The origins of the town of Vorkuta are associated with Vorkutlag, one of the most notorious forced-labour camps of the Gulag. Vorkutlag was established in 1932 with the start of mining. It was the largest of the Gulag camps in European Russia and served as the administrative centre for a large number of smaller camps and subcamps, among them Kotlas, Pechora, and Izhma (modern Sosnogorsk). The Vorkuta uprising, a major rebellion by the camp inmates, occurred in 1953.
In 1941 Vorkuta and the labour camp system based around it were connected to the rest of the world by a prisoner-built rail line linking Konosha, Kotlas, and the camps of Inta. Town status was granted to Vorkuta on November 26, 1943.