HARD DRIVE TO THE KLONDIKE:
A Historic Resource Study
for the Seattle Unit of the
"There is probably no city in the Union today so much talked about as Seattle and there is certainly none toward which more faces are at present turned. From every nook and corner of America and from even the uttermost parts of the earth, a ceaseless, restless throng is moving -- moving toward the land of the midnight sun and precious gold, and moving through its natural gateway -- the far-famed City of Seattle."
Erastus Brainerd and The Seattle Chamber of Commerce
Seattle's reputation as the gateway to Alaska and the Far North is widespread. Alaska Airlines remains based in this city, providing a modern example of the transportation connections that were established in the late nineteenth century. As historian Murray Morgan observed, Seattle residents "tend to look on Alaska as their very own....Seattle stores display sub-arctic clothing, though Puget Sound winters are usually mild; Seattle curio shops feature totem poles, though no Puget Sound Indian ever carved one."  This perception is in part a legacy of the Klondike Gold Rush, which linked Seattle and the Far North in the public mind. It resulted from an extensive advertising campaign designed and launched by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce in 1897.
From the outset of the gold rush, Seattle newspapers promoted their city as the obvious point of outfitting and departure for the Yukon. "If there ever was competition between Seattle and other cities on the Pacific Coast relative to Alaska business," The Seattle Post-Intelligencer boasted on July 25, 1897, "it has entirely disappeared....Seattle controls the trade with Alaska. There is no other way to state the fact -- the control is complete and absolute." As the Post-Intelligencer concluded, the rush to the Klondike was "centered in Seattle."  Despite such bold assertions, however, it took the Seattle Chamber of Commerce months of effort in public relations to make this "fact" a reality. Comprised of only seven key members, it proved to be a very vocal force in promoting Seattle.
Cooper and Levy -- a major outfitter in the city -- moved Seattle boosters to action. One of the owners notified the Chamber of Commerce that railroad companies were not routing many of the early Klondike stampeders through Seattle. Initially, only the Great Northern Railway took Yukon-bound passengers to this city, while the Southern Pacific routed passengers to San Francisco, the Northern Pacific advertised Portland, and the Canadian Pacific promoted Vancouver, British Columbia. The Chamber of Commerce thus established the Bureau of Information on August 30, 1897, to devise a plan for promoting Seattle as the Klondike outfitting and departure center. It also charged the Bureau of Information with counteracting the efforts of other cities in this direction. Even more significant, members appointed Erastus Brainerd as secretary and executive officer.  Were it not for this move, Seattle might not have figured as prominently as it did in the Klondike trade.
Brainerd proved to be the most influential of Seattle's boosters during the Klondike Gold Rush. What was most remarkable about his advertising campaign was that it was waged during an era before the practice of swaying public opinion had become commonplace. His social status and his professional contacts helped his publicity efforts. Born in the Connecticut River Valley in 1855, Brainerd attended Phillips Exeter Academy, and graduated from Harvard at the tender age of 19. After serving as curator of engravings at the Boston Museum of Arts, he traveled to Europe, where he promoted a tour for W. Irving Bishop, a "lecturing showman." While in Europe, Brainerd displayed his gregarious personality and his propensity for joining, becoming a Knight of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, a Knight of the Red Cross of Rome, a Knight Templar, and a Mason. 
Returning to the United States, Brainerd turned to journalism, landing a job as a news editor of the Atlanta Constitution. In 1882, he married Jefferson Davis' granddaughter, which endeared him to Southern readers. One reporter described Brainerd at this time as "an accomplished gentleman, a desirable citizen, and an engaging friend." Moving to Philadelphia, Brainerd again joined a variety of organizations, including the Union League, Penn Club, and the Authors and Press clubs of New York. 
In 1890, Brainerd suffered from several attacks of influenza. His desire for employment opportunities as well as his ill health prompted him to relocate to Seattle, where he became the editor of The Press-Times. Brainerd joined the Rainier Club and organized a local Harvard Club, becoming known as "a social swell and an authority on terrapin [edible turtles]." His activities included fishing trips with the eminent Judge Thomas Burke. By 1897, when Brainerd became secretary of the Bureau of Information, he had developed valuable social -- and editorial -- connections in the Puget Sound area and throughout the nation. As one biographer summarized, Brainerd was a "man of the world, confident and self-assertive." He was also an "unusually facile writer"-- a characteristic that would serve Seattle well in the publicity campaign. 
Erastus Brainerd and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce
The Advertising Campaign | Competition Among Cities