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, cities, United States

Columbia (kəlŭmˈbēə). 1 City (2020 pop. 104,681), Howard co., central Md., between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Founded in 1967 and developed by James Rouse, it is one of the largest and most successful American planned cities. It incorporates nine villages around a downtown, along with schools, churches, a mall with more than 200 stores, parks, and business and cultural facilities. The Post-Merriweather Outdoor Pavilion is Columbia's cultural focal point.

2 City (2020 pop. 126,254), seat of Boone co., central Mo.; inc. 1826. The trade center of a farm and coal area, it has some light manufacturing but is best known as the seat of the Univ. of Missouri and Stephens College. The city is a medical center, with the university hospital, a state cancer hospital, a state regional mental health center, and a veterans' hospital. Houses in the city date from c.1820.

3 City (2020 pop. 136,632), state capital, and seat of Richland co., central S.C., at the head of navigation on the Congaree River; inc. 1805. It is the largest city in the state and an important trade and commercial point in the heart of a fertile farm region. Its industries include boatbuilding and the manufacture of electric equipment, paper and metal products, stainless steel, and apparel. A trading post flourished nearby in the early 18th cent. In 1786 the site was chosen for the new state capital because of its central location; the legislature first met in its new quarters in 1790. During the Civil War, General Sherman's army entered Columbia on Feb. 17, 1865. That night the city was burned and almost totally destroyed by drunken Union soldiers. An educational center, Columbia is the seat of the Univ. of South Carolina, Benedict College, Columbia College, Allen Univ., and Columbia International Univ. Notable buildings include the statehouse (begun 1855, damaged in 1865, completed 1901), President Woodrow Wilson's boyhood home (1870), and several antebellum houses. Also of interest are the South Carolina Archives Building; the Columbia Museum of Art and Science; the Midlands Exposition Park, with historical exhibits; and a zoo. Adjacent to the city is U.S. Fort Jackson, a major infantry training center. Lake Murray (formed by the dammed Saluda River) and Congaree National Park are nearby.

4 City (2020 pop. 41,690), seat of Maury co., central Tenn., on the Duck River; inc. 1817. Once a noted mule market and racing horse center, it is the trade and processing hub of a fertile area producing beef cattle and burley tobacco, as well as a shipping point for the region's limestone and phosphate deposits. Columbia has many fine antebellum homes, such as the James K. Polk House (1816). A national jubilee for Tennessee walking horses is annually held in June.


, river, Canada and the United States

Columbia, river, c.1,210 mi (1,950 km) long, rising in Columbia Lake, SE British Columbia, Canada. It flows first NW in the Rocky Mt. Trench, then hooks sharply about the Selkirk Mts. to flow S through Upper Arrow Lake and Lower Arrow Lake and receive the Kootenai River (spelled Kootenay in Canada) before entering the United States after a course of 465 mi (748 km). It continues S through Washington and just below the mouth of the Spokane River is forced by lava beds to make a great bend westward before veering south again, running the while entrenched in a narrow valley through the Columbia Plateau. Its chief tributary, the Snake River, joins it just before it turns west again. The Columbia then forms part of the Washington-Oregon border before entering the Pacific Ocean through a wide estuary W of Portland, Oreg.

The Columbia River has created regal gorges by cutting through the Cascades and the Coast Ranges; it is fed by the Cowlitz and Willamette rivers, which drain the Puget trough between those ranges. Grand Coulee, now a reservoir in the Columbia basin project, was a former stream channel of the Columbia River. It was created during the last ice age when the Columbia's course was blocked by ice, forcing it to cut a new channel through the Columbia Plateau. When the ice receded the river resumed its former channel.

Settlement and Human Impact

The Columbia River, commanding one of the great drainage basins of North America (c.259,000 sq mi/670,800 sq km), was visited by Robert Gray, an American explorer, in 1792 and is named for his vessel, the Columbia. It was entered by a British naval officer, William R. Broughton, later the same year. Long before this time Native Americans were fishing salmon from the river; today fish are still caught there, but heavy settlement along the river and its tributaries, the construction of dams, and human use have reduced the salmon runs.

The first whites to arrive overland were the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition and the fur traders (notably David Thompson of the North West Company and the founders of Astoria). The river was the focus of the American settlement that created Oregon, and the river was itself sometimes called the Oregon River or the River of the West. Irrigation was begun early, and some tributaries were used to water cropland and orchards, as in the valleys of the Wenatchee and Yakima rivers.

After 1932 plans gradually developed to use the Columbia River to its ultimate possibility, and the Columbia basin project was established. Its purpose is to establish flood control, which would alleviate the destruction seen in the Columbia's greatest flood, that of 1894, and somewhat lesser but damaging floods, such as that of 1948; to improve navigation; to extend irrigation in order to make optimum use of the water of the Columbia and its tributaries; and to produce hydroelectric power to supply the Pacific Northwest.

There are six federal and five nonfederal dams on the Columbia River. Grand Coulee Dam (the key unit of the Columbia basin project) and Chief Joseph Dam, on the river's upper course, provide power, flood control, and irrigation. Priest Rapids, Wanapum, Rock Island, Rocky Reaches, and Wells dams are on the middle course; all are among the largest nonfederal hydroelectric facilities in the United States. Bonneville, The Dalles, John Day, and McNary dams, on the lower course, were designed as power, flood control, and navigation projects; these dams provide a 328-mi (528-km) slack-water navigation channel up the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean to the Snake River. With these federal projects and nonfederal dams on the Columbia, hydroelectric plants on the river have a potential generating capacity of about 21 million kW. The development of hydroelectric power has had a significant effect on the economic pattern of the Pacific Northwest.


See J. V. Krutilla, The Columbia River Treaty; The Economics of an International River Basin Development (1967); J. E. Allen and M. Burns, Cataclysms of the Columbia (1987); W. Dietrich, The Great Columbia River (1995); R. White, The Organic Machine (1995).


, U.S. space shuttle

Columbia, U.S. space shuttle. On its 28th flight, on Feb. 1, 2003, after completing a 16-day scientific mission, the spacecraft disintegrated during reentry, killing its seven-person crew. About 16 minutes before its expected landing at the Kennedy Space Center, when Columbia was about 203,000 ft (61,900 m) above Texas, communication with the spacecraft was lost; shortly thereafter reports of falling debris began coming in from E Texas and Louisiana. The disaster, the second in the space shuttle program (see also Challenger), led to the suspension of shuttle flights.

Inquiries into the accident were undertaken by NASA, Congress, and an independent investigation board. Ultimately, it was determined that a large piece of foam insulation had broken off the external tank 82 seconds into liftoff and struck the leading edge of the shuttle's left wing, creating a hole in the wing. On reentry, the searing heat generated by friction entered the damaged wing, which then melted, destabilizing the shuttle and causing it to break up. The independent investigative panel was harshly critical of NASA and called for numerous reforms, most to repair NASA's “broken safety culture.” Shuttle flights did not resume until July, 2005.


See P. Chien, Columbia: Final Voyage (2006).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a city in the southeastern part of the USA; capital of the state of South Carolina. Population, 113,500 (1970). It is a port (and is the head of navigation) on the Congaree River. Columbia is also a railroad and highway junction. The city has textile, clothing, food-processing, and printing industries. There is also a university (founded in 1801).



a river in western North America, the largest river of the US Pacific coast. Length 2,250 km; basin area, 670,000 sq km.

The river rises in Canada in Columbia Lake, a small lake in the Rocky Mountains, at an altitude of approximately 800 m. The river flows among mountains for almost its entire length, forming rapids first to the northwest for 400 km, then to the south; it flows through the long, narrow Upper Arrow and Lower Arrow lakes. In the middle course the Columbia crosses the US border, and further on it flows in deep, narrow canyons and gorges through the Columbia Plateau; below the mouth of the largest left tributary, the Snake, it turns to the west and breaks through the Cascades and falls into the Pacific Ocean, forming estuaries about 50 km long and 5–10 km wide. Spring and summer bring very high flows of water; in winter low flows occur. The average discharge of water at The Dalles in the lower course is 5,520 cu m per sec.

The river has vast hydroelectric power resources. A number of dams with reservoirs and large hydroelectric power plants have been constructed on the Columbia in the USA (including John Day, with an output of 2,700 megawatts; Grand Coulee, 2,300 megawatts; Chief Joseph, 1,728 megawatts; The Dalles, 1,716 megawatts; and McNary, 1,400 megawatts). The river is also used for irrigation. Three dams with reservoirs built on the upper, Canadian, section and the Libby Dam, built near the Canadian border, are the result of a project (by agreement between the USA and Canada) to utilize the Columbia for energy, irrigation, and transportation.

Oceangoing vessels can travel up the Columbia to Portland, Ore., the largest seaport on the northern US Pacific coast, located at the mouth of the Willamette (a left tributary of the Columbia). River boats can travel 450 km farther because of canals that bypass the rapids. There is fishing, mainly for salmon, and in the region of the Columbia’s upper course (in Canada) tourism is very popular; the Kootenai, Yoho, Glacier, and Mount Revelstoke national parks are in the area.

The river was named in honor of the American ship Columbia, on which Captain R. Gray from Boston was the first to sail into the mouth of the river in 1792.


Morgan, M. The Columbia. Seattle, 1949.




a mountain peak in the axial section of the Rocky Mountains in Canada. Elevation, 3,747 m. Coniferous forest grows to altitudes of 1,000–1,800 m; higher up are alpine meadows. It has glaciers (500 sq km).

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a river in NW North America, rising in the Rocky Mountains and flowing through British Columbia, then west to the Pacific. Length: about 1930 km (1200 miles)
2. a city in central South Carolina, on the Congaree River: the state capital. Pop.: 117 357 (2003 est.)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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is introducing Columbia antiseptic cream, a sister product to Columbia antiseptic powder.