Port of Seattle launches record-breaking expansion on January 20, 1968.

  • By Alan J. Stein and David Wilma
  • Posted 6/14/1999
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 1361

On January 20, 1968, the Port of Seattle launches an $80 million expansion, the largest expansion in its history. Plans include the construction of a container-handling facility at the original site of Boeing Plant 1 and a large grain terminal.

In the 1950s, the Port of Seattle generally lost money and many editorial writers moaned that Seattle was dying as a port. Beginning in 1960, the port commissioners embarked on a modernization program based on containerization to speed shipments and to save money. The use of reusable shipping containers dates to the nineteenth century. In 1949, the Alaska Steamship Co. of Seattle tried six-foot wooden boxes to help serve the small communities of coastal Alaska.

In 1956, trucker Malcolm McLean’s Sea-Land transportation company developed 20- and 40-foot steel vans that could be loaded on ships, barges, railroad cars, and trucks. Seattle was one of the ports to embrace this technology. In July 1960, Port of Seattle Commissioners announced a $32 million program underwritten by a $10 million bond issue approved by voters that November. This resulted in Terminals 46 and 28. Between 1963 and 1972, Seattle foreign trade more than doubled.

In 1968, the Commissioners announced their $80 million program, which resulted in the $13 million, 68-silo, 130-foot-tall grain terminal at the foot of Queen Anne Hill, the purchase of the old Boeing Plant 1 on the Duwamish River (later Terminal 115), and the conversion of the Hanford Street grain terminal to a container terminal.

By 1971, one of every 12 jobs in King County was directly related to waterborne trade.


Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 250; Padraic Burke, A History of the Port of Seattle (Seattle: The Port of Seattle, 1976), pp. 113-120.
This essay was greatly expanded on December 11, 2006.

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