Phoenix, Arizona
United States of America


Phoenix, capital city of Arizona and seat of Maricopa County, located on the Salt River in the south central part of the state. Phoenix sits on the eastern edge of the Sonoran Desert. A commercial, manufacturing, financial, tourist, and retirement center, Phoenix serves as a distribution point for the agricultural products of the irrigated Salt River Valley. It is the hub of a vast metropolitan region that includes Avondale, Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Mesa, Paradise Valley, Peoria, Scottsdale, Sun City, and Tempe. Phoenix has become one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing cities. Several factors have contributed to the city’s spectacular growth, including its temperate, dry, sunny climate during much of the year, its recreational opportunities, and its diversified industries.


Phoenix’s population grew from 789,704 in 1980 to 1,321,045 in 2000; in the 1990s it was second in total population growth among the country’s large cities, behind only New York City. According to the 2000 census, whites constitute 71.1 percent of the city’s population; blacks, 5.1 percent; Native Americans, 2 percent; Asians, 2 percent; and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, 0.1 percent. People of mixed heritage or not reporting race are 19.7 percent. Hispanics, who may be of any race, make up 34.1 percent of the population.

Almost two-thirds of Arizona’s population lives in the Phoenix metropolitan area. The regional population increased from 1,600,000 in 1980 to 3,252,000 in 2000. Three Native American reservations in the area cover a total of more than 1,800 sq km (more than 700 sq mi); these are the Fort McDowell, Salt River, and Gila River reservations, with a total population of almost 19,000.


Products manufactured in the metropolitan area include semiconductors, aerospace and electronic equipment, processed food, metal products, cosmetics, sporting goods, paper items, and clothing. Government operations, tourism, research and development concerns, and construction are also important to the city’s economy, as is nearby Luke Air Force Base. Information processing, customer service, and warehouse and distribution activities were increasing in the 1990s. Agricultural products include cotton, alfalfa, durum wheat, vegetables, citrus and other fruits, and beef and dairy cattle. The health service industry is a large and growing part of the city’s economy.

Phoenix is served by interstate highways 10 and 17, the Southern Pacific and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads, and Sky Harbor International Airport.

In its early years, Phoenix became popular as a haven for winter visitors from North America’s colder climates. Many people with health problems, particularly respiratory ailments, visited the area for its dry and relatively pollen-free air. In the second half of the 20th century developers created near Phoenix huge planned retirement communities such as Sun City and Leisure World. Today Phoenix is a popular destination for vacationers and conventioneers.

The Urban Landscape

Phoenix is rapidly expanding upon its periphery. In 1997 the city’s area was 1,087.3 sq km (419.8 sq mi). The growth of Phoenix has radiated from the now highly developed original downtown. Several minutes north of downtown is a second site of tall buildings and commercial establishments, as well as Encanto Park. To the north and east lie affluent residential areas, along with high-technology and other light industries. Papago Park, containing the Desert Botanical Garden and the Phoenix Zoo, is in the east. The west side is generally a lower-income residential area with some light industry. The smaller south side includes predominantly Hispanic and black neighborhoods, as well as older industries and distribution warehouses. South Mountain Park, one of the largest city parks in the nation, covers about 6,900 hectares (about 17,000 acres) on the city’s south side.

Points of Interest

Points of interest in Phoenix include Civic Plaza, which comprises Symphony Hall and a convention center; and America West Arena, the home of the Phoenix Suns professional basketball team and the Phoenix Coyotes professional hockey team. The Arizona Cardinals, a professional football team, plays its home games at Sun Devil Stadium in nearby Tempe. The Arizona Diamondbacks, a professional baseball team, began playing in the new Bank One Ballpark in 1998. Annual events in Phoenix include the National Livestock Show, the Agricultural Trade Fair, the Arizona State Fair, and the Cowboy Artists of America Exhibition.

Educational and Cultural Institutions

Phoenix is the site of Arizona State University West (1984), the University of Phoenix (1976), Grand Canyon University (1949), DeVry Institute of Technology (1967), Western International University (1978), Southwestern College (1960), Arizona Bible College (1971), and several junior colleges. Arizona’s largest institution of higher education, Arizona State University (1885), is located in adjacent Tempe, while the American Graduate School of International Management (1945) is nearby in Glendale.

Among the city’s museums are the Heard Museum, with more than 75,000 archaeological, ethnological, and historical objects and an extensive exhibit on native peoples of the Southwest; the Phoenix Art Museum, which features works from the medieval, Renaissance, and French baroque periods; the Pueblo Grande Museum, which contains artifacts of the Hohokam civilization; the Arizona Mineral Museum; the Arizona State Capitol Museum, located in the restored state capitol building, which displays Native American relics and modern handicrafts; and the Phoenix Museum of History, with items relating to the city’s early history. The Arizona Science Center, featuring a planetarium and hands-on exhibits, opened in 1997. The city has a large central library with several branches. Taliesin West, an architectural school and complex established by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is located nearby in Scottsdale and is open to visitors.


Archaeological evidence indicates that people have been in the area that is now Phoenix for more than 8,000 years. From the 8th century through the 14th century the Hohokam people, a society of desert farmers in the region, used water from the Salt River for an extensive irrigation canal system. Fort McDowell, the first permanent white settlement in the area, was established in 1865 about 40 km (about 25 mi) east of present-day downtown Phoenix. Two years later, Jack Swilling, a former Confederate army officer, envisioned the agricultural potential of the broad and level Salt River Valley. Swilling organized a canal company near modern Tempe to irrigate the valley.

The company’s irrigation system followed the network of canals that were built there by the Hohokam some 500 years earlier. In October 1870, several settlers founded the site of modern Phoenix. In recognition of the former Hohokam culture, settler Darrell Duppa likened the new community to the phoenix, a mythological bird that consumed itself by fire every 500 years and arose anew from the ashes. Thereafter, the group adopted Phoenix as the settlement’s name. Within a short time the area was producing hay, beef, flour, figs, beer, ice, eggs, and butter for the Arizona territory’s growing population, particularly the mining boomtowns. Canals in the Phoenix area totaled about 386 km (about 240 mi) in 1886.

By 1875 the town had a courthouse, a school, saloons, and dance halls. An electricity generating plant run by steam, one of the first in the west, was built in 1886, and the railroad arrived in 1887. Phoenix was incorporated as a city in 1881, and in 1889 it became the capital of Arizona Territory. It remained the capital when Arizona became a state in 1912. The city’s population first exceeded that of Tucson in 1920, making it the state’s largest city.

After massive floods of the Salt River in 1891 wiped out many of the canals, a huge modern flood control and irrigation system was developed around Phoenix. The federal government in 1902 authorized the Salt River Project, and the completion of the Theodore Roosevelt Dam on the Salt in 1911 assured the city of an adequate water supply and flood control, as well as a source of power for the development of industries. Since then three other dams have been built on the Salt. However, on several occasions in recent years the Salt River has flooded and caused damage to the area.

During World War II a number of military training bases and airfields were established near Phoenix. Following the war, thousands of army and air force veterans settled here. In addition, retirees and others streamed into the Phoenix metropolitan area, spurred by the development of affordable and reliable air-conditioning. Phoenix became the largest center of trade, transportation, finance, and government between Dallas, Texas, and the Pacific coast. Between 1940 and 1950 the city’s population increased 63 percent; from 1950 to 1960 the increase was 300 percent.

In 1985 the Central Arizona Project, which brings water from the Colorado River, was completed. This water has facilitated new housing developments and artificially created lakes. The tremendous growth of the city has brought with it problems, including urban sprawl, traffic congestion, air pollution, crime, unemployment, and homelessness. Many residents fear that the beauties of the desert are being destroyed by the rapid expansion of the city upon its natural periphery.