Seattle History

Settlers first arrived in the Seattle area in 1851, attracted by a protected, deep-water harbour. The settlement was named Seattle, after a local Indian leader named Sealth who had befriended the settlers.

The town’s main source of income came from a local lumber mill, followed by coal found near Lake Washington in the 1870s. The term ‘skid road’ (used to describe a dilapidated part of town) originated here and referred to the Yesler Way route where logs were skidded from the hills to the port.

The creation of a transcontinental railroad terminus station at nearby Tacoma led to a massive surge in the town's population in the late 1880s. Other industries started to flourish such as fishing, shipbuilding and shipping. A fire in 1889 led to extensive municipal improvements and the construction of grand brick and steel buildings.

In 1897, the discovery of gold in Alaska and along the Klondike River in Canada inspired another boom in Seattle, as thousands of prospectors and shiploads of goods headed north via the city.

In the early 1900s, improved rail links reinforced the city's position as a trade and shipping centre, particularly with Asia and the North Pacific as migrants from around the world flowed into the city.

WWI boosted the city's shipbuilding industry, but the Depression of the 1930s hit Seattle hard. WWII then rejuvenated the shipyards once again.

After the war, the arrival of Boeing and the first American passenger jet to enter commercial aviation has been closely tied to the city’s fortunes. The Seattle World’s Fair in 1962 then helped cement the city on the world map.

More recently, high-technology firms like Microsoft, Amazon and Expedia, have moved in, and the city has grown in political strength. Then there’s a certain coffee company’s stratospheric rise. Starbucks started life as a single coffee shop in Pike Place Market in 1971, but today has over 15,000 stores worldwide.

Did you know?
• Successful Seattle restaurateurs, Tim Firnstahl and Mick McHugh, divvied up their businesses by tossing a coin from the Space Needle in 1988.
• The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 destroyed nearly the entire central business district. Street levels were raised by 6.7m (22ft) as a result.
• Sand Point Airfield in Seattle was where the first aerial circumnavigation of the world landed in 1924.

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