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Wilkes expedition sailing vessel Porpoise anchors in Commencement Bay on May 17, 1841.
On May 17, 1841, the United States sailing vessel Porpoise
anchors below the bluff of present-day Tacoma, and her officers name Commencement Bay. The Porpoise
is part of the United States Exploring Expedition commanded by Lt. Charles Wilkes (1798-1877). She is, in the words of Murray Morgan, "224 tons, 88 feet long, two-masted, rigged as a brigantine, carrying sixty-five men and under the command of Cadwallader Ringgold" (Puget's Sound
, 51). This is the first United States presence in the region.
File 5057: Full Text >
Nicholas Delin begins construction of a sawmill at the head of Commencement Bay on April 1, 1852.
On April 1, 1852, Nicholas Delin (1817-1882) begins construction of a water-powered sawmill at the head of Commencement Bay in what will become Tacoma. By the end of the year, the mill will be cutting lumber and selling it to local settlers and to the California market. This is the first Euro-American settlement in Tacoma, but it will be abandoned in 1855.
File 5017: Full Text >
Job Carr arrives at future site of Tacoma on Commencement Bay on December 25, 1864.
On December 25, 1864, Job Carr arrives at the future site of Tacoma on Commencement Bay. He will file a 168-acre claim to land at a site the Nisqually and Puyallup Peoples call Shubahlup or sheltered place. The confluence of two creeks produced a small lagoon protected by a sand bar where the natives beach canoes. Carr is the first permanent Euro-American settler in Tacoma, after the abandonment of earlier claims in 1855.
File 5018: Full Text >
Promoter Morton Matthew McCarver arrives at Eureka, later Tacoma, on April 1, 1868.
On April 1, 1868, promoter Morton Matthew McCarver (1807-1875) arrives at Eureka, on Commencement Bay. Recognizing the location's potential as a terminus for the Northern Pacific Railroad, he will purchase 163 3/4 acres from Job Carr, who had settled there three years earlier. McCarver (and others) will name the townsite Tacoma.
File 5019: Full Text >
Northern Pacific Railroad announces Tacoma terminus on July 14, 1873.
On July 14, 1873, an expectant crowd gathers at Yesler Mill in Seattle to hear Arthur Denny (1822-1899) read a telegram from Northern Pacific Railroad executives R. D. Rice and J. C. Ainsworth announcing the railroad's decision on where to locate the terminus. The crowd expects the terminus to be located in Seattle, but Denny opens the telegram and reads, "We have located the terminus on Commencement Bay." Seattleites are shocked, dismayed, and angered that the planned transcontinental railroad and its coveted wealth of goods and passengers would serve Puget Sound not from Seattle but from Tacoma, then barely a village. The reaction in Tacoma is quite the opposite -- celebration. Promoter Matthew McCarver had platted Tacoma City on Commencement Bay speculating that the railroad would come there and his investment proved a good one.
File 922: Full Text >
Thomas Prosch publishes Tacoma's first newspaper, the Pacific Tribune, beginning on August 9, 1873.
On August 9, 1873, Thomas Prosch (1850-1915) begins publishing Tacoma's first newspaper, the Pacific Tribune
. Prosch has moved the newspaper from Olympia to Tacoma immediately following the Northern Pacific Railroad's choice of Tacoma as its western terminus. Prosch, along with everyone else, expects Tacoma to become a railroad boomtown if not the leading city of the West. The daily appears every evening. Its motto is: "Here Shall the Press the People's Rights Proclaim, Unawed by Influence and Unbribed by Gain." The paper is highly successful until the national financial panic of 1873 occurs little more than a month later. In June 1875, Prosch, declaring regret and high regard for the people of Tacoma, will move the paper to Seattle.
File 5046: Full Text >
Scheduled service on the Northern Pacific Railroad between New Tacoma and Kalama begins on January 5, 1874.
On January 5, 1874, scheduled service on the Pacific Division of Northern Pacific Railroad (NP) begins between New Tacoma and Kalama. New Tacoma is located in Pierce County in the southern part of the Puget Sound region and Kalama is located in Cowlitz County on the Columbia River north of Vancouver. The fare is $6 with $1 more for the ferry ride to Portland. The transcontinental railroad still needed 1,500 miles of track between Kalama and Bismarck, Dakota Territory.
File 7408: Full Text >
New Tacoma and Tacoma City merge to become Tacoma in December 1883.
In December 1883, New Tacoma and Tacoma City merge to become Tacoma. New Tacoma (pop. 4,000) is the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad on Commencement Bay. Tacoma City, or Old Tacoma, (pop. 400) is the settlement formed around the Job Carr claim a short distance to the north. A temporary mayor and nine aldermen are elected.
File 5062: Full Text >
Charles Wright organizes Tacoma Light and Water Co. in June 1884.
In June 1884, Charles B. Wright (1822-1898), president of the Northern Pacific Railroad, organizes the Tacoma Light and Water Co. to provide drinking water and electric lights. The City Council grants the company a franchise to use city streets and alleys for utilities. Retiring NP Superintendent General John Sprague becomes company president and Isaac Smith is named engineer.
File 5023: Full Text >
Northern Pacific runs first train from Tacoma to Seattle on June 17, 1884.
On June 17, 1884, the first Northern Pacific Railroad train runs from Tacoma to Seattle, giving Seattle citizens hope of regular service between the two cities. Seattle passengers and Duwamish and White River farmers are quickly disappointed at the poor or nonexistent service, and the line is soon nicknamed the Orphan Road.
File 2304: Full Text >
Ship Isabel docks at Tacoma with first tea cargo from Asia bound for East Coast via railroad on August 16, 1885.
On August 16, 1885, the Isabel
docks at Tacoma with the first cargo of tea from Asia bound for the East Coast via railroad. The Northern Pacific had gathered 200 cars at the Tacoma docks ready to load 2,000 tons of tea. The train sets out for the East Coast as an express, intending to reach New York in just over one week (the trip takes a month). Before this, the majority of ships bearing tea cargo traveled around Asia to the Suez Canal and then across the Atlantic to the United States or around Cape Horn to the East Coast. This required extra time, and the British charged fees for passage through the Suez Canal, but either route was still less expensive than shipping via railroad across North America. In 1885 the Northern Pacific lowered its rates in a bid to compete with the ocean-going routes of the tea trade. Tacoma is well-placed to benefit from the plan because it is the terminus of the Northern Pacific and is relatively close to Asian ports.
File 8752: Full Text >
Tacoma expels the entire Chinese community on November 3, 1885.
On November 3, 1885, a mob, including many of Tacoma's leading citizens, marches on the Chinese community and forces everyone out of their houses and out of town. Tacoma mayor Jacob Robert Weisbach deemed the Chinese "a curse" and a "filthy horde." The Tacoma Ledger and its editor Jack Comerford, the carpenters' union, and many workers and business people had spewed racist rhetoric against the Chinese for months. Mass meetings inflamed the hatred and the few dissenters, most notably Ezra Meeker and the Reverend W. D. McFarland, were ineffectual against it. The community was given a deadline to get out by November 3. In reaction to the threats, about 150 frightened Chinese persons left Tacoma before the deadline. The mob herded another 200 out on November 3. They lost their homes and most of their possessions, and they never returned. In 1993, the Tacoma City Council passed a resolution to make amends and to apologize for the former city leaders' actions.
File 5063: Full Text >
Longshoremen strike the Tacoma Mill Company on March 22, 1886.
On March 22, 1886, longshoremen on the Tacoma waterfront cease loading lumber onto ships, and demand a 10-cent-an-hour raise. The strike continues for five days while employers attempt but fail to hire strikebreakers. The strikers win their raise and go back to work as members of a new union, the Stevedores, Longshoremen and Riggers' Union of Puget Sound.
File 5064: Full Text >
Tacoma Light and Water Co. illuminates Tacoma streets on December 26, 1886.
On December 26, 1886, Tacoma Light and Water Co. illuminates Tacoma streets for the first time. Power comes from a hydroelectric plant connected to the drinking-water supply from Galliher Creek. The city pays $12 a month for each streetlight.
File 5020: Full Text >
Tacoma Street Railway inaugurates service on May 30, 1888.
On May 30, 1888, the Tacoma Street Railway inaugurates service. This is the first transit system in Tacoma and consists of bright yellow, horse-drawn, 14-passenger streetcars with upholstered seats. The line runs from the Northern Pacific passenger terminal north on Pacific Avenue to McCarver Street in Old Town.
File 5065: Full Text >
St. Paul & Tacoma Lumber Company incorporates on June 4, 1888.
On June 4, 1888, the St. Paul & Tacoma Lumber Co. incorporates. The incorporators are lumber and real-estate magnates who arrive that day by train from Minnesota and Wisconsin. The next day Tacoma headlines shout the event: "The monster milling company of Tacoma organized." The firm, known locally as the St. Paul, spurs what the historian Murray Morgan calls the greatest boom in Tacoma's history.
File 5066: Full Text >
Thea Foss launches the future tugboat firm on the Tacoma waterfront in the summer of 1889.
In the summer of 1889, Thea Foss (1857-1927), a recent immigrant and new bride from Norway, buys the rowboat that launches the Foss Launch Company. Sitting on the porch of her houseboat on the Tacoma waterfront, she purchases the boat for five dollars from a fuming, disgruntled, failed fisherman. Thea's husband Andrew Foss, a carpenter, is up in the valley building a shed at the time. Before long, Thea sells this rowboat for $15 and buys two more boats from two more discouraged fishermen. Thea begins renting the boats for 50 cents a day. By the time Andrew returns from his shed-building job with $32, Thea has amassed $41. Thus begins what will grow to become the Foss Launch and Tug Company and then Foss Maritime, one of the largest tugboat and marine services firms on the West Coast.
File 5045: Full Text >
U.S. President Benjamin Harrison visits Tacoma on May 6, 1891.
On May 6, 1891, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901) visits Tacoma. Virtually the entire population of 36,006 turns out in the morning rain to greet him. President Harrison is the is the 23rd President of the United States (1889-1893), and the first to visit Tacoma. On November 11, 1889, he had signed the enabling Act for Washington to become a state.
File 5067: Full Text >
Tacoma builds Old City Hall in 1893.
In 1893, Tacoma's Old City Hall is constructed at S 7th Street and Pacific Avenue. The Italian Renaissance style building, designed by E. A. Hatherton of San Francisco, features pressed brickwork, terra cotta ornamentation, and a copper tiled roof. The stately, ornate building with its arched and bracketed clock tower reflects the civic pride and promise of Tacoma immediately before the nationwide economic crash in the spring of 1893.
File 5068: Full Text >
City of Tacoma buys Tacoma Light and Water Co. on July 1, 1893.
On July 1, 1893, the City of Tacoma buys the drinking water and electrical power properties of Tacoma Light and Water Co. from Charles B. Wright (1822-1898) for $1.75 million. The deal is not a good one for the City, but it places Tacoma at the vanguard of the municipal ownership movement in Washington and in the nation.
File 5022: Full Text >
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