The Gig Harbor Story

Gig Harbor's history is a rich tapestry of pioneers in fishing, mills, farms, steamboats, ferries and bridges. The area was named in 1841 during the U.S. Exploring Expedition commanded by Captain Charles Wilkes. During a storm, several longboats and the Captain's gig, which is a small boat, sought shelter in a small bay. Later, Captain Wilkes named the haven that sheltered them Gig Harbor.

In 1867, fisherman Sam Jerisich became one of the first white settlers on the shores of Gig Harbor. Others arrived from Norway, Sweden and Croatia and lived side by side with the Native American people. Commercial fishing and related industries, like boat building, dominated the local economy and rhythm of life in the community for more than 100 years. Several sawmills also operated in Gig Harbor from the 1880s through the 1950s.

As the area thrived and population increased, steamboats began to carry passengers and freight around the Peninsula and to Tacoma in the 1880s. Car ferries began to transport automobiles between Gig Harbor and Tacoma in 1917. The first Narrows Bridge, linking Gig Harbor and the Peninsula to Tacoma, was completed in July of 1940. It soon became known as Galloping Gertie, Galloping because of its rocking motion in strong winds and  Gertie because it was made of girders. The bridge collapsed in a windstorm just four months after completion. The existing bridge opened to traffic in 1950.