Among cities in Mexico, the city of Chihuahua is highly ranked in human and social development. According to the UNCP report on human development, Chihuahua municipality's HDI value was 0.9117 – this was equal or higher than some Western European countries. The literacy rate in the city is among the highest in the country at 99%. Another report about competitiveness from the CIDE organization ranks Chihuahua as the second most competitive city in the country just behind Monterrey and ahead of Mexico city. This report also ranks Chihuahua as the most Socially Competitive city in the country.
The predominant activity is industry, including domestic heavy, light industries, consumer goods production, and to a smaller extent maquiladoras. The city is served by the General Roberto Fierro Villalobos International Airport.
It has been said that the name derives from the Nahuatl language, meaning "between two waters", other accepted definitions are "place of the holed-rock" " or from Tarahumara, "dry and sandy place". The name itself is older than the Spanish conquest of Mexico. The city was founded on October 12, 1709, by Blas Cano de los Rios and Antonio Deza y Ulloa, a Spanish explorer, as El Real de Minas de San Francisco de Cuéllar. Don Ildefonso de Irigoyen donated the land for the city foundation. The town was erected a Villa in 1718 (or 1715) with the name of San Felipe el Real de Chihuahua, and the name was shortened in 1823. The location was chosen because it is the intersection of the rivers Chuviscar and Sacramento. It is also the midpoint between the Río Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande) and the then-important mining city of Hidalgo del Parral. For much of the 18th century, Chihuahua served as the de facto capital of Nueva Vizcaya because most governors preferred to reside there rather than in Durango, the capital of the province at that time.
Just as in other parts of Northern Mexico, Roman Catholic missionaries were an important influence during the colonial era, and the city became a meeting point for missionaries heading to and from the 'sierra', the mountainous region in western Chihuahua State where the native Tarahumara still live.
During the War of Independence, the city saw little action. However, it was in Chihuahua where Miguel Hidalgo, considered the Father of the Country, was held prisoner in the Federal Palace of Chihuahua and executed in 1811 at the nearby Government Palace by the Spaniards.