced. On 1 February 2001, Putrajaya was declared a Federal Territory, as well as the seat of the federal government. The administrative and judicial functions of the government were shifted from Kuala Lumpur to Putrajaya. Kuala Lumpur however still retained its legislative function, and remained the home of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (Constitutional King).
From the 1990s onwards, major urban developments in the Klang Valley have resulted in an extended Kuala Lumpur Metropolitan Area. This area, known as Greater Kuala Lumpur, extends from the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur westward to Port Klang, east to the edge of the Titiwangsa Mountains as well as to the north and south. The area covers other administratively separate towns and cities such as Klang, Shah Alam, Putrajaya and others, and it is served by the Klang Valley Integrated Transit System. Notable projects undertaken within Kuala Lumpur itself include the development of a new Kuala Lumpur City Centre around Jalan Ampang and the Petronas Towers.