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The state of Washington in the 1870s - 1890


Great Northern Railroad
Great Northern Railroad

As the territory grew, the Washington legislature petitioned for statehood first in 1878, but Congress did not grant statehood because of several controversies. First, Washington Territory was large, and there were disagreements concerning its borders. Some believed Walla Walla should be added to Oregon’s territory; others thought parts of northern Idaho should belong to Washington. Second, Washington’s population did not reach 125,000, the number considered desirable when applying for statehood, until the 1880s. Finally, political issues interfered. The Congress was controlled by Democrats who believed that Washington would send Republican representatives to Congress and were not eager to grant it statehood. In 1888 Republicans gained control of Congress and passed enabling acts that permitted Washington to prepare a state constitution, elect officials, and submit a petition for statehood. On November 11, 1889, Washington became the 42nd state. Its first governor was Elisha P. Ferry, formerly a territorial governor.

In 1889 fires swept away the makeshift buildings in Seattle, Spokane, and other cities. Settlers used the opportunity to rebuild using stronger materials such as brick and stone. Imposing new buildings, gasworks, and streetcar tracks mingled with tree stumps and unfinished streets in boomtowns like Seattle, Spokane, and Tacoma. Spokane harnessed the Spokane Falls to provide electricity throughout the city and outlying areas.

When gold was discovered in Alaska in 1896, Seattle promoted itself as the best place to take off for the Yukon gold rush. Prospectors could get to Seattle on the Great Northern Railroad and then take the Inside Passage to Alaska. From 1897 to 1908 merchants in Seattle sold gear and food to prospectors going to the Yukon, handled the gold that was shipped back, and sent them more supplies in return.

Trade with Alaska and East Asia was a spur to Washington’s shipbuilding industry. Other important industries at the end of the 19th century were based on natural resources: timber, fish, and minerals. Salmon caught in the Columbia River was canned as early as 1866, and fisheries expanded their output steadily until the early 1900s. Lumbering accounted for the highest percentage of manufacturing income; by 1905 Washington led the states in lumber production. Agriculture, however, did not prosper during the last quarter of the 19th century. Small farms produced diversified crops, but the grain, fruit, and hops left over after the farmers’ families had been fed brought low prices.

Only certain areas of the dry land in the eastern part of the state could be farmed, and transportation to markets in the Midwest was not always accessible. Furthermore, farmers considered railroad freight rates exorbitant but were powerless to change them. They also needed cash for farm machinery to increase their yields. As a result, by 1890 many farms were mortgaged. "Washington" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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