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The State of Washington is located in the far northwest corner of the United States. It has 66,582 square miles between the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Idaho boarder to the east. Washington borders Canada on the north and Oregon on the south along the Columbia River.
Washington is the 20th largest state and has very different western and eastern natural environments, which are divided by the Cascade Range. It is home to 6 million residents (2001 census estimate) who are employed in a diverse economy dominated by aviation; software and other technological enterprises; wheat, apples, beans, and other agriculture; forest products; and fishing. The state is a major exporter of manufactured goods, foodstuffs, raw materials, and hydroelectricity, and it is a popular tourist destination.
Today Washington is home to numerous Native American tribes and has been for at least 10,000 years. The first European explorers and traders visited in the late 1700s. Lewis and Clark followed the Snake River and Columbia River to arrive at the Pacific Ocean by what is known as Long Beach today, in November 1805. The Hudson’s Bay Company had major forts and trading stations in the early 1800s, along with American fur traders, settlers, and missionaries.
Great Britain and the United States together occupied the area between 1818 and 1846. Then Britain gave the Pacific Northwest below the 49th parallel to the U.S. Two years later, the U.S. created Oregon Territory, which included the future states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho and part of Montana. Washington Territory, which included Idaho and western Montana until 1863 was separated from Oregon on March 2,1853, and gained statehood on November 11, 1889.
Olympia has been the capital of Washington Territory and State since 1853. Seattle is the state’s most populous city with a population of 563,000 in 2000, followed in rank by Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver, Bellevue, and Everett.
The federal government created Oregon Territory on August 14, 1848. The area of the new jurisdiction included what we know as Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and western Montana today. Finding gold in California in 1848 started a large migration westward of people, and the settlement of Oregon Territory was promoted by the passage of the Donation Land Claims Act of 1850, which gave 160 acres to any U.S. citizen who agreed to stay on his or her land for five years.
On August 29, 1851, 27 male settlers met at Cowlitz Landing to ask Congress for a separate “Columbia Territory” that would cover the area between the Columbia River and 49th parallel.
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President Millard Fillmore signed the bill on March 2, 1853, and Olympia was became the Territorial Capital. President Frankly Pierce named Isaac I. Stevens to be the first governor of the area that included northern Idaho and western Montana until President Abraham Lincoln established Idaho Territory on March 4, 1863.
Washington’s non-native population grew steadily to more than 300,000 over the following decades. The residents began petitioning for statehood in 1881, and President Benjamin Harris admitted Washington to the Union on November 11, 1889.
Thirty federally recognized sovereign Indian tribes and reservations occupy substantial areas in Washington, plus an additional seven unrecognized but culturally distinct tribes.
Washington has a two chamber Legislature and is divided into 49 Legislative Districts, each of which elects one Senator to a four-year term, and two Representatives to two-year terms. The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Auditor, Treasurer, Commissioner of Public Lands, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Insurance Commissioner are elected statewide to four-year terms. The nine members of the State Supreme Court are elected statewide to six-year terms. Washington’s State Constitution has been substantially amended since 1889, and has authorized citizen initiatives and referenda since 1912.
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State Emblems and Anthems
State Motto: The word “Alki,” pronounced “AL-kee,” means “by and by” in the Chinook trading jargon used by the early Euro-American traders and Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. Charles Terry first used it in 1852 to name his settlement, originally called “New York” after his native state, on present-day Alki Beach in West Seattle. Alki was used in the original Territorial Seal, which also shows a representation of the “Goddess of Good Hope,” an anchor, and a depiction of buildings in a forest.
State Seal: The official State Seal shows an image of President George Washington adapted in 1967 by graphic designer Richard Nelms from the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait. The first 1889 version of the seal was created by jeweler George Talcott, who placed a postage stamp bearing Washington’s picture inside two rings which was traced from an ink bottle and a silver dollar. Talcott’s brothers then wrote “Great Seal of the State of Washington 1889” between the two circles, and cut a die for printing.
State Flag: Washington adopted its official flag, featuring the State Seal on a green background, in 1923.
State Nickname: The phrase “The Evergreen State” appears on Washington license plates and in many official and unofficial uses, but it has never been formally adopted. Historian and journalist C. T. Connover is credited with coining it.
State Song: Washington’s official anthem is the highly forgettable ditty, “Washington, My Home,” with lyrics by Helen Davis and music by Stuart Churchill. Adopted in 1959, the song succeeded the unofficial anthem “Washington Beloved,” penned by University of Washington professor Edmund Meany and scored by Reginald de Koven. A campaign to substitute the rock classic “Louie Louie” (first popularized by the Tacoma-based band, The Wailers) failed in the 1980s.
State Folk Song: Woody Guthrie wrote his famous ballad, “Roll On Columbia, Roll On” to promote the cause of public power for the Bonneville Power Administration in the early 1940s. The Legislature adopted it as the state’s official folk song in 1987.
State Dance: The square dance or quadrille was made the official state dance on April 17, 1979, which says something about the Legislature, if not the people it represents.
State Bird: The present official state bird is the western or American goldfinch, aka “wild canary” (Carduelis tristis). It was formally adopted in 1951 based on a special election by the state’s school children. The first election resulted in the designation of the meadowlark in 1928, but seven other states had already chosen the same species. An election done by the Washington Federation of Women’s Clubs gave the ok to the goldfinch over the tanager, pileated woodpecker, junco, and other candidates. State Legislature officially anointed the bright yellow bird in 1951.
State Insect: The green darner dragonfly (Anax junius drury) was approved by the Legislature in 1997 as a result of a campaign spearheaded by students at the Crestwood Elementary School in Kent. More than 25,000 students from some 100 schools participated in the final vote to name the ubiquitous carnivorous bug, also known as a “mosquito hawk.”
State Fish: The Legislature named the steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss ) the official state fish in 1969. Like other “anadromous” fish, this relative of the salmon is born in freshwater streams. It then migrates to saltwater where it spends most of its adult life. Unlike salmon, steelheads may return more than once to their birthplace streams to spawn before dying.
State Flower: The Coast Rhododendron was selected over five other candidates including clover to be Washington’s floral representative at the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago. The 1892 special ballot was limited to women only, who at that time did not have the right to vote in official elections.
State Tree: Washington adopted the western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) as its state tree in 1947.
State Fruit: The apple, one of Washington’s leading agricultural exports, was adopted in 1989.
State Grass: The native bluebunch wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum) was named the official state grass in 1989.
State Fossil: The extinct Columbian Mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) was named the official state fossil in 1998 at the urging of students at Cheney’s Windsor Elementary School. These giant furry cousins of modern elephants roamed most of northern Asia, Europe, and North America until approximately 10,000 years ago, and their remains have been unearthed at many locations in Washington.
State Gem: Petrified wood was named the official state gem in 1975. Many specimens of ancient cypress, oak, elm, and gingko trees were preserved through lava flows and infiltration with sand over millions of years, and a rich deposit of these fossils can be found in the Gingko Petrified Forest State Park near Vantage in the eastern part of the state.
State Ship: The container ship President Washington was christened as Washington’s official ship in 1983 to recognize the regional importance of maritime trade.
State Tartan: In 1988, Vancouver residents Margaret McLeod van Nus and Frank Cannonita designed a distinctive tartan (a grid of intersecting bands of color on a solid background based on traditional Gaelic weaves) to help celebrate the following year’s centennial of Washington’s statehood. The red, white, blue, yellow, and green pattern was officially adopted by the Legislature in 1991.