Norman is the third-largest city in the U.S. state of Oklahoma, 20 miles (32 km) south of downtown Oklahoma City. The county seat of Cleveland County and part of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, its population was 128,026 at the 2020 census.
Norman was settled during the Land Run of 1889, which opened the former Unassigned Lands of Indian Territory to American pioneer settlement. The city was named in honor of Abner Norman, the area’s initial land surveyor, and was formally incorporated on May 13, 1891. Norman has prominent higher education and related research industries, as it is home to the University of Oklahoma, the largest university in the state, with nearly 32,000 students. The university is well known for its sporting events by teams under the banner of the nickname “Sooners,” with over 85,000 people routinely attending football games. The university is home to several museums, including the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, which contains the largest collection of French Impressionist art ever given to an American university, as well as the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.
Norman’s National Weather Center (NWC) houses a unique collection of university, state, federal, and private sector organizations that work together to improve the understanding of events related to the Earth’s atmosphere. Norman lies within Tornado Alley, a geographic region where tornadic activity is particularly frequent and intense. The Oklahoma City metropolitan area, including Norman, is the world’s most tornado-prone area. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC), a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is at the NWC. SPC forecasts severe storm and tornado outbreaks nationwide. Additionally, research is conducted at the co-located National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), which includes field research and operates various experimental weather radars.
The Oklahoma region became part of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Before the American Civil War, the U.S. government began relocating the Five Civilized Tribes—the five Native American tribes that the United States officially recognized via treaty—to Oklahoma. Treaties of 1832 and 1833 assigned the area known today as Norman to the Creek Nation.
After the Civil War, the Creeks were accused of aiding the Confederacy; as a result they ceded the region back to the United States in 1866. In the early 1870s, the federal government undertook a survey of these unassigned lands. Abner Ernest Norman, a 23-year-old surveyor from Kentucky, was hired to oversee part of this project. Norman’s work crew set up camp near what is today the corner of Classen and Lindsey streets; it was there that the men, perhaps jokingly, carved a sign on an elm tree that read “Norman’s Camp,” in honor of their young boss. In 1887, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway began service to the area, which was later opened to settlement as part of the Land Run of 1889; early settlers decided to keep the name “Norman.”
On April 22, 1889, that first Land Run in future Oklahoma saw the founding of Norman, with at least 150 residents spending the night in makeshift campsites; the next morning a downtown was already being constructed. Almost immediately two prominent Norman businessmen, former Purcell railroad freight agent Delbert Larsh and railroad station chief cashier Thomas Waggoner, began lobbying for the territorial government to locate its first university in Norman. The two were interested in growing the city and had reasoned that, rather than try to influence territorial lawmakers to locate the heavily contested territory capital in Norman, it made sense to attempt to secure the state’s first university instead (a move that would be far less controversial). On December 19, 1890, Larsh and Waggoner were successful with the passage of Territorial Council Bill 114, establishing the University of Oklahoma in Norman about 18 years before Oklahoma statehood.
Main Street in Norman, circa 1900
The City of Norman was formally incorporated on May 13, 1891
The new Norman was a sundown town. African Americans were not allowed to live within the city limits or stay overnight until the early 1960s, nor could they study at the University of Oklahoma. In 2020, the Norman City Council issued an apology.
Norman has grown throughout the decades. By 1902 the downtown district contained two banks, two hotels, a flour mill, and other businesses; by 1913 over 3,700 people lived in Norman when the Oklahoma Railway Company decided to extend its interurban streetcar running from Oklahoma City to Moore into Norman, spurring additional population growth. The rail lines eventually transitioned to freight during the 1940s as the United States Numbered Highway system developed. The population reached 11,429 in 1940.
Welcome marker on Main Street
With the completion of Interstate 35 in June 1959, Norman found its role as a bedroom community to Oklahoma City increasing rapidly; in 1960 Norman’s population was 33,412 but by the end of the decade had grown to 52,117. Throughout the 1960s Norman’s land mass increased by 174 square miles (450 km2) by annexing surrounding areas.The city’s growth trends have continued early in the 21st century, with the population reaching 95,694 in 2000 and 110,925 in 2010.
What to See and Do
Norman hosts many free festivals and community events that occur throughout the year.
The Norman Medieval Fair is a celebration of medieval-themed games, art, and culture, with highlights of jousting, human chessmatch combats & other combat shows, and several musical & dance acts. The event is typically held during the last weekend of March or first weekend of April in Reaves Park, near the university. It has been held annually in Norman since 1976 and was originally a forum for the English Department at the University of Oklahoma. It is the largest weekend event held in the state of Oklahoma, with over 325,000 people in attendance in 2006 and growing yearly. Events Media Network has named Medieval Fair one of the top 100 events in the United States.
Norman Music Festival is an annual weekend music festival held in April in downtown Norman. Established in 2008, the event had over 26,000 people in attendance during the 2009 festival. Originally a one-day event, the festival has quickly grown so large that it is now an all-weekend concert series. The festival highlights both local musicians and internationally acclaimed artists and features many forms and styles of music.
Groovefest is a music festival hosted annually at Andrews Park. On the last Sunday in September, the music festival is held to help raise awareness about human rights. The event was established in 1986 by the University of Oklahoma chapter of Amnesty International.
The Chocolate Festival, the only fundraiser of the year for the city’s Firehouse Arts Center, was ranked #3 for food festivals across America by the Food Network. This festival offers various chocolate tasting sessions, chocolate art competitions and exhibits, chocolate dessert competitions and more. It has been an annual tradition since 1983.
Jazz in June is a music festival held the last full weekend in June at various venues across Norman. The festival features both jazz and blues musical performances as well as jazz educational clinics taught by professional musicians appearing in the festival and post-concert jam sessions at local venues which bring headliners and local artists together. Jazz in June, one of the major cultural events in the state as well as the City of Norman, attracts a combined concert audience of 50,000 drawn from throughout the state, region and nation. Another 100,000 or more enjoy these same performances through post-festival broadcasts on KGOU Public Radio as well as other public radio stations throughout the state, region and nation.
May Fair is an arts festival held every year during the first weekend in May at Andrews Park. It features top area performers, fine art, crafts, and food.
Summer Breeze Concert Series is a series of concerts held from Spring to Fall at various park venues across Norman. The series is sponsored by the Performing Arts Studio.
Midsummer Nights’ Fair is a nighttime arts festival held during two evenings in June. The fair features art, music, and food and is held outside the Firehouse Art Center located in Lions Park.
The Norman Mardi Gras parade is a celebration of Mardi Gras occurring on the Saturday closest to Fat Tuesday. The parade is held in downtown Norman and features themed costumes and floats.
The Main Street Christmas Holiday Parade is a celebration of Christmas and the holiday season held every December in downtown Norman. The parade features holiday-themed costumes and floats.
OU takes the field at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium
The University of Oklahoma sponsors many collegiate sporting events in Norman. The school is well known for its football program, having won seven NCAA Division I National Football Championships. In addition, it has the best winning percentage of any Division I FBS team since the introduction of the AP Poll in 1936 and has played in four BCS National Championship Games since 1998.
During football season, the Oklahoma Sooners football program contributes significantly to Norman’s economy. During game day weekends, Norman sees an influx out of town traffic from all over the country with over 80,000 people routinely attending football games. Norman’s local businesses, especially areas around campus and Campus Corner, benefit greatly from the game day traffic alone. The program ranks in the top 10 of ESPN’s top college football money-makers with home games generating revenues at approximately $59 million and game day operating expenses at about $6.1 million.
In 1951 and 1994 its baseball team won the NCAA national championship, and the women’s softball team won the national championship in 2000, 2013, 2016, and 2017. The gymnastics teams have won four national championships since 2001.
Other university men’s sports include: basketball, cross country, golf, gymnastics, football, Ultimate Frisbee, tennis, track and field, and wrestling. The OU Sooners men’s hockey team competes in the American College Hockey Association, at the “club” level, but has yet to apply for higher-level play. Due to the lack of a rink in Norman, the team plays at the Blazers Ice Centre in south Oklahoma City. Women’s sports include: basketball, cross country, golf, gymnastics, football, Ultimate Frisbee, rowing, soccer, softball, tennis, track and field, and volleyball.
The Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA), a non-profit professional association of men’s collegiate golf coaches, is located in Norman.
The University of Oklahoma employs over 11,600 personnel across three campuses, making it a significant driver of Norman’s economy. The campus is a center for scientific and technological research, having contributed over $277 million to such programs in 2009.
Norman is also home of the National Weather Center, a cooperative research effort between the University of Oklahoma and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that houses a number of weather- and climate-related organizations; the city is also the location of the National Weather Museum & Science Center. As a result of this ongoing academic and public weather research, several private meteorological businesses are present in the city, including Weathernews Americas, Inc., Vieux and Associates, Inc., Verisk Analytics, Pivotal Weather, and DTN (formerly Weather Decision Technologies).
In addition to weather Norman is a center for other scientific ventures – public and private. The Oklahoma Geological Survey, which conducts geological research, and the Oklahoma Renewable Energy Council, which is a public-private alliance that fosters renewable energy technology with the aim of establishing more viable applications, make the city their home. SouthWest NanoTechnologies is a producer of single-walled carbon nanotubes. Bergey Windpower is a supplier of small wind turbines.
Other major employers in the city include Norman Regional Health System, Norman Public Schools, Johnson Controls, Griffin Memorial Hospital, Hitachi, Astellas Pharma Technologies, Albon Engineering, Xyant Technology, MSCI, SITEL, the United States Postal Service National Center for Employee Development, Sysco Corporation, and AT&T.
University North Park, a lifestyle center with planned development on over 12 million square feet (1.1 km2) of land, is on 24th Ave NW along the I-35 corridor between Robinson Street and Tecumseh Road. Begun in 2006, the project will feature 2 miles (3.2 km) of parks, offices, and high-end retail once completed.
In 2008, CNN’s Money Magazine ranked Norman as the sixth best small city within the United States to live in, the highest ranking of any city in Oklahoma.
In 2010, Norman became the 17th city in the United States to adopt a council resolution giving it status as a Fair Trade Town. The resolution states that the city of Norman supports the purchasing of goods from the local community; when goods cannot be purchased locally the city will support buying from producers abroad who meet Fair Trade standards. These standards include supporting quality of life in developing countries and planning for environmental sustainability.