Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Rapid City is located in southwestern South Dakota on the eastern edge of the Black Hills. Incorporated in 1882, the city is the county seat of Pennington County. During the Black Hills gold rush Rapid City flourished as a commercial center. In 1886 Rapid City became the first city in the region serviced by a railroad, guaranteeing its survival. The darkest day in the history of the city came on June 9, 1972, when heavy rains caused flash floods that killed over 200 people. In 2000 Rapid City's population was 59,607.

By 1880 the Black Hills gold rush had waned, and cattle ranching became the primary economic activity; its importance to the local economy has continued into the twentyfirst century. Rapid City also serves the surrounding area as a trade and transportation center for ranching, agriculture, lumbering, and mining. The Bureau of Reclamation's Rapid Valley irrigation project has enhanced agricultural productivity. Major minerals mined or quarried in the area include gold, silver, uranium, mica, limestone, sand and gravel, and gemstones. Manufacturing activities in this rapidly growing city include flour milling, dairy and meat products, wood millwork, wooden furniture, gun stocks, small arms ammunition, gold and silver jewelry, uniform manufacturing, circuit boards, construction materials, steel fabrication, packaging, concrete, and limestone products. Banking and finance are also major economic activities.

The invention of the automobile and President Calvin Coolidge's popularization of the Black Hills brought tourists to the region. Rapid City is the gateway to numerous Black Hills attractions, including Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Wind Cave National Park, Devils Tower National Monument, Badlands National Park, and Jewel Cave National Monument. Other local tourist attractions include the Black Hills National Forest, Custer State Park, Crazy Horse Monument, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and the town of Deadwood. Rapid City is also home to The Journey, a major museum complex that houses the South Dakota Museum of Geology, the Sioux Indian Museum, the Archaeological Research Center, the Minnilusa Pioneer Museum, and the Duhamel Collection.

Rapid City is served by the Rapid City Regional Airport, the Dakota, Minnesota, and Eastern Railroad, U.S. Highways 14 and 16, and Interstate 90. Ellsworth Air Force Base, located northeast of the city, is a major air command installation and a significant source of employment. Educational institutions include the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, the National American University, and the Western Dakota Technical Institute.

See also PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT: Black Hills / SPORTS AND RECREATION: National Parks; Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Edward Patrick Hogan South Dakota State University

Hogan, Edward Patrick, and Erin Hogan Fouberg. The Geography of South Dakota. Sioux Falls SD: Center for Western Studies, 1998.

Schell, Herbert S. The History of South Dakota. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968.

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