While on a recent visit to the West Coast my dad and I were able to visit the San Francisco Railway Museum, a small but fascinating locale dedicated to the city’s long and varied rail transportation history.
San Francisco is renowned for its cable cars, but the city also has a long background with streetcars, trains, carriages, buses and, in later years, light rail and subways.
The above footage is remarkable for a couple of reasons: First, it shows the diversity of conveyances evident in the city in the early 20th century.
In addition to cable cars, streetcars and horse-drawn carts shown making their way down San Francisco’s Market Street toward the Port of San Francisco, there are also bicycles, cars and numerous people attempting to navigate what would appear to be a rather chaotic thoroughfare.
The photo below, taken from the movie, shows at least three different cable cars, a street car, an automobile, a bicycle, and at least one horse-drawn carriage.
It’s interesting to note the horse-drawn carriages and carts traveling in front of the cable cars. Doing so allowed them to traverse the smoother path offered by the rails and avoid, for at least a short time, the rougher ride of the cobbled street.
And at different points of the movie one can witness one of the constant hazards of an era when horse-drawn carts were still prevalent, as manure can be seen at different locations on the street.
Interestingly, there appears to be numerous cars evident in the movie, made by the early film duo the Miles Brothers.
However, the Miles Brothers actually used just a handful of cars, having them loop back into the camera’s view repeatedly through the 13-minute-plus film. When the movie was made, San Francisco, the wealthiest city on the US West Coast, had but 200 cars in all.
The second noteworthy feature of this footage is that is believed to have been shot just days before the April 18, 1906, earthquake that devastated San Francisco.
For years, the film was believed to have been taken in 1905, but recent research based on weather conditions, the positioning of shadows and the timing of newspaper ads promoting the Miles Brothers film titled “A Trip Down Market Street” indicate that it was shot in April 1906.
That means many of the structures seen in the footage would shortly be destroyed either by the quake itself or the ensuing fire. The disaster is believed to have claimed more than 3,000 lives. The movie, then, is a brief glimpse at an epoch that was about to end.