History of Billings
Billings is historically known for having rapid economic growth and a very strong economy. This trend continues today. It is nicknamed the “Magic City” because it has been experiencing rapid growth ever since the railroad was introduced to the city in 1882. The city is named after Fredrick H. Billings, the former president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Billings is prosperous because of its locations – it has one of the largest trade areas in America. It is the trade and distribution center for the majority of Montana, Northern Wyoming and western parts of North and South Dakota.
The city’s railroad ancestry is seen in the configuration of the city. Railroad towns are usually configured geometrically, and that is the case with Billings as well. The city is set up in grids that project away from the railroad in right angles. The railroad can be seen as the spine of the city.
When the railroad arrived, the town began to grow immediately. Most of the people settling in Billings in the early 1990s were immigrants, and because of this, Billings became a place that was very culturally diverse. One of the greatest booms in growth for Billings came after World War II. At that time it became the major financial, medical and cultural center of the entire region. In the first 50 years of the existence of Billings, the population was constantly growing. In some years it grew by 300 and 400 percent. Even during the 1950s when not many other cities were experiencing growth, Billings maintained a growth rate throughout the decade of about 66 percent.
The downtown section of the city grew greatly in the 1970s and 1980s. This was the first time that high-rise buildings were built in Montana. In 1980, Billings got a 22-story Sheraton Hotel. The interstate system through Montana was completed in the 1970s and made Billings an even larger shopping center for the region. Economic, financial and residential growth in Billings continued through the 20th century and continues even today.
As stated earlier, the geographic location is the main reason for Billings' economic success which has yet to stagger since its establishment. It is the center of a very large cosmopolitan area and it is bordered by such large cities as Minneapolis and Seattle to the east, Washington to the west and Calgary to the north and Denver to the south. Therefore, Billings has been a major trading hub since the railroad arrived to the city in the 1800s. Its trade area is one of the largest in the country.
And since Montana has no sales tax, Billings is a retail destination for many people from Wyoming, North and South Dakota as well as most of Montana. One-seventh of all retail purchases in Montana are made in Billings. The percentage of wholesale business transactions done in Billings is even stronger.