Tuesday, February 9, 2010

San Francisco - Few days Before 1906 Earthquake

Actual footage, San Francisco Street car ride 1906
Really something to watch. Sort of a slice of time out of the past.

This fascinating bit of film was shot from the San Francisco Market Street car a few days before the '06 earthquake. Amazing to see the casual way the early cars just wove in an out of traffic and the pedestrians seemingly taking their lives in their hands as they walked in front of anything on wheels. Notice the heavy goods wagons running on tracks on the right as they get close to the Ferry Building. The wagons appear to have extra large steel wheels with a standard track width. And what about the fat cop with his truncheon ready to deal with any civil disturbances. I wonder what he did during the earthquake.

Here's some comment from a local historian:

This gets identified as 1905, and I've even seen 1909, but recent research by some transit experts concludes that it was done possibly on Monday, April 16, 1906 or Tuesday, April 17! Yep, the day or two before the earthquake that would greatly alter this landscape. The jury is out, but Spring 1906 is the current dating.

The other interesting thing is to watch the traffic and the chances people took when crossing the street. Street accidents were endemic throughout the US as the country changed with the advent of the horseless carriage. The cable cars that are visible were running at a predictable 9.2 MPH. Horses moved slowly on city streets too. But the automobile could reach speeds of 20 MPH! The early autos had the steering wheel on the right, then we standardized it to the left.

The rules of the road were evolving. Major train crossing had crossing lights, but rural crossing were only marked with a sign and you were responsible for your own safety in crossing the tracks and looking for the trains a coming. Even signal lights in cities didn't evolve until the 1920s. The cop directing traffic was about the only traffic control in use until then. As life sped up,we devised ways to protect the public, but it evolved slowly and unfortunately a lot of people died getting where we have some civility on city streets.