“A sense of Idaho’s past will help the present generation understand better the kind of state that evolved in recent years when the modern metropolis intersected with a hinterland rich in beauty and natural resources. It is the continuing juxtaposition of hinterland and trend-setting urban area that will likely shape the course of public debate into the twenty-first century.”
--Carlos A. Schwantes, in “In Mountain Shadows: A History of Idaho,” 1991.
And indeed, it has. The occasion of Idaho’s 117th birthday on July 3 is a great time to highlight some of the reasons that each of us can proudly claim the title “Idahoan.”
People who work in governmental affairs for industries and organizations tend to get a (generally undeserved) bad rap. But it was, in fact, a mining lobbyist who created the name “Idaho” back in the 1860s. Idaho was proposed as a name for what is now Colorado and, although rejected then, the name became more widely-used across the Northwest Territory. In 1863, Congress designated the “Idaho Territory.” Less than 30 years and a number of scuffles over capital and university sitings later, Idaho became a state in 1890.
Some Idaho facts are well-known. Philo T. Farnsworth, credited with inventing television, produced his first drawings and prototypes of television picture tubes for his high school teacher in Rigby. Atomic City was the first city to be “electrified,” courtesy of nuclear power, in 1951. Hells Canyon is arguably the deepest canyon in the United States. The huckleberry is the state fruit; the state horse, the Appaloosa; and the state bird, the Mountain Bluebird.
But here are a few less well-known facts. There is evidence of human activity within Idaho’s boundaries dating back 14,500 years. In 1907, Weiser baseball player Walter “Big Train” Johnson signed with the Washington Senators Major League Baseball team; he was one of the first five inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1896, Butch Cassidy robbed a bank in Montpelier, netting a little over $7,000, which he allegedly used to pay for a lawyer for a partner in crime. In 1914, Idaho elected the first Jewish governor, Moses Alexander, in the history of the country. In 1899, Jennie Eva Hughes was the first African American to graduate from the University of Idaho. And, although famous for our potatoes, Idaho’s top agriculture commodity is dairy; and, our largest industry is science and technology led by Micron, Hewlett-Packard and AMI Semiconductors.
Idahoans have always been pioneers. While people no longer live out of covered wagons, we’ve established ourselves as pioneers in other ways. Idaho is forging new ground in collaborative land use and management. The Owyhee Initiative, the Clearwater Elk Collaborative, the Center for Advanced Energy Studies in Idaho Falls and multiple local and regional economic development public-private partnerships show Idahoans’ unmistakable sense of independence, innovation and a desire to advocate for individual interests. Idaho is home to thousands of small businesses; our cities are regularly recognized nationwide as thriving entrepreneurial centers. Above all, Idaho still claims some of the best outdoor recreation, hunting and fishing in the nation. Idaho has retained its wildness while establishing thriving urban communities. Most importantly, Idaho is working hard to preserve precious and vital rural communities, which are part of Idaho’s heritage, history and character.
Happy Birthday, Idaho—it’s good to call you home.
For more information on Idaho counties and interesting facts about our state, visit the Idaho section on my website at http://crapo.senate.gov. You can also take the Idaho trivia quiz on the home page, which is updated weekly.
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