On April 12, 1914, Seattle butcher Henry Hanson, a 22-year-old German immigrant, swims from West Seattle across Elliott Bay to Seattle in one hour, 35 minutes, a feat that had killed a world champion six weeks before. Hanson departed the Schwager-Nettleton Mill Co. accompanied by a launch and two skiffs and he used both the breast stroke and crawl to reach the Spring Street float. "Lips blue with cold and body white with exposure" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), his first words on leaving the water were, "Where are my clothes?" The event was not sanctioned or sponsored by any organization.
On March 1, 1914, 34 year-old Arthur R. "Tums" Cavill, one-time world champion for distance swimming and inventor of the Australian Crawl swimming stroke, tried the same two-and-one-half mile course, but was pulled from the water unconscious just 500 feet from the Seattle shore. He died 40 minutes later, apparently of exposure, saying only, "It was too cold. It was too cold." In 1907, Cavill had been the first to swim the Golden Gate in San Francisco. He worked as a swimming instructor in Portland, Oregon, and attempted the Elliott Bay swim after being challenged by a swimmer from Tacoma.
Hanson immigrated to Canada in 1912 from Schleswig-Holstein in Germany and he swam competitively in Victoria, British Columbia. While serving in the German army, he earned three medals for swimming.