Francisco Vásquez de Coronado first explored the region for Spain in 1541. The U.S. acquired most of Oklahoma in 1803 in the Louisiana Purchase from France; the Western Panhandle region became U.S. territory with the annexation of Texas in 1845.
Set aside as Indian Territory in 1834, the region was divided into Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory on May 2, 1890. The two were combined to make a new state, Oklahoma, on Nov. 16, 1907.
On April 22, 1889, the first day homesteading was permitted, 50,000 people swarmed into the area. Those who tried to beat the noon starting gun were called “Sooners,” hence the state's nickname.
Oil made Oklahoma a rich state, but natural-gas production has now surpassed it. Oil refining, meat packing, food processing, and machinery manufacturing (especially construction and oil equipment) are important industries. Minerals produced in Oklahoma include helium, gypsum, zinc, cement, coal, copper, and silver.
Oklahoma's rich plains produce bumper yields of wheat, as well as large crops of sorghum, hay, cotton, and peanuts. More than half of Oklahoma's annual farm receipts are contributed by livestock products, including cattle, dairy products, swine, and broilers.
Tourist attractions include the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, the Cherokee Cultural Center with a restored Cherokee village, the restored Fort Gibson Stockade near Muskogee, the Lake Texoma recreation area, pari-mutuel horse racing at Remington Park in Oklahoma City, and Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw.
During the first half of the 1900s, Oklahoma was a stronghold for the Democrats. In fact, the Republican Party only won the state in two presidential elections, 1920 and 1928. However, since 1952, Oklahoma has become increasingly conservative and Republican presidential candidates have carried the state in every election except one, in 1964. Moreover, no Democratic presidential candidate has won a single county in the state since 2000.
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Selected famous natives and residents:
- Johnny Bench baseball player;
- John Berryman poet;
- Garth Brooks singer;
- Iron Eyes Cody Cherokee actor;
- L. Gordon Cooper astronaut;
- Ralph Ellison writer;
- James Garner actor;
- Owen K. Garriott astronaut;
- Vince Gill singer;
- Chester Gould cartoonist;
- Woody Guthrie singer and composer;
- Roy Harris composer;
- Paul Harvey broadcaster;
- Van Heflin actor;
- Ron Howard actor and director;
- Ben Johnson actor;
- Jennifer Jones actor;
- Jeane Kirkpatrick educator and public-affairs spokesperson;
- Shannon Lucid astronaut;
- Wilma P. Mankiller principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma;
- Mickey Mantle baseball player;
- Reba McEntire singer;
- Shannon Miller Olympic gymnast;
- Bill Moyers journalist;
- Daniel Patrick Moynihan N.Y. senator;
- Patti Page singer;
- Mary Kay Place actor and writer;
- Tony Randall actor;
- Oral Roberts evangelist;
- Dale Robertson actor;
- Will Rogers humorist;
- Dan Rowan comedian;
- Thomas P. Stafford astronaut;
- Maria Tallchief ballerina;
- Jim Thorpe athlete;
- Carrie Underwood singer;
- Alfre Woodard actor.