The first US settlement in Washington was at Tumwater, on the southern edge of Puget Sound, in 1845. Both Seattle and Port Townsend were established in 1851 and quickly became logging centers. Lumber was shipped at great profit to San Francisco, the boomtown of the California gold rush.
In 1853, Washington separated from the Oregon territory. Congress reduced the amount of land open to native hunting and fishing, and opened up the eastern part of the state to settlement. The arrival of rail links in the last decades of the century created a readily accessible market for the products of the Pacific Northwest and brought in floods of settlers.
Washington was admitted to the union in 1889, and Seattle began to flourish in 1897, when it became the principal port en route to the Alaska and Yukon goldfields. The construction of the Bonneville Dam (1937) and Grand Coulee Dam (1947) accelerated the region’s industrial and agricultural development by providing cheap hydroelectric power and irrigation.
The rapid postwar urbanization of the Puget Sound region created an enormous metropolitan area linked by perpetually jammed freeways that mar some of the waterfront vistas. Industry switched from lumber to computer technologies as Seattle rode the dot-com boom, suffered a small recession and emerged to fight another day. Placed firmly on the world map through the work of homegrown global giants such as Starbucks and Microsoft, Washington is looking to the future with a greener face. Popular Seattle mayor Greg Nickels has been instrumental in rallying more than 400 American cities to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Kyoto protocol and the knock-on effect in other towns is palpable.