Friday, February 8, 2013

Seattle's Museum of History and Industry

Just outside MOHAI

Remote Control sailboats on the grounds of the museum
If you have the slightest interest in Seattle and its surroundings, its natural resources, its history, its neighborhoods, its struggles and triumphs, if any interest at all, you'll want to visit the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI). It just moved into its new home six weeks ago -- on the south end of Lake Union in what used to be the Naval Reserve Armory. Built in 1941-42 but the Works Progress Administration, the building is perfect for the museum with its easy access (unless you are trying to park), its location on the lake, and its natural light. With displays on three floors overlooking the atrium, you can experience the "diverse history of Seattle, the Puget Sound Region and the nation," as MOHAI's YouTube channel says.

Like any city, Seattle has its icons. Remember the "toe" truck that met you as you exited I-5 at Mercer?  Well, here it is, along with replicas of food from the Dog House Restaurant, the huge red "R" that used to identify the Rainier Brewing Company, and a volcano you can make erupt yourself.

At MOHAI you'll discover that UPS got its start in Seattle and will see one of its trucks from 1923; you'll learn about Seattle's lumber industry, its unions and its shipbuilding; you'll see how hobos of the Depression era marked homes in the community with code so that folks would know what kind of help they might receive there. 

While I really liked the entire museum, it was the things of my own era that I most enjoyed. That could have been me under those desks, preparing for an air raid (which, I might add, had me scared whenever an airplane flew overhead). And it certainly was me with that smelly old roller perm in the 60s!

Tom remembers using the drafting tools that we saw on display for the technical illustrations he created for Boeing. And we both remember the excitement of the Seafair hydroplane races on Lake Washington. Slo-mo-shun, the famous hydroplane, was suspended above the atrium, along with Boeing's first airplane. 

No history of Seattle would be complete without Century 21, the Seattle Worlds Fair in 1962. From his classroom on Queen Anne Hill Tom watched the Space Needle being built. (This photo is from a display went from right to left.)

On our way home we talked about what we enjoyed most about MOHAI. Mom thought the museum was well designed so that people weren't crowding each other, and felt there were enough staff and volunteers around to answer any questions you might have. Her father was a lumberjack, so she especially enjoyed the video about the lumber industry.

"They sure salvaged a lot of stuff!" Dad said. I asked him it it stirred any memories for him and he told about the day his dad dashed to the bank with the offering taken for the evangelist who had preached at his church. Grandad wanted to get it deposited so that they could get a check written for the preacher before he moved on. Alas, not long after the deposit was made, the stock market crashed and the money for the preacher was gone.

There was a large machine on display for canning salmon that Tom thought his dad would have liked, as well as the drafting tools that he had also used at Boeing. And seeing the old wood veneer radio reminded him of the Philco his family gathered around on Saturday evenings, listening to the Lone Ranger, while his grandma made oatmeal candy for them.

"In fact," Tom told me, "going through the museum reminded me that people don't really change. Technology is different, but we still deal with the same issues. Seattle shipyard workers went on strike in 1919 for better wages. We're still concerned about the same things. People don't really change."

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MOHAI is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and open until 8 p.m. every Thursday.  General admission (15 and up) is $14, with seniors, students, and military admission is $12. The first Thursday of each month is free (and crowded, but still lots of fun!). It's located at 860 Terry Ave N. For more information, go to You might also enjoy these links: The New MOHAI from Seattle Magazine, today's Herald article, "MOHAI's New Digs Give Seattle History Some Breathing Room," and this or other videos from MOHAI's YouTube channel.

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