The first Europeans in the area arrived in 1623. In 1947, the Gulag Angara prison labor camp was constructed near Bratsk, with capacity for up to 44,000 prisoners for projects such as the construction of the railway from Tayshet to Ust-Kut via Bratsk. The city's rapid development commenced with the announcement in 1952 that a dam and hydroelectric plant would be built at Bratsk on the Angara River. Town status was granted in 1955. Currently the population is declining.