History of San Francisco


The United States of America has undergone many stages of union throughout its relatively short history. The nation was inhabited by Native Americans, but then was famously "discovered" by Christopher Columbus (under contract to the Spanish crown) upon landing in North America and mistaking it for India in 1492. Slowly, thirteen original colonies were created along the Atlantic seaboard. Lack of representation and high taxes pushed the growing colonies to rebellion from Britain and on July 4, 1776 the colonies issued the Declaration of Independence. The American Revolutionary War ensued and the states the defeated Great Britain and adopted the current United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. This document is still the foundation of the nations as a single republic with a strong central government.

The Yelamu group of the Ohlone tribe were the first inhabitants of the peninsula on which San Francisco was built starting around 3000 BC. It was this group who first interacted with Spanish explorers led by Don Gaspar de Portolà on November 2, 1769. Its coastal location was highly desirable as a center for maritime trade and military action. It only took seven years for the Spanish to establish the Presidio of San Francisco which later developed into the Mission San Francisco de Asís which was to become the city of San Francisco.

The area was still relatively undeveloped in 1821 when it was emancipated from Spain and claimed by Mexico. Englishman William Richardson changed that in 1835 by erecting the first significant homestead outside of Mission San Francisco de Asís and started to lay out a street plan. The settlement known as Yerba Buena began to attract American settlers including Commodore John D. Sloat who claimed California for the United States on July 7, 1846. The Mexican-American War was raging and a massive land grab by both sides was taking place. The USA maintained their hold on "Yerba Buena" and renamed the growing city San Francisco.

It was not until the California Gold Rush of 1848 that the town really became a city. A flood of miners into San Francisco swelled the population from 1,000 in 1848 to 25,000 by December 1849. In light of these new riches, California was granted statehood without going through a period of territorial status in September 9, 1850. Accompanying the many immigrants was something not as welcome- greed. Lawlessness was common and along with the gold trade, prostitution, gambling, and crime became prevalent.

Many new immigrants did not strike it rich and the most profitable trade became the banking industry. Wells Fargo, founded in 1852, was an example of the great success of banks at the time and is still a popular bank in the US. Railroads were another unexpected winner as the owners of the "the Big Four" railroad companies collaborated in the building of the First Transcontinental Railroad. The Port of San Francisco flourished with these new developments and the city witnessed a huge increase in trade. Big names in retail today, like Levi Strauss's dry goods business and Domingo Ghirardelli's chocolates, were just popping up with the growth of San Francisco. To accommodate the growing city population the first cable cars started climbing hills in 1873 and the distinctive Victorian housing sprung up to house the citizens. San Franciscans, proud of their blooming city, turned the rambling west into a community of public parks, schools, churches, and theaters. By the turn of the century, San Francisco was a major city in the United States.

San Francisco's reputation was shaken to the ground by a massive earthquake April 18, 1906. Buildings across the city collapsed, gas lines ruptured and caught fire, and the water lines that could stop the blaze lay broken. Without the use of water, the Presidio Artillery Corps tried to contain the inferno by dynamiting buildings surrounding the blaze. By the end of the disaster, more than three-quarters of the city lay in ruins. Jack London wrote, "Not in history has a modern imperial city been so completely destroyed. San Francisco is gone". It is estimated that thousands of people died and more than half the city's population of 400,000 were left homeless.

The stunned population settled into tent cities in Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, and on the beaches. Rebuilding was first priority and the banks were once again at the forefront. Bank of Italy, later to become Bank of America, provided loans for the people and the grand neighborhoods rose again. The city was officially re-born at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915. San Francisco continued its upward climb in 1939 as it hosted the World's Fair, the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939-40, and created Treasure Island in the middle of the bay to house the event.

During the 50s and 60s, San Francisco's independent nature was recognized by becoming a center for America's counterculture. The Beat Movement thrived here and the hippies flocked to Haight-Ashbury. 1967's Summer of Love was a melting pot of music, psychedelic drugs, sexual freedom, creative expression, and politics. Communal living, sharing resources, and free love were ideals that were actually tried out at this high point in hippie culture. The city was also at the heart of the gay rights movement in the 1970s and retains a strong LGBT community.

1989 saw another massive earthquake, the Loma Prieta earthquake. The quake severely damaged structures in the Marina and South of Market districts and damaged the Embarcadero and Central Freeway enough that they had to be demolished. Extensive work had been done since the devastating 1906 quake to prevent such a calamity and though the effects were severe, casualties, injuries, and homelessness were much lower than the first big quake.

Today's San Francisco hosts a vigorous economy, unique character, and a wealth of beauty. Among its most notable features are: the Golden Gate Bridge, the Castro, Fisherman's Wharf, Alcatraz Island, cable cars, Victorian houses, Haight-Ashbury, China Town, and an amazing city of people.

Update 2/01/2009

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