The 1940sReturn to Map
War and its recovery dominated the decade. Port activities slowed in the first half of the 1940s as the country dedicated its resources to military needs, but once peace was declared it was obvious that a more global and technically sophisticated world would mean major changes and growth at both the Seaport and Airport.
Packing crates of whiskey
Lost Whiskey: Lost cargo costs the Port. The Port settles a claim for $20.31 with Swayne & Hoyt, Ltd. for two lost cartons of whiskey that disappeared from the Atlantic Street Terminal.
Move Toward Modernization: The Port completes plans for Pier 42, Connecticut Street Pier. Alaska Steamship Company later operates the two piers on the site, and in 1949, they would begin a four-year experiment in shipping goods in larger containers, the precursor to the type of containerization that SeaLand and Malcom McLean would introduce in the 1950s.
Building for the Future: Following a small building program in the 1920's and almost none in the 30's, the Port embarked in the late 1940's on a construction program costing millions of dollars that would result in the Port owning the vast majority of Seattle's docks and wharfs by 1959.
USS Shaw explodes during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. Courtesy Naval History and Heritage Command.
A Date Which Will Live in Infamy – December 7. 1941: The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and the U.S. enters World War II. The U.S. Navy takes control of all shipping.
A War-Time Seaport: War contracts dominate business at the Seaport. Steamship lines and shipyards are recruited into the war effort. The Navy takes over Smith Cove Piers, the U.S. Army leases piers 36, 37, 38, 39 for the Army's Port of Embarkation, and the Port moves to purchase the East Waterway docks to compensate for the lost piers.
Working on machine gun parts. Courtesy National Archives.
Launch of USS Johnston, 25 March 1943. Courtesy Naval History and Heritage Command.
Loading troops at Seattle's Port of Embarkation 1945.
Goodbye Hooverville, Hello Cargo: In April 1941 the Port Commissioners ordered the remaining shacks in "Hooverville" – the great symbol of Seattle's economic despair – torn down to make way for the erection of a modern ship terminal.
Taxation Without Representation: The funds to build the terminals were provided by a new law the Washington State Legislature enacted in early 1941. The law authorized port districts "in promulgation of the national defense program" to construct piers, wharves, terminals, warehouses and other improvements and to issue revenue bonds for such purposed without a vote of the people.
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War Hits Home: On June 7, the merchant vessel, SS Coast Trader, is sunk off the Washington state. Read More...
Conception: Much like the baby boomers, Sea-Tac Airport was born of the war. Seattle's first major airport, Boeing Field, was barely a dozen years old when it was bursting at the seams with B-17 bomber production. A new major airport was needed, US Civilian Aviation Authority offered $1 million to any local government that will build a new "super airport" in the Seattle-Tacoma area and on March 7 the Port of Seattle Commissioners agreed to take on the job and committed $660,000 to the project.
Location, Location: The first key decision in building an airport to serve the region, was finding it a home. The choice was narrowed to two locations – one in the Lake Sammamish area and the other at Bow Lake in Southwest King County. The Port and City of Tacoma tipped the balance by pledging $100,000 to aid airport construction at Bow Lake, midway between Seattle and Tacoma.
Piecing It Altogether: Once the Bow Lake site was selected for the new airport, it was time to start buying real estate. The Port had to purchase 260 separate properties to assemble the airport's original 907 acres.
Breaking Ground: The first shovel dug in on January 2 and over the next 22 months, 6.5 million cubic yards were excavated the new airport's four runways, taxiways and aprons.
Sea-Tac ground breaking ceremony, 1943 with Senator Magnuson, Governor Langley, Port of Seattle Commission President Horace Chapman, and Port of Tacoma Commission President Fred Marvin.
Sea-Tac construction footage
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Time to Grow: Post-war expansion begins at the Seaport in anticipation of a trade surge with the "Orient."
Mostly Military: The new airfield was dedicated on Halloween with the landing of a United Airlines flight, but the military would monopolize it for the next three years.
Port of Seattle 1944 Victory Book Cover
May 8: Victory in Europe
August 8: The Japanese sign surrender agreement.
Purchasing Piers: The Port buys Piers 60 and 61.
A Ton of Gold: The Port buys Pier 58 (Schwabacher Wharf), the only pier to escape the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, for $52,500. It was at this wharf that the steamship Portland arrived on July 17, 1897 with a "ton of gold." This golden shipment touched off Alaska's great gold rush and started the first Seattle boom as miners by the thousands began their northward journeys.
Schwabacher Wharf, Pier 7. Courtesy University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.
But even before that, the Schwabacher Wharf had earned its place in Seattle history. It was there,on August 31, 1896, that the Japanese line Miike Maru had tied up becoming, the first ship to open a regularly scheduled steam-service between Seattle and the Orient.
Rail vs. Road: In 1946, Port Commission President Edward Savage pushed for a belt-line railway around the waterfront to reduce automobile congestion, but instead plans were approved and construction of the $6.3 million Alaskan Way Viaduct began in the summer of 1948. Ironically, maritime leaders felt the viaduct divided the harbor from the city and would diminish the community's engagement with the waterfront and the importance it held for the economy.
Planning for the Future: In 1946, prodded by the erosion of its traditional markets, the Port embarked on a $22 million construction program to modernize facilities including Fishermen's Terminal, the East Waterway Dock, and the purchase of six of the city's largest piers including Piers 43, 45, 46, 47, 48 and 49 from the Pacific Coast Company. These piers would become the future home of Terminal 46.
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Scheduled Flights: On September 1, Northwest Airlines and Western inaugurated the first scheduled service at Sea-Tac. Ten flights landed or departed that day.
Sea-Tac's first terminal building 1947. Courtesy Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Branch.
The First Airport Terminal: Not quite as comfortable as today's terminal. The airport's first customers warmed themselves around a pot-bellied stove in "The Pantry," a Quonset hut.
Another Pier: The Port purchases the East Waterway Terminal and Pier 20 on Harbor Island, the future site of Terminal 18.
Northwesterners Take Flight: Sea-Tac Airport serves more than 130,000 passengers in its first full year of commercial operations.
Advertising Age – Port Promotion Begins: In January 1948 the Seattle Chamber of Commerce established a new Port Development and Maritime Committee to campaign for more waterfront business.
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A $4-Million Beauty.
A $4-Million Beauty: On July 9, the new state-of-the-art "administration building" (aka the new airport terminal) was dedicated in front of 30,000 local admirers.
Containing It: The precursor to containerization begins at Pier 42 with the Alaska Steamship Company's four-year experiment with shipping goods in larger containers. SeaLand and Malcom McLean will introduce containerization to Seattle's Seaport in the 1950s.
A New Middle Name: The word "international" is appropriately added to the airport's name as Northwest Airlines takes possession of its' first Boeing 377 Stratocruiser and declares Sea-Tac its "gateway to the Orient."
Fishing and Tourists: The Salmon Bay Fishing Terminal (today's Fishermen's Terminal) doubles in size to accommodate the expanding Pacific Northwest Fishing Fleet and growing interest from tourists.
Checking out goods at Foreign Trade Zone No. 5.
Duty-Free: The Port of Seattle was granted authorization for Foreign Trade Zone No. 5 (FTZ), one of the oldest in the nation. Goods may be stored for sorting, culling, marking, etc, without payment of customs duties until they enter the domestic market. Some goods never enter the U.S. market, and are sold through duty-free shops throughout the world, and in international waters.
Over its many decades of existence, the Port has operated the FTZ at various locations including the former Pier 20 at East Waterway Terminal on Harbor Island, and Terminal 106. In 1967, the principal imports were Volkswagens, rainwear, and sauna bath heaters. In 1973, countries using the FTZ included Japan, France, Russia and the Philippines. Eventually, the Port sought to expand its authorization to include all Port properties, including Sea-Tac Airport, and in 1989, the Port was granted that authority, increasing total acreage from 1.4 acres to 1400 acres. Warehouse activities temporarily ceased in December of 2002, and currently the Port is streamlining FTZ processes.
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