50 Things Seattle Gave the World


Looking back on 50 years of Seattle magazine (an evolution that started with Pacific Search, see "The 50-year Evolution of Seattle Magazine") can be humbling. Amazing inventions, people and ideas have come from the Emerald City. Sure, we have problems to solve. But with many of the best minds in the city charting our future path, there’s plenty of reason to believe in that old adage: The best is yet to come.

Ask people from other parts of the country to name things that come from Seattle and they may mention Starbucks, but more often than not, they come up empty. Last year, a GeekWire correspondent took a stroll through New York City’s Central Park, asking walkers where companies such as Amazon and Microsoft are based. The answers weren’t pretty. Is it our aversion to doing anything that looks like showing off? When statewide budget cuts came around in 2011, we became the first state in the country to nix our tourism bureau, the official bragging arm of the state. So, it’s time to gloat. For Seattle magazine’s 50th anniversary, we’re having a surge of civic pride—and claiming our bragging rights.

We take a lot of pride in our fabulous local food—handcrafted this and artisanal that—but Seattle is also responsible for some of the most iconic bits of modern, fast-food Americana.

Fresh Off the Shelf
Carnation evaporated milk
(1899): Elbridge Stuart developed shelf-stable evaporated milk as a sanitary alternative to fresh milk. He found success under the brand name Carnation (inspired by a display of cigars with that name in a Seattle shop window) and established Carnation, the company, in Kent, and Carnation Farm on the east side of Lake Washington. The company went on to make a variety of food products that became household staples, such as Carnation Instant Breakfast (now known as Breakfast Essentials). The town of Tolt was renamed Carnation, which is what locals know it as today. 

The Coffee Break
(1971): Exactly what influence Starbucks has had on the world depends on whom you talk to—it’s not always flattering. There’s no doubt, however, that it’s a worldwide coffee icon, which has introduced everything from the cult-inspiring pumpkin spice latte and Frappuccinos to perhaps infamously over-roasted beans. And it created that reliable “third place” gathering spot between home and work in the some of the most remote corners of the world.

Spoonfuls of Sugar
Cinnabon (1985): Like Starbucks, Cinnabon took a classic comfort food and brought it to the mass market, turning it into an icon recognized nationwide. The first wafts of cinnamon and yeast drifted from a Federal Way mall (then known as SeaTac Mall) and made its way, well—everywhere, thanks to Seattle-based restaurant chain Restaurants Unlimited owner Rich Komen and CEO Ray Lindstrom, who had set out to create the perfect cinnamon roll.

Image by: Almond Roca 
Packaging from the 1940s of Tacoma-based almond- and chocolate-covered toffee, Almond Roca

Almond Roca (1923): These addictive almond- and chocolate-covered toffees from Brown & Haley, along with their iconic pink tin cans, were born in Tacoma.

In the land of outdoor enthusiasts, pricey down and fleece are kingly indeed, but we don’t just wear the cozy stuff—we created much of it. The ensuing practical, all-weather-proof look has seeped well beyond Pacific Northwest borders and into cities across the U.S.

Image by: Eddie Bauer
The original puffy coat, Eddie Bauer’s down-filled jacket

Seattle-born Eddie Bauer came up with the down-filled jacket in 1936. Similarly, Filson created its wool Mackinaw Cruiser in 1914, and while the original rugged jacket is still as popular as ever, you’ll find plenty of knockoffs of this style in stores ranging from Nordstrom to the Gap. And any talk of Seattle fashion is incomplete without the quirky Utilikilt (2000)—a melding of a Scottish kilt, cargo pants and Carhartts that has engendered a following well beyond the Pacific Northwest.

Image by: John Vicory
Bremerton resident Lloyd F. Nelson’s “Trapper Nelson.” Nelson carried his daughter in the backpack on sales calls to demonstrate the strength of his wood frame bag

The backpack (1922): It is essential camping gear, so it’s only natural that the hardy hikers of the Pacific Northwest would come up with a new and improved version. Lloyd F. Nelson of Bremerton created a backpack with a wood frame and canvas sack, called the “Trapper Nelson,” which was the precursor to the backpacks we know and love today.

Therm-a-Rest (1972): Gardening discomfort jogged this idea loose from Boeing engineer John Burroughs, who came up with an alternative to foam sleeping pads for campers that uses a combination of foam and air to both insulate and comfort folks sleeping on the ground.

REI (1938): Lloyd and Mary Anderson started Recreational Equipment Incorporated, a cooperative to help seriously outdoorsy types get good gear affordably; Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest, was the company’s first full-time employee and later the CEO. Today, REI is the largest consumer co-op in the country, with shops that are staffed with gear experts and stocked with items for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts, who are encouraged to try before they buy.

Computer technology may be one of the few things we’re (somewhat) known for by outsiders, but local innovators have been known to tinker with practical—and sometimes very low-tech—solutions, solving such vexing problems as how to cut butter faster, get teeth cleaner and make more doughnuts.

Seattle engineer David Giuliani created the Sonicare toothbrush (1992) and the Clarisonic (2004), a device that cleanses facial skin the way the Sonicare cleans teeth, with a brush powered by sonic vibrations. The Sonicare continues to be recommended by dentists everywhere for keeping those pearly whites sparkling.

Doughnut maker (1923): Former marine engine builders Thomas and Walter Belshaw came up with the first manual and automated doughnut-making machines in Seattle. Their company lives on today as Auburn-based Belshaw Adamatic, the world’s largest doughnut-making equipment maker and distributor.

Butter cutter (1920): It’s questionable whether folks commonly use this particular innovation, but it’s out there—and it came from Seattle’s William Ruttle, who patented a cast-aluminum tool that slices 1-pound butter blocks into uniform pats with just one squeeze. Today’s butter cutters are usually plastic, but still seemingly convenient; next time you go to a casual diner and get a little pat of butter served with your rolls, you’ll have a perfect conversation starter. 

Wireless phone (1962): Cutting the cord was on the minds of folks decades before it became a reality. Pacific Northwest Bell invented a form of wireless phone for the rotating restaurant at the top of the Space Needle, which debuted during the Seattle World’s Fair. Diners had a phone at their table that connected with a radio transmitter, which would patch them through to an operator.

Compact depth sounder (1953): Small enough to fit on all types of boats, this device was developed by Seattle-based Ross Laboratories, making sonar technology—necessary for depth measurement and navigation underwater—available and affordable on a smaller scale, such as for local fishers.

Kindle (2007): The first electronic reader, courtesy of our overlords at Amazon, is where Seattle’s love of books and tech met. The wildly popular device can store more than 1,000 books and download them in seconds (including from the library). It spawned imitators such as Barnes & Noble’s Nook.   

Sure, we play ball, but we also excel in other (mostly) outdoor sports.

Pickleball (1965): Invented on Bainbridge Island by dads Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum, this combined game of tennis, badminton and pingpong has recently been billed as one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S., because of its all-ages accessibility and indoor or outdoor court option.

Badminton shuttlecock (1934): Eddie Bauer strikes again! The man developed and patented the badminton shuttlecock design that became the standard for the game and remains so today. 

Fiberglass skis (1962): Bill Kirschner developed the first fiberglass snow ski, forever changing the way we slide down the mountains. He and his brother Don founded and ran K2 Corporation from Vashon Island, improving the ski design over the years, as well as producing other sports equipment.

Aluminum-frame bikes (1975): Gary Klein defied people’s expectations of what light-weight aluminum could do by building whole bikes out of the stuff. He crafted the frames using his own welding process, thicker tubes and other engineering innovations to make the lightest bikes of the time, still popular today. His company, Chehalis-based Klein Bikes, was eventually purchased by big-name bike business Trek.


Single-handle Moen water faucet (1947): When a young man named Al Moen scalded himself with water from an old-fashioned two-handle faucet, he thought he could come up with something better. He did, and the resulting single-handle faucet, first manufactured in 1947 at Ravenna Metal Products in Seattle, is as iconic as the brand name “Moen,” which is seen atop many a sink today.

Pellet stove (1980s): Boeing engineer and inventor Jerry Whitfield developed this efficient residential stove, which burns compressed wood or biomass pellets. A majority of pellet stoves on the market are still manufactured in Washington state. 

Grunge music (1990s) may be the top thing, in addition to Starbucks, that non-Seattleites might credit our fair city with—thanks to Sub Pop Records and Nirvana—but there are a few other music notes from Seattle as well.  

Seattle musician Paul Tutmarc created the electric bass guitar in the 1930s, which he sold through his instrument company, Audiovox. The Tutmarc family never saw the instrument achieve mass market success, however—that happened when Leo Fender came onto the scene, in the 1950s.

Bremerton-born James Russell gets the credit for inventing compact discs (CDs) in 1965, envisioning and developing an alternative to vinyl records that would record and replay sounds with no touching parts (unlike a phonographic needle on a record). He was granted a patent, but Philips and Sony licensed it soon thereafter and developed, refined and brought CDs to market in the 1980s.

Image by: Boeing Images
Boeing brought us the first American jet passenger airliner (707) and jumbo jet (the 747) but few know they also introduced the idea of stewardesses, pictured here in a 377 Stratocruiser luxury lounge, circa 1940s


Founded in 1916, Boeing’s impact on the world has come in a few different forms. It developed the first American jet passenger airliner, the 707 (1954), which led to the iconic first jumbo jet, the 747 (1970). Boeing also brought us the idea of stewardesses (now known as flight attendants, thank you very much), who first flew on a Boeing Air Transport 80A in 1930. And because size matters in this business, Boeing’s Everett plant also currently holds the record as the largest building in the world by volume at 472,370,319 cubic feet.


Tree farms (1941): Weyerhaeuser pioneered the concept of farming trees like any other crop, setting aside 200,000 acres of land in Washington in order to produce lumber for building and paper, and (in theory) to preserve more forestland.


Microsoft (1975): From Windows to Microsoft Office to Xbox, the company is ubiquitous in homes and offices around the world. For Seattle, the company represents the first big tech boom for the area, famously creating at least 10,000 millionaires in the state by the year 2000 and, some say, the beginning of the tech era of 18-hour workdays. Alumni of the company have ventured into new influential arenas, including philanthropy and politics.

RealPlayer (1995): One of the first pieces of software to stream media over the Internet was developed in a Pioneer Square office by RealNetworks, one of Seattle’s best-known tech companies of the late-’90s/early-’00s dot-com boom era. RealPlayer quickly became a part of most computer setups, particularly as it was bundled with Microsoft’s Windows.

T9, aka predictive text (late 1990s): Those of us old enough to remember life before smartphones also remember the learning curve that came with texting. Martin King (along with Cliff Kushler, who went on to develop another texting technology, Swype) developed the foundation for texting as we know it today, with T9 (“text on nine keys”) predictive text, and the company that produced it, Tegic Communications. The technology was an extension of King’s primary interest, developing communication tools for people with disabilities.

Maybe it’s our geographic isolation, in the northwest corner of the U.S., or maybe we just don’t like walking in the rain, but Seattle has been a hub of delivery service innovations—which perhaps has contributed to a consumer trait we seem to have brought to the world: universal impatience with anything taking more than 24 hours to arrive.

UPS (1907): Founded by two Seattle teenagers as the American Messenger Company, the service took off quickly, merged and moved as it became United Parcel Service.

Amazon (1994): The biggest online retailer in the world, it revolutionized the shopping-from-home industry, starting with the selling of books and continuing to innovate by offering ever-faster delivery options, including same-day.

Homegrocer.com (1997): The first Internet-based grocery delivery service, it boomed in several cities before succumbing to the dot-com bust of the early 2000s. Amazon Fresh and others now deliver in its footsteps.

Signature Moves
We might not have invented them, but we sure are famous for…

Nordstrom customer service (1901): There are books devoted to it and tales (which have perhaps become a little tall) reporting extraordinary acts of it. Nordstrom’s customer service has been so famously good since its foundation as a shoe shop back in the day that the company had to tighten its return policy in recent years, as customers were taking advantage of it by returning items that weren’t even sold there.

Teriyaki: NYC bagels, Chicago deep-dish pizza, Kansas City barbecue, Seattle…teriyaki? Indeed, this town has such a fondness for the Japanese-derived dish that it drew the attention of The New York Times a few years ago. Seattle’s versions of teriyaki are definitely not traditional—you’ll find everything from a Somali take to Thai and Vietnamese variations—but they’re ours. Sadly, however, this cheap and comforting food may be slowly fading from our food scene—along with affordable rent for small businesses.

But we think we invented…

12th Man: Seattle has celebrated “the 12th Man,” aka Seattle Seahawks fans, since as far back as 1984, when the Seahawks retired the number 12 jersey. It wasn’t until the team became Super Bowl contenders that our 12s saw the light, however. While we are among the loudest 12s, we’re not the only—or the first—12s, as institutions such as Texas A&M University have been quick to remind us.


Blame I Can Has Cheezburger? for the LOL cat obsession

I Can Has Cheezburger? (2007): Thank and blame Seattle—and Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami—for taking cute animal pics to the next level, pairing them with funny captions, particularly LOLspeak (e.g., “I can has cheezburger?”). What started as a website became a monetized company, Cheezburger, which now has multiple, similarly addictive websites.

When delivery isn’t an option, efficiency is still the name of the game, and making machines work for us has certainly been the M.O. for at least a couple of these household-name innovations. 

Coinstar (1991): This Bellevue-founded and -based company (now known as Outerwall) made it possible to turn change into cash at your nearest grocery store, no banks or rolling of coins necessary.

Automatic car washes (1951): Even locals may not know that Elephant Car Wash’s iconic pink elephant represents the first automatic car wash in the U.S. The business was the brainchild of the Anderson family, which figured out how to make its Seattle semiautomatic car wash business a fully automatized experience. Other car washes soon followed suit.

Gaming is big here—really big. Nintendo of America is based on the Eastside, as is, of course, Microsoft, which developed the Xbox (2001). So many games have been developed here, particularly for computers, that we present just a sampling of some of the most influential.

Pictionary (1985): Robert Angel conceived of the drawing game in Spokane and brought it to market with two other business partners in Seattle.

Wizards of the Coast (1990): The Renton-based gaming company found success with wildly popular fantasy and anime trading-card-based games, including Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon. 

Valve (1996): This Bellevue-based video-gaming corporation is the creator of popular online gaming platform Steam and various video games, such as the Half-Life series. 

Cranium (1998): This game, which has players use both their creativity and knowledge, was created by former Microsofties Richard Tait and Whit Alexander.

PopCap Games (2000): You know the company for games such as Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies.

Big Fish (2002): The Seattle-based computer and mobile device game creator puts out a mind-numbing number of casual games, from Gummy Drop! to Mahjong to Casino, to soothe your procrastinating soul.

Halo (2001): No game list is complete without a shout-out to this extremely successful first-person shooter game, created by Microsoft acquisition (at the time) Bungie Software.

On the low-tech side of things, the wildly sought-after toys Slinky Dog and Fisher-Price Snap-Lock beads (early 1950s) were the creation of Helen Malsed, a creative homemaker who enjoyed trying out a variety of toy creations on her son in their Magnolia home.

Image by: Petmate
The Seattle-based Chuckit! lets you toss a ball with your dog, slobber-free

Chuckit (1998): Dog owners everywhere have Seattleites Mark Oblack and Mariel Head to thank for saving our ball-throwing arms with this flexible piece of plastic that grabs those slobbered-on balls and flings them far, far away.


Defibrillators (1962): Portable defibrillators enable first responders to work on a stopped heart before a patient arrives at the hospital. Karl William Edmark, M.D., created the device, using direct current, which made it safer and more effective than ever before.

Scribner shunt (1960): Belding Scribner, at the University of Washington, eased the stress and damage on the veins of kidney patients by inventing a device that enabled patients to connect to a kidney dialysis machine without requiring new incisions into their veins each time. Shortly after, Scribner and his team asked colleague Dr. Albert Babb to design a portable kidney dialysis machine (1964); he did, and the machine allowed patients to receive dialysis treatment at home, rather than at hospitals only. Scribner also helped form Northwest Kidney Center, the world’s first outpatient dialysis treatment center.

Doppler ultrasound (1967): The technology, developed by Donald Baker at the University of Washington, changed ultrasound imaging forever, creating clearer images when used with ultrasound devices. 

Bone marrow transplant (1963): E. Donnall Thomas, M.D., developed this transplantation process, which is primarily used to treat diseases such as lymphoma, multiple myeloma and acute myelogenous leukemia, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which became the world’s first bone marrow transplant facility. He won the Nobel Prize in 1990 for his work. His wife, Dottie, was credited as “the mother of bone marrow transplantation” because of her hands-on help with lab work, drawing blood and editing her husband’s scientific papers. 

Firsts: We're No. 1

First female mayor of a big U.S. City (1926)
Bertha Knight Landes remains the only female mayor of Seattle (and the namesake of our city’s—and the world’s—largest tunnel boring machine).

First $15 minimum wage (2014)
Seattle was the first big city in the United States to pass a $15 minimum wage into law; other cities and states followed suit soon after.

First Outdoor Shopping Mall (1950)
It almost seems quaint these days, but Northgate Mall was the first suburban shopping mall in the U.S. Designed by Seattle architect John Graham Jr., it was also the first mall to have public restrooms.

First Flying saucer sightings (1947)
Private pilot Kenneth Arnold reported the world’s first post-WWII flying saucer encounter while flying by Mount Rainier on the way to Yakima from Chehalis. He received nationwide news attention for his sighting.

Original naming rights (1853)
We’re the only city ever named for a then-living native person, Chief Seattle.  

First Stanley Cup victory (1917)
The Seattle Metropolitans were the first American team to win the cup, shortly after the championships moved from being exclusively Canadian to including the U.S. 

First Living Building (2015)
The Central District’s Bullitt Center is the first office building in the world to earn the Living Building certification, a benchmark of sustainability. Among the ways it earned the accolade: It produces 60 percent more energy than it uses, via solar panels. 

First U.S. Organic Chocolate (2006)
Fremont chocolatier Theo Chocolate made and sold the first organic chocolate in the U.S.

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