Brady, the county seat of McCulloch County, is located on U.S. highways 87, 283, and 190, 115 miles northwest of Austin, near the geographic center of Texas. When the area was settled in the 1870s, the community was named Brady City after Brady Creek, which runs through town. The name was shortened to Brady when the town was incorporated in 1906. In 1787–88 Spanish explorer José Mares crossed the creek near the site of present Brady. Henry and Nancy Fulcher, the first settlers on Brady Creek, donated land for the townsite in the mid-1870s. Allison Ogden and his father-in-law, Ben Henton, built a store in 1875. A post office opened in 1876. After residents of McCulloch County chose Brady as county seat on May 15, 1876, the town grew fairly quickly. Brady had about fifty residents in 1877, and a stone courthouse was completed in 1878. Thomas Maples began weekly publication of the Brady Sentinel in 1880; by 1884 Brady had two churches, a district school, three stores, two hotels, and 300 residents.
Stock raising was the primary occupation in the Brady area before 1900. In the 1870s and 1880s local ranchers drove their cattle to markets in Kansas. Most other trade was with Brownwood and Lampasas. The number of farms and fences increased with the influx of immigrants in the late 1880s and 1890s. Poultry, sheep, goats, cotton, and pecans joined cattle as important sources of income for area residents. When the Fort Worth and Rio Grande Railway arrived in 1903, Brady became a principal shipping point for Central Texas. The Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe came to Brady in 1912. By 1914 the town had grown to include four churches, two schools, two banks, several processing plants, manufacturing and supply outlets, and 2,669 residents.
In 1926 Brady residents celebrated the building of forty-two-acre Richards Park by holding a two-day barbecue on the Fourth of July weekend; it was such a success that the celebration was labeled the "July Jubilee" and became an annual event. Curtis Field opened just north of Brady in 1942 as a pilot-training school. Also during World War II a German prisoner-of-war camp was built three miles east of the town; it housed more than 300 Germans, most of them members of Rommel's Afrika Korps (see GERMAN PRISONERS OF WAR).
Brady grew slowly from the 1920s through the 1950s, with population estimates reaching a peak of 6,800 in 1958. In 1959 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway abandoned the section of track between Brownwood and Brady, thereby reducing Brady's access to outside markets. The population fell to 5,338 by 1961 and subsequently stabilized. Brady Reservoir was completed in 1963 for flood control, municipal and industrial water needs, and recreation. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe abandoned the track between Brady and Eden in 1972, leaving the town with only a branch track to connect it with the main line at Lometa, in Lampasas County.
Brady had 5,925 residents and 142 businesses in 1988. It was principally a farming and ranching community. Its industry included a mohair-combing plant and sand-mining operations. The Francis King Art Gallery and Museum houses works by King, a painter and sculptor, and a collection of restored antique cars. Brady celebrates an annual band festival and goat cook-off every Labor Day. The stone courthouse, built in 1900, was renovated in 1974. In 1989 G. Rollie White Downs, one of the first horse racetracks in Texas after the passage of pari-mutuel laws in 1989, operated briefly in Brady but was unprofitable and closed by 1990. Brady's population in 1990 was 5,946, but dropped to 5,523 in 2000.