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Encyclopedia > Washington state

This article deals with the U.S. state. For other uses, see Washington (disambiguation)

State of Washington
(Flag of Washington) (Seal of Washington)
State nickname: The Evergreen State
Other U.S. States
Capital Olympia
Largest city Seattle
Governor Christine Gregoire
Official languages None
Area 184,824 kmē (18th)
 - Land 172,587 kmē
 - Water 12,237 kmē (6.6%)
Population (2000)
 - Population 5,894,121 (15th)
 - Density 34.20 /kmē (25th)
Admittance into Union
 - Date November 11, 1889
 - Order 42nd
Time zone Pacific: UTC-8/-7
Latitude 45°32' N to 49° N
Longitude 116°57' W to 124°48' W
Width 385 km
Length 580 km
 - Highest 4,392 m
 - Mean 520 m
 - Lowest 0 m
 - ISO 3166-2 US-WA
Web site access.wa.gov

Washington is a state in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It should not be confused with Washington, DC, the nation's capital. To avoid confusion, the state is often called Washington state. Although the state capital is Olympia, the largest city in Washington is Seattle. As of the 2000 census, the state population is approximately 5.9 million. The state work force numbers about 3.1 million. Residents are called "Washingtonians."

Washington is the only state named after a president.

The battleship USS Washington was named originally for President Washington, but was later renamed in honor of the state.



Prior to the arrival of explorers from Europe, this region of the Pacific Coast had established many tribes of Native Americans, each with their own unique cultures. Today, they are most notable for their totem poles and their ornately carved canoes and masks. Prominent among their industries were Salmon fishing and Whale hunting. In the east, nomadic tribes travelled the land, and missionaries such as the Whitmans settled there.

The first European record of a landing on the Washington coast is by Spanish Captain Don Bruno de Heceta in 1775 on board the Santiago, part of a two-ship flotilla with the Sonora. They claimed all the coastal lands up to the Russian possessions in the north for Spain.

In 1778, British explorer Captain James Cook sighted Cape Flattery, at the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but the straits would not be explored until 1789 by Captain Charles W. Barkley. Further explorations of the straits were performed by Spanish explorers Manuel Quimper in 1790 and Francisco Eliza in 1791, then by British Captain George Vancouver in 1792.

The Spanish Nootka Concession of 1790 opened the northwest territory to explorers and trappers from other nations, most notably Britain and then the United States. Captain Robert Gray (for whom Grays Harbor county is named) then discovered the mouth of the Columbia river, and, beginning in 1792, he establishes a trade in Sea Otter pelts. In 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition entered the state on October 10.

In 1819, Spain ceded their original claims to this territory to the United States. This began a period of joint-occupancy by Britain and the U.S. that lasted until June 15, 1846 when Britain ceded their claims to this land with the Treaty of Oregon.

Due to the migration along the Oregon Trail, many settlers wandered north to what is now Washington state and settled the Puget Sound area. In 1853 the Northern Pacific railroad line reached the Puget Sound, linking the region to the other states. During that same year, Washington Territory was formed from part of Oregon Territory.

Washington became the 42nd state in the United States on November 11, 1889.

Early prominent industries in the state included agriculture and lumber. In eastern Washington, the Yakima Valley became known for its apple orchards, while the growth of wheat using dry-farming techniques became particularly productive. The heavy rainfall to the west of the Cascade Range produced dense forests, and the ports along the Puget Sound prospered from the manufacturing and shipping of lumber products, particularly the Douglas fir. Other industries that developed in the state include fishing, salmon canning, and mining.

By the turn of the 20th century, the state of Washington was one of dangerous repute in the minds of many Americans. Undesputably as "wild" as the rest of the wild west, the public image of Washington merely replaced cowboys with lumberjacks, and desert with forestland. One city in particular, Aberdeen had the distinction of being "the roughest town west of the Mississippi", due to excessive gambling, violence, extreme drug use, and prostitution (the city itself changed very little over the years, and remained off-limits to military personnel well into the early 1980's).

For a long period Tacoma was noted for its large smelters, where gold, silver, copper, and lead ores were treated. Seattle was the primary port for trade with Alaska and the rest of the country, and for a time possessed a large ship-building industry. The region around the eastern Puget Sound developed heavy industry during the period including World War I and World War II, and the Boeing company became an established icon in the area until the end of the twentieth century.

During the depression era, a series of hydroelectric dams were constructed along the Columbia river, as part of a project to increase the production of electricity. This culminated in 1941 with the completion of the Grand Coulee Dam, the largest in the United States.

During World War II, the Puget Sound area became a focus for war industries, with the Boeing Company producing many of the nation's heavy bombers and ports in Seattle, Bremerton, and Tacoma available for the manufacturing of ships for the war effort. In eastern Washington, the Hanford Works atomic energy plant was opened in 1943, and played a major role in the construction of the nation's atomic bombs.

In 1980, following a period of heavy tremors and eruptions, the northeast face of Mt. Saint Helens exploded outward, destroying a large part of the top of the volcano. This eruption flattened the forests for many kilometers, killed 57 people, flooded the Columbia River and its tributaries with ash and mud, and blanketed large parts of Washington in ash, making day look like night.

In 2004, Washington's gubernatorial race was so close that the Secretary of State certified Republican candidate Dino Rossi as governor-elect almost a month after the polls had closed, beating out the Democratic candiate Christine Gregoire by over two hundred votes. Due to the small margin of victory, a machine recount took place, and by a margin of only 42 votes out of more than 2.8 million cast Rossi won again. However, the Democrats requested a final hand count of the votes. Gregoire ended up winning this count by 129 votes and was inauguarated on January 12, 2005. The election was contested by the Washington State Republican Party.


Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

Washington is bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Oregon to the south (the Columbia River forming most of this border), Idaho to the east, and British Columbia, Canada to the north. It is famous for scenery of breathtaking beauty and sharp contrasts. High mountains rise above evergreen forests and sparkling coastal waters. Its coastal location and Puget Sound harbors give it a leading role in trade with Alaska, Canada, and the Pacific Rim. Puget Sound's many islands are served by one of the largest state ferry fleet in the world. Washington is a land of contrasts. The deep forests of the Olympic Peninsula are among the rainiest places in the world and the only rainforests in the continental United States, but the flat semi-desert that lies east of the Cascade Range stretches for long distances without a single tree. Snow-covered peaks tower above the foothills and lowlands around them. Mount Rainier, the highest mountain in the state, appears to "float" on the horizon southeast of Seattle and Tacoma on clear days. The eastern side of the state can be divided into two regions: the Okanogan Highlands, and the Columbia River Basin.

Washington is also notable for being home to four of the five longest floating bridges in the world: the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge, and Homer M. Hadley Bridge over Lake Washington, and the Hood Canal Bridge connecting the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas.

See also Central Washington, Columbia River Plateau, Eastern Washington, Inland Empire, Kitsap Peninsula, Palouse, Western Washington.

Geographical features

Mount Rainier with Tacoma in foreground

A fuller list of Washington state's islands appears here.

Washington map


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2003, Washington's population was estimated at 6,131,445 people.

The racial makeup of the state is:

The five largest ancestry groups in Washington are German (18.7%), English (12%), Irish (11.4%), Norwegian (6.2%), Mexican (5.6%).

6.7% of Washington's population were reported as under 5, 25.7% under 18, and 11.2% were 65 or older. Females made up approximately 50.2% of the population.


The religious affiliations of the citizens of Washington are:

  • Protestant – 55%
  • Roman Catholic – 19%
  • Other Christian – 4%
  • Other Religions – 2%
  • Non-Religious – 15%

The three largest Protestant denominations in Washington: Lutheran (8% of the total state population), Baptist (7%), Methodist (6%).

Important cities and towns

The and the skyline
The Space Needle and the Downtown Seattle skyline
  • Seattle
  • Olympia
  • Spokane
  • Tacoma
  • Bellevue
  • Redmond
  • Aberdeen
  • Vancouver
  • Everett
  • Tri-Cities
  • Walla Walla
  • Wenatchee
  • Yakima
  • Bremerton
  • Port Townsend
  • Bellingham

See also List of cities in Washington State, List of towns in Washington State, Washington city government


The 2003 total gross state product for Washington was $244 billion, placing it 11th in the nation. The per capita income was $33,332.


A Whitman County farm

Washington is a leading agricultural state. (The following figures are from the Washington State Office of Financial Management (http://www.ofm.wa.gov/databook/pdf/nt14.pdf) and the Washington Agricultural Statistics Service (http://www.nass.usda.gov/wa/ssoinfo.htm).)

For 2001, the total value of Washington's agricultural products was $5.4 billion, the 12th highest in the country. The total value of its crops was $3.2 billion, the 8th highest.

In 2002, Washington ranked first in the nation in production of raspberries (87.8% of total U.S. production), hops (74.4%), spearmint oil (also 74.4%), wrinkled seed peas (65.6%), apples (60.2%), Concord grapes (51.8%), sweet cherries (48%), pears (44.9%), lentils (41.9%), peppermint oil (35.2%), carrots for processing (34.5%), tart cherries (32.8%), Niagara grapes (32.4%), and sweet corn for processing (29.2%). Washington also ranked second in the nation in grapes (all varieties taken together), apricots, asparagus (over a third of the country's production), and green peas for processing; third in the nation for wheat, prunes and plums, summer dry onions, trout, and butter; fourth in barley and peaches; and fifth in cranberries and strawberries.


Colleges and universities

Bryan clock tower at Washington State University
Bryan clock tower at Washington State University

Community colleges

  • Bates Technical College
  • Bellevue Community College
  • Bellingham Technical College
  • Big Bend Community College
  • Cascadia Community College
  • Centralia College
  • Clark College
  • Clover Park Technical College
  • Columbia Basin College
  • Edmonds Community College
  • Everett Community College
  • Grays Harbor College
  • Green River Community College
  • Highline Community College
  • Lake Washington Technical College
  • Lower Columbia College

Professional sports teams

Arts and culture

Digitally colored elevation map of Washington

State symbols

For Washington state symbols (like its state bird and state flower), see Washington state symbols.

Government and political activism

Elected officials

See also

Political activism

Major highways

State Highways

Washington has an extensive system of state highways. They can be read about and viewed at: List of Washington state highways

External links

Political divisions of the United States
States Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming
Federal district District of Columbia
Insular areas American Samoa | Baker Island | Guam | Howland Island | Jarvis Island | Johnston Atoll | Kingman Reef | Midway Atoll | Navassa Island | Northern Mariana Islands | Palmyra Atoll | Puerto Rico | Virgin Islands | Wake Island

  Results from FactBites:
Washington - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2019 words)
Washington is a state in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.
Washington is bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Oregon to the south (the Columbia River forming most of this border), Idaho to the east and British Columbia, Canada to the north.
Washington also ranked second in the nation in grapes (all varieties taken together), apricots, asparagus (over a third of the country's production) and green peas for processing; third in the nation for wheat, prunes and plums, summer dry onions, trout and butter; fourth in barley and peaches; and fifth in cranberry/cranberries and strawberries.
MSN Encarta - Washington (state) (986 words)
Washington has beautiful glaciated mountains and dense forests in the west, and a vast expanse of golden grainland in the eastern section of the state.
Washington is known as the Evergreen State, for its extensive forests of evergreen trees.
The Northern Rocky Mountains, in northeastern Washington, average from 900 to 2,100 m (3,000 to 7,000 ft) in height and are mostly forested.
  More results at FactBites »



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