Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Geography




Seattle (Wash.) -- History, Railroads -- Washington (State) -- Seattle Region, Railroads -- Washington (State) -- Puget Sound Region




The Pacific Northwest experienced massive urban development and growth in population from 1870 to 1920. The railroad was a key factor contributing to the influx of people and expansion of the built environment. The rival port towns around the Washington Territory’s Puget Sound all strove to become the dominant center of trade. As the pattern of railroads expanded, this new mode of transportation would have a significant effect on which ports would prosper and which would languish. This paper will show that the rail network that developed between 1873 and 1893 would come to favor Seattle at a critical point in history: just before the Klondike Gold Rush. But as the railroads shaped the development of the Sound, other factors shaped the pattern of the rails as well. Seattle was able to play an early role as a local supply hub because of its early start as a community, central location, and strong maritime trade. The city’s proximity to large and high quality coal deposits also played a role its development and the extension of local rail lines. Seattle’s role as trade hub and local rail network created the infrastructure necessary to convince the Great Northern transcontinental railroad to make the city its terminus, nullifying the competitive advantage of its main rival on the sound, Tacoma. The railroad network that developed during this period further entrenched Seattle’s role as the trading hub of Puget Sound, which played a crucial role in the city’s rise to become the dominant port on the sound. This paper contributes to the historical analysis of Seattle’s early days as a burgeoning port town by surveying the works of scholars and providing a new perspective on the driving forces in Seattle’s rise to economic supremacy.


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A research paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Geography

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