The area was once marginal cattle country, Newman was built in the 1960s by the Mount Newman Mining Company, with the discovery of rich iron deposits on nearby Mount Whaleback. The discovery marked the start of the resource boom in Western Australia in the 1970s. The town takes its name from nearby Mount Newman, named in honour of A.W. Newman, an early explorer who died of typhoid just before reaching the area in 1896.
Typical of company towns, Newman is laid out with a core, where shopping and hotels are located, surrounded by residential areas, with more industrial activities on the outskirts. There is one shopping mall in the town, two shopping plazas, three hotels, and three bars/restaurants outside of those contained in the hotels. One public outdoor pool serves the town's population.
A privately-owned railway, the Mount Newman Railway, was constructed linking it to Port Hedland which itself was upgraded to handle shipment of the ore to the world market. On 21 June 2001 a train 7.353 km (4.568 miles) long, comprising 682 ore cars and eight locomotives made the Newman—Port Hedland trip and is listed as the world's longest train ever.
Being founded in the 1960s, Newman's architecture reflects the modernist styles of that decade and the next, being predominantly functional and devoid of detail or embellishment. As the town was founded and built by a steel company, the majority of buildings use a steel frame construction.