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Thief River Falls first developed as a lumber-milling town.
It is located in a major agriculture area because of the rich soil left by ancient Glacial Lake Agassiz.
Thief River Falls is home to the electronic parts distributor Digi-Key, one of the largest employers in the area, and was the birthplace of the vaunted Steiger Tractor, produced from 1958 to the late 1980s.
Thief River Falls was home to the headquarters of the Cycle Detection Warning System up until its shutdown on April 13, 2009.
36.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older.
The average household size was 2.18 and the average family size was 2.81. 22.5% of residents were under the age of 18; 10.5% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 24.9% were from 25 to 44; 24.3% were from 45 to 64; and 17.7% were 65 years of age or older.
Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.2% of the population.
There were 3,802 households, of which 27.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.0% were married couples living together, 12.2% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.2% had a male householder with no wife present, and 43.7% were non-families.
Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.63% of the population.
The gender makeup of the city was 47.7% male and 52.3% female.
As of the census of 2000, there were 8,410 people, 3,619 households, and 2,091 families residing in the city.
The Great Northern and the Soo Line railroads brought prosperity when Thief River Falls became a center for shipping wheat. Highway 59 and Minnesota State Highways 1 and 32 are the three main routes in the community.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 5.21 square miles (13.49 km Thief River Falls is located at the confluence of the Red Lake River and the Thief River. Thief River Falls is located approximately 70 miles (110 km) south of the Canada–United States border and 52 miles (84 km) northeast from Grand Forks, North Dakota, in the Northwest region of Minnesota.
In the late 19th century the Great Northern Railway was built, and in 1904, the Minneapolis, St. Marie Railway (“Soo Line”) passed through on its route from Saint Paul to Winnipeg.