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Oregon State Flag
Oregon State Flag
Oregon State Seal
Oregon State Seal
Oregon Location
Oregon Location


Oregon is a state located in the northwest United States, 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.

A 1977 article in U.S. News and World Report described Oregon as a state of scenic grandeur and easygoing individualism [that] is writing the preface to what may be the future for all Americans: simple living, conservation, and limited growth. That description still applies over a quarter-century later. Oregonians are proud of their state's beautiful forests and streams, and place great importance on proper use of their natural resources. They struggle to balance this with the desire to support the development needed to support its increasing population without losing what attracts people to Oregon in the first place. The state has pioneered some innovative solutions to the nation's environmental problems, such as the Oregon Bottle Bill, but has also suffered from the rapid pace of logging in its forests.

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.

Capital Salem  
Largest City Portland
Governor (2005) Ted Kulongoski (D)
- Total
- Land
- Water
- % water

255,026 km² (9th)
248,849 km²
6,177 km²
- Total (2000)
- Density

3,421,399 (28th)
13.76 /km² (39th)
Admittance into Union
- Date
- Order
February 14, 1859
Time zone Pacific: UTC-8/-7
Mountain: UTC-7/-6 (all but majority of Malheur County is in Pacific)
42°N to 46°15'N
116°45'W to 124°30'W
- Highest
- Mean
- Lowest
420 km
580 km

3,426 m
1,005 m
0 m
ISO 3166-2 US-OR
State nickname Beaver State


Portland OregonOregon's geography may be split roughly into six areas:

the Coast Range,
the Willamette Valley,
the Cascade Mountains
the Klamath Mountains,
the Columbia Plateau, and
the Basin and Range Region.

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.


Oregon's earliest residents were several Native American tribes, including the Bannock, Chinook, Klamath, and Nez Perce. James Cook explored the coast in 1778 in search of the Northwest Passage. The Lewis and Clark Expedition travelled 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.

The Oregon Trail infused the region with new settlers, starting in 1842–43, 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. 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.
  • 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.

Law and Government

State Government

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

  • a legislative department (the Oregon Legislative Assembly),
  • an executive department which includes an "administrative department" and has Oregon's governor serving as chief executive, and
  • a judicial department, headed by the Oregon Supreme Court.

Governors in Oregon serve four-year terms. 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. 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.

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

  • Burns Paiute Tribe
  • Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians
  • Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde
  • Confederated Tribes of Siletz
  • Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs
  • Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
  • Coquille Tribe
  • Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians
  • Klamath Indian Tribe of Oregon

Oregon adopted many electorial 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, 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.

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 racist language was struck from the Oregon Constitution by the voters in 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 rains, 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.

Her forests have historically made Oregon one of the nation's major timber production or logging states, but forest fires (such as the Tillamook Burn), over-harvesting, and law suits 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 have not slowed the decline of the timber industry. Examples include the 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. Still the effects of the forest industry crunch is 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 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.


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:

83.5% White
8.0% Hispanic
1.6% Black
3.0% Asian
1.3% Native American
3.1% Mixed race
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:

Christian – 75%
Protestant – 55%
Baptist – 6%
Lutheran – 6%
Methodist – 4%
Presbyterian – 3%
Episcopal – 2%
Pentecostal – 2%
Church of Christ – 2%
Other Protestant or general Protestant – 30%
Roman Catholic – 15%
Mormon – 4%
Other Christian – 1%
Other Religions – 1%
Non-Religious – 24%

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.

Historical populations

Important Cities and Towns

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

  • Concordia University, Portland
  • Eastern Oregon University
  • Eugene Bible College
  • George Fox University
  • Gutenberg College
  • Lewis & Clark College
  • Linfield College
  • Marylhurst University
  • Mount Angel Seminary
  • Multnomah Bible College and Seminary
  • National College of Naturopathic Medicine
  • Northwest Christian College
  • Oregon Health and Science University
  • Oregon Institute of Technology
  • Oregon State University
  • Pacific Northwest College of Art
  • Pacific University
  • Portland State University
  • Reed College
  • Southern Oregon University
  • University of Oregon
  • University of Portland
  • Warner Pacific College
  • Western Baptist College
  • Western Oregon University
  • Western States Chiropractic College
  • Willamette University

Community colleges

  • Blue Mountain Community College
  • Clackamas Community College
  • Chemeketa Community College
  • Klamath Community College*
  • Lane Community College
  • Linn-Benton Community College
  • Mount Hood Community College
  • Portland Community College
  • Rogue Community College
  • Umpqua Community College

Professional Sports Teams

  • Portland Trail Blazers of the National Basketball Association
  • Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League
  • Portland Timbers of the USL First Division
  • Portland Lumberjax of the National Lacrosse League
  • Farm clubs of Major League Baseball:
    • Eugene Emeralds, a single-A club in the Northwest League
    • Portland Beavers, a triple-A club in the Pacific Coast League
    • Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, a single-A club in the Northwest League
    • Portland is under consideration to be the home of a major league baseball team.


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)


  • Before Oregon officially became an official U.S. territory in 1848, the provisional government briefly encouraged the minting of $5 and $10 dollar "Beaver Coins" in order to make up for the lack of U.S. currency. Thus Oregon has the distinction of being one of the few U.S. areas to mint its own currency.
  • Oregon is the only state in the United States with a flag that features a different obverse and reverse. It is one of the few official flags in the world that does so. The "front" of the flag shows the state seal, while the "back" features a small beaver, in honor of the official state animal.
  • Oregon has the smallest park in the world: Mill Ends Park in Portland, Oregon.
  • Oregon has no sales taxes
  • Abbreviations for the state include OR (postal), Ore., and Oreg.
  • Oregon is one of two states that prohibits drivers from pumping their own gasoline. The other is New Jersey.
  • Movies filmed in Oregon include Animal House, Kindergarten Cop, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Sometimes a Great Notion, The Goonies, Elephant, Bandits, and Drugstore Cowboy.
  • Oregon claims the D River is the shortest river in the world, while the American state of Montana makes the same claim of the Roe River. The Guinness Book of Records officially declared that the two rivers are the same length and can both claim the honor.
  • The Kingsmen, who made the song Louie Louie famous, are from Portland. There was an unsuccessful effort to make Louie Louie Oregon's official state song.
  • In 1970 the Oregon Highway Division (now Oregon Department of Transportation) exploded a dead beached whale on a beach just outside Lane County. The results were not as expected and KATU Channel 2 news reporter Paul Linnman captured the results on film of the exploding whale.
  • Herbert Hoover lived with his uncle in Newberg, Oregon for six years after his parents died.


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