Clowning around at the Milk Carton Derby, the SEAFAIR clowns have been a lively part of the event since the 1950s Photo courtesy of SEAFAIR
Seattle's annual SEAFAIR has celebrated the
community spirit of Puget Sound since 1950, when it began as a way
to highlight the city's centennial. The festival's aim to attract
tourists by accentuating the port city's maritime flavor has
resulted in World Cup events and international attention. The first
10-day festival was produced on a budget of $40,000 and 17
volunteers. By 1999, the budget had increased to $2 million, and
more than 5,000 volunteers worked to put on 40 events across four
SEAFAIR's theme was inspired by Roman mythology. A
"Legend of Seafair," scripted by publicist Guy Williams, created
characters King Neptune, Queen of the Seas, Prime Minister,
princesses and other royalty who preside over SEAFAIR. Each of
these roles is fulfilled by local noteworthy citizens. Annual
"princesses" chosen from communities, commercial clubs, and
chambers of commerce compete for the Queen of the Seas title. She
is coronated during a colorful pageant at the civic center. Since
SEAFAIR began, the duties of its "royalty" have broadened to serve
as goodwill ambassadors throughout the year.
The first SEAFAIR had parades, boat races, amateur
athletic events, and nightly aqua follies, with high dive acts,
comedy skits, and synchronized swimmers. For each SEAFAIR that
followed, more events were added. In the second year, the
hydroplane Gold Cup competition was held on Lake Washington; that
race set a world record by the powerboat, "Slo-mo-shun." During the
1970s, a three-day hydroplane regatta on Green Lake began. In 1975,
the festival hosted the Heidelberg Inboard World Championships. By
the time the 1962 World's Fair arrived in Seattle, SEAFAIR had hit
its stride. Both events drew international attention to Seattle,
the Emerald City. Celebrities, such as Anita Bryant, Tim Conway,
Raymond Burr, Ernest Borgnine, often combined Seattle engagements
with SEAFAIR festivities.
Parade grand marshals have included Bob Hope, Bing
Crosby, and Ted Turner. U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon and John F.
Kennedy have participated in festivities. SEAFAIR parades provide
opportunities for local communities to celebrate their heritage,
diversity and cultural uniqueness. The first year's grand parade
attracted 250,00 spectators. In future festivals the grand parade
was replaced with a nighttime torchlight parade, featuring
marching, motor and horse units, and illuminated floats. Spectators
begin to line the streets in the morning for best curbside views.
In 1977, a torchlight run was added before the parade. The run
swelled to 10,000 participants during the 1980s. In 1999, the
torchlight parade had more than 110 entries, 4,000 participants,
and an estimated 350,000 spectators.
The U.S. military also participates in SEAFAIR. The
U.S. Navy sails its grand vessels into Elliott Bay, where the ships
are open for public tours. The U.S. Navy's Blue Angels also fly
over a special route designed for safety. Other events include more
than 16 neighborhood ethnic and heritage celebrations. A SEAFAIR
ambassador program for high school students ran from 1985 to 1997,
which provided leadership development and educational
Project documentation comprises two 1999 catalogs,
celebrating SEAFAIR's 50th anniversary; a 13 page report on the
festival's history; 24 color slides; and 1997 and 1999 videos of
Originally submitted by: Jim McDermott, Representative (7th District).
The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.