Washington State the Inaugural Decade
In the sequel to his popular Washington Territory, author Robert E. Ficken, ably and with characteristically wry humor, describes Washington State's turbulent first decade. With a new railroad system, vast natural resources, an irrigation boom, astounding population growth, and strong investment from foreign capitalists, the future looked rosy in 1889. Yet the first years of statehood were also marked by inept and corrupt legislation, labor disputes, unbridled criminal activity, strained municipal budgets, and controversy over the tidelands. Then, in 1893 came America's economic collapse--still the second worst depression in the history of the nation. Bank clearings plummeted, daily newspapers were reduced to four-page editions, the lumber industry crashed, money all but disappeared, and unemployment was rampant. Suffering Washingtonians clamored for public works projects to create jobs and took their opinions to the polls, electing a Populist governor and majority in both the house and senate. Other contentious political issues included railway regulation and unlimited coinage of silver. Finally, after four long years of decline, signs of economic life returned. Fiscally responsible decisions made by newly-elected government officials led to renewed interest from outside investors. The Klondike gold rush brought an influx of wealth, and east of the Cascades, the largest crop to date was marketed at prices not seen since the pre-panic years. In 1900, Washington's official population was 517,672--a forty-eight percent increase over 1890. Furthermore, America's economic orientation was shifting quickly from Europe to Asia. At the turn of the century the Evergreen State, in an idealgeographic location, stood poised to take full advantage of new trade opportunities, once again heralding a rosy future. By Robert E. Ficken.