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The name of Meycauayan came from the Tagalog may kawayan (lit. "a place full of bamboos") alluding to the presence of large bamboo groves in the town. It was founded in 1578 by the Franciscan Catholic missionaries. Local tradition names friars Juan de Placencia and Diego Oropesa as the parish and town's founding fathers, who constructed the first church made up of nipa thatch and bamboos which they dedicated to their Nuestro Padre Senor San Francisco de Asis, in what is now Barangay Bahay Pari.
Because the newly erected town was constantly attacked by native Aetas, the town was transferred to Barangay Malhacan. The town later transferred to a location known as Lagolo (located somewhere between Barangays Banga and Caingin). Lagolo proved inhospitable at the time, so the town center again transferred to what is now known as Barangay Poblacion, where the Parish Church of St. Francis of Assisi still stands.
Meycauayan was then one of the largest municipalities in Bulacan. The towns of San Jose Del Monte, Bocaue, Marilao, Valenzuela, Obando, Santa Maria and Pandi were once part of the political jurisdiction of the town. During the Spanish colonization in the Philippines, the Spanish authorities tapped Meycauayan's adobe (volcanic tuff rocks) reserves which were used for building stone houses and fortifications in and out of town. Majority of the adobe rocks that were used in building the walls of Intramuros, Manila's "old walled city", were imported from Meycauayan.
On April 4, 1949, a large fire razed the town, destroying its market center and its centuries-old church. It took years to recover from the destruction, aided by the provincial and national governments as well as by the contributions of its own citizens.
Meycauayan is famous for its jewelry industry, tanneries and people like Lydia de Vega, Asia's Fastest Woman.
On March 5, 2001, the municipality was declared as a component city by virtue of Republic Act 9021, but its conversion was rejected by the voting people of Meycauayan in a plebiscite.
In 2005, the municipal hall was moved from Barangay Poblacion to a newer structure in Barangay Camalig. The former municipal town hall now houses the Mariano Quinto Alarilla Polytechnic College.
On December 10, 2006, by virtue of Republic Act 9356, voters in Meycauayan ratified the conversion of Meycauayan into a component city of Bulacan through another plebiscite. It became the province's third city, joining San Jose del Monte and Malolos.
Today, the City of Meycauayan is a component city in the province of Bulacan, Philippines.