Nicknamed “the Valley of the Sun,” the seat of Maricopa County, and the centrally located capital of Arizona, Phoenix is a fast-growing Southwestern melting pot of different cultures. With over 1.2 million residents, it is the state’s largest city, and the sixth-largest city in the nation. It is the commercial and transportation hub of the rapidly growing Southwest, and the heart of a metropolitan area that is home to almost two-thirds of the state’s population.
Founder Jack Swilling formed a canal company in 1867 that channeled water from the Salt River for irrigation. By 1879 Phoenix had become a supply center for the mines of northern Arizona. The key to the desert city’s growth in the early twentieth century was the completion of the Theodore Roosevelt Dam in 1911, which stabilized the city’s water supply. Modern air conditioning, and water supplied by the Salt River Project and the Central Arizona Project, have helped support and fuel the area’s growth.
The city, named for the mythical bird symbolic of rebirth, was built on the ruins of the Hohokam Indian civilization, whose farmers dug irrigation canals that remain in use today. The people mysteriously disappeared about 1450.
Phoenix’s generally reliable weather has long played a role in its growth. Rapid expansion began during World War II, when the area’s favorable climate led to the establishment of military airfields and then defense industries. Nearby Luke Air Force Base remains a major training center for fighter pilots.
Manufacturing, particularly electronics, and tourism are major economic forces. Many large companies have made Phoenix their headquarters, including U-Haul and Phelps Dodge. But the city’s rapid growth and development since the 1960s has led to a serious air pollution problem for the Phoenix metropolitan area, created by the large number of automobiles and industries such as copper smelting. Pollution was significantly reduced by the early 1990s following the enactment of more stringent emissions standards.
Downtown is the locale of the Phoenix Civic Plaza, a sports, convention, and meeting complex; the Phoenix Symphony Hall, home of the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra; the Arizona Science Center, which has hands-on displays in aerospace, geology, computers, biology, psychology, and physics; and the Phoenix Museum of History, which has exhibits depicting the city’s growth from desert town to modern metropolis.
The Heard Museum, opened in 1928, highlights the Southwest’s native cultures with 75,000 artifacts. The Phoenix Zoo exhibits more than 1,300 mammals, birds, and reptiles on 125 acres. Waterworld USA offers 20 acres of water slides and wave pools. South Mountain Park is the world’s largest municipal park.
There are flights from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, as well as rail and bus service. The metropolitan area is easily reached by car via I-8, I-10, and I-17.