Wayne, the county seat of Wayne County, was laid out by the St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad in June 1881. City and county were named for "Mad" Anthony Wayne, a Revolutionary War general. The first settlers arrived in the eastern part of the county in 1868. Some were homesteaders; the first claim was that of Colonel B. F. Whitten near Wakefield in that year. Much of the unbroken prairie land was bought by land speculators, some of it for as little as fifty cents per acre, and sold again to settlers.
When the county was organized in 1870, LaPorte, about six miles southeast of Wayne, was named the county seat. The railroad was extended through the county in 1881-1882 but missed LaPorte and passed through Wayne. The settlers voted to move the county seat and LaPorte became a ghost town.
Wayne has had a college since 1887, when the Lutheran Academy was established. Classes were conducted there until 1890. Nebraska Normal College was founded in 1891 with Professor James M. Pile of Fremont as president. John G. Neihardt, Poet Laureate of Nebraska, was one of the early students. In 1909 the school was purchased by the state and continued as a teachers college. Since 1963 it has been called Wayne State College.