Home / Centennial Celebration / Arizona at 100 A high-tech powerhouse of scenic vistas, natural resources and recreation

Arizona at 100 A high-tech powerhouse of scenic vistas, natural resources and recreation

From the day that Arizona became a state on Feb. 14, 1912, its boundaries have remained unchanged, but if not for some political gamesmanship, today’s Grand Canyon State would have had a remarkably different portrait.

Maps might have listed such popular destinations as Las Vegas, Ariz., and Rocky Point, Ariz.

Instead, Congress in 1867 lopped off the northwest corner of the Arizona Territory, giving Nevada access to the Colorado River, purportedly because Arizona was considered sympathetic to the Confederate cause in the Civil War. Before that, Mexico rejected a provision of the 1853 Gadsden Purchase that originally included U.S. access to the northern tip of the Gulf of California and a future treasure trove of tourism dollars.

And even before statehood, Arizona’s higher education community began to take shape. Arizona State University (as Tempe Normal School) and the University of Arizona were both founded in 1885, and Northern Arizona University opened its doors in 1899.

Arizona is a montage of unmatched natural beauty, an impressive water delivery system, home to major military bases, a burgeoning high-tech industry, the so-called five Cs, attractive retirement communities, teams in all four major professional sports, eye-popping tourist attractions and an expanding transportation system.

As we celebrate the state’s first 100 years, we look back at how we got here, as well as the events and trends that are likely to shape our next century.

Water Projects

To this day, water plays a vital role in Arizona’s economic viability. Three major dams — Roosevelt in 1911, Hoover in 1936 and Glen Canyon in 1966 — created massive reservoirs and tourism-popular lakes, and generate enormous amounts of vital electric power.

The rest of the water saga involves the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a 336-mile long system of aqueducts, tunnels, pumping plants and pipelines that carry Colorado River water from Lake Havasu City to Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties. After decades of political wrangling, President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation in 1968 authorizing the CAP. Construction began in 1973 and was completed to Tucson in 1993.


In 1941, with the U.S. entry into World War II months away, Luke and Williams Air Force bases were established on the outskirts of Phoenix, giving the military a major presence in Arizona. Williams, which was closed in 1993, and Luke were preceded in 1925 by Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. Those three facilities, plus other military outposts around the state, contributed heavily to the state’s economic well-being and the nation’s security.

High Tech

Long before high tech became a buzz word, Chicago-based Motorola launched a research and development lab in Phoenix in 1949. It was the first of several high-technology manufacturers that continue to locate in Arizona, creating thousands high-paying jobs. Not long after Motorola arrived, Hughes Aircraft Company in 1951 opened a manufacturing plant in Tucson. Intel, a giant in the industry, has invested more than $12 billion in high-tech manufacturing capability in Arizona since 1996, spends more than $450 million a year in research and development, and is investing an additional $3 billion in a new facility in Chandler. It employs approximately 9,700 in Arizona.


In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its one-man, one-vote ruling that changed Arizona’s political landscape almost overnight. Long dominated by Democrats from rural parts of the state, the ruling shifted control to Republicans in the metropolitan Phoenix area. With a few exceptions, Republicans have controlled the Legislature and most statewide offices since then.

Also in 1964, Sen. Barry Goldwater became the first Arizonan to win his party’s nomination for president. Unfortunately for the Republican standard bearer, he was swamped by President Johnson. In 2008, Sen. John McCain also landed the GOP presidential nomination, but he, too, fell short, losing to Democrat Barack Obama.

Ten years after Goldwater’s defeat he was back in the Senate, leading a delegation along with Arizona Congressman John Rhodes to the White House to give President Richard Nixon the bad news — impeachment was inevitable. Nixon resigned the next day.

In another impeachment episode, Republican Gov. Evan Mecham was booted from office in 1988 by the Republican-controlled Legislature in connection with three politically related charges.

And, in 1996, Arizona voted for a Democratic president — Bill Clinton — for the first time since the state went for Harry Truman in 1948.


Phoenix is one of a select number of metropolitan areas with all four major league professional sports teams. The Phoenix Suns of the NBA debuted in 1968, followed by the NFL Arizona Cardinals arrival from St. Louis in 1988, the NHL Phoenix Coyotes from Winnipeg in 1996, and the MLB expansion Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998. The Diamondbacks won an emotional 2001 World Series, still the only major sports championship for the state.

Billed as the Greatest Show on Grass, the Waste Management Phoenix Open draws more fans in a single day than any other sports event, including the two Super Bowls that have been played in Arizona. A tournament record 173,210 crowded into TPC Scottsdale on Feb. 4, 2012, bringing the tournament’s seven-day total to 518,262 golf enthusiasts and others just looking for a good time. The tournament attendance record set in 2008 is 538,356.

The Phoenix Open, launched in 1932 in Phoenix, was discontinued after the 1935 tournament. But under the leadership of Bob Goldwater, brother of Barry, the tournament resumed in 1939, and moved to its present Scottsdale site in 1987.

Major League Baseball made its spring training debut in Arizona in 1947 when the Cleveland Indians and the New York Giants set up camp in the desert. Other teams followed, some left and then returned, and today the Cactus League boasts 15 teams, matching the number that train in Florida.

The Cactus League reported that in 2010 it outdrew Florida’s Grapefruit League by 43,121 fans, 1.47 million admissions to 1.42 million.


Tourism’s economic impact in Arizona hit a record $17.7 billion in 2011, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism, and spring baseball is just one magnet that draws visitors to Arizona.

The Grand Canyon continues to attract people from throughout the world, generally ranking second among national parks with annual attendance that tops 4 million. The park opened in 1919, welcoming 37,745 visitors. Through 2010, that total exceeded 175 million.

Other tourist attractions around the state include ski slopes in the north, the red rocks of Sedona, the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, many museums and cultural attractions, and Tombstone, the “Town Too Tough To Die,” home to the scene of the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral on Oct. 26, 1881.


Because of Arizona’s diverse scenery and topography and relative nearness to Hollywood, the state became a popular site for moviemaking, dating back to 1925. Old Tucson Studios, built in 1939 for the movie “Arizona,” has been the setting for more than 300 movies and TV productions, including some John Wayne Westerns and “Tombstone,” the 1993 film starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. Flagstaff was seen in the 1994 film “Forrest Gump,” starring Tom Hanks, and downtown Phoenix was shot in “The Gauntlet,” starring Clint Eastwood in 1977, and in both versions of “Psycho” (1960 and 1998).


Arizona was long considered a haven for retirees and people with health problems, with major communities springing up in the Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma areas. The state gained national attention as a retirement destination with the opening of Sun City in 1960.

Copper Strike

A bitter strike against Phelps Dodge Corp. in 1983 lasted three years and greatly reduced the influence and membership of labor unions in the copper industry. Copper is one of Arizona’s five economic C’s. The others are cotton, cattle, citrus and climate.

Indian Gaming

Some say casino gaming is Arizona’s sixth C. After initially resisting, Gov. Fife Symington signed the first Indian gaming compact in 1992, opening the way for casino gambling on Indian reservations. Today, 15 tribes operate 22 casinos that have contributed a total of $676 million to the state, cities, towns and counties since fiscal 2004.


As Arizona’s population grew to 6.4 million in 2011, making the state the 16th most populous, so, too, did the transportation network. Sky Harbor International Airport, owned by the city of Phoenix since 1935, serves more than 40 million passengers a year. Maricopa County voters approved a half-cent sales tax for freeway construction in 1985, launching the start of a massive expansion of the regional freeway system. A third transportation option — a 20-mile $1.4 billion light rail system — began rolling from north-central Phoenix to Mesa in December 2008. And now there is talk of a new Interstate 11 that would link Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Scroll To Top