Denver, city (1990 pop. 467,610), alt. 5,280 ft (1,609 m), state capital, coextensive with Denver co., N central Colo., on a plateau at the foot of the Front Range of the Rocky Mts., along the South Platte River where Cherry Creek meets it; est. 1858 and named after James W. Denver, inc. 1861. The largest Colorado city, it is a processing, shipping, and distribution point for an extensive agricultural area. It is also the financial, business, administrative, and transportation center of the Rocky Mt. region (the
), and home to numerous federal agencies. The Denver area has many electronics plants and is a major livestock market and headquarters to mining companies; leading manufactures include aeronautical, telecommunications, and other high-technology products. With ski and mountain resorts, national parks, and frontier historical sites nearby, Denver is also an important tourist center.
Among the city's educational institutions are the Univ. of Denver, Regis Univ., and the Univ. of Colorado medical school. Points of interest include a park system incorporating many mountain areas; the Denver Art Museum; the Colorado State Historical Museum; the Denver Museum of Natural History; the Black American West Museum; the Clyfford Still Museum; the Denver Performing Arts Complex; the state capitol; a U.S. Mint; Mile High Stadium, home of the Broncos (football); Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies (baseball); the Pepsi Center, home of the Nuggets (basketball) and Avalanche (hockey); and zoological gardens. The former Rocky Mountain Arsenal has become a national wildlife refuge.
Denver was made territorial capital in 1867. Gold and silver strikes in the 1870s–80s brought prosperity, and the city became the capital of bonanza kings such as H. A. W. Tabor. In the late 1890s, Denver's development as a metropolis began. After World War II, during which military bases brought development, Denver experienced rapid growth; this, combined with the city's high elevation, led to environmental problems, and by the late 1970s Denver had one of the worst U.S. smog problems.
Denver boomed again in the late 1970s as a center of oil shale exploration, and many new office buildings were erected in anticipation of further growth. When oil prices fell in the 1980s, the city was hard hit economically, and population loss to its booming suburbs accelerated. By the 1990s, however, international and government-related business and tourism had brought another boom. The city added a light-rail transit system in 1994, and a huge new international airport opened to the northeast in 1995. By the late 1990s the Denver region, after concerted efforts to improve air quality, had significantly reduced the level of air pollution.
See S. W. Zamonski, Fifty-Niners: A Denver Diary (1961); L. W. Dorsett, The Queen City: A History of Denver (1986); G. Barth, Instant Cities: Urbanization and the Rise of San Francisco and Denver (1988).