Andrew Smith Hallidie tested the first cable car at
4 o'clock in the morning, August 2nd, 1873, on Clay
Street, in San Francisco. His idea for a steam engine
powered - cable driven - rail system was conceived
in 1869, after witnessing horses being whipped while
they struggled on the wet cobblestones to pull a horsecar
up Jackson Street. As the story goes, the horses slipped
and were dragged to their death.
Hallidie's father was an inventor who had a patent
in Great Britain for "wire rope" cable.
Hallidie immigrated to the U.S. in 1852 during the
Gold Rush. He began using cable in a system he had
developed to haul ore from mines and in building suspension
Hallidie entered into a partnership to form the Clay
Street Hill Railroad, which began construction of
a cable line on Clay Street in May of 1873. The contract
to operate on city streets stated the line must be
operational by August 1st. They launched on the 2nd.
Even though they were a day late the cable car trials
received great approval. Clay Street Hill Railroad
began public service on September 1st, 1873. It was
a tremendous success.
Clay Street Hill Railroad was the sole cable car company
for 4 years. A former horsecar company, Sutter Street
Railroad, developed its own version of Hallidie's
patented system and began cable service in 1877, followed
by California Street Cable Railroad -1878, Geary Street,
Park & Ocean Railroad -1880, Presidio & Ferries
Railroad -1882, Market Street Cable Railway -1883,
Ferries & Cliff House Railway -1888, and Omnibus
Railroad & Cable Company -1889.
All totaled San Francisco companies had lay down 53
miles of track stretching from the Ferry Building
to the Presidio, to Golden Gate Park, to the Castro,
to the Mission.
April 18, 1906, the Great Earthquake & Fire devastated
By this time the electric streetcar, perfected in1888
by Frank Sprague, had become the vehicle of choice
for city transit. It only required half the investment
to build and maintain, could reach more areas and
was quicker. The cable cars were still able to traverse
the steep hills better, so some of the lines were
rebuilt. However, as the streetcars improved, even
those lines were in jeopardy.
By 1947, the lower operational costs of buses prompted
Mayor Lapham to declare, "the city should get
rid of all cable car lines as soon as possible."
In response, Friedel Klussmann founded the Citizens'
Committee to Save the Cable Cars. The committee began
a public campaign showing that the cable cars value
to San Francisco was far greater than their operational
cost. They succeeded in placing an amendment on the
November ballot, Measure 10. Newspapers picked up
the story and public support grew quickly. Life magazine
did a photo spread on gripmen. Celebrities rallied
for the cable cars. Businesses realized tourists don't
come to San Francisco to ride the busses.
Measure 10 passed in a landslide victory - ordering
the city to maintain the Powell Street cable car system.
In 1997, a celebration was held at Victorian Park
to name the Powell-Hyde line turnaround the "Freidel
Klussmann Memorial Turnaround" in honor of the
woman who saved the cable cars.