Dick McKay & Jim Vallentyne (l-r), Seattle, 1962,
with the antique bronze steam whistle from
the Russian built POLITKOFSKY.
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
|Letting off steam|
Whistle from the POLITKOFSKY
L-R, Joshua Green, Jim Valentine, Ralph Hitchcock
Courtesy of historian Ron Burke, Seattle.
The POLITKOFSKY whistle from 1850 was acquired when the gunboat was turned over to the US by the Russian government in connection with this country's purchase of Alaska, 18 October 1867.
This whistle was used to open the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle in 1909.
|President Taft, by telegraph,|
Opening the AYP Exposition, 1909, Seattle, WA.
Steam whistles once were an organ concert of the industrial and economic life of the city. Men went to work, ate lunch, and left work––all to the deep-throated blast of a steam whistle at factory or mill. There was no dispute about the correct time––the whistle was absolute.
Whether it was the sharp "toot" of donkey engine or the deep-toned blast from the Stimson Mill or Seattle Cedar Lumber Man. Co., Ballard whistles were a veritable symphony each morning, noon, and evening––the steam whistle was king.
At that time, many housewives used the sound of the "5 o'clock quitting whistle" as a reminder to start dinner.
But, alas, the assembly-line production of wrist watches, radio time announcements, and other modern conveniences (including the electric air whistle) spelled the doom of the colorful steam whistle ejecting a long white plume (often you could see and count the plumes long before you heard the whistles, especially if the wind was strong and the distant sound of the whistle was carried away on the wind.)
The whistle is in the collection of the Museum of History and Industry, Seattle, WA.
Above words by John J. Reddin for The Seattle Times, March 1962
Letting Off Steam
"The speaker was the wharf agent of a large steamship company, and he was seated in his cool office looking hot and worried. The reporter to whom the remark was addressed, admitted that he sometimes felt so inclined, but rarely.
'Next time you feel that way I want you to run a little two-line item in your marine column, saying if the captains of the various steamers would hang onto their whistle ropes thirty seconds instead of fifteen minutes when landing or departing, the waterfront business men would deem it a favor.
'The way of it is this: There are a large number of boats in and out of harbor daily. For some reason––probably some savage blood in their veins––the captains delight in hearing the sound of their own whistles. A year or so ago it was bad enough, but now the owners are vying with one another, as to who can get the most unearthly sounding one. They have got to using combinations to deepen the sound-rending shrieks. The BAILEY GATZERT has a triple affair that is enough to turn a man's hair gray. The GREYHOUND sports one of the same character, but more piercing than deep; the PREMIER has one with a dull rumbling roar, that shakes every beam in the wharf when it goes off. There there is the MOCKING BIRD. I feel like stealing out some quiet night and contriving a scheme to sink her.
Every fifteen minutes in the day some of these diabolical contrivances are going off. The captains hold onto the ropes as if they were the ladder to salvation instead of to––well, anyhow, they ought to let go sooner.' The agent then subsided, but began again as the reporter was quietly leaving. The last words the latter heard were 'fiendish,' 'hair-raising'."
Above text from The Sea Chest, March 1973, quarterly journal of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society.