Just as 2006 marked the centennial of the great San Francisco earthquake and fire, 2007 marks the 100th anniversary of another kind of cataclysm in the city–one of its bitterest strikes that shaped the future of streetcar service in San Francisco.


Off-duty strikebreakers lounge in their quarters in the upstairs car storage area at the 29th & Mission car barn. Note the cots on the obsolete Haight Street cable cars (unused since the great earthquake and fire of April 18, 1906). Courtesy John Freeman collection.

This strike began with what the press called the ‘San Francisco Streetcar War’. Just one year after the earthquake and fire, the police chief issued a ‘shoot to kill order’ if police were fired upon. The Governor threatened to send troops into San Francisco. Once again San Francisco ground to a halt.

Back then transit service in San Francisco had been largely consolidated under a private company named United Railroads (URR), owned by Baltimore utility interests, and led by its president, Patrick Calhoun. In the wake of the earthquake and fire, Calhoun saw an opportunity to break a political stalemate that had prevented him from converting his cable car lines on Market Street to faster, higher-capacity streetcars. To do so, he allegedly bribed the entire Board of Supervisors to gain a permit to install overhead wires on Market for streetcar operation. (A 22-month trial on this charge ended with a hung jury, and Calhoun went free.)

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