Cable Car Chronology

1869 - April 17, 1906

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  • 1869 -- Benjamin H. Brooks, a San Francisco attorney acquires a franchise from the city to construct a "wire cable railway." Brooks and his engineer laid plans for a line on Clay Street, but fail to attract investors for their " Russian Hill Cable Railway Co." In 1872, they sold their franchise to Andrew S Hallidie for a "nominal consideration."

  • 1871-The first model of Hallidie designed cable car system was placed on exhibition at the Mechanics Fair in San Francisco, 1871. The 'endless wire rope' attracted a great deal of attention.

  • July 16, 1872- San Franciscan Andrew Smith Hallidie patents (Patent No. 129,130) successfully the first cable car.

  • July 27, 1873 - Clay Street Hill Railroad installs its first cable. This installation was the first time ever for such an installation. As late as three days previously, line’s tracks and slot were out of tolerance largely because Clay Street’s paving blocks were jammed against the trackage.

  • July 27, 1873 - The Clay Street Hill Railroad's first cable is installed.

  • July 30, 1873 - Kimball Manufacturing Company (San Francisco) delivers the Clay Street Hill Railroad’s first four trailers, joining the home-built prototype dummies already on the property. Each prototype dummy was different, and all were out-of-service in a few months being replaced by standard production dummies. The prototype dummies were then stored at the company’s Clay & Leavenworth facility. Later, some were transferred to Washington-Mason. All were destroyed in the 1906 holocaust.

  • August 2, 1873 - First cable car line in the world has successful experimental trip (from Jones to Kearny via Clay Street), at four o'clock in the morning with Andrew Smith Hallidie the inventor operating the car.

  • September 1, 1873 - Hallidie’s Clay Street Hill Railroad starts passenger service on Clay Street from Kearny to Leavenworth.

  • September 7, 1873 - Hallidie had a busy Autumn in addition to his duties with the Clay Street Hill Railroad. "Complete returns of the election in this city (San Francisco) show the choice of Philip A. Roach, Anti-railroad Democrat, to the State Senate, instead of A.S. Hallidie, Independent" -- New York Times

  • January 27, 1877 - The Sutter Street Railroad starts cable car operation (converted from horse car) on Sutter Street from Larkin to Sansome (Market Street).

  • 1877 - Clay Street Hill Railroad line extended westward from Leavenworth to Van Ness Avenue.

  • July 5, 1877- The California Street Cable Railroad Company (Cal Cable) starts construction of its line Kearny to Fillmore Street. This company was known as the California Street Railroad from 1876 until it was reorganized as a result of the June 1884 purchase of Leland Stanford's interest by Antoine Borel and associates

  • April 10, 1878 - The California Street Cable Railroad Company (Cal Cable) opens, Kearny to Fillmore Street, a distance of 1.7 miles. More than 6,000 people attended the inaugural ceremonies. Franchise granted on California Street from Kearny to First Avenue. Franchise from Central Avenue to First Avenue ultimately sold to the Ferries & Cliff House Railway.

  • Late 1878 - The Sutter Street Railroad converts Larkin Street line from Sutter to Hayes (Market Street) to cable from horse car.

  • May 5, 1879 - Cal Cable extends .8 mile from Fillmore Street west to Central (Presidio) Avenue.

  • June 14, 1879 - The Sutter Street Railroad extends its Sutter Street line west from Larkin Street to Buchanan. Temporary steam dummy shuttle Buchanan to Central (Presidio) Avenue.

  • October 10, 1879 - The Sutter Street Railroad extends its Sutter Street line west from Buchanan to Central (Presidio) Avenue.

  • November 1879 - The Sutter Street Railroad receives new 50-year charter, changes name to Sutter Street Railway.

  • January 30, 1880 - The Sutter Street Railway formally taken over by new owners R.F. Morrow & Associates from former owner Henry Casebolt.

  • February 16, 1880 - The Geary Street Park & Ocean began operation from Kearny & Market Streets to Central (Presidio) Avenue. It was the first San Francisco street railway to accept cash fares -- 5-cents. Previously, only tickets were accepted for fares. These were sold in varying amounts at railway outlets.

  • January 1882 - The Presidio & Ferries Railroad (the Union Street line) opened for paying passengers. Cable service operated from Washington & Montgomery (Columbus) Avenue to Steiner & Union.

  • 1883 - The Sutter Street Railway rerouted Larkin Street line from Sutter via Polk, Post, Larkin across Market on 9th Street to Mission.

  • August 21, 1883 - The Market Street Cable Railway opens from the Ferry its Valencia Street line to Mission Street and Haight Street line to Golden Gate Park (Stanyan).

  • November 1883 - The Market Street Cable Railway starts McAllister line to Golden Gate Park (Stanyan).

  • 1884 – Leslie Ransom receives U.S. patent for rebar. When it became clear that reinforcement was needed in concrete construction Ransom obtained used frayed cables from San Francisco’s cable car companies and laid them in the forms prior to pouring the concrete. From these experiments Ransom designed and patented rebar – the reinforcing steel that is still used in construction.

  • June, 1884 - Swiss San Francisco banker Antoine Borel purchases from Leland Stanford the California Street line changing the name from California Street Railroad to California Street Cable Railroad.

  • June 30, 1884 - Telegraph Hill Railroad (Greenwich Street line) often mistakenly credited as a cable car operation begins service. The system was a funicular railway. Unlike Hallidie’s system in which cars attach and detach from a constantly moving cable, the Telegraph Hill line had two cars permanently attached to either end of a cable. Service stopped after a disastrous wreck, 1887.

  • May 20, 1886 - The Market Street Cable Railway opens Hayes Street line to Golden Gate Park (Stanyan).

  • 1887 - Sutter Street Railway extends its crosstown Larkin Street line from Mission Street via 9th Street to Brannan.

  • 1887 - Market Street Cable Railway gains control of Geary Street, Park & Ocean Railroad, but operate it separately from its own lines.

  • December 28, 1887 – Powell Street Railway (before it opens) is purchased by the newly incorporated Ferries & Cliff House Railway for cash, bonds, stocks and other personal and financial properties.

  • February 27, 1888 - Market Street Cable Railway opens Castro cable, Valencia & Market to 26th & Castro, with through service to the Ferry.

  • March 28, 1888 - The Ferries & Cliff House Railway Company (also called the Powell Street Railway) begins service on Powell Street from Market to Jackson.

  • April 5, 1888 - Ferries & Cliff House Railway Company opens Powell & Mason line to Bay & Taylor. (This route has never been changed.) At the same time, the company the opened the Jackson Street via Powell line from Powell & Market to Central (Presidio) Avenue & California serving the Western Addition via Jackson outbound and Central Avenue, Jackson, Steiner, Washington and Powell inbound.

  • 1888 - Ferries & Cliff House Railway purchases Hallidie’s Clay Street Hill Railroad to gain access to the Ferry Building — at the time, the most important public transportation terminal on the West Coast.

  • September 19, 1888 - Ferries & Cliff House Railway starts its fourth line known both as Ferries & Cliff House line or Sacramento line. The line ran from the Ferry via Sacramento to Powell, Jackson hence to Central Avenue & California. Returning via Central Avenue, Jackson, Steiner, Washington Streets, Stockton, Clay to the Ferry. This line alternated with the Jackson Street via Powell line. Eastern terminal of former Clay Street Hill Railroad was now cut back to Powell from Kearny with transfer privileges to Sacramento line and both Powell lines.

  • November 28, 1888 - Sutter Street Railway extends its crosstown line north from Sutter via Polk, Pacific Avenue to Divisadero. Cable train tests were made three days previously.

  • May 18, 1889 - The Board of Supervisors grants Cal Cable the franchise for the O'Farrell, Jones & Hyde line and the Jones Street Shuttle cable lines.

  • August 26, 1889 - Omnibus Railroad & Cable Company opens three lines. The Post Street line ran from Market via Post, Leavenworth, City Hall Avenue, Grove, Polk, 10th Street to Howard. Howard & 24th Street (Yellow line) ran from the Ferry via East Street (Embarcadero), Howard, 24th Street to Potrero Avenue. Howard & 26th Street (Blue line) same 24th Street line except continued on Howard to end at 26th Street.

  • November 2, 1889 - the Omnibus Railroad & Cable Company opens two additional lines. The Oak Street line ran from Howard via 10th Street, Fell, Franklin, Oak, Stanyan to Haight (Golden Gate Park). The Ellis line ran from Market via Ellis, Broderick, Oak, Stanyan to Haight (Golden Gate Park). The cable for the new Ellis Street line was 28,400 feet long weighing 72,000 lbs., manufactured by California Wire Works.

  • November 1889 - Sutter Street Railway is in the midst of reconstruction its lines at a cost of $14,000 per block.

  • June 21, 1890 - North Beach & Mission horsecar company announces plans to convert to a cable road at an estimated cost of $2,000,000 for changes in equipment and construction of roadbed. Never carried out.

  • December 26, 1890 – City Railway (Southern Pacific owned) receives a franchise for a cable car line from 14th Street via Mission, West Mission (Otis), 12th Street, Page, Masonic Avenue, Frederick to First Avenue (Arguello). Cable trackage built but never operated as cable from Market Street to First Avenue. Outer part of line reconstructed for electric line service.

  • 1891 - Cal Cable replaced its two-car trains with "California" cars — a "double-ended" car with an enclosed middle section and open sections at both ends. Cars with this design are still in use on California Street.

  • February 9, 1891- Cal Cable opens crosstown O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde Streets line and the Jones Street shuttle from O’Farrell to Market Street. These were the last entirely new cable car lines built in the City.

  • June 28, 1891- Cal Cable extends its California Street line from Kearny Street east to Market Street.

  • July, 1891- City Railroad (under control of the Market Street Cable Railway) builds cable trackage from Baker Street via Page, Masonic Avenue, Frederick Street to 1st. Avenue. Never operated as cable service.

  • August 22, 1891- Presidio & Ferries (Union Street line) announces plans to extend its cable line westward into the Presidio (and shorten its connecting steam dummy) at a cost of $250,000. New bonds are to be issued to pay for the extension.

  • September 9, 1891- Ferries & Cliff House Railway discontinues Clay Street Shuttle (Powell to Van Ness Avenue) to create new Sacramento-Clay line.

  • November 2, 1891- Ferries & Cliff House Railway opens Sacramento-Clay line from the Ferry via Clay, Larkin, Sacramento to Walnut Street. Return via Sacramento direct to the Ferry. Ferries & Cliff House (Sacramento) line now called "Jackson Street Line Via Sacramento-Clay" rerouted to run from the Ferry via Clay Street, Mason, Jackson, Central Avenue to California. Returns via Central, Jackson, Steiner, Washington, Stockton, Sacramento to the Ferry.The line’s 1903 schedule shows all service to Ferry until 10:01½ a.m. (California), then alternate service with Jackson Street via Powell cars. After 6:32 p.m. and Sundays all service Powell-Jackson. No Jackson Street via Powell service before 10:01½ a.m. "Cars via Powell indicated by flag."

  • December 12, 1891 - Market Street Cable Railway Market & Valencia cable car No.24 is wrecked when it hits a Southern Pacific Railroad train at that company’s Valencia Street crossing.

  • January 12, 1892 - Ferries & Cliff House Railway and Cal Cable are ordered by the Board of Supervisors to put a signal box to control cable car traffic at Hyde (for Cal Cable’s O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line) and Sacramento (for the F &CH Sacramento-Clay line). At this time Sacramento Street was the inbound street, Sacramento cable cars could only stop in the in the intersection of Hyde Street because of the crown in the street A similar situation held for northbound Hyde Street cars, cars of both lines had to stop in the middle of the intersection. The tower destroyed in the ‘06 fire and not replaced since now Sacramento Street was now the outbound street and Sacramento cable cars now stopped at Hyde Street nearside (east of the intersection).

  • January 26, 1892 - A Cal Cable California Street car hits a Ferries & Cliff House Railway Powell Street cable car, runs away down Nob Hill stopping only after hitting a wagon at Montgomery Street.

  • February 4, 1892 - The Presidio & Ferries Railroad (the Union Street line) is granted permission by The US Army to extend its cable line into the Presidio Military Reservation.

  • February 9, 1892 - The Omnibus Railroad & Cable Company is sued by the Johnstown Steel Company for patent infringement on the design of their rails.

  • February 17, 1892 - Geary Street, Park & Ocean Railroad has construction materials placed along side its line in preparation of rebuilding and converting it to standard gauge.

  • March 6, 1892 - A Sutter Street Railway Larkin Street cable car cuts in two the Market Street Cable Railways’ Market Street cable.

  • March 9, 1892 - Market Street Cable Railway extends McAllister line from Stanyan via D Street (Fulton) to between 7th and 8th Avenues.

  • April 26, 1892 - Geary Street, Park & Ocean Railroad line west of Buchanan Street is closed to allow for reconstruction.

  • May 22, 1892 - Cal Cable reports that during the first fourteen months of operation the O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line grossed $150,302.45. The line carried, during this period, more than three million revenue passengers for an average of 215,000 per month.

  • May 29, 1892 - Cal Cable has destroyed, by a fire at its car builder’s factory (J. Hammond & Co.), seven “California” style cars that were under construction for the O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line. The fire engulfed the northern half of the block bounded by Fremont, Howard, Beal, and Folsom Streets. Besides J Hammond & Co. the fire destroyed the Fulton Iron Works and the Leon & Joseph Greenberg Brass Foundry that made the castings for Hammond built cars. Ironically, the saloon at the corner of Howard and Fremont was saved with only the rear wall scorched.

  • June 3, 1892 - Market Street Cable Railway receives two franchises to build a cross-town cable line from Mission Street via 30th Street, Church & Fillmore Streets to Harbor View (Marina). Line never built, only limited cable trackage built on Church Street 18th to 20th Street and cable crossings at 15th & 24th Streets and cable crossing at Fillmore and Jackson. No construction after January 1, 1893.

  • June 3, 1892 - Market Street Cable Railway receives a franchise to build a cable line from Illinois Street via 16th Street, Market, 17th Street, Ashbury (Clayton), Clayton, Carl, Cole to Frederick. Never operated as cable, cable trackage built only on 16th Street from Church to Market Streets. Part of 16th Street used for electric line.

  • June 3, 1892 - Market Street Cable Railway receives series of franchises to build cable lines. These routes had no cable track construction; parts later were incorporated in steam and electric lines service. These franchises are from Fillmore via Turk, First Avenue (Arquello), B Street (Balboa), 19th Avenue crossing D Street (Fulton) in Golden Gate Park; from 7th Avenue via Fulton and D Streets to 19th Avenue; Stanyan between Fulton and Hayes.

  • September, 1892 - Presidio & Ferries Railroad extended its line from Union and Steiner out Union to Baker, Baker to Greenwich, Greenwich into the Presidio to a terminus near Presidio Blvd. 

  • August 7, 1892 - Geary Street, Park & Ocean Railroad is converted from 5'-0" gauge to 4'-8½" (standard gauge) to allow Geary cars to operate on Market Street trackage to the Ferry. This plan was never carried out. Line extended from Central (Presidio) Avenue via Geary, 5th. Avenue to D Street (Fulton) Golden Gate Park.

  • December 23, 1892 - Market Street Cable Railway receives franchises to build a cable line from Potrero Avenue via 22nd Street, Chattanooga, 24th Street to Hoffman. Only cable trackage built cable crossing at 24th and Church Streets. Unique eastbound franchise from Chattanooga via 24th Street, Dolores to 22nd Street. Subsequent electric line trackage west of Howard (South Van Ness) to Hoffman.

  • December 23, 1892 - Market Street Cable Railway receives series of franchises to build cable lines. These routes had no cable track construction; parts later were incorporated into electric lines service or not built. These franchises are from 17th Street via Castro, Ridley (Duboce), Devisadero to Bay Street; from Devisadero via O’Farrell for one-half block to planned car house; from 24th Street via Noe, Jersey to car house at Castro (not built).

  • April 14, 1893 - Ferries & Cliff House Railway sends Clay Street Hill Railroad grip car No. 8 and trailer No. 1 the Chicago World’s Fair. (No. 8 is on display at the Cable Car Museum.)

  • August 5, 1893 - Omnibus Railroad & Cable Company withdraws "Blue" Howard & 26th Street line.

  • September 21, 1893 - Press reports state that a proposed consolidation (by Southern Pacific interests) of the City's "leading street railways" will occur shortly under the name of the San Francisco Cable Railway Co. with a capital stock of $16,000,000. The Market Street Cable Railway will hold controlling interest.

  • October 14, 1893 - Southern Pacific creates the Market Street Railway (contemporary press accounts often referred to the new company as the "Market Street Consolidated Railway") by merging the Market Street Cable Railway, Omnibus Railroad & Cable Company, Ferries & Cliff House with three horsecar companies.

  • January 6, 1894 - Market Street Railway assigns sixteen former Howard Street Omnibus cars to McAllister line for Midwinter Fair. Cars remained on this line until Earthquake and Fire of 1906.

  • February 19, 1894 - Market Street Railway extends Sacramento-Clay line from Walnut Street via Lake and 6th Avenue to D Street (Fulton) Golden Gate Park. On Sundays and holidays starting February 26 through July 4 for the Midwinter Fair the two Jackson Street cable lines (Powell-Jackson and Ferries-Jackson) are also extended. Connecting curves were installed at Sacramento and Central Avenue. Weekday service continued as before to the turntable at California and Central Avenue.

  • July 2, 1894 - The City grants to Adolph Sutro a street railroad franchise for a line between Central Avenue and the Cliff House area, with a branch line to Golden Gate Park. A purpose of the line was to break the beach trade monopoly power of the Southern Pacific's Market Street Railway, whereby the Market Street Railway charged an extra 5¢ fare to transfer from that company's cable car lines to its steam lines. At first Sutro insisted the new line would be a cable line, he later opted for streetcar service that began on Feb. 1, 1896.

  • February 17, 1895 - The San Francisco Chronicle runs a cartoon, attacking the monopolistic practices of the Market Street Railway, depicting an octopus wrapping its tentacles around a San Francisco transit route map. It would be six years later that Frank Norris would publish his anti Southern Pacific Railroad novel The Octopus. At the time of the Chronicle cartoon cable cars were the most important component of the Market Street Railway’s operations.

  • November 11, 1895 - Market Street Railway discontinues Ellis Street cable line.

  • January 2, 1896 - Market Street Railway ends Oak Street cable line.

  • mid-February, 1896 - Alternate Market Street Railway Sacramento-Clay cable cars cut back from Sixth Avenue and "D" Street (Fulton) to the car house at Walnut and Sacramento Streets.

  • July 16, 1896 - Sutter Street Railway official notes that yesterday (Sunday) the company’s Sutter Street line "carried 40,000 people, and not one of these injured." The opening of the connecting (at Central Avenue) Sutro Railroad electric line to the Cliff House combined with the free transfer agreement between the two companies, which made it possible to travel "from the Bay Front, to the Ocean for five cents" has "increased our (Sutter Street Railway) receipts Three Hundred dollars per day." (From letter this date by Johnson Reynolds to his sister.)

  • early-September, 1896 - The main shaft of the Washington-Mason powerhouse failed. It was two weeks before service was restored on the Powell-Mason, Powell-Jackson, Sacramento-Clay and Sacramento-Jackson cable car lines.

  • March 25, 1897 - According to a dispatch under the signature of C.P. Huntington the Market Street Railway will start the conversion of the former Omnibus Post & Tenth Street line from cable to electricity in April.

  • April 8, 1897 - E. P. Vining, General Manager of the Market Street Railway, informs the American Railway Journal that no changes have been made or will "any immediate action be taken" to convert to electricity the Post & Tenth Street cable line.

  • September 2, 1897 - The American Railway Journal reports that the Market Street Railway "is preparing to change its system into an electric road."

  • December 31, 1899 - Market Street Railway discontinues the last of the former Omnibus cable lines; Post and Howard lines.

  • November 4, 1901 - Market Street Railway makes western terminal of Sacramento-Clay line again Walnut Street. Twenty-seven cars are placed into storage until after the Earthquake and Fire of 1906 when they are assigned to the Powell Street cable lines.

  • November 20, 1901 - Market Street Railway extends McAllister line from 7th/8th Avenue to 11th Avenue to service an amusement park, the Chutes. Geary Street, Park & Ocean Railroad line extended from 5th Avenue & D Street to 11th Avenue.

  • March 20, 1902 - Market Street Railway merged with the Sutter Street Railway and two electric lines to create the United Railroads of San Francisco (URR). San Francisco now has three cable car operators- Cal Cable, the UPresidio & Ferries (the Union Street line) the URR's now 100% owned subsidiary the Geary Street, Park & Ocean. With acquisition of the Market Street Railway the URR acquired 60% of the GSP&O. Nine months earlier the Syndicate had purchased 40% of the Geary line as a result of acquiring the Sutter Street Railway.

  • November 6, 1903 - Geary Street, Park & Ocean Railroad franchise expires, line continues on a day-to-day permit.

  • 1904 - United Railroads replaces steam drive with electric drive for its Hayes Street cable powerhouse that features a 270 kw motor and a 16-foot belt wheel. Pull curve installed at Market and McAllister. (W.D. Chamberlin Notes 1903-1944, courtesy of Bob Townley)

  • April 17, 1906 - Last day of full cable car service on the following United Railroads lines because of the Earthquake of April 18 and subsequent fire: Sutter Street, Polk & Larkin Cross-town line (except Pacific Avenue), Market & McAllister, Market & Haight, Market & Hayes, Market & Castro (except between 18th and 26th Streets), Market & Valencia, Jackson Street via Sacramento-Clay, Sacramento-Clay west of Fillmore, and Powell-Jackson west of Steiner Street. Also, last day for the Presidio & Ferries (Union Street line).  

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