Posted by: wadahp | February 28, 2011

TRADE & COMMERCE: RR AND AUTO INFLUENCE ON SHIPPING (no. 7)

Trade & Commerce

Railroad and Automobile Influence on Shipping

Trade and commerce flourished through the movement of goods and people along the Puget Sound waterways and along the Pacific Coast. These water bodies linked communities on the sound allowing the trade of goods and services, as well as providing an outlet for the region’s exports bringing a much needed influx of capitol into the region. During later years communities along the Puget Sound became important provisioning points for trade north along the Pacific Coast with Alaska. The region’s commercial capacity grew as transportation links became more established and extensive. By the early 1900s steamboat service extended to most locations on the Puget Sound. Locals could move goods, such as fresh fish, quickly to larger urban markets such as Tacoma and Seattle. Conversely the urban populations expanded outward through summer dwellings and small beach communities sprouting up along the water’s edge throughout the Puget Sound.[1] Construction materials, provisions and eventual infrastructure all contributed to the outgrowth of local industries.

Logs being dumped into Port Angeles Harbor, ca. 1940-50. Source: Washington State Library, Digital Collections.

By the late 1910s railroads and automobiles became an increasingly important factor in connections and the movement of goods and people. No longer was the principal goal proximity to the Pacific Ocean, but quick connection to a railroad terminal became essential as markets moved to the inland United States and shipping terminals became the central points of exchange with expanding facilities and larger container ships. Many export ports adapted their facilities to load goods into railroad cars, which were then loaded onto barges and floated to ports linking to the transcontinental railway lines.

Containerized Shipping and the Pacific Northwest

The use of containers for shipping stems from SeaLand ca. 1955, and East Coast company moving supplies between New York and Puerto Rico. Though some West Coast companies briefly employed a similar system for moving goods north between Alaska and Seattle. The scarcity of land and the need to stage materials both for loading onto ships and once offloaded, onto trucks and rail cars pushed Seattle to pursue development of the containerization method instead of maintaining existing freight handling facilities. As the use of containers and development of specialized container ships grew to become the prevailing method of transport, the speed with which these ships could travel between ports and off/upload drove deep water port of entry selection. Seattle, having a developed system, became the port of entry for six major shipping lines serving Japan and the Pacific Northwest.[2] By 1977 “Seattle was second busiest container port in the nation behind only NY and the 6th busiest in the World and was unique in that able to handle this within its traditional harbor, unlike other cities who moved to satellite areas.”[3]

Tug boat repair along the Duwamish Waterway. Source: Artifacts Consulting, Inc. 2010.


[1] (Chasan 1981) p. 41

[2] (Chasan 1981) pp 121-123

[3] (Chasan 1981) pp 121-123

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