By UW Sustainability | Aug 17, 2015

UW's ENVIR 480: Sustainability Studio class in the Program on the Environment presents students with a sustainability topic which they engage in as part of an experiential learning course. The topics change each quarter - this spring, the students researched the UW's environmental history. This is part of a series of posts by the students on some of the information they uncovered.

The early years of the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories were marked by a number of moves until a suitable permanent location was found.

The labs provide a base for marine research on San Juan Island. The first incarnation was in 1904 as Puget Sound Biological Station in a single cabin loaned to UW Zoology professor Trevor Kincaid and UW Botany professor Theodore C. Frye. In 1906, studies moved to a cannery building whose operations had been suspended for lack of sufficient water supply. In 1909 there was another move to a location on land donated by Friday Harbor resident Andrew Newhall. This location hosted professors and students from over 30 different colleges study zoology, ecology, botany, embryology, and more.

In 1916, however, UW President Henry Suzzallo received a letter from Frye, then the director of the Friday Harbor research station, detailing the problems with the location of the labs. Frye stated that the steep hillsides on the property often became slippery and muddy in the rain, and that their site (which only included 400 feet of shoreline) was too small to conduct proper field experimentation studies. Most notably, Frye stated that nearby sewage and cannery effluent polluted the water, requiring them to leave their site to acquire usable seawater samples. The next year, the UW Board of Regents applied to the U.S. War Department for it to grant land at Point Caution to the university. The land was finally granted in 1921, when President Warren G. Harding signed House Resolution 1475, which stated that the land was “for the use of the University of Washington, some four hundred and eighty four acres of land on the east side of San Juan Island,” for "a biological station and general university research purposes." Work began immediately and in 1924 - despite construction not being complete on all buildings - some classes began at the new location. Since 1924, the Friday Harbor Labs have continued to grow and expand, and in 1930, officially became a part of the newly-formed UW Oceanographic Laboratories.

In the more than 100 years since being founded, the Friday Harbor Laboratories have been a source of pride for not only the University, but also the people of Friday Harbor. The research station is a driving force in the biological exploration of the region and has passed along the love of outdoors to all those who have attended its summer sessions. The Friday Harbor Labs continue to be a source of knowledge in environmental and conservation issues.

By Sarah Geyer

For more information on the environmental history of UW, see our interactive timeline "A Century of Sustainability" at, including this photo of students at the early Friday Harbor research station: