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State of Oregon
State flag of Oregon State seal of Oregon
(Flag of Oregon: front only, reverse is different) (Seal of Oregon)
State nickname: Beaver State
Map of the U.S. with Oregon highlighted
Other U.S. States
Capital Salem
Largest city Portland
Governor Ted Kulongoski (D)
Senators Ron Wyden (D)

Gordon Smith (R)

Official language(s) None
Area 255,026 km² (9th)
 - Land 248,849 km²
 - Water 6,177 km² (2.4%)
Population (2000)
 - Population 3,421,399 (28th)
 - Density 13.76 /km² (39th)
Admission into Union
 - Date February 14, 1859
 - Order 33rd
Time zone Pacific: UTC-8/-7
Mountain: UTC-7/-6 (all but majority of Malheur County is in Pacific)
Latitude 42°N to 46°15'N
Longitude 116°45'W to 124°30'W
Width 420 km
Length 580 km
 - Highest point 3,426 m
 - Mean 1,005 m
 - Lowest point 0 m
 - ISO 3166-2 US-OR
Web site www.oregon.gov

Oregon is a state located on the United States' northwest, and bordering the Pacific Ocean, California, Washington, Idaho, and Nevada. Its northern border lies along the Columbia River and the east along the Snake River. Two north-south mountain ranges - the Coastal Range and the Cascade Mountain Range - form the two boundaries of the Willamette Valley, one of the most fertile and agriculturally productive regions in the world. Oregon is known for its abundant rainfall, but only the western 35% of the state and a bit of northeastern Oregon is notably rainy; east of the Cascades the climate is much more arid. Nonetheless, 40% of the state is or was forested.

The state's name is properly pronounced /ˈɔr.ə.g(ə)n/. The pronunciation /ˈɔr.ə.ˌgɑn/ is also common, but considered incorrect by residents, who have been known to sport T-shirts and bumper stickers spelling the name "Orygun" in order to educate visitors.

Its population in 2000 was 3,421,399, a 20.4% increase over 1990; as of July 2004, the population had grown to an estimated 3,594,586.



Oregon's earliest residents were several Native American tribes, including the Bannock, Chinook, Klamath, and Nez Percé. James Cook explored the coast in 1778 in search of the Northwest Passage. The Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled through the region during their expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase. They built their winter fort at Fort Clatsop, near the mouth of the Columbia River. Exploration by Lewis and Clark (1805-1806) and Britain's David Thompson (1811) publicized the abundance of fur in the area. In 1811, New York financier John Jacob Astor established Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River with the intention of starting a chain of Pacific Fur Company trading posts along the river. Fort Astoria was the first permanent white settlement in Oregon. In the War of 1812, the British gained control of all of the Pacific Fur Company posts.

By the 1820s and 1830s, the British Hudson's Bay Company dominated the Pacific Northwest. John McLoughlin, who was appointed the Company's Chief Factor of the Columbia District, built Fort Vancouver in 1825.

In 41 the Ewing Young died with considerable wealth, no apparent heir, and no system to probate his estate. A meeting followed Young's funeral at which a probate government was proposed. Doctor Ira Babcock of Jason Lee's Methodist Mission was elected Supreme Judge. Babcock chaired two meetings in 1842 at Champoeg - half way between Lees Mission and Oregon City, to discuss wolves and other and other vermin. These meetings were precursors to an all citizen meeting in 1843, which instituted a provisional government headed by an executive council - made up of David Hill, Alanson Beers, and Joseph Gale.

The Oregon Trail infused the region with new settlers, starting in 184243, after the U.S. agreed to jointly settle the Oregon Country with the United Kingdom. The border was resolved in 1846 by the Oregon Treaty after a period where it seemed that the United States and the United Kingdom would go to war for a third time in 75 years. In 1844, the Democrat James Polk ran for President on the slogan "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight," referring to the northern border of the Oregon Country at latitude 54°40′. Cooler heads prevailed, and the boundary between the United States and British North America was set at the 49th parallel. The Oregon Territory was officially organized in 1848.

Settlement increased due to the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850, in conjunction with the forced relocation of the native population to Indian Reservations in Oregon. The state was admitted to the Union on February 14, 1859.

In the 1880s, railroads enabled marketing of the state's lumber and wheat, as well as the more rapid growth of its cities.

Industrial expansion began in earnest following the construction of the Bonneville Dam in 1943 on the Columbia River. The power, food, and lumber provided by Oregon have helped fuel the development of the west, and the periodic fluctuations in the nation's building industry has hurt the state's economy on multiple occasions.

The state has a long history of polarizing conflicts: Native Americans vs. British fur trappers, British vs. settlers from the U.S., ranchers vs. farmers, wealthy growing cities vs. established but poor rural areas, loggers vs. environmentalists, white supremacists vs. anti-racists, supporters of social spending vs. anti-tax activists, and native Oregonians vs. Californians (or outsiders in general). Oregonians also have a long history of secessionist ideas, ranging from varying parts of the population on all sides of the political spectrum attempting to form other states and even other countries. (See: State of Jefferson, State of Klamath, State of Shasta and Cascadia.) State ballots frequently illustrate the extremes of the political spectrum—anti-gay, pro-religious measures on the same ballot as liberal drug decriminalization measures.

The origin of "Oregon"

The origin of the state's name is something of a mystery. The earliest known use of this proper noun was in a 1765 petition by Major Robert Rogers to the Kingdom of Great Britain. The petition referred to Ouragon and asked for money to finance an expedition in search of the Northwest Passage.

Why Rogers used the name has led to many theories, which include:

  • George R. Stewart argued in a 1944 article in American Speech that the name came from an engraver's error in a French map published in the early 1700s, naming the Ouisiconsink (Wisconsin River). This theory was endorsed in Oregon Geographic Names as "the most plausible explanation."
  • In 2001, Scott Byram, (currently the archaeologist for the Coquille Indian Tribe), and David G. Lewis published an article in the Oregon Historical Quarterly argued that the name Oregon came from the word oolighan, referring to grease made from fish, which the Native Americans of the region traded in. Those trade routes brought the term eastward. [1]
  • In a 2004 article for the Oregon Historical Quarterly, professor Thomas Love and Smithsonian linguist Ives Goddard argue that Rogers chose the word based on exposure to either of the Algonquian words wauregan and olighin, both meaning "good and beautiful". Olighin was one of the early names for the Ohio River, shown on a 1680s map of the explorations of René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. Rogers is likely to have heard the terms because of his frequent encounters with Mohegans in the late 1750s.

Less supported theories are based on it having a Spanish etymology. The theory that it comes from oregano, was dismissed years ago by Henry W. Scott, an early editor of Oregonian. He wrote that it was "a mere conjecture absolutely without support. More than this, it is completely disproved by all that is known of the name." Others have speculated that the name is related to the kingdom of Aragon.

In 1778, Jonathan Carver used Oregon to label the Great River of the West in his book Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America. The poet William Cullen Bryant took the name from Carver's book and used it in his poem "Thanatopsis" to refer to the recent discoveries of the Lewis and Clark Expedition; this use helped establish it in modern use.


Digital elevation model relief map of Oregon
Digital elevation model relief map of Oregon

Oregon's geography may be split roughly into six areas:

The state varies from rain forest in the Columbia Gorge to barren desert in the southeast, which still meets the technical definition of a frontier.

Oregon is about 360 miles (580 km) long and 261 miles (420 km) wide. In terms of land and water area, Oregon is the ninth largest state, covering 98,386 square miles (254,819 km²).

Its highest point is the summit of Mount Hood, at 11,239 ft (3,428 m). As a West Coast state, its lowest point is sea level. Its mean elevation is 3,300 ft (1 km).

Crater Lake National Park is Oregon's only national park.

Law and government

State government

A sample version of an Oregon license plate.
A sample version of an Oregon license plate.

Oregon state government has a separation of powers similar to the federal government. It has three branches, called departments by the state's constitution:

Governors in Oregon serve four-year terms and are term limited to two consecutive terms, but an unlimited number of total terms. The Secretary of State serves as Lieutenant Governor for statutory purposes. The other constitutional officers are Treasurer, Attorney General, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Labor Commissioner. The Legislative Assembly consists of a thirty-member Senate and sixty-member House. Senators serve four-year terms, and Representatives two. The state supreme court has seven elected justices, including the only openly gay state supreme court justice in the nation, Rives Kistler. They choose one of their own to serve a six-year term as Chief Justice. The only court that may reverse or modify a decision of the Oregon Supreme Court is the United States Supreme Court.

Oregon is one of the few states whose legislature is biennial. The debate over whether or not to move to annual sessions is a long-standing battle in Oregon politics, but the voters have resisted the move from citizen legislators to professional lawmakers. Because Oregon's state budget is written in two year increments and its revenue is based largely on income taxes, it is often significantly over- or under-budget. Recent legislatures have had to be called into special session repeatedly to address revenue shortfalls resulting from eceonomic downturns, bringing to a head the need for more frequent legislative sessions.

The state maintains formal relationships with the nine federally-recognized tribal governments in Oregon:

Oregon adopted many electoral reforms proposed during the Progressive Era, due to the efforts of William S. U'Ren and his Direct Legislation League. Under his leadership, the state overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure in 1902 that created the initiative and referendum processes for citizens to directly introduce or approve proposed laws or amendments to the state constitution. In following years, the primary election to select party candidates was adopted in 1904, and in 1908 the Oregon Constitution was amended to include recall of public officials. More recent progressive innovations include the nation's only doctor-assisted suicide law, called the Death with Dignity law (which was challenged in 2005 by the Bush administration in the U.S. Supreme Court, in contrast to the Republicans' traditional support of states' rights), legalization of medical marijuana, and among the nation's strongest anti-sprawl and pro-environment laws.

Of the measures placed on the ballot since 1902, the people have passed 99 of the 288 initiatives and 25 of the 61 referenda on the ballot, though not all of them survived challenges in courts (see Pierce v. Society of Sisters, for example). During the same period, the legislature has referred 363 measures to the people, of which 206 have passed.

Oregon has been a pioneer in the use of vote-by-mail:

  • 1981 The Oregon Legislature approves experimentation with vote-by-mail for local elections.
  • 1987 Vote-by-mail becomes permanent, with the majority of Oregon's counties making use of it.
  • 1995 Oregon becomes the first state to conduct a federal primary election totally by mail.
  • 1996 Ron Wyden, Bob Packwood's replacement, is elected by mail with a 66% turnout.
  • 1998 Through a voter initiative, Oregonians confirm their overwhelming support for vote-by-mail.
  • 2000 Oregon becomes the first state in the nation to conduct a presidential election entirely by mail. About 80% of registered voters participated.

Oregon is currently seen as a moderate Democratic-leaning Blue State which has voted for the party in every election since 1988. The politics of the state are largely similiar to those of neighboring Washington.

The distribution, sales and consumption of alcoholic beverages are regulated in the state by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

Entering the Union at a time when the status of "Negroes" was very much in question, and wishing to stay out of the looming conflict between the so-called "Union" and "Confederate" States, Oregon banned Negroes from moving into the State in the vote to adopt its Constitution (1858). This ban was not officially lifted until 1925; in 2002, additional language now considered racist was struck from the Oregon Constitution by the voters of Oregon.

Federal government

Oregon is represented at the federal level by two senators and five representatives, which translates into seven electoral votes.

Overall, Oregon leans toward the Democratic party. It has supported Democratic candidates in the last five elections. John Kerry narrowly won the state in 2004 by a margin of 4 percentage points with 51.4% of the vote. Republicans dominate the eastern, central, and southern regions of the state, as well as the southwest and the southern outer suburbs of Portland. Essentially the Willamette Valley is dominated by Democrats while the rest of Oregon is dominated by Republicans. This divide is due to very real cultural and economic differences often with ties to land use issues. The Democratic party of Oregon is pro-environmental and seen as supportive of urban opinions, while the Republican party of Oregon is seen as pro-rancher and pro-logger and supportive of rural opinions.


The Willamette Valley is very fertile and, coupled with Oregon's famous rain, gives the state a wealth of agricultural products. Apples and other fruits, cattle, dairy products, potatoes, and peppermint are all valuable products. Oregon is also one of four major world hazelnut growing regions, and produces 95% of the domestic hazelnuts in the United States. While the history of the wine production in Oregon can be traced to before Prohibition, it became a significant industry beginning in the 1970s and Oregon is home to at least four wine appellations. Due to regional similarities of climate and soil, the grapes planted in Oregon are often the same varieties found in the French region of Alsace.

Vast forests have historically made Oregon one of the nation's major timber production and logging states, but forest fires (such as the Tillamook Burn), over-harvesting, and lawsuits over the proper management of the extensive federal forest holdings have reduced the amount of timber produced. According to the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, timber harvested from federal lands dropped some 96% from 1989 from 4,333 million to 173 million board feet (10,000,000 to 408,000 m³) in 2001. While the 1980s saw an unsustainable amount of timber harvested, the drop in timber harvested is still significant, as the total amount of timber harvested in 2001 is less than half of that in the late 1970s. Even the shift in recent years towards finished goods such as paper and building materials has not slowed the decline of the timber industry. Examples include Weyerhaeuser's acquisition of Willamette Industries in January, 2002, the announcement by Louisiana Pacific in September, 2003 that they will relocate their corporate headquarters from Portland to Nashville, and the experiences of small lumber towns like Gilchrist. Despite these changes, Oregon still leads the United States in softwood lumber production; in 2001, according to the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, 6,056 million board feet (14,000,000 m³) was produced in Oregon, against 4,5257 mbf. in Washington, 2,731 in California, 2,413 in Georgia, and 2,327 in Mississippi. The effect of the forest industry crunch is still massive unemployment in rural Oregon and is a bone of contention between rural and urban Oregon.

High technology industries and services have been a major employer since the 1970s. Tektronix was the largest private employer in Oregon until the late 1980s. Intel's creation and expansion of several plants in eastern Washington County continued the growth that Tektronix had started. The spinoffs and startups that were produced by these two companies led to the establishment of the Portland metropolitan area as the Silicon Forest. The recession and dot-com bust of 2001 in the Silicon Valley has led to similar results in the Silicon Forest; many high technology employers have either reduced the number of their employees or gone out of business. OSDL made news in 2004 when they hired Linus Torvalds, developer of the Linux kernel. Oregon also is the home of non-technology-based companies such as shoemaker Nike, whose world headquarters is located in Beaverton.

Oregon had one of the largest salmon-fishing industries in the world, although ocean fisheries have reduced the river fisheries in recent years. Tourism is also strong in the state; Oregon's evergreen mountain forests, waterfalls, pristine lakes (including Crater Lake National Park), and scenic beaches draw visitors year round. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, held in Ashland, is a tourist draw near its Californian border which complements the area's scenic beauty and opportunity for outdoor activities.

Oregon is home to a number of smaller breweries.


Historical populations

1850 12,093
1860 52,465
1870 90,923
1880 174,768
1890 317,704
1900 413,536
1910 672,765
1920 783,389
1930 953,786
1940 1,089,684
1950 1,521,341
1960 1,768,687
1970 2,091,385
1980 2,633,105
1990 2,842,321
2000 3,421,399

As of 2004, Oregon's population was estimated to be 3,594,586. This includes 309,700 foreign-born (accounting for 8.7% of the state population) and an estimated 90,000 illegal aliens (2.5% of the state population).

The state's population increased by 752,000 between 1990 and 2004, an increase of 26.5%

The racial makeup of the state:

The largest reported ancestry groups in Oregon are: German (20.5%), English (13.2%), Irish (11.9%), American (6.2%), and Mexican (5.5%).

Most Oregon counties are inhabited principally by residents of British ancestry, with a high proportion of German-Americans in the northwest. There are large numbers of Mexicans in Malheur and Jefferson counties.

6.5% of Oregon's population were reported as under 5, 24.7% under 18, and 12.8% were 65 or older. Females made up approximately 50.4% of the population.


The religious affiliations of the people of Oregon are:

Although most people from Oregon still identify themselves (at least nominally) as Christians, Oregon has the lowest church membership of all 50 states. While some parts of the USA have church membership rates as high as 80%, it runs only about 12% in Oregon. Nearly one in four Oregonians identify themselves as non-religious, giving Oregon one of the highest percentages of non-religious people in the nation. "Non-religious" is an umbrella term which is sometimes synonymous with or includes elements of atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, freethought, humanism, secular humanism, heresy, logical positivism, and even apathy.

2000-2003 population trends

Estimates released September 2004 show double-digit growth in Latino and Asian American populations since the 2000 Census. About 60% of the 138,197 new residents come from ethnic and racial minorities. Asian growth is located mostly in the metropolitan areas of Portland, Salem, and Eugene; Hispanic population growth is across the state.

Major cities and towns

Map of Oregon
Map of Oregon - PDF

The capital is Salem and the largest city is Portland. Eugene, home of the University of Oregon is the second largest city, followed closely by Salem.

Oregon City was the first incorporated city west of the Rockies and later, the first capital of the Oregon Territory, from 1848 to 1852, when the territory capital was moved to Salem, Oregon. It was also the end of the Oregon Trail and the site of the first public library established west of the Rocky Mountains, stocked with only 300 volumes.


Colleges and universities

Community colleges

Professional sports teams


State symbols

State flower: Oregon grape (since 1899)
State song: Oregon, My Oregon (written in 1920 and adopted in 1927)
State bird: Western meadowlark (chosen by the state's children in 1927)
State tree: Douglas-fir (since 1939)
State fish: Chinook salmon (since 1961)
State rock: Thunderegg (like a geode but formed in a rhyolitic lava flow; since 1965)
State animal: Beaver (since 1969)
State dance: Square Dance (Adopted in 1977)
State insect: Oregon Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio oregonius; since 1979)
State gemstone: Oregon sunstone, a type of feldspar (since 1987)
State nut: Hazelnut (since 1989)
State seashell: Oregon hairy triton (Fusitriton oregonensis, a gastropod in the cymatiidae family; since 1991)
State mushroom: Pacific Golden Chanterelle (since 1999)
State beverage: Milk (since 1997)
State Fruit: Oregon Pear (since 2005)


See also

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

Commercial websites

Flag of Oregon

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