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Gatzert, Bailey (1829-1893)

HistoryLink.org Essay 86 : Printer-Friendly Format

In 1875, Bailey Gatzert became the first and to date (2005) only Jewish mayor of Seattle. Gatzert was partner and general manager of Schwabacher and Co, one of Seattle's earliest hardware and general mercantile stores, later to become the start of wholesale trade in Seattle. He was involved in many business and civic ventures critical to the establishment of early Seattle commerce and infrastructure. He was married to Babette Schwabacher Gatzert.

Testimony to Seattleite Bailey Gatzert's influence on the turn of the century metropolis are his namesakes -- Gatzert pier (Pier 64 at the foot of Virginia, 1890), Gatzert Elementary School, the Bailey Gatzert riverboat, and a 1996 stamp of the riverboat issued by the United States Postal Service.

Clarence Bagley, early chronicler of Seattle history, called Gatzert "one of the most companionable of men" and the "embodiment of commercial prosperity" (Bagley, 669).

Gatzert was elected mayor of Seattle on August 2, 1875. He was a founder of the city's first Jewish congregation, Ohaveth Sholum. He did not live to see the founding of Temple de Hirsch, but in 1907 the organ in the sanctuary on 15th Avenue and Union Street was dedicated in his memory.

A Family of Merchants

Born in 1829 in Hesse Darmstadt, Germany, Gatzert left for America at the age of 20. He settled in Natchez, Mississippi, where his sister resided. In 1853, he came West following the California Gold Rush. Although prospecting was not profitable for the young Gatzert, providing the miners with food, clothing, and equipment was. In 1858, he started a grocery and general mercantile business in Nevada City. He married Babette Schwabacher in 1862 in San Francisco. Babette was the sister of Abraham, Louis, and Sigmund Schwabacher, well-established suppliers of miners and farmers in the Walla Walla Valley.

The Schwabachers had branch stores in Colfax, Dayton, Idaho Falls, and Boise. With Gatzert as partner and general manager, they opened a Seattle branch. On October 11, 1869, Schwabacher Brothers and Company's first advertisement appeared, offering: dry goods in every variety, clothing, boots and shoes, hardware, groceries and provisions, liquors, cigars and tobacco, crockery, and ship chandlery.

A Quintessential Seattle Citizen

Gatzert involved himself in many business and civic ventures critical to the establishment of early Seattle commerce and infrastructure. He was an original member of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1882 to secure (or wrest from an out-of-town steamship firm) the mail delivery contract between Seattle and Alaska. Gatzert served as the Chamber's second President from 1894 to 1890.

Gatzert invested in the city's first water purveyor, Spring Hill Water system, and in Front Street Cable Lines. Although he became involved in the consolidation of streetcar and electric lines, his efforts went into forestalling that consolidation. In 1893, despite one million dollars raised to effect a union of all cable and electric interests, Gatzert was the one stockholder who blocked the merger, due to his opposition to the inclusion of one unprofitable cable company. Eight years later, in 1901, the firm of Stone & Webster, with Jacob Furth (1840-1914) as their agent, consolidated the lines into Seattle Electric.

Gatzert was a member of the Seattle City Council, and he served as President of Puget Sound National Bank and Peoples Savings Bank.

Babette Schwabacher, Gatzert's wife, was a founding member of the Ladies Relief Society (now Seattle Children's Home). Established in 1884, it was Seattle's first charity organization. The Gatzerts' home, on 3rd Avenue and James Street, was a center of social activity and hospitality. Though the property is now in the city's core, the Gatzerts kept a cow and cultivated an orchard. Their closest neighbors were the Henry Yeslers. In 1880 when Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893) achieved the distinction of being the first president to cross the Rockies, the Gatzerts entertained him at their home.

Sources:
Clarence Bagley The History of Seattle from the Earliest Settlement to The Present Time, 3 vols (Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1916); Welford Beaton, The City That Made Itself (Seattle: Terminal Publishing Company, 1914); Meta Buttnick, "Bailey Gatzert Commemorative Riverboat Stamp," Nizcor (Winter 1996); Washington State Jewish Historical Society, "Historically Speaking: Bailey Gatzert, Seattle's First and Only Jewish Mayor," Jewish Transcript December 10, 1987.


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Bailey Gatzert (1829-1893), 1875
Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives


 
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