There are a lot of fun and interesting cool things to know about our great state of Washington. For instance, did you know that Washington is where both Amazon and Starbucks were founded? Or that our state flag is the only green state flag out there?  

Just as there are plenty of interesting facts to learn about the state, there are also plenty of fun facts to learn about each of the state’s individual cities, including our beautiful and historic Tacoma here in South Sound!

fun facts about tacoma
George Francis Train in the mid-1800s. He was the Elon Musk of the Gilded Age, and it is believed French author Jules Verne wrote a novel that is said to have been inspired by Train’s travels, Around the World in 80 Days, but above all, he is credited with naming Tacoma the City of Destiny: Photo credit: Mathew Benjamin Brady

Tacoma is Known by Many Names

It was the city’s founder, Job Carr, who named the fair city Tacoma, deriving it from the Native American word for Mount Rainier, “Tacobet,” but it’s also referred to as something much more magical — the City of Destiny. It’s a moniker the city has retained for more than 140 years and a title that was given by an eccentric George Francis Train.

Train was a genuine national celebrity in his day, with most accounts also describing him as being more than a little wacky. Though he was fabulously wealthy thanks to being born into a family of shipbuilders, Train fancied himself a poet and philosopher.

Eventually, his travels led him to Tacoma in 1869, and for whatever reason, he embraced the town with all his heart and vowed to do everything he could to help it become the Manhattan of the West. He praised the city, popularizing the “City of Destiny” slogan as he used it over and over again in his bombastic syndicated newspaper column called, inexplicably, “Train’s Vander-Billion Psychos.”

It was during this time that the Northern Pacific Railroad was deciding where to locate the terminus for its transcontinental rail line, and the stakes were huge. Not only did it mean people and jobs, but with the railroad came the telegraph. That would mean newspapers could get updates from around the world, and banks could wire money. Because of these perks, Seattle was also gunning for the position.

In the end, Seattle would lose out to Tacoma, and Train would take personal credit for the city’s victory, claiming that he “made Tacoma the City of Destiny.”

fun facts about tacoma
Originally the Tacoma Totem Pole was in front of the Tacoma Hotel, but at the time of its dismantlement, it was in Tacoma’s Fireman’s Park. Photo courtesy: Tacoma Public Library

Tacoma was Once Home to the World’s Largest Totem Pole

Until recently, Tacoma had been home to the world’s largest totem pole. The Tacoma Totem Pole having been erected just before President Teddy Roosevelt’s visit to the City of Destiny on May 22, 1903. Capped with an eagle, the monument towered over downtown at 105 feet tall up until August 3, 2021, when it was dismantled.

Initially, the totem, which first stood in front of the Tacoma Hotel as a statement of prosperity and commerce, had been an instant hit with tourists to the city, commonly being featured on postcards and photographs. It was even featured in the 1927 silent film “Eyes of the Totem” (working title “The Totem Pole Beggar”) as a key centerpiece to the film’s production, earning the totem national recognition.

However, as times have changed, so had the outlook of the Tacoma Totem Pole. The pole, long said to have been carved by Alaska Natives hired by Tacoma businessmen, recently has been deemed inauthentic in origin and purpose and unrepresentative of the Indigenous Puyallup Tribe, which sought its exile. There was a lot of trauma there for the tribe, and Tacoma officials agreed that it was time to say goodbye, and thus, the world’s largest totem pole is now no more.

fun facts about tacoma
Glassblowers put on live glassblowing demonstrations for visitors to enjoy inside the Tacoma Glass Museum’s Hot Shop, the world’s largest hot shop glassblowing facility. Photo courtesy: Museum of Glass

Tacoma’s Museum of Glass is Home to the World’s Largest Hot Shop Glassblowing Facility

Tacoma’s Museum of Glass is unique in its own right due to its focus on contemporary glass art, its integration of glassblowing demonstrations, its striking architecture, and its commitment to providing engaging experiences for visitors to explore and appreciate the art of glass.

The museum itself was designed by renowned Canadian architect Arthur Erickson and features a distinctive 90-foot-tall stainless steel glass cone, but it is what is inside that cone that truly makes it special. It’s here that the museum houses the world’s largest hot shop glassblowing facility. The Hot Shop, as it’s known, has become a place where internationally acclaimed and emerging artists come to explore new possibilities in glass. Visiting artists are assisted by the museum’s dedicated team of glassblowers as they perform live demonstrations for visitors. Several key pieces of equipment stand out in the shop, including a furnace, which is filled with 1,000 lbs of clear glass and maintains a temperature of 2,100°F. Now that’s a hot fun fact!

fun facts about tacoma
Tacoma Dome was the largest arena with a wooden dome in the world at the time of its opening in 1983 and retained the title until the Superior Dome opened in Marquette, Michigan, in 1991. Photo courtesy: Tacoma Dome

The Tacoma Dome is One of the Largest Wooden-Domed Structures in the World

The iconic multipurpose arena, Tacoma Dome, holds a record of its own as being one of the largest wooden-doomed structures in the world. The premiere venue destination can seat up to 23,000 people and has hosted numerous concerts, sporting events, and exhibitions since its opening in 1983.

The intricate domed roof that adorns its top was built with 1.6 million board feet and weighs 1,444.000 pounds. In addition, 24,541,382 cubic feet of concrete was used in the construction of the Tacoma Dome. That’s enough concrete to build a sidewalk 70 miles long!

The Tacoma Dome’s aluminum super-grid is also one of the world’s largest, at 384′ x 160′. The architectural wonder held the title of the largest arena with a wooden dome in the world at the time of its opening and retained the title until the Superior Dome opened in Marquette, Michigan, in 1991.

fun facts about tacoma
The University of Puget Sound is one of the oldest institutions of higher education on the West Coast, having opened in 1890 with only 88 students. Photo courtesy: University of Puget Sound

The University of Puget Sound is One of the Oldest Institutions of Higher Education on the West Coast

Founded in 1888, the University of Puget Sound is known today for its beautiful campus and strong liberal arts programs. At the time of its creation, Charles Henry Fowler, former president of Northwestern University, was in Tacoma for a Methodist conference when he first spoke of his vision of a Christian institution of learning in the area. From there, a charter was drawn up and filed in Olympia on March 17, 1888, the date marking the legal beginning of the school. In September of 1890, the school opened its doors for the first time, taking in 88 students.

Though the university had some ups and downs in its formative years, moving to three different locations in 13 years and experiencing trouble with funding, it persevered. Today it takes in about 1,400 students annually and has been ranked the 10th best liberal arts college in the country by Edsmart.org and is one of 40 “Colleges That Change Lives.”

Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park is One of the Largest Urban Parks in the United States

Spanning over 760 acres, Point Defiance Park is an urban oasis within the city and features several attractions, including the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Rose Gardens, hiking trails, and beaches with views of Puget Sound. Besides being one of the largest urban parks in the states, it holds the title as the largest urban park in its home of Pierce County, with its network of roads and trails weaving through the forest preserve and providing a quiet retreat for joggers, cyclists, and hikers. In addition, the park also boasts its own Point Defiance Marina, Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, Owen Beach Pavilion, and Point Defiance Pagoda.

These are just a few fun facts about Tacoma, highlighting some of its unique aspects and attractions. Do you have any fun facts about Tacoma that we might have missed? Send your answers to submit@southsoundtalk.com, and they could appear in our next fun facts article about the City of Destiny.

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