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Colorado in the late 20th century


Governor of Colorado
Governor of Colorado

As a result of government policies during the Great Depression as well as World War II, which the United States entered in 1941, the state entered a boom that lasted 40 years. Farming recovered briefly during the war, but manufacturing greatly increased, and Denver became a “second Washington,” with government offices, defense plants, and training camps. Colorado Springs and other cities also thrived.

After the war, population grew rapidly, especially in Denver and its suburbs. Between 1940 and 1960 the state’s population increased by more than 600,000 people, to more than 1.7 million, and Denver, Adams, and Jefferson counties accounted for nearly half of the increase. By 1980, over 80 percent of Coloradans lived between Fort Collins and Pueblo, and in 1993 the Denver, Boulder, and Greeley metropolitan regions together topped 2 million people. As the population grew, so did the problems of urbanization, including pollution, transportation, and crime.

By contrast, rural, eastern Colorado lost population. Mirroring a nationwide pattern, agriculture slumped in the late 1940s after wartime demand for food products vanished. Family farms were replaced by large agricultural businesses. The population decrease affected every aspect of rural counties, from business to medical care to schools. By the mid-1950s manufacturing had replaced agriculture as the state’s most important economic activity. Eventually, the region lost political power when the state legislature was reapportioned to reflect the shift in population.

Mining, like agriculture, did not do well. Oil and natural-gas production increased in northeastern, northwestern, and southwestern Colorado during and after the war, but then declined.

Two more brief mining rushes temporarily stimulated Colorado’s economy. From 1946 to 1963 uranium mining was important in western Colorado. Then, after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) raised oil prices in 1973, creating an energy crisis, Colorado oil shale seemed to provide some answers, although that industry declined when Exxon sold its interest in 1982. Both times Grand Junction expanded and then contracted rapidly. Environmental concerns began transforming Colorado in the 1970s. Growth, population, and pollution became major political issues. In 1972 a bill to fund the proposed 1976 Winter Olympics was defeated, which seemed to indicate that the progrowth attitude was changing.

How water was to be used became an important issue. The area east of the Continental Divide had more than 90 percent of the population and 63 percent of the land, but the western part of the state had the large majority of the water. Questions included how water should be allocated between rural or urban areas and how water management projects would affect the environment.

Tourism, the service industries and federal money


Tourism, the service industries, federal money, and other smaller industries became the new pillars of the Colorado economy. Skiing, in particular, grew after the war. Skiing gave old mining communities like Aspen, Telluride, and Breckenridge a new life, and created towns such as Vail.

In 1992 Colorado voters captured national attention after they approved an amendment to the state constitution that prohibited local governments from passing laws that protected civil rights for homosexuals. The amendment had been sponsored to repeal Aspen, Boulder, and Denver ordinances that gave homosexuals the right to fight housing and job discrimination in court. The amendment was immediately challenged in court, however, and in 1994 the Colorado State Supreme Court ruled that the amendment was unconstitutional. That ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which in May 1996 upheld the Colorado State Supreme Court decision overturning the amendment.

In 1999 the deadliest school shooting in the nation’s history took place at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Two heavily armed students killed 13 people and wounded 23 others at the school before killing themselves. The incident became the subject of an Academy Award-winning documentary, Bowling for Columbine (2002) by director Michael Moore, and subsequently had a significant impact on security methods and procedures used at schools across the nation. Colorado elected its first Hispanic senator, Democrat Ken Salazar, in the 2004 elections. Salazar’s ancestors lived in Colorado before it became a state. Colorado’s other U.S. senator, Wayne Allard, was a Republican. He was first elected to the Senate in 1996. "Colorado" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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