Missoula was founded in 1860 as Hellgate Trading Post while still part of Washington Territory. By 1866, the settlement had moved five miles upstream and renamed Missoula Mills, later shortened to Missoula. The mills provided supplies to western settlers travelling along the Mullan Road. The establishment of Fort Missoula in 1877 to protect settlers further stabilized the economy. The arrival of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883 brought rapid growth and the maturation of the local lumber industry. An element of prestige could be claimed ten years later when what was already called the City of Missoula was chosen by the Montana Legislature as the site for the new state's first university. Along with the U.S. Forest Service headquarters founded in 1908, lumber and the university would remain staples of the local economy for the next hundred years.
By the 1990s, Missoula's lumber industry had gradually disappeared, and today the city's largest employers are the University of Montana and Missoula's two hospitals. The city is governed by a mayor-council government with twelve city council members, two from each of the six wards. In and around Missoula are 400 acres (160 ha) of parkland, 22 miles (35 km) of trails, and nearly 5,000 acres (2,000 ha) of open-space conservation land with adjacent Mount Jumbo home to grazing elk and mule deer during the winter months. The city is also home to both Montana's largest and its oldest active breweries as well as the Montana Grizzlies, one of the strongest college football programs in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Notable residents include the first woman in the U.S. Congress, Jeannette Rankin, and the United States' longest-serving Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield