Renton, Washington was originally a Duwamish Indian village at the southern end of Lake Washington. With the arrival of the Americans in the nineteenth century, it grew into an industrial city. Renton was named for William Renton, the owner of the Port Blakely Mill on Bainbridge Island who financed the first coal mining company in Renton. Displays at the Renton History Museum, housed in a former fire hall, document the community’s past.
Outside of the museum is a Chief Seattle fountain and a logging rail car (shown above). The bust of Chief Joseph was cast in 1909 and presented to the Renton Volunteer Fire Department on July 4, 1910.
The movie theater was an important part of American cultural, social, entertainment, and dating life during much of the twentieth century.
Renton Co-Operative Coal Company:
A group of underemployed miners organized the Renton Co-Operative Coal Company in 1895. The Renton Hill coal mine, which had been run by the Renton Coal Company, had been closed for a decade. The miners re-opened the mine, running it as a co-operative: each miner was paid according to what he produced. Miners were limited to loading four cars of coal a day. Each man, worker or management, bought into the mine and worked his share. The miners, who were also the owners, set mining quotas, working hours, and established their own safety rules. The profits went to the miners.
Many of the miners were immigrants from Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, and Canada. In most cases they had been miners before coming to Renton.
Shown above are three important mining artifacts: (1) the whip (used for encouraging the stubborn mules); (2) a box holding blasting caps; and (3) candlestick holders which could be wedged into the wall or the wooden mine supports. Mules were essential for hauling coal out of the mines and the mule drivers tended to be young boys. Many of them found that sugar cubes worked better than the whip in getting the mules to work.
Shown above are some different mining lights for caps. Mines, being underground, tend to be dark and so the miners needed some form of illumination which they could carry with them as they worked.
Shown above are a lunch pail, canteens, and fuel for the lamps.
In 1901, the miners sold the Renton Co-Operative Coal Mine to the Seattle Electric Company. Renton’s small mines began to be depleted about the time of World War I and demand for coal fell as petroleum and hydroelectric power replaced the need for coal.
In 1901, James Doyle and J.R. Miller discovered that the clay covering the Renton coal fields could be baked into high-quality brick. Rapid urban growth throughout the West had increased the demand for brick and Renton brick was considered to be a superior road paving brick because it had beveled edges which provided traction for horse shoes.
In 1905, the brick factory became the Denny-Renton Clay and Coal Company and the plant diversified to produce sewer tile, acid blocks for lining tanks, chimney flue lining, conduits, and roof and drain tiles. The plant employed 500 workers.
Shown about are some ceramic made with Renton clay.
Pacific Car & Foundry Company:
The company was started by William Piggot, the son of Irish immigrants who fled from Ireland during the potato famine. Originally based in West Seattle, the company built railcars for the logging industry. After a fire destroyed the plant in 1907, it was moved to Renton and by 1917 had become the Pacific Car & Foundry Company. Many local miners, knowing that coal mining was ending, looked to the company for jobs.
During World War II, the company produced the LVTUX2 Amphibious Vehicle Tracked and the M55 Self-Propelled 8-inch Howitzer. They used models, such as the one shown above, prior to production which were tested in water tanks to test for seaworthiness.
Boeing was also an important part of the industrialization of Renton.
Communities are made of up families which have both unique and similar histories. The Renton History Museum worked with Renton High Honors Language Arts students to produce an exhibit of Renton’s historic families. Students selected historic families and then compared them with their own. According to the display:
“The words and images you see on display here are entirely the work of Renton High Honors Language Arts students. This exhibit is the result of three months of research, contemplation, writing, and editing.”