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HistoryLink.org is launched on January 17, 1999.
HistoryLink.org Essay 10141
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On January 17, 1999, the HistoryLink.org website is
launched. HistoryLink.org is a free,
evolving online encyclopedia of Washington state and local history. It is the
first and largest encyclopedia of community history created expressly for the
Starting With an Idea
In 1997, Walt Crowley (1947-2007) and Paul Dorpat (b.
1938) discussed the idea of creating a new historical baseline for Seattle and
King County history. The last comprehensive history of King County -- Clarence
Bagley's three volume The History of King
County -- was published in 1929, and both historians felt that the region
needed an encyclopedia that was more modern and up to date.
Crowley had already written 10 books on Seattle history and
Dorpat had published three volumes of his popular "Now and Then"
column from The Seattle Times, along with other local history books. Both
envisioned the new encyclopedia as a printed publication, but it was Crowley's
wife and business partner, Marie McCaffrey, who suggested that the public would be better served if
the encyclopedia were online. Unlike books, a website could continually grow
and expand over the years as new information was added.
To achieve this goal, Crowley founded History Ink -- the non-profit
company behind HistoryLink.org -- which was incorporated on November 10, 1997.
Initial funding for the HistoryLink website came from Patsy Bullitt Collins
(1920-2003), who provided $20,000 in seed money to launch a demonstration
site, which went online on May 1, 1998. Collins told Crowley, "I've never
even seen a Web site, but I love history and I respect you guys" (The Seattle Times, July 1, 2001).
In 1998, websites were still a novelty to many, and the
demonstration site gave Crowley a visual tool to use while fundraising and
applying for grants. By July 1998, more than $135,000 had been raised from private
donors, the Metropolitan King County Council, the City of Seattle, the
Daughters of the American Revolution, and more. Ninety percent of this income
would go to pay HistoryLink's writers and editors, whom Crowley had been gathering
over the past few months.
On July 9, 1998, most of these writers and editors, along with the website's technical staff, met at Crowley and McCaffrey's house in
Seattle's Phinney Ridge neighborhood for its first Thursday staff meeting.
Gathered around the dining room table, staff members discussed what the site would look
like, which essays they should concentrate on first, and a list of topics under
which all essays should be placed.
Noting that much of Seattle and King County's written local history focused
on the region's white pioneers, special attention was given early on to
gathering ethnic histories, especially those of black and Asian Americans.
The staff worked feverishly over the next few months, and on
November 11, 1998, a "soft launch" for the website was held at the
Speakeasy Café in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood. This launch allowed the
staff to fine tune everything and work out any bugs before the official launch
a few months later.
When the site officially went live on January 17, 1999 --
Martin Luther King Day -- HistoryLink's databases contained about 300 or so
essays, all written expressly for the Internet. A public demonstration of the site was held
that day in Seattle Center's Center House, giving passersby their first glimpse
of this unique website. At the time, there were no other regional encyclopedias
like it online.
Traffic grew quickly following the launch, but an historic event
later that year pushed HistoryLink's servers to the limit. In
preparation for the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle that
began in late November 1999, staff pointed a webcam out the window of
the HistoryLink office -- then the Joshua Green building --
overlooking Westlake Center. As chance would have it, protests and police
action unfolded right in front of this WTO-CAM. At one point, when news cameras were pushed
back beyond the line of sight, HistoryLink's cam was the only live feed coming
out of downtown. The world watched history happen through the eyes of
Once the dust settled, people who discovered HistoryLink
found a reason to keep coming back; new essays were being added almost daily,
covering many aspects of local history from just yesterday to years gone past.
Educators and students were using the site to a great degree, so much so that
the site's traffic would drop every summer and climb steeply again in the
fall. HistoryLink.org was proving so successful as a record of Seattle and King
County history, that in 2003 HistoryLink expanded its reach and began
documenting the history of the entire state.
HistoryLink.org has become the largest and
most comprehensive state encyclopedia in the nation.
"Hooking Up With History," The Seattle Times, October 12, 1998, p. C-1; "Absolutely Seattle," The Seattle Times, January 9, 2000, p.
M5; "Web Site is Indispensable Link
to Seattle-area History," The
Seattle Times, July 1, 2001, p. A-1; Eyewitness account by Alan Stein; HistoryLink.org archival records in possession of Alan Stein, Edmonds, Washington.
Travel through time (chronological order):
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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