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. As the 48th entry into the Union, Arizona was sparsely populated -- only 200,000 residents despite its large land mass.

One hundred years later it is home to 6.5 million people, with Phoenix being one of America's ten largest cities.

To a great degree, Arizona's beauty and diversity lie in its geography, from its centerpiece -- the Grand Canyon -- to its Sonoran deserts, high plateaus and many mountain ranges. But Arizona also 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 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 don't forget the many ranchers, cowboys and miners who contributed to our Wild West image.

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.

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 the 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.

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

Read more about Arizona's history online:

Legends of America: Arizona Legends
State of Arizona's Kids Page