The History of San Francisco

By | October 3, 2021

As in many states in the USA, the first residents of the Bay of San Francisco were Indians. Above all, the culture of the Travians Muwekna Ohlohe lived here. It was not until the 16th century that the first explorers from Europe came to the area. At that time, Spain sent the two explorers Herman Cortes and Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo on two expeditions to the north of America to explore the west coast. While Cotes discovered a peninsula between the gulf and the ocean and named it California, it was only ten years later that Cabrillo officially declared it the island of the Spanish. However, the island was quite difficult to find at that time, which was often due to the fog. For this reason, the actual entrance to the bay was only discovered in 1775.

The European settlers

The first settlers from Europe came around 1776 to settle in what is now San Francisco. Spanish soldiers and missionaries founded a mission and church with the illustrious name Nuestra Señora de los Dolores on a lagoon on June 29th. A guard room, which was to serve for the security of the mission, was built at the Golden Gate. The city in which the mission was built was named by the missionaries some time later in memory of St. Francis of Assisi San Francisco de Asís, in English it became Saint Francis. A nearby settlement was named Yerba Buena. The Spanish Franciscan Junipero Serra also played a major role in founding and leading the mission. This is still very much revered today. In 1792 the British explorer George Vancouver founded a small settlement near the settlement of Yerba Buena. This became a starting point for European and Russian settlers, fur traders and pioneers. Today it is the Downtown district in San Francisco.

After the end of the war between the USA and Mexico, the city came under the control of the USA in 1846. The gold rush at that time also caused the first major boom in San Francisco. The population increased from around 900 to over 20,000 in just one year. Irish immigrants in particular use their chance to live here. During this time the city developed into the economic center of California. Many well-known companies were founded, including Levi Strauss and Co.

The San Francisco earthquake

On the morning of April 18, 1906, San Francisco was struck by an earthquake and ravaged by fire. The mission building survived the earthquake unscathed, making it the oldest building in the region today. The city itself was gradually rebuilt. Around 1930 the two bridges, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge, were completed. This made the city even easier to reach, which also led to a growth in population. In 1939 the island of Treasure Island was established, where shortly after the world exhibition “Golden Gate International Exposition” took place.

The United Nations and the hippies

In 1945 the post-war conference took place in the city. This is where the UN and the United Nations Charter came into being. Therefore, San Francisco is still considered the founding site of the United Nations. In the 1960’s many hippie movements against the political system took place in the city. This is where the hippies’ climax took place in 1967 with the Summer of Love. Since the 1970’s, there were also more and more gay men in San Francisco. The Castro district in particular became a stronghold for homosexuals. To this day, San Francisco is considered “the” city of homosexuals in the USA. At the end of the 20th century, information technology gained momentum in San Francisco, and especially in Silicon Valley. During the dotcom boom in the 1990’s, more and more software companies, entrepreneurs and marketing experts moved to San Francisco and had a profound effect on the social landscape.


San Francisco is one of the most fascinating cities in California. The landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge, is well known from Hollywood films and the San Francisco Bay Area offers a breathtaking view of the whole city and the beautiful bay. If you are on holiday in “Frisco”, you should not only visit Fisherman’s Wharf or the Golden Gate Bridge, but also take a ride on the legendary cable cars!

The city tram

The legendary cable cars are the San Francisco cable tram. Many of you know the city from films and know that the streets of San Francisco are sometimes quite steep. If you don’t necessarily want to climb it on foot, you should choose the cable car that is popular with tourists. These cable cars are one of the few National Historic Landmarks in the USA that are on the road. In addition, the cable cars are the only remaining cable trams in the world with decoupling cars.

The history of the cable cars

On August 2, 1873, Andrew Smith Hallidie successfully tested the first cable car system near Nob Hill on Clay Street. On September 1, 1873, the first Clay Street line began service. Other cable car lines followed from 1877 to 1892. In 1874, Leland Stanford founded the California Street Cable Railroad company.

The first line ran on California Street and is the oldest of the active lines still in service today. Geary Street, Park & ​​Ocean Railway, Presidio & Ferries Railway and Market Street Cable Railway followed a few years later. In 1888 the company Ferries and Cliff House Railway opened two lines and also bought the old Clay Street Hill Railway and integrated its line into the Sacramento-Clay route. As the last cable car company, the Omnibus Railroad & Cable Company began operations in San Francisco in 1889.

Each company had its own route network. Due to the different construction of the wagons and rails, it was not possible for the competition to drive on foreign routes. The great earthquake on April 18, 1906 destroyed all cable car lines and during the reconstruction mainly electric trams were built. The cable cars only survived on the steepest streets. From May 1912, eight of the lines were still in use, in areas where the inclines were too steep for electric trams.

The cable cars today

Since 1964, Powell-Hyde Line 60, Powell-Mason Line 59 and California Street Line 61 are still three lines in operation. Powell Hyde Line 60 runs north from Powell and Market, past Union Square to Nob Hill. From there she crosses California Street west to Jackson Street. If the line goes east, it crosses Washington Street to Hyde Street, where the line goes north again and passes through Russian Hill. From there it goes on along the coast to Fisherman`s-Wharf. This line is particularly popular with visitors to the city.

The Powell Mason Line 59, like Line 60, first runs from Market Street towards Nob Hill. In Nob Hill, however, it then runs north along Mason Street to Columbus Avenue and Taylor Street. This line ends three blocks before the iconic Pier 43, where the historic warships SS Jeremiah O Brien and the USS Pampanito lie.

California Street Route 61 runs along the entire length of California Street. It ends on Van Ness Avenue to the west and at the intersection of Drum Street and Market Street to the east. The Financial District is also located there.

If you are visiting San Francisco, you should not miss this experience!

The History of San Francisco