First ship calls at Port of Tacoma on March 25, 1921.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 1/16/2008
  • Essay 8462
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On March 25, 1921, the steamship Edmore arrives at the Port of Tacoma's newly constructed Pier 1 to load the first cargo to be shipped from the Port. The Port's formal entry into commercial shipping comes a year to the day after construction began on Pier 1, and less than three years after voters created the Port. Members of International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) Locals 38-3 and 38-30 work around the clock to load 600,000 board feet of lumber in record-setting time. Twenty-four hours after it arrives, the Edmore is fully loaded and sets sail for Yokohama, Japan.

Pierce County voters established the Port of Tacoma in the November 1918 election. Six months later, in May 1919, voters approved both a master plan for the Port that had been developed by Frank J. Walsh and a $2.5 million bond issue to fund land purchase and construction. Plans for Pier 1, an 800-feet-long, 160-feet-wide pier supported by creosoted pilings, were ready by the end of the year. Tacoma Dredging Company was awarded the contract to build the Pier and construction began on March 25, 1920. The contract to ditch, fill, and bulkhead Pier 1 called for the dredging company to use the excess dredged dirt to fill nearby low-lying areas. By taking advantage of the Pier 1 dredging in this manner, the Port adopted a policy that it continued to follow over the years to create more usable land area.

The Edmore Arrives

One year after construction began, Pier 1 was finished, plans for Pier 2 and negotiations with the Milwaukee Road for a waterfront railroad connection were well under way, and the Port was ready to officially enter the commercial shipping business. On March 25, 1921, the Edmore arrived at Pier 1 to take on the first cargo shipped from the Port of Tacoma.

The Tacoma News Tribune described the first ship's arrival in a front-page article published later that day:

"Beginning its career of commercial utility to Tacoma and its tributary territory exactly a year from the day the first pile in its construction was driven, the Port of Tacoma became an operating concern in the field of world commerce Friday morning. The anniversary of the start on the construction work of the port was celebrated when the steamship Edmore of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company's fleet drew up to Pier 1 at 8 o'clock Friday morning and began the loading of a cargo of 25 carloads of lumber, approximately 600,000 board feet. The freight cars were all in readiness as the big ship drew alongside, and in a few moments the great locomotive crane of the port was jerking them into place beside the ship's hatches, into which the lumber was expeditiously transferred by the ship's own tackle" (Working Waterfront, 47-48).

Setting a Record

The expeditious loading was accomplished by 50 longshoremen from two ILA locals: 38-3 general cargo workers and 38-30 lumber handlers. As soon as two dock men prepared the first load, "Little Ed" Harris, operating the Port's new locomotive crane, moved it to the aft hatch. There winch man Melville Anderson lowered it into the hold where a team of stevedores loaded the lumber into place. Four "gangs" of longshoremen worked the Edmore's three hatches and its deck, with only two meal breaks, until 11:00 p.m., when four new gangs replaced them. The union longshoremen set a new loading record and at 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning the Edmore sailed for Yokohama.

The ILA locals had played a major role in the campaigns to create the public Port of Tacoma and pass the bond issue that funded it and Local 38-3 business agent Ed Kloss was elected one of the original three Port Commissioners. For its part, the Port recognized the closed shop from the beginning of its relationship with the longshore unions. When work began at the Port on March 25, 1921, the longshoremen earned 5 cents per hour more than private employers were paying and they operated the cranes that were previously run by hoisting engineers.


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), 45-48; Magden, The Working Longshoreman (Tacoma: International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, Local 23, 1991), 94, 102-03, 107-08; Murray and Rosa Morgan, South on the Sound: An Illustrated History of Tacoma and Pierce County (Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, 1984), 114; "History," Port of Tacoma website accessed January 10, 2008 (

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