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". The town site 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.

The town was named after Henry Davis Minot, a railroad investor and friend of Jim Hill. The city was incorporated on June 28, 1887. Minot was a typical western boom town in its early years. The 1950s saw the construction of the Minot Air Force Base, an Air Defense Command Base that later became a Strategic Air Command Bomber and Minuteman missile base. In 1969, a severe flood on the Souris River devastated the city. Following this, the Army Corps of Engineers straightened the path of the river through the city and built several flood control structures.