Tacoma, like many cities in the Pacific Northwest, congealed around a mill -- in this case, a lumber mill, in 1853. The mill attracted the Northern Pacific Railroad, and Tacoma's fate as a major trade hub was set in steel.

The railroad came to Tacoma's Commencement Bay in 1872. A dozen years later, Commencement Bay began receiving shipments of tea from "the Orient." Official recognition of the City of Tacoma came one year later. Fourteen years after that, in 1887, Northern Pacific lay down rails across the Cascades, spurring the city's fivefold population boom.

Since its founding, Tacoma has nurtured its successful economic pairing of shipping with industrial manufacturing.

Linguists agree that the name Tacoma is derived from a Native American name for Mount Rainier, but sources disagree as to whether it's from "Tacobet," meaning "Mother of the Waters," or "Ta-ho-mah," meaning "snowy mountain."