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    Wednesday
    Dec212011

    A Brief History of Seattle

    Seattle lies between the salt waters of Puget Sound and the fresh waters of Lake Washington. To the west is the Olympics Mountain range and to the East is the Cascade Mountain range. To the south lies Mt Rainier standing at 14,411 feet tall; this magnificent mountain can be seen from many parts of Seattle. Seattle was built on hills and around water giving the residents many wonderful views. Seattle is known for its rain. While it gets about the same annual rain fall as New York City, it rains less but for longer periods of time here. Seattle has a mild marine climate however and we don't get very much snow in the winter and our summers are usually pretty mild with temperatures in July and August of 75 for the high and 57 for the low. We rarely get much humidity in the summer as well. In December and January the average high is 47 and 36 the average low. Seattle's climate encourages prolific vegetation and abundant natural resources.

    The Denny party landed on the shores of Alki beach when they first arrived in the area in 1851. Denny was intent on establishing a city in the region they first called New York, and then, adding a word from the Chinook jargon meaning "by-and-by," New York-Alki. They soon moved a short distance across Elliott Bay to what is now the historic Pioneer Square district, where a protected deep-water harbor was available. This village was soon named Seattle, honoring a Duwamish Indian leader Chief Sealth who had befriended the settlers.

    The new town's principal economic support was Henry Yesler's lumber mill at the foot of Mill Street (now Yesler Way), built in 1853. Much of the mill's production went to the booming city of San Francisco, but the mill also supplied the fledgling towns throughout the Puget Sound region. A brief Indian "war" in the winter of 1856 interrupted the town's development, but when the Territorial legislature incorporated Seattle in 1869, there were more than 2,000 residents.

    In the early 1870s the Northern Pacific Railway Company announced that its transcontinental railroad western terminal would be in Tacoma, some forty miles south of Seattle. Despite local leaders' disappointment, Seattle managed to force a connection with Northern Pacific shortly after its completion in 1883, and the town's population soared in the late 1880s. The explosive growth was slowed but not stopped by a devastating fire on June 6, 1889, which leveled the buildings on 116 acres in the heart of the city's business district. No one died in the fire, but the property damage ran into millions of dollars.

    Enthusiasm for Seattle was little dampened by the fire. In fact, it provided the opportunity for extensive municipal improvements, including widened and regraded streets, a professional fire department, reconstructed wharves, and municipal water works. New construction in the burned district was required to be of brick or steel, and it was by choice on a grander and more imposing scale.

    The 1890s were not so prosperous, despite the arrival of another transcontinental railroad, the Great Northern, in 1893. A nationwide business depression did not spare Seattle, but the 1897 discovery of gold along and near the Klondike River in Canada's Yukon Territory and in Alaska once again made Seattle an instant boomtown. The city exploited its nearness to the Klondike and its already established shipping lines to become the premier outfitting point for prospectors. The link became so strong that Alaska was long considered to be the personal property of Seattle and Seattleites.

    The city's population became increasingly diversified. With its population now approaching 240,000, Seattle announced its achievements by sponsoring an international fair in 1909. The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition celebrated the economic and cultural links Seattle had forged along what is now known as the North Pacific Rim. The forty-two story L.C. Smith building (Smith Tower) was completed in 1914. For more than four decades it was the tallest building in the American west and a symbol of Seattle's booster spirit and metropolitan aspirations.

    World War I transformed the city's shipbuilding industry, which turned out 20 percent of the nation's wartime ship tonnage. The war also brought Seattle national attention when, early in 1919, workers struck the shipyards to maintain their high wartime wages. This event soon led to the Seattle general strike of February 6-10, the longest such strike in American history. That general strike helped establish Seattle's reputation as a hotbed of political radicalism.

    Seattle also had a reputation for a boom-and-bust economy, and the twenties brought depressed conditions in shipbuilding and the lumber trade. The Depression of the 1930s hit Seattle particularly hard. Then World War II sparked an economic rebound as shipyards flourished again. The Boeing Company, a modestly successful airplane manufacturer founded in 1916, increased its workforce more than 1,200 percent and its sales from $10 million to $600 million annually during the war years. The war's end, however, brought an economic slump to the area that persisted until the middle 1950s.

    When Boeing successfully introduced the 707 commercial jet airliners in the late 1950s, it heralded another burst of municipal optimism. In 1962 Seattle sponsored a full-fledged world's fair. The fair left the city a permanent legacy in the Seattle Center and its complex of performance, sports, and entertainment halls, as well as the Pacific Science Center, the Monorail, and the Space Needle.

    Since 2000, the city population has remained fairly stable around the half-million mark, while suburban areas have grown explosively. The Boeing Company suffered a slump in the early 1970s that severely depressed the local economy. The region's economy has subsequently been steadied and diversified.

    Weyerhaeuser and Boeing have been a part of that development, along with such high-technology firms as Microsoft, Google, Adobe and several others. Then in the last 20 years the high-tech and biotech businesses have exploded. Then with huge growth at such research institutions as the University of Washington, and in defense related activities Seattle today is one of the nations most stable economies. Seattle has also enjoyed an expanded air and sea trade with Asia, Alaska, and the North Pacific.

    Seattle has always exhibited great optimism, enterprise, and self-promotion. At one point this attitude was institutionalized as "the Seattle Spirit," and created a movement that enabled the city to literally move mountains by grading down high hills to improve building sites. They connected Lake Washington and Puget Sound via the Chittenden Locks and the ship canal. And the largest man-made island at the mouth of the Duwamish River was built. More recently, this spirit can be credited with accomplishments like the Forward Thrust program of the 1970s, which built the Kingdome arena and numerous parks throughout the city, including Freeway Park on top of the I-5 freeway with waterfalls and hanging gardens.

    Seattle is proud of its arts and cultural institutions, the many live theaters, and the downtown art museum. It is proud of its parks, of its professional and collegiate sports, of Pioneer Square and the Pike Place Market, and, above all, the stunning beauty.