In 1847, John Banfill became the first settler in the area, which was known at the time as Manomin. Manomin is a variant spelling of manoomin, the Ojibwe word for wild rice, a staple of their diet. It comprised the modern-day municipalities of Columbia Heights, Fridley, Hilltop, and Spring Lake Park.
The area soon grew quickly in size. In 1851, Banfill plotted the actual town of Manomin. There, a general store and sawmill were built next to the Rice Creek, named after Henry Mower Rice, a settler who just two years earlier had acquired a lot of land in the area. In 1853, the town got its first post office, and a year later, a ferry crossing the Mississippi River was established.
In 1855, Abram Fridley, for whom the city is named, was elected as the first territorial representative for the area.
In 1857, the area separated from Ramsey County; Manomin County was established, and it became the smallest county in the United States, having only 18 sections. However, it was annexed by Anoka County in 1870 and became a township with the same name.
In 1879, the Minnesota State Legislature, of which Abram M. Fridley was still a member, changed the township's name to bear his last name.
In 1949, the village of Fridley was incorporated. The Fridley Free Press was also established. A lawsuit that challenged the incorporation of the village caused the funds to be frozen. Minnesota state law allowed cities to operate municipal liquor stores. The Fridley Liquor store proceeds were the primary funding for the daily city operations until the lawsuit was resolved in 1950.
On May 6, 1965, Fridley was hit by two F4 tornadoes. One out of every four homes in the city was destroyed or damaged. The second twister that hit was the deadliest storm in Twin Cities history (see 1965 Twin Cities tornado outbreak), which killed a total of 13 people.
In 1970, Fridley began purchasing land which would become the Springbrook Nature Center.
On July 18, 1986, a widely photographed tornado spent 16 minutes in Springbrook Nature Center, destroying thousands of century old trees and extensive areas of mature forest habitat. A KARE 11 television news helicopter passing through the area shot the first aerial video of a tornado.
On September 21, 2005, Fridley was struck by straight-line winds exceeding 80MPH, toppling many old growth trees as large as 2.5 feet in diameter and in turn, destroying dozens of homes and several vehicles. Cleanup efforts took as long as a week, leaving hundreds of residents stranded in their homes without power, unable to drive until streets were cleared of debris. This same storm also affected Brooklyn Center, New Brighton, Brooklyn Park, and Blaine, as well as other communities in the surrounding North Metro area.
City lakes include East Moore Lake, West Moore Lake, and Locke Lake. Rice Creek flows through the central part of the city, Springbrook Creek flows through the northwest section, and the Mississippi River borders Fridley to the west.
It borders the cities Coon Rapids and Blaine to the north; Spring Lake Park to the northeast; Mounds View and New Brighton to the east; Columbia Heights to the southeast; Minneapolis to the southwest; and Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center to the west.
There were 11,328 households out of which 28.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.6% were married couples living together, 11.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.4% were non-families. 26.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 6.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.40 and the average family size was 2.91.
In the city the population was spread out with 22.5% under the age of 18, 10.2% from 18 to 24, 31.0% from 25 to 44, 24.4% from 45 to 64, and 12.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 97.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $48,372, and the median income for a family was $55,381. Males had a median income of $38,100 versus $29,997 for females. The per capita income for the city was $23,022. About 5.3% of families and 7.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.9% of those under age 18 and 3.3% of those age 65 or over.
The Western border of Fridley comprises the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. Portions of islands within the recreation area are in the Fridley city limits.
Fridley has the following Anoka County parks within the city
The Mississippi River regional trail, which is a paved trail with some street running, passes through Fridley.
Unity Hospital, part of the Allina Healthcare system is also located in Fridley
The city festival is called "49'er" days, which commemorates the 1949 incorporation. It is usually held in mid June.