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1911 - 1919

The creation of the Port of Seattle early in this decade transformed a messy jumble of privately-owned and competing waterfront companies into a publicly owned and organized entity capable of propelling Seattle into a major center for trade. By the end of the decade the Port of Seattle would rank as one of the most successful in the U.S.

Birth of the Port: In March, the Washington State Legislature enacts a law allowing the establishment of port district and King County voters to approve creation of the Port of Seattle on September 5th. Read more about the law on

Plan for Improvements: Port purchases Smith Cove docks and launches a “Comprehensive Scheme of Harbor Improvements,” a series of improvement projects along the East Waterway, West Waterway, Central Waterfront, and Salmon Bay.

Land for Terminals: The Port buys the land needed to build the Spokane and Hanford St. Terminals at Piers 24 and 25. Another key purchase is the Stacey-Lander Terminal, at Piers 29 and 30; this will eventually be the home of the mega-container Terminal 30 that will make the Port a West Coast leader in container operations.
Longest Pier: Pier A at Smith Cove, today’s Pier 90 at Terminal 91 is constructed and is the longest earthen pier of its kind measuring 2,530 feet long and 370 feet wide.
Gone Fishin': Salmon Bay Terminal (today’s Fishermen’s Terminal) is dedicated and the North Pacific Fishing Fleet makes it their home port. Commissioner Chittenden declares its purpose is, “To organize and solidify the scattered fishing industry, to give such aid in protecting the fisherman in marketing his hard-earned products.”
Good-bye Cape Horn: The Panama Canal opens, and the Port expects a massive increase in trade to the West Coast.
Chilling: The Port launches an extensive plan to provide cold storage plants for fruit and fish, offering real competition to the private cold storage companies whose fees were exorbitant.
The Port Ferries: The Port buys Pier 52A and the West Seattle Ferry for $122,000. The Port also built a 150 foot steel hulled ferry for shuttling passengers about Elliott Bay and Lake Washington. The Port no longer owns or operates ferries, but for a short time it did -- on both Lake Washington and Elliott Bay.
Moving Uptown: The Port acquires Piers 64 and 65, the Lenora St Piers, Pier 66, and the Bell St Pier, investing for the first time in Seattle’s Central Waterfront.
A Union at Work: Union workers loaded a Great Northern train for the first time, when members of International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) Local 38-12 moved 650,000 cases of canned salmon from ship to rail across a Port dock.
A Common Interest: The Port brings action against railroad companies who were charging fees to cross each other’s tracks. Instead of taking it to the Interstate Commerce Commission, the railroads agreed, resulting in a common-use line between Smith Cove and Salmon Bay.
War: Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is assassinated triggering World War I.
Happy Land: The Bell Street Terminal - later the Port of Seattle Headquarters – is a working dock and warehouse, with a rooftop park complete with solarium and small pool. The rooftop park, meant to provide waterfront access to Seattle residents and visitors, catered to housewives shopping at the nearby Pike Place Market. They could drop off their children in the “Happy Land” and head up to the market. The view atop the roof furnished “inspiring glimpses of water traffic and the panorama of city and sea, forest and mountain” (Port of Seattle Report 1911-1915). However, in the 1920s, the Port shut down the park, due to the unsavory atmosphere brought by shore-bound sailors and their Pike Street companions. 
Bridging the Gap: A new overpass, between Pike Place Market and the Bell St. Wharf and Cold Storage, links the waterfront with the bustling businesses on the bluff above it.
Grain Exports: The Port constructs the Hanford Street Grain Terminal, one of the largest and finest grain facilities in the nation. The new facility opens up lucrative export markets for grain farmers in Eastern Washington and the Midwest. The Hanford Street Grain terminal remains in operation through 1970, when it’s imploded and replaced by the grain facility at Terminal 86.
Bigger and Better: Smith Cove Terminal construction continues as another pier is added featuring an electric gantry crane, lights for night loading, depressed tracks to load direct from ship to rail, and three miles of public railroad tracks.
The Port Turns 4! The Port Commission invites the public to celebrate at “Farmer’s Day” on September 4 by offering visits to the wharves, warehouses and docks.
Return on Investment: The Port finally begins to see some payoff in all of its development efforts. Grain facilities, cold storage, and a shipping boom lead to an increase in commerce. Combined foreign and domestic trade, which was valued at just $69 million in 1910, grows to an astonishing $412 million this year.
Speakeasy: Washington State dries up as prohibition takes effect.
Building Boats: The Port sees the first surge of war-time shipbuilding. Plants, such as Todd Shipyards and Skinner & Eddy Corporation, are busy with wartime contracts for the Emergency Fleet Corporation. 30,000 men find work at eight shipyards over the next few years.
A Dream Realized: Port of Seattle ranks third in the nation with a combined import and export value of $486 million, surpassed only by New York and Philadelphia. Only one other West Coast port, San Francisco, is among the top ten this year.

The Yanks Are Coming:
The U.S. enters World War I.
Fresh Water: The Hiram M. Chittenden (Ballard) Locks open, linking saltwater Puget Sound with fresh-water Lake Union and Lake Washington, and helping to create a vast network of maritime-dependent industries including shipbuilding, fuel docks and vessel repair.
#2: The Washington Custom District, to which the Port of Seattle belongs, is ranked second in commerce among U.S. ports.
Peace: Germany surrenders and Armistice Day signals the end of the Great War.
Far East Finery: Raw silk is the most valuable import to Seattle, accounting for 40% of the overall silk imports in the U.S. 
Seattle Solidarity: Wage, labor, and shipbuilding issues lead to the Seattle General Strike of 1919. It was the first city-wide labor action in America to be proclaimed a “general strike.” It led off a tumultuous era of post-World War I labor conflict that saw massive strikes shut down the nation's steel, coal, and meatpacking industries and threaten civil unrest in a dozen cities.”
Setting Records: The size and mechanical capabilities of the Port’s piers lead to big numbers in trade. One million tons of freight move across the first pier at Smith Cove. An early crane, the shear leg derrick, boasts a lifting capacity of one hundred tons, and is the only lift with that capacity on a commercial pier in the U.S. Adding to the cargo handling capabilities here are locomotive and gantry cranes. The Smith Cove Piers are now the largest commercial piers in the world. The two piers can accommodate twenty 10,000-ton vessels at one time.
Bon Voyage! NYK Steamship Line offers regular sailings between Japan and Seattle.