Empire was founded in 1851. It was incorporated as a village in 1895 with E. R. Dailey, the head of the Empire Lumber Company which was the main employer here, as the first president of the village. The city was named after the schooner “Empire”, which was icebound in the city during a storm in 1865.
The Empire Lumber Company operated from 1887 to 1917, dominating this once booming lumber town. George Aylsworth operated the first mill between 1873 and 1883. Potter and Struthers built a second mill in 1885, which T. Wilce Company purchased in 1887. Called the Empire Lumber Company, it expanded to one of the largest and best equipped hardwood mills in the area, capable of producing up to 20 million feet of lumber a year. Docks, several businesses, and a railroad sprang up in Empire. Destroyed by fire in 1906, the mill was quickly rebuilt. The mill burned again in 1917. With most of the nearby virgin timber gone, the mill was not replaced.