History of Seattle

United States > US City Index > Seattle > History

The Snohomish, Suquamish and other Native Americans were the original founders of this Pacific Northwest area, later named Seattle after Native American headsman Chief Sealth. In the fall of 1851, the Denny Party landed on what is now Alki Point (now home to Alki Point Lighthouse) in West Seattle. After surviving one cold, harrowing winter, these first white settlers moved east across Elliott Bay to settle in the sheltered area that is now downtown Seattle.

Timber became the economic mainstay of this new community. The lush Pacific Northwest offered an abundance of big evergreen trees that settlers cut and sold for lumber. With the community's newly created wealth came an interest in higher education. The University of Washington was established in 1861 and then moved to its present location in 1895. It remains the state's largest educational institution.

Once the railroad reached nearby Tacoma in 1883, the city's population exploded. Six years later almost everything Seattleites had built was lost in the Great Fire of June 1889. Seattle proclaimed itself a phoenix that would rise from the ashes, and by the end of that year, the city constructed 130 new brick buildings atop the burned-out shell of the old city. Today, you can view the ruins of the original buildings on the Underground Tour.

The 1890s were a period of rebirth, and the Yukon and Alaskan gold rushes helped move the city forward economically. As gateway to virtually uninhabited Alaska, Seattle was a major supplier of food and provisions to prospectors departing to brave the wilds in search of gold. Those who struck it rich spent freely on their way back through Seattle.

In 1907 the Pike Place Public Farmer's Market opened and remains a top tourist attraction today. By 1910 the population had grown to nearly 230,000, and steamers were used to ferry people and products across the bay. Electric trolleys arrived in 1919, improving transportation between sprawling urban areas. Bits and pieces of highway followed. The economic boom took a new turn in 1916 when Bill Boeing tested his company's first plane. Since World War II, the region's economy has relied on the aerospace industry. Boeing developed the 707 commercial jet that changed commercial air travel.

The 1960s brought the 1962 World's Fair, the Space Needle, the Monorail and Elvis. Seattle became a destination spot for tourists, and the population continued to swell. Construction of Interstate 5 continued through downtown, and the ferryboat Kalakala was considered the ultimate in high-tech water transportation.

The 1980s and 90s brought a fledgling company called Microsoft, a seller of gourmet coffee called Starbucks, Safeco Field, a state-of-the-art baseball stadium with retractable roof, and top-rate biotech companies. Today, this cosmopolitan city nestled between mountains and lakes remains home to Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, Nintendo, Nordstrom, Immunex and many other internationally competitive companies.