Now & Then -- S.S. Humboldt and the 1901 Gold Rush, Seattle to Nome

  • By Paul Dorpat
  • Posted 1/01/1999
  • Essay 2572

This file contains Seattle historian and photographer Paul Dorpat's Now & Then photographs and reflections on the Seattle Waterfront in 1901 and the 1901 Gold Rush.


On June 3, 1901, the wooden steamship S.S. Humboldt sailed for Nome, Alaska, as part of the second gold rush to the north. (The first gold rush occurred in 1897, and required not only a steamship journey but an exhausting hike into the inland Yukon.) This second rush was to Nome's beachfront. Goldseekers in Seattle who boarded the Humboldt could believe they were going to step ashore on sands littered with gold nuggets. The Nome beaches were open to public digging.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, "Steamship Humboldt, the nineteenth vessel to leave for Nome for the season of 1901, sailed last night at 8 o'clock with 320 passengers and 800 tons of cargo. Not an unoccupied berth or an inch of space for freight remained on the ship, which was first advertised for Nome but a week ago."

Not everyone on board was carrying a shovel. Some went to Nome with backdrops and grease paint: The ship's passenger list included 35 members of a theater company booked for Nome's biggest theater, the Standard. "In the crowd" the Post-Intelligencer reported, "are many of the vaudeville stars of the States."

Also on board, no doubt, were a few stowaways. The day before, when the steamships Oregon, Centennial, and Valencia set out carrying a total of 1500 passengers bound for Alaska, the Post-Intelligencer reported that "During the day and on the eve of their departure no less than 100 stowaways were ejected."

The S.S. Humboldt had been steaming back and forth between Alaska and Seattle since the gold rush of 1897.

During the 1902 season, she returned with three-quarters of a million dollars in gold. However, as Gordon Newell writes in his McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, "There were no bearded miners staggering down the gang plank under the weight of moosehide pokes full of dust and nuggets. Practically all the treasure was from the large gold mining corporations doing business at Dawson and had been produced by machinery rather than by pick, shovel, and pan."


Paul Dorpat, Seattle: Now & Then Vol. 2 (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1988), Story 11.
Note: This essay was edited for in 1999.

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