According to the testimonies of Antonio Pigafetta, chronicler of Magellan's expedition in 1520, the ship Trinidad, whose pilot was called Gallegos, arrived to the estuary of the river Gallegos four centuries ago, and that is how it received its name.
Other versions indicate that the place was originally called San Alfonso, and owed its name to the fleet of Jofré de Loaysa and Sebastián Elcano in 1526.
In 1885, Prefectura Naval Argentina is installed near the ranch of Coronel and proceeded to raise the flag, founding the city on the 19th December the same year, with the objective of executing permanent and direct domain over the continental end of the country to defend our sovereignty.
In 1886, lieutenant Agustín del Castillo built a cottage and a workshop to work with gold exploitation, and the French Gastón Voile built a saloon.
In 1888 it was appointed capital of the territory, since then governor Don Ramón Lista decided to transfer the capital of the territory, which was in Puerto Santa Cruz, in order to watch the gold riches of Cape Vírgenes, and towards the end of that year they settled in the incipient city Woodman, Rodman and Antonio Fernández.
The juridical transference of the capital was carried out in 1898, and ratified on 19th May 1904 when the executive passed the corresponding decree.
The first governor of the province was Comander Carlos María Moyano, whose mortal remains rest in the cementery of the city.
The Comune was born towards the end of 1907. It was a time of important events: the first Council was formed, there was a newspaper, a mutual benefit society was formed, etc.
Before that, there were comittees appointed by the governor.
In December 1907, the first popular elections took place in Río Gallegos.
In 1937 they started explorations to detect oil in Cerro Redondo, an exploitation that turned into the main resource in the territory together with gas.
In 1957, the territory of Santa Cruz was declared province, being its first governor Dr. Mario C, Paradelo.
During 1876, after the shipwreck of a fishing ship near Cape Virgins, while the crew were searching for drinking water, they unexpectedly found gold. This finding did not produce much enthusiasm, but after another shipwreck some years later, an important number of gold searchers of different origins came to the area. There were no markings, no grants, but random settlements and campsites in Zanja a Pique, Lucacho, Cañadón de los Franceses.
Among those who came after gold was the Rumanian Julius Popper, a cultivated engineer experienced in this kind of exploitations. He constituted the company Lavaderos de Oro del Sur, formed by personalities from Buenos Aires, and travelled to Cape Virgins. After several events, they installed a camp in a site called El Páramo, farther south in Tierra del Fuego. The arrogance of the Rumanian and his lack of affability for the other searchers made the company collapse in 1890.
The first bank, Banco de Tarapacá y Londres, was installed in 1899. Inspite of these signs of progress, the city did not grow too much, since the owners of the capitals lived in Punta Arenas, in Chile.
In 1910, most of the companies settled legally in Argentina and at the same time, Spaniards and Italians settled in the area.
Until 1912 the fields were used for shepperding. From 1912 to 1920, settlers from the Falkland Islands and the south of Chile were offered profitable conditions to settle in the incipient town.
At the beginning, there were only 17% of Argentinians in the population, and the mayority were English, apart from a high percent of Chileans and Germans. The growing commercial activity was the start point for the development of Río Gallegos.
At present, there is an important business activity related mainly to sheep slaughtering, and to a lesser extent, beef and pork meat to the north of the city.
The Cathedral of Río Gallegos is in San Martín Avenue, between Zapiola and Libertad, opposite San Martín square, which deserves a special report. This church was the first parish of Santa Cruz and Patagonia, built under the direction of R.P. Juan Bernabé, and constructed by aborigines in 1899 based on a project formed by a simple central nave with a plant in Latin cross, crowned by an octogonal dome and a facade where the turret and the clock stand out.
R.P. Bernabé had moved from Punta Arenas, and the building of the temple opposite the new square was decided by governor Mackinlay Zapiola with 10.000 pesos assigned by president Julio A. Roca.
For the construction, they adopted the system of the typical Patagonian architecture of the beginning of the century, and the exterior presented tiles overlapped that were later overlayed in the style of that time.
Father Bernabé had already built the cathedrals of Ushuaia and Punta Arenas in Chile, and as soon as he arrived at Río Gallegos, only ten days later, they settled the basal stone of this church dedicated to the Virgin of Nuestra Señora del Luján.
The first mass was celebrated on Christmas Eve the same year, and on 25th February 1900 it was blessed and inaugurated by Monseñor Fagnano.
In 1903, the building was enlarged and a bell tower for three bells adapted, but later on, the Salesian House and School were built at the expense of the right sector of the cathedral, which was demolished. It has been recently recycled and declared Historical Monument by the provincial government in 1983.