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Pierce County, Washington

Coordinates: 47°03′N 122°07′W / 47.05°N 122.11°W / 47.05; -122.11
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Pierce County
Old City Hall in Tacoma.
Flag of Pierce County
Official seal of Pierce County
Map of Washington highlighting Pierce County
Location within the U.S. state of Washington
Map of the United States highlighting Washington
Washington's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: 47°03′N 122°07′W / 47.05°N 122.11°W / 47.05; -122.11
Country United States
State Washington
FoundedDecember 22, 1852
Named forFranklin Pierce
Largest cityTacoma
 • Total1,806 sq mi (4,680 km2)
 • Land1,670 sq mi (4,300 km2)
 • Water137 sq mi (350 km2)  7.6%
 • Total921,130
 • Estimate 
928,696 Increase
 • Density510/sq mi (200/km2)
Time zoneUTC−8 (Pacific)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−7 (PDT)
Congressional districts6th, 8th, 10th
Mount Rainier from Ricksecker Point, 1932
Tacoma—seat of Pierce County
Mount Rainier hazard map

Pierce County is a county in the U.S. state of Washington. As of the 2020 census, the population was 921,130,[1] up from 795,225 in 2010, making it the second-most populous county in Washington, behind King County, and the 59th-most populous in the United States. The county seat and largest city is Tacoma.[2] Formed out of Thurston County on December 22, 1852, by the legislature of Oregon Territory,[3][4] it was named for U.S. President Franklin Pierce. Pierce County is in the Seattle metropolitan area (formally the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA, metropolitan statistical area).

Pierce County is home to the volcano Mount Rainier, the tallest mountain in the Cascade Range. Its most recent recorded eruption was between 1820 and 1854. There is no imminent risk of eruption, but geologists expect that the volcano will erupt again. If this should happen, parts of Pierce County and the Puyallup Valley would be at risk from lahars, lava, or pyroclastic flows. The Mount Rainier Volcano Lahar Warning System was established in 1998 to assist in the evacuation of the Puyallup River valley in case of eruption.



According to the United States Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,806 square miles (4,680 km2), of which 1,670 square miles (4,300 km2) is land and 137 square miles (350 km2) (7.6%) is water.[5] The highest natural point in Washington, Mount Rainier, at 14,410 feet (4,390 m), is located in Pierce County. Rainier is locally called Tahoma or Takhoma, both native names for the mountain.

Geographic features


Pierce County also contains the Clearwater Wilderness area.

Adjacent counties


National protected areas



Historical population
2023 (est.)928,696[6]0.8%
U.S. Decennial Census[7]
1790–1960[8] 1900–1990[9]
1990–2000[10] 2010–2020[1]

2020 census


As of the 2020 census, there were 921,130 people, and 339,840 households, and 230,520 families in the county.[11] The population density was 552.2 people per square mile (213.2 people/km2). There were 359,489 housing units. The racial makeup of the county was 73.1% White, 8.0% African American, 1.8% Native American, 7.4% Asian, 1.8% Pacific Islander, and 7.9% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 12.2% of the population.[12]

23.2% of the population was under 18, and 6.1% of people were under 5. 14.4% of people were over 65. The gender ratio was 49.8% female and 50.2% male. The average household size was 2.65 people.[12]

The median income for a household was $82,574, but the per capita income was $39,036. 8.2% of the population were below the poverty line.[12]

2010 census


As of the 2010 census, there were 795,225 people, 299,918 households, and 202,174 families residing in the county. The population density was 476.3 people per square mile (183.9 people/km2). There were 325,375 housing units at an average density of 194.9 units per square mile (75.3 units/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 74.2% white, 6.8% black or African American, 6.0% Asian, 1.4% Native American, 1.3% Pacific islander, 3.5% from other races, and 6.8% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 9.2% of the population. In terms of ancestry, 20.5% were German, 13.1% were Irish, 10.7% were English, 6.3% were Norwegian, and 4.2% were American.

Of the 299,918 households, 35.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.0% were married couples living together, 13.0% had a female householder with no husband present, 32.6% were non-families, and 25.1% of all households were made up of individuals. The average household size was 2.59 and the average family size was 3.09. The median age was 35.9 years.

The median income for a household in the county was $57,869 and the median income for a family was $68,462. Males had a median income of $50,084 versus $38,696 for females. The per capita income for the county was $27,446. About 8.1% of families and 11.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.0% of those under age 18 and 8.2% of those age 65 or over.



The area was originally home to the present-day Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin, Steilacoom, and Muckleshoot tribes. The majority of Puyallup villages were situated in proximity to the area that would eventually develop into Tacoma, while Nisqually settlements were primarily located in what is now southern Pierce County. The tribes had two main routes: a northern path traversing Naches Pass and a southern route following the Mashel River, which connected them to Eastern Washington tribes. Trade networks among the region's indigenous peoples were well-established long before the arrival of white settlers.[13]

In 1792 British Captain George Vancouver and his party of explorers came via ship to the shores of the region, and named a number of sites in what would become Pierce County, i.e. Mt. Rainier.[citation needed]

In 1832 Fort Nisqually was sited by the British Hudson's Bay Company's chief trader, Archibald McDonald. It was the first permanent European settlement on the Salish Sea. In cooperation with the local indigenous people, a storehouse for blankets, seeds, and potatoes was built at the mouth of Sequalitchew Creek.

In 1839 the Nisqually Methodist Episcopal Mission was established,[14] bringing the first U.S. citizens to settle in the Puget Sound region, near the Sequalitchew Creek canyon.

In 1841 the United States Exploring Expedition set up an observatory on the bluff near the creek to survey, map and chart the waters of Puget Sound.

In 1843 the Second Fort Nisqually was erected. Business became mainly agricultural, and the fort was relocated on a flat-plains area near the banks of Sequalitchew Creek for cattle.[15] The Fort Nisqually property was turned over to American control in 1859.

In 1846 the Oregon Treaty established the 49th Parallel as the boundary between British Canada and the United States, which left what was to become Pierce County on U.S. territory. In response to increasing tensions between Indians and settlers, the United States Army established Fort Steilacoom in 1849 at the site of the traditional home of the Steilacoom Tribe.

In 1850, Captain Lafayette Balch sited his land claim next to the fort and founded Port Steilacoom. In 1854 the town of Steilacoom became Washington Territory's first incorporated town.

In 1854 the Treaty of Medicine Creek was enacted between the United States and the local tribes occupying the lands of the Salish Sea. The tribes listed on the Treaty of Medicine Creek are Nisqually, Puyallup, Steilacoom, Squawskin (Squaxin Island), S'Homamish, Stehchass, T'Peeksin, Squi-aitl, and Sa-heh-wamish. The treaty was signed on December 26, 1854, by Isaac I. Stevens, governor and superintendent of Indian Affairs of Washington territory at the time. The native tribes were told the treaty would help them by paying them for some of the land. It ended up taking prime farmland and relocating the tribes onto rough reservations. Chief Leschi of the Nisqually tribe protested the treaty. He and his people marched to Olympia to have their voices heard but Isaac Stevens ordered them away.[citation needed] When the natives refused to leave, Isaac Stevens would eventually call martial law and - after the beginning of the Puget Sound War in 1855 - initiate a search for Chief Leschi in order to arrest him. Chief Leschi was eventually captured and put on trial. The first jury couldn't come to a verdict, so Isaac Stevens had the trial done a second time. This time Leschi was found guilty. Chief Leschi was hanged on February 19, 1858.[13] On December 10, 2004, a historical court convened in Pierce County ruled "as a legal combatant of the Indian War Leschi should not have been held accountable under law for the death of an enemy soldier," thereby exonerating him of any wrongdoing.[16]


The logo often used to depict county government services and departments

Pierce County has adopted and is governed by a Charter. This is allowed by section 4 of Article XI of the Washington State Constitution. The Pierce County Executive, currently Bruce Dammeier (R), heads the county's executive branch.[17] The Assessor-Treasurer Mike Lonergan,[18] auditor Julie Anderson, Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett,[19] and Sheriff Ed Troyer.

The Pierce County Council is the elected legislative body for Pierce County and consists of seven members elected by district. The council is vested with all law-making power granted by its charter and by the State of Washington, sets county policy through the adoption of ordinances and resolutions, approves the annual budget and directs the use of county funds. The seven members of the County Council are elected from each of seven contiguous and equally populated districts, with each councilmember representing approximately 114,000 county residents. Each county councilmember is elected to serve a four-year term.

Beneath the Washington Supreme Court and the Washington Court of Appeals, judicial power rests first in the Pierce County Superior Court, which is divided into 22 departments - each headed by an elected judge, as well as a clerk of the superior court and eight superior court commissioners. Below that is the Pierce County District Court - with eight elected judges, the Tacoma Municipal Court - with three elected judges, and the Pierce County Juvenile Court. Tacoma houses the Pierce County Courthouse.

The people of Pierce County voted on November 5, 1918, to create a Port District. The Port of Tacoma is Pierce County's only Port District. It is governed Port of Tacoma Commission - five Port Commissioners, who are elected at-large countywide and serve four-year terms. The Port of Tacoma owns six container terminals, one grain terminal and an auto import terminal; all of which are leased out to foreign and domestic corporations to operate. In addition, the port owns and operates two breakbulk cargo terminals.

Many charter amendments have been on the ballot in the last five years, but sequential numbering does not carry over from year-to-year.



Pierce County is split between three U.S. congressional districts:[20]

United States presidential election results for Pierce County, Washington[21]
Year Republican Democratic Third party
No.  % No.  % No.  %
2020 197,730 42.61% 249,506 53.76% 16,845 3.63%
2016 146,824 40.78% 172,538 47.92% 40,655 11.29%
2012 148,467 43.04% 186,430 54.05% 10,035 2.91%
2008 141,673 42.76% 181,824 54.88% 7,839 2.37%
2004 150,783 48.05% 158,231 50.43% 4,779 1.52%
2000 118,431 44.04% 138,249 51.41% 12,246 4.55%
1996 89,295 37.35% 120,893 50.57% 28,885 12.08%
1992 77,410 32.10% 102,243 42.40% 61,496 25.50%
1988 94,167 48.42% 96,688 49.72% 3,618 1.86%
1984 112,877 57.85% 79,498 40.75% 2,733 1.40%
1980 90,247 51.13% 64,444 36.51% 21,820 12.36%
1976 74,668 46.92% 78,238 49.16% 6,242 3.92%
1972 84,265 56.91% 56,933 38.45% 6,867 4.64%
1968 51,436 37.90% 72,670 53.54% 11,612 8.56%
1964 40,164 31.88% 84,566 67.13% 1,243 0.99%
1960 57,188 46.32% 64,292 52.07% 1,995 1.62%
1956 57,078 49.40% 57,728 49.96% 738 0.64%
1952 56,515 49.66% 56,132 49.32% 1,164 1.02%
1948 34,396 37.89% 50,674 55.82% 5,716 6.30%
1944 31,626 36.62% 53,269 61.68% 1,475 1.71%
1940 27,188 33.85% 51,670 64.34% 1,453 1.81%
1936 18,331 26.23% 48,988 70.09% 2,572 3.68%
1932 19,006 29.09% 38,451 58.86% 7,870 12.05%
1928 35,748 66.02% 17,402 32.14% 996 1.84%
1924 21,376 47.70% 4,232 9.44% 19,210 42.86%
1920 22,048 51.89% 8,259 19.44% 12,184 28.67%
1916 16,780 43.28% 18,940 48.85% 3,050 7.87%
1912 6,517 20.59% 6,855 21.65% 18,285 57.76%
1908 10,935 60.84% 4,936 27.46% 2,103 11.70%
1904 9,773 70.63% 2,351 16.99% 1,712 12.37%
1900 6,269 59.20% 3,702 34.96% 618 5.84%
1896 4,651 45.14% 5,570 54.06% 82 0.80%
1892 3,954 37.07% 3,621 33.95% 3,090 28.97%



The largest public employer in Pierce County is Joint Base Lewis–McChord, which contributes about 60,000 military and civilian jobs.[22] The largest private employers are MultiCare Health System and Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, which operate the two largest hospitals in the county.[23]

Pierce County agriculture has been an instrumental part of the local economy for almost 150 years. However, in the last half-century, much of the county's farmland has been transformed into residential areas. Pierce County has taken aggressive steps to reverse this trend; the county recently created the Pierce County Farm Advisory Commission.[24] This advisory board helps local farmers with the interpretation of land use regulations as well as the promotion of local produce. The creation of the Pierce County Farm Advisory Commission will attempt to save the remaining 48,000[25] acres of Pierce County farmland. Despite the loss of farmland, Pierce County continues to produce about 50% of the United States' rhubarb.[26]



The following is a list of the public school districts in Pierce County, including those that overlap with other counties:[27]

Private schools include the Cascade Christian Schools group, Life Christian School and Academy, Bellarmine, Annie Wright Schools and Charles Wright Academy.

Chief Leschi Schools, affiliated with the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), is in the county.[28]

Higher education


The largest institutions of higher education are University of Puget Sound in Tacoma and Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland. Both are religiously affiliated private universities.

Tacoma Community College in Tacoma and Pierce College in Steilacoom are public community colleges. Bates Technical College and Clover Park Technical College are public technical colleges.

Central Washington University has a branch campus in Steilacoom. University of Washington Tacoma is a branch campus of University of Washington.The Evergreen State College also has a campus in Tacoma.

Library system


Libraries include the Pierce County Library System, the Tacoma Library System, and the Puyallup Public Library.

The Pierce County Library is the fourth largest library system in the state.[29] There are currently 20 branches, including:

  • Administrative Center and Library
  • Anderson Island
  • Bonney Lake
  • Buckley
  • Dupont
  • Eatonville
  • Fife
  • Gig Harbor
  • Graham
  • Key Center
  • Lakewood
  • Milton/Edgewood
  • Orting
  • Parkland/Spanaway
  • South Hill
  • Steilacoom
  • Summit
  • Sumner
  • Tillicum
  • University Place

The Pierce County Library System currently employs 394 people, and serves 579,970 citizens throughout 1,773 square miles. Established in 1944, the library system serves all of unincorporated Pierce County, as well as annexed cities and towns of: Bonney Lake, Buckley, DuPont, Eatonville, Edgewood, Fife, Gig Harbor, Lakewood, Milton, Orting, South Prairie, Steilacoom, Sumner, University Place and Wilkeson.[29] There are currently more than 1 million physical materials (books, videos, etc.) in the system, and more than 480,000 online or downloadable media items.[30] Total 2016 general fund revenue is estimated at $29,709,541.



The Port of Tacoma is the sixth busiest container port in North America and one of the 25 busiest in the world, playing an important part in the local economy. This deep-water port covers 2,400 acres (9.7 km2) and offers a combination of facilities and services including 34 deepwater berths, two million square feet (190,000 m2) of warehouse and office space, and 131 acres (530,000 m2) of industrial yard. An economic impact study showed that more the 28,000 jobs in Pierce County are related to the Port activities.

Pierce County is home to Pierce County Airport and Tacoma Narrows Airport, both are general aviation airports.

Pierce County's official transportation provider is Pierce Transit. It provides buses, paratransit, and rideshare vehicles. The regional Sound Transit runs the Tacoma Link light rail line through downtown Tacoma, and provides several regional express buses. Sound Transit also runs Sounder, the regional commuter railroad through Pierce County that stops in the following places: Sumner, Puyallup, Tacoma, South Tacoma, and Lakewood. Amtrak also travels through the county with a stop in Tacoma. Also, Intercity Transit provides transportation between Lakewood and Thurston County.

On December 18, 2017, an Amtrak train derailed in the county, at an overpass over southbound Interstate 5, hitting several vehicles. Thirteen of 14 rail cars derailed, killing three on board the train, and injuring dozens more on board and on the highway.[31]

Major highways


Ferry routes


Arts and culture


Pierce County is home to a diverse array of arts organizations, including the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts,[32] Grand Cinema,[33] Lakewood Playhouse, Museum of Glass,[34] Northwest Sinfonietta, Speakeasy Arts Cooperative,[35] Tacoma Art Museum,[36] Tacoma Little Theater, Tacoma Concert Band, Tacoma Musical Playhouse,[37] Tacoma Opera, Symphony Tacoma, Dance Theater Northwest, Washington State History Museum, and others. The city of Tacoma hosts an annual event called "Art at Work" month every November, promoting participation in and support for the local arts community. ArtsFund,[38] a regional United Arts Fund, has assisted the arts community in Pierce County. In 2012, LeMay-America's Car Museum opened its doors in Tacoma. Additionally, the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, houses a large collection of original manuscripts and documents.[39]

The Pierce County Daffodil Festival and Parade is held annually in April.[40] The Washington State Fair is held every September in Puyallup.[41]

Law enforcement


The Pierce County Sheriff's Department was founded in 1853, shortly after incorporation of the county.[42]

Pierce County was noted for gangs, drugs, and criminal activity starting in the mid to late 1980s. Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood had gangs that were selling crack cocaine and gang violence. Increased police patrols and community watch programs led to reduced crime in the mid to late 2000s. As of 2006, 38% of the methamphetamine labs (138 sites) cleaned up by the Washington State Department of Ecology were in Pierce County. This reduction from a high of 589 labs in 2001 comes in part to a new law restricting the sale of pseudoephedrine and in part due to tougher prison sentences for methamphetamine producers.[43]







Census-designated places


Unincorporated communities


See also



  1. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 20, 2024.
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  3. ^ Reinartz, Kay. "History of King County Government 1853–2002" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on December 1, 2007. Retrieved December 29, 2007.
  4. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  5. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Counties: April 1, 2020 to July 1, 2023". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 20, 2024.
  6. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
  7. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
  8. ^ "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
  9. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 26, 2015. Retrieved December 25, 2021.
  10. ^ "US Census Bureau, Table P16: Household Type". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved March 20, 2024.
  11. ^ a b c "U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Pierce County, Washington". www.census.gov. Retrieved March 20, 2024.
  12. ^ a b "Pierce County – Thumbnail History".
  13. ^ "DuPont History Museum | Historic Timeline".
  14. ^ Indian Claims Commission Decisions. Native American Rights Fund. 1978.
  15. ^ Kunsch, Kelly (November 2006). "The Trials of Leschi, Nisqually Chief". Seattle Journal for Social Justice. 5 (1).
  16. ^ a b "Pierce County Council | Pierce County, WA - Official Website".
  17. ^ "Assessor - Treasurer | Pierce County, WA - Official Website". www.piercecountywa.gov. Retrieved July 1, 2021.
  18. ^ "Prosecuting Attorney's Office | Pierce County, WA - Official Website". www.piercecountywa.gov. Retrieved July 1, 2021.
  19. ^ "Democracy for Washington: Washington Congressional Districts Map". Retrieved January 18, 2013.
  20. ^ Leip, David. "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". uselectionatlas.org. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  21. ^ Johnson, Kirk (October 7, 2013). "In Military City, Government Reassurances Are Little Comfort". The New York Times. p. A14. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  22. ^ Cockrell, Debbie (November 30, 2018). "Health care, public sector dominate major employers list as real estate also fuels growth". The News Tribune. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  23. ^ "Pierce County Farm Advisory Commission". Archived from the original on October 14, 2007. Retrieved November 4, 2008.
  24. ^ "Preserving Farmland and Farmers: Pierce County Agriculture Pierce County Farm Advisory Commission" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 1, 2006. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  25. ^ "Pierce County Agriculture". Pierce County Washington. Archived from the original on July 31, 2009. Retrieved July 9, 2009.
  26. ^ 2020 Census – School District Reference Map: Pierce County, WA (PDF) (Map). United States Census Bureau. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 9, 2022. Retrieved July 20, 2022. - Text list
  27. ^ "Chief Leschi Schools". Bureau of Indian Education. Retrieved November 14, 2023.
  28. ^ a b "Pierce County Library > Library History". www.piercecountylibrary.org. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  29. ^ "Pierce County Library > Fast Facts". www.piercecountylibrary.org. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  30. ^ Veronica Rocha; Brian Ries; Amanda Wills (December 18, 2017). "Amtrak train derails in Washington: Live updates". CNN. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  31. ^ "Energizing community through live performance - Tacoma Arts Live". www.tacomaartslive.org. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  32. ^ "Independent, International, and Local Films | Grand Cinema". www.grandcinema.com. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  33. ^ "Museum of Glass". Museum of Glass. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  34. ^ "Speakeasy Arts Cooperative". www.speakeasyartscooperative.com. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  35. ^ "Tacoma Art Museum". Tacoma Art Museum. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  36. ^ "TMP: Tacoma Musical Playhouse". www.tmp.org. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  37. ^ "ArtsFund | Donate to ArtsFund and help the King & Pierce County performing arts community build a rich culture in the arts". www.artsfund.org. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  38. ^ "Karpeles Manuscript Museum Tacoma". SouthSoundTalk. September 17, 2014. Retrieved April 16, 2023.
  39. ^ Dunkelberger, Steve (April 5, 2022). "Pierce County Daffodil Parades: Pedal Powered for Generations". SouthSoundTalk. Retrieved November 4, 2022.
  40. ^ Briscoe, Kienan (October 10, 2022). "Washington State Fair concludes its 116th year, just in time for Oktoberfest". Lynnwood Times. Retrieved November 4, 2022.
  41. ^ "Sheriff | Pierce County, WA - Official Website". www.piercecountywa.gov. Retrieved October 25, 2021.
  42. ^ Mulick, Stacey; Meth battle sees new fronts Archived May 24, 2007, at the Wayback Machine; The News Tribune (Tacoma); February 19, 2007.

47°03′N 122°07′W / 47.05°N 122.11°W / 47.05; -122.11