100 Fascinating Facts About Washington State

Interesting facts about Washington state

Let’s learn what the “Evergreen State” is known for with these fascinating and fun Washington state facts. (If you’re looking for the US capital, head over to my facts about Washington D.C. post!)

Washington has given many gifts to the world, from Microsoft and Amazon to Jimi Hendrix and grunge music.

General Facts About Washington

  • Washington is the north-westernmost state in the contiguous US (the Lower 48 States).
  • Washington is bordered to the west by the Pacific Ocean, to the north by British Columbia, to the east by Idaho, and to the south by Oregon.
  • The state has a total size of 71,362 mi² (184,827 km²), putting it right between South Dakota and North Dakota in terms of size.
  • If it were a country, Washington would be almost the same size as Syria and slightly larger than Cambodia.
  • With a population of over 7.7 million people, Washington ranks 13th in the country, putting it between Virginia and Arizona in terms of population.
  • Olympia is the state capital of Washington. With a population of 54,000, it is smaller than 23 other cities in the state.
The Washington Capitol building and Capitol Lake viewed from above
Washington’s Capitol on Capitol Lake in Olympia
  • Seattle is by far the largest city in Washington (read these fun facts about Seattle!) Given its population of 737,000 (metropolitan 4 million), it is the 18th largest city in the US, following San Francisco in spot 17.  
  • In fact, just over half of all Washington residents live in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area, or Greater Seattle Area.
  • Vancouver, Washington sits right across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon’s largest city. The river forms much of the border between the two states.
  • There are 29 federally recognized Native American tribes in Washington.
A close up of a face on a totem pole in Seattle, Washington
Totem pole at Pioneer Square in Seattle
  • WA is the official abbreviation for Washington.
  • Residents of Washington are called Washingtonians or ‘toners.
  • The state is often referred to as “Washington state” in order to distinguish it from the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.
  • The official nickname of Washington state is the Evergreen State thanks to the state’s many fir and pine (both evergreen) trees.
  • Other state nicknames include the Green Tree State and the Chinook State, as chinooks occur on both sides of the state’s Cascade Range (a mountain range running north to south from Canada through Washington and Oregon).
A sign that says "Welcome to Washington The Evergreen State"
Washington is known for its many trees.
  • Washington’s tourism slogans have included “SayWa” (which was really unpopular), “Experience Washington,” “Washington: The State,” and seen on T-Shirts: “How do you like these apples?”
  • The unofficial state motto of Washington is “Alki” or “Al-ki”. Originally a Native American word, it means “bye and bye”, which evolved into meaning “into the future”.
  • The official state fruit is the apple, as the state produces more than 50% of the country’s apples.
  • The official state vegetable is the Walla Walla sweet onion, named after Walla Walla country, Washington.
  • The state has two official mammals, the orca and the Olympic marmot, native to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
The flag of Washington state
The Washington state flag
  • Like Mississippi and the Canadian province Alberta, Washington’s official stone is petrified wood.
  • Washington’s state flag is dark green, with the state seal (featuring George Washington) in the center. The seal includes the date 1889, when Washington became a state.

Random Interesting Facts About Washington

  • Washington is the only state that was named after a president.
  • A tiny piece of Washington State called Point Roberts can only be accessed by land from Canada (making it a “pene-exclave”). It’s at the southern tip of the Tsawwassen peninsula south of Vancouver. Residents were essentially isolated there when the Canada-US border closed during COVID, until a temporary ferry to the Washington coast was established.
A rocky shoreline in Point Roberts, Washington, with a Canadian and American flag
Point Roberts is connected to Canada only but belongs to Washington.
  • Washington can be divided into six geographic land areas: the Rocky Mountains in the far east, the Columbia Plateau, the Cascade Mountains, the Coastal Range, the Olympic Mountains, and the Puget Sound Lowlands.
  • The state is also divided more generally by the Cascades into Eastern and Western Washington. With 80% of the state’s population living in the west of the mountains, Western Washington is the most densely populated.
  • There are around 200 major islands belonging to Washington, mostly in Puget Sound, the complex inlet that creates the Olympic Peninsula and separates Washington State from Vancouver Island.
  • The largest island is Fidalgo Island, while the San Juan Islands include four other major islands.
An inlet on San Juan Island Washington, with other islands visible in the distance
Beautiful San Juan Island
  • 52% of the state’s total land area is covered by forests, mostly to the west of the North Cascades.
  • Mt. Rainier, a statovolcano, is the highest point in Washington at 14,410 feet (4,392.17 meters) above sea level. It’s named after a man named Peter Rainier, not because it has lots of rain, although its slope is one of the snowiest places on Earth.
  • Mount St. Helens, one of the 10 volcanoes in Washington state (5 of which are active). When it erupted on May 18, 1980, it was the deadliest, most famous, and most remembered volcanic eruption in US history. It is roughly halfway between Seattle and Portland.
The peak of Mt. St. Helens with snow on it
Mount St. Helens today
  • Yet another famous volcano in Washington is Mount Baker, which is clearly visible from Vancouver Island and Vancouver City in Canada, as well as Seattle and Tacoma.
  • Mount Baker is home to 1 of 20 ski resorts in the state of Washington.
  • The white capped mountain peaks of Olympic National Park are also visible from Seattle, looking across Puget Sound, so it looks like a wall of mountains beyond the sea. Olympic is also the state’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Washington is the contiguous US’ most glaciated state, with over 3,000 glaciers. Only Alaska has more. In fact, the state has more glaciers than the other 47 contiguous states combined.
  • Washington has over 140 state parks. It is in the top-10 states in terms of protected land, with around 4% of its land belonging to state or national parks.
The snowy peak of Mt Baker viewed from afar
Mount Baker
  • Washington is home to 24 national historic landmarks. These include a lot of boats (a schooner, tugboat, snagboat, steamboat, fireboat, a shipyard, and a port) a plutonium production reactor, a dam, Mount Rainier, and more.
  • Panama Hotel in Seattle has the last remaining Japanese bathhouse in the United States.
  • Seattle’s Space Needle is recognizable by people from around the world. The observation tower has become a symbol of the state and the Pacific Northwest in general. The structure has a height of 605 ft (184 m) and it was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, which was hosted by the city.
  • There are very few permanent floating bridges in the world. Four of them are found in Washington state: Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (the world’s longest, across Lake Washington), Homer M Hadley Bridge, Murrow Memorial Bridge, and Hood Canal Bridge.
  • Besides apples, Washington is known for its production of raspberries, cherries, and spearmint oil.
Rows of grapes at a hilltop vineyard in Washington state with mountains in the background
A vineyard in Washington
  • Washington is the 2nd largest wine-producing state, after California. It has nearly 1000 wineries, and two hours more sunshine per day than California in the growing season.
  • However, 30% of the total state and local revenue of Washington is accounted for by property taxes.
  • Western Washington has mild and often rainy weather. Meanwhile, Eastern Washington can experience up to 300 days of sunshine per year, with hotter summers and colder winters.
  • On June 29, 2021, Hanford experienced the state’s highest temperature ever recorded, 120°F (48.9°C). On December 30, 1968, Mazama and Winthrop experienced the state’s lowest temperature ever recorded at -48°F (-44.44°C).
  • Natural disasters that have struck Washington include severe storms, droughts, volcanoes, floods, earthquakes, landslides, wildfires, and tsunamis.
Outside of the first Starbucks location in the world in Seattle, Washington
The original Starbucks location in Seattle
  • Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee chain was founded in Seattle. Its logo, the Siren, represents the city’s closeness to the sea. The original store is found at Pike Place Market.
  • Pike Place Market, a huge seafood market, is also famous for its fishmongers who throw fish to each other, and for its huge wall of gum.
  • Some of the most famous Washingtonians include Bill Gates, television host Bob Barker, actor Rainn Wilson, politician Frank Murkowski,
  • Famous musicians and bands from Washington include Jimi Hendrix, Bing Crosby, Sir Mix-a-Lot, Kenny G, Postal Service, Modest Mouse, and The Presidents of the United States of America.
  • Seattle, Washington was the birthplace of grunge music, producing acts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Foo Fighters, Mother Love Bone, and Temple of the Dog.
A mosaic of famous people from Washington state
Famous Washingtonians Jimi Hendrix, Bill Gates, Kurt Cobain. Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder, and Sir Mix-a-Lot (clockwise from top-left)
  • The airplane manufacturer Boeing was started in Seattle, Washington in 1916. Today it is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, but its Washington facilities employ more people than anywhere else.
  • The roots of Microsoft also began in Seattle, where Bill Gates and Paul Allen grew up and started working together. After officially founding the company in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1975, they moved the company back to Bellevue, Washington in 1979.
  • Jeff Bezos started Amazon from his garage in Bellevue, Washington. It officially founded the company there in 1994.
  • The world-famous parcel delivery service UPS started in Seattle in 1907.
  • The first Costco Warehouse opened in Seattle in 1983.
A mosaic of logos of famous companies that started in Washington
Washington brands known around the world
  • Other brand names you might recognize from Washington are the restaurant chain Red Robin, Oberto (famous for its jerky and other meats), Almond Roca, and Seattle’s Best (actually owned by Starbucks).
  • A few random items invented in Washington include the bass guitar, those little plastic clips that keep bread bags sealed, slinky dogs, pickleball, and the board games Pictionary and Cranium.
  • Born and educated in Washington, scientist Linda Buck received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2004.
  • Bonnie Dunbar of Washington was an astronaut who was part of 5 space shuttle missions, including the first mission to dock with the Russian Mir space station.
  • It was first decided that Father’s Day would be celebrated worldwide in Washington state in 1910.
Two board games that were invented in Washington
Washington-born board games Cranium and Pictionary
  • Washington has plenty of strange laws. For instance, purchasing a mattress or meat on a Sunday is technically illegal.
  • Spitting on a bus or painting polka dots on the American flag are both punishable by law.
  • The state even has old laws banning crawling, rolling, sliding, gliding, marathon dancing, or skipping.
  • Women could technically face an automatic six-month jail term for sitting on a man’s lap on a train or bus, without placing a pillow between them first, that is. Of course, these laws are not enforced.

Historical Facts About Washington

  • From 17 to 6 million years ago, lava erupted from fissures and covered much of Washington state in a layer hundreds of thousands of feet deep.
  • During the ice age, huge dams where created from meltwaters. When they would burst, the water would cover the state.
View of Mount Rainier in Washington
Volcanoes have played an important role in Washington’s geological history
  • Kennewick Man, one of the most famous human skeletal remains in the US, was found in Washington. It dates to around 9000 years ago.
  • The Washington region was originally inhabited by Native American tribes including the Spokane, Chinook, Makah, Cayuse, Quinault, Snohomish, Yakama, Nez Percé, and Quileute.
  • Sir Francis Drake sighted the coast of Washington in 1579 and claimed the region for England.
  • Bruno de Heceta was the first European to land on the coast and see the Columbia River in 1775.
Strait of Juan de Fuca with mountains in the background
The Strait of Juan de Fuca
  • In 1778, James Cook sailed past Washington during his 3rd voyage and sighted Cape Flattery at the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Still, he didn’t realize the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which separates Washington from Vancouver Island, was just beyond that point.
  • In 1791, the San Juan Islands were named by Francisco de Eliza as he explored them. San Juan was the Viceroy of Mexico at the time. A year later, George Vancouver arrived.
  • In 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore its newly acquired territories arrived in Washington state.
  • In the early 1800s, the area of modern-day Washington was part of the Oregon boundary dispute between England and the US.
  • Logging began in Washington in 1826.
A canon inside a fort at Fort Vancouver
Fort Vancouver, Washington
  • The British Hudson’s Bay Company founded Fort Vancouver (present day Vancouver WA) in 1841, but after the 1846 Oregon Treaty, they ceded the area of Washington to the US.
  • In 1851, American pioneers arrived at what is now the Seattle area and founded the first settlement there. It would be incorporated as a city in 1869.
  • In 1853, the Washington Territory was established to distinguish the area north of the Columbia River from that to the south (Oregon). Olympia was its capital.
  • Gold and silver were discovered in Okanogan in the 1860s.
  • In 1889, Washington became the 42nd state to join the Union.
Grand Coulee Dam, Washington, and the reservoir behind it
Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River
  • In 1893, the Seattle Police Department hired a female officer for the first time.
  • By 1905, Washington was the top lumber-producing state in the country.
  • Women gained the right to vote in Washington in 1910.
  • In the 1941, the Grand Coulee Dam, largest in the world at the time, was constructed on the Columbia River.
  • During WWII, Boeing became a significant aircraft carrier, while Hanford Works atomic energy plant in Eastern Washington played a role in developing the atomic bomb.
Close up of the revolving restaurant in the space needle with downtown Seattle in the background
Revolving restaurant at the Space Needle
  • Seattle’s Space Needle opened in 1961, including the world’s first revolving restaurant.
  • The Seattle World’s Fair took place in 1962.
  • In 1974, Spokane became the smallest city to host the World’s Fair.
  • In 1980, Mt. St. Helens erupted, killing 57 and destroying hundreds of homes. Ash covered nearby states and BC in Canada, turning day into night.
  • In 1999 and 2000, Washington set a record for the highest percentage of women to be elected to the state legislature at 40.8%.
Mt. St. Helens erupting
The 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens
  • In 2003, Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, confessed to murdering 48 women in Washington.
  • Washington citizens voted for the legalization of same-sex marriage and recreational marijuana use on 6 November 2012.
  • In 2017, Jenny Durkan became the first openly gay mayor to be elected by Seattle.
  • In June and July 2021, the Western North America heat wave caused over 100 deaths in Washington, worse than Mt. St. Helens.

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