One of the five men posing beside The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s office may well be Leigh Hunt, who with his wife, Lizzie, was the owner of both the newspaper and the house. The latter became the P-I’s temporary quarters after the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, destroyed the paper’s office and plant at the corner of Mill Street (Yesler Way) and Post Avenue (aka Post Alley). Before the sign was even in place, the P-I began publishing here at the northwest corner of Columbia Street and Fourth Avenue.
In 1886, at age 33, Hunt had given up his presidency of the Agricultural College of Iowa at Ames for the exhilarating, if risky, enterprise of running his own newspaper. The paper had begun in 1873 as the Seattle Gazette, a one-sheet weekly and Seattle’s first newspaper, and carried on with a variety of names and owners. Hunt’s stay lasted little more than six years, ending in bankruptcy triggered by the nationwide economic panic of 1893.
Although deep in debt, Hunt used his great powers of persuasion to get the Great Northern Railroad to help pay his way to Korea, where he founded the Oriental Consolidated Mines and quickly made millions extracting gold. After he returned to Seattle, Hunt opened an office announcing that he was prepared to “meet all his debtors and pay in full.”
Leigh Hunt began the 20th century with a safari to Egypt’s upper Nile “for his health,” but “like the wide-awake American everywhere,” soon developed his trip into a scheme to get richer by growing cotton in the Sudan with British cooperation and the labor of black Americans. Hunt’s characterization of his plan to give those black Americans opportunities to acquire homes and skills got him no help from the black educator Booker T. Washington, who, while in Paris, announced that “I am here merely to study the best known French manual training schools and have no intention of proceeding to Cairo to meet Leigh Hunt.”
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In the summer of 1932 the 75-year-old Hunt’s planned visit to Seattle was canceled when he fell from a 20-foot ladder while examining a mine near Las Vegas, his last hometown. His Seattle Times obituary of Oct. 5, 1933, made this claim: “It was here that Mr. Hunt entered his business career, which eventually took him all over the world, and it was here that he left the imprint of his genius for organization, promotion and development.”
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