The region was explored by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1805–1806. It was then a part of the Oregon country, held jointly by the United States and Great Britain. Boundary disputes with Great Britain were settled by the Oregon Treaty in 1846, and the first permanent U.S. settlement in Idaho was established by the Mormons at Franklin in 1860.
After gold was discovered at Orofino Creek in 1860, prospectors swarmed into the territory, but they left little more than a number of ghost towns.
Mining and lumbering have been important for years. Idaho ranks high among the states in silver, antimony, lead, cobalt, garnet, phosphate rock, vanadium, zinc, and mercury.
Agriculture is a major industry. The state produces about one fourth of the nation's potato crop, as well as wheat, apples, corn, barley, sugar beets, and hops.
The 1990s saw a remarkable growth in the high technology industries, concentrated in the metropolitan Boise area.
With the growth of winter sports, tourism now outranks other industries in revenue. Idaho's many streams and lakes provide fishing, camping, and boating sites. The nation's largest elk herds draw hunters from all over the world, and the famed Sun Valley resort attracts thousands of visitors to its swimming, golfing, and skiing facilities.
Points of interest are the Craters of the Moon National Monument; Nez Percé National Historic Park, which includes many sites visited by Lewis and Clark; and the State Historical Museum in Boise. Other attractions are the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area south of Boise, Hells Canyon on the Idaho-Oregon border, and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in south-central Idaho.
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Selected famous natives and residents:
- Joe Albertson grocery chain founder;
- Cecil Andrus governor;
- T. H. Bell educator;
- Ezra Taft Benson secretary of Agriculture, pres. LDS church, marketing specialist;
- William E. Borah senator;
- Gutzon Borglum Mt. Rushmore sculptor;
- Carol R. Brink author;
- Frank F. Church senator;
- Fred Dubois senator;
- Vardis Fisher novelist;
- Lawrence H. Gipson historian;
- Chief Joseph Nez Percé chief;
- Harmon Killebrew baseball player;
- Ezra Pound poet;
- Sacagawea Shoshonean guide;
- J. R. Simplot industrialist;
- Robert E. Smylie political leader;
- Henry Spalding missionary;
- Frank Steunenberg governor;
- Picabo Street skier;
- David Tompson founded first trading post;
- Lana Turner actress.