Richland: A brief history

Richland was originally known as "Chemna" — a name given by the Chemnapum Indians who lived at the mouth of the Yakima River, which they called "Tapteal." The first white settlement took place in 1863, and a stagecoach company was established by 1880. In 1892 Nelson Rich and Howard Amon formed the Benton Water Company that brought irrigation to the area. The first post office opened in October 1905, with the town listed as "Benton."

A contest was held to choose an official town name, and "Richland" was the winning name. Richland was officially incorporated as a fourth-class city in 1910, with a population of 240. In the 1920s and '30s the area’s population swelled with an influx of failed Midwest farmers, who saw the area as a good place to relocate. Beginning in 1934, construction of a series of hydroelectric dams and locks on the Columbia River spurred development of the Tri-Cities — Richland, Kennewick and Pasco — as a major river transportation hub.

Farming remained the primary industry until World War II. In 1943 the federal government took possession of a huge 860-square-mile area, including the towns of Richland, Hanford, and White Bluffs. The area was put under the control of the Manhattan District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for construction of the Hanford Engineer Works (HEW) to produce plutonium for the top-secret atomic bomb project. A temporary construction camp located on the Hanford site for workers had a population that peaked at 51,000. Many construction workers and their families lived in small trailers that offered less than 150 sq. ft. (14 sq. m.) of living space.

In September 1944, the first plutonium production reactor — B Reactor — began operation at Hanford. Two other reactors — D Reactor and F Reactor — were completed and operated during World War II to produce plutonium for the Nagasaki atomic bomb.

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company operated Hanford and governed the city of Richland during World War II. In 1946 the General Electric Company took over as administrator of Hanford and Richland for the newly-formed Atomic Energy Commission. In 1948 the City of Richland was officially dissolved. It was reincorporated in 1958 and, in 1960, Richland was proclaimed an "All America City" by the National Municipal League and Look Magazine.

A major effort to diversify the economy of Richland and the Tri-Cities and reduce their dependence on Hanford began in 1964. The operating contract was divided into four parts — reactor operations, chemical separation plant operations, laboratory operations, and support services — with each part awarded to a new contractor.

Between 1964 and 1971, eight of the nine production reactors were shut down. The last production reactor, N Reactor, was shut down in 1988. Following the end of the Cold War in 1989, Hanford's mission changed from plutonium production to environmental cleanup and restoration. The U.S. Department of Energy, Washington State Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement in 1989 to clean up radioactive and chemical wastes at the Hanford Site over the subsequent 30 years. The agreement — the Hanford Federal Facility Agreement and Consent order — is commonly known as the Tri-Party Agreement.

Hanford remains a vital research center, especially through the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory — a 21st century embodiment of the original Hanford Laboratories. Richland and the Tri-Cities continue to benefit and grow from Hanford activity, a high level of agriculture in the surrounding area, and their status as a regional commercial center.