San Francisco: Before and After the 1906 Earthquake and Fire

Nearly half a million people lived in San Francisco, California on Wednesday, April 18, 1906.  The majority of them were fast asleep when the world began to shake apart.  At 5:12 a.m. the city was struck by a massive earthquake, one which modern science estimates at anywhere from 7.8 to 8.2 on the Richter scale. The series of shocks brought down buildings and split open streets. In a stroke of terrible luck, the earthquake also broke the water mains that served a city where most residences were made of wood, and dozens of fires erupted even as the shaking subsided.

For the next four days, San Francisco burned. With little water available, the fire department resorted to dynamiting buildings in an attempt to slow the fires. By the time the last fires burnt out on Saturday, April 21, this was San Francisco:

Ruins of San Francisco after earthquake and fire, April 18 – 21, 1906. Photo by Lester C. Guernsey, 1906. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.05595

The devastation was overwhelming:

  • Over 28,000 buildings were burned, and over 500 city blocks destroyed
  • An estimated 3,000 people lost their lives
  • More than 200,000 people were left homeless

However, the city flag of San Francisco featured a phoenix rising from the ashes for good reason.  In the fifty years since becoming a part of America, the city had burned several times, and been shaken by many earthquakes, large and small.  And each time, the city rebuilt.  The earthquake and fires of 1906 left a far larger task behind, with widespread destruction on a scale the people of San Francisco had never seen before.

And yet, they did rebuild, and they rebuilt quickly.

In a show of resilience and civic pride, the city not only rebuilt itself, it invited the world to visit as the host of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. In fact, rubble from the 1906 earthquake was used to create the land needed for the site of the exposition’s impressive structures.  On the ashes of the past, the city rose again.

Witness San Francisco’s growth and transformation from 1851 to 1922 through the slideshow below. (Click anywhere on the images to begin.)

Learn More:

San Francisco, April 18, 1906. Photo by Arnold Genthe, 1906. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/agc.7a55059

Sources & Bibliography:

Burkhart, David. Earthquake Days: The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake & Fire in 3-D. San Bruno, CA: Faultline Books, 2005.

Harris, David, Eric Sandweiss, and Eadweard Muybridge. Eadweard Muybridge and the Photographic Panorama of San Francisco, 1850-1880. Montréal: Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1993.

Saul, Eric, and Don DeNevi. The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, 1906. Millbrae, Calif: Celestial Arts, 1981.

Winchester, Simon. A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.

62 Comments

  1. Rixter
    April 18, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    occasionally the paintings fall off the walls, perhaps the lights go out once in a while. The last biggy was in 89. One of my friends was scared of the Bart so he took the bridge. The bridge fell into the bay. The Bart system was just fine.

  2. kiyohisa Tanada
    April 19, 2012 at 7:53 am

    I have been to California 20 years ago.
    I cannot imagine it that we had an earthquake in 1906.
    It is still a clean town.

  3. téléchargement
    July 23, 2012 at 11:51 am

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  4. hi
    April 14, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    so wut happened before the earthquake?

  5. thebeast
    April 15, 2013 at 3:28 am

    This is great!!
    I need some info about San Francisco’s Earthquake in 1906 for school and this is great. Thanks.
    🙂 keep up the good work! (thumbs up)

  6. caelie race
    April 29, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    WOW im learning about it it was bad

  7. Vary good site
    May 6, 2013 at 1:10 am

    This is a great site that i found a lot of great information on it, i love it so much thanks to whoever made it i found it really helpful!! 🙂

  8. cool site
    May 21, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    this is a very interesting site

  9. LOL :)
    May 22, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    lol this is a good and awsome 🙂 😉

  10. lool
    June 10, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    this is awsome

  11. madridalvarado
    November 12, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    i feel bad because my great grand father was in it

  12. madridalvarado
    November 12, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    but this is a great site and has cool facts

  13. nice site
    November 12, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    this is one of the coolest site i have ever been on

  14. york
    November 12, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    this a nice site and i got alot of facts from it and i thank who ever made this site and your facts made since to me and me thanks

  15. hiiiiiii
    November 12, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    nice site and facts thanks

  16. well hello
    February 3, 2014 at 9:56 am

    I am doing this for school to and i think im going to get an A for the project 🙂

  17. kathleem
    March 25, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    it doesn’t really tell what happens after the earthquake

  18. kathleem
    March 25, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    doesn’t really tell what happens after

  19. Sam Giovne
    April 30, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    I like this information because i get to know a lot of new facts. This is also shocking and sad and interesting because some people died and kids and children. And it is shocking that some people survived from all of that disaster.

  20. helen
    June 10, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    How many people went missing?

  21. tad
    October 23, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    this site is awsome i never new a bout this

  22. dis guy
    February 13, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    wow

  23. jenny246
    February 17, 2015 at 10:44 pm

    this is good

  24. okie
    March 6, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    this is a good site but does not have much info it does not talk about the facts

  25. Cupcake Destroyer
    March 29, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    Loved this blog helped me so much with my gifted project

  26. Tom
    April 16, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    The City that Knows How

  27. Penelope James
    April 16, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    In the days following the earthquake, officials destroyed an estimated $30,000 worth of intoxicating liquors. Whoa… I feel bad

  28. Betsy Ara
    April 24, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    I LOOOOOVVVE IITT!

  29. James Marshall
    April 24, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    Hey nice site, makes it easier, you know, calmed.

  30. lp
    April 26, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    doesn’t really tell what happened after the earthquake

  31. nojqji
    May 17, 2015 at 1:11 am

    this is really great for my school assignment

  32. daijha popin
    June 4, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    thats really crazy

  33. Hi
    June 16, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    Thx this is awesome!!!!

  34. Anonymous
    September 28, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    This article doesn’t really state what happened afterwards in any detail, my question was how did everyone react to the “event” and all it says here is they rebuilt and grieved a little. I didn’t have my question answered so you might want to include more things, like how did people react, how did people recover, how many injured over all, just some more facts would be helpful, thanks for reading this comment/review.

  35. Anony Mous
    November 8, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    This article was useful to me, thank you

  36. awsome
    November 10, 2015 at 3:31 am

    this was very helpful helped for my school asitment not copying any one by the way hi

  37. anomunus
    December 9, 2015 at 11:55 am

    it was at 5:18 a.m not 5:12

  38. Domonique
    January 21, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    a-some

  39. usls
    February 1, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    what happened after the earthquake did they rebuild more citys

  40. Kit kat
    February 16, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    Love this website , you guys have me a lot of information keep up the great work.♥

  41. jay
    February 19, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    this happened on my bday

  42. Anonomys
    February 23, 2016 at 10:02 pm

    I was searching trying to see how people/bodies were detected in the crumbled up buildings and I haven’t been able to find anything on this I was hoping to find it here but I’ve looked everywhere… maybe I just read passed it?

  43. zachary
    March 2, 2016 at 9:46 am

    good job thnx

  44. Earthquakes
    March 31, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    I love earthquake and I want to be in a big one

  45. Earthquakes
    March 31, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    I want to know what it feels like to be in an earthquake

  46. Violethammy
    May 17, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    I saw this site and when i read that more than 3,000 ppl were killed i was amazed at how many ppl died. This was a great site and it helped me with my social studys

  47. Violethammy
    May 17, 2016 at 11:07 pm

    I saw this site and when i read that more than 3,000 people were killed i was amazed at how many people died. This was a great site and it helped me with my social studys. (^_^)

  48. Pop
    May 25, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    When was San Francisco rebuilt?

  49. anthony stokes
    May 27, 2016 at 8:38 am

    well done pal

  50. Jen
    September 15, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    This is a good site. I need this for school so thanks to whoever made it!

  51. M
    October 17, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    This site is so helpful for my projects! Thanks!

  52. COLLEEN HENNELLY
    October 20, 2016 at 8:35 am

    You didn’t touch upon before the Earthquake at all and it literally says in the title BEFORE and AFTER the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

  53. Jesse
    October 25, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Thank you so much. That was so helpful

  54. logan
    November 1, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    this did not help me i want too know how they coped

  55. cc
    November 4, 2016 at 10:11 am

    really helpful and i got an a for my class project. keep up the good work.

  56. Sara S.
    February 2, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    I learned new things about the San Francisco earthquake, but I also wanted to know what happened during the earthquake, still I loved it!:)

  57. alexis
    March 22, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    wow dude

  58. Elisa
    April 19, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    I need this for a project and it worked out well. I need to do a slideshow about it and there is a lot of facts that i wrote. Thumbs Up!! *claps* 🙂

  59. Sanii Burton
    April 25, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    It was helpful a little bit it doesn’t really tell me what happened after the earthquake and fire

  60. sharon cheung
    April 30, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    Had to use this for my science project about the SF earthquake and fire

  61. RandomDude
    May 7, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    I need to find 2 pictures of the earthquake effects to today

  62. Rafael
    June 1, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    What a tragedy – the earthquakes that destroyed the city more than once, I might add, killed thousands of people. While a lot of the dead were recovered, there are most likely still hundreds more buried that were not. I’m sure there are lots of reported hauntings around the city. The deaths coupled with tragedy results in restless spirits.
    Look it up on Google – san francisco hauntings. The biggest quake is yet to come. If you live there, make plans to escape once it happens. Believe me, it’s not a matter of ‘IF’ it’s a matter of ‘WHEN’.

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