Arizona: From Territory To Statehood

A Brief Overview of Arizona History

© Judy Hedding

When the Arizona Territory became the state of Arizona on February 14, 1912, the event brought national attention to a rugged, colorful and fairly undiscovered area of the country. To a great degree, Arizona's geographical beauty is due to its centerpiece—the Grand Canyon—including its Sonoran deserts, high plateaus, and many mountain ranges.

At the time it became the 48th state, Arizona was sparsely populated—only 200,000 residents despite its large land mass. One hundred years later, it is home to 7 million people, with Phoenix being one of America's largest cities.

Historical Legacy

Arizona boasts a diverse legacy of Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo influences— beginning with Hohokam, Anasazi, and Mogollon civilizations that go back at least 10,000 years.

It was only in the 1500s that the area attracted Anglo explorers in search of the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. For a while, the land that is now Arizona was under Spanish rule and then Mexican, until finally becoming a U.S. territory—together with New Mexico—in 1848.

Through its history, Arizona saw a parade of characters that included Spanish explorer Francisco Coronado, the missionary Father Eusebio Kino, mountain men like "Old Bill" Williams and Pauline Weaver, adventurer John Wesley Powell, Apache leader Geronimo, and canal builder Jack Swilling. And do not forget the many ranchers, cowboys, and miners who contributed to the land's Wild West image. Arizona has a rich history that inevitably brings with it stories of legend: Tombstone, ghost town stories, and the Native American tales.

On Valentine's Day of 1912, President Taft signed the proclamation of statehood. There were celebrations throughout Arizona communities, and George W.P. Hunt became the first governor.

The Growth of a State

In the decades before statehood and after, a number of factors contributed to the Grand Canyon State's growth: it had the large land mass necessary for raising cattle, it had the climate for crops that were hard to grow elsewhere, and it had the railroads necessary for commerce. In addition, Arizona had minerals; in fact, it became the country's largest producer of copper, along with supplying silver, gold, uranium, and lead.

The opening of Roosevelt Dam in 1911 and new achievements in irrigation also fueled its growth. In addition, the dry climate attracted those in search of better health, and by the 1930s, air-conditioning was becoming more commonplace. Through most of the 20th century, Arizona's reputation grew under the banner of the five Cs: climate, copper, cattle, cotton, and citrus.

In recent years, the state's largest sectors are health care, transportation, and the government. A holdover from earlier days, copper is still extensively mined from many expansive open-pit and underground mines, accounting for two-thirds of the nation's output.

Recommended Books About Arizona's History

  • "Arizona: A Cavalcade of History" by Marshall Trimble
  • "Arizona: A History" by Thomas E. Sheridan
  • "Geronimo: The Man, His Time, His Place" by Angie Debo
  • "Roadside History of Arizona" by Marshall Trimble
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