Kachlein Jr., George F. (1907-1989)

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 1/04/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7198

George F. Kachlein Jr. was a Seattle lawyer who volunteered tirelessly for many civic organizations. He was active in the Washington Good Roads Association, the Washington division of the American Automobile Association, and served as executive vice-president of the national American Automobile Association (AAA). In his capacity as an officer of the AAA he conferred with state and federal officials, including President John F. Kennedy, about the development of the American interstate highway system. He was a prime mover in organizing Seattle's 1962 World's Fair as well as the annual Seafair, and he was crowned King Neptune for the 1955 Seafair. The Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named George Kachlein Jr. First Citizen of 1963.

Early Life

George F. Kachlein Jr. was born in Tacoma on May 9, 1907, to George F. and Edna June Burt Kachlein. His father worked as an optician. He attended Lowell School in Tacoma, Garfield High School in Seattle, and Tacoma's Stadium High School, from which he graduated. In 1925 he matriculated at the University of Washington, later transferring to Stanford where he received his A.B. in 1929. He then entered Harvard Law School, graduating with honors in 1932. In 1933 he was accepted to the Washington state Bar Association.

On August 30, 1930, George Kachlein married Retha Ann Hicks, daughter of Dr. Grant and Retha Tabor Hicks. The couple had one son, George F. Kachlein III. 

Lawyer and Shipbuilder

In 1933 Kachlein joined the Seattle law firm of Bogle, Bogle & Gates as an associate, becoming a partner in 1938. He specialized in corporate law and federal tax law, and for the duration of World War II was lent by the firm to Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation, a subsidiary of Todd Shipyards. From 1942 to 1946, he was first assistant general manager and then general manager of the shipbuilding company. This firm manufactured destroyers for the Navy during the war. 

Kachlein quickly learned the ropes of ship, airplane, and submarine construction in order to manage the plant. While working in this capacity he also served on the War Labor Board's Division of Shipbuilding, which set wages for the industry. Kachlein also chaired the Pierce County Chapter of the American Red Cross during the war.

Kachlein was an active member of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. He served the Chamber as chairman of its Tax Division (1940-1941), the Aviation Division (1953-1954), and the Roads and Bridges Division (1957-1958). In 1950 he was one of the original incorporators of Greater Seattle. Greater Seattle, a precursor to the Seattle Convention and Visitor's Bureau, was the main facilitator of the first Seattle Seafair Festival and later the 1962 Century 21 World's Fair. Kachlein was President of Greater Seattle, Inc. from 1958-1961. He served as vice president for special events for the 1962 World's Fair. He served as Secretary of the Washington Athletic Club board in 1950-1951 and as President of the Board of the Broadmoor Golf Club in the same year. He was a member of the Rainier Club, the Free and Accepted Masons, and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

Seattle Royalty

On June 2, 1955, George Kachlein Jr. was crowned Seafair's King Neptune VI in a ceremony at The Olympic Hotel. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,  "The announcement scene was a blaze of royal red, princely blue and golden yellow from the uniforms of other retired Seafair dignitaries." The report went on to say that Kachlein, as an attorney and civic leader would lend "legal dignity" to Seafair festivities (June 3, 1955).

At 48, Kachlein was the youngest King Neptune yet chosen. His formal coronation took place July 29, 1955, at the Seafair Aqua Follies at Greenlake. Kachlein's turn as King Neptune was the crowning moment of his long association with Seafair.

First Citizen

In 1963 the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named George Kachlein Jr. First Citizen of the year. This award, given annually since 1939, is a high honor. Kachlein had been described a few years earlier as "a tireless booster --  a moving force behind much of the great work done by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce for many years -- called upon to take a leading role in many other civic projects'(Stewart).

The presentation was made on January 28, 1964, at a banquet at The Olympic Hotel.  Association President Harold W. Cooper told the gathering of more than 600: "This award is not for a single attribute but for an accumulation of many outstanding characteristics and contributions." Cooper said that Kachlein "lives for the good that he can do."

In accepting the First Citizen's award Kachlein paid tribute to his wife, Retha, and to his law partners "for the hours they worked overtime which allowed me to make myself available to my community" (The Seattle Times, January 29, 1964).

Retha Kachlein's civic involvement rivaled her husband's in size and scope. The Seattle Times praised her in these words. "Nine times out of ten, a man who is civically active has an active wife, too ... It's true particularly in the case of Mrs. George Kachlein ... Mrs. Kachlein is a former board member of the Young Women's Christian Association and the Seattle Visiting Nurse Service. She is a charter member of the Nettie S. Bowen Guild of Children's Orthopedic Hospital and a sustaining member of the Seattle Junior League (The Seattle Times, January 23, 1964).

Good Roads and Autos

George Kachlein had a longstanding commitment to the goals of the American Automobile Association (AAA). In 1954 he was elected a trustee of the Automobile Club of Washington. He served four terms as President of the Washington AAA. From 1962-1964 he served as President of the National AAA, and from 1965-1970 as Executive Vice President, traveling widely throughout the country and the world. The Kachleins' travels for the AAA were so frequent that both George and Retha were forced to scale back their work on various boards of directors in Seattle. The Seattle Times stated that Retha Kachlein "doesn't think it's fair to take on a job and then leave town when she's needed at home by the organization" (January 23, 1964).

In early 1965 George and Retha Kachlein moved to Washington, D.C. in order to be near the AAA corporate headquarters. At this time, as George Kachlein assumed the executive vice-presidency, the organization had 779 offices throughout the United States and Canada and 8.5 million members.

In accepting the executive position, Kachlein told reporters, "Government officials and motorists could be expected to exert increased pressure for the stepped-up completion of the interstate highway system." He added that the interstate system was "sharpening appetites for better, faster, safer roads." Kachlein saw the AAA as a "gadfly" in promoting highway safety (The Seattle Times, December 17, 1964). 

Kachelin's work with the AAA made him a valuable consultant to President John F. Kennedy and to other government officials on the vital question of public road building. The National System of Interstate and Defense Highways Act, which would provide 90 percent federal funding for freeway construction, was passed in 1956 and America began building freeways at a quick clip. The AAA had an important voice in the freeway design and construction process. 

Kachlein was put to good use on both state and federal road building projects during this period. In March 1963, he attended meetings of top officials of the National Highway Users Association. He and others conferred with President Kennedy on federal-state highway problems. Kachlein spent his final two years as Counsel on international affairs before he retired in 1972.

Retirement on Whidbey Island

After his retirement, the Kachleins returned to the Northwest for a quieter life in Langley on Whidbey Island. Kachlein served Langley as a part-time municipal court judge from 1977-1978 and as a part-time district justice court commander for Island County from 1974-1978. Several newspaper accounts noted the Kachleins' enjoyment of their grandchildren. The Seattle Times described Kachlein as "an avid fisherman and hunter and expert golfer, but most of all he is a 'family man'" (December 15, 1963).

Retha Kachlein died on February 24, 1989, while in Palm Springs. George Kachlein Jr. died in Seattle on April 1, 1989. The couple had been married for 58 years. They were memorialized together in a service at the First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue.


Edgar Irving Stewart, Washington: Northwest Frontier Vol. 3 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1957), 89; Who's Who In Washington ed. by Bernice White (Olympia: Hugh L. White, 1963), 264; "Seattle 'First Citizen' Dies at 81," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 5, 1989; "Memorial Service Wednesday Will Honor George and Retha Kachlein," The Seattle Times, April 10, 1989; "George Frederick Kachlein, Jr." (Document # K2020617326) Biography Resource Center Website accessed August 6, 2004 (http://www.galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC); "Seafair's New King Neptune Announced," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 3, 1955; "George Kachlein's Wife Is 'First Citizen,'Too,"The Seattle Times, January 23, 1964; James Warren, The War Years: A Chronicle of Washington State In World War II (Seattle: History Ink, 2000), 3; '1st-Citizen Award Goes To Kachlein,'The Seattle Times, December 15, 1963; '25th Recipient: Kachlein '1st Citizen of '64,'" Ibid., January 29, 1964; 'Kachlein Named To High A.A.A. Post," Ibid., December 17, 1964.

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