Green, Joshua (1869-1975)

  • By Rita Cipalla
  • Posted 3/06/2024
  • Essay 1689
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Joshua Green was an innovator and leader in Seattle’s nascent shipping and ferry industries for 40 years before launching a second career – banking – where he remained for the next 40 years. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1869, Green traveled to Washington with his family in 1886. His first job was on a railroad survey crew before he signed on as a purser on a sternwheeler. Realizing there was money to be made in shipping, as a teenager he convinced three shipmates to buy a vessel together. By 1898 La Conner Trading and Transportation Company had the largest fleet of any inland steamboat company on Puget Sound. It merged in 1903 with Puget Sound Navigation, the area’s largest steamship company, and Green became company president. In 1917, he purchased the Port Townsend Southern Railroad, which he owned for 27 years. In 1926 he sold his shares in Puget Sound Navigation and made the transition to banking. With $200,000, he bought a controlling interest in the failing Peoples Savings Bank, which prospered under his stewardship. Green stayed engaged in banking for the next four decades, coming to the office regularly until he was 102. He died in 1975 at the age of 105, just 24 days after the death of his wife of 73 years, Laura Moore Turner Green.

Building a Shipping Empire

Joshua Green was born on October 16, 1869, in Jackson, Mississippi, in the former gubernatorial mansion. Some 45 years earlier, in 1824, his great grandfather, John Green, inspired by tales of fortunes to be made and land to be settled, left Havre de Grace, Maryland, bound for Texas. Accompanying him were his three sons: Thomas, George, and Joshua (1811-1887).

Sons Thomas and Joshua chose to settle instead in Jackson, where they opened a drug store. In 1847, the brothers opened a banking house called J & T Green which they ran for the next 40 years. Joshua married Elizabeth Jarvis (1816-1892) and had seven children. The oldest son was William Henry Harrison Green (1841-1927), who married Bentonia N. Johnston (1842-1912) in 1866. They had two sons: H. J. ("Hall") about whom little is known and Joshua (1869-1975). When William Green encountered financial problems after the Civil War, he filed for bankruptcy and then pulled up stakes in 1886 to move his family to the Pacific Northwest. They traveled by rail to Tacoma, and then took a small steamboat, Edith, the last 28 miles to Seattle.  

Seventeen-year-old Joshua started his career as a chainman on a railroad surveying crew but in 1888, thanks to the intercession of former Seattle mayor and family acquaintance Bailey Gatzert (1829-1893), he snagged a job as a purser aboard the sternwheeler Henry Bailey. "It was his first contact with the business that eventually would make him a millionaire" (Daily Sitka Sentinel). The Henry Bailey was part of the famed Mosquito Fleet on Puget Sound from the 1880s to the 1920s. On Green’s first trip aboard, the vessel delivered soap, tobacco, pork, apples, boots, and a sewing machine to residents along the Skagit River. Green quickly realized how important this mode of transportation would be to the economic vitality of the region and, while still working as a purser, he persuaded his captain, mate, and engineer to join him in buying a boat.

The teenager then convinced Jacob Furth (1840-1914), a prominent local banker, to loan him $1,250 – his share of the $5,000 purchase price. "You don’t get rich working on a steamboat, you get rich owning steamboats," Green supposedly told Furth, who was impressed with the young man’s vision and confidence, as well as his association with Gatzert.

With funds secured, the four men (Green, Sam Denny, Peter Falk, and Frank Zikmund) bought their first sternwheeler, a 100-foot vessel called The Fanny Lake, and started selling and delivering goods to customers in hard-to-reach locations. Soon, the foursome created La Conner Trading and Transportation Company with Green as its president. They "prowled the sloughs and inlets of Puget Sound and carried their cargoes as far as they could up the rivers into the mountains, where the loggers worked with horses and oxen … With their profits they bought more steamboats" (Sports Illustrated). In 1898, with eight vessels in its fleet, La Conner Trading was said to have the largest fleet of any inland steamboat company on Puget Sound. Green became a master and a captain himself and sailed on several of his company’s sternwheelers.

After surviving several on-board fires and the economic depression of the mid-1890s, the company went on to achieve success in transporting miners and their gear to southeastern Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. The profits from those trips provided the nucleus of Green’s future wealth, although he plowed most of it back into the company.

In 1903, La Conner Trading and Transportation merged with Puget Sound Navigation (PSN), the largest steamship operator in the region, and Green was appointed president. Under his leadership, PSN bought up smaller companies or merged with competitors, building a shipping empire. Based at Colman Dock on the Seattle waterfront, PSN and its allied businesses employed more than 600 men in 1904 and were major contributors to the regional economy. "In 1905, the company commissioned at least 10 new vessels and replaced its fleet with steel steamers, many burning oil rather than coal. Two fast steamships were earmarked for the Seattle-San Francisco run while new vessels were promised for Seattle-Tacoma and Seattle-Vashon Island. Vacationers seeking a comfortable way to access summer waterfront properties clamored for newer and faster ships, as well. In 1906, three steel passenger steamers were added to the fleet at a cost of about $200,000 each" ("Puget Sound Navigation Company [1900-1951]"). 

With the support of PSN founder Charles Enoch Peabody (1857-1926), who served as chairman of the board during Green’s tenure, Puget Sound Navigation pioneered auto-ferry service in the early 1900s. The experiment proved successful, and by 1919, the company converted its fleet to accommodate cars, a move that eventually led to the sale of PSN to the state to form the basis of Washington State Ferries in 1951.

Family Life

On April 24, 1901, after a four-year engagement, 31-year-old Joshua Green married Laura Moore Turner (1873-1975) in Jackson, Mississippi. Referred to as "the best known of local steamboat owners" ("Captain Green to Marry"), Green and his bride triggered enthusiastic coverage in The Seattle Times: "Capt. Green is said to be the handsomest and one of the most popular young men in Seattle society, and his bride to be the most beautiful girl in the South, and a dashing belle" ("Captain Green to Marry"). 

The couple honeymooned for 60 days before returning to Seattle. "She was nicknamed Missy, and he always called her that. She always called him Mr. Green. Mrs. Green, who was born in Winona, Miss., had met Green when her sister married his cousin" (Daily Sitka Sentinel). They had one son, Joshua Green Jr. (1908-1985), and two daughters, Bentonia (1901-1980), named for Green’s mother, and Francis (1903-1991). Once the couple settled in, Seattle newspapers were filled with coverage of their luncheons and teas, dances and card parties. Although he sometimes joined his wife at these events, Green preferred the office. A sprightly, hard-working man, he did not smoke, use liquor, or drink coffee or tea. When asked for his advice on how to live a long life, he said: "Don’t overeat and try not to worry" (Daily Sitka Sentinel).

Despite his shipping successes, Green was always on the lookout for new business opportunities. "'You could get into business with virtually no investment in those days,' Green later recalled. 'It takes much more money now but I think the opportunities are still there'" (Daily Sitka News). He bought and sold property throughout the Seattle downtown area, often to great profit. In 1903, for example, he sold a parcel with a three-story frame building on the southwest corner of 4th Avenue and Main Street to R. C. McCormick for $70,000; the property had sold for $18,000 three years earlier. In 1905, he paid $150,000 for several derelict wooden buildings on the corner of 4th Avenue and Pike Street, which he demolished. On that lot in 1912-1913, he built the 10-story-high Joshua Green Building, designed by John Graham Sr. (1874-1955), a local architect known for his large-scale commercial and office buildings. Over the years, in addition to offices, the building has housed a pharmacy, billiard room, men’s clothing shop, jewelry store, and an ice cream parlor, among other businesses. In 1988, the historic cream-colored building with its terra cotta exteriors was designated a Seattle landmark.

Green’s wealth did not go unnoticed. In 1905 in broad daylight, a burglar entered through the front door of the Green home at 1033 Boylston Avenue. The thief was busy emptying Laura Green’s dressing room drawers when he was spotted by a servant girl. "The burglar was well dressed and young. He seemed excited when the servant appeared and lost no time in making his escape" ("Slips into House in Daytime"). Luckily, he dropped his loot on his way out the door. 

In 1915, Green purchased the Stimson mansion at 1204 Minor Avenue on First Hill, which was offered for sale when the Stimson family moved to a larger home in The Highlands. The half-timbered house was built in 1901 for C. D. Stimson (1857-1929) and his wife Harriet, and designed by Spokane architect Kirtland Cutter (1860-1939). Built at a cost of $30,000, the house featured wooden gables and pointed arches, and included a library, tea room, wine cellar, billiard room, and men’s smoking room. When the Green family moved in, they made very few changes to the original structure and it remained the family home until Green’s death in 1975. Now called the Stimson-Green mansion, the house was designated a Seattle landmark in 1977, one of the few First Hill mansions that remained largely intact. In 2001, Priscilla "Patsy" Bullitt Collins (1920-2003), the Stimson’s granddaughter, donated the house to the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, which makes its headquarters there. Available for event rental, guests can still see some of the Green family’s original furniture and several family photos.

Expanding into Railroads

In 1917, as a director of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, Green purchased the Port Townsend Southern Railroad, viewing it as a cost-effective way to link his steamships with a rail line. The tiny railroad’s history was a complicated one. It had been incorporated in 1887 by the citizens of Port Townsend, who had hoped to connect their town to a major transportation carrier to the south. But the line as envisioned was never built, and locals watched steamships bypass Port Townsend, only to offload their cargo in Seattle or Tacoma.

In 1902, the Port Townsend Southern Railroad was purchased by the Northern Pacific Railroad, which ran trains between Port Townsend and Quilcene. In 1915, the Seattle, Port Angeles & Western Railway, part of the larger Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad Company (known as the Milwaukee Road), bought track rights for a line from Port Townsend to Discovery Bay. 

In its early days, the line was used to support the timber industry. Barges powered by tug boats moved freight cars to Seattle’s Pier 27 and back again. "Service to the Olympic Peninsula continued to grow through the 1920s, seeing several trains daily. Passengers, who reached the peninsula via steamboats owned by Puget Sound Navigation Company, enjoyed the luxuries of local resorts such as the Olympic Hotel, Olympic Hot Springs Lodge, and Lake Crescent Taverns, among others" (Olympic Discovery Trail History). At one point, four passenger trains a day operated between Port Townsend and Port Angeles, but passenger service on that line ended in 1931. Green eventually realized that railroads and steamships could not compete with an expanding network of newly paved highways and the ease and convenience of personal automobiles. He sold most of his shares in Puget Sound Navigation in 1927. He owned the railroad line until 1944, when he sold it to Robert S. Fox.

Building a Banking Empire

In 1926, when Green was in his late fifties – a time when most men would have considered retirement – he chose to enter a new career: banking. That year he paid $200,000 to acquire controlling interest in a small Seattle bank called Peoples Savings Bank, which was floundering. The bank was originally established in 1899 by Jacob Furth, the financier who had lent Green the funds to buy his first sternwheeler, and E. C. Neufelder. Branch locations were not legal at the time so to grow the business Green acquired other banks as wholly owned independent subsidiaries. His aggressive leadership turned the small bank into a powerhouse. Over the course of 40 years and several name changes, Peoples increased its deposits from $2.5 million (1926) to $128 million (1949) to $400 million (1966). The bank continued to be locally owned until 1987, when it was acquired by U.S. Bancorp of Oregon in a stock transaction worth about $275 million and renamed U.S. Bank of Washington.

Even at the age of 100, Green put in eight hours a day at the office. When he died in 1975, Harold A. Rogers, president of Peoples National Bank, called Green "the best salesman we ever had … He was a born salesman, and he sold every minute of his life. He was a true gentleman in every sense of the word and it was his philosophy that we should meet the other fellow more than halfway. Kindness was foremost in his attitude" ("Joshua Green Rites Thursday").  

Green may have made a fortune in banking but he never forgot his roots. When he was 96 years old, he told a reporter from Sports Illustrated: "Banking is cold. I love the waterfront. You know, the life on a ship is closer than any other working relationship there is. Everybody is your shipmate. Take that word, mate. Think what it means. First you have playmates. Then you have schoolmates. Then you have a helpmate. And on a ship you have shipmates, almost as close to you as your playmates as a child. But you don’t have any bankmates. There’s no such thing. I don’t want to run down banking, but banks are cold" (Sports Illustrated). In 1974, at his 105th birthday party, his cake was decorated with a drawing of a sternwheeler and the phrase: Still on deck at 105.

The Joshua Green Legacy

Green’s directorships were numerous. He served as president of the Joshua Green Corporation and Dan Creek Placer Mines; vice chairman of the board of directors of General America Group of Insurance Companies; and a director at Northern Life Insurance Company, Puget Sound Power and Light Company, Rainier Brewing Company, Petroleum Corporation of America, and Bellingham Securities Syndicate, to name a few. 

An active and energetic sportsman, he played golf well into his 90s and won the Seattle Golf Club’s Age Handicap Trophy several times. He also enjoyed hunting, whether on Puget Sound or around the world. "He has been hunting black brant on Puget Sound every year for 80 years. He goes to his office every morning at the Peoples National Bank on Fourth Avenue in Seattle, plays 18 holes of golf every week during the summer and is looking forward to taking his 28-gauge Schilling and going out when the black brant come back next fall. He is a ruddy-cheeked, long-featured man with thin white hair who speaks with a slight southern accent – he was born in Mississippi in 1869 – and wears neatly tailored suits and high stand-up collars such as one sees in pictures of Charles G. Dawes” (Sports Illustrated). Green bagged his limit of pheasant on a hunting trip he made the week before his 100th birthday. It was his 69th annual pheasant-hunting expedition.

For his business and civic contributions, Green was accorded numerous honors, many awarded during the last decade of his life. In 1968, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named him Seattle’s Man of the Century, an honor bestowed at a luncheon held at the Olympic Hotel with more than 900 guests in attendance. Whitman College awarded him an honorary doctorate of humanities in 1968, and Longacres Racetrack created the Joshua Green Cup to recognize his involvement as a long-time stockholder at the track. Two Alaska landmarks – Joshua Green River in the East Aleutian Islands and Joshua Green Peak in the Saint Elias Mountains – were named for him. In 1966, the Joshua Green Fountain was created in bronze by internationally renowned sculptor George Tsutakawa (1910-1997) and installed on the Seattle waterfront at Pier 41, site of the Washington State Ferry Terminal. When he turned 100, the State of Washington declared his birthday to be Joshua Green Day.

Joshua Green died on January 25, 1975, about 12 hours after being admitted to Seattle’s Virginia Mason Hospital. His death came just 24 days after the death of his wife Missy, who was 101. They had been married 73 years. Services were held at St. Mark’s Cathedral, "the parish which originated in Green’s mother’s parlor. The parish developed when Seattle was spreading north and a need was felt for a second Episcopal church. Both Green and his mother were charter members and he retained his membership throughout his lifetime" ("Joshua Green, Pioneer, Financier, Dead at 105").

Since Green’s death, two subsequent generations of Joshua Greens have run the Joshua Green Corporation, a privately held investment firm, serving as chairmen and CEO. Joshua Green III ("Jay") also serves as president and trustee of the Joshua Green Foundation.

Sources: Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Puget Sound Navigation Company (1900-1951)" (by Rita Cipalla), “The Railroads of Jefferson and Clallam Counties” (by John Caldbick), “Stimson-Green Mansion (1901) – Seattle’s First Hill Landmark” (by Heather MacIntosh) (accessed February 26, 2024); Robert Cantwell, “Nemesis of the Black Brant,” Sports Illustrated, May 16, 1966, Vol. 24, No. 20, pp. 44-54 (; “Northwest Banker Joshua Green Dies of ‘Old Age’ at Age 105,” Daily Sitka Sentinel, January 27, 1975, p. 6 (; “W. H. Green is Dead,” The Bellingham Herald, September 8, 1927, p. 11 (; “Joshua Green, Pioneer,  Financier, Dead at 105,” Tacoma News Tribune, January 27, 1975, p. 13; “Real Estate and Building Review,” The Seattle Times, January 6, 1900, p. 15; “Captain Green to Marry,“ Ibid., March 21, 1901, p. 8; “Fine Shipping Facilities,” Ibid., January 12, 1905, p. 6; “Slips into House in Daytime,” Ibid., August 6, 1905, p. 8; “Joshua Green Dies,” Ibid., January  26, 1975, p. 1; “Joshua Green’s Remarkable Career” (editorial), Ibid., January 28, 1975, p. 12; “Joshua Green Rites Thursday,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 27, 1975, p. 1; Company history, Joshua Green Corporation, website accessed February 27, 2024 (; Joshua Green Building Report on Designation, Landmarks Preservation Board, City of Seattle, April 11, 1988, website accessed March 4, 2024 ( Landmarks/RelatedDocuments/joshua-green-building-designation.pdf); “Milwaukee Road Acquires Port Townsend Railroad,” The Milwaukee Road Magazine, June 1975, p. 3; Jeff Chew, “Railroads Gone But Left Mark on Peninsula,” Peninsula Daily News, February 14, 2011 (; Olympic Discovery Trail History,, website accessed February 28, 2024 (; “Cargo Manifest of Joshua Green’s First Trip North on the Henry Bailey in 1888,” Skagit River Journal, story originally appeared in the Puget Sound Mail, April 3, 1967, website accessed February 28, 2024 (; Joshua Green Foundation Endowed Scholarship, University of Washington School of Medicine, website accessed March 4, 2023 ( Note: This entry replaces an earlier entry on the same subject.

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