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October 23, 2014 - October 29, 2014

Hard Times

Eighty-five years ago this week, on October 23, 1929, the first all-air, coast-to-coast passenger service left from Seattle, bound for New York. The flight went well, but storm clouds loomed in the Big Apple. As the travelers crossed the country, a maelstrom was brewing, and although they landed safely at their destination, they were just in time to witness one of the worst crashes in American history.

The stock-market collapse ushered in the Great Depression, a decade-long economic downturn that caused hardship worldwide. Washington suffered as trade dried up, jobs vanished, banks failed, and businesses closed. By 1931, unemployed workers in Seattle had established a "Hooverville" south of downtown, named after the sitting Republican president, Herbert Hoover. The shantytown (see above) would remain there for almost a decade.

Across the state, people turned to elected officials for relief. In 1931, the Washington Highway Department used funds remaining from its appropriations to provide manual-labor jobs. Newly elected State Representative Warren G. Magnuson helped spearhead unemployment relief by using other construction projects. In 1935, Governor Clarence Martin signed a revenue act that overhauled taxes and set up a tax system that remains relatively unchanged to this day.

The federally funded Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Projects Administration provided more jobs. WPA workers built airports, conducted land-use surveys, and even kept folks entertained. But the public-works project that had the largest impact on Washington's development was the construction of Grand Coulee Dam, which began in 1933.

By 1939, consumers were spending money again and federal funds went to other projects, such as shipbuilding, aluminum production, and housing, first for low-income residents, then for defense workers and military families as new perils loomed on the horizon.

Pulling Through

During the Great Depression, Washington residents did what they could to make ends meet. Some joined hunger marches, and the more desperate entered grueling endurance contests in hopes of winning enough money to pay the rent.

Everyone who lived through those hard times has a story to tell, some of which we are proud to feature in our People's History library. Joseph Koch shares his memories of Auburn during the 1930s. Morey Skaret remembers how he rode the rails. Dorothea Nordstrand recalls her first job, and Milan DeRuwe describes life as a young sheepherder. Ema Albert gives an account of how, when life was tough for them all, her West Seattle neighborhood pulled together to help a young widow.

News Then, History Now

Spanish Claim: In 1775 Bruno de Hezeta became the first European to spot and chart the mouth of the Columbia River. For the next 15 years, the Spanish had a virtual monopoly on claims throughout the entire Pacific Northwest, which ended when Spain signed the Nootka Convention on October 28, 1790.

Wire Frame: When Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, it took weeks for the news to reach Olympia. On October 25, 1864, Seattle connected with the outside world when Western Union telegraph lines finally made their way to the city. Western Union demonstrated telephones in the city more than a decade later, but it wasn't until 1893 that Washington's largest cities began chatting among themselves.

City Celebrations: On October 23, 1875, Walla Walla residents marked the opening of a rail line from Wallula by taking a train ride and having a picnic. Less successfully, on October 28, 1925, Arlington residents gathered to celebrate the opening of two new bridges across the Stillaguamish River, but some prankster stole their parade.

Travelers' Frustrations: On October 26, 1924, famed film director Cecil B. DeMille and his crew were forced off Mt. Rainier's Nisqually Glacier when blizzard conditions became too severe to continue filming The Golden Bed. Exactly 30 years later, amateur adventurer Roy Bergo was rebuffed in his efforts to sail a motorized bathtub from Edmonds to Alaska. He made it as far as Whidbey Island.

Strum and Pick: On October 28, 1927, star guitarist John Coppock returned from Hollywood for a homecoming concert in the town of Peshastin. Decades later, Coppock produced some unique electric guitars that are valued today by collectors.

Healing the Sick: On October 27, 1967, Dr. Lester R. Sauvage, founder of the Hope Heart Institute in Seattle, performed the first "bloodless" open-heart surgery in the Northwest. Sauvage made significant contributions in the practice of coronary artery bypass surgery and was a pioneer in the research of artificial aortic heart valves.

Quote of the Week

Say, don't you remember they called me Al,
It was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal --
Say, buddy, can you spare a dime?

               --"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,"
               lyrics by Yip Harburg

Image of the Week

On October 29, 1969, Boeing won the contract for the lunar rover.

Today in Washington History      RSS Feed

The Alaska Times begins publishing in Seattle on October 24, 1870.

Schwabacher's erects Seattle's first brick building on October 24, 1872.

Issaquah coal miners strike on October 24, 1903.

Stock Market sells off in a torrent on October 24, 1929.

West Seattle Branch, The Seattle Public Library reopens after renovations on October 24, 1987.

The Seattle Times reports a $60 million typo in Voters' Pamphlet on October 24, 1989.

New Essays This Week       RSS Feed

Tim Harris Oral History, Part 3: Real Change -- The Power of Relationships

Tim Harris Oral History, Part 1: Real Change -- How It All Started

Tim Harris Oral History, Part 2: Real Change -- How It Grew, What It Does

HistoryLink Elementary: Fort Walla Walla

HistoryLink Elementary: Walter Bull -- Leading Citizen of Kittitas County

HistoryLink Elementary: Wine Industry in Washington

HistoryLink Elementary: Marcus and Narcissa Whitman -- Missionaries of the Walla Walla Valley

George, Ross F. (1889-1959)

Orville Bloch receives the Medal of Honor on February 6, 1945.

South Park Bridge, Duwamish Waterway, King County, 1931-2010

Seattle residents receive Cedar River water for the first time on January 10, 1901.

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