1920 - 1929
The end of the war brought the end of government contracts and forced the closure of many of the shipyards that had thrived in war time. Despite these setbacks, the Port’s second decade was marked by continued improvement and land acquisition. The Port had three new commissioners, and a new, slightly more economic and politically conservative approach, which reflected the nation’s conservatism at the time.
With the growth of commerce, the Port no longer was a fledgling operation, but a dominant political establishment that earned the respect of the local businessmen. The Port reduced operating expenses and turned losses into profit, it now focused on building better relationships with the community and strengthening international ties, particularly with China and Japan. The decade ended with the biggest financial crisis of the 20th century–the October stock market crash which led to world-wide depression.
Longshoremen load and stack cargo including lumber, wheat, beer, fish, hemp, tea and camphor. Seattle is the principle port of entry for soybean, coconut, and peanut oils from Asia. Longshore work is an overwhelmingly hands-on experience, but that will change in 40 years with the advent of containerization and mechanization.
Seattle’s docks are used for smuggling operations, to bring illegal liquor shipments to the city via powerful speedboats from Canada. Fired from the police force, Roy Olmstead brings notoriety to the Northwest as the “King of the Puget Sound Bootleggers.”
According to the 1920 U.S. Census, 315,312 people have made Seattle their home.
Warehouse workers use the “Electric Portable Stacking Elevator” capable of lifting 3,000 pounds. This back and labor saving device was created and patented by Port of Seattle engineers.
U.S. Congress passes the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Progressive Washington State, however, was 10 years ahead, having approved women’s voting rights back in 1910.
Colonel George Lamping and W.S. Lincoln begin a decade of service on the Port Commission, and are later joined by George Cotterill in 1922. Their long tenure provides solid, consistent leadership for the Port.
Silk Success: Most of the coveted silk shipments from Far East land on Seattle‘s docks and are then whisked via “silk trains” to East Coast markets. The silk trains get priority over all other trains and are staffed with armed guards to protect their pricey cargo against thieves.
The Port of Seattle innovates with cold storage facilities never before seen. The Spokane St. Terminal is used for freezing, handling and storing fresh-caught fish from Alaska as well as keeping Washington apples, pears, berries, eggs, butter, and cheese refrigerated until they are exported or sent to local markets. This new facility can store more than four million pounds of fish. Bell St. Terminal and Wharf stores up to 10,000 tons of dairy products, vegetables, cured salmon and salt herring, in nearly 200,000 square feet of space, making it one of the Port’s most versatile properties.
Congress imposes a high tariff on imports, decimating the soybean oil trade from Japan. Seattle had been the major port for this import and much of the space at Smith Cove was dedicated to storing the oil.
Robert Bridges, one of the original Port Commissioners, so nicknamed by Fred L. Boalt in The Seattle Star, dies in Auburn, Washington. The next day, despite being Bridges’ most vocal opponents throughout his time on the Commission, both the Seattle Times and Post–Intelligencer had front page stories on his critical role in the Port’s development. Once calling for him to be kicked off, the Post-Intelligencer dubbed him the “Father of the Port Commission” (Post–Intelligencer, Dec. 3, 1921).
Despite bustling activity, growing trade, and state-of-the-art facilities, the Port operates at loss of $300,000. But it makes a quick turnaround. Thanks to smart investments in Seattle’s waterfront, the Port is making a profit again by 1929, only to see another downturn after the stock market crashes.
Lumber is the top export; the annual cut is over five billion feet. Half of Washington State residents are employed in lumber or allied trades.
Seattle is the leading fish port in America, with shipments worth more than $5 million passing through the port in just one year. Fruits, dairy products and poultry also make their way through this growing port.
First flight around the world begins April 6 and ends September 28 at Sand Point Naval Station in Seattle.
Port buys its seventh property, the 26-acre “Unit No. 15” at Piers 39 and 42, the previous site of Skinner and Eddy Shipyard No. 2, from the U.S. Shipping Board. In a few years, as the depression takes hold, this property becomes the home to “Hooverville,” a collection of shacks built by homeless men. (See Hooverville, 1931). Decades later this prime location will be used for moving containers through the Port.
The Admiral-Oriental Line runs passenger service from Seattle to Yokohama in 10 days, four days shorter than a trip to the Orient from California ports. Seattle‘s proximity to the Far East reinforces its value to trade.
Foreign and domestic imports and exports this year zoom to more than $730 million, up from just over $114 million in 1913.
The Port’s cranes prove versatility, lifting a yacht onto a vessel.
Bertha Knight Landes is elected Mayor of Seattle. She is the first and only female mayor the city has ever had and the first woman to hold an executive office in any major American city.
Expansion at Hanford Street Grain Terminal ups total capacity to 1.5 million bushels with three berths for loading grain.
Trade to the Orient now accounts for 50 percent of the Port’s foreign commerce.
The Port buys Pier 38 from Pacific Steamship Company. This site, once called Atlantic St. Pier, along with “Unit No. 15” (Piers 39 and 42), will eventually allow the Port to construct the massive, technologically advanced, Terminal 46, over the space occupied by piers 37-47.
Bank failures in Japan and a Japanese tariff on American log imports contribute to a breakdown in raw silk trade in the years to come. This year was still profitable, however, with a total import value of $188 million.
The October stock market crash comes during period of declining real estate values and leads to the Great Depression. Seattle is already suffering some economic despair due to prohibition, overfishing and overproduction of lumber.
Port Authorities Association set uniform wharf rates, consequently ending rate wars between public ports.