Settlers originally came to what is now Rapid City in the 1870s after gold was discovered. In 1876, Rapid City was founded under the name “Hay Camp” and was promoted by miners as the “Gateway to the Black Hills.” Later that year, the site of the city was laid out around Rapid Creek. Six blocks were designated for a business center, which was used for selling supplies to miners and pioneers. By the 20th century, the city was becoming known as a regional trade center.
The city began to grow following World War I with the construction of highways and local efforts that lured in tourists. Mount Rushmore, a popular tourist destination to this day, was started in 1927 and was later completed in 1941. Throughout this period, the city was keeping the economy afloat through tourism through the Great Depression. However, the tourism industry declined following World War II, although the city still managed to get by due to war-related growth.
The Rapid City Army Air Base (later changed to the Ellsworth Air Force Base) resulted in significant population growth during the 1940s. By the end of the decade, city officials made a plan to expand the city with new schools, a civic center, and paved roads, leading to a construction boom during the 1950s. During the 1960s, growth slowed, but development picked up again in the 1970s after the Black Hills Flood killed hundreds and caused $100 million in damage. This led to significant development including the construction of a park, new homes and businesses, a civic center and Central High School.
In the 1980s, the Sioux people filed a lawsuit against the federal government stating that the Black Hills were stolen. The Supreme Court found in favor of the tribe and offered a monetary settlement, but the Sioux continued to push for the return of land including Rapid City. The dispute is still ongoing.
The city also continued to grow in the 1980s as tourism increased, primarily due to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, one of the most famous rallies in the world. Today, tourism remains a driver of the economy, although the city has also ventured into other economic sectors including technology, scientific research, and medicine.