Fargo is the largest city in the State of North Dakota, accounting for nearly 16% of the state population. Fargo is also the county seat of Cass County. According to the 2010 census, its population was 105,549. Fargo, along with its twin city of Moorhead, Minnesota, as well as adjacent West Fargo, North Dakota and Dilworth, Minnesota, form the core of the Fargo-Moorhead, ND-MN Metropolitan Statistical Area, which in 2010 contained a population of 216,312.
The area that is present-day Fargo was an early stopping point for steamboats floating down the Red River during the 1870s and 1880s. The city was originally named "Centralia," but was later renamed "Fargo" after Northern Pacific Railway director and Wells Fargo Express Company founder William Fargo (1818−1881). The area started to flourish after the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad and the city became known as the "Gateway to the West".
A major fire struck the city on June 7, 1893 when the proprietor of a grocery store accidentally started the blaze after emptying ashes behind her store on a windy day. The fire destroyed 31 blocks of downtown Fargo. However, the city was immediately rebuilt with new buildings made of brick, new streets, and a water system. Over 246 new buildings were built within one year.
The North Dakota State Agricultural College was founded in 1890 as North Dakota's land-grant university, becoming first accredited by the North Central Association in 1915. In 1960, NDAC became known as North Dakota State University.
Early in the century, the automobile industry flourished, and in 1905, Fargo was home to the Pence Automobile Company.
Fargo-Moorhead boomed after World War II and the city grew rapidly despite being hit by a violent tornado in 1957. The tornado destroyed a large portion of the north end of the city. Ted Fujita, famous for his Fujita tornado scale, analyzed pictures of the Fargo tornado, which helped him develop his ideas for "wall cloud" and "tail cloud". These were the first major scientific descriptive terms associated with tornadoes. The coming of two interstates (I-29 and I-94) revolutionized travel in the region and pushed growth of Fargo to the south and west of the city limits. In 1972, the West Acres Shopping Center, currently the largest shopping mall in North Dakota, was constructed near the intersection of the two Interstates. This mall would become the catalyst for retail growth in the area. It would also spell the beginning of decline for Fargo's downtown.
Fargo has continued to expand rapidly but steadily. Since the mid-1980s, the bulk of new residential growth has occurred south and southwest areas of city limits due to geographic constraints on the north side. The city's major retail districts on the southwest side have likewise seen rapid development.
Downtown Fargo has been revitalized due in part to investments by the city and private developers in the Renaissance Zone. Most older neighborhoods, such as Horace Mann, have either avoided decline or been revitalized through housing rehabilitation promoted by planning agencies to stem blight and strengthen the city's core.
NDSU has grown rapidly into a major research university, and forms a major component of the city's identity and economy. Most students live off-campus in the surrounding Roosevelt neighborhood. The university has established a presence downtown through both academic buildings and apartment housing. In addition, NDSU Bison Football has become a major sport following among many area residents.
Since the late 1990s, the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Statistical Area has consistently had one of the lowest unemployment rates among MSAs in the United States. This, coupled with Fargo's low crime rate and the decent supply of affordable housing in the community, has prompted Money magazine to rank the city near the top of its annual list of America's most livable cities throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s.