First it was the Oregon Trail that drew pioneers to this Northwestern realm of farmable land, scenic mountains and ocean coasts, rivers and lakes. More recently, Oregon has lured new arrivals with a youth-friendly culture and high-tech employment opportunities.
Portland is by far the largest city, with a population of about 640,000. Eugene and the capital city, Salem, are both second at about 167,000 each. And Portland has gained a national reputation, including its role in a streaming television series playing on its laid-back lifestyle, “Portlandia.” Its rewards for young people as an attractive place to settle – some say this is where “young people go to retire” – certainly include the state’s legalization of recreational marijuana. The city ranks highly on U.S. News' Best Places to Live list of American cities.
The state's economy was credited as the best-performing in 2015. The 27th-most populous state scored highest in employment, home prices, personal income, taxes and publicly traded equities of its companies in a Bloomberg News report, which called Oregon “the picture of economic health.”
Historically, the Pacific Ocean coastal state's economy has been based on fishing, timber and inland agriculture. In modern times, it has been transitioning to service industries and manufacturing. Most significantly, the three counties centered around Portland have attracted a growing high-technology industry.
Oregon is among the most trade-dependent states. The value of exports from Oregon to foreign countries has exceeded $18 billion a year. The largest foreign partners are China, Canada, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea – while its trade with other states exceeds its foreign trade. The state's leading commodities of greenhouse and nursery products, cattle and calves, milk, hay, grass seed and wheat generate more than $4 billion a year in revenue. The state also grows almost all the hazelnuts consumed in the U.S.
Oregon also has developed one of the finest wine-making regions in the U.S., the Willamette Valley – home of 250 wineries known for their Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The state has set its own minimum wage – $10.25 – higher than the national rate of $7.25 per hour. Yet pay varies widely among industries in the state; the information industry averages $74,000 a year in wages, while leisure and hospitality pay an average of $19,500.
The state's modern history dates to the exploration of the Northwest. First Spanish and British explorers came up the Pacific coast in the 17th and 18th centuries. Then Oregon was mapped by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, President Thomas Jefferson assigned Lewis, his personal secretary, and Clark, a draftsman and frontiersman, to find a water route linking the Missouri River in the Midwest and Columbia River in Oregon, with a vision of connecting East and West by river. They set out in the summer of 1804, and while a waterborne route was impossible they crossed the Bitterroot Mountains with the guidance of Shoshone Indians and made their way by canoe to the mouth of the Columbia in 1805.
In the 1830s, pioneers arrived via the Oregon Trail, with both American and British settlers arriving. Starting in 1836, about 12,000 emigrants made the 2,000-mile trek from Missouri to the Oregon Territory, the trail the most heavily used of all routes in the westward expansion of the U.S. In 1846, the border between U.S. territory and the British realm that became part of Canada was set at the 49th parallel. And in 1859, Oregon was admitted to the union.
Around that time, Oregon also assumed a unique role in a practice known as “Shanghaiing,” in which men were either drugged or knocked out in taverns, dropped into tunnels through trapdoors and carried off to serve on the crews of sailing ships. From 1850 to 1941, Portland was viewed as one of the most dangerous ports, with the Portland Underground, also known as the Shanghai Tunnels, linking basements of bars and hotels and the Willamette River docks.
The 80-mile long Columbia River Gorge, which traverses the border with Washington to the north, has been designed a National Scenic Area, and Crater Lake, formed in the remains of an ancient volcano, is the deepest lake in the nation and ninth deepest in the world at 1,943 feet.
In this state of 4 million, 76 percent are white, 4 percent of Asian origin, 2 percent black – and 13 percent identify as Hispanic.
Almost one-third of all Oregon adults are unaffiliated with any religion. Protestants account for about 43 percent, and Catholics, 12 percent. Less than half say religion plays a very important role in their lives, and 29 percent attend religious services once a week.
Oregon has many public and private universities and colleges, including the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, Pacific University and Lewis and Clark College.