San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

On April 18, 1906, San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area experienced a catastrophic natural disaster. The 1906 earthquake, estimated at a 7.8 magnitude, killed approximately 3,000 people and left up to 300,000 without homes. Buildings that survived being toppled by the earthquake were destroyed by fires fueled by the city’s gas mains. In fact, 80% of buildings were destroyed by fire. In addition to the physical and financial impact, the earthquake changed the demographics of California. Tent cities popped up all over San Francisco, resembling modern day refugee camps. Some people stayed in the settlements, but many left for Southern California. Though San Francisco was rebuilt by 1915, Los Angeles eventually overtook San Francisco as the commercial center of the west, as the disaster diverted trade away.

In observance of the 108th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake , we’ve compiled this photo blog showing the aftermath and the lives affected, courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library. As you’ll find, despite more than a 100 year difference, today’s natural disasters mirror those of the past in many ways. As they do today, people lost everything from their homes to their livelihoods, but showed tremendous resilience despite the losses.

SF 1

View of rubble from California Street.

SF 2

People watching a fire burning on Market Street.

SF 3

The ruins of the First National Bank Building at Bush and Sansome Street.

SF 4

Temporary housing camp at Mission Park (now known as Mission Dolores Park)

SF 6

Children with their mother in front of tents.

SF 5

Refugee camp set up at Clifton Mound (now known as Mint Hill).

SF 8

Family posing in front of their tent.