Seattle: A City Built on Trade | How Seattle's Silk Trade Slipped Away | Cruise and the Port | Alaska: Helping Drive Prosperity in Seattle | Sister and Friendship Ports: Building Partnerships, Strengthening Trade | International Tourism
Seattle: A City Built on Trade
Port advertisement, 1920s
When Seattle’s earliest white settlers arrived in 1851, they envisioned a settlement for timber trading. A year later, they established a permanent home on the eastern shore of Elliot Bay. The Great Northern Railway’s selection in 1890 of Seattle as the terminus for its transcontinental route spurred economic growth and made Seattle the commercial capital of the region, a distinction that strengthened following the 1896 discovery of gold in Alaska.
By the early 1900s Seattle’s waterfront was a maze of piers, canneries, sawmills, warehouses and railroad tracks. But the economic benefits of all that activity were not generating prosperity for the community at-large. In 1911, the voters of King County turned out in record numbers to establish the Port of Seattle and approve a bond measure for waterfront development to stimulate economic growth.
By 1916 Seattle was the West Coast’s leading port in dollar value of goods shipped. Within two years it was the second largest port in the nation. In addition to handling cargo moving to and from Asia and Alaska, the Port became a major player in the North Pacific fishing industry, taking on ownership and management of Fishermen’s Terminal in 1913.
After World War II the Port diversified with expansion of Fishermen’s Terminal, construction of Shilshole Bay Marina, ambitious developments on Harbor Island and along the Duwamish River, and creation of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. In the 1960s, Seattle became one of the first ports in the country to develop terminals specifically geared toward handling containers. In the 1990s the Port emerged as a center for the passenger cruise industry, and as a steward for redevelopment of the city’s central waterfront.
Today, the Port of Seattle supports four mega-terminals and is a major West Coast container port. Sea-Tac Airport handles 32 million passengers a year and serves 25 airline and cargo service customers. The cruise business has grown from a few sporadic cruise ship calls to more than 200 calls annually at two cruise terminals. At the same time the Port has become a leader in environmental stewardship, focusing on improved air quality, water quality, habitat restoration and conservation, and connects the public to the waterfront through more than 20 parks and access sites.
As we head into a second century of operation, the Port of Seattle is a leading center for trade, transportation and tourism, generating nearly 200,000 jobs, and billions of dollars in business and tax revenues each year.
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Silk train departing Smith Cove, Museum of History and Industry.
How Seattle’s Silk Trade Slipped Away
An increase in trade between Japan and the U.S. during WWI (July 28, 1914–November 11, 1918) brought about a closer trade relationship. Silk was already being imported, but the majority of imported goods were industrial in nature. By 1918, Japan increased trade to the U.S. by more than 150% since 1914. Seattle took a major portion of this trade, 40%, due to its proximity to Asia. In 1929, silk was 9.7% of the value of imports in the U.S., the largest percentage of any import. Seattle saw a majority of this.
As a result of a loss of soybean oil imports due to high tariffs, Seattle launched an intensive advertising campaign in China and Japan, the major suppliers of soybean oil, resulting in silk becoming the most valuable import to Seattle by 1919. The silk trade flourished in Seattle throughout the 1920s. Trains played an integral role in distributing the silk coming into the port, with the ability to reach New York in 91 hours, where the majority of silk processing plants were located. That record time was later beat with advancement in technology, and the shipment reached New York in 60 hours. Railways invested in the development of the fastest steam locomotives to move the raw silk across the country, and they took precedent over all other trains moving on the rails at any particular time. The railway companies and importers could not afford any delays. Competition among steamship companies increased during the glory days of the silk trade as well.
With millions of dollars at stake each year, shipping lines sought the quickest route from Asia to Seattle and other West Coast Ports. Seaplanes also played a role in the trade. They would fly to meet a ship as it neared the port and take care of customs documents. Another remarkable aspect of the trade was the speed at which ships were unloaded, trains loaded and sent on their way to the Midwest or East Coast. This was sometimes as quick as a couple of hours. Due to the high value of the commodity, the railway companies hired armed guards to protect the silk shipments.
Longshoremen loading raw silk ca 1920, Museum of History and Industry.
NYK Line Vessel HEIAN MARU moored at the Great Northern Dock at Smith Cove, 1941, Museum of History and Industry.
Longshoremen strike, holding back train at Smith Cove, 1934, Museum of History and Industry.
The Depression hit Seattle hard, and the silk trade also suffered. By 1935, this trade reduced to 1,962 tons and just over $8M. In 1928 trade was valued at 19,047 tons and over $188M. Bank failures in Japan in 1928 and a Japanese tariff on log imports also contributed to a breakdown.
Laborers and Seattle Mayor Charles L. Smith were deadlocked in a strike in 1934. After a month of striking, on June 18, 1934, the Port Commission announced the silk trade would be moving to the Port of Los Angeles. The strike continued for a total of two months, with strikers at multiple West Coast ports, and was one of the bloodiest in history. In Seattle, police used beatings, tear gas, and guns to intimidate the strikers. Seattle International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) leader Shelvy Daffron was shot and killed during the strike. A total of seven strikers between Seattle and California lost their lives. On June 20, 1934, the “Battle at Smith Cove” took place. This was Mayor Smith and the police department’s attempt to break the strike. Two hundred twenty five police men, armed with shotguns held back strikers at Smith Cove, while 150 strike-breakers unloaded vessels. The goods did not move far off the docks, as laborers were successful in blocking the movement.
The last Northern Pacific silk train left Seattle in 1933, and by 1935, most silk train operation ceased. The opening of the Panama Canal in allowed ships to sail directly to New York, along a quicker and cheaper route. This was preferred when the price of silk dropped significantly as a result of the Great Depression. By the time nylon, silk’s first major competitor, was created in 1940, the silk trade had already dwindled. Silk’s popularity increased after World War II.
Read more about the West Coast Waterfront Strike of 1934 here:
Burke, Padraic. The History of the Port of Seattle. Port of Seattle. 1976. Seattle, WA.
Vanterpool, Alan. Silk Roads Across America: The Fastest Steam Powered Trains In America. 2008. Alberta Pioneer Railway Association, Alberta, Canada.
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Passengers aboard vessel VICTORIA, Seattle Waterfront, 1904-1910. Courtesy Museum of History and Industry.
Cruise and the Port
The relationship between Seattle and the cruise industry is long-standing. And the Port of Seattle has been there for much of the 100-plus-year history. Pacific Steamship and Alaskan Steamship Companies were just two of the most successful operators of passenger cruises originating in Seattle in the late 1800s. Regular boat service to Alaska began as early as 1867. The steamship companies’ primary business was commerce, and in 1886, the ANCON brought $35,000 in gold from Alaska. In the year 1917, the Port reported nearly 1.8 million passengers arrived and 1.7 million passengers departed from the Seattle Harbor. The Jones Act of 1920 aided in the success of the two steamship companies, as it prohibited foreign-flagged vessels from transferring passengers and goods between two U.S. ports.
As the closest Port to Asia, Seattle was a natural fit for passenger service to the Far East. The Pacific Steamship Company and the Admiral Oriental Line, which later became the American Mail Line, took on the task. The plush interiors of the ships offered passengers luxurious homes away from home. In 1926 the American Mail Line operated the principal passenger service to Asia.
The Great Depression immensely affected the trade and passenger service through the Port of Seattle. During the Second World War, most of the passenger ships were taken over by the War Administration. A major change in the shipping industry occurred as a result of the fighting, and the number of ships serving Alaska after the war, which included many of the passenger ships, was reduced to only seven.
Passengers aboard vessel VICTORIA, Seattle Waterfront, 1904-1910. Courtesy Museum of History and Industry.
Passenger service was revived in 1946 with Alaska Steamship’s ALASKA, and the company began their emphasis on tourism. Refreshed by the ending of the war, The Port of Seattle was onboard to ensure the waterfront would have the proper facilities to accommodate the resurgence in the cruise industry. During this time, Alaska Steamship Company operated out of the Port’s Pier 42.
As the airline industry began to take off in the 1950s, steamship passenger numbers tapered. This change in transportation, accompanied by labor issues, and the termination of charter privileges and subsidy payments prompted an end to much of the travel by boat. In 1954, Alaska Steamship sailed its last voyage to Alaska. It was also in this year that the Port’s present CEO, Tay Yoshitani, first arrived in Seattle from Yokohama, Japan aboard the Hikawa-Maru. A young 7 years old in 1954, he remembers the thrill of arriving in Seattle.
Today, the Port of Seattle operates Smith Cove Cruise Terminal and Bell Harbor Marina, with six cruise lines serving Seattle. The Port recognizes the significance of tourism the cruise industry provides to the Seattle economy and has invested in its permanence with world class facilities.
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Did You Know?
The 2010 cruise season welcomed a record 223 vessels, bringing an estimated 858,000 passengers to Seattle. The Port’s vibrant cruise business creates thousands of jobs and millions in revenue, boosting the economy while using new technology that protects the environment.
1917 Port of Seattle Year Book
1933 Port of Seattle Year Book
1951 Port of Seattle Year Book
Port of Seattle Cruise Leaflet
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Alaska: Helping Drive Prosperity in Seattle
Port advertisement, 1936
For most Americans, seeing a car with an Alaska license plate is rare. In Seattle, it is a common site that is a small, but telling sign of the Puget Sound region’s social and economic connections to America’s northern-most state.
With a need to import a wide range of goods and services, Alaskans are intimately aware of their links to what they call the “outside.” On the other hand, many people in the Puget Sound region recognize that our economy depends on international trade, but sometimes forget the many benefits we enjoy by trading with Alaska.
Ever since the 1890s when Seattle served as the transportation and provisioning gateway for prospectors headed to the Klondike Gold Rush, the Puget Sound region and Alaska have enjoyed a strong trade partnership. Today, shiploads of gold, and miners clamoring for picks and pack animals, have been replaced by a less colorful but more powerful flow of wealth.
In 2004, a study titled “Ties that Bind: The Enduring Economic Impact of Alaska on the Puget Sound Region”* showed that trade with Alaska adds more than $4 billion per year to the Puget Sound regional economy and creates more than 103,000 jobs in manufacturing, fishing, construction, transportation and a host of professional services including accounting, banking, engineering, medical and legal.
The volume of exports to Alaska is substantial. Alaska is the region’s fifth largest trading partner for goods produced here (not including aerospace). Locally produced exports range from building materials, such as cement and steel, to food products, chemicals and refined petroleum. The Puget Sound region also serves as a primary transshipment point for Alaska-bound products produced throughout the United States. Our ports and airport help connect the lower 48 states and Alaska, generating jobs for transportation and warehouse workers and others in our region.
For goods moving the other direction, the Puget Sound region is the hub for Alaska’s resource-based industries – including seafood, forest and petroleum products, along with manufactured goods such as world-class microbeers – routing products throughout the lower 48 states and to foreign markets including Asia and Europe.
Looking ahead, the Ties that Bind study predicts that trade between Alaska and the Puget Sound region will continue to increase as Alaska’s economy and population grow. Development of a proposed natural gas pipeline to tap Alaska’s North Slope reserves offers additional opportunities for trade.
Port of Seattle facilities play an important role in supporting trade with Alaska. Marine terminals in the Seattle harbor and on the Duwamish River load goods on vessels headed to numerous cities and villages throughout Alaska’s Southeast, Central, Aleutian, Western and Arctic regions. Fishermen’s Terminal and Terminal 91 are home to the North Pacific fishing fleet and enable Alaska’s bountiful seafood stocks to be brought to markets in a commercially viable manner.
Tourism is an emerging link with Alaska, most notably illustrated by the many cruise ships departing from the Port’s Bell Street Pier and Terminal 30 Cruise Facilities. Alaska-bound cruises are growing in popularity and offer passengers a chance to see the natural beauty of glaciers and wildlife, and to sample life in Alaska. Since 1999, the number of Alaska cruise vessel calls in Seattle has increased from six to 169 per year. Last year, 560,000 cruise passengers passed through Port of Seattle facilities, and the Port predicts up to 700,000 two-way passengers in 2005 (a 25% increase).
The cruise lines sailing to Alaska from Seattle generate more than 1,700 jobs and $208 million in business revenue in our region. The economic activities from cruises include everything from supplying goods and services to the vessels, to passengers staying and spending money locally before and after their cruise.
Beyond water-borne trade, the Port also connects Seattle and Alaska by air, serving an average 35 departures per day between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Alaskan cities. Air service between Seattle and Alaska provides a critical link for movement of passengers and cargo. The smiling Eskimo on the tail of Seattle-based Alaska Airlines planes is a familiar site at Sea-Tac; Alaska Airlines accounts for 29% of the airport’s flight operations.
The next time you are driving to the airport or by the waterfront on Seattle’s Alaskan Way and you see the blue, white and yellow “Gold Rush” license plate on the car in front of you, remember the strong relationship with Alaska that helps drive trade in the Puget Sound region.
For additional information on Puget Sound region and Alaska economic connections, visit the websites for the Alaska Committee of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the Manufacturing Industrial Council of Seattle.
* Commissioned by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, along with the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma and numerous Alaska dependent businesses.
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Sister and Friendship Ports: Building Partnerships, Strengthening Trade
Nearly 40 years ago, officials with the Port of Kobe, Japan invited the ports of Seattle and Rotterdam to form sister port relationships. Both ports accepted at once. The 1967 sister port agreement between Kobe and Seattle was the first such affiliation between a Japanese and a U.S. port.
A decade later, the ports of Seattle and Shanghai entered into a friendship agreement, the first between a Chinese and U.S. port. Today, the Port of Seattle has sister or friendship port relationships with 12 different ports on three continents. The difference between sister and friendship ports is in name only.
Sister and friendship port agreements provide opportunities for information sharing on port operations, management, construction, and technology through bi-annual conferences, trade delegation visits, or informal contacts. The results benefit everyone in terms of new ideas, business contacts, cultural understanding, and international trade promotion.
Successful trade depends on strong relationships. In the end, trade isn’t conducted between nations, cities, companies or ports; it’s conducted between people. Sister and friendship port relationships provide a strong foundation for individuals within ports – and within their broader communities – to connect with one another. They add a sense of humanity and accessibility to large organizations that are often separated by language and thousands of miles.
When a company in Asia or Europe is looking for a way to transport its products more efficiently into the United States, or when a U.S. producer is looking for a trade contact in other nations, contacts established through sister port relationships can help open the door.
Beyond the benefits of communicating on topics such as development of containerization, security, economic development, and trade promotion, the relationships promote cooperation and mutual assistance. For example, when the Hashin Earthquake struck Kobe in 1995, the Port of Seattle participated in a port restoration symposium in Kobe and other relief efforts.
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“Twilight” Movie Series Creates International Tourism Boom
BJ Stokey, the Port’s senior manager of International Tourism Development said one thing keeping tourism strong is Washington State is the “Tween” vampire series, “Twilight”.
Stokey and her colleagues at the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau and Washington State Tourism Development Office (the partnership) work with tour operators in the United Kingdom and Japan to market the “Twilight” phenomena to consumers. In the United Kingdom the “Twilight” franchise is particularly strong. The partnership rented a movie theatre in a London hotel to premier the first “Twilight” film to a group of key tour operators to create momentum around the film.
In addition, in October of 2009 the Port and bureau sponsored a one page essay competition in Ok Magazine, a popular UK teen magazine, for a teenager to win a trip to Twilight country. A teenage girl won the prize and traveled with her parents to the Seattle-area (their first trip out of the United Kingdom) and visited all of the “Twilight” landmarks. The teenager blogged and tweeted, and consequently generated additional press coverage of her Pacific Northwest experience. Total coverage generated in Ok Magazine and the Birmingham Mail was $83,411. Hotels, restaurants, tour operators, attractions and visitors bureaus in Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula contributed to trip costs so return on investment was high. The contest winner and her family shipped several boxes of “Twilight_ related souviners back to the UK.
The Port has been promoting Pacific Northwest tourism in the Japan market since 1984. The travel market is starting to rebound after a slump due to the SARS epidemic and the Japan economy, and Stokey and her team see growth potential in the youth and baby boomer market. The Seattle Mariner’s acquisition of popular player Ichiro Suzuki has kept the momentum going for years but “Twilight” has certainly taken the world by storm and put this region on the map once again, Stokey said.
China is the new frontier for international tourism efforts. Stokey and the partnership conducted a tourism tract for the recent Governor’s mission to Beijing and Shanghai and the travel industry is enthusiastically embracing the potential of Chinese visitation to Seattle and beyond. The future remains bright for more development in this top industry for Washington State.
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