The city was founded in 1938 by Flora Mae Statler, who named it Surprise as she "would be surprised if the town ever amounted to much". Surprise officials previously thought the city was founded by Statler's husband, real estate developer and state legislator Homer C. Ludden, but in 2010 property records were discovered which listed Statler owning the land before she met Ludden.
Although there were only a few houses and a gas station on the one-mile (1.6 km)-square parcel of land when it was subdivided to build inexpensive houses for agricultural workers, Surprise has experienced tremendous growth in the years since. It incorporated into a city in 1960, the townsite being bounded by Greenway Road on the south, El Mirage Road on the east, Bell Road on the north, and Dysart Road on the west.
Tens of thousands of retirees moved to the city in the 1990s and early 2000s to live in Sun City Grand, an age-restricted resort-like community, with homes built by the property development firm Del Webb. Surprise is about five miles (8 km) northwest of Del Webb's original Sun City development and adjacent to Sun City West.
Sun City Grand has become a large contributor to the city's population, which more than septupled (7 times) from 10,187 to about 75,000 in 2004. Rapid growth has led city officials to estimate the population at over 103,000 as of 2007, a figure the city maintains in spite of more conservative population estimates by the Census Bureau.
Surprise is located at 33°38′19″N 112°21′02″W (33.638632, −112.350434). It is about 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Phoenix.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 85.6 square miles (221.1 km²), of which, 85.5 square miles (221.4 km²) of it is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km²) of it (0.03%) is water.
As of the census of 2000, there were 30,848 people, 12,484 households, and 9,725 families residing in the city. The population density was 443.9 people per square mile (171.4/km²). There were 16,260 housing units at an average density of 234.0 per square mile (90.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 85.97% White, 2.61% Black or African American, 0.43% Native American, 1.07% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 7.87% from other races, and 1.99% from two or more races. 23.29% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. In recent years, the racial makeup has varied due to the rapid expansion of the city.
There were 12,484 households out of which 21.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 69.5% were married couples living together, 5.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 22.1% were non-families. 17.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.46 and the average family size was 2.75 people.
In the city, the population was spread out with 19.9% under the age of 18, 7.0% from 18 to 24, 22.4% from 25 to 44, 25.3% from 45 to 64, and 25.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 46 years. For every 100 females there were 96.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 94.9 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $44,156, and the median income for a family was $47,899. Males had a median income of $33,079 versus $26,347 for females. The per capita income for the city was $21,451. About 5.6% of families and 8.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 16.7% of those under age 18 and 3.3% of those age 65 or over.
In 2010, Surprise had a population of 117,517. The racial and ethnic composition of the population was 71.2% non-Hispanic white, 5.1% black or African American, 0.7% Native American, 2.6% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 0.1% non-Hispanic reporting some other race, 3.8% two or more races, and 18.5% Hispanic or Latino.
According to the City's 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the top employers in the city are:
Surprise is governed on the local level by a mayor and a six-member city council. The mayor is elected at large, while the council members are elected from the six districts which they represent. All representatives serve four-year terms. The current mayor is Sharon Wolcott.
The local government website earned a "Sunny Award" for the proactive disclosure of government data from Sunshine Review.
In February 2007, the Surprise City Council unanimously approved an infrastructure reimbursement agreement with Westcor, facilitating construction of the largest regional mall in Arizona, Prasada. The agreement calls for Westcor to bear the cost of construction and installation of up to $240 million in infrastructure at the Prasada site, along SR303 in Surprise. The city will assume ownership of the infrastructure and reimburse Westcor for the cost by rebating sales taxes generated by Prasada itself. At full build out, the city expects to realize $60 million per year in sales taxes and projects that Prasada will create more than 20,000 jobs for local residents.
The Surprise Police Department consists of four divisions:
Eight squads of Patrol Officers, complemented by the Support Services Unit which includes K-9 Officers, Animal Control Officers, and Motor Officers. It is the largest division in the department.
Consists of the Community Relations Unit, Training Unit, Public Information Unit, Records Unit, Recruiting Unit and Technical Services Unit.
Includes Detectives, General and Special Investigations, the Special Assignment Unit (SAU), and Evidence Technician.
Consists of civilian employees and is supervised by a civilian.
The Dysart Unified School District serves a portion of Surprise. Arizona Charter Academy is also located in the area.
The city is the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers baseball teams. These Major League Baseball teams use Surprise Stadium for their activities. The city also hosted a Golden Baseball League team in 2005, the Surprise Fightin' Falcons and the Recreation Campus ballpark and is the home city for a team in the Arizona Fall League, the Surprise Saguaros. It also hosted ESPN SportsCenter's 50 States in 50 Days segment on August 11, 2005.
As part of the city's Recreation Campus, Surprise is also home to the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex (STRC). Since its opening in August 2007, the complex has received numerous awards, including being named the 2008 Outstanding Facility of the year award by the USTA. The complex hosts various professional events throughout the year, including the Outback Champion Series tour, a USTA Pro Circuit event, and many USTA regional and sectional events. In 2009 the complex was chosen as the site for the Fed Cup Quarter Final between the U.S. and Argentina.
Surprise is served by Loop 303 and U.S. Route 60. U.S. Route 60 leads southeast to Phoenix and northwest to Wickenburg and Las Vegas (via U.S. Route 93). Surprise is also served by many major arterial roads.
Surprise is served by the following utilities:Cable: Cox Communications
Electricity: Arizona Public Service
Gas: Southwest Gas
Telephone: CenturyLink QC
Water: Circle City Water Company, Beardsley Water Company, Chaparral Water Company, EPCOR Water, the City of El Mirage, Morristown Water Company, Puesta Del Sol Water Company, Saguaro Acres, Saguaro View, and West End Water Company
The Home Mission Cemetery a.k.a. the Sleeping Bride Cemetery is located on West Dove Wing Way in Surprise. The cemetery was originally called the Thompson Family Cemetery because it was located in what once was the grounds of the Thompson Ranch. The first person buried there was Robert Thompson who died in 1936 at the age of 15 from the wounds which he received while playing with a loaded gun.
The Surprise Historical Society, together with the remaining Thompson family members that own this cemetery, are attempting to restore, preserve and maintain this as a Historic Pioneer Cemetery.