The City of Kirkland was named after a British-born steel tycoon, Peter Kirk, who came to the Northwest in the 1880s seeking new development opportunities. Kirk envisioned developing a "Pittsburgh of the West" on the eastern shore of Lake Washington - a bustling new town whose main economy would be focused around steel production.
In 1880, the Moss Bay Iron and Steel Works was built by Kirk and several prominent Seattle businessmen. They hoped to tap the rich mineral resources of Snoqualmie Pass and believed that a ship canal would soon be cut through Seattle to Puget Sound, opening Lake Washington to Pacific Rim trade. A rail line to the Pass and a ship canal to Puget Sound were both constructed, but too late to save Kirk's dream. Due to a stock market crash in 1893, the mill closed without producing any steel.
Despite the steel mill's closure, Kirkland incorporated in 1905 with a population of 400. The primary concern of the new Kirkland City Council was the improvement of roads, buildings, and the Lake Washington shoreline.
The two most successful industries in Kirkland's early history were wool milling and ship building. The first wool mill in the State of Washington was established in Kirkland in 1892. It produced wool products for Alaska Gold Rush prospectors and for the U.S. military during World War I.
Kirkland's ship-building industry began on the Lake Washington waterfront with the construction of ferries. For 20 years, most of the boats on Lake Washington were either built or repaired in the Kirkland area. The 1917 opening of the ship canal also opened Lake Washington to ocean-going vessels. By 1940, Kirkland's Lake Washington Shipyard was building warships for the U.S. Navy. More than 25 warships were built during World War II on what is now Carillon Point.
For most of its history, the adjoining Town of Houghton was a separate community. By the 1960's, the interests of Houghton and Kirkland began to converge. In 1968, the citizens of Houghton elected to join Kirkland to become one city with a population of 13,500.
The City of Kirkland continues to grow. In 1974, the Totem Lake neighborhood became part of Kirkland. The neighborhoods of South Juanita, North Rose Hill, and South Rose Hill joined Kirkland in 1988, bringing the city to its present population. At the time, these were the largest annexations undertaken in the state in nearly two decades, adding three and one-half square miles to the city as well as 16,000 new residents.
Peter Kirk's dream of a city on the east shore of Lake Washington has been fulfilled, although not exactly as he imagined it. Today, Kirkland is a vibrant and thriving community of more than 80,000 people.