A Visit to MOHAI

Hello, and welcome back to Steam Plant Graphic Novel HQ! This week’s snack of choice is dill pickle almonds and black coffee. That stuff really keeps you awake.

One of the places we visited for research is the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), founded in 1952 and now located in Lake Union Park next to the Center for Wooden Boats. I remember visiting the museum when I was a kid and it was located in McCurdy Park. My friends and I liked watching the footage of the Ivars Dancing Clams because they were weird and irreverent, and we didn’t know those words yet. Today the museum displays treasures like replicas of the¬†Post-Intelligencer¬†globe (they own the original too, but right now it’s too heavy to be housed in the building), Lincoln Towing’s hot pink toe truck, and a musical history lesson about the Seattle Fire, staring a glue pot and plastic fire.

What I remember most about MOHAI, in the 1990s and now, is how directly it addresses both the racism, sexism, and classism in America’s roots and the incredible industrial advances we’ve made. Instead of abstracting or minimizing either topic, MOHAI uses each to illuminate the other. What kinds of jobs did Seattle’s Chinese population have at the end of the 20th century? Were there Black Riveters? What stories did the Duwamish tell their children? Even when an exhibit wasn’t directly chronologically related to the story David and I are telling, it’s all connected because it’s all Seattle.

Here are some images from our latest visit:

In 1907, Jim Casey and Claude Ryan (not pictured) got a $100 loan and started UPS in a Pioneer Square basement.


Here, a team of independently-owned steamrollers pave a neighborhood street in 1906.


When people started harassing Chinese-owned businesses after the Seattle Fire, this is what Mayor Henry Yesler had to say. We at Steam Plant HQ do not condone dynamite as a problem-solver, but we definitely support Mayor Yesler’s fierce refusal of racism.


The very first Nordstrom, founded by Carl Wallin, a shoemaker, and John Nordstrom, a Swedish man who came to Ellis Island as a sixteen-year-old with five dollars and no English. A few years after that, John and Carl met in Alaska, where they took gold to open the store at Fourth and Pike.

MOHAI is open seven days a week from 10a-5p.

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