Seattle, Washington
United States of America

Introduction

Seattle, city in west central Washington State. The seat of King County, Seattle is the hub of the sprawling metropolitan region of Greater Seattle and is the largest city in Washington. There are 3.6 million people in Greater Seattle, one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States. The area's rate of economic growth led the nation in 1997. This growth reflects the success of local high-technology industries such as aerospace, software, computer and electronic equipment, medical devices and biotechnology, and telecommunications products

Seattle is located on Elliott Bay in Puget Sound, 182 km (113 mi) south of the border with Canada. The city sits on a stretch of rolling land between Puget Sound and Lake Washington and is surrounded by high mountains and sparkling water. City residents look west to the mountains of Olympic National Park, east to the Cascade Range, and south to Mount Rainier (4,392 m/14,410 ft). Lake Washington and Lake Union, which lies within the Seattle city limits, are connected to Puget Sound by the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The canal threads east and west through the city, and the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks enable seagoing vessels to traverse the different water levels from the higher freshwater lakes to the lower saltwater bay.

Seattle was named in honor of Chief Sealth, the leader of the Native American tribes who befriended the American settlers that founded the city in 1851. The city has a mild climate, and people enjoy the outdoors year-round. Average temperature ranges are 2° to 7°C (35° to 45°F) in January and 13° to 24°C (55° to 75°F) in July. The city averages 940 mm (37 in) of rain annually.

Seattle and Its Metropolitan Area

The city of Seattle covers an area of 218 sq km (84 sq mi). Greater Seattle, or the Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area (encompassing Snohomish, King, Pierce, Kitsap, Thurston, and Island counties), has a total area of 21,152 sq km (8,167 sq mi).

Much of the historical flavor of Seattle is preserved in its downtown neighborhoods. The Pioneer Square district is home to Seattle's oldest buildings, constructed after the great fire of 1889 that destroyed much of the city. Many of Pioneer Square's historic buildings have been adapted to new uses, and the district is often filled with tourists, shoppers, and residents out on the town. Pioneer Square is also home to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, located in both Seattle and in Skagway, Alaska. A visitors center contains exhibits exploring the Klondike Gold Rush, which began in 1897, when would-be miners flocked to Seattle on their way to the goldfields.

Southeast of Pioneer Square is the International District. It is the city's shopping and cultural center for many Asian Americans, including descendants of early Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino settlers, as well as more recent Vietnamese, Thai, and Cambodian immigrants. The International District is home to the Nippon Kan Theater, built in 1909, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a community landmark for Seattle residents of Japanese descent.

Stretching north from Pioneer Square, downtown Seattle overlooks the busy harbor and waterfront of Elliott Bay. The Smith Tower sits on the border between the Pioneer Square district and downtown. It opened in 1914 as Seattle's first real skyscraper and remained the tallest building in the city for more than half a century. Today Seattle's bustling downtown includes city and county administrative facilities, the Seattle Public Library, the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, the restored Paramount and Fifth Avenue theaters, the Seattle Art Museum, and dozens of interesting galleries, shops, and restaurants. Pike Place Market, a busy and colorful market that opened in 1907, offers fresh ingredients to Seattle's cooks and charms the city’s visitors with its shops and market stalls.

North of downtown Seattle is the Denny Regrade, one of many areas that were filled and leveled by the removal or regarding of hills in Seattle in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was decided early on that Seattle's hills would seriously hinder expansion, so the city began an enormous program of regrading in 1876, leveling and filling in First Avenue. In the early 1900s engineers used steam shovels and huge amounts of water pumped from Elliott Bay to completely flatten Denny Hill. The dirt was transported to the waterfront and dumped in the bay.

The Regrade is a mixed-use area stretching north to Lake Union. It includes low-rise office buildings, warehouses and light manufacturing facilities, and a sprinkling of apartments, condominiums, and restaurants. Southwest of the Denny Regrade is the neighborhood of Belltown. Named for founder William Bell, Belltown was originally a separate settlement from Seattle; today it is a distinctive downtown neighborhood, offering high-rise condominiums overlooking Elliott Bay in a unique community of galleries, bookstores, and trendy restaurants. Just north and east of Belltown is Seattle Center, which was the site of Seattle's 1962 worlds fair, Century 21. The center is now a major cultural complex and houses performance spaces, shops, museums, and an amusement park; it also plays host to a number of annual festivals. The distinctive Space Needle marks Seattle Center, which is connected to downtown Seattle by a monorail.

To the west of downtown Seattle is the West Seattle peninsula, separated from the city by the Duwamish Waterway and by Harbor Island. Harbor Island is an artificial island of nearly 160 hectares (400 acres) fringed by wharves and cranes and covered by warehouses and railroad yards. It is the Port of Seattle's major point of entry for cargo transferred from oceangoing vessels to trucks and railcars. At West Seattle's westernmost tip is Alki Point, where the Denny party, the settlers who founded Seattle, first landed.

Queen Anne Hill, north of downtown, was long isolated by its steep ascent but emerged as a fashionable residential area at the close of the 19th century. North of Queen Anne Hill and across the Lake Washington Ship Canal, Ballard was originally settled by Scandinavian immigrants. Annexed to Seattle in 1907, Ballard today is a residential neighborhood with a strong Nordic heritage.

To the east from Ballard along the north side of the Ship Canal, the neighborhoods of Fremont, Wallingford, and the University District stretch to the University of Washington. The Green Lake neighborhood, just north of Fremont, includes Woodland Park Zoo and Green Lake, a popular city park with picnic grounds and playfields. North Seattle's many residential neighborhoods such as Greenwood, Maple Leaf, Wedgwood, and Lake City run north to 145th Street, the city's northern boundary.

Heading south from the University of Washington, the lakefront neighborhoods of Madison Park, Madrona, Leschi, Mount Baker, and Seward Park look east to the city of Bellevue and Mercer Island, a residential island in Lake Washington. West and inland, Capitol Hill, the Central District, and Beacon Hill run north-south, parallel to downtown. Capitol Hill boasts some of the most beautiful older neighborhoods in the city; Volunteer Park, which is home to the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Volunteer Park Conservatory, sits atop Capitol Hill.

The Central District is the historic heart of the African American community in Seattle; the area also encompasses the heritage of Jackson Street’s vibrant jazz culture. During the 1940s the Seattle jazz scene fostered the careers of musicians such as Quincy Jones and Ernestine Anderson and trained musicians who worked with famous jazz artists Lionel Hampton and Count Basie.

The local term Eastside refers to Seattle's suburbs in King County, covering the towns and unincorporated area east of Lake Washington to the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The area includes the suburban cities of Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Renton, and Issaquah. The Eastside has become home to dozens of high-technology industries including Microsoft Corporation, ATL Ultrasound, Nintendo of America, divisions of The Boeing Company, and many other firms. In the 1960s commuters headed to Seattle jobs from homes on the Eastside. Today, the reverse commuteť from Seattle homes to jobs on the Eastside is just as heavy, and both streams of traffic cross the same bridges over Lake Washington at the same times.

Population

Seattle has experienced steady population growth since the early 1980s. In 2000 the population of Seattle was 563,374, up from the 1990 census figure of 516,259. In 2000 the population of the Seattle metropolitan area was 2,414,616; the population of the Puget Sound urban region centered on Seattle was 3,554,760.

The city's population has often increased or declined according to economic conditions. In the 1970s Greater Seattle depended heavily on the aerospace industry, and when the industry suffered an economic downturn, the cities population shrank. Between 1970 and 1980 Seattle's population fell from 531,000 to 494,000, a decline of 7 percent, as the local economy slowed and city dwellers migrated to the suburbs. But as Seattle's economy rebounded and diversified, its population staged a comeback, increasing 5 percent between 1980 and 1990, and another 9 percent between 1990 and 2000.

Seattle is characterized by a diverse and dynamic population. The 2000 census indicated that Seattle's population was 70.1 percent white, 13.1 percent Asian, 8.4 percent black, 1 percent Native American, and 0.5 percent Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. People of mixed heritage or not reporting race were 6.8 percent of inhabitants. Hispanics, who may be of any race, made up 5.3 percent of the population.

In the 1970s the population of Asian Americans in the Seattle area soared, as immigrants and refugees from Southeast Asia flocked to the city. Between 1990 and 1996 the population of people of Asian and Pacific Island descent in King County which includes Seattle increased 48 percent. During the same period, the population of African Americans increased 19 percent, and that of Native Americans increased 16 percent. Those who identify themselves as Hispanic increased 32 percent. It is no coincidence that cosmopolitan Seattle has the second largest sister city program in the United States. Seattle today has 20 sister cities that emphasize its international nature from the first sister city of Kobe, Japan, to Mombasa, Kenya, and Gdynia, Poland.

Education and Culture

Seattle is the educational and cultural center of the surrounding area and provides many fine institutions and opportunities. In the city, the University of Washington, Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University, and the Seattle Community Colleges provide higher education to students. In the Greater Seattle area, educational institutions include the University of Washington branch campuses in Tacoma and Bothell, Pacific Lutheran University and the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, and numerous community college systems. The 23 branches of the Seattle Public Library and the 44 branches of the King County Library System encourage lifelong learning as residents choose from wide-ranging collections and participate in classes and programs.

The Seattle area offers a strong array of cultural opportunities in music, drama, and dance. Seattle's Cornish College of the Arts, founded in 1914, continues a rich tradition of training artists, actors, and playwrights, as does the University of Washington. Seattle has numerous performance spaces, including the Seattle Center Opera House, Seattle Center Playhouse, and Bagley Wright Theatre at Seattle Center, as well as the Broadway Performance Hall at Seattle Central Community College and many others. Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony, opened in 1998 in the downtown area. The city's active theater scene includes the Seattle Repertory Theatre, The Group Theater, the Intiman Theatre Company, A Contemporary Theater, and the Seattle Children's Theatre, as well as several smaller companies.

Seattle is rich in museums of art, history, and science and technology. The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, which interprets the natural and human history of the Pacific Northwest and the Pacific Rim, and the remodeled Henry Art Gallery are on the University of Washington campus. The Museum of History and Industry is just south of the university, on the shore of Lake Washington. Other major city institutions include the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Seattle Children's Museum, and the Frye Art Museum. In the International District, the Wing Luke Asian Museum interprets the histories of Asian communities in Seattle. The Pacific Science Center, in Seattle Center, is an educational facility that seeks to promote public understanding and appreciation of science. Experience Music Project, an interactive museum exploring creativity in American popular music, opened in 2000, also in Seattle Center. Seattle's world-class Woodland Park Zoo is characterized by beautifully designed natural habitats. On the waterfront, the Seattle Aquarium provides information and exhibits about the wide variety of sea life in the area.

Seattle hosts a number of annual cultural and community festivals. Seafair is the city's biggest summer festival. First held in 1950, it includes hydroplane races and a trchlight parade. The Northwest Folklife Festival takes place over Memorial Day weekend, and the Bumbershoot Arts Festival is held each Labor Day weekend both take place at Seattle Center and showcase a rich array of musical, literary, and artistic expression. Each year many of the city's communities celebrate their unique character with neighborhood fairs, such as the University District Street Fair and the Fremont Fair, that offer music, crafts, and food. Festival Sundiata, held in February, celebrates the city's African American heritage, and in the summer Bon Odori is the city's Japanese American celebration.

Recreation

Seattle's public parkland covers more than 2,000 hectares (more than 5,000 acres, ranging in character from the wetlands and glades of Washington Park Arboretum to the formal gardens at Woodland Park to the baseball diamonds and soccer fields at Green Lake. On Lake Washington, Seward Park offers forested waterfront and beautiful views of Mount Rainier to the south. The urban trail system of Greater Seattle connects city trails to county trails for activities such as biking, in-line skating, and walking. Also, the city offers nearby opportunities for more adventurous recreation. Residents can enjoy skiing, climbing, or hiking in the nearby mountains of the Olympic and Cascade ranges, as well as boating and fishing on the many lakes and waterways of the area.

Seattle sports fans follow the fortunes of the University of Washington Huskies, who play basketball in Edmundson Pavilion and football in Husky Stadium. Sports fans can root for the city's professional ice hockey team, the Seattle Thunderbirds, and the professional basketball team, the Seattle SuperSonics, both of which play at Key Arena in the Seattle Center. The Seattle Storm, a new women's professional basketball team that began play in 2000, also holds its home games at the Key Arena. Seattle sports fans also enjoy the Seattle Sounders soccer team, which plays at the Seattle Memorial Stadium.

In 2000 the Kingdome, long the home of the city's professional baseball team, the Seattle Mariners, and its professional football team, the Seattle Seahawks, was demolished. In July 1999 the Mariners moved into a new baseball stadium. Known as Safeco Field, the stadium seats more than 45,000 fans and features natural turf and a retractable roof. A new 72,000-seat football stadium is scheduled to open in 2002 on the former site of the Kingdome. Until it opens, the Seahawks play at Husky Stadium at the University of Washington.

Economy

Seattle was once no more than a muddy little port, transferring timber, coal, grain, and fish to rail cars and barges. Although logging, lumbering, and the fishing industry still remain important to Seattle, environmental concerns and declining fisheries have shifted the region's emphasis away from industries based on natural resources.

Today the city is a major manufacturing center and a prime air and water port for international trade. Situated on Elliott Bay, a deep and unobstructed saltwater harbor, Seattle's port was organized in 1911 and is publicly owned. Seattle boasts the shortest routes from the U.S. mainland to Tokyo, Japan, and is the primary American port to Asia and Siberia. The port has also long considered itself the gateway to Alaska. Seattle's port is among the largest in the United States, managing 28 commercial terminals that link 30 steamship operators with more than 150 truck, rail, or warehouse operators.

Once a one-company town, dependent on the fortunes of The Boeing Company, Seattle's economy in the 1990s was characterized by industrial diversity, including aerospace, software, computer and electronic equipment, medical devices and biotechnology, and telecommunications products. Among Greater Seattle's leading employers are Boeing and the Microsoft Corporation. Other major local companies include Costco Companies, the Weyerhaeuser Company, Paccar, Nordstrom, SAFECO Corporation, Airborne, Starbucks Coffee, Amazon.com, and Alaska Airlines.

Seattle is served by the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, 21 km (13 mi) south of the city. The Burlington Northern and Union Pacific railroads provide transcontinental service to Seattle, and Amtrak offers passenger rail service. The Metro Transit bus system provides service throughout King County, linking to Pierce County Transit and Snohomish County Transit, as well as to waterfront ferries. The Washington State Ferry system provides service from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, Vashon Island, and Bremerton, Kingston, and Southworth on the Kitsap Peninsula; nearly 14 million passengers boarded ferries throughout the system in 1997.

In 1996 voters in Pierce, King, and Snohomish counties approved the Regional Transit Authority. This plan proposed to link Seattle with its northern neighbor Everett and southern neighbor Tacoma by a fleet of express buses and a network of high-speed commuter trains. Dubbed Sound Transit, the RTA pleased residents by choosing Seattle's historic Union Station in the International District as headquarters for the new transit system.

Government

Seattle's mayor and nine-member city council are elected at large by popular vote in nonpartisan elections and serve four-year terms. The mayor is the chief executive officer of the city and provides direction to Seattle's Executive Department, including the Office of Economic Development and the Office of Management and Planning. The mayor also directs the activities of city agencies and departments, including Seattle City Light, the Engineering Department, and the police and fire departments.

The city council is the legislative arm of Seattle's government. Council members work on committees that study areas of interest or concern and recommend legislation to the council; these committees include Parks, Public Grounds and Recreation, Public Safety, and Business and Labor.

Local government responsibilities changed as Seattle became a major city and as King County became less rural. Increasingly, Seattle and King County have found ways to work together to solve common problems. For example, as Seattle and the Eastside grew in the 1950s, Lake Washington became polluted by untreated sewage. By 1958 many lake beaches were closed to swimming because the water was filthy. However, a solution was hard to coordinate because the lakeshore crossed the jurisdictions of many towns and cities, including Seattle. In response, the state legislature passed the Metropolitan Municipal Corporation Act, which enabled the creation of a new metropolitan district encompassing the Lake Washington drainage basin. City and county voters passed the so-called Metro clean water proposal in 1958, which approved the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle and authorized the new corporation to issue bonds and to administer a comprehensive sewage treatment program.

Ten years later, in 1968, King County's citizens approved a $333.9 million bond issue to pay for a metropolitan capital improvement package called Forward Thrust. This ambitious program included construction of the King County Multi-Purpose Stadium (the Kingdome), sewer extension, fire station construction, and park acquisition and development. However, the same year, voters rejected Forward Thrust regional mass transit as too expensive. The voters did not approve a Regional Transit Authority until 1996.

In 1993 Seattle and King County merged some of their functions into the Metropolitan King County Council, a form of regional government. The council is the legislative branch of county government, and its 13 members are elected by voters throughout the city and county. Seattle and King County continue to work together to cope with metropolitan problems.

Contemporary Issues

Seattle residents share the concerns of most urban Americans, from coping with drugs, gang violence, and aggressive panhandling to assuring equal opportunities for the city's non-English speakers. But as the 21st century began, the Seattle metro area faced one major issue that increasingly encompassed all others: How could all residents of Greater Seattle best cope with the area's dramatic and sustained growth?

Between 1990 and 2000 King County's population increased by 15.2 percent to 1,737,000.Growth has brought nearly full employment, a rising standard of living, and world-class amenities to Seattle. It has also brought dramatic change, threatening the very qualities and character of life's clean air and water, open space, beautiful natural scenery's that drew newcomers in the first place.

Trapped by its own success, Seattle has grown into a major American city, subject to urban problems. Commuter traffic clogs the city's bridges and arterials, threatening gridlock and raising motorist stress. Seattle people are concerned by the haze of pollutants that sometimes obscures Mount Rainier and by the water quality of industrial Lake Union. Residential subdivisions sprawl through cow pastures and woodlands, and sleepy towns waken to skyrocketing school enrollments and strip mall development. Throughout Seattle's metropolitan area, housing demand has outstripped supply, creating a shortage and driving prices and rents sky high. The same single-family home on the Eastside that sold for $259,617 in early 1997 sold for $280,386 one year later. In hot condominium markets like Kirkland or Seattle's Belltown, 1998 prices were 10 percent higher than 1997 prices.

History

Members of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes first inhabited the site of modern-day Seattle. They visited the area seasonally to harvest and dry salmon. The city itself was founded by the Denny party, made up of two dozen American settlers. They landed on the rainy beach at Alki Point in West Seattle in 1851. Within a year, the community moved east to a more sheltered site on Elliott Bay and began to clear the dense forest back from the shore.

In 1853 Washington Territory was created by splitting the Oregon Territory. That same year, settler Henry Yesler set up a steam-powered sawmill on the waterfront near today's Pioneer Square. Seattle's little settlement was just one of several scattered along the shores of Puget Sound. The sawmill's steam engine was soon belching smoke into the salty air, preparing lumber to build the homes, schoolhouses, churches, and shops of the settlement.

Seattle incorporated in 1865 when the town numbered 350 men, women, and children. At incorporation the city covered only 26 sq km (10 sq mi), spanning the hilly strip of land between Elliott Bay and Lake Washington that today includes downtown, the Central District, and much of Capitol Hill.

Seattle competed for business with the territorial capitol of Olympia and large sawmill towns on Puget Sound such as Port Blakely and Port Townsend. Everett, Tacoma, and Seattle fought bitterly to become the Northern Pacific Railroad's West Coast terminus, eager for the Northwest monopoly on transcontinental freight and passengers. When the railroad chose Tacoma as its terminus, local Seattle citizens refused to be downhearted and built their own railroad in 1878. The railroad linked King County's rich coalfields directly to Seattle's harbor wharves.

In the 1880s, as Washington Territory moved toward statehood, the local economy boomed and the population soared. As logging grew more mechanized, Washington's timber industry prospered. In 1884 Washington loggers cut more than one million board feet for the first time, and their yield increased tenfold between 1880 and 1890. During that decade, Seattle's population skyrocketed from 3,553 to 42,837 as newcomers and immigrants hoped to take part in the city's prosperity. In 1883 Beacon Hill, Queen Anne Hill, and Madison Park were annexed to the city, followed in 1891 by Green Lake, the University District, Magnolia, and Fremont, bringing Seattle's area to 77 sq km (30 sq mi).

However, population growth and immigration had their downsides as well. In the mid-1880s Seattle racial tensions reached a breaking point over economic competition from Chinese immigrants. Chinese men had originally been recruited to the American West to build the transcontinental railroads and had stayed on in cities like Seattle when the railroads were complete. Many Chinese were willing to work longer hours at lower wages doing harder jobs than white workers, and whites complained that the immigrants were taking jobs away from them. Resentment grew, and in 1885 three Chinese men were shot to death in a hop-picking camp at Issaquah, near Seattle. Then in February 1886 mobs in Tacoma and Seattle drove Chinese residents from their homes and out of town.

In June 1889 Seattle was damaged by a fire that started when a pot of melting glue spilled in a carpenter's shop. The great fire burned 26 hectares (64 acres) of the city, largely made up of two-story wooden buildings, in just a few hours, causing damage estimated at more than $10 million. However, within two years Seattle had rebuilt itself and was transformed by dozens of new four- and five-story buildings of brick and stone.

Seattle's residential and industrial growth was slowed by the national recession that began in 1893. But in July 1897 gold was discovered along the streams of Canada's Yukon River, and Seattle began a spectacular boom in the subsequent Klondike Gold Rush. Seattle marketed itself as the portal to the goldfields, selling hopeful miners their outfits and their steamship tickets, as well as entertainment. As the gold strikes spread from the Canadian territories to Alaska, Seattle continued to grow in wealth and population. After Seattle gained a federal assay office, which allowed miners to put their gold on deposit, successful miners passed through the city on their way home from the goldfields, and many decided to settle down. In the wake of the gold rush, Seattle's population exploded. In 1900 the city's population stood at 80,871; by 1910 it had nearly tripled to 237,174. Between 1907 and 1910 the city also grew to 184 sq km (71 sq mi), annexing West Seattle and Ballard to the west, Laurelhurst to the north, and Rainier Valley to the south.

Local promoters envisioned Seattle's future as a Pacific Rim port, shipping goods to Alaska, Canada, and Asia. In 1909 Seattle hosted a fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, on the University of Washington campus. The fair showcased Seattle to the world not only as a polished metropolis with office blocks and beautiful parks, but also as a great seaport and city of industry. World War I (1914-1918) brought increased industrial opportunities to Seattle, especially to its waterfront. The amount of tonnage that passed through the port of Seattle in 1918 was not exceeded until 1965. Wartime also finally brought the completion of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, linking the lake with Puget Sound. Local shipyards worked round the clock, and the fledgling Boeing Company received wartime contracts for 100 airplanes.

After the war, as local shipyards lost their federal contracts, wages fell, and many people lost their jobs. Seattle experienced the first general strike in North America, as more than 50,000 workers stayed home February 6 through 11, 1919.

Throughout the 1920s the city grew steadily, although the region was affected by depressed farm and timber prices. In the early 1930s Seattle's economy suffered as the United States entered the Great Depression. In 1932 Seattle's workers experienced an unemployment rate of 25 percent, and people in the fishing, logging, and mill industries suffered even higher joblessness.

However, Seattle's economy improved when World War II (1939-1945) began. Seattle started to mobilize its industries for war, gearing up its shipyards and factories, more than two years before the United States actually entered the conflict in 1941. But for Seattle, the war really began on December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Following Executive Order 9066, thousands of local Japanese, most of them citizens born in the United States, were forcibly relocated in the spring of 1942 country farms to internment camps far inland.

The war tested the people of Seattle in many ways. More than 1,100 King County servicemen and -women lost their lives in World War II. As men went off to war, women and racial minorities trained to take their places in local factories; by 1944, 50 percent of Boeing workers were female. At its Seattle plants, Boeing built nearly 7,000 B-17 Flying Fortresses during the course of the war, and in 1945 four B-29 Super fortresses rolled off Boeing production lines daily. Seattle's industrial economy was transformed by wartime production.

When the war ended in 1945, military contracts were canceled and Seattle's boom came to an abrupt close. Work in Puget Sound shipyards dried up, and the shipbuilding payroll fell from nearly 200,000 to 10,000. Thousands applied for unemployment benefits, and a series of devastating strikes rocked shipyards, logging camps, lumber mills, and aircraft factories.

Postwar turmoil also affected the local political climate. In 1947 Washington's Senate and House of Representatives approved a resolution to establish a Joint Legislative Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities in the State of Washington. Washington State had become widely known for its left-leaning heritage. In fact, U.S. Postmaster General James Farley quipped in 1940 that there were 47 states and the Soviet of Washington. After World War II, as Washington suburbanized and prospered on Cold War federal contracts, many residents grew embarrassed by their state's notoriety. The committee was directed to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of Communist infiltration in Washington and to report its findings to frame new legislation against subversives in the state.

Chaired by freshman legislator Albert Canwell, the committee held public hearings in Seattle in 1948. The committee inquired into alleged Communist infiltration of the Washington Pension Union, the Washington Commonwealth Federation, the University of Washington, and other state institutions. Foreshadowing the anti-Communist investigations of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s, the well-publicized Canwell Committee hearings ruined careers and tarnished reputations.

In the 1950s residential suburbs spread north of the city and throughout Lake Washington's Eastside, as the G.I. Bill made it possible for World War II veterans to buy new homes inexpensively. Seattle's northern boundary moved from 85th Street to 145th Street, incorporating a district then exploding with suburban growth. By the mid-1950s Boeing was booming again, building passenger jetliners as well as military airplanes, missiles, and spacecraft. In 1956 one of every two industrial workers in Seattle's metropolitan area worked for Boeing.

In 1962 Seattle hosted a world's fair, the Century 21 Exposition. The fair was originally intended to be a 50th-anniversary celebration of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, but promoters of the city dramatically reshaped it. The fair became a celebration of Seattle's coming of age as an international city, presenting confident visions of a high-tech 21st century. Nearly 10 million visitors passed through the fair's turnstiles. Century 21 gave the world a view of the great urban center that Seattle had become.

But Seattle's economy went into abrupt free fall in the late 1960s. Commercial airlines fell on hard times as the nation stumbled into inflation, oil shortages, and unemployment. Boeing's sales slowed and then halted. Beginning in 1970 Boeing logged no new orders for its jetliners during a 17-month period. The local Boeing payroll plummeted from more than 100,000 in 1968 to a low of 32,500 in 1971. As Boeing fell on hard times, so did other area businesses, and local unemployment rose to 17 percent. During Boeing's troubles, the standing joke in the rapidly depopulating city was, Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights.

At the same time, industries based on the Northwest's natural resources, such as fish and timber, also began to suffer. New environmental legislation protected old-growth timber as a wildlife habitat, not as an extractive resource. Fewer salmon returned to spawn each year, and in 1979 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a five-year-old ruling that Washington native peoples were entitled to 50 percent of all salmon caught in the state, further restricting the catch. Communities that depended on logging and fishing experienced soaring unemployment as old ways of making a living declined.

As old industries struggled in the Seattle area, entirely new ones sprang up. The local economy grew faster and richer as a high-tech start-up culture prospered in Seattle, including software, medical device, and Internet companies. As an indication of Seattle's increased stature during the 1990s, the city hosted a meeting of the third ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999. Protesters against the WTO clashed with police in downtown Seattle and succeeded in delaying the opening of the conference, at which WTO members planned to discuss lowering tariffs and other barriers to international trade. The clashes led the mayor of Seattle to impose a curfew and ban protests in a section of downtown during the meeting.

Seattle's economic strength still depended heavily on Boeing, which announced major job cutbacks in the late 1990s after plane orders were cancelled in its Asian markets. Despite those cuts, the regional economy as a whole grew at a rapid pace in the late 1990s, fueled by the new high-tech industries. As it grew, the Seattle metropolitan area looked for ways to manage the challenges posed by rapid growth: urban sprawl, traffic congestion, and environmental problems.