History of Cable Cars

The history of cable cars in San Francisco is quite interesting. For starters, this was the first city in the world to have a practical cable car system. The first San Francisco cable car railway, or the Clay Street Hill Railroad, as it is known, opened in 1873. It would serve as the model for other San Francisco cable car transit systems and for similar transit systems in other cities. In 1881, the New Zealand city of Dunedin opened its own cable car service, for example, and Chicago followed suit in 1882.

History of Cable Cars
History of Cable Cars

One name in particular stands out when it comes to San Francisco cable car history. That name is Andrew Smith Hallidie, for whom Hallidie Plaza is now named. Born in England, Hallidie came to California with his inventive father in 1852. While his father returned to England the following year, Andrew stayed in California, first becoming a gold miner before eventually becoming a bridge builder. During his time as a miner and a bridge builder, Hallidie implemented the use of wire-rope, which was a relatively new invention and something that would play a large role in the creation of the San Francisco cable car system. After all, wire-rope was used to pull the cars. Hallidie’s father, it can’t go without mentioning, filed the first patent for wire-rope in Great Britain, so he was very instrumental in his son’s success.

One of the most interesting things about the history of cable cars is the event that inspired their creation. On a rather damp San Francisco day in 1869, Andrew Smith Hallidie saw a horse-drawn streetcar slide down a slippery slope. The weight of the vehicle was just too much for the five horses to hold, and while no people were killed in the accident, the horses all met their fate. Soon thereafter, Hallidie promoted the Clay Street Hill Railroad, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Anyone who is interested in the history of cable cars is sure to enjoy a San Francisco visit. There aren’t many cities where you can take rides on historic cable cars after all, and a certain museum in town focuses on cable car history. This museum calls 1201 Mason Street home and is aptly-known as the Cable Car Museum.

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