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Steam-powered Seattle Sawmill Cuts its First Lumber in 1853

From HistoryLink.org Essay 760

Henry Yesler's first sawmill, Seattle.

Henry Yesler’s first sawmill, Seattle. Courtesy Bagley, History of King County

In late March 1853, a steam-powered sawmill built by pioneer Henry L. Yesler (1810?-1892) is fired up for the first time, fed by logs taken from the heavily wooded areas surrounding the then-tiny settlement of Seattle. The mill is located on the eastern shore of Elliott Bay adjacent to what is today Yesler Avenue, part of an area known to the region’s indigenous people as “Little Crossing-Over Place.” Yesler, who will at one time or another employ nearly every one of the settlement’s few white males, relies to a large extent on Native American workers, gaining among them a reputation for fairness. The mill’s lumber is used to build the young city and is exported to California, Hawaii, and other markets. Although the sawmill is Seattle’s first industry and crucial to its early growth, it proves an unreliable source of income, and Yesler’s later great wealth will come from his extensive land holdings in the city’s commercial core.

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