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Oregon State History

History | Symbols | Interesting Facts | Famous People


1542—Spain discovers the Oregon coast

1579—English explorer Sir Francis Drake discovers the Oregon coast

1792—Robert Gray discovers the Columbia River

1805—Lewis and Clark explore Oregon

1811—John Jacob Astor founds Astoria, the first permanent settlement

1843—The first pioneers arrive who used the Oregon Trail

1846—United States boundary is made on the 49th parallel

1848—The Oregon Territory is created

1850—Congress institutes the Oregon Donation Land Law

1851—Oregon’s first public school opens

1859—Oregon becomes the 33rd state

1877—US troops battle the Nez Percé in the Nez Percé War

1883—The Union Pacific Railroad reaches Portland

1912—Women receive the right to vote

1937—The Bonneville Dam is completed

1964—Heavy flooding severely damaged western Oregon

1971—Oregon becomes the first state to pass a law prohibiting the use of nonreturnable beverage bottles

1982—Construction was completed on enlarging the power-house facilities at Bonneville Dam

1991—The Oregon Educational Act for the 21st Century is begun

1993—The 150th anniversary of the Oregon Trail is celebrated

1994—Forest fires rage through southwestern Oregon

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 decreased.

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, Idaho.

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 well.

The year 1993 marked the 150th anniversary of the Oregon Trail.  To celebrate, a wagon train followed the 2,000-mile path from Missouri to Oregon City.  Recently, state leaders continue to celebrate the legacy of Oregon pioneers.  They are now striving to provide better health care, especially to those who are uninsured.  Education is also receiving attention in an attempt to better qualify high-school graduates for college.