Every time we start a new month here on Trolley Tuesdays and Trolley Thursdays, my editor Nakkune and I ensure to deliver unto you (the reader) a complete history of what we're talking about so you can get the proper historical context for everything we're going to talk about. Most of the time, trying to find the specific history of a streetcar system is quite difficult as almost all streetcar systems grew out quite organically, and with often faceless individuals helming the mighty companies that shaped city life forever. However, this month can deliver a face, a date, and a place: Andrew Smith Hallidie; August 2, 1873; San Francisco, CA. Despite being such an iconic part of the City by the Bay, few know or are aware of the man who invented one of America's few unique moving museums, so on today's Trolley Tuesday let's rectify that as we look back on the life and inventions of Mr. Andrew Smith Hallidie, the Father of the Cable Car!
They Call Them "Trams" in England
|The stern scowl of the Father of the Cable Car, late 1890s.|
Note that beautifully-scruffy scots beard.
|A younger, but still battle-hardened|
Andrew Smith Hallidie in the 1870s.
(San Francisco Mechanic's Institute)
The Gold Rush Lures Hallidie
|Mariposa County in the middle of the gold rush, 1850s.|
|A rather romantic depiction of San Francisco in the 1850s, featuring|
reused scrap boat hulls as hotels among other things.
(Oakland Museum of California)
Up a Flume, Without a Cable
|The American Bar Flume and Mill house at Placer, CA.|
This is where Andrew Hallidie first found success.
After three more years of bumming around California's gold mines and serving as a blacksmith and bridge builder, Hallidie finally hit it big when he was contracted by a quartz mill at American Bar in Placer, CA, in 1856. While constructing the mill's flume, the foreman expressed anxiety to the young Hallidie about the rapid wear rate of the gravity-powered mill cars delivering rock from deep within the mine. The rope used was being worn out every 75 days and downtimes were costly, and both the mine foreman and the owners were interested in a cheaper, hardier solution. Ever the inventor, Hallidie quickly sent for wire from San Francisco and adapted some of the mill's machinery to suit his production purposes using plans and patents originally created by his father. By the end of it, Hallidie had created the first wire rope in America. It was one-eighth of an inch thick, twelve-hundred feet long, and lasted well over two years as the American Bar mill was operating. Shortly after the rope's installation, Hallidie finally found his calling and abandoned mining to return to San Francisco and begin his career in wire-making.
|A contemporary newspaper ad|
for Hallidie's new services.
(The Maritime Heritage Projects)
|A man, possibly a Comstock Lode worker or Hallidie|
himself, posing on one of the Hallidie Tramway's
support structures, undated.
(Back Country Explorers)
Of Hooves on Clay Street
|A United Railroads horsecar outside the California Trust|
Company on Sutter Street in 1913, before it was electrified
following repairs from the 1906 Earthquake.
(The Cable Car Guy)
Hallidie's involvement in street railways began in some capacity in 1869, which aimed to solve a very persistent and cruel problem to San Francisco's horses. At the time, the city's rapid transit network was run by horsecars, and that also meant teams or two or more horses had to struggle up some of the steep hills yanking cars full of 15 to 20 people at any one time. Hallidie took notice of this and described in 1871:
I was largely induced to think over the matter from seeing the difficulty and pain the horses experienced in hauling the cars up Jackson Street, from Kearny to Stockton Street, on which street four or five horses were needed for the purpose–the driving being accompanied by the free use of the whip and voice, and occasionally by the horses falling and being dragged down the hill on their sides, by the car loaded with passengers sliding on its track.....
|Hallidie's original illustration for his patent cable cars, as printed|
in a September 17, 1881 issue of Scientific American.
(San Francisco Cable Car Museum)
|Hallidie's concept art from the same issue|
of Scientific American, showing a front
cutaway of the car with the grip pinching
the cable from the sides. The gauge was
a modest 3'6" between the rails.
(San Francisco Cable Car Museum)
The project, now incorporated as the Clay Street Hill Railway (CSHR, not to be confused with the California High Speed Rail)) was now off to a rocky start, as both the city and the public were quite distrustful to a new transit system disrupting their lives. Newspapers and some of the most eminent engineering minds at the time printed scurrilous articles doubting the efficacy of the system, while those who purchased the first of the company's 120 shares eventually returned them due to riled-up unpopular opinion. $118,000 of capital was raised to finance the project in May 1872 (mostly from Hallidie, his friends, and a loan from the Clay Street Bank along with other Nob Hill pledgors), which finally put the system into safe hands and construction began from there.
|The terminus of the Clay Street Hill|
Railroad at Kearny, with a turntable
small enough to push and fit one car each.
A Miracle on Clay Street
August 1, 1872 (or August 2, depending who you ask).
|Andrew Hallidie, center of car and standing, poses with his famous |
Clay Street Grip Car in October 1877 at Clay and Van Ness Streets.
(SFMTA Photo Archive)
|Clay Street Car No. 12 crests the top of the hill|
in an undated view, late 1870s.
(Market Street Railway)
At the end of the line was a turntable at Clay and Kearney, which quietly clattered as the cars were turned around and went back the other way. Despite the presence of moisture on the tracks, the car stopped and started admirably, with several runs done all morning to give the Clay Street Hill Railway a proper shakedown. Due to it still being in the early morning, many residents on Clay Street were still asleep apart from a single Frenchman who tossed a bouquet to the passing cable car, but the job was done. When Hallidie cleaned up his train and went home, he was confident that his little cable car was going to change how San Francisco moved forever. When the line opened on September 1, 1873, he was right: for the next four years, the Clay Street Railway ran as the only cable car line in San Francisco.
The Cables Run Far and Wide
|A crowded Ferry Terminal serves Market Street Railway's cable cars in|
the late 1890s. Development of the cars were so rapid that by this time,
"grip cars" gave way to integrated grips on single cars.
(San Francisco Cable Car Museum)
After the Clay Street Railway, Hallidie didn't sit down and rest on his laurels. Due to the success of his cable car, and in spite of swift competition, his name and patents were soon being slung around as he helped to develop further cable car systems in New York City, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and El Paso, just to name a few. He also gained plenty of money from his patents being used to construct systems like these, along with his wire-rope-making business continuing to provide good money for himself and his wife. Besides being involved in national cable cars, Hallidie also busied himself in local San Francisco issues such as being a University of California regent starting in 1868 and president of the San Francisco Mechanic's institute from 1868 to 1877, then to 1893 to 1895. In the middle of construction of the Clay Street Line, Hallidie also stood for the California State Senatorial Election of 1873 and in the mayoral election in 1875, but was twice defeated. He sold his wiremaking business (now California Wire Works) in 1895 to the Washburn & Moen Company of Worcester, MA, and both it and Hallidie's company eventually became part of US Steel.
The Legacy of Andrew Smith Hallidie
|Hallidie Plaza on the day it opened, March 15, 1973.|
(San Francisco Chronicle)
|The gorgeous Hallidie Building on 130 Sutter Street,|
showing off its "glass curtain" front facade
Thank you for reading today's Trolley post, and watch your step as you alight on the platform. My resources today included the San Francisco Metropolitan Transit Authority's "History of the Cable Car", the Museum of the City of San Francisco's biography of Andrew Smith Hallidie by Edgar Myron Kahn, the National Inventors Hall of Fame's biography of inductee Andrew Smith Hallidie, and the photos, archives, and Twitter handlers of both the San Francisco Cable Car Museum and the SFMTA Photo Archive. The cable car gifs in our posts are made by myself and can be found under “Motorman Reymond’s Railroad Gif Carhouse”. On Thursday, we take a closer look at the many street railway and cable car systems that flourished in San Francisco, and the many prototype cable cars that followed in their wake! For now, you can follow myself or my editor on Twitter, buy a shirt or sticker from our Redbubble stand, or purchase my editor's self-developed board game! It's like Ticket to Ride, but cooler! (and you get to support him through it!) Until next time, ride safe!