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Seattle, Washington


Seattle is a coastal port city and the largest city in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located in the state of Washington between an arm of the Pacific Ocean called Puget Sound and Lake Washington, about 96 miles (154 km) south of the Canada - United States border in King County, of which it is the county seat. In 2006, the city had an estimated population of 582,174 and an estimated metropolitan area population of approximately 3.2 million.

The land upon which Seattle sits has been inhabited for at least 10,000 years, but European settlement began only in the mid-19th century. First known as "New York-Alki" and "Duwamps," early settler David ("Doc") Swinson Maynard proposed that the main settlement be renamed "Seattle," an anglicized rendition of the name of Sealth, the chief of two local Native American tribes. The friendship formed between the Chief and the original settlers was crucial to the city's formation.

Seattle has been the birthplace of a variety of institutions that have added to its identity - Microsoft, Starbucks, and Grunge music, among others. Its landscape and location play a large part in defining its personality, as does its diverse mix of cultures and religions. Surrounded by mountain ranges and bodies of water, the beauty and freshness of its natural environment has instilled in its people a healthy respect for nature and a strong consciousness of human responsibility to it.


The area that is now Seattle has been inhabited since the end of the last glacial period (c. 8,000 B.C.E.-10,000 years ago). When European explorers came to the area in the late 1790s they found the Duwamish tribe, a Salish people.

Settlement and founding

Chief Seattle of the Duwamish tribe, after whom the city is named; ca 1860.

The two-ship Vancouver expedition entered the waters of Puget Sound in 1792. In 1833, the Hudson's Bay Company established Fort Nisqually. In 1841, the Sound was surveyed by Charles Wilkes of the U. S. Exploring Expedition. A settlement was established approximately 75 miles south of what was to become Seattle.

On September 14, 1851, King County's first white settlers arrived at the mouth of the then-winding Duwamish River. This was the Luther and Diana Collins party, which consisted of this husband and wife, their two children, plus Henry Van Asselt, Jacob Mapel (or Maple) and his adult son Samuel. However, they are not considered Seattle's original founders, as they settled several miles up the river. Their settlements were eventually annexed by the city of Seattle in the early 1900s.3

On September 25, 1851, another group of settlers arrived in Elliott Bay. David Denny, John Low, and Leander (Lee) Terry arrived at a point later called Duwamish Head and set up camp. They met and befriended Chief Sealth (Seattle) of the Duwamish tribe. The friendship formed between the Chief and the original settlers was crucial to the city's formation.

These settlers explored the shoreline of Elliott Bay and the Duwamish River looking for the best land on which to settle. Terry Low returned to Oregon at David Denny's request, to tell the rest of the party to "come quickly." The rest of the Denny Party set sail from Portland and landed on Alki during a rainstorm on November 13, 1851. The landing party's first sight of their new homestead was the roofless cabin that David had been unable to complete due to illness.

After spending a winter of frequent rainstorms and high winds on Alki Point, most of the Denny Party moved across Elliott Bay and settled on land where present day Pioneer Square is located and established the village of "Dewamps" or "Duwamps." The only members of the party that did not migrate to the eastern shore of Elliott Bay were Charles Terry and John Low, who remained at the original landing location and established a village they initially called "New York," after Terry's hometown, until April 1853 when they renamed it "Alki," a Chinook word meaning, roughly, by and by or someday.4

The villages of New York-Alki and Duwamps would compete for dominance in the area for the next few years, but in time Alki was abandoned and its residents moved across the bay to join the rest of the settlers.

David Swinson ("Doc") Maynard, one of the village's founders, was the primary advocate for renaming the village to "Seattle" after Chief Sealth. Doc Maynard's advocacy bore fruit, because when the first plats for the village were filed on May 23, 1853, it was for the Town of Seattle. In 1855, nominal legal land settlement was established and the city was incorporated in 1865 and again in 1869, after having existed as an unincorporated town from 1867 to 1869.5

Major events

Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle in 1909. In the background is Mount Rainier. Cropped from the original at the UW Libraries Special Collection.

Major events in Seattle's history include:

  • The Great Seattle Fire of 1889, which destroyed the central business district but took no lives.
  • The Anti-Chinese riots of 1885-1886.
  • The Klondike gold rush, which made Seattle a major transportation center.
  • The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909, which is largely responsible for the layout of the University of Washington campus.
  • The Seattle General Strike of 1919, the first general strike in the country.
  • The 1962 Century 21 Exposition, a World's Fair.
  • The 1990 Goodwill Games.
  • The APEC leaders conference in 1993.
  • The World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999, marked by street protests and a series of riots.



Downtown Seattle is bounded by Elliott Bay (lower left), lower Broadway (from upper left to lower right), Royal Brougham Way (lower right), and Denny Way (obscured by clouds).

Seattle is located between an inlet of the Pacific Ocean to the west called Puget Sound and Lake Washington to the east at the mouth of the Duwamish River, which empties into the city's chief harbor, Elliott Bay, an inlet of the Sound. West beyond the Sound are the Kitsap Peninsula and Olympic Mountains, on the Olympic Peninsula; east beyond Lake Washington and the east-side suburbs are Lake Sammamish and the Cascade Range. The sea, rivers, forests, lakes, and fields were once rich enough to support one of the world's few sedentary hunter-gatherer societies.6

The city itself is hilly, though not uniformly so. Like Rome, the city is said to lie on seven hills; the lists vary, but typically include Capitol Hill, First Hill, West Seattle, Beacon Hill, Queen Anne, Magnolia, and the former Denny Hill. The Wallingford and Mount Baker neighborhoods are technically located on hills as well. Many of the hilliest areas are near the city center, with Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Beacon Hill collectively constituting something of a ridge along an isthmus between Elliott Bay and Lake Washington. The topography of the city center has been reshaped by regrading projects, a seawall, and the construction of an artificial island, Harbor Island (completed 1909), at the mouth of the city's industrial Duwamish Waterway.

The man-made Lake Washington Ship Canal incorporates four natural bodies of water: Lake Union, Salmon Bay, Portage Bay, and Union Bay, connecting Puget Sound to Lake Washington.

Seattle averages only 58 clear days a year, with most of those days occurring between June and September.Between October and May, it is cloudy or partly cloudy six out of every seven days.Downtown Seattle includes a tightly-packed financial district along with residential areas and a panoramic waterfront.

Seattle is in an earthquake zone and has experienced a number of significant quakes, most recently (as of 2008) the magnitude 6.8 Nisqually Earthquake of February 28, 2001, which did significant architectural damage, especially in the Pioneer Square area (built on reclaimed land, as are the Industrial District and part of the city center), but caused no fatalities. Other strong quakes occurred on December 14, 1872 (estimated at 7.3 or 7.4 magnitude), April 13, 1949 (7.1), and April 29, 1965 (6.5). The 1949 quake caused eight known deaths, all in Seattle; the 1965 quake caused three deaths in Seattle directly, and one more by heart failure.

Although the Seattle Fault passes just south of the city center, neither it nor the Cascadia subduction zone has caused an earthquake since the city's founding. The Cascadia subduction zone poses the threat of an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 or greater, capable of seriously damaging the city and collapsing many buildings, especially in zones built on fill.7

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 369.2 km² (142.5 mi²),GR1 217.2 km² (83.9 mi²) of which is land and 152.0 km² (58.7 mi²) water. The total area is 41.16 percent water.


The 'Emerald City' is located along the Puget Sound, between two large mountain ranges, the Olympics and the Cascades. The climate is mild, with the temperature moderated by the sea and protected from winds and storms by the mountains. The area is hilly, though it flattens out as one moves out from the center of the city. The rain the city is famous for is actually unremarkable; at 35 inches of precipitation a year, it's less than most major eastern seaboard cities.8

What makes it seem so wet in Seattle is the seemingly perennial cloudiness, which between October and May exists six out of seven days. Most precipitation falls as light rain, not snow or heavy storms. There are two large lakes, Lake Washington and Lake Union, and many smaller ones.


Traveling through Seattle, it's hard to find an area that has nothing to recommend it. At the top of every hill there is a view of a lake or the ocean, and at the bottom of every hill is a shore. There is no definable nice part of town; though there are certainly relatively wealthy neighborhoods, they are small and interspersed with less well off ones. Though there are poor neighborhoods, there are few slums. The predominate building material is wood, and has been since Native Americans lived in long houses.9

The city has grown through a series of annexations of smaller neighboring communities. In May 1891, Magnolia, Wallingford, Green Lake, and the University District (then known as Brooklyn) were annexed. The town of South Seattle was annexed in October 1905. From January to September 1907, Seattle nearly doubled its land area by annexing six incorporated towns and areas of unincorporated King County, including Southeast Seattle, Ravenna, South Park, Columbia, Ballard, and West Seattle. Three years later the town of Georgetown merged with Seattle. Finally, in January 1954, the area between N. 85th Street and N. 145th Street was annexed.


Pike Place Market, a popular destination for tourists and locals

The National Register of Historic Places has over one hundred and fifty Seattle listings.10 The most prominent are those listed below.

The Space Needle, dating from the Century 21 Exposition in 1962, is Seattle's most recognizable landmark, having been featured in numerous movies and television shows. The fairgrounds surrounding the Needle have been converted into Seattle Center, which remains the site of many local civic and cultural events. It plays multiple roles in the city, ranging from a public fair grounds to a civic center, though recent economic losses have called its viability and future into question. The Seattle Center Monorail was also constructed for Century 21 and continues to run from Seattle Center to Westlake Center, a Downtown shopping mall, a little over a mile to the southeast.

The Smith Tower was the tallest building on the West Coast from its completion in 1914 until the Space Needle overtook it in 1962. The late 1980s saw the construction of Seattle's two tallest skyscrapers: the 76 story Columbia Center, completed in 1985, is the tallest building in the Pacific Northwest11 and the fourth tallest building west of the Mississippi River; the Washington Mutual Tower, completed in 1988, is Seattle's second tallest building. Other notable Seattle landmarks include Pike Place Market, the Fremont Troll, the Experience Music Project (at Seattle Center), and the Seattle Central Library.

Starbucks has been at Pike Place Market since the coffee company was founded there in 1971. The first store is still operating a block south of its original location. Starbucks Center, the company's current headquarters, is the largest building in Seattle by volume at just over 2,000,000 square feet (186,000 m²). The building, once Sears' Northwest catalog distribution center, also contains a Sears and an OfficeMax store.

Queen Anne Hill (left center), Lake Union (center), the Downtown Seattle skyline (right center), and Elliott Bay (right) are important aspects of Seattle's cityscape viewed from the Space Needle.


Economic history

Seattle has a history of boom and bust cycles, common in cities of its size. It has several times risen as a company town or through economic specialization, then gone into precipitous decline, but it has typically used those periods to successfully rebuild its infrastructure.

The Seattle Central Library, designed by OMA

The first such boom, covering the early years of the city, was fueled by the lumber industry. (During this period the road now known as Yesler Way was nicknamed "Skid Road" after the timber skidding down the hill to Henry Yesler's sawmill. The term later entered the wider American vocabulary as Skid Row.) This boom was followed by the construction of an Olmsted-designed park system.

The second and most dramatic boom was the direct result of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896, which ended the national depression that had begun with the Panic of 1893. On July 14, 1897, the S.S. Portland docked with its famed "ton of gold," and Seattle became the main transport and supply point for those heading north. The boom lasted well into the early part of the twentieth century and funded many new Seattle companies and products. Finance company Washington Mutual was founded in 1889, in an attempt to save Seattle's economy after the Great Seattle fire. In 1907, 19-year-old James E. Casey borrowed $100 from a friend and founded the American Messenger Company, which was later renamed United Parcel Service. Other Seattle companies founded during this period include Nordstrom and Eddie Bauer.

Next came the shipbuilding boom in the early part of the twentieth century, followed by the unused city development plan of Virgil Bogue. Seattle was the major point of departure during World War II for troops heading to the North Pacific, and Boeing manufactured many of the war's bombers.

The local economy dipped after the war, but rose again with the expansion of Boeing, fueled by the growth of the commercial aviation industry. When this particular cycle went into a major downturn in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many left the area to look for work elsewhere, and two local real estate agents, Bob McDonald and Jim Youngren, put up a billboard reading "Will the last person leaving Seattle - Turn out the lights."12

Westlake Center, a Downtown mall and southern terminus of the Seattle Center Monorail

Seattle remained the corporate headquarters of Boeing until 2001, when the company announced a desire to separate its headquarters from its major production facilities. Following a bidding war among a number of major cities, Boeing moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago. The Seattle area is still home to Boeing's Renton narrow-body plant (where the 707, 720, 727, and 757 were assembled, and the 737 is assembled today) and Everett wide-body plant (assembly plant for the 747, 767, 777 and the upcoming 787 Dreamliner), as well as BECU, formerly the Boeing Employees Credit Union.

Next, technology companies, including Microsoft, Amazon.com, RealNetworks, McCaw Cellular (now part of AT&T Mobility), VoiceStream (now T-Mobile USA), and biomedical corporations such as HeartStream (later purchased by Philips), Heart Technologies (later purchased by Boston Scientific), Physio-Control (later purchased by Medtronic), ZymoGenetics, ICOS (later purchased by Eli Lilly & Co.) and Immunex (later purchased by Amgen), found homes in Seattle and its suburbs. This success brought an influx of new citizens with a population increase within city limits of almost 50,000 between the 1990 and 2000 Census 13 and saw Seattle's real estate become some of the most expensive in the country.14 Many of these companies remain relatively strong, but the frenzied dot-com boom years ended in early 2001.

Major companies in the Seattle area

Landscaping at Microsoft's RedWest business campus.Starbucks Headquarters in Seattle.

Five companies on the 2006 Fortune 500 list of the United States' largest companies, based on total revenue, are headquartered in Seattle: financial services company Washington Mutual (#99), Internet retailer Amazon.com (#272), department store Nordstrom (#293), coffee chain Starbucks (#338), and insurance company Safeco Corporation (#339). Just shy of making the list is global logistics firm Expeditors International (#506). 15

Other Fortune 500 companies popularly associated with Seattle are based in nearby Puget Sound cities.

  • Warehouse club chain Costco Wholesale Corp. (#28), the largest company in Washington, is based in Issaquah.

Based in the eastern suburb of Redmond are

  • Microsoft (#48),
  • Nintendo of America, and
  • Cellular telephone pioneer McCaw Cellular (part of AT&T Wireless until it was acquired by Cingular Wireless and finally merged into the new AT&T).

South of Seattle, the town of Federal Way is home to

  • Weyerhaeuser, the forest products company (#90).

The town of Renton is home to

  • Truck manufacturer PACCAR (#157)

And Bellevue is home to

  • International mobile telephony giant T-Mobile's U.S. subsidiary T-Mobile USA. 15

Prior to moving its headquarters to Chicago, aerospace manufacturer Boeing (#26) was the largest company based in Seattle. Its largest division is still headquartered in nearby Renton, and the company has large aircraft manufacturing plants in Everett and Renton, so it remains the largest private employer in the Seattle metropolitan area.16

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announced a desire to spark a new economic boom driven by the biotechnology industry in 2006. Major redevelopment of the South Lake Union neighborhood is underway in an effort to attract new and established biotech companies to the city, joining biotech companies Corixa (acquired by GlaxoSmithKline), Immunex (now part of Amgen), and ZymoGenetics. Vulcan Inc., the holding company of billionaire Paul Allen, is behind most of the development projects in the region.

In 2005, Forbes Magazine ranked Seattle as the most expensive American city for buying a house based on the local income levels 17, while in 2006, Expansion Magazine ranked Seattle among the top 10 metropolitan areas in the nation for climates favorable to business expansion.18


Interstate 5 as it passes through downtown Seattle.Seattle, as seen across Elliot Bay from West Seattle.Nighttime traffic on the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge - the world's largest - looking west into Seattle.

As with almost every other city in western North America, transportation in Seattle is dominated by automobiles, although Seattle is just old enough that the city's layout reflects the age when railways and streetcars (known locally as "trolleys") dominated. These older modes of transportation made for a relatively well-defined downtown and strong neighborhoods at the end of several former streetcar lines, most of them now bus lines. Seattle's streets are laid out in a cardinal directions grid pattern, except in the central business district where early city leaders Arthur Denny and Carson Boren insisted on orienting their plats relative to the shoreline rather than to true North.

Because of the isthmus-like geography of the city (wedged between Lake Washington and Puget Sound), and the concentration of jobs in certain parts of Seattle, much of the movement in the Seattle metropolitan area is through the city itself. North-south transportation is highly dependent on Interstate 5, which connects most of the major cities on the Puget Sound with Portland, Oregon, and Highway 99, which leads to Vancouver. Also heavily used is State Route 99, which includes the Alaskan Way Viaduct in downtown Seattle. Because of seismic instability, there are plans to rebuild the viaduct, or relocate the traffic to surface streets and an expanded transit system.

Transportation to and from the east is via State Route 520's Evergreen Point Floating Bridge and Interstate 90's Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge and Third Lake Washington Bridge, all over Lake Washington. Those bridges are the first, second, and fifth longest floating bridges in the world, respectively. State Route 522 connects Seattle to its northeastern suburbs.

Unlike most North American cities, water transportation remains important. Washington State Ferries, the largest ferry system in the United States and the third largest in the world, operates a passenger-only ferry from Colman Dock in Seasttle's Downtown to Vashon Island, car ferries from Colman Dock to Bainbridge Island and to Bremerton, and a car ferry from West Seattle to Vashon Island to the community of Southworth. Seattle was once home to the Kalakala, a streamlined art deco-style ferry that plied the waters from the 1930s to the 1960s. The ship has since fallen into disrepair.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, locally known as Sea-Tac Airport and located just south in the neighboring city of SeaTac, is operated by the Port of Seattle and provides commercial air service to destinations throughout the world. Closer to downtown, Boeing Field is used for general aviation, cargo flights, and testing/delivery of Boeing airliners. Seattle is also served by three Amtrak routes at King Street Station: the Cascades, the Coast Starlight, and the Empire Builder.

Due to Seattle's natural boundaries of mountains and water, construction of its roadway system has been limited. One of the most common complaints among Seattlites is heavy traffic congestion and seemingly endless rush hours.


Of the city's population over the age of 25, 47.2 percent (vs. a national average of 24 percent) hold a bachelor's degree or higher; 93 percent (vs. 80 percent nationally) have a high school diploma or equivalent. In fact, United States Census Bureau survey showed that Seattle has the highest percentage of college graduates of any major U.S. city.19 Seattle was listed as the most literate of the country's sixty-nine largest cities in 2005 and 2006 and second most literate in 2007 in a study conducted by Central Connecticut State University.20

Inside Suzzallo Library, University of Washington campus

Seattle Public Schools desegregated without a court order but continue to struggle to achieve racial balance in a somewhat ethnically divided city (the south part of town having more ethnic minorities than the north). In 2006, Seattle's racial tie-breaking system was struck down by the United States Supreme Court, but the ruling left the door open for desegregation formula based on other indicators such as income or socioeconomic class.21

The public school system is supplemented by a moderate number of private schools: five of the private high schools are Catholic, one is Lutheran, and six are secular.

Seattle is home to one of the United States' most respected public research universities, the University of Washington. A study by Newsweek International in 2006 cited 'UW' as the twenty-second best university in the world.22

Seattle also has a number of smaller private universities including Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University, both founded by religious groups; universities aimed at the working adult, such as City University and Antioch University; and a number of arts colleges, such as Cornish College of the Arts and Art Institute of Seattle. In 2001, TIME magazine selected Seattle Central Community College as best college of the year, stating the school "pushes diverse students to work together in small teams."23


Seattle's two major daily newspapers-the Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer-share their advertising, circulation, and business departments under a Joint Operating Agreement. There is also a Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce, and the University of Washington publishes The Daily, a daily (when school is in session) student-run publication.

The most prominent weeklies are the Seattle Weekly and The Stranger, both of which consider themselves "alternative" papers. Real Change is a weekly street newspaper that is sold mainly by homeless persons as an alternative to panhandling. There are also several ethnic newspapers, including the Northwest Asian Weekly, and numerous neighborhood newspapers, including the North Seattle Journal.

Seattle is also well served by television and radio, with all major U.S. networks represented, along with at least five other English language stations and two Spanish language stations. Seattle cable viewers also receive CBUT 2 (CBC) from Vancouver, British Columbia.

Seattle is also home to a large number of publications about the environment and sustainability, including both Worldchanging and Grist.org, the nation's two largest online green magazines.


Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners
Seattle SeahawksFootballNFLQwest Field19760
Seattle MarinersBaseballMLBSafeco Field19770
Seattle SuperSonicsBasketballNBAKey Arena19671
Seattle StormBasketballWNBAKey Arena20001
Seattle ThunderbirdsIce HockeyWHLKey Arena19770
Seattle SoundersSoccerUSL-1Qwest Field19944
Seattle Sounders FCSoccerMajor League SoccerQwest Field2009N/A

Seattle's professional sports history began at the start of the twentieth century with the PCHA's Seattle Metropolitans, which in 1917 became the first American hockey team to win the Stanley Cup. Today Seattle has teams in nearly every major professional sport. The four major professional teams are the 1979 National Basketball Association champions Seattle SuperSonics, the National Football League's Seattle Seahawks, Major League Baseball's Seattle Mariners, and the 2004 Women's National Basketball Association champions, Seattle Storm. However, the ownership of the SuperSonics is currently (in 2008) attempting to move the team to Oklahoma City, a change which may take another two years.24 The Seattle Sounders currently play in the United Soccer League, but will be replaced by Seattle Sounders FC, which will play in Major League Soccer in 2009. The Seattle Thunderbirds are a major-junior hockey team that plays in the one of the Canadian major-junior hockey leagues, the WHL (Western Hockey League). The Thunderbirds currently play in the KeyArena, but beginning in the 2008-2009 season will play in nearby Kent, Washington.

Seattle also boasts a strong history in collegiate sports, the NCAA Division I school University of Washington and the NCAA Division II schools Seattle Pacific University and Seattle University. The Major League Baseball All-Star game was held in Seattle twice, first at the Kingdome in 1979 and again at Safeco Field in 2001. The NBA All-Star game was also held in Seattle twice, the first in 1974 at the Seattle Center Coliseum and the second in 1987 at the Kingdome.

In 2006, the new Qwest Field (Seattle Seahawks Stadium) hosted the 2005-06 NFC Championship. In 2008, Qwest Field hosted the first game of the 2007-08 NFL playoffs, in which the hometown Seahawks defeated the Washington Redskins, 35 - 14.

Demographics and culture

The Space Needle is the most famous architectural legacy of the Century 21 Exposition.

The mention of Seattle brings several images to mind: the birthplace of grunge music; heavy coffee consumption - coffee companies founded or based in Seattle include Starbucks, Seattle's Best Coffee, and Tully's; Technology - as in Microsoft and RealNetworks. Seattle was the site of the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization, and the attendant demonstrations by anti-globalization activists.


Seattle is a racially mixed city, and though a number of its neighborhoods may be comprised of a majority of one ethnicity or another, there is a strong intermingling a