Visit our Seattle retail store at 2500 15th Ave West (a mile south of the Ballard Bridge)
8AM to 5:30PM weekdays, 9AM to 5PM Saturdays, closed Sundays and major holidays.
A Bit of Maritime History In A “Dot-Com” Age
The year was 1897. Gold had been discovered in the Klondike. Seattle, the nearest major, deep water, rail head sea port in the continental United States, had become a boom-town city as the “jumping-off” point for the Alaska Gold Rush. Washington had been admitted as a State of the Union only eight years earlier. The son of a German immigrant, Max Kuner was drawn to Seattle as an ideal place to establish a business catering to the navigation needs of ships calling on the port. His ”Max Kuner Company” opened in 1897 a few doors down the hall from the U.S. Customs Office then at Third Ave. and Spring Street, where, in those days the ship’s master had to personally clear the vessel through customs. A few years later the business moved to a larger location at 94 Columbia Street where the banner sign proclaimed “Kuner, Nautical Optician”. Additional lettering in the windows announced: “Nautical Instruments, compasses adjusted, chronometer and watch maker.” The business also specialized in nautical charts and publications. Today, over a hundred years later, that still describes the core of the business.
The twentieth century passed across the stage of history: Two world wars. A Great Depression. The Max Kuner Company moved to different locations in Downtown Seattle, always not far from the waterfront: The foot of Marion Street opposite the Coleman Dock Ferry Terminal, 1324 Second Avenue, and later, 1914 Fourth Avenue. Max Kuner died in the 1930’s. His widow, Anna C. Kuner carried on the business until her death about 1943. Tom Williamson, a watchmaker who had been employed by Kuner bought the business and continued until his death in 1949.
During this same time period, Seattle native Leonard Shrock had gone to sea on American President Lines ships to the Orient and Hawaii, had graduated from the University of Washington, and been employed by the Navy as a ships’ compass adjustor, and as a trainer of compass adjustors in New York Harbor during World Ward II. Prior to the War Leonard had worked as a compass adjustor for the Kuner Company. After the War he became self-employed in Seattle as a compass adjustor. In May, 1948 Leonard opened his own small nautical instrument shop in a little frame building on Dock Four at the Port of Seattle’s Fishermen’s Terminal, and hired his first employee.
In October, 1949, a small article in the Seattle Times with Leonard’s photo announced that he had purchased the Max Kuner Company from the Williamson family following the death of Tom Williamson. At that time the store was located off the pedestrian viaduct, opposite the Ferry Terminal at Marion Street and Alaskan Way. From that time for nearly five decades the company had a store in Downtown Seattle and one at Fisherman’s Terminal.
In 1979 the name was changed from Max Kuner Company to Captain’s Nautical Supplies to better reflect what we do, and the business, after 82 years as a proprietorship or a partnership, was incorporated. In 1996 the two Seattle locations were consolidated into the present location with sales floors on two levels a mile south of Fishermen’s Terminal and the Ballard Bridge.
Today, Captain’s, with a footprint in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries, is likely the oldest business of its type in America. Modern technology now blends with ancient maritime tradition, and old fashioned, hands-on service. Real people still answer the phone. No, we don’t do it “24/7”. But if you call during our hours of 8AM to 5:30PM weekdays, 9AM to 5PM Saturdays, Pacific Time, you will not be greeted with an automated attendant. Leonard Shrock continued serving customers in the store beyond his ninetieth birthday, passing from this life on 26 May 2004. Now, a staff of 12 – many with Captains for ten to thirty years – answers your questions, fills your orders, and repairs your instruments. We think Max Kuner would be pleased. Visitors to our stores are often amazed at the depth of stock in our specialties.
Captain’s is not a general chandlery with rope, paint, and bilge pumps. Our business is:
- World-wide Coverage in Marine Charts – Both traditional paper and electronic
- Plotting Tools, Sextants, Magnetic Compasses, Clocks, Barometers, & Weather Instruments
- Nautical Books & Publications, and Books on Astronomy and Bird Watching
- Binoculars, and Spotting Scopes for every purpose, and Astronomical Telescopes
- U. S. and Foreign Flags and Code of Signals Flags, Courtesy Flags
- Brass Bells, Oil Lamps, Pocket Knives, Nautical Gifts and Décor Items, Maps and Posters
- REPAIRS of Clocks, Chronometers, Barometers, Compasses, and Sextants