< Browse to Previous Essay | Browse to Next Essay >
Roy Perry becomes general manager of Port of Tacoma on July 1, 1964.
HistoryLink.org Essay 8756
: Printer-Friendly Format
On July 1, 1964, Ernest L. "Roy" Perry (1918-2001) takes over as general manager of Port of Tacoma. Perry, just retired from a 24-year career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has been selected by the Port Commissioners in a nationwide search for a leader to expand and modernize the port. He will head the Port of Tacoma for 12 years, during which the once-small port grows to become one of the largest on the West Coast. Perry embraces new technology and mechanization, leading the port into the container shipping age. He also establishes a new, cooperative relationship between port management and the longshore workers' union, which plays a key role in bringing new business to the port.
Looking for Leadership
The Port of Tacoma, a publicly owned and managed port district, was created by Pierce County voters in 1918. The Port grew steadily during the 1920s, but growth slowed with the Depression of the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s. During the 1950s, Port commissioners undertook some new development, but much of the decade was given over to planning for the future. In 1955, the Commission hired engineering firm Tibbetts-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton (TAMS) to prepare a development plan. The plan that TAMS prepared, which guided port development for years, proposed that the Port extend and widen the Industrial (later Blair) Waterway and Hylebos Waterway and construct ship-turning basins adjacent to the Industrial District, located in the Tacoma tideflats at the ends of the lengthened waterways.
By the early 1960s, the first phase of development was underway and many new businesses were locating on the Tacoma waterfront. Looking to the future, Port Commissioners recognized that they needed new leadership, in particular to bring to Tacoma the changes in automation and mechanization that were revolutionizing the shipping industry, most notably containers, the large boxes in which all but the largest or most unwieldy cargo could be packed for efficient loading and unloading at ports that had the large cranes and straddle carriers to handle the containers. Commissioners Maurice Raymond, A. E. "Archie" Blair, and M. S. Erdahl undertook a nationwide search for a general manager to lead the Port into the modern era.
Although the Commissioners received applications from around the country, they ended up selecting a candidate from just down the road in Seattle. Colonel Roy Perry, who had served in the Army Corps of Engineers for 24 years, was retiring from the Corps' Seattle office. Perry began work as general manager of the Port of Tacoma on July 1, 1964.
One of the first changes that Perry made was in labor-management relations at the Port. Before his arrival, there was little contact between port management and the longshore workers who did the work on the docks. Indeed, longshore workers of the time recalled that they did not feel welcome in management offices. Perry changed that, initiating regular monthly meetings between the workers, port staff, and management of the stevedoring companies who controlled the dock work. Perry's approach won the trust of union workers and their leaders, helping him gain union support for his drive to modernize port technology and increase mechanization. The members of International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union Local 23 elected officers, such as Phillip Lelli who served multiple terms as Local 23 president during Perry's tenure as general manager, who worked cooperatively with management to increase productivity on the docks.
Perry also worked to complete the expansion of the Blair and Hylebos Waterways called for in the TAMS plan. During his first years as general manager, the Port built new warehouses and piers for container cargo at Terminal 4 near the mouth of Blair Waterway and at Terminal 7 on Sitcum Waterway, a shorter channel located between Blair Waterway and the Puyallup River mouth. Two prominent alumina domes were also built at Terminal 7, to store ore for use at the Kaiser Aluminum smelter a few miles away. Pierce County Terminal was constructed at the head of Blair Waterway, where large amounts of storage space allowed the terminal to handle special cargo like locomotives, military equipment, and logs. The new terminal also served as the first major center for the growing number of automobiles imported from Asia through the port.
A Major Port
In 1968 Perry increased the Port's investment in industrial property by acquiring 500 acres in Frederickson, 13 miles south of the port's Commencement Bay terminals. Over the years Frederickson has developed as a major industrial center.
Perry led the Port of Tacoma into the container age in 1970, when the port's first container crane was built at Terminal 7. During the 12 years that Perry was in charge, the Port of Tacoma grew steadily in the amount of cargo that it handled. When Perry left in 1976, to become manager of the Port of Los Angeles, Tacoma had the second largest annual tonnage of any port on the West Coast.
Perry's successor, Richard D. Smith, continued Perry's policy of working cooperatively with longshore workers and their union. In Smith's first year on the job, Local 23 officials helped him convince Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE), a leading shipper to Alaska, to move its operations from Seattle to Tacoma, a move based in large part on the productivity of Tacoma longshore workers.
C. R. Roberts, "Ernest Perry, 'Progress Personified' as Port Chief, Dies; Builder, Leader: Former Colonel Led Way as Tacoma Grew to West's Second Biggest-volume Port," The News Tribune, March 29, 2001, p. D-2; Cindy D. Brown, "Tacoma Longshoremen Not Expecting a Strike," Ibid., January 11, 1993, p. B-5; Roland Lund, "Bridge Chokes Tacoma Port -- Big Container Ships Face Tight Squeeze in Blair Waterway," The Seattle Times, January 14, 1987, p. D-1; Ronald Magden and A. D. Martinson, The Working Waterfront: The Story of Tacoma's Ships and Men (Tacoma: International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, Local 23 and Port of Tacoma, 1982), 147-51; Magden, The Working Longshoreman (Tacoma:International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, Local 23, 1991), 185-89.
Travel through time (chronological order):
< Browse to Previous Essay
Browse to Next Essay >
Port of Tacoma |
Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that
encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both
HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any
reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this
Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For
more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact
the source noted in the image credit.
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided
By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins
| Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry
| 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle
| City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach
Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private
Sponsors and Visitors Like You