A paper mill built in Partington more than 250 years ago was the first factory in Trafford. The completion of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894 transformed Partington into a major coal-exporting port and attracted a range of other industries. Until 2007 Shell Chemicals UK operated a major petrochemicals manufacturing complex in Carrington, Partington's closest neighbour, to the east. The gas storage facility in the north-eastern corner of the town was once a gasworks and another significant employer.
Shortly after the Second World War, local authorities made an effort to rehouse people away from Victorian slums in inner-city Manchester. An area of Partington extended as an overspill estate is now one of the most deprived parts of the Greater Manchester conurbation. The Cheshire Lines Committee opened a railway line through the town in 1873, but it closed in 1964.
Partington and Carrington Youth Partnership was established to provide the town's youth with activities and the town has seen investment in a new youth centre. Broadoak School, the only secondary school in the town, is used by Trafford College to provide further education.
Partington, first recorded in 1260, was in the medieval and post-medieval parish of Bowdon. The name derives from Old English: the first element may be a personal name such as Pearta or Pærta, or part "land divided up into partitions" followed by inga, meaning "people of"; the suffix tun means "farmstead". The village consisted of dispersed farmsteads, with no nucleated centre. It was surrounded by wetlands on all sides, reducing the amount of land available for agriculture. According to the hearth tax returns of 1664, Partington had a population of 99.
In 1755 a paper mill on the River Mersey was opened in Partington, the first factory to be established in present-day Trafford. Erlam Farmhouse dates from the late 18th century and is a Grade II listed building. Also protected as a Grade II listed building are the stocks on the village green. Its stone pillars are from the 18th century, although the wooden restraints were replaced in the 20th century.