Look Back: Washington State Gets Its First Governor

Days after Washington obtained statehood, Elisha P. Ferry was sworn in as the state's first governor.

This article appears in print in the November 2018 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

During the presidential campaign of 1888, at the behest of people with vested interests in the vast economic potential of the western territories, Republican candidate Benjamin Harrison stumped in favor of expanding statehood. Though he lost the popular vote to incumbent Grover Cleveland, Harrison won the electoral college.

Ten days before Harrison’s March 4 inauguration, Congress passed the Enabling Act of 1889, paving the way to statehood for Washington, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. Washington became the 42nd state at 5:27 p.m. November 11, 1889, as described in the Western Union telegram, below, which U.S. Secretary of State James Blaine sent “collect” (cost: 61 cents) to territorial Governor Elisha P. Ferry. On November 18, at the territorial Capitol in Olympia, Ferry took the oath as Washington state’s first governor in an inauguration ceremony photographed here from the parking lot.