Seattle | A Glimpse into the Past

While Seattle is one of the “newer” US cities, it has a rich history and very fascinating story to tell. In 1851, a community of immigrants from Illinois (referred to as the Denny Party) arrived at Alki Beach in West Seattle. The settlement they created was named “Seattle” to honor a very helpful Native American Chief, Chief Sealth. Eventually, the majority of the settled pioneers moved to the eastern side of the bay which was more suitable to daily life, which is where downtown Seattle is now.

Because many of the settlers were men, there was a shortage of brides for a while in Seattle. So, to remedy this challenge, Asa Mercer, one of the pioneers, traveled to New York to recruit women to move to the Pacific Northwest. He returned with around 100 women, who at the time were referred to by the locals as, “Mercer Girls.”

Eventually, a gold rush was sparked in the Yukon territory of Alaska, and pioneers traveling through the city indirectly put Seattle on the map. Seattle was a last stop before heading into the mountainous territory, and the place in which they were outfitted for the rest of their travels. The Northern Pacific railroad eventually built a hub in Seattle, bringing in new residents and trades.

The city has evolved tremendously since then, and the architecture and infrastructure has changed significantly. To read more about the evolution of the city’s growth, click here to go to the Seattle Municipal Archives.

Prior to the arrival of European settlers in the Puget Sound area, the largest building in the Salish Sea region was Old Man House, a longhouse roughly 13.5 miles northwest of Downtown Seattle near the town of Suquamish. Measuring roughly 800 feet in length, it was the largest longhouse ever known and remained the largest building in the region until it was burned down in 1870.

(Image Sources Below)

“Potlach at Old Man House” by Raphael Coombs

“Potlach at Old Man House” by Raphael Coombs

One of many frame elements of Old Man House as seen in 1870. Source: Suquamish Tribe.

One of many frame elements of Old Man House as seen in 1870. Source: Suquamish Tribe.

1900-1920’s

Much of the city of Seattle’s architecture was influenced by the settlers, bringing in European designs and architecture. Pike Place Market, pictured in the first image, adorned wood plank roads and cobblestone alleyways. It was the shopping hub of the city, bringing people from all over to stock up on essential items. Many of the units above downtown storefronts were used as temporary housing for miners passing through, while others were brothels and apartments. Hotels were popping up all over the city to accommodate travelers. As the city continued to populate, its infrastructure evolved rapidly.

The 1920’s were marked by continued growth, with the population reaching just around 400,000 by 1930. World War I influenced the demand for shipbuilding, which created an economic upswing, and eventually the economy became sluggish postwar, during the depression. The development of automobile ownership slowly brought in new residents and industries, but also created the challenge of figuring out parking infrastructure. Much of Seattle’s architecture was influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement and Classical Revival styles.

1930’s-1940’s

Seattle in the 1930’s occupied a damp, remote corner of the US. It was still a young city with just under 400,000 people and an economy dependent on harvesting trees and fish. Seattle was strongly affected by the stock-market crash in the 20’s. The unemployment rate was climbing as people scurried to stay afloat. Shipping and shipbuilding came to a halt. Forty Northwest lumber mills closed their doors. Hundreds of homeless men lived in a shantytown known as "Hooverville," just a few blocks south of Pioneer Square, where they picked their own mayor, and enforced their own rules. Those who were still gainfully employed hardly skipped a beat as the city continued to slowly pick itself back up.

1950’s- 1960’s

With the Boeing 707 being built, Seattle became Boeing's major hub. Around 1950 Boeing had employed about one out of every five of King County's manufacturing workers,and by the late fifties, almost every one. As air travel boomed, so did Boeing; Seattle a direct reflection of this growth. From 1950 to 1960, the population increased about 20%. All of those people had to live somewhere, and the 1950’s saw a huge housing increase. Population density all over Seattle rapidly exploded as people filled the city boundaries and began to move north. Most of the development was in single-family houses, since land at this time was pretty plentiful. As Seattle continued to expand, many people preferred life in the suburbs because with the rapid growth of the city, there were not enough roads or accommodations for everyone. So, the city council started working on creating attractions within the city limits; hence their participation in the World’s Fair. Throughout the 60’s the economy continued to grow as well as the population.

1970’s -1980’s

Due to changing industry demands due to an energy crisis in the 70’s, Boeing laid off almost 50,000 of its employees, right around the time of an economic recession. Seattle was hit harder than most cities due to its over-reliance on Boeing as an employer, and had the worst post-Depression unemployment for any major US city. In this time of economic downturn, there was not much private investment or new construction happening. However, despite the rapid unemployment rates and the infamous billboard saying "Will the last person leaving Seattle — Turn out the lights," the actual percentages of those laid off were relatively unsubstantial compared to other parts of the US. The population was promptly replenished by new arrivals excited to take advantage of the now affordable housing prices.

1990’s-Present

While jumping from the 1990’s to the present in Seattle is a somewhat overzealous feat, the true evolution of Seattle’s rapidly expanding population, cost of living, construction, industries, culture, and technology are at their peak. And this rapid boom started right with the music scene in the 90’s that Seattle is so famous for. While Kurt Cobain was making his debut, several other bands were coming out of the Pacific Northwest woodwork, truly putting Seattle on the pop culture map. Seattle’s cultural and technological progression has attracted people from all over the world. Many of the world’s major industries and companies are home to Seattle, making it one of the fastest growing cities in the US.


Jermann, Lorenz and Thomas (1977). Continued Archeological Testing at the Duwamish No. 1 Site. Seattle: Office of Public Archaeology, Institute for Environmental Studies, university of Washington.

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  3. ^ (1) Dolan & True (2003), pp. 142, 144 
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  4. ^ Clarence B. Bagley, History of Seattle from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, Vol. 2 (Chicago: S.J. Publishing Co., 1916), p. 698. 
    NB: Per "CHAPTER ONE 'By-and-By': The Early History Of Seattle". Hard Drive to the Klondike: Promoting Seattle During the Gold Rush. Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Seattle Unit. 18 February 2003. Retrieved 2006-07-16. 
    Original source not checked

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  10. ^ (1) Crowley (1 July 1999, Essay 1444) 
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  11. ^ Sale (1976), p. 62

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  16. ^ Dale E. Soden, The Reverend Mark Matthews: An Activist in the Progressive Era (University of Washington Press, 2001)

  17. ^ Crowley, Walt (1998-11-22). "HistoryLink: U.S. Army flyers land at Sand Point Airfield to complete first aerial circumnavigation of the globe on September 28, 1924". HistoryLink.org. Retrieved 2010-09-01.

  18. ^ Florence K. Lentz and Mimi Sheridan, Queen Anne Historic Context Statement Archived 2010-06-07 at the Wayback Machine, prepared for the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, Historic Preservation Program and the Queen Anne Historical Society, October 2005, p. 21. Accessed online 24 July 2008.

  19. ^ BOLA Architecture + Planning & Northwest Archaeological Associates, Inc., Port of Seattle North Bay Project DEIS: Historic and Cultural Resources, Port of Seattle, April 5, 2005. p. 13 of document (p. 15 of PDF).

  20. ^ Jump up to:a b c James R. Warren (September 3, 1999). "World War II Home Front on Puget Sound". Historylink.org.

  21. ^ Quintard Taylor. "Swing the Door Wide: World War II Wrought a Profound Transformation in Seattle's Black Community" (PDF). Washington State Historical Society.

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  23. ^ Jessie Kindig (2008). "Cracks in the Consensus: World War II". Antiwar and Radical History Project – Pacific Northwest.

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  25. ^ Jump up to:a b c d Heppenheimer, T. A. (1998). The Space Shuttle Decision. NASA.

  26. ^ Sale (1976), p. 239

  27. ^ Amanda Davis, "How These Three Startups Became Household Names: Microsoft, Sony, and Tata Consultancy Services found success through intrapreneurship, risk taking, and a bit of luck," Theinstitute 4 Sept 2015

  28. ^ "Paul Allen Biography" BIO. (A&E Television Networks) 2016

  29. ^ Victoria Cavaliere et al. (May 2, 2015). "Clashes erupt in U.S. West Coast cities during May Day marches" Reuters. Retrieved May 2, 2015. https://news.yahoo.com/may-day-march-seattle-turns-violent-three-police-034406128.html;_ylt=AwrC1C3t2kRVCzkAKwPQtDMD;_ylu=X3oDMTBydDI5cXVuBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwM2BHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg--

  30. ^ John Caldbick, "King Street Station (Seattle)" "HistoryLink.org Essay 11124" (2015)

  31. ^ Benjamin Romano, "New Map Shows Expanding Seattle Tech Universe" Dec. 2 2015

Michael Tenhulzen