Rising Tides and Tailwinds

The Story of the Port of Seattle, 1911-2011

Kit Oldham, Peter Blecha, and the HistoryLink Staff

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  • $19.95 hardcover (9780295991313) Add to Cart
  • Published: September 2011
  • Subject Listing: Northwest History, Public Works, Public History
  • Bibliographic information: 128 pp., 195 color illus., index, 10 x 10 in.
  • Territorial rights: World
  • Published with: Port of Seattle
  • Contents

A century ago Seattle was held hostage by its own waterfront. The great natural harbor of Elliott Bay was the young city's reason for being, but along the shoreline competing railroad companies built a chaotic sprawl of railroad lines, docks, and warehouses. Those corporate owners had few reasons to cooperate, making agreement on much-needed improvements nearly impossible. Conditions were so bad that visionary civic planner Virgil Bogue called the harborside "a blot on the city and a menace to the lives of its people."

With little to show for many years of bickering and lawsuits, Washington residents revolted. One century ago, the state legislature passed, and Governor Marion Hay signed into law, the Port District Act. It provided for the creation of independent government bodies to run the state's ports - a controversial, even radical, concept that gained broad approval. In September of that year King County voters approved creation of the state's first public port district by a three-to-one margin.

The Port of Seattle quickly proved its worth during the turbulent World War I years, when it briefly became the second busiest in the country after New York. In succeeding decades, the Port undertook many projects that would have been difficult or impossible for private companies, met the challenges of the Depression, forged cooperative and productive relations with longshore and other unions, founded Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (now by far its largest operation), helped pioneer the revolution in containerized cargo, and generated tens of thousands of jobs for the city and surrounding communities. Entering its second century, the Port is a recognized leader in environmental restoration and sustainable aviation and shipping practices and is one of the major drivers of the regional economy.

Kit Oldham is a staff historian for and co-author of Moving Washington Timeline: The First Century of the Washington State Department of Transportation, 1905-2005. Peter Blecha is a staff historian and contributing editor at and the author of six books.

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Birth of the Port
Building an Institution
Boom and Bust
Into the Jet Age
Revolution and Recession
Competition and Expansion
Green Gateway

Appendix A: Port of Seattle Commisioners
Appendix B: Port of Seattle Directors/CEOs
Appendix C: Port of Seattle Union Partners
A Note on Sources

Image Credits

"Rising Tides features plenty of colorful actors, from fiery longshore-union leader Harry Bridges to railroad mogul James J. Hill. . . . This is Seattle history from another angle.'" - Mike Dillon, City Living, October 2011