Seattle Now & Then: Fair’s ferry billboards, 1962

(Click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN1: With an Argus 35mm camera, Bill Benshoof looked south from a ferry on the Mukilteo-Clinton run and captured Mount Rainier peeking over the mainland behind two Century 21-bannered Washington State Ferries: the Kehloken (foreground, built in 1926, sold by the state in 1975, gutted by fire in 1979 near Kirkland and sunk as an artificial reef at Possession Point on Whidbey Island) and the Rhododendron (built in 1947 and sold by the state in 2013 to Island Scallops at Qualicum Beach, British Columbia). (Bill Benshoof)
NOW: Bill and Willie Benshoof ride the Kitsap ferry (built in 1980) between Mukilteo and Clinton while the ferry Tokitae (built in 2014) passes behind them and Mount Rainier peeks over the mainland. The couple lived on south Whidbey Island for decades before moving in 2021 to Renton. (Clay Eals)

Published in The Seattle Times online on June 29, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on July 2, 2023

Look closely for the ferries’ floating billboards for Century 21
By Clay Eals

Countless times have we seen this placid, pleasing “Then” scene — two Washington State Ferries passing each other while criss-crossing Puget Sound.

But look more closely.

The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair logo. (Official Guide Book)

It’s 1962, and each ferry bears a 40-foot-long banner advertising the Seattle World’s Fair. Three-foot-tall letters proclaim the exposition’s futuristic moniker, Century 21. After “21” is the fair’s official logo, an arrowed circle resembling the biological male symbol and the astrological symbol for Mars. Its arrow points upper right, to space-age progress. Inside the orb is a skeletal cartoon globe. Throughout our region that year, the logo was seemingly everywhere.

But look even more closely.

Before “Century” is the same logo, only in reverse. The arrow points upper left. To the “Northwest,” perhaps? Or representing the double-ended, ambidextrous ferries themselves?

“The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and Its legacy,” by Paula Becker and Alan Stein.

The speculation comes from Paula Becker and Alan Stein, who wrote the definitive 2011 coffee-table book “The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and Its Legacy.” The two otherwise puzzle about the inverted logo, which in their research they never saw reversed in any other context.

The Kalakala (above) and Tillikum ferries bear the Century 21 banner in 1962. (

The banners, which transformed all 21 state ferries into floating billboards starting in June 1961, were prepared by the state and authorized by Gov. Albert Rosellini. The ads not only bolstered fair attendance but also helped boost 1962 ferry traffic to record levels: 3.2 million vehicles and 9.8 million people.

Our main “Then” photo itself is also distinctive. Most extant photos of the bannered ferries are in black-and-white, and they usually show only one such vessel, not two.

The photographer was then-25-year-old William “Bill” Benshoof, who captured a south-facing view of the Kehloken (foreground) and Rhododendron ferries on the Mukilteo-Clinton run while courting 21-year-old Wylene “Willie” Feske, the woman he would marry Nov. 30 that year.

Fresh from a Navy stint, he was working on the Minuteman missile project for Boeing, while she was beginning a phone-company career. Each living with family near White Center in 1962, the two visited Bill’s aunt on Whidbey Island, hence the ferry trip, and took in the big-city fair.

THEN3A/B/C/D: During the Seattle World’s Fair, Bill Benshoof captured (clockwise from upper left) a Monorail train rolling to its downtown station past the old Orpheum Theatre; Wild Mouse and other fair rides; the fair’s Gayway rides and Japanese Village; and the Union 76 Skyride above the International Fountain. (Bill Benshoof)

“It put Seattle on the map,” Bill says. “It was our Disneyland.” Willie recalls “how excited people were. They all had to come to Seattle to see the Space Needle and the center.” Bill liked “the funny-looking elevator” called the Bubbleator inside the Coliseum (today’s Climate Pledge Arena). Willie delighted in a Pacific Northwest Bell exhibit “where you could talk on the phone and see each other.” With a laugh, she recalls telling a friend at the time, “That’s never gonna happen.”

Could bannered ferries happen again? Perhaps (wink!) with our next world’s fair?


Thanks to Dina Skeels, Jade D’Addario of the Seattle Public Library Seattle Room, Ian Sterling and Christy Grnaquist of Washington State Ferries, Emily & Bruce Howard, Paula Becker, Alan Stein and especially Bill & Willie Benshoof for their invaluable help with this installment!

No 360-degree video this week.

Below are 8 additional photos  and, in chronological order, 31 historical clips from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and Washington Digital Newspapers, that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

THEN2: Bedecked with a Century 21 banner and beneath 27-floor Seattle Tower (built in 1928), the steam-powered San Mateo (built in 1922, sold in 1971 and berthed for two decades in Lake Union) leaves the Seattle waterfront on Aug. 13, 1961, while a couple and two children look on from an incoming ferry. (Werner Lenggenhager, courtesy Seattle Public Library)
The ferry San Mateo with a Century 21 banner, Aug. 13, 1961. (Werner Lenggenhager, courtesy Seattle Public Library)
The moored ferry San Mateo with a Century 21 banner, June 1962. (Werner Lenggenhager, courtesy Seattle Public Library)
The ferry Kalakala with a Century 21 banner, moored downtown, 1962. The Seattle Tower presides at upper left. (Werner Lenggenhager, courtesy Seattle Public Library)
1962 Seattle World’s Fair booster brochure. (Washington State Library)
Pages 1 and 4 of “Ferry Cruises on Puget Sound” brochure, 1962. (Washington State Library)
A 1962 Seattle World’s Fair souvenir ashtray. (Bill Benshoof)
1962 Seattle World’s Fair commemorative coin. (Bill Benshoof)
Dec. 16, 1937, Seattle Times, p11.
Jan. 5, 1938, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p23.
Jan. 8, 1938, Seattle Times, p10.
Jan. 9, 1938, Seattle Times, p12.
June 8, 1938, Seattle Times, p14.
June 15, 1938, Seattle Times, p10.
Aug. 22, 1940, Seattle Times, p20.
Feb. 9, 1958, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p4.
Feb. 19, 1958, Seattle Times, p9.
Feb. 20, 1958, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p7.
May 5, 1961, Seattle Times, p46.
June 22, 1961, Seattle Times, p38.
July 14, 1961, Seattle Times, p2.
Jan. 8, 1962, Seattle Times, p20.
April 20, 1962, Seattle Times, p37.
Aug. 3, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p1.
Dec. 19, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p8.
Oct. 31, 1963, Seattle Times, p14.
July 20, 1972, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p32, Don Page.
Aug. 12, 1973, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p18.
Aug. 17, 1973, Seattle Times, p28.
Oct. 14, 1973, Seattle Times, p91.
Dec. 20, 1974, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p20.
March 16, 1975, Seattle Times, p90.
June 25, 1978, Seattle Times, p223.
March 9, 1979, Seattle Times, p51.
Sept. 19, 1979, Seattle Times, p3.
Sept. 19, 1979, Seattle Times, p101.
Sept. 20, 1979, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p16.
Oct. 2, 1979, Seattle Times, p53.
May 31, 1981, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p26.

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Fair’s ferry billboards, 1962”

  1. I enjoyed the then and now this morning in the Times and have an item you may be interested in – a framed and mounted original print of the San Mateo #109 of 500 / by Willam E. Ryan 1986

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.