The lower section of the Columbia River was first explored and described by Captain Bruno Heceta (sometimes spelled Hezeta), who named it Bahia de la Asumpcion. Captain Robert Gray explored it in 1792 for the United States and Broughton navigated it 119 statute miles upriver from its mouth the same year.
In 1800, Lagasse and LeBlanc reached the upper reaches of the Columbia by crossing the Rocky Mountains. Lewis and Clark explored from the mouth of the Yakima River (in present day Washington State). David Thompson reached the source of the Columbia at Columbia Lake in present day British Columbia in 1807 and navigated the entire river in 1811.
The first American settlement on the Columbia was Astoria, established at its mouth in 1811. Between the Pacific and the great bend near the confluence with the Snake River, the Columbia has represented the dividing line between Oregon and Washington since before Oregon became a state in 1859.
The Columbia has been harnessed for hydroelectric power and irritation through the construction of many dams, some of which such as Bonneville Dam were built during the Great Depression.