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  • San Francisco 1906, before the earthquake and subsequent fire

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on December 29th, 2011 (All posts by )

    A trip down Market Street before the fire, on April 15th, 1906:

    This is from the Prelinger Archives, which were acquired by the Library of Congress and also are part of the Internet Archive.


    15 Responses to “San Francisco 1906, before the earthquake and subsequent fire”

    1. Michael Kennedy Says:

      I had a patient who was in San Francisco the morning of the earthquake. He was 88 at the time I operated on him for a painful aortic aneurysm. He was 15 the day of the earthquake. He had left home after an operation for appendicitis. He complained about his scar but I told him anyone who survived appendicitis in 1906 shouldn’t complain. John B Murphy described it in 1905.

      Anyway, he didn’t like his stepfather so he left home to see the country. He was asleep in a rooming house when the quake hit about 5 AM. He and the boys sharing the room ran downstairs to the street. The brick dust was so thick they couldn’t see anything. The rooming house across the street had had the front wall fall down into the street and they could see the length of the building. When the shaking stopped, they went back upstairs and packed their bags, then headed out to see the city and what had happened.

      He told me they sat in Union Square and watched the city burn on all four sides. Most of the damage was from fire. They left their bags in a saloon and then, when they went back to get them, the fire was getting close and the saloon was closed. A policeman let them break in to get the bags.

      The water mains were all broken so water was brought in on barges from Oakland and people lined up with pails at the Embarcadero for water. It took a month before he could get a ship out of the city. He eventually made it to Seattle where his sister lived. He walked through Seattle asking stone masons (which his brother-in-law was) where to find his sister

      He eventually ended up with a new car dealership in Omaha, Nebraska. When I knew him, he lived in a mobile home park in El Toro and swam laps in the pool every day. He lived a few more years after his aneurysm surgery. Quite a guy.

    2. Michael Kennedy Says:

      You can see the Embarcadero in the distance at the end of Market Street in the film.

    3. Anonymous Says:

      Market Street was, and is sometimes still, referred to as “The Slot” as illuminated by Jack London’s essay “South of the Slot

    4. Bill Brandt Says:

      The Marina District was actually built from the rubble of the 1906 Earthquake. That’s why with the 1989 Quake most of the fires were in the Marina District – the “earth” was a lot less stable.

    5. melanerpes Says:

      Here’s a modern photo of the cornerstone of the Ferry Building that appears at the very end.

    6. Bill Brandt Says:

      BTW can’t you just smell the horse manure….in the summer?

    7. Jeff the Bobcat Says:

      Imagine what the comments will be in the year 2117 (106 years from now) when people view video of our roads and traffic. “How quaint…” they will say, “look, their vehicles still had wheels.”

    8. Anonymous Says:

      @Jeff – Predicting the future can be a dangerous endeavor. It is fun to look at Popular Science predictions from 30-40-50 years ago – some – like “household computers” are spot-on while others (personal rotor craft instead of cars) – made in the late 1940s for the 1990s – are hilarious.

      The wheel has been around for a long time – don’t discount them ;-)

      Same with internal combustion engines. Remember the predictions of the Wankel engine displacing the piston engine? (I know both are I believe by definition internal combustion)

      I remember reading an interesting article on Mazda – having bought the patent for the Wankel they thought they had an out-of-the-box revolutionary engine – and learned they would have a lot of expensive engineering to do to make it commercially viable.

      (the small German car maker NSU had a Wankel-powered car but it was terribly unreliable)

      Anyway Mazda makes it commercially viable, finds that compared to the piston engine which – Carl Benz made viable for a car in 1886 – anyway there is a question whether Mazda will have a Wankel engine in any new cars.

      Some technology while old is still good and much easier to improve than radically new technology…

    9. Michael Kennedy Says:

      The Wankel engine had poor gas mileage and there didn’t seem to be a way to improve it.

    10. renminbi Says:

      Looks like one of the horse carriages is using the cable car tracks as a convenient ( low friction?) guide way.

    11. Tatyana Says:

      Shorpy has an archive photo of the same street after the quake (see also a very interesting thread)

    12. Mike Doughty Says:

      Did anyone else notice that the automobiles are right-hand drive? I didn’t realize that early vehicles in the US were built this way….I looked it up after viewing this.

    13. Michael Kennedy Says:

      The Marina District was actually built from the rubble of the 1906 Earthquake.

      The Marina District land liquified during the 89 quake and the houses sank to their second floors. The same thing happened in Mexico City some years ago.

    14. Mike Doughty Says:

      An excellent book on the San Francisco earthquake is Simon Winchester’s “A Crack in the Edge of the World’. I read this book about a year ago and found it very informative, like all his books that I’ve read. He has a narrative style, interspersed with anecdotes and some technical details that will inform and hold your interest.

    15. Jeff the Bobcat Says:

      Actually, the wheel thing and technology in general wasn’t my point. I was talking about how the perception of our technology will be just like our perception of the technology of 1906 San Francisco as shown in the video. They will look on with fascination and great interest, and notice small details that may be missed in still photos like using the cable car tracks for wagon wheel guides. I just find it interesting to consider the possible perceptions of the future viewer of our times.

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