Wanship was founded in 1859 by Stephen Nixon and Henry Roper, who were joined by other settlers over the next two years. In 1861, 300 Native Americans settled in the area. The sudden population increase made attempting to gather food in the area difficult. A friendly Ute, Chief Wanship, helped the non-native settlers to find game, locate edible plants, and trade with the Indians. In return, the town was named for him. Farming in the area included rye, barley, wheat, and alfalfa. The town also served as a local commodity hub, as coal from Coalville, silver from Park City, and lumber from Kamas passed through. In 1862 an overland stage stop, called the Kimballs Stage Station, opened in Wanship. Due to its central location, Wanship became the first county seat of Summit County, from the formation of the county government in 1866 until Coalville became county seat in 1872.
The first two-story home built by Thomas Albert Smith, in Summit County was built in Wanship, and has since been relocated to Pioneer Village in Lagoon Amusement Park.