This breed takes its name from the area corresponding to the river valley of the River Aire in Yorkshire, England where this terrier originated. They are the result of crossing the Old English Black and Tan Terrier with the Otterhound in the mid-19th Century. Known as the Rough Coated, Bingley and Waterside Terrier, the name Airedale Terrier was settled upon in the late 1800s.
In nineteenth-century England, sporting events along the River Aire were regularly held in which the Airedale Terrier regularly participated. These events featured the pursuit of large rivers rats that lived in the area. Terriers had become a popular sporting dog choice for the common man. In these events they were judged on their ability to find a hole in the riverbank inhabited by the rats, and then pursue them through the water until the kill was made. As these events surged in popularity, the demand rose for a terrier that would perform well in them. One such kind of terrier was the Airedale Terrier, which was particularly suited for the pursuits through the water.
Beginning in the early twentieth century, this breed saw service in the armed forces. They were used in World War I deliver messages behind enemy lines, transport mail and find wounded soldiers on the battlefield. They developed a reputation of courage as tales spread of these dogs delivering messages despite serious injury. One such story was of a Airedale named Jack who ran through half a mile of enemy fire with a message attached to his collar. He arrived at his destination with his jaw broken and one leg badly splintered. After the message was delivered, he dropped dead in front of the recipient.
The Oorang Airedale strain was also developed in the early part of the twentieth century by an Ohio breeder named Walter Lingo. This line was headed by King Oorang, developed through a series of breeding involving great Airedales from all corners of the world. Field and Stream called the King Oorang “the greatest utility dog in the history of the world”. To promote this the King Oorang and his kennels, Lingo formed the Oorang Indians football team led by Jim Thorpe. The Indians played in the National Football League from 1922-1923.