Seattle, the great capital of the Pacific Northwest, has had a tumultuous past, often by placing itself on the road toruin by relying on a single industry and then rebounding gracefully with a typical Seattle resilience.
TIMBER! The Logging Industry and the Origins of Seattle
In the fall of 1851, two intrepid brothers, Arthur and David Denny, (and a handful of others who had migratedwest during the Gold Rush), landed at Alki Point on the western edge of Elliot Bay. After spending a miserablewinter they migrated to the eastern shores where they established the small settlement that would becomeSeattle—a name derived from the joint Chief of the two native tribes that inhabited the region.The first major industry to grace the emerald shores of Elliot Bay was logging. From the time of the first colonialactivities in 1851, the timber trade proved to be the primary source of growth in this small northwestern town.The combination of the safe bay and the proximity of lush and dense millennia-old coniferous forests made Seattlethe perfect location and in 1852 Henry Yesler began construction on the first steam-powered mill in the PacificNorthwest.Seattle quickly boomed, driven by the timber demands of an emerging shipbuilding industry in the area andmassive San Francisco building projects kept money flowing into the town. Traditionally it was believed that thestrip of land that Yesler was given by the settlers (and which is now occupied by Yesler Way) was the first "SkidRow" in America, named for the logs that were dragged down the hill to Yesler's mill. The abundance of alcohol,gambling and prostitution located around this center of the logging industry gave "Skid Row" its modernconnotation. True or not, the tale as been part of Seattle myth for nearly a century.
FIRE! The Great 1889 Seattle Fire
The abundance of timber, however, would prove disastrous for the fledgling town. On June 6th, 1889 a Seattle firebroke out. Since nearly every building was constructed of affordable, but flammable timber, the fire quicklyspread, engulfing nearly the entire downtown including most of the wharves and crippling the port.While the fire was catastrophic, Seattle weathered the disaster and emerged stronger than before. The city wasrebuilt in brick and stone and the massive rebuilding effort stimulated the economy providing thousands of new jobs and ensuring that the economic downturn which had affected much of the country in the last decade of the19th century would not be felt as strongly in the Emerald City.
The Klondike Gold Rush
In August of 1896, gold was discovered in the Klondike region of Canada and the following year the steamshipPortland docked in Seattle's reconstructed harbor with a famed "ton of gold" in its cargo hold. Seattle's temperateclimate and location made it the obvious transportation and supply center for those heading to the frozen north insearch of fortune.While the cold climate and harsh conditions of the Klondike and Alaska ensured migrations were not nearly asextensive as they were to Oregon and California during its 1849 counterpart, the Klondike Gold Rush broughtthousands of people to Seattle and flooded Seattle with reconstruction money.
The 20th Century: Boeing and World War II
Boeing, the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world, and the biggest exporter in the United States, had itshumble beginnings on the emerald shores of Elliot Bay. William Boeing, the company's founder, had his start in thetimber industry that had previously dominated this new capital of the great Northwest. Boeing's knowledge of wood allowed him to begin designing planes and he founded his own airline manufacturing company in 1916.By 1938, the fledgling company had become a world leader in aircraft design and manufacturing. During WorldWar II Boeing was responsible for the design of the B-17 and the B-29, the Allies' most important bombers.Seattle's biggest employer, Boeing churned out nearly 350 planes each month at the height of the war. All thisactivity brought tremendous amounts of capital and labor to Seattle.The end of World War II, however, was disastrous for the adolescent city as nearly 70,000 people lost their jobsovernight when the government cancelled all its pending contracts. While the end of the war proved temporarilycatastrophic, the technology developed during the global conflict, namely the jet engine, ensured Boeing's andconsequently Seattle's healthy survival, as would the escalation of military spending during the Cold War.
The 1962 World's Fair