The Explainer

Seattle’s Gold Rush, Then and Now

Seattle’s population influx—nearly 15,000 newcomers per year since 2010—is fast approaching gold rush rates. But this time around, a whole new breed of prospector is coming ashore, one that covets tech opportunities over gold.

By Karin Vandraiss December 8, 2015 Published in the December 2015 issue of Seattle Met

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The Central Waterfront in 1897

Mode of Transportation

Then: Within a week of the unofficial start of the Klondike Gold Rush, on July 17, 1897, the city’s streetcar system began to collapse as operators abandoned their posts for the Yukon. 

Now: Ten percent of car owners in the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area drives a Subaru, more than any make of car on the market.

Flannel and Beard

Then: Flannel was sold by Seattle outfitters like the Schwabacher Brothers as a durable underlayer for prospectors. Some say the beard was used to hide gold flakes from fellow miners. 

Now: Need proof that flannel is trendy? You can find it at Nordstrom. And any self-respecting Pacific Northwest man knows it takes more than a five o’clock shadow to complete the outdoorsy look.

Political Controversy

Then: Mayor William D. Wood resigned his post to found the Seattle and Yukon Trading Company, which sold passage by steamer from Seattle to the gold fields for $300 a head. 

Now: Socialist city council member Kshama Sawant kicked up so much dust in her time at city hall that six out of eight fellow council members backed her opponent in the November election.

We seem to be in a place that breeds dynamism and change. But an economy that lives on the edge of what society demands is by definition exciting, fast paced, and a little dangerous.

—Kathleen Braden, professor of economic geography, Seattle Pacific University

Hiking Motivation

Then: After three months of hiking Alaska’s hazardous Chilkoot Trail, miners built boats that would take them the final 500 miles down the Yukon River, all in pursuit of gold. 

Now: Weekend warriors hoof it four miles along Rattlesnake Ledge to find a perfect Instagram shot. #SundayAdventures #upperleft #naturegram #pnw #wanderlust #liveauthentic #vscocam

Pioneer Square

Then: Known then as Pioneer Place, the neighborhood was home to saloons, gambling halls, and swindlers who sold low-quality or unnecessary supplies to prospectors. 

Now: With new restaurants (Kraken Congee), bars (Flatstick Pub), and a burgeoning startup scene, Seattle’s original neighborhood is reinventing itself once again. 


Then: C. C. Filson’s Pioneer Alaska Clothing and Blanket Manufacturers was founded in 1897 for Klondike prospectors bound for the Yukon. 

Now: Still a go-to for outdoorsmen (and outdoorswomen, since 2008), it’s an emblem of Northwest style for a generation infatuated by the idea of authenticity.

Best View

Then: The top of Queen Anne/Capitol Hill: Before the high-rises went up, both locations offered prime views of Puget Sound and of steam liners carrying prospectors to the Yukon.

Now: Columbia Center’s Sky View Observatory offers a 360-degree look at Mount Rainier, the Cascades, Mount Baker, and the spot in South Lake Union where Bertha may or may not one day surface.  

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