Category Archives: Tacoma History

A Quick History of Tacoma

A Little History Puget Sound Indian tribes, such as the Puyallup and Nisqually, called the Pierce County area home for centuries before the first European explorers arrived. Primarily a hunting-gathering culture, these indigenous people called Mount Rainier "Tacobet," meaning "Mother of Waters." However, "Tacobet" was interpreted by the white man as "Tahoma," which later became the name of a pioneer city, Tacoma.

Captain George Vancouver was the first white man to sail into Puget Sound in 1792; he named the peak Mount Rainier after one of his friends. He also named the Sound for one of his officers, Peter Puget.

In 1833 the Hudson Bay’s Company arrived to build Fort Nisqually, a fur trading post, three miles north of the Nisqually River (a few miles south of present-day Tacoma).

The first settlers, mainly lumbermen, began arriving in the early 1850s. Nicholas Delin built the first cabin and sawmill in 1852 on the waterfront near what is now downtown Tacoma. In 1864 Job Carr claimed land along Commencement Bay, hoping it would become the western terminus for a transcontinental railroad. Carr didn’t realize that dream, but went on to become Tacoma’s first mayor, postmaster and election officer. "Old Tacoma" (the area now called "Old Town") was settled in 1865.

Morton M. McCarver arrived in 1868 and purchased most of Carr’s real estate. He then led a successful campaign to convince officials of the Northern Pacific Railroad to designate Tacoma as its western terminus — over the competing towns of Seattle and Olympia.



In September 1873, Tacoma was indeed selected, and building of the railroad began – but with the terminus at the end of Commence Bay, thereby creating "New Tacoma." Rapid development ensued when Tacoma was linked by rail to the rest of the nation in 1883, and "City of Destiny" became the town’s popular moniker. Lumber and coal from the nearby Cascade foothills were the major rail exports.

The 1880s saw major growth. The population had soared to approximately 5,000 in 1884 when Old Tacoma and New Tacoma agreed to merge and incorporate. By 1890 there were 36,000 people living in Tacoma. Two years later, the population had swelled to 50,000.

In the early 1900’s the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company became a major economic force in Tacoma. Commencement Bay was named one of the official U.S. Ports of Entry in 1918, and The Port of Tacoma developed to become the sixth largest container port in North America today and one of the top 25 container ports in the world.

Today Tacoma is one of the Northwest’s leading cities and a fast-growing "museum mecca:" the new Museum of Glass debuts near the Washington State History Museum in mid-2002, and the Tacoma Art Museum opens its new facility nearby in early 2003. Adjacent, the University of Washington Tacoma Branch campus continues to expand. Downtown is headquarters for the financial giant, Frank Russell Company, and landmarks such as the 1911 Union Station and the 1918 Pantages and Rialto theaters have been restored to their former grandeur. Now more than ever, Tacoma is becoming the "City of Destiny."

(This history is provided by Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitor Bureau.)