Native Americans lived and fished along the Yakima River of Benton County long before white settlers came. They called their home by the river "Tup tat" meaning rapids. They appreciated the richness of the land that eventually attracted settlers. One of those early settlers was Colonel William F. Prosser, for whom the town of Prosser is named.
Prosser, a former teacher and surveyor from Pennsylvania, earned his commission during the Civil War. Prosser surveyed the area in 1879. He claimed a homestead in 1882. The Northern Pacific laid tracks through the area in 1884. This event attracted more settlers, since they now could easily get their crops and livestock to market. Nelson Rich and Jim Kirney opened two general stores. Emma Cobb Warneke opened the Lone Tree School. In 1885, Prosser filed the town plat. In 1886, he was elected Yakima County auditor and moved to North Yakima. He never returned to the town that he founded.
In 1887, Lewis Hinzerling and others built a flour mill at Prosser Falls. This development encouraged a few more settlers to make Prosser their home. In 1893, the Prosser Falls Land Company and Irrigation Company built an irrigation system. About 2,000 acres received irrigation water. Farmers began planting dryland wheat in the Horse Heaven Hills to the south and the Rattlesnake Hills to the north. In 1899, the city incorporated with 229 people.
During the 1900s, numerous real estate offices, banks, and mercantile establishments opened to serve the growing number of farmers. Washington Irrigation Company added another 12,000 acres to its irrigation system in 1904. In 1905, Prosser became the county seat when Benton County was formed from parts of Yakima and Klickitat counties.
The Prosser Commercial Club formed to promote the town and develop agriculture and their efforts seem to have brought results. In 1908, the Sunnyside Canal was extended to bring water to another 5,000 acres. It looked like anything could grow in this rich volcanic soil as long as there was enough water: asparagus, egg plant, sugar beets, strawberries, goose berries, beans, corn, and hay all grew very well. Orchard crops brought the most profit, especially apples, peaches, cherries, apricots, plums, pears, and prunes. There were enough crops that a cannery opened in 1912.
The city infrastructure was shaping up too. The Prosser Falls Land & Power Company built a power plant on the Yakima River and began delivering electricity beginning in 1907. Also that year, Dr. David M. Angus opened the first hospital. A new high school was built in 1908. In 1909, Benton Independent Telephone Company bought Prosser Telephone Company, after which telephone service became increasingly popular.
By 1910, the city supported three newspapers: Republican-Bulletin, Prosser Record, and Benton Independent. Also in 1910, the city received a new library, courtesy of Andrew Carnegie, steel magnate and philanthropist. The city also installed a water system and reservoir. Several downtown streets were paved during this time.
In 1911, discussions began on building a college-operated experimental agricultural station in the Yakima Valley that would focus on irrigation. Washington State College officials selected Prosser as the site in 1917. Surveyors came in January 1918 and the station opened in 1919. Ever since then the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center (as it is now known) has conducted experiments in the growing and irrigation of row and orchard crops throughout the state.
As with most cities and towns across the country, Prosser helped fight World War I on the home front. Citizens formed a local Red Cross unit, which made 3,000 garments to send overseas. The group also made surgical dressings, socks, and sweaters and held a book drive. Citizens collected pits from peaches, cherries, and other fruits to make filtering devices on gas masks. There was a small economic boom, as demand for farm products steadily increased. Kids stayed out of school to help with fall harvests. Prosser was also affected by the outbreak of Spanish flu that occurred in 1918, when soldiers returning from World War I brought it back with them. In all, 25 people succumbed to the deadly flu.
In the 1920s, the city kept expanding. Running water had been extended to most residents. Apples were being grown in large quantities, especially Winesaps, Jonathans, and Delicious. In 1922, the Prosser Commercial Club designed a celebration in which everyone could register by his or her native state. That celebration evolved into the State’s Day celebration still held on Labor Day weekend. In 1926, a permanent courthouse was completed.
World War II dramatically changed the face of Prosser. The post office basement was converted to an air raid shelter. Men guarded the dam and power station against sabotage. F. L. Greenough established a flying school that trained pilots for overseas action as well as commercial pilots. Residents raised money to build Prosser Memorial Hospital. The Red Cross made thousands of surgical dressings for soldiers. Men leaving for service created a labor shortage.
In 1942, high school boys picked crops and businesses closed to assist. School hours were adjusted so school-age children could help pick crops. Women began to enter the workforce as teachers and business owners. When the nearby Hanford Nuclear Reservation began construction in 1943, some workers stayed at the Prosser Motel and the Strand Hotel, which were leased by the DuPont Corporation for the purpose. Some of these people remained in Prosser after the war was over.
During the war, the government urged agricultural counties to increase production of crops. Prosser residents found it difficult to comply since there was a labor shortage and a ration on farm machinery. It was also difficult to get fertilizer. Even so, farmers did the best they could. As a result of this push, wheat, poultry, and milk production have developed into major industries.
At the same time, the Irrigated Agriculture Research Center experimented with feeds and studied plant diseases, soil conservation, and insects, all designed to increase production. The Roza Irrigation District formed in 1942, bringing a new source of water. The War Production Board provided the necessary funding to finish the project, declaring the canal was needed for critical war time production. Farmers planted peas, alfalfa, clover seed, mint, concord grapes, asparagus, currants, soft fruits, hops, and apples.
The labor shortage required women and children to pick up the slack, but in some areas it wasn’t enough. Congress enacted Public Law 78 known as the Bracero Program, which enabled Mexican Nationals to legally come to the United States as "guest workers" to harvest crops. Although Prosser did not participate in the Bracero program (as did towns like Wapato and Yakima), many Chicano (Mexican American) and Mexican people migrated to the region during the war. Prosser's population shifted as migrant laborers came to town, and some stayed permanently.
The city’s agricultural bounty continued into the mid-1960s, when farmers started pumping water from Columbia River to more than 10 miles south to water the high plateau. Orchardists started growing two new varieties of cherries developed at the Irrigated Agriculture Research Center: the Chinook and the Rainier. Several agencies contributed to the research center to study their specific problems, such as the Washington Hop Commission, the Washington Mint Commission, and the Oregon Prune Marketing Committee.
Simplot Soil builders built a bulk fertilizer distribution center in 1965. Kraft Foods and Prosser Packers also employed many people. Potatoes and peas were the most important crops. Seneca Foods opened a juice plant and then expanded into applesauce. Farmers started using tractor-pulled machines to harvest peas.
Elsewhere in town, downtown businesses expanded to try to compete with the new Columbia Center Mall completed in Kennewick in 1969. Western Auto, The Bookmark, and Young Fashions were among those who made improvements. The Benton County Historical Museum was dedicated June 30, 1968, at Prosser City Park. As part of the event, local artist Zanna Williams painted the bicentennial mural, which depicts events from each decade of Prosser’s history.
Prosser, WA climate is warm during summer when temperatures tend to be in the 70's and very cold during winter when temperatures tend to be in the 30's.
The warmest month of the year is August with an average maximum temperature of 89.50 degrees Fahrenheit, while the coldest month of the year is January with an average minimum temperature of 25.10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Temperature variations between night and day tend to be relatively big during summer with a difference that can reach 35 degrees Fahrenheit, and fairly limited during winter with an average difference of 18 degrees Fahrenheit.
The annual average precipitation at Prosser is 8.11 Inches. Rainfall in is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year. The wettest month of the year is December with an average rainfall of 1.18 Inches.
Prosser is 665 ft above sea level. The Yakima River, runs through it. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.4 square miles (11.5 km²), of which, 4.3 square miles (11.1 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km²) of it (2.93%) is water.
Prosser holds many events each year. The city has a large wine industry as well that attracts tourists from all over the world.
- Prosser Community Awards Banquet In January the community honors hard working citizens and volunteers.
- Red Wine & Chocolate
- Sweet Retreat 2nd Saturday in March the Columbia Valley Winery Association hosts the pairing of sweet wine with food.
- Spring Barrel Tasting In April various wineries offer tasting.
- Wine Country Spring Fair In May on Mother's Day weekend arts and crafts in the park.
- Farmers Market Usually starts in May sometime and runs every weekend through harvest.
- The Dash Race for the Kids Early June after school lets out we have a bicycle competition a 62 mile "Metric Century" and youth fun run. Wine tasting after for the adults.
- Kestrel Festival Sponsored by Kestrel Wines. This takes place in June each year.
- Old Fashioned 4th of July 4th of July Weekend, includes a kiddie parade, car show, fireworks, bingo, stage shows, and food vendors in the park.
- Art Walk and Wine Gala Wine tasting event in the middle of July.
- Prosser's Wine and Food Fair" One of the top events of the year on the 2nd Saturday of August. Thirty-some Washington Wineries and food from 20 vendors come together to offer sampling and tasting. Located at Art Fiker Stadium.
- A Night Out Beginning of September. Fundraising benefit of food and fun for the Prosser Memorial Foundation.
- Prosser State's Day Celebration Another on of the top events of the year. On Labor Day. There is a carnival in the city park, and a parade in the morning. Miss Prosser is crowned.
- The Great Prosser Balloon Rally The last of the top events. On September 24, 25, & 26th 2010 Hot air balloons are scheduled to launch just after dawn from the Prosser airport. Balloons glow from within at Art Fiker Stadium during The Great Prosser Balloon Rally Night Glow show.
- Annual Harvest Festival Same weekend as the Balloon Rally. Arts and crafts downtown with fun and food.
- Annual Caren Mercer-Andreason Street Painting Festival Same weekend as the Prosser Balloon Rally and Harvest Festival. Watch local and regional artists create works of art on the pavement in downtown Prosser.
- Thanksgiving in Wine Country Sunday after Thanksgiving. Sample all the newly released wines.
- Family Christmas Festival The annual lighting of the Christmas tree takes place with carolers and holiday music.
The economy of Prosser is based on agriculture. In addition to fruit orchards and fruit packing plants, Prosser is an important center of wine making in the Yakima Valley American Viticultural Area.
Prosser now has nearly 40 wineries in an area about ten-by-ten miles, as well as being home to the Washington State University extension office that had proven the soils of Washington was suitible for growing wine grapes.
Prosser Memorial Hospital is in city limits.
The Northern Pacific Railroad established rail service through Prosser in the late 1800's and Prosser is still served by the same rail system operated by BNSF. Prosser Airport is located in town, and handles about 5,500 local operations annually. Interstate 82 runs by Prosser, and connects the town to Interstate 90 in Ellensburg, or through the Tri-Cities to Umatilla, Oregon.