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Great Falls
City and County seat
Central Ave and Civic Center 1.JPG
Official seal of Great Falls
The Electric City
Location within Cascade County and Montana
Location within Cascade County and Montana
Great Falls is located in the United States
Great Falls
Great Falls
Location in the United States
Country United States
State Montana
County Cascade
Incorporated 1888
Named for Great Falls of the Missouri River
 • City and County seat 23.45 sq mi (60.74 km2)
 • Land 22.97 sq mi (59.50 km2)
 • Water 0.48 sq mi (1.24 km2)
3,330 ft (1,010 m)
 • City and County seat 60,442
 • Rank US: 617th
 • Density 2,631.35/sq mi (1,015.83/km2)
 • Metro
84,414 (US: 371st)
Time zone UTC−7 (MST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−6 (MDT)
ZIP Codes
Area code 406
FIPS code 30-32800

Great Falls is the third most populous city in the U.S. state of Montana and the county seat of Cascade County. The population was 60,442 according to the 2020 census. The city covers an area of 22.9 square miles (59 km2) and is the principal city of the Great Falls, Montana, Metropolitan Statistical Area, which encompasses all of Cascade County. The Great Falls MSA’s population stood at 84,414 in the 2020 census.

Central Ave and Civic Center 2
Downtown Great Falls

A cultural, commercial and financial center in the central part of the state, Great Falls is located just east of the Rocky Mountains and is bisected by the Missouri River. It is 180 miles (290 km) from the east entrance to Glacier National Park in northern Montana, and 264 miles (425 km) from Yellowstone National Park in southern Montana and northern Wyoming. A north–south federal highway, Interstate 15, serves the city.

Great Falls is named for a series of five waterfalls located on the Missouri River north and east of the city. The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1805–1806 was forced to portage around a 10-mile (16 km) stretch of the river in order to bypass the falls; the company spent 31 days in the area, performing arduous labor to make the portage. Three of the waterfalls, known as Black Eagle, Rainbow and the Great Falls (or the Big Falls), are among the sites of five hydroelectric dams in the area, giving the city its moniker, “The Electric City”. Other nicknames for Great Falls include “The River City” and “Western Art Capital of the World”. The city is also home to two military installations: Malmstrom Air Force Base east of the city, which is the community’s largest employer; and the Montana Air National Guard to the west, adjacent to Great Falls International Airport.

Great Falls is a popular tourist destination in Montana, with one million overnight visitors annually, who spend an estimated $185 million while visiting, according to the Great Falls Montana Tourism group. Among Montana cities, Great Falls boasts the greatest number of museums, with 10, including the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center near Giant Springs and the C. M. Russell Museum and Original Log Cabin Studio on the city’s north side. Great Falls was the largest city in Montana from 1950 to 1970, when it was eclipsed by Billings in the 1970 census; Missoula assumed second place in 2000.


The first human beings to live in the Great Falls area were Paleo-Indians who migrated into the region between 9,500 BCE and 8,270 BCE. The earliest inhabitants of North America entered Montana east of the Continental Divide between the mountains and the Laurentide ice sheet. The area remained only sparsely inhabited, however. Salish Indians would often hunt bison in the region on a seasonal basis, but no permanent settlements existed at or near Great Falls for much of prehistory. Around 1600, Piegan Blackfeet Indians, migrating west, entered the area, pushing the Salish back into the Rocky Mountains and claiming the site now known as Great Falls as their own. The Great Falls location remained the tribal territory of the Blackfeet until long after the United States claimed the region in 1803.

Meriwether Lewis was the first white person to visit the area, which he did on June 13, 1805, as part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. York, an African American slave owned by William Clark and who had participated in the Expedition, was the first black American to visit the site of the future city.

MT Great Falls 1891
1891 bird's eye illustration of Great Falls
Cattle Roundup, Great Falls, MT, Geo B Bonnell, c1890
Cattle roundup near Great Falls, c. 1890

Following the return passage of Lewis and Clark in 1806, there is no record of any white person visiting the site of the city of Great Falls until explorer and trapper Jim Bridger reached the area in 1822. Bridger and Major Andrew Henry led a fur-trading expedition to the future city location in April 1823 (and were attacked by Blackfeet Indians while camping at the site). British explorer Alexander Ross trapped around Great Falls in 1824. In 1838, a mapping expedition sent by the U.S. federal government and guided by Bridger spent four years in the area. Margaret Harkness Woodman became the first white woman to visit the Great Falls area in 1862.

The Great Falls of the Missouri River marked the limit of the navigable section of the Missouri River for non-portagable watercraft, and the non-navigability of the falls was noted by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2012 ruling against the State of Montana on the question of streambed ownership beneath several dams situated at the site of the falls. The first steamboat arrived at future site of the city in 1859.

Politically, the future site of Great Falls passed through numerous hands in the 19th century. It was part of the unincorporated frontier until May 30, 1854, when Congress established the Nebraska Territory. Indian attacks on white explorers and settlers dropped significantly after Isaac Stevens negotiated the Treaty of Hellgate in 1855, and white settlement in the area began to occur. On March 2, 1861, the site became part of the Dakota Territory. The Great Falls area was incorporated into the Idaho Territory on March 4, 1863, and then into the Montana Territory on May 28, 1864. It became part of the state of Montana upon that territory's admission to statehood on November 8, 1889.

Great Falls was founded in 1883. Businessman Paris Gibson visited the Great Falls of the Missouri River in 1880, and was deeply impressed by the possibilities for building a major industrial city near the falls with power provided by hydroelectricity. He returned in 1883 with friend Robert Vaughn and some surveyors and platted a permanent settlement the south side of the river. The city's first citizen, Silas Beachley, arrived later that year. With investments from railroad owner James J. Hill and Helena businessman Charles Arthur Broadwater, houses, a store, and a flour mill were established in 1884. The Great Falls post office was established on July 10, 1884, and Paris Gibson was named the first postmaster. A planing mill, lumber yard, bank, school, and newspaper were established in 1885. By 1887 the town had 1,200 citizens, and in October of that year the Great Northern Railway arrived in the city. Great Falls was incorporated on November 28, 1888.

Black Eagle Dam was built in 1890, and by 1912 Rainbow Dam and Volta Dam (now Ryan Dam) were all operating.

Great Falls quickly became a thriving industrial and supply center and, by the early 1900s, was en route to becoming one of Montana's largest cities. The rustic studio of famed Western artist Charles Marion Russell was a popular attraction, as were the famed "Great Falls of the Missouri", after which the city was named. A structure billed as the "world's tallest smokestack" was completed in 1908 by the city's largest employer, the Anaconda Copper Mining Company's smelter, measuring 508 feet (155 m) tall. The Big Stack immediately became a landmark for the community. The Big Stack's 'sister' stack in Anaconda was suffering from cracking and it was decided to remove the support bands from the upper half of the Big Stack and send them to Anaconda. This action proved to be the Big Stack's ultimate demise since the cracks it suffered from rapidly worsened. Citing public safety concerns due to the stack's continual deterioration of its structural integrity it was slated for demolition on September 18, 1982. In an interesting twist of fate the demolition crew failed to accomplish the task on the first try; the two worst cracks in the stack ran from just above ground level to nearly 300 feet up. As the 600 lbs of explosives were set off (which was to create a wedge in the base so it would fall almost vertically into a large trench for the rubble) the cracks 'completed themselves' all the way to the ground—effectively severing the stack into two-thirds and one-third pieces. Much to the delight of the spectating community, the smaller of the two pieces remained standing, but the failed demolition only solidified the safety issue whereas the community cited the event as the stack's defiance. The demolition team who had planted the charges was recalled and several hours later they returned and finished the demolition, after packing another 400 lbs of explosives into the smaller wedge.

During World War II the Northwest Staging Route passed through the city on which planes were delivered to the USSR according to the Lend-Lease program. Great Falls prospered further with the opening of a nearby military base in the 1940s, but as rail transportation and freight slowed in the later part of the century, outlying farming areas lost population, and with the closure of the smelter and cutbacks at Malmstrom Air Force Base in the 1980s, its population growth slowed.

The economy of Great Falls has suffered from the decline of heartland industry in recent years much like other cities in the Great Plains and Midwest.

Geography and climate

Glacial lakes in Montana
Map of Montana showing Glacial Lake Great Falls.

Great Falls is located near several waterfalls on the Missouri River. It lies near the center of Montana on the northern Great Plains. It lies next to the Rocky Mountain Front and is about 100 miles (160 km) south of the Canada–US border.

The city of Great Falls lies atop the Great Falls Tectonic Zone, an intracontinental shear zone between two geologic provinces of basement rock of the Archean period which form part of the North American continent. The city lies at the southern reach of the Laurentide ice sheet, a vast glacial sheet of ice which covered much of North America during the last glacial period. Approximately 1.5 million years ago, the Missouri River flowed northward into a terminal lake. The Laurentide ice sheet pushed the river southward. Between 15,000 BCE and 11,000 BCE, the Laurentide ice sheet blocked the Missouri River and created Glacial Lake Great Falls. About 13,000 BCE, as the glacier retreated, Glacial Lake Great Falls emptied catastrophically in a glacial lake outburst flood. The current course of the Missouri River essentially marks the southern boundary of the Laurentide ice sheet. The Missouri River flowed eastward around the glacial mass, settling into its present course. As the ice retreated, meltwater from Glacial Lake Great Falls poured through the Highwood Mountains and eroded the mile-long, 500-foot-deep (150 m) Shonkin Sag—one of the most famous prehistoric meltwater channels in the world.

Great Falls is also situated on a fall line unconformity in the Great Falls Tectonic Zone, as well as atop the Kootenai Formation, a mostly nonmarine sandstone laid down by rivers, glaciers, and lakes in the past.

Great Falls at dusk

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 22.26 square miles (57.65 km2), of which, 21.79 square miles (56.44 km2) is land and 0.47 square miles (1.22 km2) is water.

Great Falls has a cold semi-arid climate Köppen climate classification (BSk), with a notable amount of summer precipitation occurring in the form of thunderstorms. Winters are very cold, long and often snowy, though periods of chinook winds do cause warm spells and raise the maximum temperature above 50 °F or 10 °C on an average of fifteen afternoons during the three-month winter period In the absence of such winds, shallow cold snaps are common; there is an average of 20.8 nights with a low of 0 °F (−17.8 °C) or colder and 44 days failing to top freezing. The wettest part of the year is the spring. Summers are hot and dry, with highs reaching 90 °F (32.2 °C) on nineteen days per year, though the diurnal temperature variation is large and easily exceeds 30 °F (16.7 °C). Freak early and late summer snowfalls such as a two-day total of 8.3 in (0.21 m)* in August 1992 can occur, although the median snowfall from June to September is zero and on average the window for accumulating (0.1 in or 0.0025 m*) snowfall is October 2 thru May 13. The average first and last freeze dates are September 21 and May 21, respectively, allowing a growing season of 122 days, although, excepting for July, a freeze has occurred in every month of the year. Extreme temperatures range from −49 °F (−45.0 °C) on February 15, 1936 to 107 °F (41.7 °C) on July 25, 1933.

Climate data for Great Falls, Montana (Great Falls Int'l), 1981–2010 normals, extremes 1891–present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 67
Mean maximum °F (°C) 57
Average high °F (°C) 35.5
Average low °F (°C) 14.9
Mean minimum °F (°C) −14
Record low °F (°C) −44
Average precipitation inches (mm) 0.51
Average snowfall inches (cm) 8.6
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 6.8 7.0 9.3 9.4 11.7 11.7 7.5 7.9 7.8 6.6 6.7 7.5 99.9
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 7.2 6.8 7.8 4.5 1.6 0.2 0 0.1 0.8 3.1 5.7 7.5 45.3
Mean monthly sunshine hours 125.1 151.7 237.5 245.7 286.6 316.5 377.4 330.8 254.4 200.4 124.8 105.4 2,756.3
Source 1: NOAA (sun 1961–1990)
Source 2: (extremes)


Historical population
Census Pop.
1890 3,979
1900 14,930 275.2%
1910 13,948 −6.6%
1920 24,121 72.9%
1930 28,822 19.5%
1940 29,928 3.8%
1950 39,214 31.0%
1960 55,244 40.9%
1970 60,091 8.8%
1980 56,725 −5.6%
1990 55,097 −2.9%
2000 56,690 2.9%
2010 58,505 3.2%
2020 60,442 3.3%
U.S. Decennial Census

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 58,505 people, 25,301 households, and 15,135 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,684.9 inhabitants per square mile (1,036.6/km2). There were 26,854 housing units at an average density of 1,232.4 per square mile (475.8/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 88.5% Caucasian, 1.1% African American, 5.0% Native American, 0.9% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.6% from other races, and 3.8% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino people of any race were 3.4% of the population.

There were 25,301 households, of which 28.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.6% were married couples living together, 11.5% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.8% had a male householder with no wife present, and 40.2% were non-families. 33.5% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.26 and the average family size was 2.88.

The median age in the city was 39 years. 22.5% of residents were under the age of 18; 9.9% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 24.5% were from 25 to 44; 26.5% were from 45 to 64; and 16.6% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.9% male and 51.1% female.


Great Falls is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base and the 341st Missile Wing. The 341st Operations Group provides the forces to launch, monitor and secure the wing's Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and missile alert facilities (MAF).

These ICBMs and MAFs are dispersed over the largest missile complex in the Western Hemisphere, an area encompassing some 23,000 sq mi (60,000 km2) (approximately the size of the state of West Virginia).

The group manages a variety of equipment, facilities, and vehicles worth more than $5 billion.

Great Falls International Airport is home to the Montana Air National Guard's 120th Airlift Wing. The 120AW is composed of C-130 Hercules (C-130H) cargo aircraft and associated support personnel.

Great Falls is also home to the 889th Army Reserve Unit.

The 819th Red Horse rapid deployment unit is also located on Malmstrom AFB

Arts and culture

Gibson park duck pond 3
Gibson Park
Sip n Dip mermaid1
A "mermaid" at the Sip 'n Dip

Great Falls has a symphony orchestra, founded in 1959, which generally offers multiple concert series throughout the year, also sponsoring a Youth Orchestra, the Cascade String Quartet, the Chinook Winds Quintet, other chamber ensembles and an educational outreach program. Well-known performers brought in to perform with Great Falls Symphony have included Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Midori, Joshua Bell, James Galway, Christopher Parkening and Evelyn Glennie.

The community also is notable for the unique Sip 'n Dip Lounge, a tiki bar located downtown in the O'Haire Motor Inn. Built in 1962, it features an indoor swimming pool visible through a window in the bar where women dressed as "mermaids" swim underwater. In 2003, GQ Magazine rated the lounge as one of the top 10 bars in the world, and the #1 bar in the world "worth flying for". With the added feature of an octogenarian piano player named "Piano Pat," noted for her "unusual covers" of songs by Frank Sinatra and other performers of the 1960s, Frommer's travel guide calls it "one of the kitschiest, wackiest, and flat-out coolest nightspots, not just in Montana, but in the entire West."

Four Seasons Arena

The Four Seasons Arena is a multi-purpose indoor sports and exhibition arena located in the city of Great Falls, Montana, in the United States. Constructed in 1979, it served primarily as an ice rink until 2005. The failure of the practice rink's refrigeration system in 2003 and the management's decision to close the main rink in 2006 led to the facility's reconfiguration as an indoor sports and exhibition space. As of May 2011 it is the largest exhibition, music, and sports venue in the city.


Club Sport League Stadium (or arena)
Great Falls Voyagers Baseball Pioneer League Centene Stadium
Great Falls Gladiators Football Rocky Mountain Football League Memorial Stadium
Great Falls Americans Ice Hockey North American 3 Hockey League Great Falls Ice Plex

For the 1979–80 WHL season, Great Falls and the Four Seasons Arena was the home of the Great Falls Americans hockey team (see below). The team was 2–25 before folding. Great Falls has a rich baseball history with the Voyagers. Formerly called the White Sox, Dodgers and Giants, baseball players such as Pedro Martínez, José Offerman, and Raúl Mondesí have spent time in Great Falls with the team. Since 1988, the team has won the Pioneer League championship six times (1988, 1989, 1990, 2002, 2008, and 2011). In 2007, the Great Falls Explorers basketball team were the CBA National Conference Runner-up.

Great Falls has been home to the Great Falls Americans Junior A ice hockey team since the 2011–2012 season.

Great Falls is home to the Great Falls Gladiators semi-professional football team. The Gladiators are currently the defending Rocky Mountain Football League champions, recording an 11–0 record and winning the AA division championship at home in Memorial Stadium.

The Mariana UFO Incident

The Mariana UFO Incident occurred in August 1950 in Great Falls. Nicholas "Nick" Mariana, the general manager of the Great Falls "Electrics" minor-league baseball team, and his secretary observed two "bright, silvery spheres" move rapidly over the city's empty baseball stadium. Mariana used his camera to film the objects; the film was one of the first ever taken of a suspected UFO. The incident received widespread national publicity and is regarded as one of the first great UFO incidents in the United States. In 2007, the Great Falls White Sox were renamed as the Great Falls Voyagers to commemorate this event. The team logo features a green alien in a flying saucer.

Sister city

Great Falls has one sister city, as designated by Sister Cities International (SCI):

  • Russia Sharya, Russia


Historic economy

Black Eagle Dam - pre-1908
The smelter and dam at Great Falls c. 1910

Built as a railroad hub, Great Falls initially relied heavily on ore smelting in its early years. Black Eagle Dam, opened in 1890, was the first hydroelectric dam built in Montana and the first built on the Missouri River. The energy industry helped give the city of Great Falls the nickname "The Electric City". The same year, the Boston and Montana Consolidated Copper and Silver Mining Company broke ground on a large smelter in the city, drawn to the location by the power provided by the dam. Elements came online over the next few years, with the final works—an electrolytic refinery and blast furnaces—completed in February and April 1893. By 1892, more than 1,000 workers were employed at the smelter. Energy production received a boost with the discovery of petroleum about 100 miles (160 km) north of the city in the late 1910s. Great Falls boasted two oil refineries by 1920, although a devastating fire left the city with just one after 1929.

Great Falls suffered its first major economic crisis in 1893. Banks and industry in the city were severely undercapitalized, and the Panic of 1893 cut off access to money in the east. The price of silver collapsed and nearby mines closed. Markets for beef, mutton, and wool largely disappeared, leaving area ranchers destitute. A large number of businesses in Great Falls shut their doors. The city was largely saved by the smelter, which continued to employ about 900 workers from 1895 to 1900. A North Montana Agricultural Society was formed to bring improvements in the practice of cattle ranching and wheat farming, and to lobby for federal- and state-funded irrigation projects. An attempt to win state legislative approval for an official state fair to be located at Great Falls failed in 1894, but organizers were successful in holding the first Cascade County Fair in May 1895.

Montana Flour Mills at Great Falls Montana
Montana Flour Mills in Great Falls in 1920

The city became even more prominent as an agricultural products center. Wheat production began to soar in Montana during the 1906-1907 growing season, and by 1920 there were 11 railroad spur lines radiating from the city to collect the grain from local farmers. The city's easy access to inexpensive electrical power made it ideal for grain milling and meat refrigeration, and enabled Great Falls to become a major center for farmers and ranchers. The Royal Milling Company was founded in Great Falls in 1892, and within seven years was making half the flour in the state. It tripled its capacity to 10,500 US bushels (370,000 L; 84,000 US dry gal; 81,000 imp gal) per day in 1917, then in 1928 merged with about 25 other mills nationwide to form General Mills. Montana Flour Mills opened its Great Falls facility in 1916, and had a capacity of 4,500 US bushels (160,000 L; 36,000 US dry gal; 35,000 imp gal) per day in 1920. Royal had a regional grain storage capacity in 1920 of more than 1,500,000 US bushels (53,000,000 L; 12,000,000 US dry gal; 12,000,000 imp gal), while Montana Flour's approached 2,250,000 US bushels (79,000,000 L; 18,000,000 US dry gal; 17,400,000 imp gal). Brewing became a major industry in the city, with the 1892 Montana Brewing Company (makers of Great Falls Select beer) leading the way. The city's close proximity to Montana's cattle-rich Judith Basin also led to the development of a large meat packing industry. Led by the Great Falls Meat Co., Needham Packing Company, Stafford Meat Co., Valley Meat Market, and other slaughterhouses, Great Falls was the largest meat packing center between Spokane, Washington, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, by the 1930s.

The city's population boomed, reaching 30,000 by 1913. The 145-bed Columbus Hospital (a Catholic Church-owned facility) opened in 1892 and the 330-bed Montana Deaconess Medical Center (originally a Methodist Episcopal Church facility) opened in 1898, making the city a destination for those with serious healthcare needs for central Montana. During the 1910s, Great Falls became known as a regional banking city, with three national- and three state-chartered banks (although just two national and one state bank would survive the Great Depression). Large regional deposits of clay, coal, gypsum, limestone, and sandstone led to the emergence of large brick works, cement works, plaster works, and stone cutting facilities in the town.

A major drought hit the counties north of the Missouri River in 1917, and spread to the rest of the state in 1918. Massive swarms of locusts struck the state in 1919, and in 1920 strong, steady winds eroded the topsoil, damaging the productivity of the soil and creating a "dust bowl" effect. Montana farmers were therefore largely unable to take advantage of the high price of wheat and other agricultural products created by wartime demand and the loss of agricultural output in Europe caused by World War I. The drought did not end: Just six of the 13 years from 1917 to 1930 saw average or above-average precipitation in the state. As agricultural production in Europe recovered after 1920, war-inflated agricultural prices collapsed. The high costs associated with the Great Falls-area underground coal mines led to the collapse of this local industry in the 1920s as well, devastating Great Falls coal dealers and shippers. Although the post–World War I recession lifted nationally by 1922, the economy of Great Falls and the rest of the state remained mired in depression until the mid-1920s.

The city's economy stagnated during the Great Depression. The price of copper fell by nearly 75 percent to just 5 cents a pound between 1929 and 1933. Anaconda cut production in the state by 75 percent and closed its plant in Great Falls, throwing hundreds out of work. Agricultural prices, too, collapses. Half of the state's farmers lost their land to foreclosure, and 60,000 of the 80,000 homesteaders who had arrived between 1900 and 1917 left the state. By the time the Great Depression ended in 1940, 11,000 farms (20 percent of the state's total) had been abandoned and 2,000,000 acres (810,000 ha) of farmland had gone out of cultivation. Even as the national population grew by 16 percent between 1930 and 1940, Montana's population declined. Great Falls was one of the rare places in Montana which saw population growth. The city grew from 28,822 residents in 1930 to 29,928 residents in 1940.

Malmstrom Air Force Base - MT - 8 Jul 1995
Malmstrom Air Force Base in 1995

World War II saw the establishment of East Base (now Malmstrom Air Force Base) in Great Falls in 1941, proved to be a turning point economically. The war not only created a huge demand for the agricultural products and metal products provided by the city but also fueled significant population growth in Great Falls. The base brought 4,000 new residents to the city; by 1943, the city's population had shot up by about 5,600 to 35,000. These new residents created a huge demand for goods and services, and a large number of new businesses sprang up to supply the base with its needs. The rapid population growth created a housing construction boom in Great Falls. The federal government paid for the construction of 300 new single-family homes during the war, although this was nowhere near the amount of new housing needed. East Base created a fundamental cultural and social shift in the city, one which became more pronounced over time as active-duty personnel stayed in the city after retirement. The war also saw a major improvement to the Great Falls Municipal Airport. The 1928 facility received its first air traffic control tower in 1942, paid for by the federal government after the vast increase in flights over the city after the construction of the new air base.

O.S. Warden Bridge
Warden Bridge

By 1950, Great Falls was Montana's largest city, having added 33 percent more residents during the 1940s. Much of the city's growth was due to rising federal investment in defense and healthcare, and it was an important regional convention, trade, and medical center. In 1951, Anaconda consolidated its statewide zinc production in Great Falls, adding substantial numbers of new workers, and in 1955 opened an aluminum smelter in the city. The O.S. Warden Bridge opened in 1951. Designed to turn a then-mostly undeveloped 10th Avenue S. into a straight-line bypass through the city, Extraordinary increases in traffic on 10th Avenue S. led the state to transform the two-lane street in 1956 into an 80-foot (24 m) wide four-lane highway with a central median. Previously an undeveloped area with only the occasional residence, the 1956 changes to 10th Avenue S. turned the highway into a vibrant business district. Construction of the new campus of the College of Great Falls began on 10th Avenue S. in 1959, and the new Deaconess Hospital in 1963. 10th Avenue S. received its first traffic signals in 1964.

Great Falls' reputation as a retail hub for central Montana emerged in the 1960s. The Holiday Village Mall opened as an open-air shopping center in 1959, and by 1969 had expanded to become a modern enclosed shopping mall. Westgate Mall opened in 1965, Agri-Village Warehouse (later Agri-Village Shopping Center) in 1967, and Evergreen Mall in 1983. The city was one of Montana's most important agricultural equipment sales and distribution hubs, and the Great Falls Livestock Commission Company (established in 1936) had become an important multistate livestock auction center.

In the 1960s, Great Falls' economic future appeared bright. The city's population reached 55,357 in 1960, an 85 percent increase since 1940. It was one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. Including the adjacent unincorporated town of Black Eagle, Malmstrom Air Force Base personnel, and certain minor adjacent residential blocks, the population was estimated to be more than 72,000 by 1964. The largest city in Montana in 1965, state planning agencies believed Great Falls would have a population of 100,000 by 1981.

The economy of Great Falls began a significant diminution in the 1970s. The nation of Chile nationalized Anaconda Copper's extensive, lucrative copper mines in 1971, causing the company to suffer massive financial losses. It closed its Great Falls zinc operation in 1971, and the rest of the smelter in 1980. About 1,450 high-wage Anaconda employees lost their jobs during the decade. Changes in the defense posture of the United States led to significant cutbacks at Malmstrom Air Force Base as well. These included the loss of 476 airmen and officers in 1972, 30 airmen in 1974, 1,015 airmen and officers in 1979, 100 airmen in 1981, 30 airmen in 1982, and 360 airmen and officers in 1983. The job losses stripped $18.2 million from the local economy in 1985 alone. The base lost another 1,017 jobs between 1992 and 1996.

Current economy

Great Falls, Mt Product Exports (2020)
Great Falls, Montana products treemap, 2020

Since the Great Recession of 2008–2010, the Great Falls economy proved sluggish, growing at an annual rate of 0.9 percent, compared to a statewide average of 1.8 percent and a national rate of 2.0 percent. Growth was strongest in construction and manufacturing, followed by back-office business services (such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana's new insurance claims processing center), healthcare (such as the opening of the Great Falls Clinic Hospital), retail sales, social welfare (such as the opening of the Cameron Family Center, which houses 26 homeless families), and tourism. The city's lack of population growth, coupled with low commodity prices for agricultural producers, has significantly hindered growth in the city for two decades.

The lack of growth worsened poverty in the city. There were no neighborhoods of concentrated poverty in the city in 2010, but by 2016 1,254 city residents lived in such areas. The number of Great Falls residents living in poverty during the same period rose by 10.37 percent (1,100 people), for a citywide poverty rate of 19.9 percent. Great Falls suffered from more concentrated poverty than any other city in the state.

Low economic and population growth have also harmed real estate values in the city. While the median price of a home in five other large Montana cities (Billings, Bozeman, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula) was $262,960 ($300,000 in 2022 dollars) in 2017, it was just $169,500 ($200,000 in 2022 dollars) in Great Falls during the same period. (That is $93,460, or 35.5 percent, less.) The median price of a home statewide in Montana during that period was $217,200 ($300,000 in 2022 dollars), with Great Falls home prices $47,700, or 22 percent, less.

A 2016 report by the Bureau of Business and Economic Development at the University of Montana predicted the city's economy would be driven by manufacturing, retail sales, and tourism over the next several years. The city had long tried to rebuild its agricultural processing industry, and egg production and specialty milling both saw expanded operations in the city in 2015. In 2016, the city won an $8 million grant from the state of Montana to open a Food and Ag Development Center (only one of four in Montana). Working with BNSF Railway, the city's development agency converted 197 acres (80 ha) of disused railroad yard into a fully service heavy industrial food and agricultural processing site. Named AgriTech Park, the site won an Excellence in Regional Transportation Award from the National Association of Development Organizations. FedEx Ground, Helena Chemical, Montana Specialty Mills, Pacific Steel and Recycling, and Cargill all took space in the park by the end of 2018.


Great Falls is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base and the 341st Missile Wing. The 341st Operations Group provides the forces to launch, monitor and secure the wing's Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and missile alert facilities (MAF). These ICBMs and MAFs are dispersed over the largest missile complex in the Western Hemisphere, an area encompassing some 23,000 sq mi (60,000 km2) (approximately the size of the state of West Virginia). The group manages a variety of equipment, facilities, and vehicles worth more than $5 billion. The 819th RED HORSE Squadron and the 219th RED HORSE Squadron (MTANG), both rapid deployment units, are also located at Malmstrom AFB. The Malmstrom squadrons is the first "associate" RED HORSE squadrons in the Air Force, approximately two-thirds active-duty and one-third Air National Guard (the Montana Air National Guard 219th RED HORSE Squadron). The 819th RED HORSE squadron was reactivated on August 8, 1997, at Malmstrom AFB.

Great Falls International Airport is home to the Montana Air National Guard's 120th Airlift Wing. The 120AW is composed of C-130 Hercules (C-130H) cargo aircraft and associated support personnel.

Great Falls is also home to the 889th Army Reserve Unit.


Charles M. Russell High School, Great Falls, Montana
Charles M. Russell High School

There are 20 schools within the Great Falls Public Schools system. These include two public high schools, an alternative high school, two middle schools, and 15 elementary schools. The two public high schools are Great Falls High School and Charles M. Russell High School. The alternative high school is Paris Gibson Education Center, located in the former Paris Gibson Junior High School building. The two middle schools are North Middle School and East Middle School.

The state-operated Montana School for the Deaf & Blind is in Great Falls.

Great Falls also is home to many private schools, all of them sponsored by religious organizations. The Catholic Church sponsors several schools in the city, including Great Falls Montessori (grades Pre-K to K), Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School (Pre-K to grade 8), Holy Spirit Catholic School (Pre-K to grade 8), and Great Falls Central Catholic High School (grades 9 to 12). The Conservative Baptist Association of America sponsors two schools in the city: Heritage Baptist School (K to grade 9) and Treasure State Baptist Academy (Pre-K to grade 12). The Seventh-day Adventist Church also sponsors two schools: Adventist Christian (grades 1 to 8) and Five Falls Christian Church (grades 1 to 8). There is also a nondenominational Christian school, Foothills Community Christian School (Pre-K to grade 12).

Great Falls is home to three institutions of higher education. Great Falls College Montana State University is a two-year public institution of higher learning. It was founded as the Great Falls Vocational-Technical Center in 1969, and received its current name after the state restructured the two-year comprehensive colleges in the state in 2012. Although a public institution since its creation, it became part of the Montana University System in 1994. The University of Providence, formerly named the University of Great Falls, a private, four-year Catholic university, was founded in 1932 by the Sisters of Providence and the Ursuline Sisters. Apollos University is a private, distance education university, founded in 2005 and headquartered in Great Falls since 2016.

Great Falls has a public library, the Great Falls Public Library.


The sewage treatment for the city was awarded to Envirotech in 1977, and was renewed with the same company through at least 1982.



Great Falls is served by Great Falls International Airport, with four passenger and five cargo airlines. Of those, only Allegiant Air and Fed Ex Express provide service to the city with mainline (large) jet aircraft.


Great Falls is served by the following highways:

  • I-15.svg Interstate 15
  • Business Loop 15.svg Interstate 15 Business/Interstate 315 (not official signed as I-315)
  • US 87.svg U.S. Route 87
  • US 89.svg U.S. Route 89
  • MT-3.svg Montana Highway 3
  • MT-200.svg Montana Highway 200
Great Falls in the winter. The Missouri river and Flag Hill are pictured leftmost with the downtown area to the right.
Great Falls in the winter. The Missouri river and Flag Hill are pictured leftmost with the downtown area to the right.

Notable people

  • Valeen Tippetts Avery, biographer and historian
  • Bosco (drag queen), Contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race (season 14)
  • Walter Breuning (1896–2011), once the oldest man in the world
  • Mal Bross, National Football League player
  • James R. Browning, judge and former Chief Judge on U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and former clerk of U.S. Supreme Court
  • Dorothy Coburn, silent-movie actress
  • Walter Coy, actor
  • Brian Coyle, Minnesota community leader and gay activist
  • Scott Davis, two-time U.S. Figure Skating Championships gold medalist
  • Dave Dickenson, Canadian Football League quarterback
  • Patrick Dwyer, National Hockey League player
  • Cory Fong, North Dakota State Tax Commissioner
  • Todd Foster, Olympic boxer
  • Norman A. Fox, Western author
  • Ted Geoghegan, horror filmmaker
  • John Gibbons, Major League Baseball manager
  • Paris Gibson, U.S. Senator, city founder
  • Missy Gold, child actress on Benson
  • Tyler Graham, professional baseball player
  • Melony G. Griffith, member of Maryland House of Delegates
  • A.B. Guthrie Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Way West
  • Malcolm Hancock, magazine cartoonist
  • Charles S. Hartman, U.S. Representative from Montana
  • Paul G. Hatfield, Federal District Court Judge (1979 to 2000), former U.S. Senator, former Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court, former Montana state District Court Judge
  • Lester Hogan, pioneer in microwave and semiconductor technology
  • George Horse-Capture, Native American activist and museum curator
  • Joseph Kinsey Howard, author and historian
  • Josh Huestis, NBA player
  • Patrick M. Hughes, Lieutenant General, United States Army, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, 1996–1999
  • Alma Smith Jacobs, director, Great Falls Public Library; first African American Montana State Librarian
  • Jay L. Johnson, U.S. Navy admiral, Chief of Naval Operations
  • Raymond A. Johnson, aviation pioneer, worked at Great Falls airport in 1940s
  • Edward McKnight Kauffer, early 20th-century graphic designer and poster artist
  • Pert Kelton, actress, the original Alice Kramden on The Honeymooners
  • Ryan Lance, CEO of ConocoPhillips
  • Ryan Leaf, former NFL quarterback
  • Barbara Luddy, actress
  • Howard Lyman, vegetarian activist
  • Mike Mansfield, U.S. Representative, Senator, longest-serving Senate majority leader, U.S. Ambassador to Japan
  • Linda McDonald, drummer in all-girl metal band Phantom Blue
  • Cyra McFadden, writer
  • Hugh Mitchell, served in United States Senate 1945–1946 and House of Representatives 1949–1953 for the state of Washington
  • Gerald R. Molen, Academy Award-winning film producer
  • George Montgomery, actor, painter, sculptor and stuntman, born in nearby Brady
  • Matt Morrison, Fox Sports Net sportscaster
  • Andrew Nelson, Japanese-language lexicographer
  • Tom Neville, NFL player
  • John Misha Petkevich, U.S. Figure Skating Championships gold medalist
  • Charles Nelson Pray, former U.S. Representative from Montana
  • Charley Pride, country singer
  • Traver Rains, half of the New York fashion design duo Heatherette
  • Merle Greene Robertson, artist, art historian, archaeologist, and Mayan researcher
  • Hannah Rose, Christian musician
  • Adam Rosendale, Montana state legislator and businessman
  • William V. Roth, Jr., U.S. Representative and Senator from Delaware
  • Charles Marion Russell, western artist
  • Brian Salonen, tight end for the Dallas Cowboys
  • Jaymee Sire, ESPN sportscaster
  • Jon Steele, American expat author
  • Wallace Stegner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angle of Repose
  • Haila Stoddard, actress, writer, producer and director
  • Anton D. Strouf, Montana and Wisconsin state legislator, lawyer
  • Gary W. Thomas, California state judge
  • Edward L. Thrasher, Los Angeles, City Council member 1931–1942, born in Great Falls
  • Al Ullman, U.S. Congressman from Oregon
  • Thomas C. Wasson (1896–1948), diplomat who was killed while serving as the Consul General for the United States in Jerusalem
  • Reggie Watts, comedian, musician, performance artist
  • John Warner, justice of the Montana Supreme Court
  • Irving Weissman, scientist
  • Bill Zadick, wrestler
  • Mike Zadick, wrestler

See also

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