Hurley took its name from M. A. Hurley, a prominent attorney of Wausau who won a lawsuit for the Northern Chief Iron Company in 1884. The compensation for winning the suit was that he asked for no fee, but only requested that the town involved in the case be named after him. The full name "Glen Hurley" was used for one year, but in 1885, the first name was dropped and the community became known as Hurley.
Henry Meade was the first mayor of Hurley, Wisconsin. John Ankers opened Hurley’s first saloon, and served as Hurley’s first town clerk, first justice of the peace, and first fire chief.
The Gogebic Range Directory of 1888 states: "During the past summer, Hurley was twice visited by terrible fires. The first occurred of June 28 and the second on July 9. These destroyed almost the entire business portion of the city, and at first it was thought that they would prove a crushing blow to its prosperity, but later events have proven that they were blessings in disguise. The wonderful pluck and energy of its businessmen were fully demonstrated when they at once began the erection of fine brick buildings in the place of the wooden ones destroyed. The result has been that the burned portion has been rebuilt with brick and stone, making them nearly fireproof. And Silver Street is one that a much larger city could well be proud of."
Hurley was also the permanent home of Delia Zarzyski, where she lived the entirety of her 89 years with her husband Leonard Zarzyski. Living on Poplar Street their entire lives, they had three sons, one of whom was renowned cowboy poetPaul Zarzyski who performs across the country and wrote hundreds of poems and multiple books.
The Old Iron County Courthouse (now the Iron County Historical Museum), is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Iron Exchange Bank of Hurley, was the oldest bank of the Gogebic Range. It was organized November 26, 1885. Dr. J.C. Reynolds, the bank’s first president, and his brother, W. S. Reynolds, the bank’s first cashier, were the prime movers in the organization of the institution. Associated with them in the organization were John E. Burton, Alvin E. Tyler, Edward Ryan, Nathaniel J. Moore, James A. Wood, and Shepherd Homans, all men prominent in the mining industry in the area in the early days. By 1925, when it celebrated its 40th anniversary, it had withstood all financial depressions.
The first meat market in Hurley was kept by Ilsey and Knox and was opened in 1885.
The first newspaper in Hurley was the Montreal River Miner which was first published on October 8, 1885. After absorbing the Iron County News in 1950 the two papers names were merged to form the Iron County Miner which is still published as a weekly.
The first hotel was located at the corner of Second Avenue and Silver Street in a log building, with James Guest as the first landlord. It was far from a pretentious affair but answered the purpose and furnished food and shelter for many a pioneer and miner in its day.
The Burton House was an immense four-story frame hostelry, which was a famous gathering place in the latter part of the 19th century. John E. Burton erected the building in 1865. A mining speculator, his original wealth came from the iron range. Later he established offices in New York City and bought up other vast mining interests in Mexico and South America. The Burton Hotel contained 100 rooms, a ballroom, dining room, café, and clubrooms, all highly decorated and furnished with the best of the wood workers’ art of the time, and equipped with the best furniture. The Burton Hotel cost $35,000 to construct, and the furniture cost Burton $10,000. Many noteworthy people stayed at the Burton House. Grover Cleveland registered at the Burton House Saturday, October 5, 1889. By that time he had already served one term as president of the United States. In 1889 when he was in Hurley, he was a New York lawyer. He was elected to the presidency again in 1892.
Hurley has a cool humid continental climate (KöppenDfb), with long, cold winters and short, mild summers. In an average year the temperature drops below 32 °F (0 °C) on 192 days, and below 0 °F (-17.8 °C) on 40 days. Hurley is also one of the snowiest cities in the United States with an average of over 160 inches of snow per year.
As of the census of 2010, there were 1,547 people, 771 households, and 360 families residing in the city. The population density was 452.3 inhabitants per square mile (174.6/km2). There were 1,032 housing units at an average density of 301.8 per square mile (116.5/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 97.5% White, 0.1% African American, 0.8% Native American, 0.2% Asian, 0.1% from other races, and 1.2% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.8% of the population.
There were 771 households of which 20.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 31.1% were married couples living together, 10.0% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.6% had a male householder with no wife present, and 53.3% were non-families. 47.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 23.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.89 and the average family size was 2.66.
The median age in the city was 49 years. 16.2% of residents were under the age of 18; 6.9% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 20.5% were from 25 to 44; 30.3% were from 45 to 64; and 26.1% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 47.3% male and 52.7% female.
There were 830 households out of which 20.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.7% were married couples living together, 9.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 44.8% were non-families. 39.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 20.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.06 and the average family size was 2.72.
In the city the population was spread out with 18.2% under the age of 18, 8.6% from 18 to 24, 27.0% from 25 to 44, 19.7% from 45 to 64, and 26.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43 years. For every 100 females there were 90.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.2 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $24,821, and the median income for a family was $33,000. Males had a median income of $27,717 versus $17,750 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,554. About 11.0% of families and 14.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.6% of those under age 18 and 15.1% of those age 65 or over.
Hurley is known for its ATV Hurley Rally held on Memorial Day weekend, a Pumpkin ATV rally held the second weekend of October, and the Red Light Snowmobile Rally. Both attract thousands of visitors to the area each year. At the 2005 ATV rally, a new Guinness World Record was set for the largest ATV parade, with 687 participants.