Archaeological excavations suggest that Native Americans have inhabited the Seattle area for at least 4,000 years.
 By the time the first European settlers arrived, the people (subsequently called the
Duwamish tribe) occupied at least seventeen villages in the areas around
The first European to visit the Seattle area was
George Vancouver, in May 1792 during his
1791–95 expedition to chart the
 In 1851, a large party led by Luther Collins made a location on land at the mouth of the
Duwamish River; they formally claimed it on September 14, 1851.
 Thirteen days later, members of the Collins Party on the way to their claim passed three scouts of the Denny Party.
 Members of the Denny Party claimed land on
Alki Point on September 28, 1851.
 The rest of the Denny Party set sail from
Portland, Oregon, and landed on Alki point during a rainstorm on November 13, 1851.
After a difficult winter, most of the Denny Party relocated across Elliott Bay and claimed land a second time at the site of present-day
 naming this new settlement Duwamps. Charles Terry and John Low remained at the original landing location and reestablished their old land claim and called it "New York", but renamed "New York Alki" in April 1853, from a
Chinook word meaning, roughly, "by and by" or "someday".
 For the next few years, New York Alki and Duwamps competed for dominance, but in time Alki was abandoned and its residents moved across the bay to join the rest of the settlers.
David Swinson "Doc" Maynard, one of the founders of Duwamps, was the primary advocate to name the settlement after
Chief Sealth ("Seattle") of the Duwamish and
The name "Seattle" appears on official
Washington Territory papers dated May 23, 1853, when the first
plats for the village were filed. In 1855, nominal land settlements were established. On January 14, 1865, the Legislature of Territorial Washington incorporated the Town of Seattle with a
board of trustees managing the city. The town of Seattle was disincorporated January 18, 1867, and remained a mere precinct of King County until late 1869, when a new petition was filed and the city was re-incorporated December 2, 1869, with a
 The corporate seal of the City of Seattle carries the date "1869" and a likeness of Chief Sealth in left profile.
Seattle's first streetcar
, at the corner of Occidental and Yesler, 1884. All of the buildings visible in this picture were destroyed by fire five years later.
Seattle has a history of boom-and-bust cycles, like many other cities near areas of extensive natural and mineral resources. Seattle has risen several times economically, then gone into precipitous decline, but it has typically used those periods to rebuild solid infrastructure.
The first such boom, covering the early years of the city, rode on the lumber industry. (During this period the road now known as
Yesler Way won the nickname "Skid Road", supposedly after the timber skidding down the hill to
Henry Yesler's sawmill. The later dereliction of the area may be a possible origin for the term which later entered the wider American lexicon as
 Like much of the American West, Seattle saw numerous conflicts between
management, as well as ethnic tensions that culminated in the
anti-Chinese riots of 1885–1886.
 This violence originated with unemployed whites who were determined to drive the Chinese from Seattle (anti-Chinese riots also occurred in
Tacoma). In 1900, Asians were 4.2% of the population.
 Authorities declared martial law and federal troops arrived to put down the disorder.
Seattle achieved sufficient economic success that when the
Great Seattle Fire of 1889 destroyed the central business district, a far grander city-center rapidly emerged in its place.
 Finance company
Washington Mutual, for example, was founded in the immediate wake of the fire.
 However, the
Panic of 1893 hit Seattle hard.
Gold Rush, World War I, and the Great Depression
The second and most dramatic boom and bust resulted from the Klondike Gold Rush, which ended the depression that had begun with the Panic of 1893; in a short time, Seattle became a major transportation center. On July 14, 1897, the S.S. Portland docked with its famed "ton of gold", and Seattle became the main transport and supply point for the miners in Alaska and the Yukon. Few of those working men found lasting wealth, however; it was Seattle's business of clothing the miners and feeding them salmon that panned out in the long run. Along with Seattle, other cities like
Olympia, all in the Puget Sound region, became competitors for exchange, rather than
mother lodes for extraction, of precious metals.
 The boom lasted well into the early part of the 20th century and funded many new Seattle companies and products. In 1907, 19-year-old
James E. Casey borrowed $100 from a friend and founded the
American Messenger Company (later
UPS). Other Seattle companies founded during this period include
 Seattle brought in the
Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm to design a system of parks and boulevards.
The Gold Rush era culminated in the
Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909, which is largely responsible for the layout of today's
University of Washington campus.
A shipbuilding boom in the early part of the 20th century became massive during World War I, making Seattle somewhat of a company town; the subsequent retrenchment led to the
Seattle General Strike of 1919, the first
general strike in the country.
 A 1912 city development plan by
Virgil Bogue went largely unused. Seattle was mildly prosperous in the 1920s but was particularly hard hit in the Great Depression, experiencing some of the country's harshest labor strife in that era. Violence during the
Maritime Strike of 1934 cost Seattle much of its maritime traffic, which was rerouted to the
Port of Los Angeles.
Seattle was also the home base of impresario
Alexander Pantages who, starting in 1902, opened a number of theaters in the city exhibiting
vaudeville acts and silent movies. His activities soon expanded, and the thrifty Greek went on and became one of America's greatest theater and movie tycoons. Between Pantages and his rival
John Considine, Seattle was for a while the western United States' vaudeville mecca.
B. Marcus Priteca, the
Scottish-born and Seattle-based architect, built several theaters for Pantages, including some in Seattle. The theaters he built for Pantages in Seattle have been either demolished or converted to other uses, but many other theaters survive in other cities of the U.S., often retaining the Pantages name; Seattle's surviving
Paramount Theatre, on which he collaborated, was not a Pantages theater.
Post-war years: aircraft and software
War work again brought local prosperity during World War II, this time centered on Boeing aircraft. The war dispersed the city's numerous Japanese-American businessmen due to the
Japanese American internment. After the war, the local economy dipped. It rose again with Boeing's growing dominance in the commercial
 Seattle celebrated its restored prosperity and made a bid for world recognition with the
Century 21 Exposition, the
1962 World's Fair.
 Another major local economic downturn was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, at a time when Boeing was heavily affected by the
oil crises, loss of Government contracts, and costs and delays associated with the
Boeing 747. Many people left the area to look for work elsewhere, and two local real estate agents put up a billboard reading "Will the last person leaving Seattle – Turn out the lights."
Seattle remained the corporate headquarters of Boeing until 2001, when the company separated its headquarters from its major production facilities; the headquarters were moved to Chicago.
 The Seattle area is still home to Boeing's
Renton narrow-body plant (where the
757 were assembled, and the
737 is assembled today) and
Everett wide-body plant (assembly plant for the
787). The company's
credit union for employees,
BECU, remains based in the Seattle area, though it is now open to all residents of Washington.
As prosperity began to return in the 1980s, the city was stunned by the
Wah Mee massacre in 1983, when 13 people were killed in an illegal gambling club in the
International District, Seattle's
 Beginning with
Microsoft's 1979 move from
Albuquerque, New Mexico, to nearby
 Seattle and its suburbs became home to a number of technology companies including
Nintendo of America, McCaw Cellular (now part of
AT&T Mobility), VoiceStream (now
biomedical corporations such as HeartStream (later purchased by
Philips), Heart Technologies (later purchased by
Boston Scientific), Physio-Control (later purchased by
ZymoGenetics, ICOS (later purchased by
Eli Lilly and Company) and Immunex (later purchased by
Amgen). This success brought an influx of new residents with a population increase within city limits of almost 50,000 between 1990 and 2000,
 and saw Seattle's real estate become some of the most expensive in the country.
 In 1993, the movie
Sleepless in Seattle brought the city further national attention.
 Many of the Seattle area's tech companies remained relatively strong, but the frenzied
dot-com boom years ended in early 2001.
Seattle in this period attracted widespread attention as home to these many companies, but also by hosting the 1990
 and the
APEC leaders conference in 1993, as well as through the worldwide popularity of
grunge, a sound that had developed in Seattle's independent music scene.
 Another bid for worldwide attention—hosting the
World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999—garnered visibility, but not in the way its sponsors desired, as
related protest activity and police reactions to those protests overshadowed the conference itself.
 The city was further shaken by the
Mardi Gras Riots in 2001, and then literally shaken the following day by the
Another boom began as the city emerged from the
Great Recession which commenced when Amazon.com moved its headquarters from North
Beacon Hill to
South Lake Union. This initiated a historic construction boom which resulted in the completion of twice as many apartments in Seattle in 2017, which is more than any other year in the city’s history.
 For the next five years beginning in 2010, Seattle gained an average of 14,511 residents per year, with the growth strongly skewed toward the center of the city,
 as unemployment dropped from roughly 9 percent to 3.6 percent.
 The city has found itself "bursting at the seams", with over 45,000 households spending more than half their income on housing and
at least 2,800 people homeless, and with the country's sixth-worst rush hour traffic.