A Brief of Washington History

September 26th, 2011 7:19 am

The first US settlement in Washington was at Tumwater, on the southern edge of Puget Sound, in 1845. Both Seattle and Port Townsend were established in 1851 and quickly became logging centers. Lumber was shipped at great profit to San Francisco, the boomtown of the California gold rush.

In 1853, Washington separated from the Oregon territory. Congress reduced the amount of land open to native hunting and fishing, and opened up the eastern part of the state to settlement. The arrival of rail links in the last decades of the century created a readily accessible market for the products of the Pacific Northwest and brought in floods of settlers.

Washington was admitted to the union in 1889, and Seattle began to flourish in 1897, when it became the principal port en route to the Alaska and Yukon goldfields. The construction of the Bonneville Dam (1937) and Grand Coulee Dam (1947) accelerated the region’s industrial and agricultural development by providing cheap hydroelectric power and irrigation.

The rapid postwar urbanization of the Puget Sound region created an enormous metropolitan area linked by perpetually jammed freeways that mar some of the waterfront vistas. Industry switched from lumber to computer technologies as Seattle rode the dot-com boom, suffered a small recession and emerged to fight another day. Placed firmly on the world map through the work of homegrown global giants such as Starbucks and Microsoft, Washington is looking to the future with a greener face. Popular Seattle mayor Greg Nickels has been instrumental in rallying more than 400 American cities to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Kyoto protocol and the knock-on effect in other towns is palpable.

The Early Twentieth Century

September 26th, 2011 7:17 am

The turn of the century brought labor clashes that gave Washington a reputation as a radical state. The extreme policies of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW; also known as the “Wobblies”) proved appealing to the shipyard and dock workers and to the loggers, and in 1917 the U.S. War Dept. was forced to intervene in a lumber industry dispute. A general strike following World War I had a crippling effect on the state’s economy; antilabor feeling increased, and the famous incident at Centralia resulted in bloody strife between the IWW and the American Legion. The alarmed and brutal reaction of management to radical labor policies produced a confrontational atmosphere that hindered the mediation until the onset of the lean days of the 1930s and the emergence of the New Deal.

Washington was an important center of the defense industry during World War II, particularly with the immense aircraft industry in Seattle and the Manhattan Project’s Hanford Works at Richland. (Decades later it was discovered that the Hanford facility had leaked large amounts of hazardous radioactive waste in the 1940s and 50s.) During the war, the large Japanese-American population in the state (more than 15,000 persons) was moved eastward to camps, where they suffered great physical and emotional hardship.