A Brief History of Phoenix, Arizona

With shiny new high-rises constantly being built, it can be easy to forget that Phoenix, Arizona was not always the metropolitan city that it is today. If you read below, you will find out that Phoenix has a rich and vibrant history going back thousands of years.

Early Native American History

The Hohokam tribe are the first known settlers of the Phoenix area. The tribe made the Phoenix area their home for over 2,000 years. In order to make the dry Salt River Valley inhabitable, the innovative tribe constructed a widespread system of irrigation canals reaching over 135 miles. Some of the canals that were originally built by the Hohokam are still in use today. The Hohokam vanished suddenly in 1450 A.D. Historians are not sure what caused the sudden disappearance of the tribe, but they assume that it was the result of an extended drought.

The Founding and Incorporation of Phoenix

The United States gained control of the Phoenix area from the Mexicans in 1848 at the end of the Mexican-American War. Phoenix was founded twenty years later in 1868 by John W. Swilling. While Swilling was traveling through the Salt River Valley, he saw the potential of the land, just as the Hohokam had. He recognized that although the area was dry, it had the ideal terrain and climate for farming. The only ingredient missing was water. Swilling and his party of settlers solved the water problem by building a series of canals that followed the old Hohokam canals.

The name “Phoenix” come from Darell Duppa, one of the settlers in Swilling’s party. Duppa suggested the name, because he predicted that, like the mythical phoenix rising from its own ashes, a great city would emerge from the ruins of the former Hohokam civilization. The original population of Phoenix was only 250 people. The population of Phoenix grew to around 2,500 and it was incorporated as a city in 1881.

In 1887, the Southern Pacific Train arrived in Phoenix, which changed the city forever. With the arrival of the railroad, the economy was altered and Phoenix moved from being a purely agricultural city to becoming a trade market.

Early Growth

Arizona became a state on February 14, 1912, and on that same day, Phoenix was named the capital. Major technological advances fueled growth in the city in the early twentieth city. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt began construction on the Theodore Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River. The Dam supplied both water for irrigation and electrical power to the city. Roosevelt dedicated the dam on May 18, 1911. At the time of its building, it was the largest masonry dam in the world.

In 1920, Phoenix was booming and its population doubled to 30,000. Arizona’s first skyscraper, the Heard Building, was built in 1920 reaching seven stories tall. The economy during this time was based on cotton, citrus, and cattle all made possible by the Theodore Roosevelt Dam.

Post-World War II

The end of World War II brought many changes to Phoenix, Arizona. The population continued to grow as veterans that were posted at Phoenix military bases saw the potential of the city and returned with their families.

Technological advances had a great effect on Phoenix and the economy shifted from purely an agricultural city into an industrial city. Also during this time, air conditioning became affordable for individual homes. With temperatures over 100 degrees in the summertime, Phoenix was now pleasant to live in year-round. One population greatly affected by the availability of air conditioning was retirees, who now flocked to the city.

Another important moment in Phoenix history was the construction of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) aqueduct system which began in 1973. CAP brought a secure and stable water supply to the city. The aqueduct system is 336 miles and used some of the same canals that were originally built by the Hohokam thousands of years before.

Modern Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix today covers 520 square miles and has a diverse population of 1.5 million. It is currently the country’s 5th largest city. Phoenix’s population is continuing to grow as people make the decision to call this great city their home.

The Nicole Pavlik Law Firm helps residents of Phoenix, Arizona with their estate planning, business planning, and probate needs. To see what Nicole Pavlik can do for your estate or business, contact her office at 602.635.6176


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