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E. N. (Earl) Steele was born April 19, 1881 in Altoona, Iowa, the son of John and Margaret (Newell) Steele. He married Clara Remdt of Findley, Ohio, on December 25, 1917. They had three children: Margaret Steele Everst, Richard N. Steele, and Bonnie J. Steele Lindsay.
Mr. Steele was public school teacher in Tenino, Washington in 1903-04. A lawyer, he was a member of the Washington State Bar Association engaged in private law practice in Olympia from 1904-45. He was owner and manager of the Oyster Company in Olympia, 1922-50, the Rockpoint Oyster Company at Samish Bay, Washington (1922-50), and past president of the Pacific Coast Oyster Growers Association. He authored two notable books about oysters, The Rise and Decline of the Olympia Oyster and The Immigrant (Pacific) Oyster.
In 1925, when the City of Olympia changed from a Mayor/Council form of government to the Commissioner form, Steele was elected Commissioner of Finance, a position he held until he was elected Mayor and Commissioner of Public Safety in 1932.
Steele was also elected to the Washington State Legislature as a State Senator representing the Thurston County area. Earl N. Steele died in 1968.
The Following is the Forward to Steele’s The Immigrant Oyster. It was written by Charles R. Pollack of Seattle in 1962.
It is only occasionally that a man who starts the development of a new idea or industry, stays with it through the formative stages, meeting problems as they arise; and the fruition of his dreams in a successful industry developed; employing several hundred people; providing profits for not only those who worked with him through the trying periods of small successes, but to others later engaged in the industry; hampered by temporary obstacles and failures, to the achieved goal, such a man is the author of this book.
It has been this writer’s privilege to know the author of this book since his Pacific oyster operations started in 1924, when his company imported the first large cargo of Japanese oyster spat (seed) from the Miyagi Prefecture area of Japan. Previous small shipments of trial spat had been imported for a few preceding years prior to Messrs. Steele and Barnes taking over the program under the name of the Rock Point Oyster Company at Blanchard, Washington.
Earl Newell Steele was born in Altoona near Des Moines, Iowa, April 19, 1881; lived at Perry, Iowa, where he graduated from high school and entered the University of Iowa in 1900; graduated in law the Spring of 1903. It is a recorded fact that Steele traveled from Perry, Iowa, to Iowa City by bicycle, and mainly through his own efforts financed his schooling and graduated in law from Iowa State University in 1903.
Coming to Washington in August, 1903, Steele taught school at Tenino near Olympia for eight months, and then having passed the State Bar examination, he opened his law office at Olympia in 1904, where he practiced his profession for over forty years.
Public spirited and interested in the development of his community, he served as a Director of the Olympia Chamber of Commerce three years and its President two years; elected Olympia City Commissioner of Finance he served seven years, and was appointed Mayor to replace the Mayor who passed away; he served two years in this position; elected State Senator from Thurston County in 1932, he served four years in the Washington State Senate with very considerable distinction.
In 1907 and continuing to this date, being so close to the Oyster operations around Olympia, Steele took a great interest in the practical growing of oysters and with it the scientific development and improvement of the industry. With his summer home on Oyster Bay, the large production area for the Native Olympia Oysters, his interest which might have been called a hobby, developed with the purchase of oyster acreage into a regular profitable business side line.
Jn 1912 he was elected Secretary of the Olympia Oyster Growers Association and held that office until 1941, over 35 years. Principally through his tireless efforts the advertising of the Olympia Oyster Growers Association developed the Pacific Coast demand for these succulent bivalves to the point where the entire available production was sold each year.
On December 25, 1917, Mr. Steele married Clara Ann Remdt in Findlay, Ohio, and their three children, now grown, with families of their own, are Margaret Ann, Richard N., and Bonny Jean. Richard N. and Margaret’s husband, Marshall Hinton, now operate the Rock Point Oyster Company’s plant.
In 1930, it was through his efforts the Pacific Coast Oyster Growers Association was formed. He was president and secretary until 1945, and a Trustee for several years afterwards, as well as a valued consultant to date.
Beginning with the scientific study of the propagation of the Native Olympia Oyster and since early in 1920 pioneering the importation of Japanese transplanted oysters, now known to the trade as the Pacific Oyster, and engaging in the culture of this species for these many years, it goes without Saying that Earl Newell Steele, known to all of us as the Daddy of the Pacific Oyster Industry, after fifty five years, should have a whole book full of interest, information, and observations on oysters for the permanent record.
In 1957, the Olympia Oyster Growers Association published Steele’s book “The Rise and Decline of the Olympia Oyster”. A story of men’s lives, the life of the oyster which they cultivated, and the Olympia Oyster industry.
Personal and most agreeable contacts over the years since 1924 makes me welcome this opportunity to salute “E. N.” and I feel deeply honored to be asked to provide this foreword.
CHARLES R. POLLOCK
Seattle, May 1, 1962
The following article about E. N. Steele is reprinted from The Olympian newspaper’s Mainly About People series published in 1964.
A new chapter has been added to the long and varied career of E. N. Steele, pioneer lawyer, legislator and businessman from Thurston County.
Eighty-three year old Steele is the author of a book about Pacific Oysters – the oysters that grow from the Japanese seed he was first to import, cultivate and put on the market.
Titled The Immigrant Oyster (Ostrea Gigas), the book is published in cooperation with the Pacific Coast Oyster Growers Association Incorporated, and is being distributed now.
The Immigrant Oyster tells the story of the first planting of the Japanese seed in Bellingham’s Samish Bay 42 years ago, problems with importing the seed to the West Coast, troubles with pollution and the growth of the experiment into a profitable industry.
Steele, who also wrote The Rise and Decline of the Olympia Oyster which was published in 1957, now lives in Des Moines, but spends his summers at Rock Point Oyster Company property on Oyster Bay, where his home is located.
Just beyond the rolltop desk in the study of his home is a window that opens on to a long line of dikes protecting the company’s oyster bed.
Steele remembers when there were no dikes, and oyster growing was mostly an Indian occupation.
That was in 1903, the year the young lawyer named Steele was fresh out of the University of Minnesota and ready to make his mark in Olympia.
Steele and oysters is much a story of friendship. He tasted them, liked them, and by 1904 he was growing them on the same Toten Inlet Tidelands his home overlooks.
Young Steele was to have a colorful career in the Olympia area. In 1925 he became the first City of Olympia commissioner of finance when the city switched from the mayor-council form of government to the commission form.
He served until 1931 in this capacity, and from 1932 to 1934 he was Olympia’s mayor and commissioner of public safety.
But he will likely to be remembered primarily in government circles as the senator from Thurston County who in 1933 wrote the Steele Act. The law provided for the state’s control of liquor sales after the end of prohibition and established the State Liquor Control Board.
But oysters are his first love, and from 1933 to 1945 Steele served as the first president of the Pacific Coast Oyster Gorwers Association, comprised of the leading men in the industry.
A long-time friend, Jay Bolster, of Olympia, says Steele is probably the most widely known oyster grower in the United States.