Skip to main content

With $100, a Seattle teenager launched the company that would become UPS

If you’ve been on the Seattle Underground Tour, you know that UPS launched here.

If you just said, “Wait, what?” this story is for you.

It starts in 1907 with a young man named Jim Casey. According to Dan McMackin, spokesperson for UPS, Casey came up with the idea to take messages from people and deliver them to others who didn’t have phones.

Messenger services existed in Seattle already, and competition was stiff. But Jim Casey had strict policies of customer service and low rates, and his personal mantra was “best service and lowest rates.”

Jim Casey, then 19, borrowed $100 and bought a bank of telephones and rented an office below a saloon in Pioneer Square — that office remains, but it’s underground.

He found that people wanted more than messages delivered, and he started a service called “Rushing the Growler.” His crew of brothers and other teenagers would deliver beer, usually to people in boarding houses. They also delivered food and meals.

They called themselves American Messenger Service. Later, they would become United Parcel Service, or UPS.

One of Casey’s big breaks came when he convinced the Bon Marche that he could deliver their goods as well or better, and at a lower cost.

“To convince them, he painted all his trucks brown,” McMackin said. “The brown didn’t show the dirt. It kept costs down because they didn’t have to wash trucks or their uniforms as much.”

UPS has since moved its headquarters to Atlanta, but McMackin said the company remains connected to Seattle.

“It’s where we were founded,” he said, “the birth place of our company.”

He noted that UPS still maintains Waterfall Park in downtown Seattle. “We love Seattle and we have very strong ties to the area,” he said.

The Casey family still touts its connections to Seattle in other ways too.

In 1948, Jim Casey and his siblings established the Annie E. Casey, named for their mother, a widow, to help kids with tough lives. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation website, Jim Casey knew what poverty felt like. The Marguerite Casey Foundation in Seattle, which also stems from the Casey fortune, was founded by the littlest sister.

Correction 1/3/2019: Due to an editing error, this story previously muddled when the Annie E. Casey Foundation was established.

Why you can trust KUOW