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Idaho State History

History | Symbols | Interesting Facts | Famous People


1805—Lewis and Clark explore northern Idaho

1809—Britain opens the first trading post in Idaho

1846—Idaho becomes part of the United States

1860—Mormons found Franklin, the first permanent settlement

1863—Idaho Territory is created

1874—The first railroad in Idaho is built in Franklin

1890—Idaho becomes the 43rd state

1892-Fighting between union miners and mine owners occurs in the Coeur d'Alene region

1899-Mining strike requires U.S. soldiers to end violence

1901-Idaho State University is founded

1910-Forest fire strikes northern Idaho, killing 85 people

1936-Sun Valley is established as a major ski resort

1972-A terrible fire in the Sunshine Silver Mine kills 91 people

1976-Flooding caused as the Teton Dam collapsed resulted in 11 deaths and $500 million in damages

1983-A huge earthquake kills 2 and creates $4 million in damage

1987-88-Severe drought strikes Idaho

1992-Fire at the state capitol causes $3.million in damages; worst forest fire season in state history

The Nez Percé, Shoshone, and other Native American Indian tribes moved into Idaho during the 1700s. They hunted and fished along the Snake River.

In 1805 Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored the Oregon Country, which included parts of Idaho. There they found the land too dry to farm, but many animals that could be hunted for furs. In 1809, the British opened the first trading post in Idaho. Soon afterwards fur traders came from all over to trade with the Indians for furs. In 1846, the United States signed an agreement with Great Britain for part of the Oregon Country. This land included all of Idaho.

In 1860, farmers began to irrigate the land and plant potatoes. Members of the Mormon religion founded Idaho's first permanent settlement, Franklin. That same year miners found gold, and mining towns such as Boise and Idaho City were established.

In 1863, Congress created the Idaho Territory. The United States government forced Native Americans to move into reservations. Some went peacefully, but others such as the Paiute fought for many years against the army for their homeland. By the 1880s, all Native Americans in Idaho were living on reservations.

Railroads were extending across Idaho Territory during the late 1800s. Now the minerals, the mines were producing could be shipped to other states. Many people arrived on the railroads looking for work. By 1890, almost 90,000 people lived in Idaho. In 1889, the Idaho Territory had adopted a constitution. Idaho was granted statehood on July 3, 1890, with Boise as the state capital.

During the 1890s, poor working conditions encouraged miners to join unions, the largest of these being the Western Federation of Miners. In 1892, violence broke out between union miners and nonunion men and the mine owners. When a second strike broke out in 1899, Governor Frank Steunenberg declared martial law and federal troops were called in to regulate the situation. That same year, a miner rigged a bomb that murdered Governor Steunenberg. The murder trial, held in 1907, attracted worldwide attention. Over time, miners gained better pay and working conditions.

Idaho became a major logging state in the early 1900s. Tragedy struck in 1910 when a huge fire raged through Idaho's forests, killing about 85 people. During this time, plans were established to irrigate land for farming. In 1905, water was diverted from the Snake River to irrigate 60,000 acres of land. The Minidoka Dam was completed in 1906 and the Arrowrock Dam was completed in 1915. Today, only three states have more irrigated land than Idaho.

World War I (1914-1918) brought prosperity to Idaho's farmlands. But, as the war ended, Idaho's economy dropped. During the Great Depression (1929-1939), Idaho farmers, loggers, and miners suffered greatly. The federal government set up programs to help people survive the depression. The Rural Electrification Administration brought electricity to farms. The Civil Conservation Corps worked to conserve Idaho's forests. Many other jobs were created building bridges, roads, and recreational facilities.

World War II (1939-1945) helped Idaho's economy out of the depression as food, metals, and soldiers were sent to help win the war. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. government was afraid that Japanese-Americans would help Japan. They forced many into relocation camps. About 10,000 from Washington and Oregon were held in Minidoka Camp, located near Minidoka, Idaho. These people worked in potato and sugar beet farms.

After the war, Idaho's economy began to shift from mostly agriculture to one that included food processing and manufacturing. In 1949, the National Reactor Testing Station (now Idaho National Engineering Laboratory) opened near Idaho Falls. Scientists created, tested, and operated nuclear reactors and related devices there. In Dec. 1951, the testing station generated electricity from nuclear energy for the first time in history. In 1955, Arco became the world's first town lighted by nuclear energy.

Idaho's farms decreased in number and increased in size during the 1950s. Many farm workers were replaced by large machinery. By 1960, half of Idaho's population lived in cities and towns. The increase in agricultural production and industry required more hydroelectric power. In 1955, the Idaho Power Company began construction of three dams along the Snake River. Brownlee Dam was completed in 1959, the Oxbow Dam in 1961, and the Hells Canyon Dam in 1968. In 1965, the state parks department, water resource board, and personnel system were created. That same year, the Nez Percé National Historic Park was established in north-central Idaho.

Idaho experienced rapid growth during the 1970s. State legislature strove to improve water pollution. The Sawtooth National Recreation Area opened in 1972. However, the 1970s are known for two major disasters in Idaho. One of the worst mining accidents in U.S. history happened at the Sunshine Silver Mine near Kellogg in 1972. Fire killed 91 people. In 1976, the Teton Dam burst. It created a massive flood resulting in 11 deaths and over $500 million in damage. 

Beginning in the mid-1980s, drought and grasshopper infestation killed crops and hurt the farm economy in Idaho. Many lost their farms. In 1983, an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale killed two children and caused over 4 million in damage. The quake, centered in the Lost River Valley, was the largest in the continental U.S. in 24 years and created a 10-foot high, 15-mile shear in the earth.

During the 1990s, many small industries diversified Idaho's economy from its dependence of agriculture. Large construction, food processing, lumber, and computer companies established their headquarters in Idaho. The city of Boise grew at an amazing rate. The harsh drought ended in 1992. However other disasters brought attention to the state. In 1992, fire on the State Capitol caused 3.2 million in damage and Idaho experienced its worst forest fire season in the state's recorded history. And in 1996, major flooding encouraged a visit from U.S. President Clinton.

Today, Idaho is expanding its tourism industry. State leaders are working to clean both air and water pollution throughout Idaho. They are also striving to solve conflicts between those who wish to conserve Idaho's natural resources and those who want to develop them.