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Seattle History

For thousands of years the Native American Salish people lived in cedar-house villages fronting the Puget Sound tide flats. The bucolic setting began a march to city-hood with the 1851 landing of the Denny Party at Alki (a West Seattle beach). Incorporated in 1865, Seattle was a major exporter of timber and goods that evolved into a rough-and-tumble shipping town with a frontier mentality. The boomtown frenzy went up in smoke with the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, which torched 29 city blocks. The resulting construction jobs turned the city from ashes into Pioneer Square’s brick-and-stone edifices. When the steamer Portland docked in July 1897, word spread like wildfire: Its cargo holds were filled with gold from Canada’s Klondike. The Gold Rush was on, and Seattle was the supply center and point of embarkation for the Yukon gold fields. Seattle grew rapidly in the early 1900s, slucing down hills for growth, expanding in all directions and building bridges, canals and locks, as well as a network of parks designed by the Olmsted brothers. World War I brought shipbuilding jobs and industrial prominence when lumber magnate Bill Boeing turned his energy to airplanes. Through the 1960s Seattle enjoyed an economic boom sustained by Boeing, but more than 40,000 jobs were lost in the 1971 “Boeing bust.” A generation later, Microsoft’s rising tide kicked off the high-tech era that helped establish Seattle’s present-day economic and cultural diversity.