Rowing begins at University of Washington on December 15, 1899.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 8/29/1999
  • Essay 1647

On December 15, 1899, University of Washington students accept a proposal from E. F. Blaine, a Seattle lawyer and developer, to raise money to construct a rowing shell for the University. From this beginning, UW rowing crews become the champions in the nation, winning the Gold Medal in the Olympics in 1936.

Raising Money for Rowing

Within a year enough money was raised and support garnered to build two four-oared rowing gigs, a boathouse, and a dock and float for the boats. It took longer to establish a rowing crew. The University of Washington did not row its first race against another college until spring 1903.

The first rowing shell in King County arrived in 1893 when Yale University graduate William Goodwin shipped a four-oared scull to Seattle. The privately run Seattle Athletic Club raced the scull in regattas throughout the region. The idea of the University of Washington acquiring a rowing shell was discussed for "several years" before E. F. Blaine made his offer to donate money to establish a rowing program. Student interest may go back to 1895 when the University of Washington moved from downtown Seattle to the campus between Lake Union and Lake Washington, a location ideal for rowing.

The reasons the University of Washington had not established rowing as a sport before this were lack of money, a small enrollment (514 in 1899-1900), and no college competition -- no other college on the Pacific Coast had a rowing program.

In the fall of 1899, UW freshman Frank E. Brightman, who had recently moved to Seattle, presented a letter of introduction to E. F. Blaine from Blaine's brother whom Brightman had met in Michigan. Blaine invited the young man to dinner at his Lake Washington home.

Fine Water, Good Weather, Young Men

E. F. Blaine, a Seattle lawyer and land developer, had once lived in Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University. Blaine was familiar with Cornell's crew racing, and saw no reason why the University of Washington should not have a rowing program. According to Brightman, who recollected the dinner conversation in 1958, Blaine said, "A shame the university here doesn't take up crew racing. Fine water for practice; good weather most of the year; lots of young men who would be interested." Blaine guaranteed at least $200, solicited from Seattle businessmen, to acquire a scull if the students would agree to establish a rowing program at the university.

On December 15, 1899, the following day, Brightman called a student assembly, and announced the "munificent offer" of E. F. Blaine. The students supported the idea.

Business Support

Brightman helped Blaine raise the money. Blaine called on Seattle businessmen and asked each one for a donation of $50. The business men included the likes of James C. Moore, one of the city's major land developers especially near the University of Washington; H. C. Henry, president of the National Bank of Commerce; and William Pigott, local steel mill magnate. Blaine got immediate affirmative responses. Brightman then went to collect the money.

Brightman headed a student committee composed of Sterling R. Hill and Daniel A. Millett to organize the program. They decided to build "two training gigs" which could also be raced. The students, with assistance from Blaine, hired "[a]n old oarsman and boat-builder named Stone," (Tyee, 1910) to build the gigs. This was no doubt Henry W. Stone, co-owner of the American Boat Building Company, whose company specialized in building small boats such as steam and gasoline launches, pleasure boats, and racing shells. By fall 1900, Stone had constructed the two gigs in a building just south of downtown Seattle next to Moran Shipyards.

The students soon realized that the gigs required a boat house, dock, and float. There were no funds to build them. Once again Blaine stepped forward to help. To keep expenses down, he suggested that the students do as much of the work as possible and solicit donations for as much of the material as possible. With Mr. Blaine's encouragement, the Puget Mill Company donated standing timber to the cause.

The Loggers Bee

During the spring 1900, probably in April, 50 University of Washington students organized a "Loggers Bee." The students donned "logger's costumes" and, along with Blaine, went to the standing timber on the south side of Union Bay with saw and wedge and cut down some trees. This area would later be developed into the Broadmoor Golf course. A team of horses or oxen hauled the logs to Lake Washington where they were floated to the UW campus on north side of Union Bay. The students then started to build the float and boathouse. After the day's strenuous workout, Mr. Blaine invited the students to his house near Madison Park for a "bounteous dinner."

In all, the expenses for the gigs and boathouse rose to $650, which Blaine covered either by soliciting donations from other Seattle businessmen or by opening his own wallet.

Rowing Off to a Slow Start

It took some time for rowing to become well established at the University of Washington. The students organized the U. of W. Amateur Rowing Association in January 1901. During spring 1901, the students rowed amongst themselves and conducted a race: The class of 1904 defeated the class of 1903.

Blaine's financial assistance apparently came to an end about 1901-02, as evidenced by the suspension of rowing during that school year due to lack of funds to purchase oars. The following year rowing started again. In June 1903, in the first college rowing race held on the Pacific Coast, the UW defeated the University of California in a one-and-a-half-mile race. From 1903-1906, the UW participated in just four intercollegiate races.

The UW Champions

In 1907, the University of Washington rowing team finally got established when the team purchased, from Cornell University, its first 8-oared shell. The University of Washington soon became the dominant rowing team on the Pacific Coast, and within a short time in the nation. In 1936, the UW became the champion crew in the world when it won the Gold Medal in the Olympic games. Before the late 1960s, when professional Major League sports started arriving in Seattle, the University of Washington rowing team was a premier city sports team.

It all started thanks to the generous support of E. F. Blaine.


The Pacific Wave, December 20, 1899, p. 2; September 15, 1900, p. 12; January 11, 1901, p. 7-9; The Tyee, (Seattle: The Junior Class of the University of Washington, 1900); The Tyee of the University of Washington (1909-1910), (Seattle: University of Washington Junior Class, 1910), 140; Janet Anne Northam, "Sport and Urban Boosterism: Seattle, 1890-1910," Master's Thesis, University of Washington, 1978, p. 150, 155, 156, 159; Daniel Eugene Peterson, "University of Washington, History, 1887-1902," Master's Thesis, University of Washington, 1958, p. 181-182; Morda C. Slauson, "How Crew Began at the U.W.," The Seattle Times, August 10, 1958, Magazine Section, p. 2.

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