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California is a state located on the west coast of the United States. It is the most populous state in the U.S., as well as physically the most diverse, with the highest and the lowest points in the lower 48 states located within 150 miles of each other. If California were an independent nation, it would have the fifth largest economy in the world (see economy of California). The state's official nickname is "The Golden State" in reference to California's 1849 Gold Rush.  California's U.S. postal abbreviation is CA, and its Associated Press abbreviation is Calif.
As one of the most demographically diverse states in the nation, California is a dominant force in American culture as well as the nation's economy. It has some of the nation's largest cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco, and is responsible for many legal and technological innovations.
The entire region originally known as California was composed of the Mexican peninsula now known as Baja California and much of the land in the current states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Wyoming, known as Alta California. In these early times, the boundaries of the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific coast were only partially explored and California was shown on early maps as an island. The name comes from Las sergas de Esplandián (Adventures of Splandian), a 16th century novel, by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, where there is an island paradise called California. (For further discussion, see: Origin of the name California.)
The first European to explore parts of the coast was the Portuguese Joăo Rodrigues Cabrilho in 1542. The first to explore the entire coast and claim possession of it was Francis Drake in 1579. Beginning in the late 1700s, Spanish missionaries set up tiny settlements on enormous grants of land in the vast territory north of Baja California. The missions played a dominant role in the decimation of California's indigenous population. Upon Mexican independence from Spain, the chain of missions became the property of the Mexican government, and they were quickly dissolved and abandoned.
In 1846, at the outset of the Mexican-American War, the California Republic was founded and the Bear Flag was flown, which featured a golden bear and a star. The Republic came to a sudden end, however, when Commodore John D. Sloat of the United States Navy sailed into San Francisco Bay and claimed California for the United States. Following the war, the region was divided between Mexico and the United States. The Mexican portion, Baja (lower) California was later divided into the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur. The western part of the U.S. portion, Alta (upper) California, was to become the state of California.
In 1848, the Spanish-speaking population of distant upper California numbered around 4,000. But after gold was discovered, the population burgeoned with Americans and a few Europeans in the great California gold rush. In 1850, the state was admitted to the Union of the USA.
During the American Civil War, popular support in California was divided 70% for the South and 30% for the North, and although California officially entered on the side of the North, many troops went east to fight for the Confederacy CSA.
At first, travel between the far Pacific West to the eastern population centers was time-consuming and dangerous, requiring either long ocean voyages, or difficult transcontinental passages. A more direct connection came in 1869 with the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. After this rail link was established, hundreds of thousands of Americans came west, where new Californians were discovering that land in the state, if irrigated during the dry summer months, was extremely well suited to fruit cultivation and agriculture in general. Citrus, oranges in particular, was widely grown, and the foundation was laid for the state's prodigious agricultural production of today.
In the period from 1900 to 1965 the population grew from fewer than one million to become the most populous state in the Union. From 1965 to the present, the population demographic changed radically and became one of the most diverse in the world. The state is generally liberal-leaning, technologically and culturally savvy, and a world center of engineering businesses, the film and television industry and, as mentioned above, American agricultural production.