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Coffee, Computers, Cowbells & More

If you think museums are just dusty birds and ancient history, think again. As a Seattle tour guide, people are always asking me what they should check out. At the top of my list: The Museum of History and Industry, or MOHAI, located at the south of Lake Union–an absolute must- see, I think, if you want to understand the soul of Seattle.

I went again last week and again left astounded. What impressed me the most? It was not just one thing, but rather the fact there was exhibit after exhibit after exhibit documenting innovation upon innovation, whether it was around airplanes, computers, energy efficient buildings, coffee, food, music, transportation, medicine, gadgets–you name it.

So. You have to wonder what it is about this place that has created such a culture of innovation anyway. Is it the abundance of trees? Is it something in the water? As crazy as it sounds, that’s probably part of it. In architecture, there’s a concept known as biophilic design. Biophilia is love of nature, and there are an increasing number of studies indicating that people who have views of nature are less stressed–and more creative.

But I digress. The trees and the water were, of course, this city’s first source of wealth. Here’s an interesting factoid: the now chic neighborhood of Ballard (dubbed the “Brooklyn of Seattle” by the Wall Street Journal) was the ” shingle capital of the world” at the turn of the 19 th century. The world!

But Seattle’s wealth, even back then, was not just borne of extraction ( trees from the forest, fish from the sea.) There were, for example, well…..boats! Among other things, there’s a model of a wooden yacht built by the NJ Blanchard Boat Company ( 1900- 1963), headquartered for a while at the north end of Lake Union, that I myself have raced. ( Full disclosure: I race in Duck Dodge in the summers on Lake Union.) And then there’s Foss Maritime, now the largest tug and towing concern on the west coast. It began with a $5 rowboat purchase in 1889 –and grew in no small measure due to a relentless woman: Thea Foss.

I particularly enjoyed viewing photos of:

* UPS founder Jim Casey’s early messenger vehicles (he started the company in 1907 with a $100 loan)
* John Nordstrom’s first shoe store in 1901
* Eddie Bauer outside his shop in 1926 surrounded by all the fish he caught
* REI Founder Lloyd Anderson atop a mountain in 1941, and
* cell phone/ wi-fi magnate Craig McCaw ( who sold his firm, McCaw Cellular Communications to At &T in 1994) with a HUMONGOUS cell phone by his ear.

There are just so many surprises here. I mean…a Board game? In a museum? Cranium, which was founded in 1998 on the principle of giving everybody an opportunity to shine, became one of the fastest-selling and most award-winning games in history. The company was sold to Hasbro in 2008, but CEO Richard Tait ( Grand Pooh- Bah, he called himself), has transmogrified himself into Chief BoomBoom (otherwise known as Entrepreneur in Residence) at….Starbucks. His job: ” changing big think by embracing small think, ” according to his profile at LinkedIn.

Maybe it’s because I am an actor by training, but in the past, I was especially wowed by a special exhibit at MOHAI about films made in Seattle. The list is actually quite long, but a few include: Sleepless in Seattle ( of course), It Happened at the World’s Fair ( with Elvis), the Slender Thread ( with Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft), the Fabulous Baker Boys, and an Officer and a Gentleman. I was disappointed this exhibit is gone, but heh: They may have to do it again, what with Amazon nearby engaged in film.

Meanwhile, there’s another special exhibit, Edible City: A Delicious Journey. To be expected, I guess: We are, after all, a city of foodies. The biggest surprise for me: learning that Japanese- American farmers accounted for nearly half the vendors at the Pike Place Market during the early 1940s when former president Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered they be relocated and interned.

Of course, many of us know by now that Japanese- Americans were interned–not something I learned in high school–if for no other reason, due to Bainbridge Island author David Guterson’s fabulous novel ( and spin-off movie), Snow Falling on Cedars. I did not know, however, about the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which blocked Chinese workers from entering the country and denied residence to those who were here.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

About Us

We’re entertainers with years of tour guide experience who love Seattle and want to show it to you. We offer unforgettable 1.5 hour sightseeing tours of Seattle by minibus with highlights like Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, Lake Union, and the Space Needle.

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3832 Eastern Ave N #3, Seattle, WA 98103