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From the Fireman’s Fund Record, October 1952.


Just a hundred years ago Seattle was founded under the name of New York, Alki (New York, Bye and Bye).

Just 50 years ago this month Fireman’s Fund opened the doors of its new office in that fabulous city of "firsts" and "foremosts"—a city that has poetically been called "back of beyond" but which actually is proving itself "‘way out front."

Though half a century separates their debuts, Seattle and our Pacific Northwest branch behave like twins, compatible twins and both bursting with energy. The welfare of one adds to the welfare of the other. And they’re going forward hand in hand, each with a background rich in history.

When the first handful of 22 settlers arrived on the shores of Puget Sound, they were amazed by the vast stands of timber, and promptly decided that this would be home. They built a few log cabins, made friends with the Indians, started a sawmill—and stayed. Growth, at first, was slow. But gradually more and more sawmills sprang up and prospered. Which brings up a noteworthy fact: After a century of cutting, with many mills converting to pulp and plastics, tremendous areas of timber remain, green and redolent. Cutting, these days, is carefully conducted, with prudent conservation always in mind.

Today, with a population of more than half a million, Seattle is the youngest city for its size in the world. Her 42-story Smith Tower is the tallest building west of Chicago. Her young people may attend school from kindergarten through university without leaving city limits. She has eight radio stations, a television station and two major newspapers. Art, symphonies and the theatre contribute to her culture.

And her setting is as flawless as that of many a precious gem. The fresh water of sparkling Lake Washington washes Seattle’s eastern shores; the salt water of Puget Sound laps at her western boundary—an expanse of tangy blue that is plied by Tugboat Annie and many another fictional and real-life character of boundless energy. The city completely encompasses two major lakes, rolls across seven hills and boasts 44 parks, 49 playfields, 22 golf courses and 10 public bathing beaches. Naturally air-conditioned by two gigantic mountain ranges, the Olympics and the Cascades, Seattle is temperate the year round.

Today, the Seattle office of Fireman’s Fund occupies 9,669 square feet in the imposing Stuart Building, with more than 110 employees and being represented by more than 500 loyal agents. The Seattle-Tacoma territory has been expanded to Spokane, Vancouver and Calgary, Alberta.

But life didn’t always run so smoothly. Along with Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, Seattle had its own conflagration, a disastrous fire which occurred in 1889 from an overturned glue pot. No record appears that the holocaust threatened Fireman’s Fund with financial instability. But as in all disasters of this kind, the residents had to have courage and foresight to rebuild out of the ashes.

It was on July 17, 1897, when the S.S. Portland edged into Schwabacher Wharf with one ton of gold from the Klondike. With the magic word "gold" on everyone’s lips, Seattle turned from a small town to a booming metropolis. Everything was full-up. Every train from the East and boat from San Francisco brought record loads of clamorous passengers. The excitement and high prosperity kept up for years. Even today, the wharves are still packed with cargoes going to and from Alaska.

It was during this period—50 years ago—that the Fireman’s Fund established its office in Seattle, a single-room, one-man office in the Boston Block. Sensing Seattle’s potential, President J. B. Levison employed Frank G. Taylor, who continued to guide the company’s affairs in the Pacific Northwest for the next 42 years. In 1904 he employed Harry Woodruff, and together the men worked as a team until 1912 when Mr. Woodruff was made manager of the Los Angeles office of the company.

But back to the early golden days of Alaska. They weren’t always so "golden." Consider, for instance, the sailings of the Ida May in 1906 and the Humboldt in 1910 when Seattle-bound from the Far North. On board were iron-strapped treasure boxes laden with gold, both shipments being insured by the Alaska Pacific Express Company of Fairbanks with Fireman’s Fund. Also on board were—conniving crooks!

When the heavy boxes reached their destination and were opened, no gold sparkled there! Instead, there was lead—lead shot the first time, bars of pig lead the second. The substitution had ingeniously been made aboard ship. Fireman’s Fund paid the loss in full, of course.

In subsequent investigations a portion of the loot was recovered and prison sentences followed. Some of the loot, however, has never been found—approximately $20,000 in gold from each job. The missing gold from the Ida May is thought buried near Nenara, Alaska, and that from the Humbolt [Humboldt] is believed cached away, underground, on the Olympic Peninsula or in Oregon. Which makes Fireman’s Fund unique in that today it owns approximately $40,000 worth of buried gold—somewhere.

Seattle came close to having a penitentiary bristling in its very heart. After heated argument in the legislature, the city was granted 10 acres of land for the state university instead of the unwanted penitentiary. These 10 acres soon became too small for the campus, and in 1900 the state granted 550 acres in what is now the University District for "The University of 1,000 Years."

The former campus was leased to a building corporation which for a state tax-free, 54-year lease erected Class A buildings which will revert to the university in 1954. The Fireman’s Fund home in the Stuart Building is situated on this tract.

In 1917 William E. Boeing built an open garage on a float, and with a handful of mechanics commenced wiring together the original Boeing airplane. For their first planes they were their own best customers, inaugurating the original air mail services to a large part of the United States.

From their airmail plane they have become world renowned for their Pan American Clipper, the B-17, the B-29, the Stratocruiser, the Stratofreighter and now the jet-propelled B-47 and B-52. Boeing branch factories are located in Renton, Washington, and Wichita, Kansas, in addition to which there are many small factories supplying them with tools and equipment. One out of every five families in Seattle, it is said, earn their living through this gigantic project. The present-day annual premium which they pay under the policy of the Fireman’s Fund Indemnity Company would have financed the first few years of this factory’s existence.

Again the Northwest came in for considerable public attention when "Galloping Gertie," the longest suspension bridge for its width in the world, collapsed in a gale on November 7, 1940. The Fireman’s Fund sustained the heaviest single loss in its Northwest history up to that time. It was with a great deal of chagrin that this writer next appeared in the Home Office, having been warned that the risk had developed to be substandard. Instead of remonstrating with those of us responsible, Charles R. Page, in the true tradition of all Fireman’s Fund presidents, made this statement, in effect: "Continue to consider every bridge risk in your territory, and the company will continue to do its share in the development of the Pacific Northwest." "Sturdy Gertie" replaced the original structure, and the Fireman’s Fund enjoys its capacity line.

In the chain of spectacular losses covered heavily under the Fireman’s Fund brand came the "Diamond Knot." On August 13, 1947, she sank in the Straits of Juan de Fuca after colliding with the Fenn Victory. She was loaded with three and one-half million dollars worth of the finest of canned Alaska red salmon.

Food was short, but no individual contractors could be induced to gamble the considerable funds it would take to salvage, rehabilitate and market the cargo. Fireman’s Fund put its team together—and got busy. Eventually, two and one-quarter million dollars worth of salmon was swept off the bottom with an ingenious underwater vacuum cleaner, taken to three separate Puget Sound canneries, cut open, recanned, labeled, cased, shipped and sold throughout the United States and Europe. The entire operation at all times was under the watchful eye of the Pure Foods Administration.

The Diamond Knot became a closed file among the many romantic stories in the Fireman’s Fund archives, but none of the several men in the Home Office and the Northwest who actively participated will ever forget the dynamic excitement of this case.

Seattle is presently the center of two of the greatest developments of our time—Alaska and the Columbia River Basin (atomic energy). In addition, the recent tremendous oil and gas strikes in Alberta, Canada, will add greatly to the industrial development of the entire Northwest. Along with low cost electric power, we will be provided with low cost natural gas piped from Alberta to Spokane, Vancouver, B. C., Seattle, and Tacoma, with many outlets along the way.

The northwest offices at Seattle, Spokane, Vancouver, B. C., and Calgary, Alberta, servicing Washington, the Panhandle of Idaho, Alberta, British Columbia and Alaska are proud of their 50-year development and look forward to many years of progress and excitement in this fertile and fruitful section.

[Fireman’s Fund Archives: 4-1-3-4-65; 0412]


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