Trust me: Seattle is a lot more than just gloomy weather and generic, inescapable coffee. One quick glance at all the fun things you can do in Seattle and you’ll see that there’s plenty more to the Emerald City than first meets the eye.
And that’s why I’m getting on my ‘drunk uncle’ soapbox today to tell you all about my top interesting facts about Seattle, Washington.
… Because visiting Seattle is a lot more fun when you know all the quirky and unique fun facts that give this city character.
So, I’ve searched high and low for the best trivia about Seattle so you can just sit back, relax, and sip a soullessly made Frappuccino. (It’s ok – I’m an ex-Starbucks barista so the shade is allowed)
Now – let’s get into it. Here are some of my favorite fun Seattle facts!
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1. The Space Needle in Seattle was originally sketched on a napkin
In Seattle, the Space Needle ranks amongst the top attractions and things to do.
However, like with many Seattle trivia facts, the origins of this one-of-a-kind structure are surprising. According to the Space Needle official website, the landmark’s humble beginnings can be traced back to a trip to Germany.
You see, back in 1959, a hotel executive in Seattle named Edward E. Carlson (who also happened to be chief organizer of the 1962 World’s Fair) travelled to Stuttgart, Germany. There, he was inspired by its famous TV tower, the Stuttgart Tower which included a restaurant on top.
He was so inspired in fact that he doodled a similar structure on a hotel napkin, thinking about how it would make a great centerpiece for the World Fair and for Seattle’s developing skyline.
And it seems like that napkin-doodle-hunch was correct – the Space Needle stands today as one of Seattle’s most recognizable landmarks!
2. Seattle has an entire wall filled with used gum
You know what they say: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And, in some ways, this Seattle fun fact is evidence of just that.
But brace yourself: one of the weirdest facts about Seattle, Washington is also one of the gnarliest.
Because yes, Seattle does indeed have a wall covered in wadded up gum, which may not be the most sanitary or sterile. But what great art ever is?
According to the Seattle Times, the origins of this bizarre attraction date back to 1991, when audience members attending the Market Theater started sticking chewed gum against the theater’s brick wall.
Originally, people would even push pennies into the chewed up gum, and well… I guess you can say the tradition stuck.
Resplendently decorated with gum of all colors, the Gum Wall today is a bonafide tourist magnet, with some pieces even stuck 20 feet up the wall. In fact, it’s estimated there’s a staggering 172,000 pieces of gum stuck on (and counting). Yummy!
3. Seattle is (allegedly) home to the world’s first gas station
After the fact, everyone’s eager to be the first. And, when it comes to gas stations, Seattle has a unique claim to fame as a fuel pioneer!
According to History Link, the gas station may have been ‘invented’ by John McLean back in 1907.
Though, it’s worth noting, this distinction is disputed by some, with detractors claiming St. Louis as the true originator. But what would this list of fun Seattle facts be without drama?
As legend goes, McLean was head of sales in Washington for the Standard Oil Company of California, and so bought property near the Standard main depot and erected a store.
With the help of engineer Henry Harris, a pipe was built that connected their main storage tank to a 30-gallon galvanized tank on site, and well, the rest is history.
Bonus fun fact: Motorists would also sometimes buy gas in wooden boxes….which likely backfired for some.
4. The Seattle General Strike of 1919 was the first general strike in the country
One of the more random facts about Seattle is something undeniably commendable. Seattle has proven to be, in many instances, the pioneer of many progressive movements.
According to the University of Washington’s Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium, Seattle was truly on the vanguard of labor rights with the Seattle General Strike, an event now recognized as the first ever general strike by workers in the United States.
It kicked off on February 6, 1919, and while it’s unclear to people today what exactly precipitated it, what matters is the precedent it set: workers could exert power through consolidated, concerted efforts, a power many continue to exert today.
5. Seattle boasts the Official Bad Art Museum of Art
Art is subjective. Things that are bad to some are good to others. And, just as importantly, things that are bad to some people, are so bad they’re good to others.
And, as KNKX explains, this is precisely what happened in Seattle.
In fact, Seattle is home to the Official Bad Art Museum of Art (also known as OBAMA), whose founders, Joe David and Marlow Harris, also initiated Seattle’s annual Elvis impersonation contest.
So, needless to say, the museum feels pretty on brand.
How does it work? Basically, people leave pieces of bad art outside their store, or they mail bad art in. The best of the bad is then hung up in the Café Racer salon style, for all patrons to see.
6. Seattle has a building nicknamed ‘Darth Vader’
People probably wouldn’t be surprised by a drab structure in Seattle. However, one of the more prominent buildings in the city is also, well, ominous.
Whether that’s a compliment or insult is still unclear.
Costing a whopping $33 million dollars to construct, this all-black, angular structure can be found at Fourth & Blanchard, and was nicknamed the ‘Darth Vader Building’ due to its resemblance to Vader’s iconic helmet in Star Wars.
It’s comprised of two towers integrated into a single structure, which was apparently shaped to ‘minimize its impact on neighboring high-rises while creating views for its own tenants.’
Which, you know, isn’t exactly the stuff of evil villain masterminds… so maybe it’s not that Vader-y after all.
7. Seattle is built on top of another city
Seattle is, in some ways, an unlikely phoenix. You wouldn’t expect a city with perennial rainfall and overcast to be forged in fire, but here we are.
On June 6, 1889, Seattle would be changed forever. Now called The Great Seattle Fire of 1889, it was ignited at 2:30 P.M. in a paint and woodwork shop.
Over the next 18 hours, the fire would engulf 100 acres of the business district and waterfront. Buildings, docks, sidewalks and ‘anything else combustible’ perished.
In total, it’s estimated that the losses equated to $20 million dollars.
Within a matter of days, businesses reopened in makeshift tents on their ruined locations. Instead of relocation, business rebuilt exactly where they had been originally.
The street was elevated 22 feet, the water system and fire department were modernized…. and needless to say, wooden buildings were banned.
These days, you can even take an Underground Tour below to see the original city Seattle was built on!
8. Seattle buys more sunglasses per capita than any other U.S. city
People don’t exactly associate Seattle with sunshine. However, according to The Seattle Times, that doesn’t deter them from buying sunglasses.
In fact, Seattle has an insatiable desire for shades. Seattle residents buy more sunglasses than any other city in the world.
In fact, they buy approximately ‘50% more sunglasses per capita than the national average.’
While this might be bemusing, there are some explanations. One posits that, since there’s so much overcast, they never have their sunglasses handy when they need them.
Another, more scientific reason explains it’s due to their location. Being so far north means the sun is at a lower position, thus level with their eyes.
Ultimately, the reason doesn’t matter. Because all that matters now is you get to bust out this fun Seattle trivia fact at parties to annoy your friends!
9. Seattle has a giant troll living under one of its bridges
Seattle is, in fact, home to a mythical creature. And, no, we’re not talking about Jeff Bezos.
The official Fremont website outlines the history of what is one of the more intriguing monuments erected in America. Period.
You see, the Aurora Bridge in Seattle was constructed in 1932 and ever since then, people have reported troll sightings beneath it.
The sightings were so frequent that, in 1989, when the Fremont Arts Council held an art competition in hopes of reforming the area under the bridge, it was sculptor Steve Badanes who won the competition… with a giant troll statue inspired by Billy Goat’s Gruff.
Fashioned out of 2 tons of ferroconcrete, wire, and redbar steel, the statue is an imposing 18 feet tall and is crushing a Volkswagen Beetle. Hands down, it’s one of the quirkier sights in Seattle you have to visit when you go!
10. Seattle is Home to the World’s Longest Floating Bridge
At 2,285m long (or 1.4 miles), the Governor Albert D. Rossellini Bridge connecting Seattle and Bellevue is actually the longest floating bridge in the entire world.
It’s also known as the Evergreen Point bridge (or the SR 520 bridge).
11. Real-life superheroes Once patrolled Seattle
It may come as a shock to some, but Seattle really does have a comic book worthy story in its history. According to Seattle PI, the city once had real-life superheroes patrolling it.
However, these vigilantes didn’t commute via Batmobile. They actually drove a Kia.
Still, anointing themselves the Rainy City Superhero Movement, their Avengers-like ensemble consisted of: Thorn, Buster Doe, Green Reaper, Gemini, No Name, Catastrophe, Thunder 88, Penelope, and Phoenix Jones—for the record, Phoenix Jones was an MMA fighter, who travelled together and did nightly crime-fighting patrols… all in costume.
While only active from 2011 – 2014, during that time, it is said that they stopped carjackings, confronted vandals, and (very sweetly) even escorted people to their cars.
During an interview once with detectives, Jones even ‘apologized for not being in full costume.’ It was in the shop since he’d been ‘stabbed’ cracking down on a drug dealer.
12. Seattle is the first city to have police on bicycles
Police don’t always cruise the streets in cars with flashing lights. In fact, in some places, they prefer different modes of transportation altogether.
And Seattle was a pioneer in this regard.
The Seattle Times details Seattle’s place in policing history. Around 1987, Seattle boasted the first police department to put officers on mountain-bikes.
Initially, people laughed—they cracked the expected jokes. But, now, thousands upon thousands of departments have followed suit.
Ultimately, the mountain bike proved to be a versatile, effective and silent alternative.
They’re so silent that police can actually ride right up to criminals as they’re committing crimes, completely undetected. Who needs a superhero brigade when you’ve got silent bike cops?
13. Seattle was originally called ‘New York’
As far as cities go, Seattle is a true original. However, its original name doesn’t exactly abide by that truth.
Maybe that’s why it didn’t stick!
Regardless, according to the Seattle government, settlers arrived in the area in 1851. Upon arrival, they founded the first town.
So what did they name it? ‘New York.’
For some added flare, they even appended Chinook jargon to the end, rendering it ‘New York-Alki.’ Alki translates to ‘by-and-by.’
Eventually, they moved across Elliott Bay to Pioneer Square. Soon after, they named their village after Chief Seattle and never looked back.
14. There are more cats and dogs in Seattle than children
According to the Seattle Times, Seattle actually has more cats and dogs than children… which evokes a wonderful mental image if you ask me.
And, for the record, Seattle is also the most educated and literate city in the country. So maybe there’s a correlation there (just kidding, of course).
In fact, Seattle is ‘second only to San Francisco for the scarcity of children.’
Even more interesting, there are only three cities wherein less than 20% of households have children in the United States: Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
Cat households exceed kid households by a whopping 50%, which is 17% more than dogs. Which, you know, is still nothing to scoff at.
I can only imagine how peaceful that airport must be.
15. During an iconic Marshawn Lynch touchdown run in the 2011 playoffs, the fans generated enough noise that it was tantamount to an earthquake
Football, in many cities, is more than a sport. It’s a natural phenomenon wherein people come together, act like they’ve never been housetrained, and let loose.
In fact, according to NBC News, in Seattle, football became an official natural event.
During their 2011 playoff run, the Seattle Seahawk’s running back Marshawn Lynch would break off a run that will for live in the annals of NFL infamy.
Commonly referred to as ‘Beast Quake’ (on account of his nickname ‘Beast Mode’), Marshawn Lynch ran through the entirety of the Saints defense for a 67-yard touchdown.
This effectively sealed the game. In reaction, the crowd ‘generated seismic energy equivalent to an earthquake with a magnitude somewhere between 1 and 3.’
And, for good measure, Marshawn Lynch also had the best press conference of all time.
16. Seattle has the highest rate of UFO sightings per capita in the country
There are innumerable statistics that you can lead in. And, notably, Seattle does lead in a few of the ones that count most (most sunglasses per capita, anyone)?
But, according to KOMO News, it also leads the country in a more peculiar statistic.
According to a study, Washington State—and Seattle in particular—has the highest rate of UFO sightings per capita.
The figure? 78.2 sightings per 100,000 people.
This far surpasses some of the more famous UFO destinations, including Roswell, New Mexico, Area 51, and the ‘UFO Highway.’
17. Seattle was the first major U.S. city to elect a female mayor
Seattle has nothing if not a progressive history. And, particularly as a purveyor women’s rights, Seattle stands alone in many respects.
The Seattle Government explains that, following the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote, things changed rapidly, and in 1926, the city elected Bertha Knight Landes, who ultimately served a single, two-year term.
This makes Seattle the first major U.S. city to elect a female mayor.
As a mother of three, governance probably came easy to Bertha, who founded a Women’s City Club and after serving, was appointed to serve on a commission studying unemployment in the city.
18. Seattle set the world record for the longest book domino chain
Probably not the most exciting record to break, but it’s a record nonetheless. K5 News reports that, in 2013, Seattle weeviled its way into another record book entry.
Seattle broke, and now holds, the record for the longest book domino chain.
It took seven hours, five attempts, and ample volunteers.
The chain snaked through the library, around visitors, and they even arranged a segment to spell the word read. How cute.
19. Seattle was home to the world’s first espresso cart
Seattle is known for its coffee. In fact, cities across the globe are hooked on its coffee. However, Seattle holds a unique coffee first (besides being the birthplace of Starbucks).
The Monorail Espresso official site details the history of their espresso cart. Founded in 1980, Chuck purchased a cappuccino cart and repurposed it to sell espresso.
It would be the first, ever espresso cart, introducing countless uninitiated to the Italian specialty.
20. Seattle is where the term ‘flying saucer’ was coined
Nowadays, the term ‘flying saucer’ is part of our lexicon. It’s just one way everyone refers to UFOs. However, its origins may surprise you.
The Seattle Times reports that, before June 24, 1947, this term was nonexistent.
However, after Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine ‘circular-type’ objects cruising in formation around Mount Rainier, all that changed.
Noting that it moved ‘more than twice the speed of sound,’ the headline wrote itself: Supersonic Flying Saucers Sighted by Idaho Pilot.
This precipitated a domino effect. Being the first widely reported UFO sighting in the nation, innumerable people started reporting their own sightings.
Though Kenneth Arnold would endure his share of ridicule. But, for UFO fanatics, they owe Arnold plenty of credit.
Did I miss any of your Seattle fun facts?
Let me know in the comments! I’d love to add more to the list!