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Washington State History

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1792—Robert Gray sails into Grays Harbor and the Columbia River; George Vancouver surveys the coast of Washington and Puget Sound

1805—Lewis and Clark reach Washington

1811—Fort Okanogan, the first permanent U.S. settlement in Washington

1818—Great Britain and the U.S. agree to joint settlement of Oregon Country, which includes Washington

1825—Great Britain builds Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River

1846—The boundary of Washington and Canada becomes the 49th parallel

1853—Congress creates the Washington Territory

1883—Railroads connect Washington with the East coast

1889—Washington becomes the 42nd state

1910—Washington grants women the right to vote

1962—Seattle hosts the world fair

1980—Mount St. Helens volcano erupts causing 57 deaths and billions of dollars in damages

Many Native Americans lived in the Washington region when European explorers first visited the area.  Some of these groups lived west of the Cascades.  The Chinook, Nisqually, Quinault, and Puyallup hunted deer and fished for salmon and clams.  Others, the Cayuse, Colville, Spokane, and Nez Percé, lived east of the Cascades on the plains and valleys.

Russian fur traders settled what is now Alaska during the mid-1700s.  In 1775, Spanish explorers landed near present-day Point Grenville and claimed the Washington region for Spain.  Spain began exploration of Washington in an attempt to stop the Russians from claiming land farther south.

George Vancouver explored much of the Washington coast and Puget Sound between 1792 and 1794, claiming the land for England.  Other British explorers visited the area in the early 1800s from Canada.  The United States also claimed rights to the area in 1792.  Robert Gray explored the Columbia River and claimed all land surrounding the area.  In 1805, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark also explored the area and gave the U.S. a second claim to the Northwest.

Both American and British fur trading companies came to Washington in the early 1800s.  In 1810, a trading post was built near Spokane.  In 1811, John Jacob Astor established Fort Okanogan, the first permanent American settlement within what is now the state of Washington.  In 1818, the U.S. and England agreed that settlers from both countries could move into Washington, which was then part of the Oregon Country.  In 1825, John McLoughlin of the British Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Vancouver.

Many Americans wanted all of the Oregon Country to belong to the United States.  In 1846, a treaty was signed with Great Britain creating the 49th parallel as the border between Washington and Canada.  By 1850, more than 1,000 people lived in Washington.  This led to the creation of the Washington Territory in 1853.

Government leaders desiring to open more land for white settlement, wanted the Native Americans to sign treaties in 1855.  This action led to a war that lasted until 1858, when the Indians surrendered at Four Lakes and moved onto reservations.  During the 1860s, thousands of settlers moved to Washington as gold was discovered in Idaho, Oregon, and British Columbia.  When large amounts of gold were not found in Washington, many settlers stayed to become farmers and loggers.

In 1883, railroad connection with the East brought many new settlers to Washington.  Washington became the 42nd state on Nov. 11, 1889, with Olympia as the state capital.  In 1890, Washington’s population reached more than 350,000.

Due to irrigation projects during the 1890s, farmers moved to Washington to plant fruit orchards and wheat fields.  Fishing, lumbering, and mining industries continued to increase as well.  Railroad expansion allowed coastal cities to become great port centers, the largest among them being Seattle.  During the Alaska gold rush (1897-1898), this great city grew immensely as it became the chief supply center for the prospectors.

During World War I (1914-1918), Washington supplied lumber, food, and ships.  Camp Lewis was established as a military training center.  After the war, many workers lost their jobs and unemployment rose sharply.  In the “Seattle Revolution of 1919,” over 60,000 workers protested by walking off their jobs.  The Great Depression (1929-1939) also caused many industries to decline and unemployment to increase.  The federal government provided thousands of jobs through construction of the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams.

Many jobs were created as the United States entered World War II in 1941.  Washington built airplanes and ships.  Railroads and the wood product industry expanded.  In 1943, Hanford Works (Hanford Project of the U.S. Department of Energy) was established.  The first atomic bombs were made here; then in the 1960s, it began to produce electricity.

After the war, thousands of people that had come to Washington to work on newly built military bases, stayed.  Many people continued to move to Washington as its industries expanded and increased.  The construction of several federal dams along the Columbia River led to development of many hydroelectric projects by the U.S. and Canada in 1964.  The tourist industry was promoted in 1962 at a world’s fair held in Seattle.  The Space Needle observation tower was built at this time.

During the late 1960s, Washington’s population grew rapidly in Seattle and the Puget Sound area.  New industries were expanded.  The Boeing Company, a builder of military aircraft, expanded its business into the commercial jet and aerospace industries.  Electronic and computer software companies also moved into these cities at this time.

Large growth and industrial change caused increased pollution along Puget Sound and the Columbia River.  Seattle spent $130 million to clean Lake Washington and Elliott.  Logging known as clear cutting had destroyed much of Washington’s forests.  Since that time, state leaders are striving to help the economy grow without destroying much of its natural resources.

Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, in southwestern Washington.  It killed 57 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.  The eruption led to floods and forest fires and spread a thick volcanic ash over a large area.