Seattle (pronounced [siːˈætɫ̩] ( listen) see-at-əl or [siːˈæɾɫ̩]) is the county seat of King County, in the state of Washington. With 608,660 residents as of the 2010 Census, Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest region of North America and the largest city on the West Coast north ofSan Francisco. The Seattle metropolitan area of about 3.4 million inhabitants is the 15th largest metropolitan area in the United States.[8] The city is a major coastal seaport situated on a narrow isthmus between Puget Sound (an arm of the Pacific Ocean) and Lake Washington, about 114 miles (183 km) south of the Canada–United States border. In 2010, the container ports in Seattle Metro (Seattle-Tacoma) were the third busiest in the United States, after Los Angeles-Long Beach and New York, serving as a major gateway for trade with Asia.[9]

The Seattle area had been inhabited by Native Americans for at least 4,000 years before the first permanent white settlers.[10] Arthur A. Dennyand his group of travelers, subsequently known as the Denny Party, arrived at Alki Point on November 13, 1851. The settlement was moved to its current site and renamed “Seattle” in 1853, after Chief Seattle of the local Duwamish and Suquamish tribes.

Logging was Seattle’s first major industry, but by the late 19th century the city had become a commercial and shipbuilding center as a gateway toAlaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. By 1910, Seattle was one of the 25 largest cities in the country.[11] However, the Great Depressionseverely damaged the city’s economy. Growth returned during and after World War II, due partially to the local Boeing company, which established Seattle as a center for aircraft manufacturing. The city developed as a technology center in the 1980s. The stream of new software, biotechnology, and internet companies led to an economic revival, which increased the city’s population by 50,000 between 1990 and 2000. More recently, Seattle has become a hub for “green” industry and a model for sustainable development.

Seattle has a noteworthy musical history. From 1918 to 1951, there were nearly two dozen jazz nightclubs along Jackson Street in the current Chinatown/International District. The jazz scene developed the early careers of Ray CharlesQuincy JonesErnestine Anderson and others. Seattle is also the birthplace of rock legend Jimi Hendrix and the rock music style known as “grunge“,[12] which was made famous by local groups MelvinsNirvanaSoundgardenAlice in Chains, and Pearl Jam. In more recent years, Seattle has been known for indie rock and indie dance music.


Main article: History of Seattle


Archaeological excavations suggest that humans have inhabited the Seattle area for at least 4,000 years.[10] By the time the first European settlers arrived in the area, the people (subsequently called the Duwamish tribe) occupied at least seventeen villages in the areas around Elliott Bay.[13][14][15]

The first European to visit the Seattle area was George Vancouver, in May 1792 during his 1791–95 expedition to chart the Pacific Northwest.[16]

In 1851, a large party led by Luther Collins made a location on land at the mouth of the Duwamish River; they formally claimed it on September 14, 1851.[17] Thirteen days later, members of the Collins Party on the way to their claim passed three scouts of the Denny Party.[18] Members of the Denny Party claimed land on Alki Point on September 28, 1851.[19] The rest of the Denny Party set sail from Portland, Oregon and landed on Alki point during a rainstorm on November 13, 1851.[19]

First Avenue at Columbia Street, c. 1870

After a difficult winter, most of the Denny Party relocated across Elliott Bay and founded the village of “Dewamps” or “Duwamps” on the site of present day Pioneer Square.[19] Charles Terry and John Low remained at the original landing location and established a village they initially called “New York”, but renamed “New York Alki” in April 1853, from a Chinook word meaning, roughly, “by and by” or “someday”.[20] For the next few years, New York Alki and Duwamps competed for dominance, but in time Alki was abandoned and its residents moved across the bay to join the rest of the settlers.[21]

David Swinson (“Doc”) Maynard, one of Duwamps’s founders, was the primary advocate to rename the village “Seattle” after Chief Sealth (“Seattle”) of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes.[22][23][24] The name “Seattle” appears on official Washington Territory papers dated May 23, 1853, when the first plats for the village were filed. In 1855, nominal land settlements were established. On January 14, 1865, the Legislature of Territorial Washington incorporated the Town of Seattle with a board of trustees managing the city. Two years later, after a petition was filed by most of the leading citizens, the Legislature disincorporated the town. In 1867, a young French Canadian Catholic priest named Francis X. Prefontaine arrived in Seattle and decided to establish a parish there. During 1868–69 he built the church by raising the money at fairs in the Puget Sound area and doing much of the work himself, and in 1869 he opened Seattle’s first Catholic church at Third Avenue and Washington Street, on the site where the present-day Prefontaine Building stands. The town of Seattle remained a mere precinct of King County until late 1869 when a new petition was filed and the city was re-incorporated with a Mayor-council government.[19][25] The corporate seal of the City of Seattle carries the date “1869.”

[edit]Timber town

Seattle’s first streetcar, at the corner of Occidental and Yesler, 1884. All of the buildings visible in this picture were destroyed by fire five years later.

Seattle has a history of boom and bust cycles, as is common to cities near areas of extensive natural and mineral resources. Seattle has risen several times economically, then gone into precipitous decline, but it has typically used those periods to rebuild solid infrastructure.[26]

The first such boom, covering the early years of the city, was fueled by the lumber industry. (During this period the road now known as Yesler Way was nicknamed “Skid Road”,[27] after the timber skidding down the hill to Henry Yesler‘s sawmill. This is considered a possible origin for the term which later entered the wider American lexicon as Skid Row.)[26] Like much of the American West, Seattle saw numerous conflicts between labor and management, as well as ethnic tensions that culminated in the anti-Chinese riots of 1885–1886.[28] This violence was caused by unemployed whites who determined to drive the Chinese from Seattle (anti-Chinese riots also occurred in Tacoma). In 1900, Asians were 4.2% of the population.[29] Martial law was declared, and federal troops were brought in to put down the disorder. Nevertheless, the economic success in the Seattle area was so great that when the Great Seattle fire of 1889 destroyed the central business district, a far grander city center rapidly emerged in its place.[30] Finance company Washington Mutual, for example, was founded in the immediate wake of the fire.[31] This boom was followed by the construction of a park system, designed by the Olmsted brothers‘ landscape architecture firm.[26] However, the Panic of 1893 hit Seattle hard.[32]

Gold Rush, World War I, and the Great Depression

The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition had just over 3.7 million visitors during its 138-day run[33]

The second and most dramatic boom and bust resulted from the Klondike Gold Rush, which ended the depression that had begun with the Panic of 1893; in a short time, Seattle became a major transportation center. On July 14, 1897, the S.S. Portland docked with its famed “ton of gold”, and Seattle became the main transport and supply point for the miners in Alaska and the Yukon. Few of those working men found lasting wealth, however; it was Seattle’s business of clothing the miners and feeding them salmon that panned out in the long run. Along with Seattle, other cities like Everett,TacomaPort TownsendBremerton, and Olympia, all in the Puget Sound region, became competitors for exchange, rather than mother lodes for extraction, of precious metals.[34] The boom lasted well into the early part of the 20th century and funded many new Seattle companies and products. In 1907, 19-year-old James E. Casey borrowed $100 from a friend and founded the American Messenger Company (later UPS). Other Seattle companies founded during this period include Nordstrom and Eddie Bauer.[31] The Gold Rush era culminated in the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909, which is largely responsible for the layout of today’s University of Washington campus.[35]

Pioneer Square in 1917 featuring the Smith Tower, theSeattle Hotel and to the left thePioneer Building

A shipbuilding boom in the early part of the 20th century became massive during World War I, making Seattle somewhat of a company town; the subsequent retrenchment led to the Seattle General Strike of 1919, the firstgeneral strike in the country.[36] A 1912 city development plan by Virgil Bogue went largely unused. Seattle was mildly prosperous in the 1920s but was particularly hard hit in the Great Depression, experiencing some of the country’s harshest labor strife in that era. Violence during the Maritime Strike of 1934 cost Seattle much of its maritime traffic, which was rerouted to the Port of Los Angeles.[37]

Seattle was also the home base of impresario Alexander Pantages who, starting in 1902, opened a number of theaters in the city exhibiting vaudeville acts and silent movies. His activities soon expanded, and the thrifty Greek went on and became one of America’s greatest theater and movie tycoons. Between Pantages and his rival John Considine, Seattle was for a while the western United States’ vaudeville mecca. B. Marcus Priteca, the Scottish-born and Seattle-based architect, built several theaters for Pantages, including some in Seattle. The theaters he built for Pantages in Seattle have been either demolished or converted to other uses, but many other theaters survive in other cities of the USA, often retaining the Pantages name; Seattle’s surviving Paramount Theatre, on which he collaborated, was not a Pantages theater.

Post-war years: aircraft and software

Building the Seattle Center Monorail, 1961. Looking up Fifth Avenue from Virginia Street.

War work again brought local prosperity during World War II, this time centered on Boeing aircraft. The war dispersed the city’s numerous Japanese-American businessmen due to the Japanese American internment. After war, the local economy dipped. It rose again with Boeing’s growing dominance in the commercial airliner market.[38] Seattle celebrated its restored prosperity and made a bid for world recognition with the Century 21 Exposition, the 1962 World’s Fair.[39] Another major local economic downturn was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many people left the area to look for work elsewhere, and two local real estate agents put up a billboard reading “Will the last person leaving Seattle – Turn out the lights.”[40]

Seattle remained the corporate headquarters of Boeing until 2001, when the company separated its headquarters from its major production facilities; the headquarters were moved to Chicago.[41] The Seattle area is still home to Boeing’s Renton narrow-body plant (where the 707720727, and 757 were assembled, and the 737 is assembled today) and Everett wide-body plant (assembly plant for the 747767777, and 787). The company’s credit union for employees, BECU, remains based in the Seattle area, though it is now open to all residents of Washington.

Downtown Seattle and a ferry at the Central Waterfront.

As prosperity began to return in the 1980s, the city was stunned by the Wah Mee massacre in 1983, when 13 people were killed in an illegal gambling club in the International District, Seattle‘s Chinatown.[42] Beginning with Microsoft‘s 1979 move from Albuquerque, New Mexico to nearby Bellevue, Washington,[43] Seattle and its suburbs became home to a number of technology companies including Amazon.comRealNetworks, McCaw Cellular (now part of AT&T Mobility), VoiceStream (now T-Mobile USA), and biomedical corporations such as HeartStream (later purchased byPhilips), Heart Technologies (later purchased by Boston Scientific), Physio-Control (later purchased by Medtronic), ZymoGenetics, ICOS (later purchased by Eli Lilly and Company) and Immunex (later purchased by Amgen). This success brought an influx of new citizens with a population increase within city limits of almost 50,000 between 1990 and 2000,[44] and saw Seattle’s real estate become some of the most expensive in the country.[45] Many of the Seattle area’s tech companies remain relatively strong, but the frenzied dot-com boom years ended in early 2001.[46][47]

Seattle in this period attracted widespread attention as home to these many companies, but also by hosting the 1990 Goodwill Games[48] and theAPEC leaders conference in 1993, as well as through the worldwide popularity of grunge, a sound that had developed in Seattle’s independent music scene.[49] Another bid for worldwide attention—hosting the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999—garnered visibility, but not in the way its sponsors desired, as related protest activity and police reactions to those protests overshadowed the conference itself.[50] The city was further shaken by the Mardi Gras Riots in 2001, and was literally shaken the following day by the Nisqually Earthquake.[51]

The UK consulting firm Mercer, in a 2011 assessment “conducted to help governments and major companies place employees on international assignments”, ranked Seattle 48th worldwide in quality of living; the survey factored in political stabilitypersonal freedom, sanitation, crime, housing, the natural environment, recreation, banking facilities, availability of consumer goods, education, and public services including transportation.[52]


Climate chart (explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °F
Precipitation totals in inches
[show]Metric conversion

Seattle’s climate is usually described as oceanic or temperate marine, with mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers. Like much of the Pacific Northwest, according to the Köppen climate classification it falls within a cool/mild wet winter, and dry-summer subtropical zone (Csb), with “cool”-summerMediterranean characteristics.[65] Other climate classification systems, such as Trewartha, place it firmly in the Oceanic zone (Do).[66]

Temperature extremes are moderated by the adjacent Puget Sound, greater Pacific Ocean, and Lake Washington. The region is largely denied Pacific storms by the Olympic Mountains and Arctic air by the Cascade Range. Despite being on the margin of the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, the city has a reputation for frequent rain.[67] This reputation comes from the frequency of precipitation in the fall, winter, and early spring. In an average year, more than 0.3 mm (0.01 in) of precipitation falls on 150 days. It is cloudy 201 days and partly cloudy 93 days.[68] The location of official weather and climatic records, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, is located about 19 km (12 miles) south of downtown in the city of SeaTac, and records more cloudy days and fewer partly cloudy days per year.[69] For this reason, official weather and climatic records do not actually reflect the weather and climate conditions of the city proper.

At 944 mm (37.49 in.), in reality, the city receives less precipitation annually than New York City (1201 mm/47.28 in.), Atlanta (1290 mm/50.79 in.), Boston(1055 mm/41.53 in.), Baltimore (1038 mm/40.87 in.), Portland, Maine (1128 mm/44.41 in.), Jacksonville, Florida (1304 mm/51.34 in.), and most cities on the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. These stats may be slightly misleading, however, as Seattle proper gets less rain than the region as a whole. Bremerton (15 miles SW of Seattle), and Issaquah (15 miles SE of Seattle) both receive 65 inches of rainfall annually, which means that some cities in the Seattle metro area would be considered the rainiest cities in the continental USA.

Surprisingly, Seattle proper was not listed in a study that revealed the 10 rainiest cities in the continental United States. This is due largely to Seattle’s dry summers, which result in statistically moderate annual accumulations, and its position on the eastern banks of the Puget Sound, which result in Seattle receiving less precipitation than other cities in the metro area. However, the city is becoming wetter; the current annual rainfall average of 952 millimeters reflects an increase of 11 mm.[70] Seattle receives the largest amount of rainfall of any U.S. city of more than 250,000 people in November, and is in the top 10 through winter, but is in the lower half of all cities from June to September. Seattle is in the top 5 rainiest U.S. cities by number of precipitations days, and it gets the least amount of annual sunlight of all major cities in the lower-48 states. Thunderstorms are rare; the city reports thunder on just seven days per year.[71] By comparison, Fort Myers, Florida reports thunder on 93 days per year, Kansas City on 52, and New York City on 25.

While heavy downpours are not as common in Seattle as they are in other areas of the USA, there are exceptions. One downpour occurred on December 2–4, 2007, when sustained hurricane-force winds and widespread heavy rainfall associated with a strong “Pineapple Express” event occurred in the greater Puget Sound area and the western parts of Washington and Oregon. Interstate 5 at Chehalis, Washington was covered by a mudslide and closed for almost two days; the result of heavy clear-cut logging in the highlands above the freeway. Precipitation totals exceeded 356 mm (14 inches) in some areas with winds topping out at 209 km/hr (130 mph) along coastal Oregon.[72] It became the second wettest event in Seattle history when a little over 130 millimetres (5.1 in) of rain fell on Seattle in a 24 hour period. The rain indirectly led to five deaths and widespread flooding and damage.[73]

Autumn, winter, and spring are frequently characterized by rain. Winters are cool and wet with average lows in the mid 30s °F (2–4 °C) at night. Colder weather does sometimes occur. Summers are fairly dry and warm by comparison, with average daytime highs around 73 °F (23 °C). Hotter weather occurs during some summer days. Seattle’s hottest official recorded temperature was103 °F (39 °C) on July 29, 2009;[74] the coldest recorded temperature was 0 °F (−18 °C) on January 31, 1950.[75] Eastern suburbs of Seattle, such as Bellevue and Issaquah, are typically even hotter when the temperature soars above 80 °F (27 °C), due to their location closer to downslope winds from the Cascade Mountains and further from Puget Sound; on Seattle’s recorded hottest day of July 29, 2009, parts of south Bellevue, Renton, and Issaquah peaked at 110 °F (43 °C).[76]

Eighty miles (130 km) to the west, the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park on the western flank of the Olympic Mountains receives an annual average rainfall of 142 inches (361 cm). Sixty miles to the south of Seattle, the state capital Olympia, which is out of the rain shadow, receives an annual average rainfall of 52 inches (132 cm).

Seattle typically receives some snowfall on an annual basis but heavy snow is rare. Average annual snowfall, as measured at Sea-Tac Airport, is 8.1 inches (21 cm).[77] Single calendar-day snowfall of six inches or greater has occurred on only 15 days since 1948, and only once since February 17, 1990, when 6.8 inches of snow officially fell at Sea-Tac airport on January 18, 2012. This moderate snow event was officially the 12th snowiest calendar day at the airport since 1948 and snowiest since November 1985.[77] Much of the city of Seattle proper received somewhat lesser snowfall accumulations. Locations to the south of Seattle received more, with Olympia and Chehalis receiving 14 to 18 inches even before noon.[78] Another moderate snow event occurred from December 12–25, 2008, when over one foot of snow fell and stuck on much of the roads, causing widespread difficulties in a city not equipped for clearing snow. Seattle’s daily record snowfall is 20 inches (51 cm) on January 13, 1950.[79] The largest snowstorm on record occurred from January 5–9, 1880, with snow drifting to 6 feet (1.8 m) in places at the end of the snow event. From January 31 to February 2, 1916, another heavy snow event occurred with 29 inches (74 cm) of snow on the ground by the time the event was over.[80]

A very sunny and dry climate typically dominates from May to late September. An average of 0.8 inches (20 mm) of rain falls in July and 1.0 inch (25 mm) in August. Summer thunderstorms are rare.[81]

The Puget Sound Convergence Zone is an important feature of Seattle’s weather. In the convergence zone, air arriving from the north meets air flowing in from the south. Both streams of air originate over the Pacific Ocean; airflow is split by the Olympic Mountains to Seattle’s west, then reunited to the east. When the air currents meet, they are forced upward, resulting inconvection.[82] Thunderstorms caused by this activity can occur north and south of town, but Seattle itself rarely receives more weather than occasional thunder and small hail showers. TheHanukkah Eve Wind Storm in December 2006 is an exception that brought heavy rain and winds gusting up to 69 mph (111 km/h), not caused by the Puget Sound Convergence Zone.

One of many exceptions to Seattle’s reputation as a damp location occurs in El Niño years, when marine weather systems track as far south as California and little precipitation falls in the Puget Sound area.[83] Since the region’s water comes from mountain snow packs during the dry summer months, El Niño winters can not only produce substandard skiing but can result in water rationing and a shortage of hydroelectric power the following summer.[84]


Pioneer Square neighborhood.

Seattle has grown through a series of annexations of smaller neighboring communities. On May 3, 1891, MagnoliaWallingfordGreen Lake, and the University District (then known as Brooklyn) were annexed.[88] The town of South Seattle was annexed on October 20, 1905.[89]Between January 7 and September 12, 1907, Seattle nearly doubled its land area by annexing six incorporated towns and areas of unincorporated King County, including Southeast Seattle, RavennaSouth ParkColumbia CityBallard, and West Seattle.[90] Three years later, after having difficulties paying a $10,000 bill from the county, the city of Georgetown merged with Seattle.[91] Finally, on January 4, 1954, the area between N. 85th Street and N. 145th Street was annexed, including the neighborhoods of PinehurstGreenwoodBlue RidgeCrown HillBroadviewBitter LakeHaller LakeMaple LeafLake CityView Ridge and Northgate.[92]

Former Seattle mayor Greg Nickels is among those who have called Seattle “a city of neighborhoods”,[93][94] although the boundaries (and even names) of those neighborhoods are often open to dispute. For example, a Department of Neighborhoods spokeswoman reported that her own neighborhood has gone from “the ‘CD’ (Central District) to ‘Madrona’ to ‘Greater Madison Valley’ and now ‘Madrona Park’.[94]

Over a dozen Seattle neighborhoods have Neighborhood Service Centers, originally known in 1972 as “Little City Halls”[95] and even more have their own street fair and/or parade during the summer months.[96] The largest of the city’s street fairs feature hundreds of craft and food booths and multiple stages with live entertainment, and draw more than 100,000 people over the course of a weekend.[97] In addition, at least half a dozen neighborhoods have weekly farmers’ markets, some with as many as fifty vendors.[98]

Additionally, Puget Sound Regional Council designates several areas of Seattle as urban centers, defined as “designated planning districts intended to provide a mix of housing, employment and commercial and cultural amenities in a compact form that supports transit, walking and cycling.”[99] These urban centers may have the same name as a neighborhood but slightly different borders; for example, the Capitol Hill Urban Center is much smaller than the entire neighborhood.



Seattle Central Library with theColumbia Center in the background

The Space Needle, dating from the 1962 Century 21 Exposition, is Seattle’s most recognizable landmark. It has been featured in the logo of the former Seattle SuperSonics NBA team, the Seattle Sounders MLS team, the television show Frasier and the backgrounds of the television series Dark AngelGrey’s Anatomy,The Killing and iCarly, and films such as It Happened at the World’s FairSleepless in SeattleThe Twilight Saga: EclipseLove Happens and The Parallax View. The fairgrounds surrounding the Needle have been converted into Seattle Center, which remains the site of many local civic and cultural events, such asBumbershootFolklife, and the Bite of Seattle. Seattle Center plays multiple roles in the city, ranging from a public fair ground to a civic center, though recent economic losses have called its viability and future into question.[100] The Seattle Center Monorail was also constructed for Century 21 and still runs from Seattle Center to Westlake Center, a downtown shopping mall, a little over a mile to the southeast.

The Smith Tower was the tallest building on the West Coast from its completion in 1914 until the Space Needle overtook it in 1962.[101] The late 1980s saw the construction of Seattle’s two tallest skyscrapers: the 76 story Columbia Center (completed 1985) is the tallest building in the Pacific Northwest[102] and the fourth tallest building west of the Mississippi River;[103] theWashington Mutual Tower (completed 1988) is Seattle’s second tallest building.[104][105] Other notable Seattle landmarks include Pike Place Market, the Fremont Troll, the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame(at Seattle Center), and the Seattle Central Library.

The Seattle Great Wheel is on Pier 57, next to Downtown Seattle. Extended out over Elliott Bay, the 175 feet (53 m) structure is the tallest Ferris wheel on the west coast and the only wheel that has been built over water.[106][107]

Starbucks has been at Pike Place Market since the coffee company was founded there in 1971. The first store is still operating a block south of its original location.[108]

The National Register of Historic Places has over 150 Seattle listings.[109] The city also designates its own landmarks.[110]\

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