Hamburg is located in Ashley County, about 125 miles from Little Rock. In 2011 it was designated a Preserve America Community. The town was created in 1849, two months after Ashley County was formed from part of Drew County. Two of the first public buildings were built the next year, the courthouse and the county jail.

During the Civil War, the town provided troops to the Confederacy and several companies of the Third Arkansas Infantry that fought with the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Hamburg lawyer Van H. Manning. The town escaped military action during the war, though Union troops briefly occupied it during Reconstruction.

The city's economy was divided among agriculture and forestry due to the town's geographic location. Immediately east and west are prairie regions dedicated to rice and soybean culture. A few miles east, cotton reigns in the Mississippi Delta. On the north and the south, timber is plentiful. Through the early 1900s, agriculture dominated though lumber production became important in later years. After the Depression, social shifts occurred when farmers gave up attempts to live off their land. Many left the region or went to work in sawmills or paper mills. The town grew up around the railroad, which enabled the country's agriculture and timber industries to flourish until the automobile became the major mode of transportation in the 1920s. After World War II, pressures on small farmers led to the arrival of agricultural enterprises. Eventually the tone of the industry changed and small family farms were replaced by larger agricultural units.

These days, the downtown square, with its gazebo, now serves as home-base to the annual Armadillo Festival, held the first weekend in May since 1970. Though many of the historic buildings have disappeared, the town has several structures on the National Register of Historic Places. Among them are the Watson House, now the Ashley County Museum, built in 1918; the Watson-Sawyer House, built in 1870; and the W. R. Bunkley House, built in 1903.

Among Hamburg's famous former residents are Colonel Van H. Manning, who helped organize and command the Third Arkansas Infantry, writer Charles Portis, author of such novels as True Grit, and former NBA star Scottie Pippen. Pippen Meadows Golf Course, the town's first golf course (9 holes), opened in 2008 and is owned by Pippen.