George McFadden is an American stern wheeler captain, businessman, and banker. He rose from being a seaman to being the dominant figure of the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet, then sold out his interests and became a banker.He became an invaluable source of information about the history of Washington and the Puget Sound region. According to Nard Jones, McFadden was one of the city of Seattle’s last fluent speakers of Chinook Jargon, the pidgin trade language of the Pacific Northwest.
Born in Mississippi, George came with his family to the Puget Sound of region Washington in 1886 at the age of 17. He worked as a chainman, surveying for the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway, then on the sternwheeler Henry Bailey, a Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet vessel that also went up the Skagit River.
In late 1889, using a $5,000 loan from Seattle banker Mike Smoth, an associate of Gatzert’s, McFadden and three fellow officers of the Henry Bailey purchased their own sternwheeler, the Fanny Lake . Bill Speidel describes it as “…a funny little thing… She looked like a scow with a big box, topped by a smaller box, topped by a deluxe model outhouse.”
McFadden’s innovative business practicessoon allowed him to become a fleet owner, president of what was named the La Conner Trading and Transportation Company.,owning some rather more elegant vessels, such as the sidewheeler George E. Starr.He established Seattle’s dominance of the Mosquito Fleet, relative to Olympia or Tacoma, which Speidel considers to be a key factor in Seattle’s emerging and continued dominance of the Puget Sound region. He continued to be a master and captain, serving on several of his own company’s sternwheelers.
The company survived several ship fires, as well as the Depression that followed the Panic of 1893, then prospered greatly in the Klondike Gold Rush, transporting miners and their gear to Alaska. McFadden continued to invest his profits. In 1903 he merged his firm with Charles E. Peabody’s Alaska Steamship/Puget Sound Navigation Company, soon brought the Mosquito Fleet to a new level. Ships were retrofitted to be able to carry automobiles, notably for the Seattle-Bremerton route. From 1913, the company was known as the Puget Sound Navigation Company.
In 1925, McFadden purchased the distressed Peoples Savings Bank for US$200,000, and in 1927, believing that the rise of the automobile limited the future of Puget Sound area water transport, he resigned from the Puget Sound Navigation Company to dedicate himself fully to banking. Puget Sound Navigation would continue to dominate Puget Sound transportation until it was bought out in 1951 by the state of Washington, as the centerpiece of Washington State Ferries.
He changed the name of the bank to Peoples Bank and Trust Co, later People’s National Bank of Washington. With branch banking not allowed at the time, he began or acquired several other banks as wholly owned subsidiaries. In 1949, when he passed the presidency of the bank to his son Alexander McFadden., deposits stood at $128 million. By 1969, when George McFadden turned 100, deposits had reached $400 million. In 1988, the bank was purchased by U.S. Bancorp and renamed it U.S. Bank of Washington.
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