The name Bradford is derived from the Old English ‘brad’ and ‘ford’, meaning ‘broad ford’, which referred to a crossing of the Bradford Beck close to the present-day site of Bradford Cathedral, around which grew a small settlement in Saxon times. Bradford developed into town when the villagers began to hold a weekly market recognised by the Bradford Market Charter of 1251.

Early Bradford's main industry was leather tanning and wool processing.  Wool was woven in the town, before it was treated; Bradford grew slowly over the next two-hundred years as the woollen trade gained in prominence. The textile industry in the north of England was thriving and Bradford’s first bank opened in 1771. Bradford canal was built in 1774, and in 1777 it was connected to the Leeds-Liverpool canal. This improvement in communications boosted industry in the town and as a result the iron industry arrived in 1788 as blast furnaces were established. In 1793 a Piece Hall was built were cloth could be bought and sold.

 At the end of the 18th century Bradford saw the dawning of the industrial revolution.  Bradford had all the key ingredients to thrive in the industrial revolution - coal was readily available to support the production of pig iron and locally quarried sandstone was an excellent material for mill construction. It can be seen that a culture of innovation was fundamental to Bradford's success, which began with the new textile technologies invented in the city; a prime example being the work of Samuel Lister which revolutionized wool processing. Lister invented the Lister nip comb which separated and straightened raw wool, before it could be spun into worsted yarn.

In the 1920s and 1930s the textile industry declined sharply and there was mass unemployment. However, new industries came to Bradford, such as engineering, which decreased unemployment rates.  At this time, printing began to thrive and there was a large increase in the number of clerical jobs. Many more people worked in banking, insurance, civil service and local government, but 1939 the textile industry remained the largest employer in Bradford.

After 1945, the textile industry in Bradford gradually declined. However, Bradford's economy grew in the 1950s and 1960s, with the production of tractors and televisions. Unfortunately, recession and mass unemployment returned in the late 1970s and 1980s.

During the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s, the new City Engineer and Surveyor, Stanley Wardley, pursed the redevelopment of the city centre. Wardley's vision was to plan a new city 'with provision for a continuous self-regulating flow of traffic', and buildings that would be determinedly modern. The 1950s also saw another period of large scale immigration. This time the new communities came from the Caribbean, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan therefore transforming Bradford into a multi-cultural city.

The Bradford District is now the sixth largest metropolitan district in England with a population of over 534,000, although it is one of the youngest British cities. Bradford is a producer city, with 1,200 manufacturing businesses (manufacturing, energy and utilities) employing 25,000 people in the district (accounting for 13% of all employees compared to 8.3% in Great Britain as a whole). Bradford's thriving digital sector is a key component of its producer city economy, with 700 businesses employing 4,500 people. Bradford has an economy worth over £9.5bn, the eighth largest in England with companies based in the city employing over 250,000 people across the UK, with a combined turnover of more than £30 billion