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General Washington State History

Spokane, Yakima, Cayuse, Okanogan, Walla Walla, and Colville in the interior, and the Nooksak, Chinook, Nisqually, Clallam, Makah, Quinault, and Puyallup in the coastal area.

Exploration and settlement: In the 18th century, Europeans were attracted to the coast of present-day Washington by the valuable fur of the sea otter, an animal found there in great numbers. The Spanish explorer, Bruno Heceta, visited the area in 1775 and claimed it for his country. In 1790 Britain and Spain concluded the Nootka Sound Agreement, which opened the coast between California and Alaska to trade and settlement by both nations. In 1792 George Vancouver, a British naval office, explored Puget Sound. By 1800 British interest had shifted from sea-dwelling furbearers to land animals, particularly the beaver, and the Montreal-based North West Company played a major role in opening Washington to the fur trade.

The first American interested in the Pacific Northwest were merchants who came from Boston as early as the 1780's, among them Robert Gray, who explored the Columbia River in 1792 or 1793. The Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-06) stimulated public interest, and in 1811 John Jacob Astor established a fur-trading post - Astoria - near the mouth of the Columbia River and a fort at the mouth of the Okanogan River. In 1818, the U.S. and Britain agreed to a ten-year period of joint occupancy of the Oregon county.

Territorial status and statehood: In 1846 the present U.S. - Canadian boundary was established, and Washington became part of the United States territory of Oregon two years later. When it was separated from Oregon in 1853, the new territory contained fewer than 4000 with inhabitants and stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the crest of the Rocky Mountains. The first territorial governor, Isaac I. Stevens, moved quickly to extinguish Native American title to the land and to improve transportation, the two keys to rapid settlement and economic development. The treaties negotiated by Stevens in 1854-55 were an attempt to defuse tensions between natives and settlers, but for various reasons the treaty structure quickly deteriorated, and intermittent warfare took place between 1855 and 1858. Because of this strife, and numerous delays in constructing the northern transcontinental railroad, the territory languished until the 1800s.

Completion of the Northern Pacific (1868) and Great Northern (1893) rail lines boosted Washington's economy, and statehood in 1889 brought political stability, beginning a period of rapid growth that lasted through World War I. During that time the population increased from 75,000 to 1.2 million. Wheat growing and cattle raising in eastern Washington and lumbering and fishing in the western portions of the state were the main economic activities. The Boeing Airplane Company, founded during World War I, became the largest private employer in the state during and after World War II. Lack of diversification and the cyclical nature of the major elements of the economy led to a series of boom-and-bust periods. The availability of inexperienced hydroelectric power after 1940 attracted the energy-intensive aluminum industry.

By the mid-20th century, agriculture had made dramatic gains. Construction of huge dams provided irrigation and flood control, as well as cheap electric power, and led to the development of inland ports and increased river shipping. As the gateway to Alaska, Washington had been moving away from dependence on federal contracts and has encouraged new industries to develop and process Alaskan resources. During the 1960s, 1970s, and the 1980s the population increased rapidly-especially in the Seattle and Puget Sound areas. State authorities tried to encourage industrial growth while protecting the environment.

The character of the state: Washington's reputation as a maverick state with citizens who tend toward radicalism in politics and social attitudes springs from its agrarian populist tradition and onetime strong radical labor movement. Both influenced the adoption of the initiative, referendum and recall, the open primary, and workers' compensation and consumer protection laws. Perhaps the most pervasive elements determining the character of the state, however, have been the relative homogeneity of its population, a relaxed pace of life, and a philosophy of harmony with the natural environment. Many citizens have enjoyed Washington's status as an isolated corner of the nation. This isolation was reflected in national politics, in which the state had little impact until after World War II, when Warren G. Magnusen, who represented Washington in the U.S. Senate from 1945 to 1981, and Henry M. Jackson, who served in the Senate from 1953 until his death, acquired considerable influence in health, consumer affairs, foreign policy, and defense. Another prominent Democrat, Thomas S. Foley of Spokane, became Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1989.

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