The city was founded in 1837 when the Voortrekkers settled on the banks of the Schoonspruit ("Clear stream"), which flows through the town.

The most prominent of the first settlers was C.M. du Plooy who claimed a farm of about 160 km², called it Elandsheuwel ("Hill of the Eland"). He gave plots of land and communal grazing rights on this farm to other Voortrekkers in return for their labour in building a dam and an irrigation canal. This collection of smallholdings was later given the name of Klerksdorp in honor of the first landdrost (magistrate) of the area, Jacob de Clerq.

In August 1886 gold was discovered in the Klerksdorp district as well as on the Witwatersrand, which lies about 160 km to the east. As a consequence, thousands of fortune-seekers descended on the small village, turning it into a town with 70 taverns and even a stock exchange of its own.

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 (Iron Stream), in which the Boer General, Koos de la Rey, achieved a great victory. The battle is one of the most celebrated of the general's career, being the battle in which the Boer soldiers pioneered the art of firing from horseback. On April 11, 1920, Rooiwal, near Klerksdorp, 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.

Klerksdorp today

The greater city area of Klerksdorp today incorporates the towns of Orkney, Kanana, Stilfontein, Khuma, Hartebeesfontein and Tigane to give it a population of more than 350,000 inhabitants (Census Statistics South Africa 2001). Klerksdorp is also fondly known as "Matlosane". Together with Rustenburg, Klerksdorp forms the economic heart of North West Province. It is still one of the hubs of the South African gold mining industry , although its importance has been decreasing in recent years. A major earthquake in 2004 caused significant damage to the eastern suburb of Stilfontein and caused widespread damage to the mining activities in that part of the city. In addition, it is also expected to be a large uranium producer in the future. Apart from mining activities, Klerksdorp is also positioned as a notable medical ,retail and education centre for North West Province and Northern Free State.

The Klerksdorp district is also a major player in South African agriculture; important crops that are farmed in the district include maize, sorghum, groundnuts and sunflowers. Klerksdorp has the largest maize storage silo in the South Africa as well as the largest agricultural cooperative in the southern hemisphere, the Senwes Cooperative.

The district is also known for its Sussex cattle herds - the city is the headquarters of the South African Sussex Cattle Breeders Association.

Tourist attractions
  • Mining shafts excavated in the 1880s.
  • The Klerksdoro Museum. It was built in 1891 as a prison and served as such until 1973. The house of the warden hosts period exhibitions. It exhibits the Klerksdorp Spheres, metallic spheres that pseudoarcheologists consider man-made.
  • The Faan Meintjies Nature Reserve, located about 15 km from Klerksdorp. It has 30 species of game and 150 species of birds.
  • The Oudorp hiking trail. It is a 12 km long trail and winds its way through the oldest parts of the town.
  • Goudkoppie (Gold Hill) is the city's latest tourist attraction. It is situated near both the N12 highway and the Johannesburg-Cape Town railway line.
  • The Oppenheimer Stadium in Orkney will host some games of the 2010 Football World Cup.
  • Klerksdorp Annually hosts one of South Africa’s premium Airshows events, the Klerksdorp Airshows attracts around 20 000 people to the klerksdorp airshow, You can view the Klerksdorp Airshows website for airplane images and photos of previous events, The website is on a 1st page position on various search engines when one search for “Airshows” and annually it attracts around 250 000 people to the city through the website.
Other towns in the Klerksdorp district
  • Orkney
  • Stilfontein
  • Hartebeesfontein