Old English macian "to make, form, construct, do; prepare, arrange, cause; behave, fare, transform," from West Germanic *makon "to fashion, fit" (cf. Old Saxon makon, Old Frisian makia "to build, make," Middle Dutch and Dutch maken, Old High German mahhon "to construct, make," German machen "to make"), from PIE *mag- "to knead, mix; to fashion, fit" (see macerate). If so, sense evolution perhaps is via prehistoric houses built of mud. Gradually replaced the main Old English word, gewyrcan (see work (v.)).
Meaning "to arrive at" (a place), first attested 1620s, originally was nautical. Formerly used in many places where specific verbs now are used, e.g. to make Latin (c.1500) "to write Latin compositions." This broader usage survives in some phrases, e.g. to make water "to urinate," to make a book "arrange a series of bets" (1828), make hay "to turn over mown grass to expose it to sun." Make the grade is 1912, perhaps from the notion of railway engines going up an incline.
But the phrase also was in use in a schoolwork context at the time. Make do "manage with what is available" is attested from 1867. Make time "go fast" is 1849; make tracks in this sense is from 1834. To make a federal case out of (something) popularized in 1959 movie "Anatomy of a Murder;" to make an offer (one) can't refuse is from Mario Puzo's 1969 novel "The Godfather." To make (one's) day is from 1909; menacing make my day is from 1971, popularized by Clint Eastwood in film "Sudden Impact" (1983). Related: Made; making.