The Flag of Washington: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

Written by Eliana Riley
Updated: January 10, 2023
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Did you know that Washington was the first and only state to include the portrait of a historical figure on their flag? Although Washington was one of the last states initiated into the Union, their flag is the only one that includes a green background as well. Washington is known for its beautiful landscape, national parks, agriculture, and climate. Furthermore, biodiversity within the state attracts tourists from all over. Discover the symbolism behind the flag of Washington and other characteristics that make the state unique.

Founding of Washington

Following the establishment of the Oregon Territory in 1848, those living in the region above the Columbia River desired to establish their own territory. The new portion of the Pacific Northwest was named the “Columbia Territory,” which distinguished it from the former Oregon Territory. Later, the Columbia Territory was renamed “Washington Territory.” The new name paid homage to George Washington, who was a famous military leader during the Revolutionary War and the first president of the United States.

President Glover Cleveland originally set the initiation date for the state of Washington on George Washington’s birthday anniversary of February 22nd. However, the state did not end up being introduced into the Union until November of the same year. Eventually, though, Washington was founded on November 11, 1889 and initiated as the 42nd state of the Union.

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Skykomish River, Washington State

Washington is known for its beautiful landscape, national parks, agriculture, and climate.

©iStock.com/Cory Maccarrone

Characteristics of Washington

Washington is a state located in the Pacific Northwest portion of the United States. Washington borders the states of Idaho and Oregon and the Pacific Ocean. The capitol of Washington is Olympia. While Washington is known nationwide for its rainy climate, not all parts of the state receive an abundance of rain. For instance, the eastern part of the state is much drier than the coastal west.

While Washington is situation far north within the Unites States, it’s not as cold as some may assume. During January, Seattle, Washington averages temperatures around 40ºF. In July, temperatures lie around 60ºF. Either way, Seattle does not experience the extremes of either summer or winter. On the eastern side of Washington, summer temperatures can be between 70ºF and 100ºF. In January, temperatures are typically between 20ºF and 30ºF. Washington’s precipitation on the Pacific coast amounts to approximately 150 inches per year. East Washington does not experience nearly as much precipitation as the coast, receiving around 17 inches annually.

Washington includes many major cities such as Seattle and Tacoma. The state also has a large agricultural presence, which produces wheat, livestock, and other types of crops. Washington is also known for its beautiful landscape and unique topography. Some topographic features include the Cascade Range, the Olympic Mountains, and Mount St. Helens. Mt. St. Helens is an active volcano that erupted in 1980 and killed 57 people. Although the losses were devastating, the eruption at Mt. St. Helens led to many scientific and technological advances that would aim to protect citizens from volcanic activity in the future.

Washington is famous for its plant and animal life, too. Over half of the state is covered by broad and dense forests. Some trees that can be sighted in Washington include western red cedar, hemlock, and ponderosa pine. In the drier, non-forested areas, plants such as sagebrush and other shrubs are prevalent. Animal life in Washington consists of many unique mammals like elk, bears, cougars, and mountain goats. Fish like trout and sturgeon swim in freshwater bodies throughout the state. On the other hand, whales can be found near the San Juan Islands on the upper northwest portion of the state.

Capital of Washington is Olympia

The capitol of Washington state is Olympia.

©Always Wanderlust/Shutterstock.com

Fun Facts About Washington

One interesting aspect of Washington’s history is that the national holiday of Father’s Day originated in the state. A Washington resident named Sonora Smart Dodd wanted to celebrate her father, who fought in the Civil War and was a single father of six. Dodd was the first person to introduce the idea of Father’s Day in 1910. Although Father’s Day was not recognized as a national holiday until 1972, Dodd left a legacy that would be valued by families across the United States for decades.

In the year 1700, an earthquake struck off the coast of Washington. As a result, a tsunami threatened to drown Washington’s coast. The tsunami measured approximately 33 feet in height and went on to collide with Japan’s coast. Waves near the island of Japan measured between six and 10 feet.

Many famous figures and corporations have come from the state of Washington. For instance, the prominent coffee company Starbucks began in this state. Furthermore, creator of Microsoft Bill Gates was born in and lived in Washington. Jimi Hendrix, who was a famous electric guitarist and singer, was born in Seattle and went on to become one of the most influential and well-known figures of music.

Washington includes one of the world’s largest buildings by area, which measures 472 million cubic feet. This building is home to Boeing’s Everett factory, which produces aircraft with twin aisles. The building itself reaches across almost 100 acres of land. In addition, the factory attracts loads of tourists every year. It is estimated that over 100,000 people visit the Boeing factory annually.

Famous figures and corporations have come from the state of Washington

Many famous figures and corporations have come from the state of Washington including Bill Gates, Jimi Hendrix and Starbucks.

©iStock.com/LoweStock

History and Symbolism of the Flag of Washington

Although Washington became a state in 1889, Washington did not adopt an official flag until 1923. During the period when Washington did not have an official flag, many different designs of Washington flags were flown, and there was little agreement on which design represented the state. However, every flag design included a portrait of George Washington. This portrait was typically defined by the state seal, which was later included on the official flag of Washington.

In 1914, the Daughters of the American Revolution petitioned to create an official flag for the state of Washington. They desired for the capitol of Washington to have a flag on display. On March 5, 1923, a flag was approved to represent the state. The state seal of Washington, which was introduced in 1889 by Charles Talcott and his brother, was included on the flag.  

The flag of Washington includes a green background with a circular seal at its center. The seal contains a yellow border outlined in black. In the center of the seal lies an illustration of George Washington, for whom the state was named. Within the yellow border appears the phrase “The Seal of the State of Washington” and the year 1889, which stands for the year in which Washington was founded.

The flag of Washington is the only state flag that pictures a historical figure or president on it. In the same way, Washington is the only state named after a United States President. Furthermore, Washington is the only state flag that includes a green-colored background. Some renditions of the flag of Washington include a yellow fringe on them that reflects the yellow border around the seal.

The green background of the flag of Washington symbolizes Washington’s beautiful natural scene, including its evergreen trees and fields. Green also represents the commitment of Washington residents to protect the nature that surrounds them and the land that they are provided. The yellow-gold border of the seal represents wheat, which is prominent in East Washington agriculture. The illustration of George Washington symbolizes that of the first president of the United States, who is looked to as a founder and influencer of the beginnings of the American nation.

The state flag of Washington

The flag of Washington is the only state flag that pictures a historical figure or president on it.

©iStock.com/bodrumsurf

Other Washington Symbols

Apart from the flag, Washington has other state symbols to represent its residents’ pride in Washington’s natural scene and agriculture. Some state symbols of Washington are listed below, including the state flower, bird, fruit, and folk song:

  • Coast Rhododendron
  • Apple
  • Western Hemlock
  • Willow Goldfinch
  • Orca
  • “Roll On, Columbia, Roll On”
  • “Washington, My Home”

Click here to learn about every single flag in the world!

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Yurchello108


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About the Author

Eliana Riley is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on geography, travel, and landmarks. Eliana is a second-year student at Miami University majoring in English Education and Spanish. A resident of Tennessee and Ohio, Eliana enjoys traveling to national and state parks, hiking, kayaking, and camping.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How did the state of Washington receive its name?

Washington is named after George Washington, who was the first president of the United States.

What is the capitol of Washington?

The capitol of Washington is Olympia, Washington.

What does green symbolize on the flag of Washington?

Green represents the evergreen trees and fields of Washington. The color also signifies its citizens’ promise to care for Washington’s landscape and natural resources.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. History Link, Available here: https://www.historylink.org/File/5661
  2. World Atlas, Available here: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/washington-state-flag.html
  3. American Flags, Available here: https://www.americanflags.com/blog/post/history-washington-state-flag
  4. United States Geological Survey, Available here: https://www.usgs.gov/news/featured-story/mount-st-helens-1980-eruption-changed-future-volcanology
  5. Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/place/Washington-state
  6. Washington State Legislature, Available here: https://leg.wa.gov/Symbols/pages/default.aspx
  7. History, Available here: https://www.history.com/topics/us-states/washington