Surrounded by high desert and the Rocky Mountains, Kemmerer is the county seat of Lincoln County and home to the JC Penney Mother Store. John C. Fremont discovered coal here during his Second Expedition in 1843 (one of the successful expeditions that were led by guide Kit Carson). The first underground coal mine didn't begin operations until 1881. That was when the Union Pacific Railroad completed construction of the Oregon Short Line from Oregon to Granger.

Kemmerer itself was founded in 1897 by Patrick Quealy. Quealy was vice president of the Kemmerer Coal Company (named for Mahlon Kemmerer, a Pennsylvania coal baron) which was operating about 6 miles south of the original townsite. Rather than lease lots and keep it as a company town, Quealy sold lots and allowed independent businesses to set up shop. Quealy also founded the First National Bank in Kemmerer in 1900.

A merchant named James Cash Penny arrived in Kemmerer in 1902 and opened a store called the "Golden Rule." His business philosophy was two-fold: cash only, and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It must have worked well for him because by 1912, he had 34 J.C. Penney stores open around the country. The mother store is still open in Kemmerer. Also in Kemmerer is the 6-room cottage that was Penny's home, open to the public in the spring and summer and also a registered National Historic Landmark.

In 1950 the Kemmerer Coal Mine changed its operation to strip mining and turned itself into the world's largest open pit coal mine. The Pittsburg & Midway Coal Company bought the operation in 1980 and it is still in operation today, putting out around 5 million tons of coal each year.

As Fossil Butte National Monument is about 15 miles west of Kemmerer, the town dubs itself the "Fossil Fish Capital of the World."