Port of Tacoma
Review and History

The Port of Tacoma in western Washington USA is the seat of Pierce County. It lies on the shores of Puget Sound's Commencement Bay about 25 nautical miles south-southwest of the Port of Seattle and some 35 nautical miles northeast of the Port of Olympia. "Tacoma" was the indigenous name for Mount Rainier. The Port of Tacoma is primarily a lumber-based economy, but its waterfront is lined by docks and wharves. In 2007, over 196 thousand people called the Port of Tacoma home, and almost 3.3 million lived in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area.

The Port of Tacoma is primarily a center for processing lumber, and its most economically important industries are lumber-based. However, the Port of Tacoma is home to shipyards, foundries, smelters, and food processing and electrochemical plants. From the 1930s to the 1990s, paper manufacturing activities on the industrial tide flats have given the Port of Tacoma a distinctly acrid aroma. US Oil and Refining also has an oil refinery on the tide flats. The Port of Tacoma is a gateway to Mount Rainier National Park, and it is linked to Olympic Peninsula recreation areas by the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The first bridge, opened in 1940, is famous for the wild gyrations caused by 67-kilometer-per-hour winds that eventually destroyed it just four months after it was completed.

Port History

The area of the future Port of Tacoma was inhabited for thousands of years by the Puyallup people whose settlements were on the Puyallup River delta. These peoples lived from the abundant natural resources of the area that included salmon and shellfish, wild game, berries, and roots. Cedar trees were the raw material for their homes, clothing, utensils, and transportation. The Puyallup called the area Squa-szucks.

In 1972, Captain George Vancouver led a British expedition into the area, and Lieutenant Peter Puget gave many local sites European names. In 1833, the Hudson Bay Company arrived in Puget Sound to choose a site for a trading post. That post became Fort Nisqually and the center for trade in the area.

At first, the Puyallup welcomed the new settlers, but it was not long before the newcomers were crowding the indigenous peoples out of the area. When the United States government formally opened the area to settlement, the Puyallup realized that they must negotiate a treaty. On Christmas Eve, 1854, they met with government representatives to sign the Medicine Creek Treaty that created three reservations at Puyallup, Nisqually, and Squaxin Island. The reservations were small and poor, and the people went to war.

In 1856, government representative Issac I. Stevens renegotiated the Medicine Creek Treaty, expanding the Puyallup Reservation, and most of the indigenous families were forced to move to the reservation.

Nicolas Delin from Sweden built a water-powered sawmill there in 1852. In 1853, the first cargo was shipped from the mill to San Francisco aboard the George Emory. A small settlement grew up around the Delin sawmill that was soon abandoned during the Indian Wars.

Anticipating the coming of the new Transcontinental Railroad, pioneer Job Carr built a cabin to serve as a post office in 1864. A replica of Carr's cabin still stands in Old Town Tacoma. Carr sold most of his land to Morton McCarver, a developer who named his development project Tacoma City after the Puyallup name for Mount Rainier, Tacobet meaning "mother of waters."

One reason the Northern Pacific Railroad chose the Port of Tacoma for its terminus was that its deep-draft Commencement Bay could dock over 50 ships at a time in any weather conditions. Its large area of tideland waterfront also promised future expansions for commercial trade. The Port of Tacoma soon built a reputation for handling cargoes of lumber, coal, wheat, and grain. It was also growing rapidly as a port of entry for tea from the Orient. Before the Port of Tacoma was created and activity moved to the Tideflats, most shipping was centered on the "Old Tacoma" docks.

Incorporated in 1875, the Port of Tacoma was selected to be the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad. In 1887, the depot was completed, and population soared from just over 1000 in 1880 to over 36,000 in 1890. When Rudyard Kipling visited the Port of Tacoma in 1889, he noted its exceedingly rapid growth.

One sad event in 1885 came to be called the "Tacoma method" for removing the peaceful Chinese living in the Port of Tacoma. The major and other city officials led a group of several hundred men in removing the Chinese from their homes and forcing them to board the morning train bound for Portland, Oregon. The next day, they burned the Chinese settlements to the ground.

In the late 1880s, resident George Francis Train promoted the city by staging a global circumnavigation that started and ended in the Port of Tacoma. (Train was thought to be the inspiration for Verne's Around the World in 80 Days.) When gold was discovered in the Klondike in the late 1800s, Seattle overtook Tacoma as the major city in the area.

Washington State passed a law in 1911 allowing its counties to establish public port districts and to construct harbors and port facilities. At the time, most of the Port of Tacoma's facilities were privately-owned by the railroads who maintained a monopoly on seaborne trade. The citizens of Pierce County became convinced that they needed a public port. In 1918, they voted to establish the Port of Tacoma, and they elected the first three Port Commissioners. In 1919, they passed a bond issue to plan and build the needed facilities. The plan started on over 97 hectares of Tideflats land.

The Port of Tacoma's first terminal was Pier One. In 1921, the lumber ship Edmore was the first vessel to call at the Port of Tacoma's Pier One. In 1923, Pier 2 was constructed with a huge bulk storage transit shed and a monorail crane system. With dockside rail service, cargo could be moved directly between ship and rail.

In 1929, the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Seattle were authorized by State law to construct and operate an airport, making way for the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. In 1930, the Port of Tacoma built a new United Grain terminal funded by voter-approved bonds. The Great Depression greatly stressed the growing Port of Tacoma, and the port was forced to cut wages three times in 1931 and 1932. Cargo traffic declined in 1931, but not nearly as much as in other United States' ports. Port exports increased in the same year.

The Port of Tacoma opened its Cold Storage Facility in 1931, allowing it to handle produce for area farmers. This was important because, prior to having the facility, much of the State's apple and potato crops had spoiled due to the lack of adequate warehousing and storage facilities.

The Port of Tacoma was home to J.P. Weyerhaeuser, founder of the lumber-based corporate giant. In 1935, his son George Weyerhaeuser was kidnapped and returned after the kidnappers collected a $200,000 ransom.

In 1939, the Washington legislature authorized State ports to engage in industrial development projects, and industrial development became a priority for the Port of Tacoma in the 1940s.

During World War II, the Port of Tacoma's Todd Pacific Shipyards were busy with shipbuilding activities. Seventy-four warships were constructed in their Tideflats faculties, and over 30 thousand people were employed there at its peak.

With authorization to engage in industrial development, the Port of Tacoma bought more land to attract new companies and new jobs to the area. In 1940, the Port of Tacoma established the Industrial Development District. Companies like Kaiser Aluminum, Ohio Ferro Alloys, and Philadelphia Quartz then moved to the Port of Tacoma.

By 1946, the war had brought a 90% drop in maritime trade to the Port of Tacoma, and the public port and private piers were caught in a deep recession. To alleviate these problems, the Port of Tacoma focused on attracting new manufacturers to the Tideflats. They succeeded in attracting companies like Purex, Western Boat Building, Concrete Technology, and Stauffer Chemical.

In the early 1950s, voters approved a change in the city's organization when the State legislature investigated and found widespread corruption.

The Blair Bridge was constructed in 1953 to improve the flow of cars and ships in the Tideflats. It did its job well, but by the 1980s, ships were larger, and the bridge became a deterrent to Port of Tacoma growth. In 1997, the Blair Bridge was removed.

In 1955, the Port of Tacoma Commission prepared a development plan for the Port Industrial Development District, recommending many changes to enhance the port's capacity. In 1959, the Port of Tacoma acquired the Todd Pacific Shipyard after the Federal government declared it surplus.

The 1960s was a time of tremendous growth for the Port of Tacoma. When the Blair and Hylebos waterways were expanded, new land was created with dredged materials that was dedicated to warehousing and manufacturing. With the container revolution, the Port of Tacoma built new piers and warehouses at Terminals 4 and 7 for containerized cargo. Then in 1967, the Port of Tacoma built the first of two alumina domes for Kaiser Aluminum at Terminal 7.

In 1968, the Port of Tacoma acquired over 200 hectares of land about 20 kilometers south of the existing port terminals for development as a major industrial center. Manufacturing facilities sprung up for companies like Boeing, Toray Composites, Medallion Foods, and Ikea.

Throughout the 1970s, the Port of Tacoma focused on developing new export-related terminals. In 1972, the two-berth Blair Terminal was built for log exports. In 1973, the Port of Tacoma added a 10-hectare wood chip export facility for Weyerhaeuser. In 1975, the Port of Tacoma opened Continental Grain, a modern three-million bushel capacity facility. President Jimmy Carter bestowed the "E" Award for Excellence in Exporting to the Port of Tacoma in 1975.

In 1976, the Port of Tacoma management and longshoremen joined forces to bring the Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE), a major shipping line serving Alaska markets, from Seattle, earning the Port of Tacoma the title of "New Gateway to Alaska." TOTE vessels used Terminal 7 until the Port of Tacoma finished a new terminal for the company across from Terminal 7 on the Sitcum Waterway. In 1980, the Port of Tacoma completed the 21-hectare East Blair Terminal for the import of Mazda vehicles.

The Port of Tacoma played an important role in pioneering inter-modal rail facilities when it opened the first dockside rail yard on the United States' West Coast, the North Intermodal Yard, in 1981. That year, the Port of Tacoma handled 127 thousand TEUs of containerized cargo.

In 1982 and 1987, the United States' first local referenda on computerized voting took place. Both times, voters refused computer voting based on the perceived likelihood of election fraud.

In 1983, the Port of Tacoma received designation for Foreign Trade Zone #86, and it signed a 30-year terminal lease agreement with Sea-Land. The next year, the Sunrise made history when it delivered the largest cargo that had ever crossed the Pacific Ocean, two new Hitachi container cranes, to the Sea-Land Terminal in the Port of Tacoma. The first Sea-Land ship arrived at their new Port of Tacoma terminal in 1985, and they were followed by the first Maersk Line vessel a month later. The old United Grain Terminal was demolished in 1987 to make room for an expansion of the Port of Tacoma's North Intermodal Rail Yard. In 1988, the expanded Rail Yard made it possible for the Port of Tacoma to handle increasing volumes of containers brought by the "K" Line. President George Bush signed the Puyallup Indian Settlement in 1989, making way for future Port of Tacoma growth and Port-Puyallup Tribe cooperation.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the Port of Tacoma was faced with crime problems in its Hilltop neighborhood. The city began to take steps against the rising crime, and today, the city mayor is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, a bi-partisan group dedicated to getting illegal guns off the streets. Port of Tacoma residents also enacted community policing and other policies that have reduced the crime problems.

In the early 1990s, the Port of Tacoma began an effort to restore the city and its image. A branch campus of the University of Washington was established in the Port of Tacoma, and the Union Station was restored in 1990. The Port of Tacoma became America's first "wired city" in 1998 when it installed high-speed fiber optic network.

In 1995, the Port of Tacoma became the first American port to launch an Internet website. In 1996, the Washington State History Museum opened. In 2002, the Museum of Glass opened in downtown Port of Tacoma. In 2003, the Tacoma Art Museum opened its doors. The Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center opened in late 2004, and America's Car Museum is underway.

In the 1990s, the Port of Tacoma continued to grow. The Evergreen Line started calling at the Port of Tacoma's Terminal 4 in 1991, helping the port top the one-million container mark for the first time ever. In 1993, the Port of Tacoma won a second "E" Award for Excellence in Exporting, making it the first port in the Pacific Northwest to be so honored.

In 1997, the Port of Tacoma signed a 30-year lease with Hyundai Merchant Marine for a new 24.3-hectare terminal with a dockside intermodal yard. The terminal opened in 1999. That year, the Susan Maersk, the largest containership to come to North America, entered the Port of Tacoma. The Maersk vessel demonstrated to the Port of Tacoma and the world some of the challenges faced by the ever-larger container ships. The port would need larger terminals, bigger cranes, and deeper waterways. In 1999, Maersk announced its purchase of Sea-Land, creating Maersk-Sealand, the world's largest container shipping line.

In 1999, the Port of Tacoma completed its comprehensive Vision 2020 study that predicted container cargo volumes from three to six million containers by the year 2020. In 2000, the FAST Corridor Program began to create the Port of Tacoma Road Overpass and help the port handle the increased truck and rail traffic it expects.

In 2001, the Port of Tacoma launched its 21st Century website, winning top honors from the American Association of Port Authorities for its outstanding communications. That year, the Port of Tacoma closed briefly when the Nisqually earthquake struck Puget Sound. That year, the Port of Tacoma received final permits for an extension project on the Maersk Sealand Pier, bringing the pier to a total 670.6 meters in length. It also finished an 8-hectare expansion of the Hyundai Terminal. A Port of Tacoma economic study in 2001 found that over 28 thousand jobs in Pierce County and more than 101 thousand jobs in Washington State were related to port activities. The Port of Tacoma Road Overpass opened in 2001.

In 2002, the Port of Tacoma completed an upgrade of its North Intermodal Rail Yard and began a dredging project to increase the depth of the Sitcum Waterway to 15.5 meters. That year, the Port of Tacoma set several new records. It moved an all-time record of almost 1.5 TEUs of containerized cargo, completed more than 362.3 thousand intermodal lifts, and processed nearly 180.2 thousand vehicles.

The Port of Tacoma announced its plan to build the largest container terminal north of Los Angeles for Evergreen in 2002. The terminal would be the largest construction project ever undertaken by the Port of Tacoma. The port completed a $12 million expansion of the TOTE terminal and awarded its largest-ever contract for the construction of the new Pierce County Terminal. In 2002, the Port of Tacoma and Auto Warehousing Company (AWC) opened the new 58.3-hectare Marshall Avenue Auto Facility, and AWC moved 180 thousand autos through the port. That year, the Port of Tacoma moved its one-millionth vehicle through the Blair Terminal, a 2004 Mazda RX-8. Also in 2002, the Port of Tacoma was recognized by the American Association of Port Authorities with seven awards for port accomplishments in technology, communications, and the environment.

In 2004, US Senator Patty Murray kicked off Operation Safe Commerce in the Port of Tacoma to assess supply chain security technologies from their point of origin to the US point of distribution. The Port of Tacoma Commission signed a lease agreement with the city's fishing fleet that basically saved Tacoma's fishing fleet. The same year, the Port of Tacoma received four of the world's biggest container cranes at Pierce County Terminal.

In 2004, the Partners for Livable Communities ranked the Port of Tacoma among the 30 most livable communities in the United States. Today, their website ranks Tacoma-Pierce County as the most livable region in the country based on its cross-boundary collaboration.

In 2005, the Port of Tacoma invested $95 million to make infrastructure improvements and keep pace with its ever-increasing volumes of container traffic. The port also finished a 20-year strategic rail development study identifying six projects to improve port capacity. In 2005, the Port of Tacoma handled 476 thousand TEUs of Alaska cargo, representing 70% of Alaska-bound waterborne commerce in the contiguous United States. That year, the Port of Tacoma Commission directed all port-operated terminals to use ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, reducing the port's sulfur dioxide emissions by 97%. Four Port of Tacoma terminal customers made the change voluntarily, and a fifth terminal changed to a biodiesel fuel blend. The Port of Tacoma also started a program to replace retiring port-owned vehicles with gas-electric hybrids, and the port's rail switching operations switched to low-sulfur diesel fuels. In 2005, the Port of Tacoma handled more than two million containers.

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