State in northwestern USA, bordered to the east by Idaho, to the north by Washington, to the south by California and Nevada, and to the west by the Pacific Ocean; area 248,631 sq km/95,997 sq mi; population (2010) 3,831,074; capital Salem. Oregon's nickname was coined because of the large beaver population that roamed the region in the early 19th century, when fur traders flocked there to seek their fortunes. The state features mountains, including the Cascade Range, including the state's highest point, Mount Hood, and the Klamath Mountains. More than half of the state is forested. After the fashion for fur faded, Oregon developed a timber industry, which sustained the area's economic growth until the early 1990s. The state's economy was then bolstered by a thriving high-tech industry, particularly in the Willamette Valley, home to Oregon's three largest cities, Portland, Eugene, and Salem. Other major cities include Gresham, Hillsboro, and Beaverton. Originally home to the Chinook and Tillamook American Indians in the northwest, the Bannock and Nez Percé in the northeast, and the Klamath in the southwest, the state saw heavy settlement by US pioneers heading west via the Oregon Trail. The introduction of a transcontinental railway link in 1833 increased industrialization and development. Oregon was admitted to the Union in 1859 as the 33rd US state.
Physical Oregon is the tenth largest state in the USA and can be divided into four regions: the Pacific Border province; the Sierra-Cascade province; the Columbia Plateau; and the Great Basin, a subdivision of the Basin and Range region.
The Pacific Border province includes the Oregon Coast Range, which parallels the Pacific shoreline. Its highest elevation is 1,249 m/4,097 ft, to the south at Marys Peak. Elevations dip to sea level in the north where the Columbia River crosses and empties into the Pacific Ocean. The taller, more rugged Klamath Mountains extend northwards from California, abutting the Oregon Coast Range and connecting it to the Cascades in the east. Rich in mineral deposits and densely forested, the Klamath Mountains have yielded gold, nickel, and other valuable rock deposits. Bisecting the area is the Rogue River. The Willamette Valley, also part of the Pacific Border region, is the state's largest alluvial plain. Winding through it is the Willamette River.
The Sierra-Cascade province runs parallel to the Pacific Border region and is dominated by the Cascade Range. A high lava plateau pierced by sharp volcanic peaks, it contains some of Oregon's most majestic scenery, including the stunning Mount Hood, a stratovolcano (made up of alternate layers of ash and lava) from which ash and steam are sometimes seen rising. At 3,427 m/11,245 ft, it is the state's highest peak and a major tourist attraction.
The Columbia Plateau is situated in the northeast and north-central part of the state and extends into neighbouring Washington and Idaho. It is the largest lava plateau in the world and is subdivided by the Blue and Wallowa mountain ranges in the northeast; the Deschutes-Umatilla plateau, which extends eastward from the northern Cascades; the Harney Desert, or High Lava Plains, located south of the Blue Mountains and east of the central Cascades; and the Payette section near the Snake River.
The Great Basin lies in the south-central portion of the state and is marked by broad basins, some of which have intermittent lakes. Heavily irrigated, it is primarily used for cattle ranging.
The Columbia River runs along the Washington-Oregon border and is the third largest river in the USA. It is also North America's largest single source of hydroelectric power and hosts the largest wild salmon runs in the country. The Snake River is one of its major tributaries and runs along the Oregon-Idaho border. The Willamette River, the state's most important internal river, rises north of Crater Lake and winds westward through the fertile Willamette Valley, where it tumbles over the Willamette Falls and passes through Portland before joining the Pacific Ocean. Other important rivers include the Rogue, Deschutes, John Day, Malheur, and Owyhee.
Oregon has a mild, temperate marine climate from the coast to the Cascades. The Cascades and Blue Mountains have a highland climate, marked by severe winter temperatures and cooler summers. The eastern two-thirds of the state has a semi-arid climate with warm summers and cold winters.
Forests cover almost half of the state. Douglas fir, producer of most of Oregon's lumber; hemlock; and cedar forests are found to the west and pine forests and mountain mahogany to the east of the Cascades. Deciduous trees include ash, maple, and white oak in the valleys and lowlands, and cottonwood, aspen, and birch in the east. Sagebrush and juniper predominate in the eastern two-thirds of the state.
Deer, elk, and antelope all flourish in Oregon, along with smaller mammals, waterfowl, and migratory birds. Foxes, coyotes, bears, and cougars are common to the state, as are smaller creatures such as muskrats, raccoons, wildcats, and the historically important beaver population, now on the increase.
Features Oregon's natural beauty includes rugged cliffs; snow-clad mountains overlooking valleys and vineyards; and dramatic canyons, rivers, streams, and forests criss-crossing the state. The Oregon Dunes, created by millions of years of sun, winds, wave actions, and rain erosion, is the largest expanse of dunes in North America, extending inland as far as 4 km/2.5 mi.
The Sea Lion Caves is the world's largest sea cave, home to wild Steller sea lions, a variety of sea birds, and whales that round the tip of Cape Blanco, the westernmost point of mainland USA. At 72 m/235 ft above sea level, Haystack Rock is the world's third largest monolith, shadowed by the Needles, two tall rock formations nearby.
In the centre of the state is the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, giving access to volcanic features such as cinder and pumice cones, lava flows, Lava Cast Forest, caves, lakes, streams, and waterfalls. The High Desert Museum in Bend houses a living exhibition of plants and animals native to the arid region of the Pacific northwest. Abert Rim is a 48 km-/30 mi-long exposed fault, rising 600 m/2,000 ft above Lake Abert, making it the longest and one of the highest faults in the USA.
Multnomah Falls, at 220 m/720 ft the tallest waterfall in the northwest, is one of Oregon's most-visited locations. Southern Oregon is home to Oregon's Crater Lake, the deepest lake in North America (589 m/1,933 ft). The Oregon Caves National Monument encompasses an old-growth coniferous forest and an active marble cave that includes all six of the world's major rock types. Oregon's eastern boundary is formed in part by the Snake River, home to Hell's Canyon, the deepest gorge (7,900 ft/2,400 m) on the North American continent. The eastern region's Painted Hills near John Day Fossil Beds is a region where the weathering of volcanic ash has resulted in brightly coloured rock layers that change colour throughout the day.
Commemorative centres in the region chart the pioneers' epic journey across the Oregon Trail in the late 19th century. Portland is home to the Yamhill and Skidmore National Historic Districts and the McLoughlin Historic District with Victorian buildings such as the John McLoughlin House National Historic Site (1846) and Pittock Mansion (1909). Portland Art Museum, founded in 1892, is the region's oldest and largest media arts centre, with cross-cultural artefacts from 35 centuries. The Oregon Historical Center is marked by eight-storey-high trompe l'oeil murals by Richard Haas and houses collections of artefacts and exhibitions that bring the state's history to life. Forest Park is the largest urban forest in the USA, stretching for 11 km/7 mi and spanning 19 sq km/7 sq mi of land.
Fort Rock Cave, a deep rock shelter and major archaeological excavation site, contains traces of human habitation dating as far back as 13,000 years ago. The Nez Percé National Historical Park is devoted to the Nez Percé people, one of the largest of more than 80 American Indian tribes that inhabited the region prior to pioneer settlement. The contemporary life and tribal history of the Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Cayuse tribes are documented at the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Reservation. Fort Clatsop commemorates the first sight of the Pacific and subsequent encampment by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805. Both the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Oregon City and the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City allow visitors to step back in time and learn the history of the Oregon Trail when ‘Oregon fever’ swept the country in the late 19th century. The Hoover-Minthorn House (1881) is the boyhood home of President Herbert Hoover.
Culture The state's natural beauty and diversity lends itself to outdoor activities. Oregonians are generally seen to be a physically and socially active group of people, committed to preserving their natural environment and developing their arts, educational, and cultural assets. Towering above all is Mount Hood, the state's most important recreation spot, where there is skiing practically year-round and hiking and climbing in the warmer months.
The Oregon Symphony Orchestra was established in 1896. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, is one of the largest non-profit theatres in the country. Backstage tours, classes, lectures, concerts, and play readings are also on offer. The first newspaper published west of the Rocky Mountains was the Oregon Spectator in 1846.
Oregon University System is made up of seven colleges and universities: Eastern Oregon University, La Grande; Oregon Institute of Technology, Klamath Falls; Oregon State University, Corvallis; Portland State University, Portland; Southern Oregon University, Ashland; University of Oregon, Eugene; and Western Oregon University, Monmouth. The university system is administered by the governor-appointed State Board of Higher Education. Private colleges include Willamette University (1842) in Salem, the oldest college in the West; Reed College (1909); and Lewis and Clark College (1867) in Portland.
GovernmentOregon's state constitution The state constitution was ratified in 1857, two years prior to Oregon being granted statehood. The first amendment, passed in 1902, introduced the concepts of initiative and referendum.
Structure of state government The legislative assembly comprises a 30-member Senate, elected to four-year terms, and a 60-member House of Representatives, elected to two-year terms. Oregon sends two senators and five representatives to the US Congress, and has seven electoral votes in presidential elections.
Oregon's voters have favoured Democratic candidates in the US presidential elections since 1988.
Six statewide officials are elected by Oregonians to manage the government's executive branch: the governor, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, commissioner of labour and industries, and superintendent of public instruction. Heading the executive body is a governor, elected for a four-year term and limited to serving two terms in any 12-year period. Democrat John Kitzhaber took the governorship in January 2011.
A seven-justice supreme court resides over the judicial branch and oversees the administration of the appeals, circuit, county, justice, and municipal courts. Justices are elected for six-year terms via a nonpartisan ballot, and in turn select one among them as the chief justice.
Oregon has 36 counties, nine of which have invoked the home rule amendment to the state constitution authorized in 1958, which allows counties and cities to adopt their own type of government. Twenty-four of the counties, including those with charters, are governed by a board of commissioners comprised of three to five elected members. The remaining less populated counties are governed by a county court, consisting of a county judge and two commissioners. Large cities are generally governed by a council and manager; smaller ones by a mayor and a council, though some have city managers. Due to its size and relative importance, Portland is governed by a mayor and four commissioners.
Since 1902, citizens' ballots/initiatives have been permitted and more than 300 held, with over 100 approved. In 1908 the state's constitution was amended to provide for the recall of public officials. Oregon was one of the first states to introduce a state sales tax (1923) and remains one of the most progressive legislating states of the union, particularly on conservation issues. In 2000 it became the first state to accept votes by post in a US presidential election. In 2011 Oregon approved legislation making a citizens' initiative process a permanent part of elections. This marked the first time a legislature had made voter deliberation a formalized part of the election process.
Economy From its earliest days, Oregon's economy was largely driven by its extensive natural wealth, depending on its fur trade, forest, agricultural, and water resources to attract settlers and create a stable base for trade. During the 20th century it diversified into manufacturing and service industries. From the end of the century, high-tech development, electronics, and tourism became major components of its economic mix. Tourism is a key income-generator for the economy, after lumber and agriculture. Oregon has been the largest producer of lumber in the USA since the early 1930s, but at the start of the 21st century it underwent dramatic environmental regulation in an effort to replace some of its depleted resources.
Oregon is a leading producer of Christmas trees, ryegrass seed, many types of berries, hay, wheat, potatoes, onions, beef cattle, and milk. Its wines enjoy a national reputation, especially its chardonnay and pinot noir from Yamhill and Washington counties.
HistoryIndigenous inhabitants Archaeologists have found numerous traces of human habitation dating as far back as 13,000 years in Oregon and villages along the Columbia River show signs of continuous habitation since that time. The native people relied on their environment to provide cedar to build their houses, animal skins for clothing, wood for dugout canoes, salmon and other fish for subsistence, and game, roots, and berries to supplement their diet. Among the many indigenous tribes of the region were the Chinook and Tillamook in the northwest, the Bannock and Nez Percé in the northeast, and the Klamath and Modoc in the southwest.
Exploration During the 16th century, the Spanish, concerned to protect their wealthy colony in Central America, Mexico, and southern parts of the present-day USA, called New Spain, and also keen to extend their interests, ordered maritime expeditions along the west coast. In 1543, Spanish explorer Bartolome Ferrelo is thought to have reached Oregon's southwest coast. Several Spanish voyagers, including Juan Perez, Bruno Hezeta, and Bodega y Quadra, built up European understanding of the coastline. In 1778, English explorer James Cook, on his search for the Northwest Passage, landed on the central coast of Oregon, naming it Cape Foulweather. US explorer Robert Gray of Boston subsequently sailed here and traded with natives. On his second voyage to Oregon country in 1792, Gray sailed his ship, Columbia Rediviva, into the river now named after it, risking a perilous journey to drop anchor in a broad estuary and establish claim to the territory for the USA. Several weeks later he encountered English navigator George Vancouver, who claimed the territory for England in the same year.
Settlement The mariners who explored the territory introduced diseases such as smallpox, measles, and fevers, which destroyed entire American Indian populations. Traditional cultures swiftly changed to accommodate the influx of traders and exchange of goods. Two British fur companies raced to open routes to the Pacific. Alexander Mackenzie of the North West Company arrived over land in 1793, prompting a period of rivalry between his company and the Hudson's Bay Company. The most significant event of this period was the arrival of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805. In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the Louisiana Territory and Oregon country. Their expedition enlivened foreign interest in the area and reinforced the US claim on the territory. Astoria, John Jacob Astor's fur depot and home of the Pacific Fur Company, was founded at the mouth of the Columbia River in 1811.
During the War of 1812, the British reasserted control. In 1818, Britain and the US agreed to joint occupancy of the Oregon country, a region then extending east to the Continental Divide and north into what is now Canada. Trade and missionary activities preceded the 1840s, when real US settlement began. In 1821, the Hudson's Bay Company bought out Astor's post. Three years later, John McLoughlin, the company's chief regional administrator, took charge of the Oregon country and later became known as the ‘Father of Oregon’.
In 1842–43, the Oregon Trail began to be heavily used; more than 300,000 emigrants followed the trail from the Midwest to Oregon, an arduous 3,200-km/2,000-mi journey that took five months to complete. Settlers came primarily from New England and the border South, and farms and sawmills flourished. The Land Donation Law allotted 320 acres of land to white male pioneers and 640 acres to married white couples, spurring western expansion and supporting the US concept of manifest destiny.
Political and economic development By 1846, agitation for clarification of US claims in the area led to the treaty establishing the 49th parallel as Oregon's northern boundary. In 1848, the Oregon Territory was formalized, containing modern Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana west of the Continental Divide, and the northwest corner of Wyoming. The Washington Territory was separated in 1853, leaving Oregon within its present boundaries, and statehood followed.
After the Civil War, the 1872–73 Modoc War on the California border and the 1877 flight of Chief Joseph and his followers on the Nez Percé Trail were final incidents in the pacification of local American Indians.
Oregon remained relatively isolated until the completion of the first transcontinental railway link in 1883. Improved transport helped make it the nation's leading lumber producer and a major exporter of food products. Industrialization was also aided by hydroelectric projects, many of them undertaken by the federal government. The 1930s Great Depression hit the state's agriculture hard. New Deal programmes such as the Works Projects Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps funded projects around the state, including the construction of the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. Following World War II, Oregon's economy recovered, and industry, led by Portland shipyards, gained a new prominence. In the post-war era, the Bonneville Dam and other power projects spurred further industrial growth.
Late 20th-century history In the 1960s and 1970s, legislation was passed regulating haphazard development of land and dumping of waste into rivers and waterways. A progressive state, Oregon was at the forefront of establishing laws to protect the rights of minorities during the civil-rights movement and encourage women in the workplace. In 1994 Oregon was the first state to allow doctor-assisted suicides, and it has legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized possession.
Famous peoplesport Margaret du Pont (1918–2012), tennis player; Dick Fosbury (1947– ), athlete; Dan Dion O'Brien (1966– ), athlete
the arts James Beard (1903–1985), cooking expert; Beverly Cleary (1916– ), children's writer; Ursula Le Guin (1929– ), science-fiction writer; Ken Kesey (1935–2001), writer; Raymond Carver (1938–1988), writer; Gus Van Sant (1952– ), director; Matt Groening (1954– ), cartoonist
science Linus Pauling (1901–1994), Nobel Prize-winning chemist; George Dantzig (1914–2005), mathematician; Douglas C Engelbart (1925–2013), computer engineer; Carl E Wieman (1951– ), Nobel Prize-winning physicist
society and education John Reed (1887–1920), journalist
economics Philip Knight (1938– ), footwear entrepreneur
politics and law Chief Joseph (c. 1840–1904), American Indian chief of the Nez Percé.
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