People arriving over the Bering Strait from Mongolia about 13,000 years ago first populated the Pacific Northwest. The native tribes were known for intricately carved totem poles. The world's tallest totem pole – 105 feet high – is located in Tacoma.
Before the arrival of Europeans, it is estimated that there were 125 distinct Northwestern tribes. The sea provided bountiful supplies of food and cedar trees provided material for longhouses, large canoes, and even clothing (made from bark). With such abundance, complex cultures developed.
In 1775 Spanish Captain Don Bruno de Heceta landed on the coastline and claimed all lands up to the Russian possessions in the north for Spain. In 1790 Spain opened the territory to trappers and explorers of other nations, mainly Great Britain and the United States.
British Captain James Cook charted some of the coastline in 1778 while seeking the Northwest Passage. American Captain Robert Gray discovered the mouth of the Columbia River in 1792 and named it after his ship. He subsequently established a trade in sea otter pelts.
U.S. President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark overland to seek the Northwest Passage, and although they found the passage did not exist, they laid claim to the territory. Their expedition, along with Captain Gray's explorations, gave the United States a stake in the land.
In 1819 Spain ceded their earlier claim to the United States, although the British disputed it and the area existed for several decades under joint control. President James K. Polk campaigned in 1844 under the slogan "54-40 or Fight, " contending that the northern border of the US territory should be at the southern edge of the Russian territory at latitude 54º40". The dispute was finally settled in 1846 with the Treaty of Oregon, and the northern border was set at the 49th parallel, the modern border between Canada and the United States.
Many of the settlers following the Oregon Trail migrated north and settled in Washington in the Puget Sound area. The first settlement was in 1846. In 1853, part of the Oregon Territory was named the Washington Territory. It became the 42nd state in 1889, with the capital in Olympia, and remains the only state named after a U.S. President.
Because the Cascade Mountains run parallel to the coast the entire length of the state, Washington is divided into two distinct climates. The western third has a temperate rain forest climate, while the eastern two-thirds of the state is warmer and drier.
In addition to its modern high-tech industries, the economy of the western third of the state has been based primarily on lumber (particularly Douglas Fir) and fishing. The Columbia River area has the richest salmon fishing the Northwest. Mineral smelting (gold, silver, copper, and lead) was located in Tacoma.
The Grand Coulee Dam, largest in the United States, was the last of a series of hydroelectric dams built on the Columbia River thus assuring abundant power for the area. Washington has over 1,000 dams built for power, flood control, irrigation and water storage.
The economy of the eastern part of the state is based primarily on crops, livestock and dairy products. The Yakima Valley is known for apples, growing more than any other place in the United States.
In World Wars I and II heavy industry developed in the Puget Sound area. The Boeing Company became a major supplier of aircraft for the war effort. In addition several Washington ports manufactured warships.
In 1962 Seattle hosted the first World's Fair since World War II and it was heralded for futuristic concepts. The Space Needle, (607 ft. high) built during that fair, is a popular Washington vacation destination. In recent times, Seattle has become a major computer software center, and the home base of numerous industry leaders and spin off companies.
In 1980 Mount St. Helens, a volcano near the Oregon border, erupted and captured national attention.
With breathtaking scenery, natural and cultural attractions, Washington draws visitors from all over the world. Mt. Rainier (at 14,410 ft.) symbolizes that state's beauty. The vibrant city of Seattle has a booming economy and has developed a unique youth culture. Washington ranks 14th in population in the nation, with just over 6 million people.
Fronted by a rugged coastline, and dissected by the Cascade Mountains, the state contains numerous wonders of nature including the Columbia River Gorge, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Olympic National Forest and the beautiful bays and islands of Puget Sound. Combined, they offer an incredible collection of vacation attractions for the outdoorsman.
As a leading agricultural state, Washington boasts the Chelan, Yakima and Wenatchee valleys, fertile swatches of land that produce the world famous Washington apples. In addition, it has a sound jet aircraft economy (Boeing), and four of the 20 Most Admired Companies in the U.S. have a strong local presence, and they are Costco, Microsoft, Nordstrom and Starbucks.
The state's lively cities attract visitors by the millions, and Seattle, famous for its waterfront vistas, and so much more, is a major attraction in the Pacific Northwest. Olympia, Spokane, Yakima and Walla Walla are some of the best loved cities within its borders.
As one of the most diverse states in America, the Evergreen State is a diverse and multicultural place. Famous Washington natives include such notables as billionaire and co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates; founder of Starbucks, Gordon Bowker; guitarist Jimi Hendrix; and actor Bing Crosby. Gorgeous landscapes and booming cities mean that Washington travel will be an unforgettable experience.