1910 to 1920

Population: 2,740
Area: 1.8 square miles

Renton was the second largest industrial center of King County at this time, making the effects of the catastrophic flood of 1911 all the more devastating. The city worked with the county for the next ten years on taming the Cedar River, lowering Lake Washington, and eliminating the Black River entirely.

The newly created chamber of commerce promoted Renton as “The Town of Payrolls.” A glass bottle factory, macaroni factory, ice plant, coal briquette plant, two lumber companies, and a shingle mill strengthened that claim while diversifying the growing industrial base.

Pacific Car and Foundry flourished with non-stop contracts for rail cars, and the brick plant produced 58 million bricks annually. While business boomed for the factories’ owners, a unionization attempt by Renton’s coal miners failed in 1911. Many ethnic groups organized protective organizations in reaction to the bigotry they experienced on their arrival.

The town’s wives and mothers won the right to vote in elections. By the decade’s end, Hattie Butler was voted in as Renton’s first woman councilmember. Automobiles, once a luxury item for the rich and famous, became commonplace along Main and Third streets. The city’s first dedicated high school, Renton High School, opened its doors in 1911, just in time to graduate its first class.

A new Carnegie Library was dedicated in 1914 on lands donated by Ignazio Sartori. The next year, Prohibition closed Renton’s numerous saloons. Barkeeps either diversified into other products, such as groceries, or went underground. Renton’s comparative remoteness provided ample opportunities for whiskey stills and basement wineries to abound, making enforcement of the federal ban (1919) on alcohol difficult for the town’s small police department.

A number of the city’s young men headed off to World War I. Others stayed home, only to fight a different enemy: influenza. The epidemic swept through Renton, filling Dr. Adolph Bronson’s new Renton Hospital with sick and dying citizens. Following the war, “City Park” was renamed “Liberty Park,” in honor of the liberation of Europe.

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