Portland, Oregon
United States of America


Portland, city in northwestern Oregon, the seat of Multnomah County and the largest city in the state. Portland is the business and transportation hub for much of the Pacific Northwest and a growing center for electronics manufacturing. The city has a striking natural setting and rich cultural resources. Portland residents refer to their city as the City of Roses.

Portland lies on both banks of the Willamette River near where it empties into the Columbia River. Spring and summer weather is generally mild, and the city receives heavy rains in the late fall and winter. While heavy snow is rare, Portland occasionally suffers under ice storms brought about when frigid air from the state’s interior passes through the gorge of the Columbia River and collides with the warmer, moist air of the coast. Average annual precipitation is 922 mm (36.3 in). In January the average high temperature is 7°C (45°F) and the average low 1°C (34°F); in July highs average 27°C (80°F) and lows 14°C (57°F).

Francis Pettygrove, one of the founders of Portland, named the city in 1845 after winning a coin toss with cofounder Asa Lovejoy. Pettygrove named it for his hometown of Portland, Maine; had Lovejoy won he intended to name it after his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts.

Portland and its Metropolitan Area

The city of Portland covers a land area of 322.2 sq km (124.4 sq mi). The city is at the core of a metropolitan region covering five counties in Oregon (Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Yamhill, and Columbia) and one county (Clark) in the state of Washington north of the Columbia River. The region encompasses 13,022 sq km (5,028 sq mi) of land. After Portland, the largest cities in the metropolitan area are Gresham, Beaverton, Hillsboro, and Lake Oswego in Oregon, and Vancouver in Washington.

Portland began on the west bank of the Willamette River upstream from its confluence with the Columbia River. The area of first settlement remains the city’s business and governmental center. Its best-known public building is the Portland Building (1982), built in the postmodern style. Over the entrance to the Portland Building is an 11-m (35-ft) hammered-copper statue of “Portlandia”. Numerous fountains enliven the city core. The Ira Keller Fountain occupies a city block and reproduces the feel of a mountain stream. Downtown Portland is notable for its tree-lined streets and short blocks, making them convenient and pleasant for pedestrians. In recent years the central business district has spread to the east side of the Willamette. Eight bridges cross the river in the heart of the city, and a modern light-rail system connects the downtown with outlying suburbs.

West of downtown a number of prestigious neighborhoods occupy the steep ridge of the West Hills. In northwest Portland is a vibrant neighborhood of shops and restaurants, many in restored Victorian homes. The east side of the Willamette is occupied principally by residential areas.

The city lies at the foot of the fertile Willamette Valley. To the west are the mountains of the Coast Range, and to the east is the Cascade Range. Snow-capped Mount Hood, at 3,426 m (11,239 ft), can be seen from most vantage points in the city.


The population of the city of Portland has been steadily increasing. The gains have come from the annexation of neighborhoods on the east side of the city, the growth of the electronics industry, and the attractive quality of life in the Portland area. In 1980 the population was 366,383; by 2000 it had increased to 529,121. The population of the Portland metropolitan area grew from 1,334,000 in 1980 to 1,918,000 in 2000.

In the 19th century Portland had large Chinese, Scandinavian, and Italian immigrant communities. Today, however, little remains of these early communities, and the city has relatively small minority populations. According to the 2000 census, whites are 77.9 percent of the population, blacks 6.6 percent, Asians 6.3 percent, Native Americans 1.1 percent, and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders 0.4 percent. People of mixed heritage or not reporting race are 7.7 percent of the population. Hispanics, who may be of any race, are 6.8 percent of the people. Asians and Hispanics have been the most rapidly growing population groups since 1980.

Educational and Cultural Institutions

Portland’s largest institution of higher education is Portland State University (founded in 1946). Other important colleges and universities in the city are Lewis and Clark College (1867, relocated to Portland in 1938), the University of Portland (1901), Reed College (1909), Concordia University (1905), Oregon Health Sciences University (1974), Warner Pacific College (1937), and the Pacific Northwest College of Art (1909). On the fringes of the metropolitan area are Linfield College (1849), in McMinnville; Pacific University (1849), in Forest Grove; and George Fox University (1891), in Newberg.

Important cultural institutions cluster around the South Park Blocks, a 25-block oasis of trees and grass through the heart of downtown Portland. They include the Portland Art Museum, with one of the Pacific Northwest’s most extensive displays of American and European art, a world-class collection of Native American art, and Asian works. The Oregon History Center emphasizes the state’s Native American peoples, early exploration, and pioneers. Also on the South Park Blocks is the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, home to the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, Portland Opera, and Oregon Ballet Theater. On the east bank of the Willamette River are the Oregon Convention Center and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, which in addition to extensive interactive displays includes tours of the last nonnuclear submarine built for the United States Navy.

Every June Portland stages the Rose Festival. First held in 1907, the festival’s parades and sporting events draw visitors from throughout the Pacific Northwest. Chamber Music Northwest offers classical music every summer.


Portland is noted for parks and open spaces. Covering about 1,900 hectares (about 4,800 acres), Forest Park is one of the largest natural areas within the boundaries of a U.S. city. Washington Park, on the hills overlooking downtown, is the location for the Metro Washington Park Zoo (notable for success in breeding Asian elephants), World Forestry Center, Hoyt Arboretum, Japanese Garden, and nationally known International Rose Test Gardens. Portland tore out a four-lane highway in its downtown to create a riverfront park, now heavily frequented by pedestrians and the site of many community events.

On clear days Portland residents enjoy the city’s views of Mount Hood. Located less than 80 km (less than 50 mi) away, Mount Hood provides a location for hiking and winter sports. Portland is also within a 90-minute drive of the spectacular Oregon coast to the west. Equally close to the east are the hiking trails of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and the trails and ski slopes of Mount Hood National Forest. The Portland Trail Blazers of the National Basketball Association play in the Rose Garden arena, which opened in 1995. In 2000 the Portland Fire, an expansion Women's National Basketball Association team, began play in the Rose Garden as well.


Portland enjoys a diversified economy. Major manufactured products include paper, transportation equipment, metal products, sportswear, and electronic components and equipment. Major corporations headquartered in the metropolitan region include Nike, a leader in the manufacture of sports footwear, in Beaverton; Louisiana-Pacific, a wood-products manufacturer, in Portland; and Tektronix, a maker of scientific measuring devices and color printers, in Beaverton. High-technology manufacturing is a growing component of the city’s economy, with such firms as Intel, a leader in microprocessor production, opening plants in the area. Portland is the wholesaling, financial, and medical center for much of Oregon and parts of Idaho and Washington.

Although Portland is inland from the Pacific Ocean, the 150 km (90 mi) of the Columbia River between the city and the sea is fully open to navigation. Oceangoing shipping helped the city develop, and it remains a major transportation center. The Port of Portland, one of the busiest in the western United States, manages five marine terminals and a ship repair yard in addition to Portland International Airport. Two interstate highways, major railroads, and barges on the Columbia-Snake river system serve the city. Chief exports are wood products and farm produce. A prominent import is automobiles from Japan and South Korea.


Portland incorporated in 1851. Since 1913 it has operated under the commission form of city government. Voters select in nonpartisan elections a mayor and four commissioners to overlapping four-year terms. These five officials meet together as the city council to adopt budgets and make city policy. In addition, they are individually responsible for administering separate divisions of city bureaus and agencies.

Three regional public agencies play significant roles in the three core counties of the metropolitan area (Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties). The governor of Oregon appoints the commissioners of the Port of Portland and the board of the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Tri-Met), which operates the area’s bus and light-rail system. Voters directly choose the council and executive of Metro, the only elected multi-county government in the United States. Metro coordinates regional planning and operates several regional services.


The Portland area was long home to Native Americans. Chinook peoples concentrated on lowlands along the Columbia River, such as Sauvie Island, where it was easy to harvest fish, birds, and wild plants. A second center for native peoples was below the falls on the Willamette River, near present-day Oregon City. The Tualatin Valley (in what is now Washington County) was home to groups of the Kalapooia people who depended heavily on wild game. Measles and malaria, introduced by nonnatives in the early 1800s, killed most of the native peoples because they lacked natural immunities to these diseases.

Although Fort Vancouver was established on the Washington side of the Columbia River in 1825 and settlers traveling the Oregon Trail began reaching the Willamette Valley in the early 1840s, Portland’s beginnings as an English-speaking community date to 1845. Initial growth was based on the sale of lumber and grain to California during the gold rush of the 1850s. Discovery of gold around the headwaters of the Columbia River in the 1860s further expanded the city’s importance as a river port.

Completion of transcontinental railroad connections in the 1880s gave new impetus to industrial growth. In 1905 the city staged the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, marking the 100th anniversary of the arrival in the region by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. As the first world’s fair on the West Coast, this event attracted business and investment, and Portland continued to grow rapidly as the business center for the Columbia River region.

A new era of rapid change came in the late 1930s and 1940s. Hydroelectric power from the new Bonneville Dam and Grand Coulee Dam fueled industrial development, especially aluminum smelting. Available electric power was also a factor in making Portland a major shipbuilding center during World War II (1939-1945). More than 120,000 workers at three Kaiser Corporation shipyards in Portland and Vancouver produced more than 1,000 ships for the U.S. war effort. The war also changed Portland’s social character by drawing many blacks to shipbuilding jobs.

In the 1970s Portland embarked on systematic efforts at revitalization. The city assisted neighborhood renewal projects and a reinvigoration of the downtown, which now enjoys light-rail service, a bus mall, new parks, and a vibrant economy. Land-use planning has kept suburban development compact.

Planning efforts since 1970 have been accompanied by continued economic diversification. Portland is an important center for the electronics industry, with Washington County gaining the nickname “Silicon Forest.” The high quality of life has attracted many newcomers from more congested states and cities. At the beginning of the 21st century, the Portland area was trying to decide how to accommodate its rapid growth without losing that quality of life.