Early Cable Car History:

  The driving force behind the San Francisco cable car system came from a man who witnessed a horrible accident on a typically damp summer day in 1869. Andrew Smith Hallidie saw the toll slippery grades could extract when a horse- drawn streetcar slid backwards under its heavy load. The steep slope with wet cobblestones and a heavily weighted vehicle combined to drag five horses to their deaths. Although such a sight would stun anyone, Hallidie and his partners had the know-how to do something about the problem.

  Hallidie had been born in England and moved to the U.S. in 1852. His father filed the first patent in Great Britain for the manufacture of wire- rope. As a young man, Hallidie found uses for this technology in California's Gold Country. He used the wire-rope when designing and building a suspension bridge across Sacramento's American River. He also found another use for the wire-rope when pulling heavy ore cars out of the underground mines on tracks. The technology was in place for pulling cable cars.

  The next step bringing Hallidie closer to his fate was moving his wire- rope manufacturing to San Francisco. All that was now needed was seeing the accident for the idea to become full blown-a cable car railway system to deal with San Francisco's fearsome hills.

  Cable Car Chronology:

  • 1852 - Andrew Hallidie arrives from Great Britain
  • 1869 - Hallidie witnessed horse-car accident and had inspiration for a cable railway
  • 1873 August 2 - Andrew Hallidie tested the first cable car system near the top of Nob Hill at Clay and Jones Streets
  • 1873 Sept. 1 - Clay Street line starts public service at an estimated cost to build of $85,150
  • 1877 - Sutter Street Railroad converts from animal power to cable with no break in service
  • 1878 April 10 - Californa Street Cable Railroad Company (Cal Cable) goes into service
  • 1880 Feb. - Geary Street, Park and Ocean Railroad began service
  • 1881 - Dunedin, New Zealand starts cable car service. Stays in service until 1957
  • 1882 Jan. - Chicago opens it's own cable car system much to winter wind-chilled pedestrians' pleasure
  • 1882 Jan. - Presidio and Ferries Railroad (Union Street line) opens service
  • 1883 August - Market Street Cable Railway starts its first line
  • 1887 - Washington-Mason powerhouse and caarbarn built
  • 1887-88 - Frank sprague created the first successful electric streetcar system in Richmond, Virginia
  • 1888 March 28 - Powell Street cable car service started by Ferries & Cliff House Railway Company
  • 1889 - Cal Cable experiments with a double-ended car with open sections at the ends
  • 1889 August - Omnibus Railroad & Cable Company started operating
  • 1891 - Cal Cable replaced its two-car trains with double-ended cars
  • 1892 April - First electric streetcars with overhead wires began running in San Francisco
  • 1906 April 18 - San Francisco's Great Earthquake damages the cable cars, allowing United Railroads (URR) to convert much of the city to streetcar service
  • 1912 May - Eight cable car lines remained in service in San Francisco
  • 1929 November - Market Street Railway (formerly URR) ends service on the Pacific Avenue line
  • 1941 April - Castro cable line taken over by buses
  • 1942 February - Sacramento-Clay line taken over by buses
  • 1944 September - The City and County of San Francisco took over the Market Street Railway with its two Powell Street cable lines. Cal Cable last privately held transit system in San Francisco
  • 1946 - Committee release statistics proving cable cars lost less money than Muni buses
  • 1946 November - Committee succeeds in getting a charter amendment to save the Powell Street cables on the ballot
  • 1947 - Mayor Lapham attempts to close down cable car system
  • 1947 March 4 - Friedel Klussman rallied a new group called the Citizen's Committee to Save the Cable Cars
  • 1947 April 3 - The Citizen's Committee to Save the Cable Cars began a petition drive for a charter amendment with the City of San Francisco to save the cable cars
  • 1947 May 1 - The City Attorney ruled against the Utilities Manager James Turner, thereby allowing the citizens of San Francisco to vote on the charter amendment to continue operating the cable car system
  • 1947 Nov. 4 - Measure 10 won by a vote of 166,989 to 51,457 forcing the City of San Francisco to maintain and operate the Powell Street cable car system
  • 1951 July - Cal Cable's three lines were shut down
  • 1952 January - The City purchased and reopened Cal Cable's lines and powerhouse at California and Hyde
  • 1954 Feb. - The Jones Street Shuttle was eliminated
  • 1954 May - The California Street line was shortened to cover only Presidio to Van Ness Avenues. The O'Farrell, Jones & Hyde line stopped running
  • 1954 June - The Cable Car Lady, Friedel Klussmann and her Citizens' Committee were outmaneuvered when they mounted a new campaign to save the cable cars. A "Yes" vote on Proposition E meant abolishing half the cable car system; a "No" meant all 5 lines in the system would be saved. Proposition E narrowly passed setting the stage for today's cable car system
  • 1956 Sept. 2 - Car # 524 made the last trip on the Washington-Jackson line
  • 1957 December - All the current lines were now running after the installation of a new turntable at Hyde and Beach Streets so the single-ended Powell Street cars could turn around and all the cables were linked to the Washington-Mason powerhouse
  • 1964 Oct. 1 - Official ceremony at Hyde and Beach designated San Francisco's cable car system a special "moving" National Historic Landmark
  • 1971 November - Vote to protect cable car schedules thanks again to a drive by the Cable Car Lady, Friedel Klussmann and her citizens' group
  • 1973 Aug.2 - Cable Car Centennial celebrated by loading Clay St. Cable Car #8 onto a truck and driving it on the Clay St. hill
  • 1982 to June 1984 - Cable car system rebuilt and historic cable cars refurbished
  • 1984 June 21 - Festivities celebrated the return of full cable car service with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Union Square followed by a parade up Powell Street led by the U.S. Marine band followed by cable cars
  • 1997 March 1 - SFCableCar.com goes online
  • 1997 March 4 - Celebration installing a new collage at the car barn commemorating the 50th anniversary of Friedel Klussmann's saving the cable cars replacement by buses
  • 1998 Jan. 15 - First female grip operator, Fannie Mae Barnes, operates a cable car after developing the great upper body strength needed for the grip and brakes


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