The site that is now Ogden saw its first European settlers when Miles Goodyear built Fort Buenaventura about a mile west of what is now downtown in 1846. The Mormons bought the property for $1,950 in November 1847 and renamed it Brownsville. Later on, the townspeople changed the name to Ogden in honor of Peter Skene Ogden, a trapping brigade leader for the Hudson's Bay Company who had trapped in this area twenty years earlier.

Ogden was on the route of the original Transcontinental Railroad line and became the primary junction point in northern Utah after the junction at Promontory Point was abandoned. Later, the main east-west line was built further south (nearer to Salt Lake City) and Ogden's position as a rail hub deteriorated. Today, the city still gets freight service but Amtrak passengers going to Ogden have to disembark in Salt Lake City and use the FrontRunner commuter rail service from there.

For many years, Ogden was the second largest city in Utah but recent growth in the Salt Lake City area has seen several Salt Lake suburbs and the city of Provo overtake Ogden in population. The largest employer in Ogden is the Internal Revenue Service.