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Many Indian tribes lived in Oregon when Europeans first explored the area. Spanish explorers were the first to discover the coast of Oregon during the 1500s. During the late 1770s, British explorers claimed the Oregon Country, the land from Alaska down to California.
In 1788, the first Americans arrived on the coast of Oregon. Captain Robert Gray was the first to sail into the Columbia River, which he named for his ship. In 1805, Lewis and Clark explored Oregon Country and claimed it for the United States.
During the early 1800s, American, English, and French fur traders came to Oregon. Traders from John Astor’s Pacific Fur Company built Astoria, the first permanent American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains, in 1811. During the War of 1812, Astoria was sold to the Hudson Bay Company. John McLoughlin ran the company. He kept peace with the Indians and built Fort Vancouver. McLoughlin is now remembered as the “Father of Oregon.”
The first Americans to establish a permanent settlement in Oregon were Methodist missionaries. In 1834, they established Willamette Valley. By 1843, thousands of American pioneers were migrating west on the Oregon Trail. It began in Independence, Missouri and ended in Oregon City, crossing over 2,000 miles of prairie, desert, and mountains.
Because of boundary disputes with Britain, citizens of both countries were free to trade and settle Oregon Country. In 1846, the United States signed an agreement with Great Britain on a boundary fixed at the 49th parallel. Oregon became a territory in 1848. Wars with Native Americans began in 1847. Settlers were massacred, and conflicts rose with the discovery of gold. In 1856, Cayuse and Rogue Indians were removed to a reservation on the central coast of Oregon.
Oregon became the 33rd state on February 14, 1859, with Salem as the state capital. Oregon continued to grow rapidly. Lumber mills, farming, and mining encouraged people to move west for opportunity. The Oregon Donation Land Act offered 320 acres of free Oregon land to each man. To protect those migrating to the state, the United States government forced Native Americans to move onto reservations. The Modoc, Nez Perce, and Bannock Indians fought for years against the U.S. Army for their homeland, but by the end of the 1890s, all Native Americans in Oregon were living on reservations.
In 1912, Oregon became the sixth
state to allow women to vote. The
following year, Oregon was the first state to pass a good minimum-wage
law. During the Great
Depression (1929-1939), many Oregonians became unemployed.
The federal government provided jobs through construction of the
Bonneville Dam. It provided
power to many new industries developed in Oregon during World War I. With new technology and more uses for wood and paper, the
lumber industries also improved. The
Owyhee Dam, completed in 1932, provided irrigation water for more farmland
in the Owyhee and Snake river valleys.
By 1940, Oregon’s population had
passed one million. After
Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, many people feared that
Japanese-Americans would secretly help Japan during World War II.
Of the more than 100,000 imprisoned in special camps, 4,000 were
from Oregon. During the war,
Oregon produced war materials and became a major shipping port for sending
supplies to the U.S. forces in the Pacific.
Thousands of people came from other states to work in the
factories, and then settled in the state after the war.
During the 1950s, completion of
the McNary and Dalles dams increased Oregon’s supply of low-cost
electric power. In 1956,
natural gas was brought into the state.
These developments greatly increased Oregon’s industrial growth.
Tremendous growth however, led to air and water pollution.
By 1961, fish could no longer live in the Willamette River.
During the 1960s, Oregonians
became extremely concerned for the environment. Governor Tom McCall signed more than 100 laws protecting
Oregon’s land and water during his term from 1967-1975.
During this time, salmon returned to the Willamette, pull-tab cans
and nonreturnable beverage bottles were outlawed.
The logging industry began making the before wasted by-products
into hardboard, pulp, and other wood products.
The industry strove to replace trees that were cut down, and to
conserve the state’s timber reserves.
Changes also occurred in the
agricultural industry. Farms
became larger using more and more machinery.
Irrigation made once unsuitable farm land great for growing fruits
and vegetables. Manufacturing
industries also grew in importance as the cost of hydroelectric power
In 1964, the worst floods in
Oregon’s history killed several people and caused millions of dollars in
damage. During the
1970s, other dams were completed on the Columbia and Snake rivers that
provided transportation from the mouth of the Columbia River to Lewiston,
Another economic depression hit
Oregon during the 1980s. Fewer
people were building homes, and new laws to protect timberlands were
restricting Oregon’s logging. Between
1982 and 1992, about 40,000 Oregon lumber workers lost their jobs.
Low prices for farm products also contributed to the problem.
By 1985, several wood related industries had begun to recover. Agricultural expansion into fruit, grass seed, nursery, nut,
and wine industries also improved Oregon’s economic conditions.
Electronic and computer companies moved into Oregon at that time as