One of Ten Things Every Seattleite Needs to Know: “Seattle Was Bourgeois From the Start”


Heavy industry was a much bigger part of early boom cycles than today. For example, Boeing has never been just engineers. It's also the people assembling the planes. These people are, and always have been, more skilled than, say, somebody on an assembly line packing Easter Grass into plastic bags. But they are still blue collar jobs. The same is true of timber, shipping, etc.

While places like Amazon and Microsoft have been more flexible about educational requirements than many large corporations, most of the good paying jobs at these places are what we would consider white collar jobs.

Your overall point is well taken. Seattle has always been a boom and bust kind of town, and it's very common for people to nurture a paradise lost fantasy about a past that never really was.

But the workers powering the boom/bust of Seattle and the workers benefiting from it have not always been the same, especially the lower you go on the food chain.

I suspect that many more blue collar workers made good money in Seattle prior to 1980 than after 2000. This reality has affected the culture of the city in real ways, which are meaningful, even if they aren't exactly the ways that the paradise lost people might believe.

The only thing I find exhausting about Seattle nostalgia is moving all the books off so I can move the coffee table to vacuum.
John Steinbeck visits Seattle in the fall of 1960.

By David Wilma Posted 7/17/2000 Essay 2554

In the fall of 1960, author John Steinbeck (1902-1968) along with his poodle, Charley, visits Seattle in his pickup truck. Steinbeck was on a journey across the U.S. and recorded his experiences in Travels with Charley (1961).

The Yellow Smoke of Progress

Of Seattle he wrote:

"I remembered Seattle as a town sitting on hills beside a matchless harborage — a little city of space and trees and gardens, its houses matched to such a background. It is no longer so. The tops of hills are shaved off to make level warrens for the rabbits of the present. The highways eight lanes wide cut like glaciers through the uneasy land. This Seattle had no relation to the one I remembered. The traffic rushed with murderous intensity. On the outskirts of this place I once knew well I could not find my way. Along what had been country lanes rich with berries, high wire fences and mile-long factories stretched, and the yellow smoke of progress hung over all, fighting the sea winds' efforts to drive them off. "

In another passage about Seattle, he observes:

"The old port with narrow streets and cobbled surfaces, smoke-grimed, goes into a period of desolation inhabited at night by the vague ruins of men, the lotus eaters who struggle daily toward unconsciousness by way of raw alcohol. Nearly every city I know has such a dying mother of violence and despair where at night the brightness of the street lamps is sucked away and policemen walk in pairs. And then one day perhaps the city returns and rips out the sore and builds a monument to the past."
we're still a city of lotus eaters, in their derelict RV's and peeing on the sidewalks,,,,
Bourgeois from the start? That's an absolute fallacy. And an insult to anyone with Seattle roots that reach back to the era when blue collar livelihoods were the heart and soul of this city. Of course there was 'old money' and a community of wealthy folks - but many were descendants of self-made entreprenuers (Nordstrom family among them). I went to a city high school with kids whose parents were primarily fishermen, Boeing workers, electricians, plumbers, small business owners, office workers, steelworkers, longshoremen, and every other flavor of non-bourgeois tradespeople. Has the city changed since those days? Of course it has, but don't confuse the latest boom cycle and the people who are part of it with the real history of our city. Get the facts straight before you invent a false narrative of a Seattle that you don't know.
All I can say is that The Trade Winds at First and Wall was a Tiki bar that offered a "working man's happy hour" at 6 PM from the 60s to the mid-80s. Then it became My Susie's Oriental Lounge which had a crab feed every Saturday night for $9.95. In the late 90s, it became The Pampas Room/El Gaucho - a $100 Argentinian steakhouse.
OMG, right Charles?? It's so strange and unusual that people and companies go to cities to make money easier! That's why all the other companies and skilled workers in the rest of the country only settle in places like Oklahoma and the Dakotas.

As #5 said, it's a complete fallacy to call Seattle 'bourgeois from the start'. Dig a little deeper next time.
Some boom and bust industries have clear winners and losers. Gold mining is like that. You can strike it rich, or get nothing. Other industries are the opposite. Timber was the first industry performed by white men around here and it certainly had its ups and downs (still does). But you pretty much know where the trees are, you just need lots of people (or machines) to get them. This means just about everyone will make money during the good times, and suffer during the tough ones. Boeing was like that. As @1 said, Boeing employed a lot of highly skilled blue collar workers. What is more, the white collar jobs, by and large, were middle class jobs. Add in unions (for just about everyone) and their was very little difference between the wages of a typical engineer, the lowest paid assembly worker, or even the janitor.

In contrast, software has often operated like gold mining. One of the best books about software development even has the term in the title. Whether it is Microsoft or Amazon, life is very different for a Boeing engineer than it is for a software engineer. Even though both jobs are similar in terms of skill (you need to know math and how to apply it to real problems) the approach to your career couldn't be more different. Back in the day, if you got a job at Boeing, it meant that you could work there for forty years, then retire with a good pension (i. e. live a comfortably middle class life). But with software, it is hit or miss. You strike gold, and suddenly you are earning six figures. Better yet, you have stock options worth millions, and you can retire at age 30. Make some mistakes, fail to make a good claim, and you might struggle, get fired, and spend a lot of time wondering whether you made the right career choice. There is no union and you are employed based upon the whims of the owners. We haven't gone full circle -- we are simply more like the second phase of our development (gold mining) than we are the first (timber).
Charles doesn't understand what "soul" means in the context of discussion about how Seattle has changed. It is true, however, that one constant in the city's history is a strong desire to hustle and make money, as document in Bill Spiedel's "Sons of the Profits" in 1967. One big change in the city is the sense that the city is no longer affordable to people with average jobs. A teacher can no longer afford to live here.
@6 wow, the Trade Winds,,,in the back, the Tiki Room, I killed some serious brain cells there,,,they had some kind of deep fried "crab wonton" with a brown sweet sauce that crunched down real good,,,
It seems that everything’s gone wrong since California came along

Blame California!

Blame California!

They’re not even a real state anyway
Seattle has always been a town where something changed everything

The Prostitutes!

The Railroad!

The Great Fire!

The Gold Rush!

The War!

The Depression!

The War!

The Jet Age!

The World's Fair!

The Boeing Bust!

The Californians!



The Dot Com Era!


What will be next?
Seattle is the White Mans Paradise.
Native Americans
African Americans
and every other non white group has always been systmaticaly left out.
The CD whites wanted back long ago and systematicaly made it so through banking practices so that African Americans could not improve thier community. Its really sad to see during lunch time a sea of white ham hocks from the tech industry in Allentown who really tghink they are there because they worked for it? One question why does more diversity threatan so many white MEN?
@12 The CD was red-lined, yes. But the reality was that blacks owned homes here at a higher rate than almost anywhere else. And black businesses thrived. Today however this is no longer the case. Gentrification of the community (partially driven by rezoning which began decades ago) had begun in earnest in the 90's and continues precipitously today as the land is more valuable with higher density housing that caters more to the needs of tech bros and the developers producing it than the community that took hold here and thrived for the better part of the last half of the 20th century.