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San Francisco


San Francisco Historical Information

San Francisco is a young City but its history has already been marked by major events. This space provides an overview of these events to give visitors a basic understanding of the historical forces that have shaped this City through years of incredible growth.

photo of Great Fire, April 18, 1906

Photo of the Great Fire following the Great Earthquake, April 18, 1906.


San Francisco Historical Timeline

10,000 B.C
ohlone About 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, the Bay area was inhabited by the native people indigenous to the area, later to be called the Ohlone (a Miwok Indian word meaning "western people"). The Ohlone, composed of forty or so culturally diverse native tribes was a mobile society of hunter-gatherers that lived in the coastal area between Point Sur and the San Francisco Bay.
Cabrillo Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed along the coast near San Francisco and discovered the Farallones (16 Nov). Later in 1575 Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeno landed in Drake's Bay, claimed the land for Spain, and named it Puerto de San Francisco. In 1579 Sir Francis Drake landed in Drake's Bay, claimed the land for England, and named it Nova Albion.
early map Scouts, including Jose Francisco Ortega, from a Spanish expedition led by Don Gaspar de Portola discovered the Golden Gate (2 Nov).
mission dolores A Spanish expedition led by Juan Bautista de Anza reached the Presidio (27 Mar) while a colonization party led by Lieutenant Moraga reached the original site of Mission Dolores (27 June). The United States of America declared its Independence from Britain (July 4). The Mission of San Francisco de Asis was officially dedicated (9 Oct).
Yerba Buena As the Mexican-American War unfolded, the United States took possession of a portion of California which included San Francisco (7 July). That year Yerba Buena (founded in 1835) was renamed San Francisco by an ordinance published in the California Star newspaper by Washington A. Bartlett, Chief Magistrate
US Flag California grows as the discovery of gold in 1848 drives people westward. As a result of this growth institutions are established and in 1850 the California Legislature created the original counties, including San Francisco (18 Feb). The San Francisco County government was established on 1 April while on April 15th the City of San Francisco was incorporated by act of the legislature. Later, California became the 31st state admitted to the Union (9 Sep).
SF Map The Consolidation Act of 1856, combining the City and County of San Francisco went into effect (1 July). In 1856 San Francisco had a population of 30,000.
Fort point The current Fort Point was completed to defend San Francisco(15 Feb). This was also the year when the Civil War began when Confederate forces assaulted Fort Sumter (12 Apr).
Quake of 1865 San Francisco was hit on Oct. 8th, 1865, by a great earthquake that caused extensive damage in the City. Unfortunately even more damage and loss of life occurred when the City was hit by another severe earthquake at 7:53 A.M. on October 22, 1868.
Cable car Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss, obtained a patent for the jeans, and began selling them in the same year. In the same year, Andrew S. Hallidie tested his first cable car system near the top of Nob Hill at Clay and Jones Streets (2 Aug). The next month the Clay Street line started public service.
Quake 1906 The Great Earthquake struck on April 18, 1906, at 5:12 a.m. It's magnitude was 8.25 on the Richter scale, and it lasted 49 seconds. The Great Fire that followed caused more damage than the earthquake, destroying about 28,000 buildings. About 3,000 were thought to have died that day while 225,000 were left homeless.
City hall San Francisco builds a Palace of Fine Arts as it hosts the Panama Pacific International Exposition (20 Feb - 4 Dec). Dedication of new City Hall by Mayor James Rolph (28 Dec). San Francisco is a growing city as the US prepares to enter World War I.
Lombard street A portion of Lombard Street was created into “the crookedest street in the world.” Also the Steinhart Aquarium and Golden Gate Park, opened to public (29 Sep).
Coit Tower The Coit Tower on Telegraph hill was completed. The tower was named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit, philanthropist and admirer of the fire fighters at the 1906 earthquake fire, who left funds to the City for beautification of San Francisco. As a result, it is not a coincidence that the 210 ft. tall art deco Tower's design is reminiscent of a fire hose nozzle.
Bay bridge After the Great depression, the New Deal period leads to the construction of major public works. The Bay Bridge was officially opened on November 12, 1936 to connect San Francisco with Oakland and the east bay. The 8.25 miles long bridge was built using 152,000 tons of steel and 1 million cubic yards of concrete.
Golden gate bridge The Golden Gate Bridge was officially opened to pedestrian traffic on May 27, 1937 and to vehicular traffic the next day. The total length of the bridge that many engineers said that could not be built was 1.7 miles. The width of the Bridge is 90 ft while the total original combined weight of the Bridge, anchorages, and approaches was 894,500 tons or 811,500,000 kg.
World war On Dec. 8, 1941 the United States enters World War II after Japanese forces attack the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Shortly thereafter, Japanese people are evacuated in San Francisco and other cities. World war II will show the world terror as 40 million people die on battlefields, gas chambers and gulags: Hitler's Nazi, National-Socialist regime, slaughters millions of Jews while Stalin's Communist regime starves to death millions of Russians.
United nations The United Nations World Charter of Security was signed in San Francisco (26 June) as  the world begins its road to relative peace: World War II had ended with the surrender of the German Nazi (7 May) and the Japanese (14 Aug) forces after the U.S. takes Berlin and drops nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki..
Transamerica Transamerica Pyramid was officially opened. It has 48 stories with a total height of 853 feet, including the 212-foot spire. Construction had begun in 1969. It took about 16,000 cubic yards of concrete, encasing more than 300 miles of steel reinforcing rods to build the pyramid.
Moscone Dan White, a disgruntled ex-city supervisor walked into City Hall and killed Harvey Milk, a popular gay city supervisor, and Mayor George Moscone (27 Nov). The killing of Moscone automatically thrust Dianne Feinstein, then president of the Board of Supervisors, into the role of acting mayor. She was subsequently elected to two terms as mayor and later to the U.S. Senate.
Quake of 1989 Late Tuesday afternoon at 5:05 p.m., an earthquake (magnitude 7.1) occurred along the San Andreas fault (17 October). The tremor collapsed a section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge but fortunately caused only 6 deaths. The damage however was estimated at almost three billion dollars in San Francisco, which was approximately one-half of the total damage figure for the entire earthquake zone.
Sept 11 On Sept. 11 middle eastern terrorists crash airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in DC and in Pennsylvania. The attacks caused 3,000 deaths and would subsequently lead the US into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The economic recession that followed, as the investment bubble burst, hit California's and San Francisco's economies hard with thousand of IT ventures and jobs lost.

More Information and Links

History Links:

- Gallery of historical photographs (courtesy of the Museum of the City of San Francisco)
- San Francisco History
Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco: 20th-Century San Francisco Police Department History 
Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco: History of the San Francisco Fire Department 
- The San Francisco Sheriff's Department: Sheriff's Since 1850
- The San Francisco City flag and motto
- Interesting people: Mayor "Sunny" Jim Rolph; Joe Di Maggio, and Jack London.
- State Historical Landmarks (there are over 40 landmarks in the City)
- The Great Earthquake of 1906

Historical Agencies and Museums in San Francisco:

Cable Car Museum
California Historical Society
Foundation for San Francisco's Architectural Heritage
Gay and Lesbian Historical Society of Northern California
Golden Gate Railroad Museum (GGRM)
The Gold Rush Trail
The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco
Presidio Army Museum
San Francisco Fire Department Museum
San Francisco Museum and Historical Society
San Francisco History Association
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and Museum
San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum
San Francisco Public Library History Center
Treasure Island Museum (Closed in 1997, web site still functional)
Wells Fargo History Museums