Pampa, the county seat and largest town in Gray County, is at the junction of U.S. highway 60 and State highways 70, 152, and 273, in the northwestern part of the county. The site, once owned by the Francklyn Land and Cattle Company (later White Deer Land Company), was designated as a station on the Southern Kansas Railway in the summer of 1887. The first resident was Thomas H. Lane, the railroad section foreman, who settled his family in a half-dugout near the boxcar station, which was known initially as Glasgow and then as Sutton. Because of confusion with Sutton County, railroad officials asked George Tyng, manager of the White Deer Land Company, to select a new name for Sutton. After his first suggestions were rejected by the chief engineer, Tyng submitted the name Pampa because the place resembled the pampas of Argentina, which he had earlier visited. The post office opened in 1892 with Lane as postmaster. Tyng constructed Pampa's first frame building as the White Deer Land Company boardinghouse. This building later was leased to the Matador Ranch as a headquarters and then sold to Alfred Ace Holland, who made it the town's first hotel. As early as December 1, 1889, Tyng had recommended that the White Deer Land Company establish a town at the Sutton station. In 1898 Russell Benedict, associate of trustee Frederic Foster, came from New York to investigate this possibility.
The plat for the townsite was approved on April 14, 1902, the same day that 152 voters petitioned to organize Gray County. Tyng's successor, Timothy Dwight Hobart, foresaw the area as a wheat belt; with the help of his two associates, Cecil V. P. Buckler and Montague K. Brown, Hobart attracted many prospective settlers to Pampa. J. F. Johnson established the first mercantile store and took over the post office in 1902. Pampa soon thrived as a small agricultural and railroad shipping point, populated largely by homesteaders and cowboys. By 1910 the town had a school, a bank, and a drugstore serving an estimated 400 people; by 1926 the population had risen to 987. J. M. Smith had launched the Pampa Daily News, and the White Deer Land Company had moved into a permanent headquarters. Alexander Schneider, a Swiss immigrant, bought the Holland Hotel and remodeled it as the Schneider in 1912; he also organized a town band. Hobart's legendary ability to pick the right kind of citizens for his community bore fruit during the oil boom of the 1920s. Pampa experienced little of the vice, crime, and corruption that characterized other boomtowns. The town voted to incorporate on February 17, 1912, with a commission-manager government. The discovery of oil in 1926 caused Pampa to grow. Its future was assured in 1927, when Godfrey L. Cabot, head of Cabot Carbon in Boston, established the first of several carbon black plants (see CARBON BLACK INDUSTRY) at Pampa. Another victory came in 1928, when Pampa supplanted Lefors as county seat after a special election. In 1931 the town had 430 businesses and 10,470 residents. Further railroad service was provided by the extension of the Fort Worth and Denver and the Clinton and Oklahoma Western lines to Pampa in 1932. The stability of the White Deer Land Company, with its loan program for wheat farmers, helped keep the town's economy stable during the Great Depression.
World War II brought about the establishment of Pampa Army Air Field and filled the town with families of servicemen. More importantly, the war and its aftermath spurred industrial growth; the Columbian Carbon and Coltexo companies and the Celanese Corporation of America built plants in the vicinity, as did the Skelly, Phillips, Shell, and Kerr-McGee oil firms. Dick Hughes and other real estate men quickly relieved the postwar housing shortage. By 1951 Pampa had two radio stations and a second newspaper, the Daily Spokesman. The paper folded in 1955. The population in Pampa mushroomed from 12,895 in 1941 to 24,664 in 1960, a 100 percent increase. Pampa's community spirit was demonstrated in the opening of the modern, city-owned Coronado Inn in 1960. By 1967 the city had thirty-four industrial plants that produced petrochemical products, furniture, industrial machines, sheet-metal products, and heavy machinery. Modern schools, churches, hospitals, banks, public buildings, convention facilities, and a public library were established in the community. Perry LeFors Airport is four miles northwest of town.
Although economic recession and the reorganization of certain industrial firms resulted in a population decrease to 21,726 by 1972, Pampa continued to boom as a commercial center for the surrounding wheat-growing, cattle-raising, and oil-producing territory. In 1984 it reported a total of 598 businesses and a population of 21,396. The local chamber of commerce and city development board continued to advertise Pampa as the "Friendly City at the Top O'Texas, Where Wheat Grows and Oil Flows." Annual events include a Junior Stock Show and Hereford Breeders' Show in March, a Rodeo in July, and a golf tournament during Labor Day weekend. The White Deer Land Museum contains that company's records and documents, in addition to pioneer relics. Hobart Street Park provides free campsites and hookups. In 1990 the population of Pampa was 19,959, and in 1991 the city had 470 businesses. The population was 17,887 in 2000.