By Regan Weeks
Here we are starting another Trail Tales season, introducing many locals to Anacortes stories along the Tommy Thompson Trail. One of my questions as a relative newbie to our island was "who was Tommy Thompson?" In finding the answer, I found double trouble. There were two Tommy Thompsons – father and son, and both have fascinating histories. Tommy Thompson (the father) was essentially the first American chemist to devote his major efforts to investigating the chemistry of sea water.
Born in 1888 on Staten Island, and trained as a chemist, he came to the University of Washington with his wife Harriet to pursue a graduate degree after serving in WWI. He stayed on to eventually become a full professor in 1929. He and Harriet had 3 children: Tommy Jr., born 10/3/1923; Jack, born 9/8/1925, and Harriet born 4/30/1931. During the late 1920s, Thompson became increasingly interested in the difficult problems associated with quantitative analysis of sea water, and spent summers working at the Puget Sound Biological Station on San Juan Island. In the days before large research grants were common, Thompson and his wife agreed to budget 10% of his salary to his research, which brought them both satisfaction. Some additional History: the San Juan Island Puget Sound Biological Station -now UW Friday Harbor Labs- was established in 1903 with the first classes in 1904. Students and teachers lived in tents, washing their own clothes and rowing and sailing to access interesting marine sites. It was a rough life, but students came from all over the world to attend for a few weeks in the summer.