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Commencement Bay & the Natural Economy of Tacoma - Part II

Written by Olivia Inglin | Edited by Mary Bowlby

Originally published in the Eureka Times, 2017 Spring issue

This is the second in a three-part series about maritime development on Commencement Bay

The first post is available here. The third post is available here.

Shipbuilding on Commencement Bay

Longshoremen were not the only workers trying to make a living on the shores of Commencement Bay. Boat builders also became a necessary piece of the local Tacoma economy, one that would quickly and constantly evolve to create a faster and better product. In the late 1800’s, steam was state-of-the-art; steam-driven boats and ships transported passengers and cargo throughout the region. Numerous shipbuilding companies attempted to corner the market in the Pacific Northwest. Three such companies that became prominent in the Tacoma area were Crawford and Reid Boat Builders, the Western Boat Building Company, and Barbare Brothers shipbuilders. Crawford and Reid Boat Builders gained a reputation for building tugboats and passenger ferries. On the other hand, both the Barbare Brothers shipbuilders and the Western Boat Building Company were influenced by their Croatian fishing heritage. Both companies became know for building fishing vessels. (Gallacci, 159–165). Thus heritage, as well as other skilled Croatian settlers, quickly influenced the ship building of both of these companies as well as other ship builders.

"The story of Croatian fishermen and boat building begins in the old country…Old Tacoma Croatians brought their boat building and fishing skills with them from Dalmatia and adapted the old ways to the new Puget Sound environment. In many instances, a fisherman would approach a local boat builder with a new design in mind, often with a modification of a previously built boat. With time, the end product of this collaboration between builder and fishermen was a purse seiner uniquely adapted to local waters” (Gallacci, 158).

Shipbuilders were influenced to adapt boats to the versatile needs of the expanding Tacoma area. The designs of steamships were also adapting to the need for faster transportation of people and freight. Different builders created a variety of steamships that were seen across the water – including sidewheelers, sternwheelers, and propellers. Within Tacoma some of the most famous ships built included Dix, Daring, Monticello, and the S.G. Simpson all of which Crawford and Reid crafted. Likewise, the Sentinal, Norwood, Magnolia, and Almara were all built in Tacoma, but their creators could not be traced. Ships were often seen racing in order to earn the top spot to take people and cargo between the cities on the water. Competition between boats was intense, and while races often determined government-contracted routes the boat owners could also manipulate fair rates to try and compete. One family that was known for the desire to control the steamboat business on the Puget Sound was the Starr family. This family was actively involved in manipulating rates and staging races to earn contracted routes (Thompson, 8).

The ATALANTA was built in Tacoma in 1913 by Emmet Hunt.

Source: Tacoma Public Library, Northwest Room, CarlsonAmbrose_4698

Works Cited

Colton, Tim. "Babare Bros. Shipbuilding, Tacoma WA." Blog post. Babare Bros. Shipbuilding, Tacoma WA. N.p., 10 May 2016. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

Jennings, Matt. "The Native Peoples of Points NorthEast Historical Society - Brown's Point, Tacoma, Washington." The Native Peoples of Points NorthEast Historical Society - Brown's Point, Tacoma, Washington. Oint NE Historical Society, n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.Long, Priscilla. "HistoryLink.org." Longshoremen Strike the Tacoma Mill Company on March 22, 1886. - The Free Encyclopedia of Washington State History, 1 Jan. 2003. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

Magden, Ronald, and A. D. Martinson. The Working Waterfront: The Story of Tacoma's Ships and Men. Tacoma, WA: International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, Local 23 of Tacoma, 1982.

Thompson, Wilbur, and Allen Beach. Steamer to Tacoma. Bainbridge Island, WA: Driftwood, 1963. Print.

"Pacific Marine Review." Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

"Tacoma: History." Tacoma: History. Washington State History Museum, 2017. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Wilma, David. "HistoryLink.org." Puyallup Tribe of Indians Accepts a $162 Million Settlement for Lost Land on March 25, 1990". – The Free Encyclopedia of Washington State History, 21 Oct. 2006. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

Wilma, David, and Walt Crowley. "HistoryLink.org." Tacoma -- Thumbnail History." The Free Encyclopedia of Washington State History, 17 Jan. 2003. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

About the Author

Olivia Inglin volunteered with Job Carr Cabin Museum in 2016 and 2017. She graduated from Western Washington University with a bachelor's degree in History and Political Science. She follows her passion for American history through volunteer work. We are grateful for Olivia's willingness to put her knowledge to work assisting us with research and writing.

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