The Port of Friday Harbor is located on San Juan Island in Puget Sound in the State of Washington's San Juan County. The Port of Friday Harbor is the main commercial center for the San Juan Islands, and it is the county seat. The Port of Friday Harbor is located about 18 nautical miles (30 kilometers or 18 miles west-northwest) of the Port of Anacortes. The Port of Friday Harbor is about 68 nautical miles (115 kilometers or 71 miles north-northwest) of the Port of Seattle. In 2010, the US Census reported a population of 2162 people living in the Port of Friday Harbor.
Long a magnet for humans, San Juan Island sits at the intersection of three waterways and offers sheltered harbors, prairie, and woodlands with abundant food sources. The original inhabitants of San Juan Island and what would become the Port of Friday Harbor were the Puget Salish. Archaeological evidence shows that the Salish people and their ancestors have lived in the Port of Friday Harbor area for over ten thousand years. Traces of the maritime Salish culture that developed about 2500 years ago can be found throughout the San Juan Islands.
Europeans brought diseases to the Port of Friday Harbor area and the Puget Salish in the late 18th Century that almost wiped out the native population. Even so, the Salish tolerated and traded with the new settlers. In 1855, the Puget Salish signed the Point Elliott Treaty, creating a government-to-government relationship with the United States and establishing reservations in Washington.
In 1974, the US Supreme Court's Boldt Decision restored fishery rights to the Puget Salish. In the late 20th Century, the Puget Salish established an independent economy based on gambling casinos, tax-free retail tobacco, and their traditional fisheries.
The Hudson's Bay Company claimed San Juan Island in 1845, building a salmon curing station there in 1850. Several years later, the company started a sheep farm. The Port of Friday Harbor gets its name from Joseph Poalie Friday, a Hawaiian who worked at the Hudson's Bay Company Cowlitz sheep farm and raised sheep near the future Port of Friday Harbor. After the Pig War, an 1859 boundary dispute between the United States and Great Britain, the Port of Friday Harbor became the county seat for the newly established San Juan County.
The Port of Friday Harbor was incorporated in 1909, becoming the only incorporated town on the San Juan Islands. Sailing ships and the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet's steamships visited the Port of Friday Harbor regularly carrying passengers, mail, and freight. Ships exported Jan Juan Island apples, cherries, pears, strawberries, cream, eggs, chickens, salmon, peas, grain, and lime from the Port of Friday Harbor.
The difficult period punctuated by the Great Depression, World War II, and competition from growers in Eastern Washington brought an end to the traditional San Juan Island and Port of Friday Harbor industries in the middle 20th Century. But in the 1960s, new industries brought new prosperity to the Port of Friday Harbor in the form of tourism, real estate, construction, and retirement.
Nobel Prizeholder and organic chemist Osamu Shimomura harvested jellyfish at the Port of Friday Harbor docks in the 1960s, leading to the discovery of the proteins aequorin and green fluorescent protein that allow jellyfish to glow green when exposed to blue light. The green fluorescent protein is now a widely-used marker of molecular activity in scientific research.