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The city of Kenai is named after the local Dena'ina (Tanaina) word 'ken' or 'kena', which means 'flat, meadow, open area with few trees; base, low ridge'. this describes the area along the mouth of the kenai river near the city of kenai. however, the city started out as fort Nikolaevskaia established by Pytor Zaikov in 1786. in 1797, hostilities between the settlers and the Dena'ina native alakans led to the battle of kenai, which killed over one hundred people on both sides. in 1838, smallpox decimated the Dena'ina population to half. in 1869, the u.s. built fort kenay after the alaska purchase, but it was soon abandoned. in 1888, prospector alexander king discovered gold, but it was minimal compared to other gold mining sites. the early 1900's expanded kenai into a port city with the establishment of shipping companies. in the 1920s, canning companies helped to boom the commercial fishing industry. 1940 saw the development of homesteads in the area and the first dirt road was built in 1951. a period of rapid growth was caused by oil discoveries in 1965 and 1957, the first discoveries of oil in alaska.

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