The San Francisco Cable Car Chronology chronicles the City's cable car
history from 1869 to today. To make it easier to locate an item of interest
or just browse, the chronology has been divided into four eras.
Cable Car Conquers San Francisco’s Hills
(1869-April 17, 1906):
covered are the Clay Street Hill Railroad, Sutter Street Railroad,
California Street Cable Railroad, Geary Street, Park & Ocean
Railroad, Presidio & Ferries Railroad, Market Street Cable Railway,
Telegraph Hill Railroad, Omnibus Railroad & Cable Company, Market
Street Railway (of 1893) and United Railroads of San Francisco.
this era the cable car enjoyed its zenith as a transportation mode.
The photo looking west from the Ferry Building up Market Street
in 1905 shows the density of Market Street cable cars. During rush
Market Street cable cars left the Ferry Building ever 15 seconds!
Charles Smallwood Collection
Cable Car is Almost Conquered by an Earthquake, Electric Streetcars
(April 18, 1906 - December 19, 1957)
covered are the California Street Cable Railroad, Geary Street,
Park & Ocean Railroad, United Railroads, Market Street Railway
(of 1921) and Municipal Railway of San Francisco.
this era most of San Francisco’s cable car system was replaced
as a result of the 1906 Earthquake and the economic superiority
of the electric streetcar. Later conversions were made from cable
car to motor bus or without any transit substitution. Ultimately,
the reminding cable lines are operated by the City. The photo shows
a California Street Cable Railroad (the last private company) Jones
Street Shuttle waiting for connecting passengers as a Market Street
bound O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde turns from Jones onto O'Farrell
Street, Walter Rice Collection
Cable Car Renaissance and Rebuilding -- Today's System
(December 22, 1957-December 12, 2007)
covered is the Municipal Railway of San Francisco. On December 22,
1957, the present three line cable car system – Powell-Mason,
Powell-Hyde and California Street – started service.
current consolidated cable car system era is perhaps best indexed
by the photo of a Powell Street car climbing the Hyde Street hill
that was once the exclusive domain of double ended California Street
Cable Railroad’s O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde cable cars.
Walter Rice photo.
Rolling Along -- Today's Operations
(May 28, 2008-present)
Company covered is the Municipal Railway of San Francisco.
current era is perhaps best indexed
by a Val Lupiz photo of two Powell Street cars, a brand new number 15 and a completely
rebuilt number 25, at the car barn, waiting for finishing touches.
Val Lupiz photo.
material for this chronology came from a variety of sources. We are
indebted to Transit in San Francisco, A Selected Chronology,
1850-1995 by Robert Callwell, Communications Department, San Francisco
Municipal Railway, (September 1999), Emiliano J. Echeverria, A
San Francisco Transportation Chronology, 1852-1921 (unpublished),
the research and scholarship of Joe Thompson "the Cable Car Guy"
and Paul Ward who provided the Muni "Notice to Public"
cable car material. In addition, my own research has contributed to the
structuring the chronology.
may note that certain dates differ from those found in other sources.
Where such variation occurs, the date selected was based on consulting
primary source material, contemporary newspapers and railway barn books.
cable car service was curtailed it was replaced by electric streetcars.
From 1941 onward replacement was with motor coaches. However, for a few
streets such as Oak Street east of Fillmore, Broderick, Jones, O'Farrell
and 5th Avenue there was no direct replacement service.
some companies with their cable car line(s) operated connecting horse
car and/or steam dummy service. The above chronology focuses exclusively
on cable car operation in San Francisco.
Walter Rice, Ph.D.