Washington is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The state is named after George Washington, the first President of the United States.
It is the only U.S. state named after a president.
Washington was carved out of the western part of Washington Territory and admitted to the Union as the 42nd state in 1889. In 2006, the Census Bureau estimated the state’s population at 6,395,798.
Residents are called “Washingtonians” (emphasis on the third syllable, pronounced as tone). Washington is sometimes called Washington state or The state of Washington to distinguish it from Washington, D.C., the U.S. capital.
Washington is the northwestern-most state of the contiguous United States.
Its northern border lies mainly along the 49th parallel, with the Canadian province of British Columbia to the north. Washington borders Oregon to the south, with the Columbia River forming most of the boundary and the 46th parallel forming the eastern part of the southern boundary. To the east Washington borders Idaho, bounded mostly by the meridian running north from the confluence of the Snake River and Clearwater River (about 116°57′ west), except for the southernmost section where the border follows the Snake River.
To the west of Washington lies the Pacific Ocean.
Washington is in the region known as the Pacific Northwest, a term which often includes part or all of British Columbia in Canada and part of Alaska. Sometimes it refers only to lands within the northwestern United States, including Oregon.
The high mountains of the Cascade Range run north-south, bisecting the state. Western Washington, west of the Cascades, has a mostly marine west coast climate with relatively mild temperatures, wet winters, and dry summers. Western Washington also supports dense forests of conifers and areas of temperate rain forest.
In contrast, Eastern Washington, east of the Cascades, has a relatively dry climate with large areas of semiarid steppe and a few truly arid deserts lying in the rainshadow of the Cascades; the Hanford reservation receives an average annual precipitation of between six and seven inches (178 mm) .
Farther east, the climate becomes less arid. The Palouse region of southeast Washington was grassland that has been mostly converted into farmland.
Other parts of eastern Washington are forested and mountainous.
The Cascade Range contains several volcanoes, which reach altitudes significantly higher than the rest of the mountains. From the north to the south these volcanoes are Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Adams. Mount St. Helens is currently the only Washington volcano that is actively erupting; however, all of them are considered active volcanoes. Nestled amongst the hills are the Galena chain lakes.
Washington’s position on the Pacific Ocean and the harbors of Puget Sound give the state a leading role in maritime 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, such as the Hoh Rain Forest, are among the only temperate rainforests in the continental United States, but the semi-desert east of the Cascade Range has few trees. Mount Rainier, the highest mountain in the state, is covered with more glacial ice than any other peak in the lower 48 states.
There are three national parks in Washington, Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park, and Olympic National Park and two National Monuments, Mount St. Helens National Monument and Hanford Reach National Monument.
National forests in the state include Colville National Forest, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Okanogan National Forest, Olympic National Forest, and Wenatchee National Forest, among others.
Other protected lands of note include Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, among others administered by the National Park Service.
There are many wilderness designated areas in Washington, including Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Goat Rocks Wilderness, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, Norse Peak Wilderness, Mount Baker Wilderness, Pasayten Wilderness, Olympic Wilderness, and many others.
There are several large military-related reservations, including Fort Lewis, McChord Air Force Base, Naval Base Kitsap, the Hanford Site, and the Yakima Training Center.
There are many Indian reservations in Washington. The largest include the Colville Indian Reservation, Spokane Indian Reservation, Yakama Indian Reservation, and the Quinault Indian Reservation.
Washington’s climate varies greatly from west to east. An oceanic climate (also called “marine west coast climate”) predominates in western Washington, and a much drier climate prevails east of the Cascade Range. Climate change in Washington: the Climate Impacts Group (CIG) at the University of Washington studies the impacts of climate change in the Pacific Northwest state of Washington.
Major factors determining Washington’s climate include the large semi-permanent high pressure and low pressure systems of the north Pacific Ocean, the continental air masses of North America, and the Olympic and Cascade mountains. In the spring and summer, a high pressure anticyclone system dominates the north Pacific Ocean, causing air to spiral out in a clockwise fashion.
For Washington this means prevailing winds from the northwest bringing relatively cool air and a predictably dry season.
In the autumn and winter, a low pressure cyclone system takes over in the north Pacific Ocean, with air spiraling inward in a counter-clockwise fashion.
This causes Washington’s prevailing winds to come from the southwest, bringing relatively warm and moist air masses and a predictably wet season.
The term Pineapple Express is used to describe the extreme form of this wet season pattern.
Rain shadow effects
The coastal mountains and Cascades compound this climatic pattern by causing orographic lift of the air masses blown inland from the Pacific Ocean, resulting in the windward side of the mountains receiving high levels of precipitation and the leeward side receiving low levels.
This occurs most dramatically around the Olympic Mountains and the Cascade Range. In both cases the windward slopes facing southwest receive high precipitation and mild, cool temperatures.
In contrast, the leeward slopes facing northeast experience a rain shadow effect, with low precipitation and warmer temperatures.
As a result, there are temperate rain forests on the southwest side of the Olympic Mountains while the northeast side has a drier climate sometimes called sub-mediterranean climate.
The San Juan Islands and the city of Sequim are known for their dry climate compared to the rest of the coastal region. The Olympic rain shadow extends into Canada.
Terms like “Mediterranean”, “sub-Mediterranean”, and “modified Mediterranean” are sometimes used to describe the Olympic rainshadow region even though it is quite different from the standard “Mediterranean” climate.
The terms are mainly used to indicate a climate with wet winters and dry summers with regular drought conditions.
The Cascade Range forms a larger barrier than the Olympics and has a correspondingly stronger orographic effect.
While the Puget Sound lowlands are known for clouds and rain in the winter, the western slopes of the Cascades receive larger amounts of precipitation, often falling as snow at higher elevations. (Mount Baker, near the state’s northern border, is one of the snowiest places in the world: in 1999, it set the world record for snowfall in a single season. (1,140 inches/95 feet/2,896 cm).)
East of the Cascades, a large region experiences strong rain shadow effects. Semi-arid conditions occur in much of eastern Washington with the strongest rain shadow effects at the relatively low elevations of the central Columbia River Plateau — especially the region just east of the Columbia River from about the Snake River to the Okanagan Highland.
Thus instead of rain forests much of eastern Washington is covered with grassland and shrub-steppe.
The average annual temperature ranges from 51 °F (10.6 °C) on the Pacific coast to 40 °F (4.4 °C) in the northeast. The recorded temperature in the state has ranged from -48 °F (-44.4 °C) to 118 °F (47.8 °C) with both records set east of the Cascades.
Western Washington is known for its mild climate, considerable fog, frequent cloud cover and long-lasting drizzles in the winter, and sunny and dry summers. The western region occasionally experiences extreme climate.
Arctic cold fronts in the winter and heat waves in the summer are not uncommon. The western side of the Olympic Peninsula receives as much as 160 inches (4064 mm) of precipitation annually, making it the wettest area of the 48 conterminous states.
Weeks or even months may pass without a clear day. The western slopes of the Cascade Range receive some of the heaviest annual snowfall (in some places more than 200 inches/5080 mm) in the country. In the rain shadow area east of the Cascades, the annual precipitation is only 6 inches (152 mm).
Precipitation increases eastward toward the Rocky Mountains.
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.
The Spanish Nootka Convention of 1790 opened the northwest territory to explorers and trappers from other nations, most notably Britain and then the United States. Captain Robert Gray (for whom Grays Harbor County is named) then discovered the mouth of the Columbia River.
He named the river after his ship, the Columbia. Beginning in 1792, Gray established trade in sea otter pelts.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition entered the state on October 10, 1805.
In 1819, Spain ceded their original claims to this territory to the United States. This began a period of disputed joint-occupancy by Britain and the U.S. that lasted until June 15, 1846, when Britain ceded their claims to this land with the Treaty of Oregon.
What was to become Washington state’s first family was that of Washington’s founder, the black pioneer George Washington Bush and his caucasian wife, Isabella James Bush, from Missouri and Tennessee, respectively.
They led four white families into the territory and settled what is now Tumwater, Washington. They settled in Washington to avoid Oregon’s racist settlement laws.
Because of the overland migration along the Oregon Trail, many settlers wandered north to what is now Washington and settled the Puget Sound area. The first settlement was New Market (now known as Tumwater) in 1846.
In 1853, Washington Territory was formed from part of Oregon Territory.
Washington became the 42nd state in the United States on November 11, 1889.
Early prominent industries in the state included agriculture and lumber. In eastern Washington, the Yakima Valley became known for its apple orchards, while the growth of wheat using dry-farming techniques became particularly productive.
The heavy rainfall to the west of the Cascade Range produced dense forests, and the ports along Puget Sound prospered from the manufacturing and shipping of lumber products, particularly the Douglas fir.
Other industries that developed in the state include fishing, salmon canning and mining.
For a long period, Tacoma was noted for its large smelters where gold, silver, copper and lead ores were treated. Seattle was the primary port for trade with Alaska and the rest of the country, and for a time it possessed a large shipbuilding industry. The region around eastern Puget Sound developed heavy industry during the period including World War I and World War II, and the Boeing company became an established icon in the area.
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 concrete structure in the United States.
During World War II, the state became a focus for war industries, with the Boeing Company producing many of the nation’s heavy bombers and ports in Seattle, Bremerton, Vancouver, 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.
The 2005 total gross state product for Washington was $268.5 billion, placing it 14th in the nation.
The per capita income was $42,702, 17th in the nation. Significant business within the state include the design and manufacture of jet aircraft (Boeing), computer software development (Microsoft, Amazon.com, Nintendo of America), electronics, biotechnology, aluminum production, lumber and wood products (Weyerhaeuser), 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.
Fortune magazine survey of the top 20 Most Admired Companies in the US has 4 Washington based companies in it, Starbucks, Microsoft, Costco and Nordstrom.
The state of Washington has the most regressive tax structure in the U.S. It is one of only seven states that does not levy a personal income tax.
The wealthiest one percent of Washington taxpayers pay 3.2% of their income in taxes. The poorest fifth of Washington taxpayers pay 17.6% of their income in taxes.
The state also does not 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.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.
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, libraries, parks and recreation, and other special purpose districts.
All real property and personal property is subject to tax unless specifically exempted by law. Personal property also is taxed, although most personal property owned by individuals is exempt.
Personal property tax applies to personal property used when conducting business or to other personal property not exempt by law. All property taxes are paid to the county treasurer’s office where the property is located.
Washington does not impose a tax on intangible assets such as bank accounts, stocks or bonds. Neither does the state assess any tax on retirement income earned and received from another state. Washington does not collect inheritance taxes; however, the estate tax is decoupled from the federal estate tax laws, and therefore the state imposes its own estate tax.
Washington is one of eighteen states which has a government monopoly on sales of alcoholic beverages, although beer and wine with less than 20 percent alcohol by volume can be purchased in convenience stores and supermarkets. Liqueurs (even if under 20 percent alcohol by volume) and spirits can only be purchased in state-run or privately-owned-state-contracted liquor stores.
Bill Gates (worth $59.2 billion), the second wealthiest man in the world, is the best known billionaire from the state.
Other Washington state billionaires include Paul Allen (Microsoft), Steve Ballmer (Microsoft), Jeffrey Bezos (Amazon), Craig McCaw (McCaw Cellular), James Jannard (Oakley), Howard Schultz (Starbucks), and Charles Simonyi (Microsoft).