Bowie began as a minor train stop and has grown to be the largest municipality in Prince George's County. The town was founded in 1870 and was at first called Huntington City. However, the train station was named Bowie, honoring Oden Bowie, president of the railroad and governor of Maryland from 1869 to 1872. Eventually, the town adopted the name of its train station. It incorporated in 1916.
Bowie has a large number of museums. Its best known site is the Belair Mansion, a Georgian plantation home built in 1743 for Samuel Ogle, governor of Maryland. The estate was purchased in 1898 by William Woodward, a well-to-do banker. The estate became known for breeding racing horses. Part of it is now the Belair Stable Museum.
The Bowie train station was built in the early 1900s and operated until 1989, when Amtrak closed it in favor of a new station at Bowie State University. The station was moved across the tracks, renovated, and reopened as the Bowie Railroad Station and Huntington Museum.
The Harmel House is a 1906 home that was a storekeeper's residence in Mitchellville, now a part of south Bowie. After a fire seriously damaged it in 1985, the city renovated it and now operates it in conjunction with the Radio History Society as the Radio and Television Museum.
Bowie State University is a historically black institution that grew out of a school founded in Baltimore in 1865. It was relocated by 1914 to a
187-acre rural campus in Bowie, where its initial mission was to train African-American teachers.