Seattle History

Seattle History

Seattle is a city that has boomed many times through the years in various industries, but has managed to lure people into staying despite the inevitable busts that follow. Former miners, timber workers, airplane machinists and technology geeks stick around for the natural beauty resources that define the city.

The area has been inhabited for over 4,000 years, according to archeologists, including by the Duwamish and Suquamish Indian tribes, after whom much is named in the area, including the city itself. The name Seattle comes from the suggestion of Doc Maynard, an early Seattleite, to name the city after Chief Sealth, a local Indian leader. Maynard was also part of the party that helped decide on the location of the city, which, myth has it, was chosen because it, like Rome, had seven hills. Perhaps those seven hills meant Seattle, too, was destined for greatness, but either way, that was no longer true after the razing of Denny Hill in the early 20th century. With the loss of the hill, the neighborhood was then called the Denny Regrade and later, with some branding help, Belltown.

The original location of Seattle was what is now called Alki (then New York-Alki). The majority of early settlers then moved down to Pioneer Square, at the time called the ‘Duwamps’. Here was the heart of the timber industry, Seattle’s first major industry. Logs were slid from the top of Yesler Way down to the sawmill at the bottom, earning it the nickname ‘skid road’ (from whence we have ‘skid row’). The Pioneer Square area was the downtown of Seattle until it was completely burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1889. Following the fire, Washington Mutual rose as a big player in the Seattle economy, helping to fund the elaborate rebuilding of Pioneer Square.

The next major boom in Seattle was the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897, which cemented Seattle as a permanent city, with large populations of people who never moved on from the gold rush. This group included the founders of UPS, Nordstrom and Eddie Bauer, which were all started in this period. The flurry of the gold rush came to a head with the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909, laying the foundations for the University of Washington Campus.

Seattle hit national—and international—headlines again in 1919 when it had the first general strike in the United States. Seattle followed the cycle of the rest of the country for most of the inter-war period, but World War II had specific impact on the area with the internment of Japanese immigrants. Many business owners and influential citizens in the area were removed from their homes during the war, disrupting their lives and the area known as Japantown, just east of Pioneer Square. Following the Second World War, the businesses that are today synonymous with Seattle moved to the area, starting with Boeing. Seattle hosted the entire world during the 1962 World’s Fair, gaining many of the landmark structures that define the city’s skyline, such as the monorail and the Space Needle. Seattle continued to attract businesses, including Microsoft, which moved up from Albuquerque in 1979 and any number of biomedical companies, as well as international events, such as the Goodwill Games in 1990. At this point Seattle was growing in its reputation for grunge music, the coffee industry and the technology industry. Website companies, known as dot-coms, started up or moved to Seattle in droves. In 1999, Seattle played host to the world for the World Trade Organization, resulting in riots that damaged much of downtown. Seattle was further damaged, especially the old structures of Pioneer Square, by a strong earthquake in 2001. Currently citizens live aware of their history, especially that of earthquakes, booms and busts, waiting to see what comes next.

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