International Falls History

Although the International Falls area was well known to explorers, missionaries and voyageurs as early as the 1600s, it was not until the late 1800s that a small village was first formed.

The inhabitants gave the names Rainy Lake and Rainy River to the nearby bodies of water because of the mist-like rain present at the falls where the lake flowed into the river. This promising community originally was known as Koochiching, an Ojibway word meaning “neighboring lake and river.”

In 1901 the village was incorporated and two years later its name was changed to International Falls in recognition of the river’s role as a border between the United States and Canada.

Realizing the potential for waterpower and mills in the area, E.W. Backus created an immense dam and the Minnesota and Ontario Paper Company in the early 1900s. Purchased by Boise Cascade Corporation (now Boise Paper, A Division of Packaging Corporation of America) in 1965, it remains the largest business and employer in the area.


1903 E.W. Backus gets permission for construction of a dam in the Rainy River and through Act of Congress, seeks approval for construction of bridge connecting International Falls & Fort Frances

1903 Village of Koochiching changes name to International Falls, after the river rapids which would eventually industrialize the area

1907 Railroad comes to International Falls

1909 International Falls incorporated as city

1908-09 Bridge piers & concrete approaches installed

1909 30,000 horsepower dam completed

1910 International Falls census at 4,000, one of the fastest-growing cities in Minnesota

1910 Minnesota and Ontario Paper Company (Mando) was formed and the first roll of paper produced at the Falls mill; first car arrives in the Falls although there were only two blocks of traversable streets.

1911 Backus lets $90,000 contract to Minneapolis Steel & Machinery for combination railway, vehicle and footbridge across the Rainy River. Steel work erected. Overall cost of bridge: $108,000. Fort Frances mill under construction

1912 International Bridge opens, at first seeing mostly horse-drawn and foot traffic. By mid-decade, Backus’ companies would employ thousands and more and more motorized vehicles used the bridge.

Click here for more information on the history of the International Falls area.

Remember the Falls Chamber when it stood on the corner of Second Avenue and the entrance of Highway 11 East? This photo, circa 1950s, depicts the Rainy Lake business community with hanging shingles.