Brainerd is a city in Crow Wing County, Minnesota, United States. The population was 13,178 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Crow Wing County and one of the largest cities in Central Minnesota. Brainerd straddles the Mississippi River several miles upstream from the confluence with the Crow Wing River, having been founded as a site for a railroad crossing above that confluence. The Brainerd area serves as a major tourist destination for Minnesota, and with Baxter as a regional retail center. The city is also known for the Brainerd International Raceway.
Originally Ojibwe territory, Brainerd was first seen by white men on Christmas Day in 1805, when Zebulon Pike stopped there while searching for the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Crow Wing Village, a fur and logging community near Fort Ripley, brought settlers to the area in the mid-1800s.
In these early years the relationship between the settlers and the Indians was complicated. The most famous example of this tenuous relationship was the so-called "Blueberry War" of 1872. Two Ojibwe were hanged for allegedly murdering a missing girl, and when a group of Indians approached the town, troops from nearby Fort Ripley were called in to prevent a potential reprisal. As it turns out, however, the Ojibwe only wanted to sell blueberries and the settlers narrowly avoided a bloody misunderstanding.
Brainerd was the brainchild of Northern Pacific railroad president John Gregory Smith, who in 1870 named the township after his wife, Anne Eliza Brainerd Smith, and father-in-law, Lawrence Brainerd. The company built a bridge over the Mississippi seven miles north of Crow Wing Village and used the Brainerd station as a machine and car shop, prompting many to move north and abandon Crow Wing. Brainerd was organized as a city on March 6, 1873.
On January 11, 1876, the state legislature revoked Brainerd's charter for six years, as a reaction to the election of local handyman Thomas Lanihan as mayor instead of Judge C.B. Sleeper. Brainerd once again functioned as a township in the interim.
In 1881 the railroad, and with it the town, expanded. Lumber and paper, as well as agriculture in general, were important early industries, but for many decades Brainerd remained a railroad town: in the 1920s roughly 90 percent of Brainerd residents were dependent on the railroad. Participation in the nationwide railroad strike on July 1, 1922, left the majority of Brainerd residents unemployed and embittered many of those involved.
Over the years increased efficiency and the better positioning of the more centralized Livingston, Montana shops led to a decline in the importance of a railroad station that once employed over a thousand and serviced locomotives for the whole Northern Pacific line. Despite this, the BNSF Railway (successor to the Northern Pacific) continues to employ approximately 70 people in Brainerd at a maintenance-of-way equipment shop responsible for performing repairs and preventative maintenance to track and equipment.
The Northwest Paper Company built Brainerd's first paper mill in 1903 and with the steady increase in tourism since the early 1900s the paper and service industries have become Brainerd's primary employers. The town's coating mill was sold by Potlatch to Sappi Limited in 2002 and then by Sappi Limited to Wausau Paper in 2004.
Brainerd itself is now heavily developed into commercial and residential areas and most new construction in the area takes place in neighboring Baxter.
Brainerd is located just north of the geographical center of Minnesota, in a relatively hilly terminal moraine area created by the Superior Lobe of the Labradorian ice sheet. The town occupies land on both sides of the Mississippi River, though the older parts of Brainerd are almost all to the east.
Though the city itself has relatively few lakes, there are over 460 lakes within 25 miles of Brainerd, located mostly to the north. For this reason, Crow Wing County and parts of the adjoining counties are often collectively referred to as the Brainerd Lakes Area.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 8.4 square miles (21.9 km²), of which, 8.0 square miles (20.6 km²) of it is land and 0.5 square miles (1.2 km²) of it (5.57%) is water.
As of the census of 2000, there were 13,178 people, 5,623 households, and 3,036 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,652.8 people per square mile (638.4/km²). There were 5,847 housing units at an average density of 733.3/sq mi (283.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 95.83% White, 0.71% African American, 1.44% Native American, 0.46% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.26% from other races, and 1.29% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.86% of the population. 31.4% were of German, 17.7% Norwegian, 7.1% Swedish, 6.8% Irish and 6.1% United States or American ancestry according to Census 2000.
There were 5,623 households out of which 29.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.8% were married couples living together, 14.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 46.0% were non-families. 37.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 16.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.23 and the average family size was 2.94.
In the city the population was spread out with 25.1% under the age of 18, 13.7% from 18 to 24, 26.3% from 25 to 44, 16.8% from 45 to 64, and 18.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 85.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 79.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $26,901, and the median income for a family was $35,212. Males had a median income of $27,677 versus $21,217 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,744. About 11.8% of families and 17.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.5% of those under age 18 and 16.0% of those age 65 or over.
On June 30, 1999, then-21-year-old Farrah Slad of Brainerd won what was Minnesota's largest lottery prize, $150 million in the multi-state Powerball game. (The state record was broken on May 3, 2008 by a ticket purchased in Faribault.)