Drammen originally consisted of three small seaports: Bragernes on the northern side of the Drammenselva river and Strømsø and Tangen on the southern side. For trade purposes, small seaports were placed under market towns. Despite their geographical proximity, Bragernes was placed under Christiania and Strømsø under Tønsberg. For this reason, cooperation between the adjacent seaport towns was almost impossible. In 1662 a merger was proposed to unite Strømsø and Bragernes to form a market town with the name Frederiksstrøm. The proposal was rejected by Frederick III of Denmark. Bragernes received limited market town rights in 1715, and merged with Strømsø to gain status as a single city on 19 June 1811.
Its unique geographical location made the city a centre for seafaring, ship building, log driving, timber trade and - from the 19th century - paper and pulp industries. During the 1960s most of the pulp and paper factories along the Drammenselva were closed down.
Large parts of the city were ruined in the great fire of 12-13 July 1866, which led to the reconstruction of the city centre, including the characteristic town square and Bragernes church.
In 1909, Drammen got the first trolleybus system in Scandinavia, the Drammen trolleybus. The lines ran until 1967. For many years the centre of Drammen suffered from heavy traffic, but in 1999 the opening of the Bragernes tunnel diverted much of the traffic away from the centre of the city. In recent years, the city centre has seen significant regeneration, with the introduction of new housing, shopping facilities, restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as a public pathway along the Drammenselva river.
The Norse form of the city's name was Drafn, and this was originally the name of the inner part of Drammensfjord. The fjord is, however, probably named after the river Dramselva (Norse Dröfn), and this again is derived from the old word dröfn, which meant 'wave'.
The coat-of-arms is from 1960 - but it is based upon the old seal for Bragernes from 1723. The motto for Bragernes (in Latin) was IN FIDE ET JUSTITIA FORTITUDO ('in faith and justice is strength'), and the items in the seal are referring to this: key = faith, sword = justice, column on rocks = strength.