The 1920sReturn to Map
The end of the war brought the end of government contracts and forced the closure of many of the shipyards that had thrived in war time. Despite these setbacks, the Port’s second decade was marked by continued improvement and land acquisition.
The Port had three new commissioners, and a new, slightly more economic and politically conservative approach, which reflected the nation’s conservatism at the time. With the growth of commerce, the Port no longer was a fledgling operation, but a dominant political establishment that earned the respect of the local businessmen.
The Port reduced operating expenses and turned losses into profit, it now focused on building better relationships with the community and strengthening international ties, particularly with China and Japan. The decade ended with the biggest financial crisis of the 20th century–the October stock market crash which led to world-wide depression.
Barreled berries from Western Washington. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.
Port engineers develop patent on “Electric Portable Stacking Elevator.” Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.
Longshoremen unload silk from Japan. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.
Loads of Cargo: Longshoremen load and stack cargo including lumber, wheat, beer, fish, hemp, tea and camphor. Seattle is the principle port of entry for soybean, coconut, and peanut oils from Asia. Longshore work is an overwhelmingly hands-on experience, but that will change in 40 years with the advent of containerization and mechanization.
Prohibition: Seattle’s docks are used for smuggling operations, to bring illegal liquor shipments to the city via powerful speedboats from Canada. Fired from the police force, Roy Olmstead brings notoriety to the Northwest as the “King of the Puget Sound Bootleggers.”
Growth Spurt: According to the 1920 U.S. Census, 315,312 people have made Seattle their home.
Patent: Warehouse workers use the “Electric Portable
Stacking Elevator” capable of lifting 3,000 pounds. This back and labor
saving device was created and patented by Port of Seattle engineers.
Voting Rights: U.S. Congress passes the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Progressive Washington State, however, was 10 years ahead, having approved women’s voting rights back in 1910.
A New Crew: Colonel George Lamping and W.S. Lincoln begin a decade of service on the Port Commission, and are later joined by George Cotterill in 1922. Their long tenure provides solid, consistent leadership for the Port.
Silk Success: Most of the coveted silk shipments from
Far East land on Seattle‘s docks and are then whisked via “silk trains”
to East Coast markets. The silk trains get priority over all other
trains and are staffed with armed guards to protect their pricey cargo
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Port of Seattle ice plant. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.
Japanese ship in port at Smith Cove. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.
Robert Bridges, one of the first Port Commissioners, center, back row, with family. Courtesy Walter Bridges.
Super Storage: The Port of Seattle innovates with cold storage facilities never before seen. The Spokane St. Terminal is used for freezing, handling and storing fresh-caught fish from Alaska as well as keeping Washington apples, pears, berries, eggs, butter, and cheese refrigerated until they are exported or sent to local markets. This new facility can store more than four million pounds of fish. Bell St. Terminal and Wharf stores up to 10,000 tons of dairy products, vegetables, cured salmon and salt herring, in nearly 200,000 square feet of space, making it one of the Port’s most versatile properties.
A Hit for Trade: Congress imposes a high tariff on imports, decimating the soybean oil trade from Japan. Seattle had been the major port for this import and much of the space at Smith Cove was dedicated to storing the oil.
“A Stubborn Cuss”: Robert Bridges, one of the original Port Commissioners, so nicknamed by Fred L. Boalt in The Seattle Star, dies in Auburn, Washington. The next day, despite being Bridges’ most vocal opponents throughout his time on the Commission, both the Seattle Times and Post–Intelligencer had front page stories on his critical role in the Port’s development. Once calling for him to be kicked off, the Post-Intelligencer dubbed him the “Father of the Port Commission” (Post–Intelligencer, Dec. 3, 1921).
In the Red: Despite bustling activity, growing trade, and state-of-the-art facilities, the Port operates at loss of $300,000. But it makes a quick turnaround. Thanks to smart investments in Seattle’s waterfront, the Port is making a profit again by 1929, only to see another downturn after the stock market crashes.
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Measuring lumber on Seattle docks. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.
Unloading fresh salmon from the hold of a fishing vessel, Seattle. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.
Washington Wood: Lumber is the top export; the annual cut is over five billion feet. Half of Washington State residents are employed in lumber or allied trades.
Big Fish: Seattle is the leading fish port in America, with shipments worth more than $5 million passing through the port in just one year. Fruits, dairy products and poultry also make their way through this growing port.
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1923 map of Seattle’s waterfront, showing Port of Seattle properties.
Advertisement in 1928 Port of Seattle Year Book.
Around the World in 371 Hours: First flight around the world begins April 6 and ends September 28 at Sand Point Naval Station in Seattle.
Buying Up Property: Port buys its seventh property, the 26-acre “Unit No. 15” at Piers 39 and 42, the previous site of Skinner and Eddy Shipyard No. 2, from the U.S. Shipping Board. In a few years, as the depression takes hold, this property becomes the home to “Hooverville,” a collection of shacks built by homeless men. (See Hooverville, 1931). Decades later this prime location will be used for moving containers through the Port.
Seattle-Japan: The Admiral-Oriental Line runs passenger service from Seattle to Yokohama in 10 days, four days shorter than a trip to the Orient from California ports. Seattle‘s proximity to the Far East reinforces its value to trade.
Port of Seattle crane lifting yacht onto ship. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.
Trading Up: Foreign and domestic imports and exports this year zoom to more than $730 million, up from just over $114 million in 1913.
Versatility: The Port’s cranes prove versatility, lifting a yacht onto a vessel.
Miss Mayor: Bertha Knight Landes is elected Mayor of Seattle. She is the first and only female mayor the city has ever had and the first woman to hold an executive office in any major American city.
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Fish meal in storage at Hanford Street Grain Terminal. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.
More is More: Expansion at Hanford Street Grain Terminal ups total capacity to 1.5 million bushels with three berths for loading grain.
Foreign Partners: Trade to the Orient now accounts for 50 percent of the Port’s foreign commerce.
Pricey bales of silk in Port warehouse, awaiting shipment via train to the East Coast. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.
More Site Shopping: The Port buys Pier 38 from Pacific Steamship Company. This site, once called Atlantic St. Pier, along with “Unit No. 15” (Piers 39 and 42), will eventually allow the Port to construct the massive, technologically advanced, Terminal 46, over the space occupied by piers 37-47.
Sagging Silk: Bank failures in Japan and a Japanese tariff on American log imports contribute to a breakdown in raw silk trade in the years to come. This year was still profitable, however, with a total import value of $188 million.
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Central waterfront piers. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.
Doom: The October stock market crash comes during period of declining real estate values and leads to the Great Depression. Seattle is already suffering some economic despair due to prohibition, overfishing and overproduction of lumber.
Uniformity: Port Authorities Association set uniform wharf rates, consequently ending rate wars between public ports.
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