San Francisco's World Famous Cable Cars
Richard Panse photo.Cable cars were invented by Andrew S. Hallidie, a Scots-born mining engineer. The story goes that he saw horses struggling to pull a railcar filled with passengers up one of San Francisco's hills and decided to adapt his mining conveyor technology to pull rail cars, by means of an endless loop of cable under the street, between the tracks. He opened the world's first cable car line, on Clay Street in San Francisco, in August 1873. Cable cars soon dominated San Francisco's transit scene, with more than a dozen lines, including five on the city's main street, Market Street. The 1906 Earthquake and Fire ended the cable era on Market Street, but other lines soldiered on through two World Wars as a quaint relic (even then), survived an assassination attempt by misguided (or malicious) politicians in the late 1940s, were wounded in a follow-up assault in the 1950s, and yet survived it all to become a worldwide symbol of San Francisco. In 1964, San Francisco's cable cars were named the first moving National Historic Landmark. Today, both their continued operation and minimum level of service are locked into San Francisco’s City Charter. Their history is a fascinating amalgam of technology, politics, and passion. Here, we concentrate on the basics of the current system.