The Spaniards and the English sailed along the coasts of the North Pacific during the sixteenth century, but there are no clear references on an expedition to the lands of the state of Washington. However, it is possible that the sailor Juan de Fuca, (of Greek origin and whose real name was Apostolos Valeriano), sailed along this coast in 1592 on a Spanish expedition organized by the Viceroy of New Spain. The expedition, in which Juan de Fuca participated, sought the northern passage between the Pacific and the Atlantic. This sailor reached the 47th parallel north and sailed through the strait that bears his name and that separates Vancouver Island from the mainland. Despite this, only from the 18th century did the European powers show interest in this territory. Thus, during the reign of Charles III, the Spaniards organized expeditions along the Pacific coast to learn about the activities of the Russians in Alaska as they began to expand south. Juan Pérez was commissioned in 1774 to sail to the 60th parallel north, and during this expedition, he saw the coasts of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. He later sailed to the Charlotte Islands and Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. During the return of this extraordinary expedition, Pérez drew the Washington coast although not landing on the territory. This expedition was followed in 1775 by the one led by Bruno Heceta and Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Cuadra, and in which Juan Pérez Heceta also traveled. Heceta was the first to recognize and describe the Columbia River (which he baptized with the name of San Roque River), and the first to actually land in the territory that today occupies the state of Washington, in the Olympic Peninsula. In 1775 he took possession of the territory in a bay that he called Bucareli, in honor of the Viceroy of New Spain who had organized the expedition. Years later, in 1790 and 1791, explorations by Manuel Quimper and Francisco de Eliza founded a settlement in Neah Bay.
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Meanwhile, the British explored this area. This was done in 1778 by Captain James Cook and later in 1792, George Vancouver and Peter Puget, all in the service of the British crown. At the end of the eighteenth century, some European countries had disagreements, since on several occasions there were simultaneously expeditions from different countries. In fact, alongside the English expeditions of 1792, there were Spanish and American explorations, such as that of Robert Gray who sailed along the Columbia River in 1792. Spain, however, gave up its claims on the territory, with the Nootka agreements (1790-1794).
Colonization of this area was slow, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century there were only camps of British leather traders from Canada. Trader and explorer John Jacob Astor established various trading sites in Oregon and Washington. Britain, which initially wanted to assert its rights in this territory, signed a treaty with the United States in 1818 under which it pledged to allow free trade in the area, and missionaries arrived together with the leather traders.
Between 1838 and 1842, the United States Congress commissioned naval officer, Charles Wilkes, to map Washington’s rugged coastline. The mission was linked to disputes over the definition of borders between the territories of the United States and those of British Columbia. Such contrasts were not clarified until 1846, when the United States and Great Britain established the common border between the province of British Columbia and the territory under American control, which established the 49th parallel north as the border. With that decision, the United States Congress reorganized the Oregon territory which was outlined as a vast territory that included the current state of Washington and Oregon. In 1853, however, Washington separated from Oregon to organize itself as an independent territory.
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With the arrival of thousands of settlers, (encouraged by federal laws that encouraged colonization, following the approval of the Land Allocation Act in 1850), it affected the interests of the Indian tribes in the region. These disputes caused frequent clashes such as the Cayuse War (1847-1848). The discovery of gold in the states of Oregon caused the arrival of many settlers in the Washington territory, although no important gold veins were found in this territory, so the settlers who remained in this region dedicated themselves to breeding, all agriculture or forestry. However, this area remained a marginal region until the railway line was completed in 1883 by the Northern Pacific Railroad. Since then, colonization accelerated and within a few years, in 1889, Washington became a state of the Union.
The protected port of Seattle became the economic center of this state as it benefited from trade relations with Yukon and Alaska, where gold was discovered in the late 19th century. During the First World War (1914-1919), Washington experienced a notable economic expansion, but the dependence on the primary sector meant that it suffered the heavy effects of the economic depressions that followed the war. The crisis was not resolved until the outbreak of World War II (1939-1945), as some military equipment industries were located in Washington during this period. Thus, bunkers were built in the Washington shipyards, and most of the B-17 and B-29 bombers were produced in the Boeing factories. This aviation company came to employ 95,000 people in 1968, although a few years later this figure was drastically reduced, this had a serious effect on the economy of the state.
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In recent decades, a key factor in the state’s economy has been Microsoft’s decision to found the company in 1979, based in Redmond, near Seattle. Despite this high-tech company, Washington has retained agricultural activities as a key sector of its economy, as it continues to be one of the largest producers in the United States of wheat and potatoes. The US military has also contributed to the development of the region in recent decades, transforming Everett Port into a naval base.