Bismarck City Portrait


LeSieur de la Verendrye came to this area in 1738. He and his fur traders were several years ahead of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which passed the future site of Bismarck in 1804, going upstream, and in 1806 going downstream. In 1832 David Mitchell operated Mitchell’s Fort for the American Fur Company at the old site of Wogansport, 18 miles northwest of what is now Bismarck. When Joseph Dietrich homesteaded along the banks of the Missouri in 1868 he would have never dreamed that someday this site would become North Dakota’s Capital City.

Main Avenue Postcard

Reaching the Missouri River in 1872, the Northern Pacific Railroad decided to locate its terminus at what was then known as “The Crossing on the Missouri”. Called Burleigh Town, a small village two miles south of present Bismarck was established by Dr. Walter Burleigh who was a railroad contractor and speculator in charge of surveyors for the Lake Superior and Puget Sound Company (a firm working for Northern Pacific). This company also established Camp Greeley, named after Horace Greeley, a famous newspaper publisher. In 1872, the Ida Stockdale steamed up the Missouri and brought the first troops to this site, chosen as a military supply depot. The camp was later renamed Camp Hancock after General W. S. Hancock arrived to protect the railroad crew.

Between 1871 and 1872 a ramshackle town reminiscent of the gold rush camps established itself a mile east of Burleigh Town. The settlement, an eyesore to the higher military command, was nevertheless very popular with the common soldier. Carleton City sprouted across from Fort McKean at the popular river crossing and earned various names, such as Point Pleasant, Whiskey Point, and others that are unprintable. It sported 15 saloons, two stores, two livery stables and various houses of ill repute. The spring ice break of 1874 obliterated Sin City.

At the time of its birth in 1872, Bismarck was the only town west of Fargo, in the midst of Indian Territory. On May 14, 1872 a townsite was staked out and christened Edwinton in honor of Edwin Ferry Johnson of Vermont, civil engineer for the Northern Pacific Railway. He was the first to urge the building of a transcontinental railroad. It was before the first locomotive reached Edwinton in 1873 that Henry Villard, Secretary of Northern Pacific, drew a large map of the townsite – owing to the German immigrants, moving into the territory. It is situated on the east bank of the Missouri River at the point reached in 1873 by the westward construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

By February 16, 1873, the post office of Edwinton was established. On July 17, 1873, Bismarck was named in honor of Germany’s “Iron Chancellor” Prince Baron Otto Eduard Leopold Von Bismarck-Schoenhausen, a famous German statesman from Prussia, credited with the creation of the German Empire and serving as her first chancellor. At this time the railroad was in a financial bind and having trouble attracting investors. The name was given to encourage German capital in the railroad’s transcontinental construction program. The map of Bismarck was shown throughout Europe in hopes that the princely statesman would dig deeply into his wallet to get the small metropolis bearing his name on its feet. Bismarck did acknowledge his fledgling namesake with a heartfelt thank you note, but the fervently hoped for Reichsmarks did not materialize. Bismarck’s name stayed that way.

In July of 1873, the same month that Edwinton was named Bismarck; Burleigh County was organized. Bismarck had 147 buildings, primarily tents and log huts. The first church (Presbyterian) was built and used for a school. On July 6th of 1873, the first issue of the Bismarck Tribune came out. In June of 1874, the first law came to Bismarck. The first Mayor of Bismarck was Edmund Hackett, appointed by the Act of Territorial Legislature – then John McLean was elected in 1875. The city of Bismarck was incorporated on January 14, 1875.

In 1876 the Battle of the Little Big Horn put Bismarck on the world map. In 1877 the Sheridan House was built to house railroaders. Also in March of 1877, Bismarck was hit with its first major fire in the business district.

Following the arrival of the railroad, Bismarck quickly became a center of trade and transportation. Steamboat business developed and flourished for a time on the Missouri and Bismarck became a port as well as a railroad terminus until the railroad bridged the Missouri in 1883. Gold discoveries in the Black Hills made Bismarck a freight-shipping center, and long wagon trains pulled by oxen traversed the 300 mile “Custer Route” to the Black Hills.

In 1883, Bismarck became the Capital of the Dakota Territory. Six years later, when the Territory divided into two states, Bismarck became the capital of North Dakota. Since then Bismarck has developed into a major business, financial and cultural center with its retail trade area reaching over 100 miles and serving upwards of 200,000 people, also our wholesale trade services about 350,000 in western North Dakota as well as South Dakota and eastern Montana. 


Bismarck is the state capital and the center of state government in North Dakota. The City of Bismarck’s form of government is a five-member city commission, elected at-large, of which the president is also the Mayor of the city. The City Commission meets every second and fourth Tuesday of each month. Click here to view Bismarck Mayors 1875 to present.


Located mid-continent at 1670 feet above sea level, Bismarck is a growing city with an estimated population of 73,112 in 2018 and a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) estimate of approximately 132,678 persons in 2018. Its mean annual temperature is 53.1 degrees Fahrenheit and the average rainfall is 15.48 inches. From 2000 to 2010, the population of the city grew from 55,392 to 61,272 – an increase of approximately 10%. Population growth 2012 to 2013 was 3.53%.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather compilation for Bismarck reports dispel some of the perceived ideas about North Dakota’s climate. Annually, Bismarck averages 16 inches of moisture. This includes both rain and snow. With regard to snow, North Dakota in reality has less annual average snowfall than cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit and Buffalo, New York. Our summers are warm with temperatures sometimes reaching as high as 100 degrees but with humidity that is extremely low. Our winters can, on occasion, become quite cold, however the simple solution to that is to dress a little warmer and use a little common sense on the road. There are very few workday losses due to bad weather. North Dakota, in fact, has the lowest rate or work stoppages for all causes, including weather, in the nation.

The number of households in Bismarck rose from 16,424 in 1980 to 27,038 in 2008; of this, 36.7% is rented quarters. The number of households in 2013 increased to 29,388. The median value of owner-occupied housing units was $163,900 in 2013.

The median age in Bismarck in 2008 was 36.5 years compared to 27.4 years in 1980. As of 2008, Bismarck has a workforce of 35,688. Employment statistics compiled by Job Service of North Dakota show 57,553 jobs available as of 2009 in the MSA. Of those jobs, 10,944 are in government, 9,460 are in health care and social assistance and 7,830 are in retail trade.

Bismarck’s major economic strengths include agriculture, agri-business, energy, development, and health services. Bismarck’s medical community is one of the premier medical communities in a multi-state area. This medical community currently employs over 4,000 persons providing state of the art health care services to residents of western North Dakota, northern South Dakotaand eastern Montana. Two hospitals with 526 patient beds and 27 satellite clinics supplying services to residents in the four-state area with the finest patient care.

Bismarck has a modern water system, obtained from the Missouri River, consists of filtering and sterilizing before delivery. City has approximately 321 miles of water-main and around 2500 fire hydrants. Vast supplies of electricity are available from giant generating plants and the Garrison Dam on the Missouri River, deposits of lignite coal; availability of natural gas and ample supply of water from the Missouri River.

Bismarck Airport has five passenger airlines providing air service to seven direct destinations in the United States. In addition to passenger airlines, the airport has cargo operations with FedEx, UPS and other regional carriers.   Bismarck Airport also has two Fixed Based Operators that offer pilot training, air-taxi and charter services. Several truck lines to provide local, intrastate service. One bus terminal, 2 US highways such as Highway 83 and Interstate 94 going from east to west, north to south. The city also has several parking ramps accommodating around 1,754 vehicles.

Our city consists of agriculture, printing, trucking, farm machinery manufacturing, machine shops, electric power, woodworking, concrete products, railroad, insurance, bakeries, bottlers, livestock auction markets, etc. We have several shopping malls with 280 stores; 19+ banks, loan and savings associations, nine libraries with 638,037 volumes, approximately 100 churches representing Catholics, Protestants and Jewish. We have one daily newspaper, one weekly newspaper and one monthly newspaper; two movie theater complexes with 20 screens, fourteen radio and four television stations.

Farming and ranching in North Dakota varies from the Red River Valley’s sugar beet and potato production to the western end of the state being primarily small grains which principally include hard red spring, amber durum and livestock production. North Dakota is the nation’s top producer of amber durum (which is used for pasta production), honey production, flax production, and is one of the top two or three producers of hard red spring wheat in the nation.

Western North Dakota’s energy production is a major economic generator for the state. Bismarck is the corporate headquarters for a majority of the major energy companies working in North Dakota. Bismarck is within 85 miles of twelve coal-fired electrical generating facilities producing over 4000 megawatts of electricity. In addition, Bismarck is the corporate headquarters for Dakota Gasification, the owners and operators of North America’s only commercial lignite coal to synthetic natural gas production facility.

This plant, known as the Great Plains Coal Gasification facility is a $2.1 billion facility that was completed in 1984. The plant currently employs about 900 persons producing pipeline quality synthetic natural gas. The Great Plains Coal Gasification facility is beginning to develop the various byproducts that come out of the conversion process. To name just a few, these byproducts include rare gases, coal tars, sulfur, nitrogen, anhydrous ammonia, and CO2 which is used to enhance oil recovery in the nearby Williston Basin oil fields. Another major byproduct of the conversion process is the waste warm water used in the cooling towers of the gasification system. Currently, there are products that include the possibility of raising hot house roses, various vegetables such as tomatoes and lettuce and also for the use of raising fish and shrimp. 


School facilities in Bismarck include a four-year college, a four-year university, a junior college with a vocational technical center, 17 grade schools, 3 middle schools, 5 senior high schools, an alternative high school, a Career Academy and Technical Center, and an early childhood program, parochial grade schools, learning centers, special educational, two commercial colleges, school of medicine, beauty shops, dance studios, school for the handicapped. A non-denominational academy operated by the 7th Day Adventist Church, a Priory and a Conservatory of Music.

The colleges located in Bismarck are the University of Mary, Bismarck State College and United Tribes Technical College:
• University of Mary serves the needs of adult learners, providing bachelor, master, doctorate, and online degree programs.
• Bismarck State College, a comprehensive community college, is the fourth largest college in North Dakota. BSC offers a wide range of educational services through its threefold mission – to provide high quality education, workforce training, and enrichment programs reaching local and global communities.
• Located on a 105-acre campus, three miles south of Bismarck, is the United Tribes Technical College. UTTC is a close-knit educational community serving students from 75 different tribal nations and offers associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, online degree and certificate programs. A grade school is located on the campus for the students’ children.


The North Dakota Heritage Center, an enduring monument to North Dakota’s past, has been constructed on the Capitol Grounds, including a main gallery with approximately 22,000 feet of exhibit space. It is much more than a museum; it houses collections of the historical society and is an educational center as well. The Heritage Center will be going through a major expansion soon.

Bismarck has approximately 50 parks administered by the Bismarck Park District, comprising 2000 acres of scenic and historic lands. Lighted baseball parks, 23 softball and baseball diamonds; soccer fields; 7 lighted tennis courts, with 17 additional concrete and 8 asphalt tennis courts; racquetball courts, outdoor hockey rinks, skating rinks, indoor ice arena, lighted horseshoe courts, horse club, gun club, 4 golf courses, indoor and outdoor archery ranges, rifle range and athletic field. Bismarck provides more than 30 miles of recreational trails to the public. The Missouri Valley Trail connects the people of Bismarck and Mandan to several historical, recreational, and cultural places along the Missouri River. The trail begins at the Bismarck-Mandan Convention and Visitors Bureau, proceeds along Pioneer and Sertoma parks, and concludes at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.

Sertoma Park offers picnic shelters, walking trails, playgrounds, an amusement park and a miniature golf course.

Sibley Park, south of the City provides campgrounds and picnic areas, with full-time recreational directors.

McDowell Dam is located 6 miles east of Bismarck on Highway 10. Recreational facilities include picnic shelters and tables, restrooms, swimming beach, playground, bathhouse, boat ramp and dock.

Dakota Zoo, one of the finest open-air zoos in the Midwest, features native, exotic and domestic animals. The zoo is located between Sertoma Park and the Missouri River.

Bismarck offers a lifestyle that is difficult to imagine for someone who has never been to our city. The city offers one of the lowest crime rates in the nation, an outstanding educational system from kindergarten through graduate college degrees in both public and private educational institutions; outstanding recreational activities; hunting and fishing activities which are literally only minutes away from your front door. Being located on the Missouri River and only forty miles south of Lake Sakakawea (which has over 1600 miles of shoreline), Bismarck offers some of the finest trophy fishing in the nation. Upland game and waterfowl hunting is among the finest anywhere.