Earthquake near Olympia rattles for 21 minutes on November 12, 1939.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • Essay 2228
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On November 12, 1939, at 11:47 p.m., an earthquake centered 12 miles northwest of Olympia rattles the area. Chimneys collapse, and as far away as Seattle, the City-County Building is damaged. There are no fatalities or injuries reported. It is the most serious seismic event in Western Washington in 19 years. The shaking stops at 12:09 a.m.

Seattle residents woke up and ran out of their homes in night clothes. Awakened by the temblor, University of Washington Geology Professor Howard A. Coombs rushed to campus to examine the seismograph there. He rated the quake as a "number three" on the F. Omori scale and it is later rated as a VII on the Mercalli Scale ("everybody runs outdoors, noticed by persons driving cars, slight to moderate damage in well built ordinary structures"). This quake was not rated on the Richter Scale, which at the time was only four years old.


Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 13, 1939, p. 1; Ibid., November 14, 1939, p. 1; A Study of Earthquake Losses in the Puget Sound, Washington Area (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Geological Survey, 1975), 15-20, 234-235.

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