Step a foot in Seattle and you’re bound to see green. Evergreen trees are everywhere in the Pacific Northwest and Seattle is no exception. So, it makes sense the city is known as the “Emerald City.”
Yet, Seattle hasn’t always been known as the Emerald City and has held a number of nicknames that tell the story of the city’s development from a frontier town to the economic center of the Pacific Northwest. Let’s dive deep into how Seattle became the Emerald City and its history of nicknames!
Why is Seattle Called the Emerald City?
Seattle is called the Emerald City because of its lush greenery and its status as the “jewel of the Pacific Northwest.” The nickname was created in 1982 as part of a contest from the city’s Visitors Bureau.
Prior to the 1980s, Seattle’s most common nickname was “Jet City,” which was a nod to the large aerospace industry in the city. However, in the 1970s Boeing and other aerospace companies began shedding jobs in the city. Famously, the exodus of jobs and people got so bad that a billboard went up in Seattle at the time that read “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights?”
So, you can understand why the city’s Visitors Bureau was looking for new ideas for branding the city in the early 1980s. After holding a competition, they accepted a submission from Sarah Sterling-Franklin, who had a summer home in the San Juan Islands.
Her proposal of “The Emerald City” served two purposes. First, it highlighted the natural beauty of Seattle. While Seattle is a major city, 28% of the city is covered in trees that are largely evergreens. That means that even during the winter, most landscapes around Seattle are green and lush.
Second, a common nickname for Seattle at the time was “Queen City of the Pacific Northwest.” The use of an emerald in the city’s new slogan also conjured up images of Seattle being the jewel of the Pacific Northwest.
Needless to say, the slogan was a hit. Even after the Visitors Bureau moved onto new branding in the 2000s, Seattle’s most resilient nickname is the Emerald City. Spend just a short amount of time in Seattle and the surrounding area and you’ll surely see why it’s such a good fit!
What Other Nicknames Has Seattle Had?
As we noted earlier, prior to the creation of its Emerald City nickname, Seattle’s most common nickname was “Jet City.”
Yet, the history of Seattle’s nicknames shows how the city developed. In 1869, a pamphlet calling Seattle “The Future Queen City of the Pacific Northwest” led to it commonly being called Queen City. The Klondike Gold Rush repositioned Seattle’s standing and led to a new nickname. With more than 100,000 prospectors going west and commonly departing from Seattle, the city’s nickname shifted to the “Gateway to Alaska.”
In the 1940s the city adopted the nickname “City of Flowers.” A resolution in October 1942 encouraged citizens to plant flowers to beautify the city, but the nickname never quite took off. Then in the 1950s and 1960s the nickname “Jet City” picked up momentum.
Today, Emerald City is Seattle’s most common nickname. Like New York City’s “The Big Apple” and Chicago’s “Windy City,” Emerald City is deeply linked to Seattle’s civic identity.
Other Washington State (and Northwest) City Nicknames
While Seattle now is known as the Emerald City, the truth is the label applies to most of the Pacific Northwest. The region shares the same beautiful scenery that makes Seattle so memorable. Yet, there are a number of cities across Washington State and the Northwest that have become synonymous with their own nicknames. Let’s examine of few of the more notable ones.
- Spokane: Known for a long time as “Lilac City,” Spokane is now commonly known as Hooptown USA. This nickname comes from Spokane hosting Hoopfest, which is a massive basketball tournament that takes over the city every summer. Beyond Hoopfest, the success of Gonzaga basketball gives Spokane another reason to claim the title of Hooptown USA.
- Tacoma: Long known as the “City of Destiny” because Tacoma was the endpoint for railroads across the United States, the city has recently become more synonymous with the nickname “Grit City.” The phrase captures the adversity Tacoma has had to overcome in recent decades.
- Portland: Oregon’s largest city has been known as the “City of Roses” for more than a century. The origin of Portland’s nickname came from planting thousands of roses in advance of an exposition in 1905. After the exposition, the city began its Rose Festival and a nickname was born!