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In 1792 George Vancouver and Robert Gray discovered the Columbia River. Vancouver staked claims for Britain and Gray made claims for America. When the Lewis and Clark expedition reached the area in 1805 it signaled the exploration of the Oregon-Washington territories. The Treaty of 1818 provided for joint British and United States rights to the territory. The region was soon dominated by the Hudson's Bay Company which had been organized in 1668 by English merchants and courtiers to open fur trade with Native Americans in the Hudson Bay region, as well as find the Northwest Passage to the Orient. In 1836 a mission was established by Marcus Whitman, an American pioneer and missionary, near what is today Walla Walla. Following his return to the east he accompanied the great emigration of 1843 over the Oregon Trail. This mission became a stop for the immigrants on the Oregon Trail.
Although the British and Americans who had laid claim to the Washington area had agreed on joint rights of the territory, conflicts quickly arose as the populations grew. This conflict ended in 1846 when a boundary was set at the 49th parallel. Washington became a territory in 1853 and the population continued to grow with the development of fishing, lumbering and the discovery of gold. As the railroads pushed west in the 1870s and 1880s, locomotive trains replaced wagon trains giving settlers a new means of travel. The governments promise through the Homestead Act in 1862 of 160 acres of land given to anyone who would pay a $10 registration and pledge to live on and cultivate the property tempted many to build in an unsettled west. The Timber Culture Act of 1873 allowed homesteaders to claim an additional 160 acres if they planted trees on one quarter of the land within four years.
In 1878 the Timber and Stone Act of 1878 permitted anyone in Washington to buy up to 160 acres of forest land for $2.50 per acre. In 1897 the Alaskan gold strike brought prosperity to the territory and in 1889 Washington was admitted as a state. Mass claims on the land in the Washington continued and by 1900 over three million acres of rich forest land had been claimed.
Extensive labor difficulties that became extremely violent in the days of industrial workers gave Washington a reputation as a radical state. Washington had been recognized for great contributions during World War II through Seattle's aircraft industry and the Atomic Energy Commissions Hanford Works at Richland. Since that time prosperity in Washington was spurred by the growth of uranium and aluminum industries, extensive trade with the Far East and construction of irrigation, power and flood control works. Today, Washington State covers a 68,192 square mile area. The Capitol is Olympia. The State Bird is the Willow Goldfinch and the State Flower is the Pink Rhododendron.