The farming and settlement potential of the area along the banks of the Mooi River was enough to convince Andries Potgieter to settle here with his trekkers in 1838.
The new town was the subject of the Sand River Convention allowing the area north of the Vaal River (The Transvaal) to become an independent republic, thus making it the Transvaal's oldest Voortrekker town.
It became for 17 years the capital of the Zuid-Afnkaansche Republiek and, while it no longer claims this, it has an air of pride mixed with a young, creative spirit.
There are two theories about the name of the oldest town in the former Transvaal.
One suggestion is that it commemorates Andries Potgieter, the Voortrekker leader - the name being a combination of 'Pot' [Potgieter], 'chef' ['chief' of his Voortrekker group] and 'stroom' [stream]. He established a settlement in 1838 on the banks of the stream, known as the Mooi River, where he took his oath of office as first President of the Transvaal Republic.
The other suggestion is that the name is a derivative of 'potscherf', since many a potsherd was found alongside the stream at one time.
Potchefstroom, where the national flag of the Transvaal Republic, the Vierkleur, was hoisted for the first time, was the first capital of the republic. Pretoria, as the seat of government, gradually assumed pre-eminence and the town on the Mooi River eventually had to relinquish its status.
Among other Transvaal firsts that Potchefstroom could claim were the first Afrikaans and English-medium churches, the first qualified teacher to set up school, the first printing press, the first experimental farm, and the first shot in the war of 1880-1881 between the Transvaal and Britain.
After fighting in the streets of Potchefstroom in that war a British garrison under Major RWC Winslow was besieged in the Old Fort (NM) by Boer forces under General Piet Cronje for about a hundred days. Food became so scarce that the 322 men, women and children in the tiny fort were obliged to eat grass and young maize plants before the siege was lifted at the end of hostilities.
In the second Anglo-Boer War Potchefstroom was occupied by the British and when peace was declared the garrison that remained established a major military base which was used in both world wars and then became the headquarters of the former Western Transvaal division of South Africa's armed forces.
Apart from the Old Fort, places of historic interest are the home of President MW Pretorius; the Vyfhoek concentration camp cemetery, which has been converted into a memorial garden; the Kruithuisie, the little stone powder magazine the burghers were authorised to build in 1841; and the Potchefstroom Museum that reflects the cultural history of the region.
The Gereformeerde Kerk transferred its theological seminary, established in 1869, from Burgersdorp to Potchefstroom in 1905 and the institution developed into the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education.
Lakeside, an attractive resort at the Potchefstroom Dam on the Mooi River, has furnished bungalows, rondavels, a caravan park, a restaurant and facilities for swimming, boating, fishing and other forms of water sport.
Grain silos that tower over the town are evidence of the fertility of the surrounding countryside which, in addition to maize, produces other types of grain, groundnuts, fruit, sunflower seed and large quantities of lucerne.