State of Washington

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   Introduction    Washington Top of Page
Prior to the arrival of explorers from Europe, this region of the Pacific Coast had many established tribes of Native Americans, each with its own unique culture. 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 traveled the land and missionaries such as the Whitmans settled there.

The first European record of a landing on the Washington coast was 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 de Eliza in 1791, then by British Captain George Vancouver in 1792.

During the Great Depression, 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 dam 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 were available for the manufacture of warships. Seattle was the point of departure for many soldiers in the Pacific, a number of which were quartered at Golden Gardens Park. 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.

On May 18, 1980, following a period of heavy tremors and eruptions, the northeast face of Mount St. Helens exploded outward, destroying a large part of the top of the volcano. This eruption flattened the forests, 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.

   Geography    Washington Top of Page
Pacific Northwest
Geographic coordinates:
4532' N to 4900' N
11657' W to 12448' W
total:71,303 sq mi
land: 66,582 sq mi
water: 4,721 sq mi
coastline: 157 miles
shoreline: 3,026 miles
Bordering States:
Idaho, Oregon
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: 0 ft
highest point: Mount Rainier 14,410 ft
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 sparkling coastal waters and above both barren semi-desert and lush evergreen forests. 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 the largest ferry fleet in the United States. 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 (such as the Hoh Rain Forest) 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.
   People    Washington Top of Page
7,170,351 (2015)
Largest City:
Seattle: 684,451 (2015)
Age structure:
0-5 years old: 6.7%
18 years old: 25.7%
65 years and over: 11.2%
Male: 49.8% Female: 50.2%
Population growth rate:
6.7% (2000-2005)
Population density:
103 per sq mi
Race(2000 Census):
White non-Hispanic: 77.5%
Hispanic: 8.5%
Black: 3.5%
Asian: 6.3%
Native American: 1.6%
Multi-Race: 2.9%
Christian: 71%
Other: 2%
Non-Religious: 27%
   Government    Washington Top of Page
November 11, 1889 (42nd State)
Local and County Government:
The bicameral Washington State Legislature is the state's legislative branch. The state legislature is composed of a lower House of Representatives and an upper State Senate, with 49 legislative districts apiece. Districts for the House are multimember constituences, electing two members per district, while a single member represents the district in the Senate. Currently for both houses of the legislature, the Democratic Party holds a majority in government. Both State Senators and House Representatives are elected for four year and two year terms, respectively. There are no term limits.

Washington's executive branch is headed by a governor elected for a four-year term. The current governor of Washington is Christine Gregoire, a Democrat. She has been governor since 2005.

The Washington Supreme Court is the highest court in the judiciary of the state of Washington. Nine justices serve on the bench, and are elected at large.

State Tree:
Western Hemlock
State Bird:
Willow Goldfinch
State Flower:
Pink Rhododendron
   Economy    Washington Top of Page
Economy - overview:
The 2004 total gross state product for Washington was $262 billion, placing it 14th in the nation. The per capita income was $33,332.

Significant business within the state include the design and manufacture of jet aircraft (Boeing), computer software development (Microsoft,, Nintendo of America), electronics, biotechnology, aluminum production, lumber and wood products, mining, and tourism.

The state has significant amounts of hydroelectric power generation. Significant amounts of trade with Asia pass through the ports of the Puget Sound. See list of United States companies by state. The state of Washington is one of only seven states that does not levy a personal income tax. Neither does the state collect a corporate income tax. However, Washington businesses are responsible for various other state levies. Washington's state sales tax is 6.5 percent, and it applies to services as well as products.[1] Most foods are exempt from sales tax; however, prepared foods, dietary supplements and soft drinks remain taxable. The combined state and local retail sales tax rates increase the taxes paid by consumers, depending on the variable local sales tax rates, generally between 8 and 9 percent[2]. An excise tax applies to certain select products such as gasoline, cigarettes, and alcoholic beverages. Property tax was the first tax levied in the state of Washington and its collection accounts for about 30 percent of Washington's total state and local revenue. It continues to be the most important revenue source for public schools, fire protection, library, park and recreation, and other special purpose districts.

Bill Gates (worth $53 billion) is the best known billionaire from the state, and wealthiest man in the world. Other Washington state billionaires Paul Allen, (Microsoft), Steve Ballmer (Microsoft), Jeffrey Bezos (Amazon), Craig McCaw (McCaw Cellular), James Jannard (Oakley), John Edson (leisure craft), Howard Schultz (Starbucks) and Charles Simonyi (Microsoft).