The city was founded in 1837 when the Voortrekkers settled on the banks of the Schoonspruit. Klerksdorp is one of the oldest European (white) settlements of the former province of Transvaal.
In August 1886 gold was discovered in the Klerksdorp district by M.G. Jansen van Vuuren as well as on the Witwatersrand, which lies about 160 km to the east.
However, the nature of the gold reef demanded expensive and sophisticated equipment to mine and extract the gold, causing the majority of diggers to move away in the late 1890s and leading to a decline in the gold mining industry.
During the Second Boer War (1899-1902), heavy fighting occurred in the area, which also housed a large concentration camp. The most famous of the battles around Klerksdorp, is that of the Battle of Ysterspruit, in which the Boer General, Koos de la Rey, achieved a great victory. On April 11, 1902, Rooiwal, near Klerkdorp, saw the Battle of Rooiwal, the last major engagement of the war, where a Boer charge was beaten off by entrenched British troops.
The graves of the victims of the concentration camps, namely Boer women and children, can still be visited today in the old cemetery just outside of town, numbering just below a thousand.
Klerksdorp was connected by rail to Krugersdorp on 3 August 1897 and to Kimberley in 1906.
The gold mining industry was revived by large mining companies in 1932, causing the town to undergo an economic revival, which accelerated after World War II.
The greater city area of Klerksdorp incorporates the towns of Orkney, Kanana, Stilfontein, Khuma, Hartbeesfontein and Tigane, giving it a population of more than 350,000 inhabitants (Census Statistics South Africa 2001). Together with Rustenburg, Klerksdorp forms the economic heart of North West Province.
Apart from mining, Klerksdorp is positioned as a notable medical, retail and educational centre for North West Province and Northern Free State.
The Klerksdorp district is a major contributor to South African agriculture; maize, sorghum, groundnuts and sunflower are important crops farmed in the district. Klerksdorp has the largest agricultural co-op in the southern hemisphere, named 'Senwes'.
The farming district is also known for its Sussex cattle herds - the city is the headquarters of the South African Sussex Cattle Breeders Association.
The latest crime statistics for Klerksdorp Police Precinct was issued by the South African Police Service (SAPS) in September 2012. The SAPS crime report showed that in comparison to other major towns and cities in South Africa, Klerksdorp is still considered one of the safer locations in the nation.