Tacoma has at least two well-known slogans to hang its hat on: The City of Destiny and You’ll Like Tacoma. The former has the more illustrious history, having grown out of Tacoma’s choice as the western terminus for the Northern Pacific Railroad’s transcontinental railroad, in 1873 (beating out Olympia, Seattle and Bellingham for the honors). But the latter – first introduced at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, in 1909 – with its curiously modest tone is still a crowdpleaser today.
Like the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, You’ll Like Tacoma was created as a publicity tool, and debuted at the A-Y-P Exposition, held on the campus of the University of Washington. The world’s fair featured wondrous exhibits from North America, Europe and the Pacific Rim, and would draw more than three million visitors in its four-and-a-half month run. On June 2, 1909, the Tacoma Daily Ledger wrote: “Shimmering across the end of Lake Union to all who passed came the pleasant message ‘You’ll Like Tacoma‘ in glistening 20-foot white letters by day and in glowing electric characters by night.” The message was installed by the Tacoma Boosters on the shores of the lake facing the exposition. Among the highlights of the expo were “the Largest Flag in the World,” flown by cadets from Washington State University; and William Dubilier’s spanking new invention, the “wireless telephone” (actually, a precursor to the radio). Tacoma’s claim to fame is revealed on a postcard from the time: “The Longest Shoreline Electric Sign in the World Seen at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.”
In 2005, the Tacoma Arts Commission turned the iconic image into a poster and included it as a free insert in the Art at Work catalog. With its modern-looking font and retro vibe, it became an instant hit, snapped up and even framed by admirers. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Art at Work, it seems only right to resurrect the image and the slogan that so many Tacomans can’t get enough of. Stay tuned for the next appearance of You’ll Like Tacoma – in a startling new form.