The province has been home to humans for a long, long time. The archaeological site at Ban Chiang dates from the Bronze Age.
The, what is now known as Udon Thani, area sprang to significance to Bangkok and the rest of Thailand in 1826. Anouvong, the last king of Wieng Chang (or Vientiane as it is now known) had been an ally of Thailand in its wars with Burmah. However he rebelled against Thailand and invaded the North East in a bid to gain greater independence for his kingdom. His forces were repelled and eventually defeated by local Thai forces.
Then in 1885 Prince Prachak brought his forces from the south to defeat a Chinese warlord who was causing chaos in the North East. As a result of his victory the Prince was made Governor of the North and settled his administration at Nong Khai. However the Franco-Siamese war in 1893 resulted in the French taking full control of Laos. The Prince thought it prudent to move his troops and administration away from the border and they pulled back to Ban Mak-kaeng (also known as Barn Duea-mark-kang). Here he established a town for his troops and administration which would grow and be known as Udon Thani – literally the Northern City.
The next significant event for the city was the arrival of American forces in the area in the 1960s as a result of their war with the North Vietnamese. The joint-force Udon Royal Thai Airforce Base was established. The base was completely transferred over to the Thai military authorities in 1976. However both the people of the North-East and Udon Thani and the surrounding area had been significantly affected by the American presence. The base had provided a large number of jobs to local Thais in the area. These were very well paid when compared to wages available elsewhere in the region and so improved the general economy. In addition the job holders acquired English language and work skills that would not otherwise been available for them. A significant number of the better educated moved to the middle east to work in the oil fields. This has been ongoing as family member descendants have followed their fathers because of an understanding of the work involved and personal contacts within the area. The base also caused America to set up a Consulate in Udon (sadly closed in 1995) and a VFW (Veteran of Foreign Wars) post. The general impression given to the outside world was that Udon Thani was a regional hub with firm contacts with America which further enhanced its’ reputation.
In recent years the province has received international attention because of the large deposit of potash discovered in the area. If this discovery is exploited then the region will become a significant exporter of potash to the world. However, although some preliminary work has been done at the site, the granting of a licence and the commencement of mining has been delayed because of local opposition over environmental concerns. While a company who wish to mine the site have issued an Environment Impact Assessment many are worried that the possible salinization of groundwater and soil and land subsidence. If either of these problems actually occurred then they would have a major economic impact on the lives of those living near the site as rice farming is the main source of income.