Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Trolley Tuesday 4-6-21 - Andrew Smith Hallidie and the Creation of the San Francisco Cable Car

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.
(Public Domain)
A younger, but still battle-hardened
Andrew Smith Hallidie in the 1870s.
(San Francisco Mechanic's Institute)

Andrew Smith Hallidie (1836-1900) was not from an ordinary family, and certainly not one where railways eventually came into play. His grandfather, Smith, was a schoolmaster and former soldier who fought in the Battle of Waterloo alongside the "Iron" Duke of Wellington; his father, Andrew Smith, was a prominent engineer and inventor whose patent for wire rope production (among others) made him quite the wealthy and intelligent man; his uncle, for whom Hallidie adopted his surname from, was King William IV and Queen Victoria's royal physician, Sir Andrew Hallidie. Andrew Smith Hallidie was born on March 16, 1836, in London, England. Due to the family's connections in high places, it was easy for the young Hallidie to get involved in his father's affairs and he began his life of invention and mechanics at age 10, when he constructed his first "electrical machine". From there, he began working in a machine shop with his brother Archibald by age thirteen, all while keeping his education at an utmost importance. Unfortunately, his father began to notice Hallidie's health suffering as he worked from nearly both ends of the candle every single day. Even for a man industrious as Andrew Smith, he couldn't tolerate it in his own son. Thus, on January 28, 1852, the young and old Smith ventured out from London to Liverpool to catch their ship that would soon take them to America.

The Gold Rush Lures Hallidie

Mariposa County in the middle of the gold rush, 1850s.
Both the young and old Hallidie had every reason to go to America, specifically California. It was the height of the California Gold Rush that began in 1849, and immense promises of striking it rich were whispered and promoted throughout the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Andrew Smith had invested in an estate in Mariposa County, 167 miles east of San Francisco, and hoped to strike it rich in just two years with a mining process of his own device. Unfortunately, when Smith and Hallidie arrived in San Francisco on February 12, after taking two filthy tramp steamers to New York then through the Panama Canal, they found the mines in Mariposa County ill-suited to make them rich. Smith spent the next few months doing what he could to get anything out of the mine, but by 1853 he had had enough and returned to England. Andrew Smith Hallidie was now 17 years old and alone in a strange new land, armed with only his inventive skill and a draughtsman's hand.

A rather romantic depiction of San Francisco in the 1850s, featuring
reused scrap boat hulls as hotels among other things.
(Oakland Museum of California)
His first attempts at mining were, by modern standards, quite adorable, going back to the old "pick, pan, and rocker" as many early claim jumpers employed. As Hallidie followed the gold through the Sierra Nevada foothills, he staked many claims and advertised his services as a blacksmith, surveyor, and bridge builder. Despite his diversified portfolio, Hallidie was barely living on $3-4 a week ($102.47-136.63 in 2021) and even after finding some gold success in Calaveras County, he too eventually returned to San Francisco to figure out what else to do to gain a fortune. At the time, San Francisco was the epicenter (poor choice of words?) of gold mining in California, as many greenhorn miners came through and spent money on everything like food, shelter, and provisions. However, it would be a long while before these miners and their children had a means to move about the city's steep hills, and at some points it almost didn't even happen.

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)

At his firm's headquarters on Mason and Chestnut Streets, Hallidie began manufacturing wire rope under the "A.S. Hallidie & Co." brand. He also took with him the machinery he bodged together at American Bar, as it was the only machinery that could build his wire rope at the time, and by 1863 (now 27 years old) he had already constructed bridges in California and British Columbia, Canada. He also took the time to get married to a woman named Martha Elizabeth Jones in 1863, become a US citizen in 1864, and finally focus his efforts into wiremaking by 1865, as the silver mining boom was now occurring in Nevada and Arizona. In 1867, Hallidie finally skirted close to his eventual legacy as he invented the "Hallidie Tramway" and sold the device to many of the new silver mines. Aerial tramways certainly weren't new by their invention, but their use of manila hemp rope meant wear and tear was rapid and buckets were often not filled all the way to prevent snapping. The first Hallidie Tramway was installed in Vallejo, Utah, and used one massive section of cable in place of spliced rope, ensuring their strength and long-lasting operation.

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 journey of making a street railway was rather long, especially for a system so enterprising like Hallidie's. His idea called for a endless wire rope embedded into the street, with a device on board a mechanical "grip" car that could pull coaches up and down the hills without worries of exhaustion or interrupted service. Notably, Hallidie's original proposal and the ensuing patents did not include any curves, as Hallidie designed his system just to go up and down the hills; neither did it include any mention of "levers", as his design was for a screw-application "horizontal" grip that used rollers to squeeze the cable on either side. In 1872, Hallidie partnered with William Eppelsheimer, a local engineer, and scouted possible locations on Jackson and California Streets before finally purchasing a squatted franchise from promoter Benjamin Brooks. Brooks owned a franchise to build in Clay Street, which was also the cheapest to redevelop, so Hallidie simply bought Brooks out. Franchise hogs are a dirty thing, kind of like patent trolls.

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.
Like another one-year-and-a-day project, Disneyland, Hallidie and his gang were faced with plenty of novel issues to work through such as where to dig in the streets, how to mount the cable support wheels, and how to keep everything rolling smoothly. Local resources like redwood lumber were sourced for his rail venture as they were cheap materials at the time, and it made for great conduit and planking around the rails (as well as sound deadening). For Hallidie, the project stressed him to no end as while Eppelsheimer had experience in tramways, Hallidie held all the patents and concepts for his cable car and, thus, all the troubleshooting fell back on him. His life was so consumed by the construction of the Clay Street Railway that he and his wife Martha never had children, but that didn't seem to trouble either of them. By July 31, 1873, two tracks traveling 307 feet up Clay Street from Kearney to the hill's crest at Jackson, and stretching 2,800 feet, was nearly complete. All that was left was to fire up the Leavenworth/Clay Street powerhouse's steam engine and place down the new "grip" car.


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 5 AM, Andrew Hallidie and his little grip car stood at the top of Clay Street where it met Jackson Street, looking down on the end of the line below him. With him were a group of his associates in a trailer car, all nervous and praying their investment worked out. Most of the anxiety was spent on hoping that Hallidie's cable didn't snap on the way down, or the grip didn't disengage by accident and sent them careening into oblivion. It looked like oblivion too, as Karl the Fog's grandfather rolled in to smother the bottom of Clay Street in a dense, moist blanket. Hallidie had his hand on the grip wheel, listening to the growing hum of the cable in the street as it picked up speed. The original gripman was said, by some reports, to be absolutely terrified at the notion of going down that steep a grade. After the remaining red-eyed workers (who stayed with Hallidie through the night helping to identify any remaining issues) pushed the two-car train into position, Hallidie gripped the wheel and disengaged the car's lever brakes. With a gentle hum and rattle, Hallidie eased his companions' anxieties as they disappeared into the fog. 

A circa-1873 woodcut of the Clay Street Hill Railroad in service.
(The Cable Car Guy)
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.
The Market Street streetcar line is seen at left.
(San Francisco Chronicle)
The gorgeous Hallidie Building on 130 Sutter Street,
showing off its "glass curtain" front facade
(Curbed SF)
Andrew Smith Hallidie passed away on April 24, 1900, of heart disease. He was only 64 years old. His wife Martha passed away in 1937, aged 90-91. Both are interred at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California. By the time Hallidie passed, twenty-three different cable car companies crisscrossed San Francisco's hilly grid and many had improved on patents he originally designed, with new track, grip, and car designs left in his wake. Without him, or his and his father's ingenious wire rope, perhaps the face of San Francisco would look quite different. Besides the cable cars today, three tributes to him in San Francisco still remain: one is Clay Street Railway No. 8, a grip car preserved at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum and the only Clay Street car to survive. In 1918, the "Hallidie Building" was erected on 130 Sutter Street (ironic as the Sutter Street Cable Railway became a major rival of the Clay Street Line) by architect Willis Polk and was credited the first building to feature glass curtain walls. It is currently home to the American Institute of Architects. In 1973, San Francisco paid tribute to Hallidie by having the square at the triangle intersection of Market, Mason, and Eddy Streets named after him, replacing the originally-planned name of "Powell Station Plaza". Appropriately, the square is near the Powell/Market cable car turntable. 

Still turned by hand, 148 years later.


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!

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