On August 17, 1907, about eight farmers sell their produce from wagons and carts to large crowds at Pike Place, just west of 1st Avenue in downtown Seattle. The farmers market comes into being in opposition to unethical commission houses which pay the farmer little and charge the consumer much. The first market immediately sells out, and marks the beginning of the Pike Place Market, which will continue to flourish for more than a century.
Pike Place Market began in response to the dishonest behavior of many commission houses concentrated along Western Avenue between Yesler Way and Seneca Street. The commission houses acted as middlemen between most of the 3,000 King County farmers and their customers -- produce shops, grocery stores, and other consumers.
Farmers claimed that commission buyers would offer a high price and then, when farmers delivered the produce the next day, pay a much lower price. Also, commission houses would take farmers' produce on consignment and pay only for that which sold. Farmers accused them of refusing payment for a portion of the produce and claiming spoilage, when in fact they would sell it all and pocket the money. Further, some commission houses imported fruits and vegetables from California that undercut locally produced goods. And consumers complained that commission houses would discard surplus produce so that they could charge artificially high prices.
In July 1907, responding to farmer and consumer complaints, Seattle City Council member Thomas P. Revelle introduced an ordinance to establish a farmers market at Pike Place. The ordinance, which the council passed on August 5, allowed farmers to sell directly to the public and so eliminate the middlemen commission houses. The Seattle Department of Streets planked an area west of 1st Avenue on Pike Place so farmers could set up their wagons and carts and sell their produce and the City of Seattle issued a proclamation designating August 17, 1907, as "Market Day."
In the early morning hours of Saturday, August 17, the sky was overcast and the streets were still wet from the previous night's rain when farmer H. O. Blanchard arrived with his horse-drawn wagon full of produce from Renton. About 50 people were waiting for him, and Blanchard sold out quickly. Two more farmers arrived a half hour later. One of the wagons, operated by a Japanese farmer, was immediately overwhelmed. Someone jumped onto the wagon and started giving the goods away to the crowd. The other farmer was able to keep the crowd at bay long enough to sell out his produce.
The Farmer Gets His Due
Italian farmer Antonio Ditore described his day at the farmers market:
"I put the cart up by that building, the Leland Hotel, that was there when we get there. The back of there the people come a runnin' and I give some things without a paper bag. And they was glad to get it. And now I think in an hour there I make seven, eight dollars" (Shorett, 13).
Another farmer interviewed right after the first day stated:
"The next time I come to this place I'm going to get police protection or put my wagon on stilts. I got rid of everything all right, but I didn't really sell a turnip. You see, those society women stormed my wagon, crawled over the wheels and crowded me off to a respectable distance, say 20 feet. When I got back the wagon was swept as clean as a good housewife's parlor, and there in a bushel basket was a quart of silver. Even if I didn't have the opportunity to so much as put a price on an ear of corn, it gave me a good price for my vegetables" (Shorett, 14).
Commission houses had threatened to boycott farmers who sold at Pike Place. Thus, only about eight farmers brought in goods for sale and by 11 a.m. hundreds, if not thousands, of consumers went home disappointed.
Word spread quickly among farmers about the crowds of consumers that attended. On Monday, August 19, 10 farmers sold at the new market; the following day 20 showed up. By Saturday, August 24, some 70 wagons filled up Pike Place with farm produce for sale.
That autumn, John and Frank Goodwin erected the first farmers market building, a permanent arcade to provide shelter for the farmers and their produce. On November 30, 1907, the arcade opened, more than 120 farmers set up in its covered stalls. Japanese farmers operated 70 to 80 percent of the stalls, and Italians ran virtually all the rest.