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Suquamish, first diesel-powered passenger ship built in the United States, is launched on April 23, 1914.
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On April 23, 1914, the Suquamish is launched in Seattle. Built for the Kitsap County Transportation Company for service on Puget Sound, the Suquamish is the first diesel-powered passenger vessel built in the United States, and the second diesel-powered ship of any kind built on the Pacific Coast, following the launch of the cannery tender Warrior in Seattle two months earlier.
The Vessel, the Town,
and the Tribe
The Suquamish was designed by naval architects Lee &
Brinton, and was built to carry 180 passengers. Constructed of wood, the vessel
was 92 feet long, with a 16-foot beam and a five-foot draft. The vessel was
powered by a six-cylinder, 180-horsepower diesel engine built by the New London Ship & Engine Building
Company of Groton, Connecticut.
The vessel was built for the Kitsap County Transportation Company at a cost of
$26,858.06, for service between Seattle and the town of Suquamish, located on
the Port Madison Indian Reservation in Kitsap County. The reservation was
established in 1855 on land that had been the Suquamish Tribe's home for
Seattle's grave was in Suquamish, and Blanche Thompson, his
great-great-granddaughter, was chosen to christen the motor vessel Suquamish. The Kitsap County
Transportation Company provided free transportation to the launch for more than
100 tribal members living in Suquamish.
A New Era
On April 23, 1914, some 600 people from around Puget
Sound came to Seattle to witness the launch at the John Wilson shipyard,
located on the East Waterway. At around 3:00 p.m., Warren L. Gazzam (1863-1961),
president of the Kitsap
County Transportation Company, welcomed them all and introduced the speakers.
Charles M. Buchanan, superintendent of the Tulalip Indian Agency spoke first, and
addressed the crowd in Chinook Jargon, a trade language used between Natives and non-Natives throughout the Pacific Northwest. Buchanan, who later translated his
remarks, provided a brief history of Chief Seattle (178?-1866), noting that the tribal
leader was born shortly after the Revolutionary War and died a year after the
told how Chief Seattle saw the arrival of Vancouver's sailing ships when he was
just a boy, and lived long enough to see the dawn of the steamship era.
Buchanan then celebrated the launch of the diesel-powered Suquamish by shouting out "Chee laly!" -- Chinook for
"a new era."
Noted newspaperman and historian Thomas Prosch (1850-1915) spoke
next and read a letter from Seattle pioneer and fellow journalist Samuel L.
Crawford (1855-1916), who was unable to attend due to illness. In the letter,
Crawford congratulated the Suquamish Tribe for having this historic vessel
named for them, and thanked them for being model citizens and good neighbors.
Crawford was especially proud that the tribe had erected a flagpole next to
Chief Seattle's grave, and flew the American flag atop it.
Prosch also spoke well of the tribe, and praised the Kitsap County
Transportation Company for choosing Indian names for their vessels. "We
owe much to these Indians, and not the least of that debt is the name of our
city," Prosch said, referring to Seattle. "What a blessing it is we
has the name Seattle to confer on our great port, instead of having to call it
New Liverpool, New Glasgow, New Boston, or New Albany" (The Seattle Times, April 24, 1914).
up was real-estate developer Ole Hanson (1874-1940), who had founded the town of
Suquamish, and who would later become mayor of Seattle. In his speech, Hanson
mentioned that when he first told Warren Gazzam six years earlier that he would
be developing a town on tribal land, Gazzam didn't think he could do it,
but promised to name a boat after it if he did.
then praised the recent breaking of "red tape" that allowed
"incompetent Indians" to sell off their allotment lands. Hanson said,
"They should be allowed to sell their lands, the government to retain the
money in trust and pay them the interest. The interest would support them
handsomely" (The Seattle Times,
April 24, 1914).
Gazzam thanked all of the speakers, and it was time to launch the vessel.
Blanche Thompson broke a champagne bottle against its bow, and the Suquamish
slid effortlessly down the ways into the waters of Puget Sound. The
Transportation Company filmed the launch, as well the leading
participants in the ceremony.
The next few months were spent finishing up work on the
vessel. Some of the furnishings -- such as the seats -- were temporary, due to
delays at the factories chosen to manufacture them. In June, the diesel
engine was installed. The Suquamish
began service in July.
operated on Puget Sound until the 1930s, when the Kitsap County Transportation
Company was acquired by the Puget Sound Navigation Company. The boat was then sold to the Lake Washington
Shipyard, which in turn sold it to Russ Gibson (1899-1979), a yacht broker from
Seattle, for conversion into a pleasure craft.
"Indian Princess to Christen Boat," The Seattle Times, March 31, 1914, p.
18; "Suquamish Ready for Maiden Dip," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 23, 1914, p. 14; "Ready to
Launch Liner Suquamish," The Seattle
Times, April 22, 1914, p. 15; "Indian Princess Christens Craft," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 24,
1914, p. 13; "Indians Cheer as Boat Rides Waves," The Seattle Times, April 24, 1914, p.
26; "Motor Ship Will Be Ready Soon," The Seattle Times, June 8, 1914, p. 12; "Suquamish to Become
Yacht," The Seattle Times, June
8, 1914, p. 12; "Passenger Motor Ship Suquamish," International Marine Engineering, Vol. 20 (October 1915), p. 469; 5th Annual
Report of the Public Service Commission of Washington (Olympia: State of Washington, 1916), p. 153; The H. W. McCurdy Maritime History of the Pacific Northwest ed. by
Gordon R. Newell (Seattle: Superior Publishing Co., 1966), p. 236-237;
Note: This essay replaces an earlier essay on the same subject.
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