North Dakota History Timeline

Important Dates, Events, and Milestones in North Dakota History

Offers a chronological timeline of important dates, events, and milestones in North Dakota history.

North Dakota was first settled by Native Americans several thousand years ago. Prior to the arrival of European explorers and fur traders in North Dakota, at least seven different groups of Native Americans lived in what is now North Dakota: the Assiniboine, Chippewa, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Cheyenne and Yanktonai (branch of the Dakota). The Cree also spent time in the area.

The land that today makes up North Dakota became US territory as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The region was originally part of the Minnesota and Nebraska territories, until, along with South Dakota, it was organized into the Dakota Territory in 1861. The state was very sparsely populated until the arrival of the railroads in the late 1800s, and finally became a state in 1889.

17th Century North Dakota History Timeline

1610 - Henry Hudson claimed the Hudson Bay watershed, which included much of eastern North Dakota for England.

1682 - LaSalle claimed the entire Mississippi River drainage which included the Missouri River drainage in North Dakota, for France.

18th Century North Dakota History Timeline

1713 - England receives the northern part of North Dakota from France

1738 - Pierre Gaultier de la Verendrye, a French explorer, visited Mandan villages near the Missouri River. This is the first known Euro-American expedition into what is now North Dakota.

1742 - The sons of La Verendrye returned to the Missouri River as part of an expedition in search of a western sea. Subsequent explorers to visit this region included Jonathan Carver (1768) and David Thompson (1797), among others.

1762 - Spain received from France land claimed by LaSalle.

1763 - Treaty of Paris granted to England part of the state drained by the Mouse and the Red Rivers.

1781 - The first known business enterprise, a fur trading post, was briefly established near the Souris River, but was soon abandoned as a result of pressure from unfriendly Indians.

1792 - Jacques D'Englise (Santiago Leglise) opened trade between Mandan villages and Spanish interests from St. Louis.

1794 - Rene Jusseaume built a Fur Post near the Knife River.

1796 - John Evans from St. Louis ascended the Missouri River to the Mandan villages near the Knife River.

1797 -

  • Chaboillez, a French trader, opened a post at Pembina,
  • David Thompson, an English explorer, mapped the northern part of the state.

19th Century North Dakota History Timeline

1800 -

  • Alexander Henry Jr. established a fur post at Park River. Henry moved his establishment to Pembina in 1801, and it became the nucleus for the first white settlement in what is now North Dakota.
  • By this date, fur traders from Canada were frequent visitors to this region and a trade route had been established between posts near Lake Winnipeg and the Missouri River Indian villages.

1801 - John Cameron built a trading post at the current site of Grand Forks.

1802 - On March 12, the first non-Indian child was born in what is now North Dakota to Pierre Bonza and his wife, Black slaves of Alexander Henry, Jr.

1803 -

  • On November 20, Spain returned the Missouri River watershed to France.
  • The Louisiana Purchase transferred the area of North Dakota drained by the Missouri River from France to the United States on December 30.

1804 & 1806 - An expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark entered North Dakota and wintered near the present town of Washburn on its way to the Pacific Coast. This temporary post, Fort Mandan, was frequently visited by nearby Indians.

1806 - The Lewis and Clark Expedition returned down the river on its way back to St. Louis. Their journey marked the first major American penetration of the area and was characterized by amicable relationships with native inhabitants.

1809 -

  • Fur Company entrepreneur Manuel Lisa of St. Louis led the first formal American business reconnaissance along the Missouri River in search of sites for trading posts.
  • On December 29, the first white child was born in present-day North Dakota to fur post employees at Pembina.

1811 -

  • Scientific exploration of the Northern plains initiated by Lewis and Clark continued.
  • Botanists John Bradbury and Thomas Nuttel surveyed the region during their journey to Oregon.
  • Later expeditions included Prince Maximillian of Wied and artist George Catlin (1832-34) and naturalist John J. Audubon (1843) among many others.

1812 -

  • An agricultural colony was established near Pembina by settlers from Canada under the authority of a royal grant to Lord Selkirk. The ill-fated attempt failed after internal feuding, boundary changes, and grasshoppers destroyed the crops in 1820.
  • Part of what is now North Dakota became part of the Missouri Territory.

1818 -

  • All of North Dakota became part of the Missouri Territory.
  • Fathers Dumoulin and Provencher established a Roman Catholic mission at Pembina; the first school, taught by William Edge, operated in connection with this mission.
  • The 49th parallel was agreed to as the boundary between the US and Great Britain in a treaty whereby the United States acquired possession of the upper Red River drainage.

1822 - Fur Trading posts were established in the Missouri Valley.

1823 -

  • An expedition led by Stephen J. Long fixed the boundary between the United States and Canada at a point north of Pembina.
  • A second military expedition, led by Henry Leavenworth, attempted to make treaties with the Arikara and other tribes.
  • Later expeditions included Atkinson-O'Fallon (1825), Fremont-Nicollet (1839), and the Stevens Survey (1853).

1829 - Fort Union fur trading post was established.

1831 - Fort Clark fur trading post was established.

1832 - The Yellowstone, the first steamboat on the upper Missouri, reached Fort Union.

1834 - Land east of the Missouri River became part of the Territory of Michigan.

1836 - Land east of the Missouri River became part of the Territory of Wisconsin.

1837 - A smallpox epidemic virtually annihilated the Mandan Indians near Fort Clark.

1838 - Land east of the Missouri River became part of the Territory of Iowa.

1839 - John C. Fremont and Jean Nicollet explored the east-central part of the state.

1842 - The first Red River ox-cart caravan traversed trails between St. Joseph (Walhalla) and St. Paul, inaugurating a major commerce that continued for over 25 years. Major fur posts in this area were operated by Joseph Rolette (1842), Norman Kittson (1843), and Antoine Gingras (1843).

1845 - Fort Berthold fur trading post was established.

1848 -

  • Father George Anthony Belcourt opened mission fields at Pembina, St. Joseph, and in the Turtle Mountains.
  • Reverend Alonzo Barnard and James Tanner conducted the first Protestant services in the area at Pembina.

1849 - Land east of the Missouri River became part of the Minnesota Territory.

1851 -

  • The first post office was established in what is now North Dakota at Pembina with Norman Kittson as Postmaster.
  • A permanent agricultural settlement was established at Pembina under the leadership of Charles Cavileer
  • First flour mill was established at St. Joseph by Father Belcourt.

1853 - Issac I. Stevens crossed the state surveying the "Northern Route" for the proposed transcontinental railroad.

1854 - Land east of the Missouri River became part of the Nebraska Territory.

1858 -

  • Land east of the Missouri River was left without territorial government when Minnesota became a state.
  • Military occupation of North Dakota began with the establishment of Fort Abercrombie on the Red River and the present-day town of Abercrombie; the fort was abandoned in 1877.

1859 - The Anson Northrup, first steamboat on the Red River, traveled from Fort Abercrombie to Winnipeg.

1860 - Regular steamboat service on the Missouri River began.

1861 - Dakota Territory was officially organized by the Federal government and William Jayne was appointed the first governor by President Abraham Lincoln.

1862 -

  • The First Territorial Legislature for Dakota Territory met at Yankton
  • Fort Abercrombie was besieged by Sioux during the Minnesota Uprising.

1863 -

  • Dakota Territory was opened for homesteading.
  • Campaigns intended to punish Santee Sioux who participated in the Minnesota Uprising pushed through northern Dakota and were led by General Henry H. Sibley and General Alfred H. Sully.
  • On September 3, Sully's forces attacked a peaceful hunting camp of Yanktonai Sioux at Whitestone Hill; this was the last major battle of the Indian Wars period to be fought east of the Missouri.

1864 -

  • The first newspaper to be published in northern Dakota, The Frontier Scout, was issued at Fort Union.
  • An immigrant party led by James Fiske was besieged near present-day Marmarth for two weeks; members of the party constructed sod breastworks now known as Fort Dilts.
  • A second military expedition led by Sully battled Sioux at Killdeer Mountain and in the Badlands.
  • Military troops began temporary occupation of Fort Union (1864-65) and Fort Berthold (1864-67) pending establishment of new forts.
  • The military post of Fort Rice (1864-78) was established.

1866 - The military post of Fort Buford (1866-95) was established.

1867 -

  • The Fort Totten Indian Reservation was established and Sisseton and Wahpeton Sioux ceded lands to the US government by treaty.
  • The military posts of Fort Ransom (1867-72), Fort Totten (1867-90), and Fort Stevenson (1867-83) were established.

1868 -

  • A major peace council was held at Fort Rice; this led to the Laramie Treaty which defined Sioux lands as those west of the Missouri River in Dakota Territory.
  • The first homestead entry in northern Dakota was made by Joseph Rolette in the northern Red River Valley.

1870 -

  • The Fort Berthold Indian Reservation was established and treaties between the Sioux and Chippewa and the US government ceded most of present-day eastern North Dakota to the Federal government.
  • The military post of Fort Pembina (1870-95) was established.

1872 -

  • The Northern Pacific Railway was built from the Red River to Jamestown; the NPRR reached Bismarck in 1873, but did not complete its main line to the Montana border until 1881.
  • The first commercial telegraph line was extended from Fargo to Winnipeg and the military posts of Fort Abraham Lincoln (1872-91), Camp Hancock (1872-77), and Fort Seward (1872-77) were established.

1873 -

  • On July 11, Colonel Clement A. Lounsberry published the first issue of the Bismarck Tribune, now North Dakota's oldest newspaper.
  • The first commercial lignite mine opened at Sims, but failed.

1874 -

  • A US Weather Bureau station was established at Camp Hancock at Bismarck
  • The Fargo Express, first newspaper in the Red River Valley, began publication.
  • A major reconnaissance from Fort Abraham Lincoln, led by Col. George A. Custer, explored the Black Hills and verified the existence of gold in that region.
  • The military post of Fort Yates (1874-1903) was established.

1875 -

  • Bonanza farms were established in the Red River Valley.
  • White settlement was permitted by the US War Department on Indian lands reserved by the Laramie treaty, precipitating a major Indian uprising on the plains.

1876 -

  • The Seventh Cavalry, led by Col. George A. Custer, joined the Sioux Expedition of 1876.
  • Leaving Fort Abraham Lincoln on May 17, Custer met decisive defeat at the Little Big Horn River in Montana on June 25.

1877 -

  • The first Bismarck to Deadwood stage left Bismarck
  • First telephones in northern Dakota connected locations on the Grandin bonanza farm near Grandin.

1878 - Ranching was introduced in western Dakota Territory.

1879 -

  • The Great Dakota land boom began
  • Military post at Cantonment Badlands (1879-83) was established.
  • The St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railway (later the Great Northern Railway) entered northern Dakota near Grand Forks; The GNRR, led by James J. Hill, completed its main line to the Montana border in 1887.

1880 - Military reserves in the eastern and central portion of northern Dakota were opened to homesteading.

1882 -

  • The last great Indian buffalo hunt took place
  • Turtle Mountain Reservation was established.
  • Fire destroyed a large portion of Grand Forks.

1883 -

  • The territorial capital was moved from Yankton to Bismarck
  • First capitol was constructed.
  • A university (UND) at Grand Forks and a Presbyterian College (now Jamestown College) were established.
  • The Marquis de Mores began a packing plant and other businesses and planned the town of Medora; these enterprises failed in 1886.
  • Theodore Roosevelt first visited Medora; he later established two ranches in that vicinity that he utilized periodically until 1888.

1884 - Half the city of Devils Lake was destroyed by fire.

1885 -

  • The first meeting of the Territorial Legislature was held at Bismarck
  • Marquis de Mores was acquitted of murder in a trial at Bismarck.
  • The Hospital for the Insane (now North Dakota State Hospital) was opened at Jamestown
  • Territorial prison (now the State Penitentiary) opened at Bismarck.
  • The great "Dakota Boom" in settlement increased the territory's population during this era
  • Territorial census was taken.

1886 -

  • Severe winter in the western part of Dakota Territory put an end to open range ranching
  • Bank of Hamilton (oldest state bank in North Dakota) was opened.
  • The Soo Line Railway began construction in northern Dakota at Fairmont; the Soo completed its lines to Portal in 1893.

1887 -

  • The Standing Rock Indian Reservation was opened to homesteading
  • Board of Pharmacy, North Dakota's first examining board, was founded.
  • The North Dakota Medical Association was founded at Larimore.

1889 -

  • North Dakota was admitted to the Union as the 39th state on November 2, and a State Constitution was adopted in October.
  • North Dakota's first Governor, John Miller of Dwight, took office
  • State Legislature convened at Bismarck on November 19.
  • Constitutional prohibition of alcoholic beverages was instigated,
  • North Dakota Farmers Alliance was formed.
  • The Catholic diocese of Jamestown was established (the offices were moved to Fargo in 1891).

1890 -

  • State Normal Schools at Valley City and Mayville (now State Universities), the State Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University) at Fargo, and the School for the Deaf at Devils Lake were opened. A State Agricultural Experiment Station was opened at Fargo.
  • Panic among White settlers, stemming from Ghost Dance activities among the Sioux, rushed through western North Dakota. During his arrest by Indian Policemen, Hunkpapa Sioux leader, Sitting Bull, was killed on Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

1892 -

  • Early Republican Party domination of state politics was overthrown by the fusion of Democrats and Populists;
  • Eli C.D. Shortridge was elected Governor. Laura J. Eisenhuth, the first woman to hold state office, was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction.

1893 -

  • The Industrial School at Ellendale (later known as the State Normal and Industrial School) was opened; this institution existed until 1971 when its Constitutional status was removed by referendum.
  • The North Dakota Soldiers' Home was opened at Lisbon
  • Fire destroyed almost the entire business section of Fargo.

1894 -

  • The Republican Party regained control of state government, a domination that continued until 1907.
  • Fire destroyed four city blocks in LaMoure.

1895 - The State Historical Society of North Dakota was incorporated with Clement A. Lounsberry as president.

1897 - The first free public library opened at Grafton.

1898 -

  • North Dakota sent troops to assist in the Spanish-American War
  • Fire almost destroyed the entire Bismarck business section.

1899 - North Dakota lost its reputation as being the national divorce mecca when a 90-day residency law expired.

20th Century North Dakota History Timeline

1900 - Frank White of Valley City was elected Governor; when reelected in 1902, he became the state's first Governor to serve more than one term.

1901 -

  • The first North Dakota Pure Foods Law was passed
  • Theodore Roosevelt, previously a ranch operator in Dakota Territory, became President of the United States.

1903 -

  • Ft. Lincoln, located south of Bismarck, was completed and garrisoned; this military base became the training center for the State Militia and was later used as a detention camp for prisoners of war during World War II.
  • The State Industrial School opened at Mandan.

1904 -

  • The State School of Science at Wahpeton and the School for Retarded (now Grafton State School) at Grafton were opened.
  • A state-owned street car line began operation in Bismarck; commercial lines were operating in Fargo and Grand Forks.

1905 -

  • The only execution at the State Penitentiary occurred and the first irrigation works were constructed in North Dakota.
  • The State Historical Society of North Dakota was given legal status
  • 1905 was the single largest construction year for railroads in North Dakota (529.3 miles).

1906 - Charles Service of Park River became North Dakota's first automobile fatality.

1907 -

  • The first gas well in North Dakota was discovered south of Westhope.
  • The State School of Forestry (now North Dakota State University, Bottineau Branch) opened at Bottineau
  • American Society of Equity established a North Dakota union.

1908 -

  • Alexander McKenzie resigned as Republican national committeeman.
  • North Dakota held its first statewide primary election; the state's first Presidential preference primary was held in 1912.
  • The battleship "USS. North Dakota", the first tubine-powered ship in the US Navy, was launched; it was later scrapped in 1931.

1909 -

  • The first child labor laws were enacted and the State Library Commission was created.
  • The first law for the organization of cooperative businesses was passed.

1910 -

  • The first airplane flight in North Dakota occurred at an exhibition in Grand Forks; the passenger was Frank V. Kent.
  • Democrat John Burke became North Dakota's first three-term Governor
  • Catholic diocese of Bismarck was created.

1911 -

  • The North Dakota state flag was designated
  • First state motor vehicle licenses were issued.

1912 -

  • Constitutional amendments allowing initiative and referendum were passed by the electorate.
  • The first Farmers Educational Cooperative Union was brought to North Dakota
  • Equity Cooperative Exchange was formed and began agitation for a state-owned terminal elevator located at Duluth or Minneapolis.

1913 -

  • The Legislature passed a law making bootlegging a crime punishable by penitentiary imprisonment.
  • John Burke, former North Dakota Governor, became Treasurer of the United States; his service extended until 1921.
  • The State Normal School (now Minot State University) opened at Minot
  • North Dakota Farmers Union local was organized at Bismarck
  • State Highway Commission was authorized by the Legislature.

1915 -

  • The Nonpartisan League, an insurgent political movement, began organizing; within one year it obtained over 40,000 members.
  • North Dakota's wheat crop was the largest to that date
  • Legislature passed laws outlawing the death penalty except in cases where prison guards are murdered.
  • The first state organization for Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union in North Dakota was formed.

1916 -

  • The Nonpartisan League captured control of the majority of state offices; Lynn J. Frazier was elected Governor.
  • Completion of the Wildrose-Grenora branch line by the Great Northern Railway (36.3 mi.) ended the last major railway construction in the state
  • State Supreme Court disallowed a ballot proposal to remove the state capital to New Rockford.

1917 -

  • North Dakota units were ordered into Federal military service during World War I
  • Independent Voters Association, opposed to the Nonpartisan League, was formed at Grand Forks.
  • A women's suffrage bill was signed into law, ratified in 1919, and women were allowed to vote in the first general election in 1920.
  • Attorney General William Langer and law enforcement officers conducted the state's biggest raid; 44 were arrested in Minot on charges of gambling, prostitution, etc.

1918 -

  • An Influenza epidemic swept the state killing 2,700 North Dakotans.
  • The State Normal School (now Dickinson State University) opened at Dickinson
  • Initiated measures sponsored by the Nonpartisan League allowed state-owned industries approved by the electorate.

1919 -

  • The Bank of North Dakota was established at Bismarck
  • State Mill and Elevator Commission was organized.
  • A State Industrial Commission was created to manage state industries
  • State Workman's Compensation Bureau was formed,
  • North Dakota Council of Churches was founded.
  • A windstorm hit Williams and Divide Counties killing 8 and injuring 40.
  • North Dakota's first airplane fatality occurred when Brian Kerr was killed in a crash near Sutton,
  • A.C. Townley was convicted on charges of sedition in Minnesota.

1920 -

  • A recall measure for state officials was added to the state constitution by a vote of the electorate.
  • The beginning of rural economic depression came with the collapse of wartime prices for commodities
  • North Dakota branch of the Farm Bureau Federation was organized at Bismarck.
  • Hazel Miner became a posthumous national hero when it was revealed that this fifteen-year old gave up her own life in a blizzard to save her younger siblings.

1921 -

  • Governor Lynn J. Frazier, Attorney General William Lemke, and Commissioner of Agriculture and Labor John N. Hagan, all Nonpartisan League members, were recalled by voters in the first successful gubernatorial recall in the nation.
  • North Dakota's first bus line was established
  • Former Governor Frank White became Treasurer of the United States, a position he held until 1928.

1922 -

  • Former Governor Lynn J. Frazier was elected to the US Senate
  • The first motor vehicle bridge across the Missouri River was completed at Bismarck.
  • North Dakota's first radio station, WDAY at Fargo, began broadcasting.
  • The State Mill and Elevator began operations at Grand Forks
  • North Dakota Wheat Growers Association was founded.

1923 -

  • A uniform system for numbering and marking state hiways was developed
  • The profile of Sioux leader Marcellus Red Tomahawk was designated as the state hiway symbol.

1924 -

The Liberty Memorial Building was completed on the state Capital grounds.

1927 -

  • The North Dakota Farmers Union state organization was chartered with 13,000 members.
  • Big Viking Oil Company of Williston began drilling; the company was broke by 1930.

1928 -

  • An air mail service between the Twin Cities and Winnipeg through North Dakota was inaugurated,
  • Carl Ben Eielson of Hatton became the first person to fly nonstop over the arctic.

1929 - June was one of the driest on record in North Dakota, followed by continuing drought conditions throughout the 1930s; this period is often referred to as the "Dirty Thirties." This also marks the beginning of the Great Depression which continued until the beginning of World War II.

1930 -

  • North Dakota's most severe windstorm was recorded with 1,847 buildings damaged
  • The old territorial Capitol was destroyed by fire on December 28.

1931 -

  • A state-owned street car line between downtown Bismarck and the state Capitol was discontinued.
  • The International Peace Garden site was selected in North Dakota and Manitoba
  • The last lynching in the state occurred at Schafer.

1932 -

  • The new Capitol building was dedicated; a second dedication was held the following year after allegations that the first cornerstone had been damaged.
  • Prohibition agents hit a still at Jamestown making it the biggest raid west of Chicago; the still was capable of producing 1,000 gallons of moonshine a day.
  • The prohibition clause of the state Constitution was repealed by the electorate and former Attorney General William Lemke was elected to congress.
  • The Farmers Holiday Association was formed at Jamestown; farmers blockaded marketing points in northwestern North Dakota in an effort to raise commodity prices.

1933 -

  • Governor William L. Langer proclaimed moratoriums on mortgage foreclosure sales and on the shipment of farm commodities from North Dakota; the latter was declared unconstitutional in 1934 by a Federal judge.
  • A Farm Holiday Association strike in May proved unsuccessful V
  • Violent strike at the new Capitol construction site forced a call-up of the North Dakota National Guard.

1934 - On July 18, the North Dakota Supreme Court disqualified Governor Langer as a result of his conviction for campaigning law violations and Lt. Governor Ole Olson assumed office.

1935 -

  • Thomas Moodie, a Williston Democrat, was inaugurated Governor. Former Governor William Langer produced evidence that Moodie had violated a North Dakota residency law by voting in Minnesota and, on February 2, the North Dakota Supreme Court declared Moodie ineligible. Moodie served in office formally for only 4 days. Walter Welford, Lt. Governor, succeeded to office and became the state's fourth Governor in 7 months.
  • State Welfare and Planning boards and the North Dakota Hiway Patrol was created.
  • North Dakota's new Capitol Building was completed a
  • First credit union law was passed by the state Legislature.

1936 -

  • William Langer became the first person in any state to be elected Governor in an individual column of state ballot and the sale of liquor was legalized by referendum.
  • North Dakota recorded its lowest and highest official temperature readings (60 degrees below zero at Parshall and 120 degrees above at Steele).
  • Drought devastated North Dakota's crops
  • Congressman William Lemke ran for the Presidency on the Union Party ticket.

1937 -

  • The Bismarck Tribune won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting about North Dakota's drought.
  • The Water Conservation Commission was established and the first Soil Conservation district in North Dakota was organized in Kidder County.
  • Baker Rural Electric Cooperative at Cando became the first in North Dakota to energize its transmission lines.

1938 - The first hard-surfaced hiway across North Dakota (US 10) was completed.

1939 - Bismarck Junior College (now Bismarck State College) was established and its first building was constructed on the Capitol grounds.

1940 - The staff of the North Dakota National Guard was ordered into Federal service.


  • Units of the North Dakota National Guard were ordered into Federal military service during World War II;
  • 164th Infantry became the first American unit to fight in the Pacific during the battle of Guadalcanal in 1942.
  • Lake Region Junior College (now University of North Dakota - Lake Region) was established at Devils Lake
  • 90 persons, 39 in North Dakota, were killed by a Red River Valley blizzard.

1942 -

  • A committee ruling calling for Senator Langer's ouster on charges of political corruption was rejected by the US Senate.
  • Drought and the Depression was broken by bumper wheat crops and prosperity returned to the northern plains.

1943 -

  • A Republican Organizing Committee (ROC) was formed to oppose the Nonpartisan League in the Republican column
  • North Dakota led the Nation in per capita war bond sales.
  • The North Dakota Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state's anti-corporation farmer act.

1944 - The Pick-Sloan Plan for the development of Missouri River waters was approved by Congress.

1945 -

  • Senator John Moses died in office; Governor Fred Aandahl selected Milton R. Young as replacement. Young served continuously until 1981 becoming the nation's longest serving GOP senator.
  • A train wreck on the outskirts of Michigan, North Dakota, killed 34 people.

1946 - Construction of Garrison Dam began.

1947 -

  • A bill authorizing the creation of Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park was passed by Congress and signed by President Harry S. Truman; the park was dedicated June 4, 1949.
  • A tornado in Walsh County killed 9 people.

1950 -

  • The Dickey Rural Telephone Mutual Aid Corporation became the state's first modern rural telephone cooperative
  • 231st Engineering Battalion of the North Dakota National Guard was ordered into Federal service for the Korean Emergency.


  • A radar base was activated at Finley; this installation operated until 1980.
  • Oil was discovered near Tioga in April on the farm of Clarence Iverson
  • Voter registration was repealed in North Dakota (still the only state not to have voter registration).

1952 -

  • The William J. Neil Electrical Generation plant near Velva began service; at the time of its completion, it was the largest coal-fired power plant in the United States.
  • The nation's first jewel bearing factory opened at Rolla.

1953 -

  • The Garrison Dam closure ceremonies featured President Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • First North Dakota television stations began broadcasting.
  • Construction began on a pipeline from Tioga to Mandan
  • Bismarck Businessman Harold Schafer won the Horatio Alger Award.
  • The bones of Sitting Bull were allegedly stolen from a grave at Fort Yates and reburied near Mobridge, South Dakota.

1954 -

  • Mandan's oil refinery was dedicated and the first gasoline extracted from petroleum in a North Dakota refinery occurred at Dickinson.
  • The Heskett Electrical generation plant at Mandan went into service; an addition to this plant was energized in 1963.
  • President Eisenhower signed a law authorizing the establishment of Grand Forks and Minot Air Force bases.

1956 -

  • The Nonpartisan League and the Democratic Party merged
  • First contracts were let for Interstate highway systems (I-94 and I-29) in North Dakota.
  • Mary College (now University of Mary) was established at Bismarck
  • Fargo Forum received the Pulitzer Prize for its reporting about a tornado that swept the northwestern edge of Fargo killing 11 people.
  • Construction began at the Grand Forks Air Force base; the base was completed in 1960.

1957 - Construction began at the Minot Air Force base; this base was operational in December, 1959.

1958 -

  • Quentin N. Burdick, Democrat, became the first member of that party to be elected to congress from North Dakota
  • First potato flake plant in the state was established in Grand Forks.

1959 -

  • Longtime state political figures Senator William Langer and Arthur C. Townley, first president of the Nonpartisan League, died in November
  • North Dakota Economic Development Commission was established.

1960 -

  • Seven years after the Garrison Dam closure ceremonies the reservoir was completed and Lake Sakakawea was formed.
  • Highway 29 became the first interstate highway to reach an international border
  • First airplanes arrived at Grand Forks Air Force base.
  • The passage of an initiated measure changed the name of North Dakota Agricultural College to North Dakota State University of Agriculture and Applied Science.

1961 - Roger Maris from Fargo broke Babe Ruth's single season home run record.

1963 -

  • The Leland Olds Generating plant, North Dakota's first major lignite-fired power facility, began construction near Stanton.
  • Uranium recovery from ore-rich lignite beds in southwestern North Dakota began
  • Bus body plant began operation at Pembina.
  • Minuteman Missiles arrived at Grand Forks and Minot Air Force bases
  • UND hockey team won a national intercollegiate championship.

1965 -

  • The first sugar beet refinery in North Dakota was established near Drayton
  • North Dakota's first Minuteman Missile was installed in an underground site near Inkster.
  • President Lyndon Johnson signed into law authorization for the Garrison Diversion project.

1966 -

  • The worst blizzard in state history struck most of North Dakota in March
  • First Minuteman II Missile Wing in the United States was declared operational at the Grand Forks Air Force base.
  • Ground was broken for a new State Highway Department building on the Capitol grounds in Bismarck.
  • Leland Olds Power Station No. 1 at Stanton began service; a second station at this plant was completed in 1975.

1967 - The United Power Cooperative Generation facility near Stanton was begun.

1968 -

  • The Garrison Diversion project was authorized by congress and ground-breaking was held for the Snake Creek pumping plant.
  • William L. Guy, Democratic-NPL, was elected to a four-year term, thus obtaining a longer tenure in the office than any predecessor (12 years).
  • North Dakota's worst traffic accident occurred near Jamestown when 8 teenagers were killed
  • First recorded earthquake occurred in North Dakota with its epicenter near Ashley.

1969 -

  • Minot was hit by the worst flood in history
  • College students instituted the "Zip to Zap" party bash for which the Army National Guard was called into active service.
  • First Western Bank officials in Minot were indicted
  • 126 Minot teachers were dismissed during a strike.
  • The United Tribes Employment Training Center (now the United Tribes Educational and Technical Center) opened near Bismarck.


  • An ABM Missile installation began construction near Nekoma; the facility was completed in 1974, but closed several months later.
  • Construction was initiated on the McClusky Canal portion of the Garrison Diversion project
  • Gary McDaniel, First National Bank president of Minot was convicted of embezzlement.
  • Robert McCarney won a three-vote victory over Richard Elkin in the Republican Primary for the US House.

1971 -

  • A State Constitutional Convention was held at Bismarck; the resulting document was defeated by state voters in 1972.
  • The last area of North Dakota to receive telephone service, Squaw Gap in McKenzie County, was "cut over" by Reservation Telephone Cooperative.
  • Milton R. Young Power Station No. 1 near Center began service; a second station at this plant energized in 1977.
  • An Ellendale branch of UND was closed and Amtrack went into effect.

1972 -

  • The first rural water system in North Dakota, Grand Forks-Traill Water Users Association, began operation
  • Prices for wheat nearly doubled after huge grain sales to Red China and the Soviet Union.

1973 -

  • Record high grain prices enervated North Dakota's economy and a sales tax on groceries was repealed.
  • Viet Nam POWs Captain Loren Torkelson of Crosby and Keith Hall of Devils Lake were released.
  • The Drake school ordered the banning of the novel Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
  • The largest breakout at the state Penitentiary occurred; 10 prisoners escaped but all were apprehended within a week.

1974 -

  • Incumbent Republican Senator Milton R. Young defeated the Democratic-NPL challenger William L. Guy in the closest senate race in North Dakota history; the margin of victory was only 186 votes.
  • Coal mining in North Dakota was delayed until reclamation and environmental issues were resolved
  • First attempted airplane hijack in the state occurred at the Grand Forks airport.

1975 -

  • Congress voted to dismantle the Safeguard antiballistic missle complex in northeastern North Dakota.
  • The worst blizzard in half a century (60 to 70 m.p.h. winds, coupled with 20 below zero temperature and snow) resulted in the deaths of 12 state residents and countless cattle; the following floods cost North Dakota $1 billion in damages.
  • Thomas Kleppe of Bismarck was appointed US Secretary of Interior.
  • North Dakota became the only state legislature to ratify the ERA in 1975
  • North Dakota Coal Impact Office was created.

1976 -

  • Ground-breaking for the North Dakota Heritage Center was held at Bismarck as part of the state's celebration of the national bicentennial.
  • The National Audubon Society filed suit to stop construction of the Garrison Diversion Project
  • North Dakota experienced its driest year since the 1930s.
  • The state House ended in a tie of 50 delegates for each party as Republican Janet Wentz got a one-vote victory in district 41
  • Federal trial began in Bismarck for Russell Means, an Indian activist.

1977 -

  • The last section of Interstate 29 was completed, thus making North Dakota the first state in the union to finish its assigned mileage in the Federal Controlled Access Highway System.
  • North Dakota experienced its wettest year on record

Investigation ensued following the failure of the Towner Bank.

1978 -

  • An oil boom began in western North Dakota
  • Tornado hit Elgin killing 4 people.
  • Sunflowers became the state's second largest cash crop
  • Extensive spring flooding made 23 counties eligible for disaster assistance.

1979 -

  • Coal Creek Power Station No. 1 near Underwood went "on-line"
  • Heavy flooding of the Red River caused much of Hillsboro to be evacuated.

1980 -

  • Construction began at Beulah on the nation's first plant to convert lignite coal to synthetic gas.
  • Allen Olson was elected Governor; he was the first Republican to hold that office in 20 years (the Republicans also won the agriculture, insurance, and State Treasurer positions).

1981 -

  • The North Dakota Heritage Center at Bismarck officially opened
  • Gambling for charitable purposes was legalized in North Dakota.
  • Coyote Station No. 1 near Beulah, a coal-fired electrical generating facility, was opened.

1982 -

  • The Northern Tier Pipeline began
  • Democrats gained control of the House for the first time in 16 years.
  • Northern Lights, a movie about the NPL in North Dakota, won the Neil Simon Award for best picture.

1983 -

  • Two Federal marshals were shot and killed north of Medina
  • US Representative Mark Andrews brought a malpractice suit against a hospital in Fargo.
  • The Payment in Kind (PIK) Program was implemented to help farmers.

1984 -

  • A Federal trial began for Leonard Peltier, accused of shooting 2 Federal Marshals in South Dakota.
  • Ruth Meiers became the state's first woman Lieutenant Governor; Democrats won the executive positions of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Treasurer, Attorney General, and Insurance Commissioner, but the Republicans regained control of the House.

1985 -

  • North Dakota's first ethanol plant was built at Walhalla
  • Beryl Levine became the first woman Justice on the North Dakota Supreme Court.
  • North Dakota became the last state to have a confirmed case of the disease AIDS.

1986 -

  • The Democratic Party gained control of the North Dakota Senate for the first time in the state's history and Lieutenant Governor Ruth Meiers was diagnosed as having cancer; her duties were curtailed.
  • 1986 was a bad year for North Dakota businesses; Staiger, Great Plains and Gold Seal were all reorganized.

1987 -

  • The North Dakota Agriculture Department fell victim to botched Central American potato sales and higher oil and cattle prices started to boost the state's economy.
  • Lieutenant Governor Ruth Meiers died after a six-month battle with cancer and was replaced by Lloyd Omdahl.
  • Fire at an agricultural chemical warehouse in Minot forced 10,000 people to leave their homes until the toxic fumes dissipated.
  • United Mine Workers went on strike at Indian Head Mine near Zap
  • Virgil Hill of Williston won the World Boxing Association light-heavyweight boxing title.

1988 -

  • The first major drought since the 1930s was recorded
  • The Institution at San Haven was closed.
  • Larry Remele, State Historian and editor for the State Historical Society of North Dakota, died in early June.

21st Century North Dakota History Timeline

2008 - U.S. Geological Survey released assessment of undiscovered oil resources in Bakken Formation

2009 - Thousands asked to evacuate homes in Fargo due to rising of Red River

2010 - North Dakota had lowest unemployment rate in nation at 4.2%

2011 - Flooding forced thousands to evacuate Minot

US History Overview
US History Guide
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