Vancouver is a city on the north bank of the Columbia River in the U.S. state of Washington. Incorporated in 1857, it is the fourth largest city in the state with a 2010 census population of 161,791 as of April 1, 2010 census. Vancouver is the county seat of Clark County and forms part of the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area, the 23rd-largest metropolitan area in the United States.
The Vancouver, Washington, area was inhabited by a variety of Native American tribes, most recently the Chinook and Klickitat nations, with permanent settlements of timber longhouses. The Chinookan and Klickitat names for the area were reportedly Skit-so-to-ho and Ala-si-kas, respectively, meaning "land of the mud-turtles." First European contact was in 1775, with approximately half of the indigenous population dead from small pox before the Lewis and Clark expedition camped in the area in 1806. Within another fifty years, other actions and diseases such as measles, malaria and influenza had reduced the Chinookan population from an estimated 80,000 "to a few dozen refugees, landless, slaveless and swindled out of a treaty."
Meriwether Lewis wrote that the Vancouver area was "the only desired situation for settlement west of the Rocky Mountains." The first permanent European settlement did not occur until 1824, when Fort Vancouver was established as a fur trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company. From that time on, the area was settled by both the US and Britain under a "joint occupation" agreement. Joint occupation led to the Oregon boundary dispute and ended on June 15, 1846, with the signing of the Oregon Treaty, which gave the United States full control of the area. Before 1845, American Henry Williamson laid out a large claim west of the Hudson's Bay Company (including part of the present-day Port of Vancouver), called Vancouver City and properly registered his claim at the U.S. courthouse in Oregon City, before leaving for California. The City of Vancouver was incorporated on January 23, 1857.
Based on an act in the 1859–60 legislature, Vancouver was briefly the capital of the Washington Territory, before being returned to Olympia, Washington by a 2–1 ruling of the territory's supreme court, in accordance with Isaac Stevens' preference and concern that proximity to Oregon might give its southern neighbor undue influence.
U.S. Army Captain (and future President) Ulysses S. Grant was quartermaster at what was then known as Columbia Barracks for 15 months beginning in September 1852. Soon after leaving Vancouver, he resigned from the army and did not serve again until the outbreak of the American Civil War. Other notable generals to have served in Vancouver include George B. McClellan, Philip Sheridan, Oliver O. Howard and 1953 Nobel Peace Prize recipient George Marshall.
Separated from Oregon until 1917, when the Interstate Bridge began to replace ferries, Vancouver had three shipyards just downstream which produced ships for World War I before World War II brought an enormous economic boom. An Alcoa aluminum plant opened on September 2, 1940, using inexpensive power from the nearby New Deal hydropower turbines at Bonneville Dam. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Henry Kaiser opened a shipyard next to the U.S. Army reserve, which by 1944 employed as many as 36,000 people in a twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week production of liberty ships, LST's, and "baby flat tops." This influx of shipyard workers boosted the population from 18,000 to over 80,000 in just a few months, leading to the creation of the Vancouver Housing Authority and six new residential developments: Fruit Valley, Fourth Plain Village, Bagley Downs, Ogden Meadows, Burton Homes and McLoughlin Heights. Each of these was later incorporated into the city, and are well-known neighborhoods, while the neighboring "shipyard city" of Vanport, Oregon, would be destroyed by the Memorial Day flood of 1948.
In 1956, Willie Nelson moved to Vancouver to begin his musical career, recording "Lumberjack." The single sold fairly well, but it did not establish his career. Nelson continued to work as a radio announcer in Vancouver and sing in clubs. He sold a song called "Family Bible" for $50; the song was a hit for Claude Gray in 1960, has been covered widely and is often considered a gospel music classic.
Vancouver has recently experienced conflicts with other Clark County communities because of rapid growth in the area. The city's first annexation more than doubled its size in 1909, with the largest annexation of 1997 adding and 58,171 residents. As a result of urban growth and the 1997 annexation, Vancouver is often thought of as split between two areas, East and West Vancouver, divided by NE Andresen Road. West Vancouver is home to downtown Vancouver and some of the more historical parts of the city, as well as recent high-density mixed-use development.
More than one-third of the Vancouver urban area's population lives in unincorporated urban area north of the city limits, including the communities of Hazel Dell, Felida, Orchards and Salmon Creek. If county leaders had approved a major annexation plan in 2006, Vancouver would have passed Tacoma and Spokane to become the state's second-largest city.