Some of the early events in San Francisco's history include: the discovery of San Francisco Bay in 1769 by Don Gapar de Portola; the establishment of Mission Dolores in 1776; the founding of the Presidio in 1776; the first home built by Captain William A. Richardson in 1835;
A summary and timeline of some of the major events follow. The Counties and Courthouses book by the Historical Activities Committee, 1964, contains more historical information about San Francisco.
- 1847: The city's first newspaper the California Star began in 1847 and later merged with the Alta.
- 1848: Gold was found in the American River 1848 starting a population explosion in San Francisco that increased the population from a few hundred in 1848 to over 30,000 by 1849. Between 1849 and 1951 there were six major fires that destroyed the City almost faster than it could be rebuilt. One of these fires is described in a transcribed letter from 1849.
The 1850s were a time of building and coming to grips with the population explosion.
- San Francisco County was formed and the San Francisco City Charter was approved by the California Legislature.
- 1850 Transbay ferry service began with the establishment of a route between San Francsico and the Oakland Estuary.
- 1850 Yerba Buena Cemetery opened.
- 1851 Crime gets out of control. The first Committee of Vigilance was established.
- 1854 Lone Mountain (Laurel Hill) cemetery established.
- 1856 The City and County of San Francisco were combined. San Mateo was split off as a separate county.
- 1858 The Overland Stage begins between Sanfrancisco and the East.
The 1860s brought continued population growth with the Pony Express and railroad connecting San Francisco to the East Coast. Some of the highlights include:
- 1860 The Pony Express began service from St. Joseph, Missouri to San Francisco.
- 1860 The "Pioche Railroad" was started by the Market Street Railway Company, which graded Market Street. This road at first was operated by steam dummies, later by means of horses.
- 1861 Fort Point was completed. It was built to protect San Francisco from some one who never came. The fort was never fired on nor did it ever have to defend the Gate.
- 1861 Pony Express ceased opetions 19 months after it began.
- 1862 Telegraph services was established between San Francisco and New York.
- 1864 San Francisco Railroad line (predecessor to CalTrain) was completed to San Jose.
- 1865 The Dramatic Chronical (later The Chronicle) was first published.
- 1865 The Examiner was first published.
- 1865 A great earthquake hit San Francisco causing extensive damage.
- 1868 A magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck along the Hayward fault causing much damage and loss of life.
- 1869 The first westbound train arrived in San Francsico.
The 1870s were a time of city expansion with the Golden Gate park being created and the first cable car system started. By the late 1870s San Francisco began to suffer difficult and bitter economic times. The white workers blamed the chinese for their high unemployment rate. Chinese withdrew into what we now call Chinatown. The following highlights some of the events.
- 1870 San Francisco became the tenth largest city in the United States.
- 1870 Golden Gate park was created.
- 1871 Yerba Buena Cemetery removed.
- 1873 Andrew S. Hallidie tested his first cable car system near the top of Nob Hill at Clay and Jones streets and the next month started public service.
- 1876 Southern Pacific Railroad line connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco was completed.
- 1876 Diptheria epidemic.
- 1877 Angry mobs killed 4 and wounded 18 when more Chinese immigrants arrived.
The Indian Wars of the 1870s and 1880s resulted in additional growth of the Presidio. Soldiers stationed here saw action against the Modoc Indians in the Lava Beds of northern California and against the Apache Indians in the southwest. In the 1880s a large-scale tree planting and post beautification program was started. Some of the highlights from the 1880s are listed below.
- 1880 George Hearst accepted a small daily newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, as payment for a gambling debt. The elder Hearst, now a U.S. senator from California, had little interest in the newspaper business as such, but the event proved pivotal for his son. In the mid-1880s, young Will (William Randolf Hearst), a Harvard student at the time, wrote his father a now-famous letter requesting that he be permitted to take over the Examiner.
- 1880 The Irish make up nearly one-third of the City's population.
- 1886 Anti-Chinese mobs in Seattle force about 200 Chinese to flee to San Francisco.
- 1887 A snowstorm covered the entire city making San Francisco a winter wonderland.
The 1890s brought a depression although San Francisco continued some growth and building. Some of the highlights from this period follow.
- 1890 USS San Francisco, a 4088-ton protected cruiser, was built at San Francisco, California, and commissioned in November 1890. She served in the Pacific until 1893, then steamed to the Atlantic. Operations followed in the North and South Atlantic, and in European waters. During the Spanish-American War, in 1898, San Francisco was stationed off Cuba
- 1892 Sierra Club was founded with 182 members and John Muir as president.
- 1898 American Anti-Imperialist League founded. It was created to protest the annexation of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, the Anti-Imperialist League was the first national anti-imperialist organization formed in the United States.
- 1898 The Ferry Building was built. By the early 1930s it was The Ferry Building was the second busiest transportation terminal in the world.
One of the wonderful aspects of the turn-of-the-century era was the multitude of grandious schemes for the development of California. In the early 1900's, the country had rebounded from the depression of the 1890's, so a renewed sense of optimism was the mood of the day although in 1906 a major earthquake caused much death and destruction in the City. Following are some hightlights from this era.
- 1903 The Commonwealth Club of California was founded in 1903 by San Francisco Chronicle editorial writer Edward F. Adams.
- 1905 A coast railroad from San Francisco to Santa Cruz was created. It was initially called the Ocean Shore Electric Railway. Initial work began in 1905.
- 1906 A major earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area.
- 1907 San Francisco Streetcar strike.
- 1909 John Muir led a movement to save the Hetch Hetchy Valley from ruin at the hands of the City and County of San Francisco who wanted the valley for a municipal water supply.
The period from 1910 to 1919 was one of continued immigration and growth of San Francisco although mared by World War I. The following are some hightlights from this era.
- 1910 Angel Island opened. For 30 years, Angel Island served as a point of entry to the United States for many immigrants. Like Ellis Island in New York, it processed the entry of people from different parts of the world. Unlike Ellis Island, it also served as a prison for hundreds of Chinese immigrants.
- 1911 Women given the right to vote in California.
- 1912 Souther Pacific Railroad terminal built at Third and Townsend streets in anticipation of the 1915 Exposition.
- 1914-1918 WWI
- 1915 Palace of Fine Arts created by architect Bernard R. Maybeck for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
- 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition
- 1918 Great Flu epidemic
- 1918 The end of the war to end all wars. Soldiers came home with a victory parade down Market Street, and the City looked forward to an era of peace and prosperity
The Roaring '20s as they are commonly referred to. Despite prohibition laws San Francisco remained the wettest city in the West. Some of the highlights from this era follow.
- 1920 The Great Highway and Ocean Beach Esplanade completed. More than 50,000 people joined in the festivities and celebration.
- 1921 Fatty Arbuckle arrested for the murder of Virginia Rappe after a lavish party at the St. Francis Hotel.
- 1922 Statute took away citizenship from any American woman who married a man not elibilbe for citizenship
- 1929 Black Tuesday, stock market crashed.
The early 30s were years of the great depression however by the mid to late 30s the worst had passed. The great period of ferry transit reached its peak in the 1930's, when 60 million persons crossed the bay annually, along with 6 million autos. Highlights from this era follow.
- 1933 San Francisco Ballet Company founded.
- 1934 San Francisco Maritime strike began May 9th. Running battles between unionists and police began July 3rd with July 5th known as "Bloody Thursday".
- 1935 San Francisco Museum of Art opens under the leadership of founding directory Grace L. McCann Morley in the fourth floor of the War Memorial Veterans Building.
- 1935 City College of San Francisco, a public two-year college, opens.
- 1936 San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opens.
- 1926 Herb Caen landed a job writing a column for the San Francisco Chronicle.
- 1937 Golden Gate Bridge opens.
- 1939 Golden Gate Internation Exposition and fair, also known as Treasure Island.
The first half of the 40s saw men and women from every walk of life flocking to the shipyards to find work and support the war effort. San Francisco was referred to as "Baghdad by the Bay" by Herb Caen. It was possible to drink 24 hours a day. Sally Stanford the famous madam had a hugh house on Russion Hill and her girls were like socialites. Some highlights from this era follow.
- 1939-1945 WWII. During the war 120,000 Japanese aliens and American citizens with Japanese faces were removed from the theirhomes in California, Oregon, Washington and taken to internment camps. Of those, 18,000 were from the San Francisco Bay Area.
- 1940 The 2nd Golden Gate Internation Exposition and fair was held
- 1940 Navy purchases Hunter's Point.
- 1945 UN Charter creating the United Nations was signed in San Francisco.