Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.

Seattle's History In 25 Objects

What do a burned glue pot, a vintage cardigan and a Starbucks coffee cup share in common? In this case, each represents a chapter in Seattle's history. Inspired by the BBC's A History of the World In 100 Objects, we reached out to local museum curators, artifact owners, writers and historians to help us narrow down a list of 25 objects that tell Seattle’s story. Writer and author Knute Berger and MOHAI historian Lorraine McConaghy join us for a look into the past.

Also this hour: To figure out the best practices in any discipline, you need good data. We talk with Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, about the effort to set measurable goals tracking the progress and impact of their work. Plus, Katy Sewall finds out about a new University of Washington study that challenges assumptions about marriage, relationships and housework.

WEB EXTRA: List of 25 Objects that tells Seattle's History

1. Giant Ground Sloth, about 12,000 years old

These gigantic, bear-like animals were common all over North America. The reason we don't have ground sloths anymore has two popular theories: Either humans arrived and killed them all, or, more likely, the climate changed so quickly they, and many other large mammals, couldn't adapt. (BURKE MUSEUM)

2. Native Spear Head, between 5,000 and 7,000 years old

The spear point is big enough that it was likely used to hunt large land mammals like deer or elk in the Seattle area. Humans likely arrived in the area at the end of the last ice age, taking advantage of the fertility of the land left by the receding ice. (BURKE MUSEUM)

3. Petticoat Flag, 1861

Throughout the summer and fall of 1855 and into the winter of 1856, thousands of Native people rose up against the terms of the federal treaties, so hastily "negotiated" throughout Washington Territory. The resulting hostilities are called the Treaty War. Many Seattle settlers fled for safety into the North Blockhouse, known as Fort Decatur. This flag was sewn by women during the long, anxious days in the blockhouse. The 13 stars and 13 stripes on the flag recalled the original 13 colonies. (MOHAI)

4. Columns From UW, 1861

The sole surviving remnants of the University of Washington's first building on the original campus (located downtown Seattle between by 4th and 6th avenues) are four 24-foot, white, hand-fluted cedar, Ionic columns. Each of the columns were given a name: "Loyalty," "Industry," "Faith" and "Efficiency," or "LIFE." The columns now stand in the Sylvan Grove Theater on the current University of Washington Campus.

5. Imported Chinese Shoes, 1880s

Chinese immigrants first came to Seattle in the 1860s. When the railroad project that brought them ended in 1883, many Chinese laborers were displaced. A job shortage in 1885 created violent anti-Chinese sentiment in Seattle and resulted in several massacres of Chinese residents in the area. Efforts to deport Chinese citizens were foiled. Ultimately, the bulk of the Chinese remained in Seattle. Shoes like these were imported from China only to be worn by Chinese citizens. (WING LUKE MUSEUM)

6. Glue Pot, 1889

This glue pot, used by a recent Swedish immigrant named John Back, was the source of a fire that burned down 29 blocks of the city in 1889. Amazingly no one died during the fire, though some were killed afterward in the building demolition. Before the fire, downtown Seattle boasted a handful of stone and brick buildings. Everything else was wooden, including the sidewalks. After the blaze, new building codes prohibited wooden buildings in a large area of the city. (MOHAI)

7. Misery Whip, Late 1800s

Two-man crosscut saws -- called "misery whips" because the work was miserably hard labor for the two loggers  -- were used to fell the huge Douglas firs that often stretched 200 feet into the air, with diameters of 6-8 feet. (MOHAI)

8. Wheel Of The Steamer 'Portland,' 1897

In 1897, the steamer Portland landed in Seattle with 68 miners that wanted to rush to the Yukon. Seattle grew dramatically, as more than 100,000 prospectors came through town in a decade. Seattle grew rich, mining the miners. Seattle became the fastest growing city in the entire Pacific Northwest between 1897 and 1905 as a result of the gold rushes. For 13 years, the Portland carried hopeful miners from Seattle to the gold rushes in Alaska and Canada. (MOHAI)

9.  Sailmaker's Palm, Early 1900s

This sailmaker's palm was worn by sailmakers to push thread through thick sail material. Sailmaking was one of the many industries -- along with shipbuilding, fishing, canning and logging -- that drew Nordic immigrants to the Seattle area. By 1910, about one-third of Seattle's foreign-born residents hailed from Sweden, Norway, Denmark or Finland. Together, they built a Nordic community in Ballard and established roots in Seattle that can still be seen today. (NORDIC HERITAGE MUSEUM)

10. Iron Chink, 1909

Magazine advertisements promised that Smith's salmon butchering machine -- with a blatantly racist name that claimed it would replace skilled Chinese hand butchers -- would never get tired, never grow old, never need a break, never go on strike. Salmon were fed into the rotary machine, which beheaded, de-tailed and definned them, then slit open their bellies for cleaning. In 1906, Smith received a US patent for innovative aspects of his machine, and it was awarded a gold medal by judges at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. (MOHAI)

11. Moonshine Still, 1920s

This moonshine still was in use near Maple Valley during Prohibition, which lasted in Washington from 1916 to 1933.  This homemade still was designed and built to make booze for those willing to pay for it on the black market. In Seattle, as in most American cities, Prohibition cut down on easy drinking, but also encouraged crime. In the long run, demand and supply of liquor was so high on central Puget Sound that the cost of a fifth of whiskey fell during Prohibition. Some of that liquor was imported from Canada by fast boats under the cover of darkness; and some of it was moonshine, made in illegal stills like this one.  (MOHAI)

12. Postal sign For Hooverville, 1930s

This is the wooden sign that marked the post office of Seattle's Hooverville, a shacktown that eventually spread across nine acres of filled tideflats south of the city. In 1932, just 100 men lived in Seattle's Hooverville, but the population soon grew to 1200 when the Great Depression hit. "Hoovervilles" in America were all named in ironic tribute to President Herbert Hoover, held responsible by the jobless for their plight. Seattle's Hooverville became a community with a mayor and a post office. (MOHAI)

13. Japanese Internment Notice, 1942

War-time fears after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor culminated in an executive order from President Roosevelt to evacuate and relocate people of Japanese ancestry in the US. In late March 1942, Japanese and Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island and the Puget Sound were the first group in the country to be "relocated" to "assembly centers" to await permanent relocation. More than 7,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were moved out of Seattle to the Minidoka Relocation Center near Hunt, Idaho. (BAINBRIDGE HISTORICAL MUSEUM)

14. B-17F, 1943

The B-17 Flying Fortress served the Allied cause around the globe during World War II. Over 12,700 of Boeing's long-range bombers were built by men and women in US factories by the end of the war; 2,300 of those were built on Boeing Field. (MUSEUM OF FLIGHT)

15. "The Feminine One," 1961

"The Feminine One" is a sculpture by David Lemon. According to Victor Steinbrueck, who helped design the Space Needle, the small wooden sculpture's construction was a source of inspiration for the final design of the Seattle icon. (STEINBRUECK PRIVATE COLLECTION)

16. Civil Rights Protest Signs, 1961

In the 1960s, members of the Seattle chapter of the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE) had seen enough employment discrimination in area businesses and decided to act. Grocery stores, banks and department stores were identified as establishments where African American patrons spent money but were actively prevented from being hired. Safeway was one chain that CORE investigated and attempted to negotiate with. The negotiations were ineffective, so the next step was to peacefully demonstrate. These signs were used in the successful picketing and boycott of Safeway in October of 1961. (NAAM)

17. Helix Magazine, 1967-1970

The counterculture publication Helix was published in the U-District. The first issue of Helix hit the streets in 1967 and it lasted for a little over three years. This period of publication was one of political unrest: There were numbers of protests on Seattle streets with signs, chants and massive demonstrations, and even seizures of buildings and an occupation of the freeway. (MOHAI)

18. Jimi Hendrix's White Fender Stratocaster, 1968

Jimi Hendrix grew up in Seattle's Central District. This white Fender Stratocaster was used to play his famous rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock in 1969, and was the guitar he used in his final concert in 1970. Hendrix may have received his initial fame away from the Pacific Northwest, but Seattle will always be proud to have been his birthplace. (EMP MUSEUM)

19. SuperSonics NBA Trophy, 1979

This National Basketball Association championship trophy was won by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979. The Sonics defeated archrival Washington Bullets. This winning team was an unbeatable, unforgettable group led by Coach Lenny Wilkens and Team Captain Downtown Freddie Brown. (MOHAI)

20. "Microsoft World," 1990

The "Microsoft World" sculpture by Seattle artist Obadinah Heavner was created for Microsoft's 1990 annual report. It represents the dream of the company: a Microsoft world, with a computer on every desk and in every home. In 1990, when this sculpture was made, Microsoft first introduced the Office suite of software programs, including Word and Excel. (MOHAI)

21. Pike Place Fish Market, 1990s

The fish tossing at Pike Place Market is a famous tourist attraction, and has been seen in a number of films and television shows, including "Sleepless in Seattle" and MTV's "Real World." (MOHAI)

22. Starbucks Coffee Cup, 1990s

You can barely mention Seattle without someone bringing up Starbucks. The coffee company got its start in 1971, but really took off in the 90s.

23. Kurt Cobain's Cardigan, 1990s

This is a cardigan worn by Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana. Their music and style of dress was known as grunge, and defined Seattle for a lot of the world. (EMP MUSEUM)

24. Sea Turtle Costume, 1999

Sea turtle costumes were worn in protest during the World Trade Organization conference held in Seattle in 1999. Protesters wore these costumes and marched in a theatrical protest to the 1998 WTO ruling that threatened the existence of endangered sea turtles. Over the span of the WTO conference, the peaceful protests yielded to anger and violence as police clad in riot gear battled protestors in clouds of tear gas and pepper spray.

25. Reinvented Toilet, 2012

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation held a fair to reinvent the toilet in 2012. It showcased innovations from around the world that are creating a vision for the next generation of sanitation.