According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 28.22 square miles (73.09 km2), of which 26.93 square miles (69.75 km2) is land and 1.29 square miles (3.34 km2) is water. Part of the city includes the eastern tip of Lake Minnetonka, one of the largest lakes in Minnesota. The outlet of Lake Minnetonka is Minnehaha Creek, which winds through south Minneapolis and flows over Minnehaha Falls and into the Mississippi River. Minnetonka is located 8 miles (13 km) west of Minneapolis, in Hennepin County.
The headquarters of Carlson Companies are in Minnetonka. The headquarters of Cargill are located in Minnetonka and are in the Wayzata Post Office area. Founded in 1865, it is now the largest privately held corporation in the U.S. in terms of revenue. Other companies based in Minnetonka include the uniform companies AmeriPride Services and G&K Services.
Since the mid-19th century, Minnetonka has evolved from heavily wooded wilderness through extensive farming and thriving industrialization to its present primarily residential suburban character. The Dakota and Ojibwe Indians were the first people to settle in the area. They believed the land around Lake Minnetonka (minne meaning water and tonka meaning big) was the legendary home of an extinct race. The first recorded exploration of the area by European settlers was in 1822, when a group from newly constructed Fort Snelling made its way up Minnehaha Creek (then known as Brown's Creek or Falls Creek) to the lake. In 1851, the Dakota sold the area including Minnetonka to the United States with the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux. The first census, the Territorial Census of 1857, lists 41 households. Twenty-nine of the heads of households are listed as farmers. The occupations of the remaining twelve are associated with the operations of Minnetonka Mill and a nearby hotel.
In 1852, a claim was staked on Minnehaha Creek near McGinty Road. The sawmill that was constructed in the thick woods of maple, oak, elm, red cedar and basswood was the first privately operated mill in Minnesota west of the Mississippi River. Oak timbers from this mill were used to build the first suspension bridge across the Mississippi River at Saint Anthony Falls in 1853. The settlement of Minnetonka Mills that grew up around the mill was the first permanent European–American settlement west of Minneapolis in Hennepin County. In 1855, a two-story sawmill was constructed with a furniture factory on the second floor. A building for varnishing furniture was built on the south side of the creek, at the present Bridge Street. Production consisted mainly of chairs and bedsteads. The Minnetonka Republican at St. Anthony published a short article describing the area. The February 12, 1857, issue said: