Originally called "Maunk-suck" (Big Foot) for a Potawatomi chief, the city was later named Geneva after the town of Geneva, New York, located on Seneca Lake, to which early settler John Brink saw a resemblance. To avoid confusion with the nearby town of Geneva, Illinois, it was renamed Lake Geneva. The abutting lake is named Geneva Lake.
In 1954, Lake Geneva was one of the three finalists for the location of the new United States Air Force Academy, but ultimately lost to Colorado Springs, Colorado.
In 1968, the late Hugh Hefner built his first Playboy resort in Lake Geneva. The club closed in 1981 and in 1982 was converted into the Americana Resort, and in 1993 to the present Grand Geneva Resort.
Royal Records (formerly Shade Tree Studios) was a Lake Geneva music recording studio where artists such as Ministry from Chicago Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs album '92, Cheap Trick from Chicago Standing on the Edge album '85, Queensrÿche Empire 1990, Crash Test Dummies "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" in '93, Iron Maiden, Nine Inch Nails from Cleveland Broken (EP) in '92, and Skid Row have recorded albums.