At 5:12 a.m. on April 18, 1906, a magnitude 8.3 (Richter Scale) earthquake struck San Francisco. With thousands of un-reinforced brick buildings and closely-spaced wooden Victorian dwellings, the city was poorly prepared for the quake. Collapsed buildings, broken chimneys, and a water shortage due to broken mains, led to several large fires that soon coalesced into a citywide holocaust. The fire raged for three days, sweeping over nearly a quarter of the city, including the entire downtown area. Over 3,000 people are estimated to have died as a result of the disaster. For those who survived, the first few weeks were hard; as aid poured in from around the country, thousands slept in tents in city parks, and citizens were asked to do their cooking in the street. A severe shortage of public transportation made a taxicab out of anything on wheels. Numerous businesses relocated temporarily to Oakland, and many refugees found lodgings outside the city. Most of the cities of central California were badly damaged. However, reconstruction proceeded at a furious pace, and by 1908, San Francisco was well on the way to recovery.
- Search on San Francisco earthquake in Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991 to find more photographs of San Francisco around the time of the 1906 earthquake and fire.
- Images of San Francisco throughout its history are found in the Library’s pictorial collections.
- Included in the Library’s American Treasures Exhibition are several artifacts from the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Newspapers, images, and eyewitness accounts, document the cataclysmic scale of the earthquake.
- The extraordinary circumstances resulting from the earthquake are demonstrated by “Proclamation by the Mayor” found in the American Memory collection, An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera.
- The impact of the earthquake on the Chinese immigrant population is represented in the American Memory collection, The Chinese in California 1880-1925 External. Search on earthquake to find images of the Chinatown section of San Francisco.
- Great Earthquake and Fire: San Francisco, 1897-1916 consists of twenty-six films of San Francisco before and after the 1906 disaster. Seven films describe the great earthquake and fire. The collection also includes background information on Early San Francisco.
- Search Today in History on San Francisco to learn about more events in the history of this great city such as Andrew Smith Hallidie’s cable car and the 1896 opening of the Sutro Baths.
- Visit the University of California Berkeley’s Bancroft Library presentation The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire External.