Thursday, August 5, 2010

Happy 137th Birthday Cable Cars!

The driving force behind the San Francisco cable car system came from a man who witnessed a horrible accident on a typically damp summer day in 1869. Andrew Smith Hallidie saw the toll slippery grades could extract when a horse- drawn streetcar slid backwards under its heavy load. The steep slope with wet cobblestones and a heavily weighted vehicle combined to drag five horses to their deaths. Although such a sight would stun anyone, Hallidie and his partners had the know-how to do something about the problem.

Hallidie was born in England and moved to the U.S. in 1852. His father filed the first patent in Great Britain for the manufacture of wire rope. As a young man, Hallidie found uses for this technology in California's Gold Country. He used the wire rope when designing and building a suspension bridge across Sacramento's American River. He also found another use for the wire rope when pulling heavy ore cars out of the underground mines on tracks. The technology was in place for pulling cable cars.

The next step bringing Hallidie closer to his fate was moving his wire rope manufacturing to San Francisco. All that was now needed was seeing the accident for the idea to become full blown…a cable car railway system to deal with San Francisco's fearsome hills.

On August 2, 1873, Andrew Hallidie tested the first cable car system near the top of Nob Hill at Clay and Jones Streets, thus introducing this new transportation system to the world…and the rest is history, as they say. For more information, visit

(Note: the Cable Car California Street line will be closed from January until June, 2011 while its tracks and mechanical parts undergo a much-needed overhaul.)

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