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Milestones for Washington State History -- Part 4: 1951 to Present

HistoryLink.org Essay 5382 : Printer-Friendly Format

This is a brief chronology of the milestones of Washington history. Part 4 covers 1951 to the present. Search the HistoryLink.org database for more detail on selected events.


  • Washington State Ferries begins operations on June 1, 1951.
  • Strikers close The Seattle Times for 94 days beginning on July 16, 1953.
  • Life magazine sheds limelight on Northwest School painters on September 28, 1953.
  • Windshield pitting incidents reach fever pitch on April 15, 1954.
  • Dash-80, prototype for Boeing 707, makes first flight on July 15, 1954.
  • The Dalles dam obliterates Celilo Falls in 1956.
  • UW scientist collects blood sample of first documented case of HIV in 1959.
  • Food and Drug Administration approves birth control pill on May 9, 1960.
  • King County voters approve development of Port of Seattle’s first shipping container facilities on November 8, 1960.
  • Population of Washington state is 2,853,214 in 1960.


  • Hood Canal Floating Bridge opens on August 12, 1961.
  • Century 21 World’s Fair, April-October 1962.
  • Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in Congress marks active involvement of the U.S. in the Vietnam War on August 7, 1964.
  • Earthquake April 29, 1965.
  • Boeing builds 747 plant on Paine field near Everett in 1966.
  • Boeing-built Saturn booster launches Apollo 11 towards humanity’s first moon landing on July 20, 1969.
  • National Environment Protection Act, spearheaded by Washington Senator Henry Jackson, passes in 1970.
  • Washington voters legalize abortion on November 3, 1970.
  • Federal cancellation of supersonic transport (SST) triggers regional “Boeing Bust” recession and layoffs in the early 1970s.
  • Population of Washington state is 3,413,300 in 1970.


  • Dale Chihuly starts Pilchuck Glass School in 1971.
  • The Evergreen State College opens near Olympia in September 1971.
  • “D. B. Cooper” parachutes from skyjacked jetliner over southwest Washington on November 24, 1971.
  • State voters approve Shorelines Management and Public Disclosure acts and re-elect Governor Dan Evans to an unprecedented third term on November 7, 1972.
  • Endangered Species Act 1973.
  • World’s Fair in Spokane 1974.
  • Federal Judge George Boldt issues historic ruling affirming Native American treaty fishing rights on February 12, 1974.
  • Fall of Saigon to Communist troops marks end of the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975.
  • Voters elect Dixy Lee Ray as first woman governor of Washington on November 2, 1976.
  • Hood Canal Floating Bridge sinks during storm on February 13, 1979 (it reopens in 1982).
  • Seattle SuperSonics win National Basketball Association Championship on June 1, 1979.
  • Tom Foley (Spokane) becomes House of Representatives majority whip 1980.
  • Mount St. Helens erupts on May 18, 1980.
  • Population of Washington state is 4,132,400 in 1980.


  • Three robbers raid Wah Mee gambling club in the International District and kill 13 patrons on February 18, 1983.
  • Tacoma Dome opens its doors on April 21, 1983.
  • First Costco warehouse opens in Seattle on September 15, 1983.
  • U.S. and Canada sign the Skagit River Treaty on April 2, 1984.
  • Astronaut Richard F. Scobee (b. 1939 in Cle Elum) and six fellow astronauts die in the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986.
  • Microsoft Corporation offers first shares to the public on March 13, 1986.
  • Congress passes Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act on November 16, 1990.
  • State Legislature passes Growth Management Act in 1990 and authorizes planning for what becomes Sound Transit system.
  • Population of Washington state is 4,866,700 in 1990.


  • Washington voters approve Initiative 120 on November 5, 1991.
  • Velma Veloria, first Asian elected to a state legislature, is elected to the Washington State Legislature on November 3, 1992.
  • Washington voters elect Bill Clinton and Democrats on November 3, 1992.
  • President Clinton convenes APEC summit on Blake Island on November 20, 1993.
  • Tacoma City Council approves Chinese Reconciliation Resolution on November 30, 1993.
  • Nirvana rock band star Kurt Cobain commits suicide in Seattle on April 5, 1994.
  • Naval Station at Everett dedicated on April 8, 1994.
  • Slade Gorton is reelected to U.S. Senate in Republican sweep on November 8, 1994.
  • Seattle Mariners win the American League West pennant on October 2, 1995.
  • SuperSonics win Western Conference Championship, earn trip to NBA Finals on June 2, 1996.
  • Bones of Kennewick Man found July 26, 1996.
  • Washington voters elect Democrats Bill Clinton for president and Gary Locke for governor on November 5, 1996.
  • Boeing merges with McDonnell Douglas on August 1, 1997.
  • Seattle Mariners win the American League West pennant on September 23, 1997.
  • United States sues Microsoft Corporation on May 18, 1998.
  • Department of Interior lists nine salmon runs as Endangered Species on March 16, 1999.
  • Makah whale hunt begins on May 17, 1999.
  • Bill and Melinda Gates confirm endowment of the nation's second largest philanthropic trust on August 22, 1999.
  • Federal government recognizes the Snoqualmie Tribe on October 6, 1999.
  • Boeing Sea Launch puts first satellite in orbit on October 9, 1999.
  • Battle of Seattle begins over WTO on November 30, 1999.
  • Alaska Flight 261 bound for Seattle crashes into the Pacific Ocean on January 31, 2000.
  • Kingdome stadium is imploded on March 26, 2000.
  • Miss Freei breaks hydroplane world speed record on Lake Washington on June 15, 2000.
  • President Bill Clinton establishes Hanford Reach National Monument on June 9, 2000.
  • William Kenzo Nakamura (d. 1944) receives Medal of Honor for World War II heroism in a ceremony on June 21, 2000.
  • Walla Walla Wine Institute is founded in 2000.
  • Population of Washington state is 5,894,121 in 2000.


  • Duwamish Tribe wins federal recognition on January 19, 2001, but loses it again two days later.
  • Earthquake Puget Sound February 28, 2001.
  • Boeing moves corporate headquarters to Chicago on September 4, 2001.
  • New York’s World Trade Center towers (built by a Seattle architect) destroyed by terrorists on September 11, 2001.
  • Michael P. Anderson, former Spokane resident, and six fellow astronauts die when Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates during reentry on February 1, 2003.
  • Gary Leon Ridgway pleads guilty to murdering 48 Green River Killer victims on November 5, 2003.
  • First U.S. case of mad cow disease is reported in a Mabton dairy cow on December 23, 2003.
  • "Frasier," the TV sitcom set in Seattle, airs its last show on May 13, 2004.
  • New Central Library opens in downtown Seattle on May 23, 2004.
  • Christine Gregoire wins nation's closest-ever governor's race after recounts and a court battle on November 2, 2004.
  • Historical court clears Chief Leschi's name on December 10, 2004.
  • Tri-Cities Fever wins the National Indoor Football League Championship in its first year on July 30, 2005.
  • School Fire burns nearly 52,000 acres in the Blue Mountains beginning on August 5, 2005.
  • Spokane celebrates the opening of the reconstructed Monroe Street Bridge beginning on September 16, 2005.
  • Strict anti-smoking law goes into effect in Washington state on December 8, 2005.
  • Governor Christine Gregoire signs bill extending civil rights laws to gays and lesbians on January 31, 2006.
  • Thousands march streets of Seattle and Yakima in support of immigrants' rights on May 1, 2006.
  • Last coal mine in Washington closes on November 27, 2006.
  • Hunukkah eve wind storm ravages Western Washington on December 14 and 15, 2006.


  • Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park opens to the public on January 20-21, 2007.

  • BlackPast.org is launched on February 1, 2007.

  • Walla Walla sweet onions become Washington's official state vegetable on April 20, 2007.

  • New Tacoma Narrows Bridge is dedicated on July 15, 2007.

  • Makah whalers harpoon and shoot a gray whale in an unauthorized hunt on September 8, 2007.

  • Seattle's South Lake Union Streetcar begins service on December 12, 2007.

  • Four local women buy Seattle Storm for $10 million on February 29, 2008.

  • Northwest African American Museum opens on March 8, 2008.

  • Seattle SuperSonics play final home game on April 13, 2008.

  • Seattle Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus gains entry to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 27, 2008.

  • Federal bank regulators seize Washington Mutual on September 25, 2008.

  • Washington voters set turnout record, support Barack Obama for president, re-elect Governor Christine Gregoire, and legalize assisted suicide on November 4, 2008.

  • Sea-Tac International Airport's third runway opens on November 20, 2008.

  • Seattle Post-Intelligencer publishes its final edition on March 17, 2009.

  • Granite Falls elects Haroon Saleem as mayor on November 3, 2009.

  • Maurice Clemmons kills four Lakewood police officers in a coffeeshop near Tacoma on November 29, 2009.

  • Boeing 787 makes its first flight on December 15, 2009.

  • Explosion and fire at the Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes kills seven refinery workers on April 2, 2010.

  • Ken Griffey Jr. retires from baseball on June 2, 2010, ending the most accomplished and celebrated career in Seattle Mariners history.

  • The Seattle Storm wins its second WNBA championship on September 16, 2010.

  • Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base merge to create Joint Base Lewis-McChord on October 1, 2010.

  • The Tulalip Tribes open Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve on August 19, 2011.

  • Demolition of the southern mile of Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct begins on October 21, 2011.

  • Next 50 celebration starts its six-month run with opening day ceremonies at Seattle Center on April 21, 2012.

For the sources documenting these events, review detailed essays in HistoryLink.org databases. Census data for 1960 are taken from University of Virginia Geospatial and Statistical Data Center, United States Historical Census Data Browser Online, 1998, University of Virginia (http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/census/), accessed March 6, 2003.
Note: This chronology was updated on March 14, 2007, and April 30, 2012, and corrected on January 12, 2015.

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Ferry Kehloken, 1950s

We grow 'em big in Washington!

The City of Everett, 1969
Courtesy the Boeing Company

Mount St. Helens erupting, May 18, 1980
Courtesy United States Geological Survey

Crew of the Challenger, back row (l.-r.), Onizuka, McAuliffe, Jarvis, Resnik; front row (l.-r.), Smith, Scobee, McNair, November 15, 1985
Courtesy NASA

Walla Walla, October 2003
HistoryLink.org Photo by Priscilla Long

Tulip field near LaConner, Skagit Valley, 2002
Photo by Janet Oakley

Snake River near Lyon's Ferry, Route 261, Columbia County, October 2003
Photo by Priscilla Long

Michael P. Anderson (1959-2003), Columbia payload commander
Courtesy NASA

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