History is sometimes thought of as a sequence grand events, but really it's a vast collection of small things. In 1900, there were just 13,824 automobiles in the United States, and only 1 in 9,500 Americans owned a car.
By 1912, Ford alone was producing 300,000 cars a year and had 3,500 dealers -- about 1/4 of the total number of cars that had been in existence just 11 years before.
Ford is credited with the invention of the assembly line, but in 1912, this had not yet occurred. What drove production was the creation and manufacture of a large number of specialized machines which created the individual parts of the automobiles. (source.) And behind all of this was a vast number of individual decisions to acquire an automobile, which had only a few years before been considered a frivolous toy for the rich.
This new motor age supplanted the previous mechanical era, the steam age, but not uniformly, and not all at once. There were still, as President Cheney would say, "pockets of resistance." One of these was on Puget Sound.
Back in the 1930s, every year the Tacoma Times chartered a steamboat and held an annual cruise and picnic for the boys (mostly in those days) who carried its paper. In those times steamboats were desperate for work and it could not have been very difficult to find a vessel to charter.
Tacoma Times, 8/2/1936
Built in 1930, the Conkie was the last passenger-carrying steamboat ever constructed either on Puget Sound or the Columbia River. She was designed to serve the quiet waterside settlements of upper Puget Sound, in a way of life that was rapidly being replaced by the automobile age, the coming era of madadam, steel, rubber and gasoline.
But the Conkie's owners weren't giving up easy, and they built the little ship for business.
Just forward of the wheelhouse, for example, you can see four high posts. These are made of steel, and they are part of a device known as the Barlow elevator, which allowed freight to be rapidly loaded and unloaded from piers, regardless of the state of the tide.
And note the rather sawed-off looking stern of the steamboat -- this is no accident. Conkie was originally supposed to be 67 feet long, but four feet were trimmed from the design length so that one less crew was required by regulation.
type of event was to the vessel's profits but fortunately not
to the vessel itself.
Concordia and her last sisters, Arcadia, Sightseer, and the great national treasure, Virginia V, were not built by romantics, but by capitalists, who knew the steamboat trade and calculated that even its declining days, there were still profits to be made. Concordia
s design, which was wide with a flat bottom, seemed particularly calculated to make money from small out of the way places.
But capitalism necessarily is destructive of old ways, and for the most part, the boats that could not be converted into ferries, fishing tenders, or barges ended up, like the once magnificent Hyak, abandoned out on on a mudflat somewhere, or burned deliberately on a beach, like the famous Flyer, which in its service history of 38 years, had carried over 3,000,000 passengers without serious injury to any of them.
Most surprising of all, I found recently that the old Conkie, once so beloved of the Tacoma newsboys, is still afloat in Lake Union. You can see the little ship still moored there alongside a floating dock, just west of the Fremont Bridge.
While the 84 year-old vessel seems a bit in need of maintenance, she still carries on her stern and on her name board (above the pilot house) her gentle original name, Concordia, Latin for "realm of peace", appropriate for a vessel in the center the progressive modern city as Seattle.