A bastion of civilization on an otherwise empty prairie, Billings is a classic Western city, full of the kind of history that shaped the frontier. The Minnesota and Montana Land and Improvement Company founded the town simply to serve as a shipping point along the Northwestern Railroad. In the spring of 1882 the settlement consisted of three buildings—a home, a hotel, and a general store—but before six months passed 5,000 city lots had been sold and more than 200 homes and businesses had been erected. The city’s immediate and consistent growth earned Billings the nickname “the Magic City.”
Billings’s population has doubled every 30 years since its founding. In 2007 the population for the city proper hit the 100,000 mark, making it not only the largest city in Montana, but the largest for 500 mi in any direction. Since the 1951 discovery of an oil field that stretches across Montana and the Dakotas into Canada, refining and energy production have played a key role in keeping Billings vibrant and productive.