Fur trapping drew the first Europeans to the region that was to become Washington. As settlement began in the mid-19th century, agriculture and lumbering gradually developed around Puget Sound and in some outlying areas. A major stimulus to the development of these economies was the construction of transcontinental and north-south railroads in the late 19th century. By the end of the century, shipping had become important, and industries developed around processing the region’s resources and transporting them to markets. In the 20th century, the dams constructed on the Columbia River provided irrigation water for the dry farmlands of the east and furnished cheap electric power. Manufacturing began its rapid growth in the state during World War II (1939-1945), when the federal government established defense industries in the state. By the 2000s the economy was diverse, led by manufacturing, agriculture, and international trade.
The first agricultural activity in Washington was the establishment in 1825 of large-scale farms around Fort Vancouver (now Vancouver, Washington) to furnish food for the fur-trading empire of the Pacific Northwest. During the 1850s farms slowly increased in number as settlers arrived by wagons and by ship. Wheat, at that time the most important crop in Washington, furnished the major food for the settlers, and flour from gristmills found a market in gold-rush California.
With the building of the transcontinental railroads, Washington’s rich agricultural potential became known. Livestock flourished where grazing land was abundant. In the early 1900s irrigated farming became important in the state and made fruit orchards possible in the Yakima Valley and nearby areas.
Washington became the leading producer of apples in the United States. In general Washington is divided into three agricultural regions. Eastern Washington grows wheat and barley, with livestock raised in the northeast. Central Washington—the Columbia Basin and the eastern slopes of the Cascades—contains orchards of fruit and nut trees, as well as diversified farms. The valley of the Yakima River, a tributary of the Columbia, is an irrigated oasis of great productivity, outstanding for its bountiful crops of potatoes, corn, hops, mint, peaches, grapes, cherries, apricots, and apples. A wine industry has also developed in this region. Western Washington is given over chiefly to dairying and the growing of fruits and vegetables. Its products find a ready market in the cities of the Puget Sound area.
Washington is a leading producer of potatoes, winter wheat, barley, hops, spearmint, and field peas. Hay, corn, asparagus, and onions are also important field crops. Nearly all the temperate-latitude fruits, including pears, cherries, grapes, strawberries, peaches, raspberries, and plums, are grown in abundance. Alfalfa is grown for seed, as are many types of lawn grass, especially in the Spokane Valley.
Dairying is carried on in the Puget Sound lowland, close to the cities that have a big demand for milk. Poultry is also raised in this area. Sheep raising is concentrated in the southeastern section of the state. Cattle ranching is confined to eastern Washington. Uplands are used primarily for summer range, but in the river valleys there is grazing throughout the year. "Washington" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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