Fun Facts About Idaho’s History
While Idaho is a state known mostly for its potatoes and snowy winters, there are an amazing amount of interesting facts in its history. It has been home to an incredible amount of geographic activity due to the Yellowstone magma hotspot causing untold eruptions throughout its past, which has caused the soil to be rich in nutrients. That’s what makes Idaho so ideal for farming! Long before any of the iconic elk or grizzly bear lived here, the entire state was covered by a shallow sea full of coral and prehistoric sea creatures. As the Rocky Mountains grew and subsequently eroded, these ancient sea beds were exposed, making Idaho a hotspot for many types of interesting fossils. Its geological history has been exciting, but Idaho has continued to grow more interesting as time goes on.
The present-day park of Yellowstone might lie mostly in Montana, but the southeastern region of Idaho used to look very similar to it. Due to a large ball of magma lying below the North American continent, the region is rich in volcanic activity. At Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve between Pocatello and Twin Falls, an area of around 1,600 square kilometers was covered in lava after an eruption 2,000 years ago. Those who travel to the site today might be amazed by the sheer volume of volcanic material in the park with over 60 well-preserved lava flows and 25 volcanic cones.
Geological activity has shaped a large part of Idaho’s history and it continues to influence its culture. Boise has been using geothermal energy to heat their buildings since the 1890s. Today over 20 miles of pipeline lie underground, pumping hot water throughout the City of Trees. This network of pipes has become the largest geothermal system in the entire country and even the capitol building is heated by this practical source of energy.
While the Boise capitol is the only US state capitol building powered by geothermal energy, the city of Soda Springs is home to the largest man-made geyser! During the latter half of the 1800s, many entrepreneurs in the area realized the value of the local hot springs and began to sell access to them as baths. The first of these hot spring baths was owned by Dr. E.M. Cummings who had bought the property because the previous owners had tried to dig a mine and instead struck hot water. These spring baths became increasingly popular in a world before water heaters, and in 1937, a good drilling company was contracted to build a natural spring pool in the town of Soda Springs. Once they tapped the captive geyser beneath the town, a column of water shot up over 100 feet, surprising everyone. They eventually capped the spring due to it being powered by carbon dioxide. It might exhaust itself one day but can still be activated by a manual timer that releases built-up carbon dioxide and water. If you want to see the incredible Soda Spring, head over to this friendly town and watch the man-made eruption happen every hour, on the hour.
Before Idaho became a territory of the United States, it was producing famous Americans. One of the most famous was Sacagawea who helped lead Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition to the Pacific Ocean. She was born near the present-day city of Salmon before being kidnapped and transported to a settlement in what is now North Dakota. She was instrumental in the success of the expedition by leading the explorers through the western United States with her husband while caring for her two-month-old son. She was the key to their success in crossing the Rocky Mountains. As Lewis and Clark neared the Shoshone territory in Idaho, they realized they needed to trade their horses for fresh ones to cross the steep terrain, but the local Shoshone tribes did not trust the group’s intentions. It was recorded that the local tribe had planned to rob the explorers of their horses until Sacagawea arrived and was recognized as the lost sister of their chieftain. Without the help of this strong woman, Lewis and Clark may not have completed their journey.
The mining industry has always been a large part of Idaho’s industry. In fact, the Idaho territory was established in 1863 due to the large number of miners who flocked to the area in search of gold. Today the gold rushes have ended, but the Coeur d’Alene mining district is the second richest metal mining area in the world! Instead of gold, this area mostly produces lead and silver, which are still very valuable to the national economy. Idaho is also a large producer of zinc, garnets, cobalt, copper, platinum, and phosphate. It is estimated that more than half of all the phosphate in America is in this state! Most of the phosphate from Idaho is processed into crop fertilizer and shipped nationwide.
Idaho is also home to an important invention used by billions of people around the world — television. Without the incredible mind of Philo T. Farnsworth, a farm boy from the small town of Rigby in southeast Idaho, the cathode ray tube may have taken years to develop and your TV and cell phone screens might have turned out much larger and clunkier. If you ever find yourself near this small town, be sure to call the local curator of the television museum who would be more than happy to give you a personal tour.
Idaho is full of colorful history and interesting facts. It is also the main producer of over one-third of all potatoes grown in the country, home of the first automated chairlift in a ski resort, and the state seal is the only one in the US designed by a woman. It has attracted millions of settlers throughout the years due to its beautiful countryside, rich mineral deposits, miles of untamed forests, beautiful wildlife, and incredible people. As you plan your next trip to Idaho, make sure you stop by and check out its historical sights. You might be amazed at how much history the Gem State really has.