The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

April 24, 2009

Recycled Newspaper: The Bellevue American, April 23rd, 1959

Filed under: Bellevue, History, Recycled Newspaper — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:27 am



For this week’s Recycled Newspaper, we will once again be going back 50 years, this time taking a look at the Bellevue American from April 23rd, 1959.  At this time, it had only been a couple of years since the City of Bellevue had been incorporated in 1956, and the explosive growth of the city was still a number of years off.  For the time being, farms still dominated the landscape of Bellevue, and the population was still fairly small (the 1960 census reported a population of 12,809 within the Bellevue city limits.)  Still, at this time, the signs of Bellevue’s later growth into a major urban center could be seen on the horizon.  As the Lake Washington Floating Bridge had already made travel across the lake far more convenient, Bellevue was poised for the rapid growth that would come as a result of both population increase and annexation in the Sixties.  The opening of the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge in 1964 would bring even more people across the lake, and by 1970 Bellevue’s population had increased by nearly 50,000 people.  In 1959 all of this was still in the future, and although much of Bellevue’s current area was already incorporated, the town was much more sparsely populated than it is today.  After the jump, we’ll take a look at some of what was going on in Bellevue fifty years ago.

On the front page, one of the lead stories discussed projections of the future size of Bellevue’s business district, which were at this time projected to match those of Everett and Yakima within 25 years.  Although this particular snippet seems to be written with the size of each respective city’s central business district in mind for purposes of planning for future water usage, it’s interesting to take a look at historical census data for each of these cities, and what each one looked like (in terms of population, at least) at various times.  At first, I actually had some trouble finding the historical population data for this comparison, but thanks to an assist from a librarian on the KCLS Answer Line, I was pointed at data available from the Washington State Office of Financial Management, which keeps a spreadsheet of historical population data (the link goes to a webpage which links to an Excel spreadsheet with the data) with data going from as far back as 1890 for some communities up to 2000.  In addition to this, another page on the OFM site provides a list of 2008 population estimates for all of the cities in Washington.

Based on this data, I put together this quick graph of data comparing Bellevue’s population growth with that of Everett and Yakima, and also added data for Redmond and Kirkland for comparison.  As mentioned above, in the 1960 census, Bellevue had a population of only 12,809 , compared to 40,304 in Everett and 43,284 in Yakima.  By comparison, the cities of Kirkland and Houghton (which were separate entities until they merged together August of 1968, but are grouped together in the 1960 data provided) only had 8,451 residents in 1960, and Redmond came in at a paltry 1,456 residents.  To say that Bellevue would be of a similar size to Everett and Yakima by 1984 must have seemed a bold prediction at the time, but it quickly became apparent that it was going to take a lot less than 25 years for it to happen. By the time that the  1970 Census was taken, Bellevue’s population had already exceeded that of both Everett and Yakima.  With the addition of the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge which opened in 1964, you can see that Bellevue underwent a massive growth spurt during the Sixties, adding nearly 50,000 residents during that time.  Redmond and Kirkland also underwent significant growth during this time, with Redmond’s population expanding nearly eightfold, and Kirkland’s population nearly doubling.  Throughout the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, each of these cities has continued to grow at a fairly steady pace, although it is notable that Kirkland underwent another significant growth spurt in the Eighties, more than doubling its population again in a decade.  Even so, in 2000 Redmond and Kirkland were still hovering around Everett and Yakima’s 1960 population levels, and at the current rates of growth it is unlikely that either will be catching up anytime soon.  So all things considered, I’d say that Bellevue did a pretty good job of catching up here, don’t you think?

Moving on, one of the other major news stories happening in Bellevue at this time was the upcoming opening of the new Sammamish High School, which would be admitting its first class of students in the Fall of 1959.  This map is intended primarily to show the new school’s attendance boundaries (basically, all of Bellevue outside of the Downtown area, which was presumably served by Bellevue High,) but is more interesting for the glimpse it provides into Bellevue’s street layout at the time.  I suspect that this was not by any means intended to be a comprehensive map, but even so, it’s probably more interesting for what it doesn’t show than for what it does.  As some examination of the map will reveal, a number of what are now major arterials through Bellevue were incomplete at this time, missing rather significant portions of their current routes.  At this time, 140th Ave. NE was the only North-South road (aside from Highway 1, which would be designated as State Route 405 in 1964, and then I-405 in 1971) that went all the way from the Northern city limits to US-10.  US-10 at this time ran all the way from Seattle to Detroit until I-90 replaced it on much of its route. A portion of US-10 between Detroit and Fargo North Dakota retains the designation today.  Perhaps the most notable absences on this map are significant portions of 148th and 156th Ave. NE as we know them today, a missing segment of NE 8th between 148th and 156th, and a number of gaps in several of the major roads through what is now known as the Overlake area.  Also of note is that what is now Bellevue-Redmond Road (or more commonly just Bel-Red road for short) was then known simply as Redmond Road. 

By 1964, most of these missing roads through Bellevue had been completed, as the maps from that year available on HistoricAerials will attest.  Rather than try to make any specific comparisons here, I will just provide the link, since it’s probably easier to just look through the maps to compare for yourself.  It does look like there were still some missing roads in the Overlake area at this time, but most of the major arterials were completed by 1964.  As for Sammamish High School, with the later additions of Newport and Interlake High Schools in the Bellevue School District, their boundaries (PDF link) have shrunk to some extent over the years.

Meanwhile, at this time the Bellevue American itself was in the process of upgrading some of their equipment, and as tends to be the case with most old articles related to technology, looking at this from a modern perspective serves mostly to show just how difficult it must have been to actually produce a newspaper back in those days even with all this stuff.  In this case, the major innovation was a device known as the Teletypesetter, which was basically an offshoot of the more common Teleprinter that instead of printing words on paper would punch out paper tapes that could then be fed into a Linotype machine to automate the typesetting process rather than have an operator type the text in manually.  The Linotype machine is something that I was completely unfamiliar with before doing some Internet searching, and I must say that it sounds like a working Linotype machine must have been a sight to behold (and a non-working one must have been a sight to despair over for anyone unfamiliar with its operation.  The Wikipedia articleon the machine provides a surprisingly good overview of the basic concepts of how the machine works, but basically it’s a machine that could create lines of type in hot metal by dispensing molds of individual characters (known as matrices) as directed by an operator at a keyboard through a system of mechanical escapements.  These could then be formed into lines that were then justified using an ingenious system of wedges that added enough space to fit the required line width (this was also necessary to ensure that there were no gaps through which hot metal could be squirted out during casting), and cast in metal through an automated system.  The matrices were then returned to the magazine from which they were dispensed via an elevator and a series of coded teeth which would ensure that the proper characters could only be returned to the correct place in the magazine.

In addition to the Wikipedia article, there’s also a websiterun by a Linotype enthusiast which contains a large number of technical manuals for the machines to better explain how they function.  Although I’d probably find it fascinating to see one of these machines in action, I do have to admit that if I had to be doing all my writing and printing using one of the things, I’m pretty sure I’d be doing something besides writing.  Perhaps if I had been born in a time before computers became as ubiquitous as they are today there is the possibility that I would have ended up working with something like a Linotype machine.  Then again, there’s also something to be said for being able to write stuff and publish it to the whole world from my notebook computer in pajamas, with a couple of dogs curled up at the end of the bed…

Finally, the paper’s Woman’s Page (which would later be rebranded as the “Of Interest to Women” section) shows this rather odd juxtaposition of headlines.  Perhaps due to the limitations presented by the Linotype machine, the headlines used in this particular section of the paper seem oddly truncated.  Besides, I don’t want to be around to see the results of trying to install oldtimers into a dance, since it would most likely be not pretty.

As a bit of a side note, I am still trying to work out exactly how I am going to be doing these posts going forward, and how frequently I will be doing them (as I have mentioned before, they tend to be rather time and labor intensive to put together.)  I did notice that when I was at the library on Wednesday they had recently added a computer with a microfilm scanner attached to it, although I didn’t get a chance to actually try it out when I was there.  That could serve to make getting good images off the microfilm a lot easier, but I suspect a lot of it also depends on the quality of the microfilm itself, which tends to be rather hit-or-miss.  Ultimately, all this stuff is supposed to eventually find its way to Google’s news archive search, but I have no idea when that’s actually going to happen.  Even so, I’d be interested to get feedback on these posts, particularly if there’s anything that anyone out there would like to find out more about.  There’s plenty of newspaper to recycle out there, it’s just a matter of actually finding  the stuff that’s worth recycling…


  1. I am hoping that your archives have what I am looking for. On Nov. 15 1979 I had an industrial accident at Spectrum Glass in Woodinville Wa. Someone from your paper called me in the hospital and interviewed me. I am hoping you have a copy from that day. I am not sure which day it came out in print. But the date of the accident is correct. If you do or dont can you please e-mail me with an answer. Thankyou Don Coleman

    Comment by Donald Coleman — July 3, 2010 @ 10:39 pm

  2. I am looking for my real fathers obituary. Not sure of year
    between 1963-1965 during the school year (Sept – June) John Arp, he was in his late forties,resided in Bellevue, WA.

    Comment by Christina L. Hough — July 13, 2010 @ 8:03 pm

    • I’d recommend contacting the Eastside Geneaological society, as they would be likely be able to find this info a lot more quickly than I would be able to, (it’s possible that they could even have these indexed already.) Any additional information like birthplace and names of known ancestors or family members would make it easier to cross-reference to other geneaological resources. You can find their homepage at the following address:

      Comment by Brian Lutz — July 13, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

  3. WOW!! talk about the planets aligning. I am part of a team working on the 50th reunion of the first graduating class of Sammamish High School (1961). Your article shows up the day I look for info about the Bellevue American. Our website is We have some fascinating stories (a least we old farts think they are interesting). From a human interest point-of-view, a story could be done now to assist in our search process–and another story next fall at reunion. We even have found some of our teachers still living. Hattie Dixon.

    Comment by Hattie Dixon — January 19, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

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