Minot came into existence in 1886, when Jim Hill's Great Northern Railroad ended its push through the state for the winter, after having trouble constructing a trestle across Gassman Coulee. A tent town sprung up over night, as if by "magic", thus the city came to be known as the Magic City, and in the next 5 months, the population increased to over 5,000 residents, further adding to the nickname's validity.
The townsite was chosen by the railroad to be placed on the land of then-homesteader Erik Ramstad. Mr. Ramstad was convinced to relinquish his claim, and became one of the city leaders.
Later, the Soo Line was building a line from Valley City up to Canada. While initially their plan was to cross the Souris River some distance from Minot, local interests convinced them otherwise; landholders along the new route gladly donated the right-of-way. They reached Minot in 1893.
Minot was a typical western boom town in its early years, with its share of vice and lawlessness. During Prohibition the city became known as "Little Chicago", as it was a central hub of Al Capone's liquor smuggling operations. Smugglers used a network of underground tunnels (some of which were previously built for heating or deliveries) to transport and conceal the illicit cargo. Some of the tunnels can still be accessed.
The 1950s saw a great influx of federal funding into the region, with the construction of Minot Air Force Base north of the city, and Garrison Dam was on the Missouri River, about fifty miles south of Minot.
On January 18, 2002, a severe train derailment west of the city sent a gigantic cloud of anhydrous ammonia toward Minot, and Burlington. One man died and many of Minot's citizens were sickened and severely injured by the noxious gas . In early 2006, court cases were heard in Minneapolis, Minnesota against Canadian Pacific Railway, the owner of the derailed train. Several cases have been settled and many others are pending. The anhydrous ammonia spill was the largest such spill in U.S. history..