Tacoma is a mid-sized urban port city and the county seat of Pierce County, Washington, United States. The city is on Washington's Puget Sound, southwest of Seattle, northeast of the state capital, Olympia, and northwest of Mount Rainier National Park. The population was 198,397, according to the 2010 census. Tacoma is the second-largest city in the Puget Sound area and the third largest in the state. Tacoma also serves as the center of business activity for the South Sound region, which has a population of around 1 million people.
Tacoma adopted its name after the nearby Mount Rainier, originally called Mount Tahoma. It is known as the "City of Destiny" because the area was chosen to be the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the late 19th century. The decision of the railroad was influenced by Tacoma's neighboring deep-water harbor, Commencement Bay. By connecting the bay with the railroad Tacoma's motto became "When rails meet sails." Today Commencement Bay serves the Port of Tacoma, a center of international trade on the Pacific Coast and Washington state's largest port.
Like most central cities, Tacoma suffered a prolonged decline in the mid-20th century as a result of suburbanization and divestment. Since the 1990s, developments in the downtown core include the University of Washington Tacoma; Tacoma Link, the first modern electric light rail service in the state; the state's highest density of art and history museums; and a restored urban waterfront, the Thea Foss Waterway.
With a long history of blue-collar labor politics — from the railroad workers of the 19th century, to the longshoremen of the 20th century, to the Labor Ready workers of today — Tacoma has long been known for its rough, gritty image. A song about Tacoma, "Thrice All American", by American singer-songwriter and former resident Neko Case, describes it as "a dusty old jewel in the South Puget Sound / where the factories churn / and the timber's all cut down".
Tacoma-Pierce County has been named one of the most livable areas in the country. Tacoma was also recently listed as the 19th most walkable city in the country. In contrast, the city is also ranked as the most stressed-out city in the country in a 2004 survey. In 2006, women's magazine Self named Tacoma the "Most Sexually Healthy City" in the United States. In 2012, The Advocate gave Tacoma the title of "Gayest City in America", in part because of the large diversity of public offices held, and Washington State passing a bill in 2012 allowing LGBT couples to marry.
Tacoma is famous for the 1940 collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
Tacoma was incorporated on November 12, 1875, following the merger of Old Tacoma and New Tacoma on January 7, 1884. Its hopes to be the "City of Destiny" were stimulated by selection in 1873 as the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, thanks to lobbying by McCarver, future mayor John Wilson Sprague, and others. The transcontinental link was effected in 1887, but the railroad built its depot on "New Tacoma", two miles (3 km) south of the Carr-McCarver development. The two communities grew together and joined. The population grew from 1,098 in 1880 to 36,006 in 1890. Rudyard Kipling visited Tacoma in 1889 and said it was "literally staggering under a boom of the boomiest".
In November 1885 white citizens led by then-mayor Jacob Weisbach expelled several hundred Chinese residents peaceably living in the city. As described by the account prepared by the Chinese Reconciliation Project, on the morning of November 3, 1885, "several hundred men, led by the mayor and other city officials, evicted the Chinese from their homes, corralled them at 7th Street and Pacific Avenue, marched them to the railway station at Lakeview and forced them aboard the morning train to Portland, Oregon. The next day two Chinese settlements were burned to the ground."
The discovery of gold in the Klondike in 1898 led Tacoma's prominence in the region to be eclipsed by the booming development of Seattle.
A major tragedy marred the start of the 20th century, when a streetcar accident resulted in significant loss of life on July 4, 1900.
Tacoma was briefly (1915-1922) a major destination for big-time automobile racing, with one of the nation's top-rated racing venues located just outside the city limits, at the site of today's Clover Park Technical College.
In 1935 Tacoma received national attention when George Weyerhaeuser, nine-year-old son of prominent lumber industry executive J.P. Weyerhaeuser, was kidnapped while walking home from school. FBI agents from Portland handled the case, in which payment of a ransom of $200,000 secured release of the victim. Four persons were apprehended and convicted. The last to be released was paroled from McNeil Island in 1963. George Weyerhaeuser went on to become chairman of the Board of the Weyerhaeuser Company.
In 1951, an investigation by a state legislative committee revealed widespread corruption in Tacoma's government, which had been organized commission-style since 1910. Voters approved a mayor/city-manager system in 1952.
Downtown Tacoma experienced a long decline through the mid-20th century. Harold Moss, later the city's mayor, characterized late 1970s Tacoma as looking "bombed out" like "downtown Beirut" (a reference to the Lebanese Civil War that occurred at that time.) "Streets were abandoned, storefronts were abandoned... City Hall was the headstone and Union Station the footstone" on the grave of downtown.
The first local referendums in the U.S. on computerized voting occurred in Tacoma in 1982 and 1987. On both occasions, voters rejected 3-1 the computer voting systems that local officials sought to purchase. The campaigns, organized by Eleanora Ballasiotes, a conservative Republican, focused on the vulnerabilities of computers to fraud.
Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood started struggling with crime in the 1980s and early 1990s and at one time could be considered worse than Compton, California (earning the nickname "Tacompton"). The problems have declined in recent years as neighborhoods have enacted community policing and other policies. Bill Baarsma (Mayor from 2002–2010) is a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, a bi-partisan group with a stated goal of "making the public safer by getting illegal guns off the streets." The coalition is co-chaired by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In 2004, Tacoma was ranked among the top 30 Most Livable Communities, in an annual survey conducted by the Partners for Livable Communities. In 2009 Tacoma elected its second African-American mayor, Marilyn Strickland.
In 2007, the locally produced short film, "South 5" took a humorous look at the somewhat contentious dynamic that exists between Tacoma and Seattle, Washington.
Beginning in the early 1990s, Tacoma has taken steps to revitalize itself and its image, especially downtown.
The University of Washington established a branch campus in Tacoma in 1990. The same year, Union Station (Tacoma) was restored. The Museum of Glass opened in downtown Tacoma in 2002, showing glass art from the region and around the world. It includes a glassblowing studio and is connected to the rest of the Museum District by the Bridge of Glass, which features works by Tacoma native glass artist Dale Chihuly.
Tacoma's downtown Cultural District is the site of the Washington State History Museum (1996) and the Tacoma Art Museum (2003). America's Car Museum was completed in late 2011 and resides near the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma. The glass and steel Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center opened in November 2004.
Downtown Tacoma has a thriving Theatre District, anchored by the 89-year-old Pantages Theater. The Broadway Center for the Performing Arts manages the Pantages, the Rialto Theater, and the Theatre on the Square, as well as Tacoma Little Theatre, approaching its 100th birthday, and Gold From Straw Theatre Company, practicing out of a retired and partially renovated "Mecca" adult entertainment theater. Other attractions include the Grand Cinema and the Temple Theatre.