Today in History

Today in History: April 18


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.

Ruins of San Francisco
Ruins of San Francisco, from the Site of the Mechanics' Pavilion,
San Francisco, California, copyright 1906.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

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.

Three years after the earthquake, San Francisco
Three Years After the Quake, San Francisco, California, April 1909.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991