Kragujevac is the fourth largest city in Serbia, the main city of the Šumadija region and the administrative center of Šumadija District. It is situated on the banks of the river Lepenica. Kragujevac was the first capital of modern Serbia (1818–1839), and the first constitution in the Balkans was proclaimed in this city in 1835. Further on, the first full- fledged university in Serbia was founded in 1838, preceded by the first grammar school (Gimnazija), Printworks (both in 1833), professional National theatre (1835) and the Military academy (1837).

Contemporary Kragujevac is known for its weapons, munition, and Zastava car factory, which produced the Yugo, Florida, Zastava 10 (Fiat Punto, by license) and Skala automobiles until Fiat bought it in 2008.

The name of the town derived from the archaic Serbian word "kraguj", which is a name used for one sort of the bird (hunting hawk), thus the name means "hawk's nesting place". Interestingly, old maps show the name as Krakow.

Over 200 archaeological sites in Šumadija confirm that the region's first human settlements occurred 40,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic era. Kragujevac was first mentioned in the written form in the 15th century where Turkish referred to it as a "village of Kragujevdza". The town itself gained prominence during the Ottoman period (1459- 1804) as the central point in the Belgrade Pashaluk.

The city has been devastated many times and has suffered great losses of life in a number of wars throughout history. It began to prosper after Serbia's liberation from Turkish rule in 1818, when Prince Miloš Obrenović proclaimed it the capital of the new Serbian State and built the Amidža Konak. Kragujevac, the capital, was developing and cherishing modern, progressive, free ideas and resembled many European capitals of that time.

Important institutions built during that time include Serbia's first secondary school (Gimnazija), first pharmacy, and first printing press. Kragujevac gave rise to many international scholars, professors, academics, scientists, artists and statesmen. The main industry of the 19th and 20th century was military production.

During World War I, Kragujevac again became the capital of Serbia (1914–1915), and the seat of many state institutions. During the war, Kragujevac lost 15% of its population. The social aspect; especially theater life in Kragujevac between the two wars was very vibrant. There were many cultural institutions in the city which began to grow into a large cultural and industrial hub of Central Serbia.

Kragujevac underwent a number of ordeals, the worst probably having been the October massacre during World War II. The Kragujevac massacre was the slaughter of 2,300 to 5,000 civilians—mostly Serbs and Roma, women and schoolchildren—in Kragujevac by Nazi soldiers 20–21 October 1941. The killings went on from October 19 to October 21, 1941, in retaliation for a supposed partisan attack on German soldiers. 50 people were shot per wounded German soldier, while 100 for a dead soldier. Among the killed was a whole generation of boys taken directly from the school. The monument for the executed pupils is a symbol of the city. This atrocity has inspired a poem "Krvava bajka" ("Bloody fairy tale") by Desanka Maksimović, a well-known Serbian poet from the former Yugoslavia.

In the post-war period, Kragujevac developed more industry. Its main exports were passenger cars, trucks and industrial vehicles, hunting arms, industrial chains, leather, and textiles. The biggest industry and the city's main employer was Zastava, which employed tens of thousands.

Since 1976, Kragujevac has grown as a university center. The University of Kragujevac includes 12 Faculties, out of which 6 are situated in Kragujevac (Faculty of Law, Faculty of Economics, Faculty of Engineering Sciences, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Faculty of Philology and Arts) and other 6 in the surrounding cities: Čačak (Faculty of Agronomy and Faculty of Technical Sciences), Užice (Teachers Training Faculty), Kraljevo (Faculty of Mechanical and Civil Engineering), Vrnjačka Banja (Faculty of Hotel Management and Tourism), Jagodina (Faculty of Education).