Much of Northern California - not just San Francisco - was impacted when the San Andreas Fault ruptured nearly 300 miles on April 18, 1906.  This image depicts the ruined City Hall in Santa Rosa.  Image online, courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.  PD


At 5:12 a.m., on April 18, 1906, Charles Howard’s adopted city of San Francisco was rocked by an 8.3 magnitude earthquake. (The quake was so massive its effects were noted 9,100 miles away in Gottingen, Germany.) It ruptured 430 kilometers of the San Andreas Fault, which was not yet known by that name.

The devastated city burned for three more days and, it is now estimated, about 3,000 people died. Preserved in the Library of Congress, actual film footage depicts the disaster and reveals how people - who quickly became refugees - reacted to it.

Photographs maintained by the U.S. National Archives also depict the damage caused when the earth shook the city:

  • San Francisco’s landscape was drastically changed in 1906 when the unexpected earthquake and a resulting fire devastated the city.

  • Flocks of San Franciscans fled.

  • Jefferson Square became a tent refugee camp as did "Tennessee Hollow."

  • Supply and bread lines, plus hot-food kitchens, helped people cope in a badly damaged city.

  • A line of horses waited in front of the National Red Cross headquarters, located in the vicinity of McAllister and Gough Streets.

  • The general landscape of the city reveals what can happen when buildings in earthquake zones are not reinforced.

  • Families, rendered homeless in their burning city, slept on the side of a hill.

  • As San Francisco burned, horses were injured and many others were afraid to go near the fires.

  • The U.S. Army Signal Corps in the Tennessee Hollow, Presidio of San Francisco, had two of the few automobiles then available in the city.

  • The Ferry Building, at the foot of Market Street, provided a place from which to photograph the still-smoldering, surrounding area.

Despite its massive devastation, San Francisco quickly recovered from the tragedy. Because of his generosity and ingenuity during the quake's immediate aftermath, Charles Howard was on his way to becoming a very wealthy man.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5199stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2003

Updated Last Revision: Jul 08, 2019

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"SAN FRANCISCO EARTHQUAKE" AwesomeStories.com. Jul 01, 2003. Mar 23, 2023.
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