History of Great Falls, Montana

Founded in 1883 by Paris Gibson and railroad magnate James J. Hill, Great Falls began as a planned power city, situated to take advantage of the hydroelectric power of the waterfalls of the Missouri River. Historian William J. Furdell described it as "a businessman's town" and it was said that the city "couldn't point to a boot hill or a hangin' tree."

In 1884, the Great Falls post office was recognized by the United States Postal Service. In 1889, construction on the Black Eagle Dam began, which would provide the city with hydroelectric power by the following year.

Great Falls quickly became a thriving industrial and supply center and, by the early 1900's, was en route to becoming one of Montana's largest cities. The rustic studio of famed Western artist Charles Marion Russell was a popular attraction, as were the famed "great falls," after which the city was named. A structure billed as the "world's tallest smokestack" was completed in 1908 by the city's largest employer, the Anaconda Copper Mining Company's smelter, measuring 508 feet tall. The Big Stack immediately became a landmark for the community.

Great Falls prospered further with the opening of a nearby military base in the 1940's, but as rail transportation and freight slowed in the later part of the century, outlying farming areas lost population, and with the closure of the smelter and cutbacks at the airbase, its population has plateau ed.

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More History can be found at:

The History Museum

C.M. Russell Museum

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