Gunn, George E. Jr. (1891-1975)

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 3/22/2006
  • Essay 7700

George E. Gunn Jr. was a Seattle business and political leader from the 1920s through the 1960s. In 1949, he became the first president of Greater Seattle, Inc., which launched Seafair in 1950, and he headed the Committee of 100, which organized the first Seattle Centennial in 1951. The Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named George E. Gunn Jr. First Citizen of 1951.

Gunn was born on April 10, 1891, in Tacoma and he grew up there. He attended the University of Washington and graduated in 1916 with a degree in mechanical engineering. At the UW, he was president of his fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta. From there he entered business specializing in marine equipment. He spent his entire working career in Seattle except for four years in the 1920s when he worked as a vice president at White Motor Co. in Cleveland, Ohio.

The work with White Motor Co. gave him knowledge of the growing capacity of trucks, which he helped introduce to the logging industry in the Northwest. He returned to Seattle and became president of Webster Brinkley, a foundry and marine equipment business, and president as well of the Kirsten Pipe Co. He also had interests in The Caster Co., the Canteen Corporation, Voss Oil Co., and the American Warehouse Co.

During World War II, Gunn took over the Navy Relief Society in order to raise $5 million in five states and Alaska. Naval officers had organized the Navy Relief Society in 1820 to assist the families of sailors who had no disability benefits and their orphans and widows who lacked support. The Society was formally organized in 1903 and received the proceeds from the annual Army-Navy football game and contributions from Naval personnel. With the massive expansion of the U.S. Navy during World War II, the Society asked for help from civilians to raise funds.

The war years also saw noontime War Bond rallies six days a week at Victory Square, the 400 block of University Street in downtown Seattle. When peace came, downtown businessmen missed the civic spirit. Seventeen of them formed a committee in the fall of 1949 to stage a summer festival focusing on Seattle's maritime heritage. They incorporated and called themselves the Seattle Salts. Within two months, this grew into Greater Seattle, Inc.

That same year, 1949, George Gunn announced his retirement from business. His business colleagues tapped him to take over Greater Seattle, Inc. and plans for an annual summer celebration called Seafair. The organizers lured Walter Van Camp from St. Paul, Minnesota, where he ran the winter carnival. Van Camp managed details of the Seafair celebration, which included hydroplane races, a beauty contest, parades, and productions at the new Aqua Theatre at Green Lake. Gunn organized funding and helped Van Camp meet the right people in Seattle.

Gunn was also recruited to head the Committee of 100 to make plans to celebrate Seattle's centennial year in 1951. Originally organized by Mayor William F. Devin (1898-1982), the Committee incorporated as a non-profit group to get out from under City Hall control.

A staunch Republican, Gunn chaired the “public relations” arm of the National Association of Manufacturers, called the Industrial Information Committee. The Committee was formed in 1934 in reaction to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and worked "for the dissemination of sound American doctrines to the public" (NAM website). Over the next 13 years, the Committee spent $15 million on movie shorts, leaflets, newspaper articles and columns, and radio spots. Gunn served as treasurer on the Republican State Central Committee in 1958 and was a delegate to the 1968 Republican National Convention.

Gunn married Cleata Dye and their family lived on Capitol Hill and in the Denny-Blaine neighborhood. Together they raised four children -- Cleata, Joanne, Nancy, and Gloria. He was devoted to his family; his daughter Nancy recalled that he enjoyed eating onion sandwiches with her by the fireplace.

Gunn was president of the Washington Athletic Club, a member of the Rainier Club and the Seattle Golf and Country Club (he was an avid golfer), and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Phi Gamma Delta Educational Foundation. He also enjoyed fishing.

In January 1952, the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named Gunn as Seattle's First Citizen for his leadership of Seafair and the Centennial Committee.

George E. Gunn Jr. died on November 27, 1975.


“NAM Historical Highlights,” National Association of Manufacturers website (; “George Gunn Jr., First President of Seafair, Dies,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 28, 1975, p. D-15; “George Gunn, Jr., Named District Navy Relief Leader,” The Seattle Daily Times, January 26, 1942, p. 2; “George E. Gunn, Jr.,” Ibid., November 27, 1975, p. G-2; “Beginning of Seafair,” photocopy of anonymous typescript, call number 394.26979 Seafair 1961, Seattle Public Library; “The 1950s -- The Tradition Begins,” Seafair website (; David Wilma telephone interview with Nancy (Gunn) Vinsonhaler, November 1, 2005; David Wilma telephone interview with Joanne (Gunn) McIntosh, November 3, 2005.

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