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Seattle History

Before the arrival of Europeans, the Seattle area was home to the Duwamish, a generally peaceable tribe that fished the bays and rivers of the Puget Sound and befriended early white settlers. In 1851, a native New Yorker named David Denny led the first group of settlers across the Oregon Trail with the intention of settling along the Puget Sound.

Recognising the area's seaport possibilities, Denny's band staked a claim on Alki Point in present-day West Seattle. After a winter of wind and rain, the group moved the settlement to Elliott Bay, renaming it Seattle for the Duwamish chief Sealth, a friend of an early merchant.

Hardly a boomtown, early Seattle was peopled mainly by bachelors until one of the founding fathers went back east on a mission to induce young unmarried women to come to Seattle. On two different trips, a total of 57 women made the journey and married into the frontier stock, in the process setting a more civilized tone for the city (and inspiring the especially bad 1960s TV show 'Here Come the Brides').

A spur from the Northern Pacific Railroad's terminus in Portland reached Seattle in 1893, linking the town by rail with the rest of the country. The lumber, shipping and general commerce derived from immigration soon swelled the town's ranks so much that even the Great Fire of 1889 barely slowed the advance. After 50 blocks of the old wooden downtown burned in a single day, the city was reborn in brick and iron, centered on today's Pioneer Square.

Seattle's first boom came when the ship Portland docked in 1897 with its now-famous cargo: two tons of Yukon gold. Within weeks, thousands of fortune hunters from across the country passed through on their way to the northern gold fields. Local business blossomed as Seattle became the banking centre for the nouveau riche, and the bars, brothels and honky-tonks of Pioneer Square overflowed with pleasure-starved miners.

The boom continued through WWI, when Northwest lumber was greatly in demand and shipyards along the Puget Sound 'harvested' the surrounding forests. WWII furthered the shipbuilding boom, and aircraft and atomic energy industries added to the region's pattern of profit.

Today, international trade and tech firms (such as Microsoft and Amazon) make up the backbone of Seattle's booming economy. And although Boeing, for decades as synonymous with Seattle as rain, announced in 2001 that it was up and leaving for windier pastures in Chicago, the city's progressive politics, inventive culture and ready access to outdoor recreation continue to lure restless people like no place else on the West Coast.

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