A Timeline of San Francisco History
San Francisco History - 1900-1950 - 1950+ - Map Room - Who's Who

European discovery and exploration of the San Francisco Bay Area and its islands began in 1542 and culminated with the mapping of the bay in 1775. Early visitors to the Bay Area were preceded 10,000 to 20,000 years earlier, however, by the native people indigenous to the area. Prior to the coming of the Spanish and Portuguese explorers, over 10,000 indigenous people, later to be called the Oholone (a Miwok Indian word meaning "western people"), lived in the coastal area between Point Sur and the San Francisco Bay.

... the coastal area stretching from San Francisco to Monterey Bay was home to forty or so culturally diverse native tribes now known collectively as the Ohlone. Theirs was a mobile society of hunter-gatherers in a region where abundant waterfowl, shellfish, game, native plants, and fish provided sustenance for thriving villages. For the Ohlone and neighboring Bay Area peoples, the founding of San Francisco's Mission Dolores in 1776 hastened the end of traditional, pre-European ways. --The Ohlone People

1579 In 1579 Captain Drake and crew, midway through their piratical circumnavigation of the globe, steered their Golden Hind into a foggy North Pacific cove surrounded by buff cliffs that reminded them of the White Cliffs of Dover. They stayed five weeks at the place they dubbed Nova Albion, repairing and supplying the ship and getting along famously with the natives. --The Mystery of Sir Francis Drake - A Brief Biography
1769 The entrance to San Francisco Bay, La Boca del Puerto (The mouth of the Port) is discovered on November 1 by Sergeant Jose Ortega.
1775 The Continental Congress names Benjamin Franklin the first Postmaster General in 1775 --History of the United States Postal Service 1775-1993
1776 The first colonizing party arrived in 1776 to found the Presidio of San Francisco and Mission Dolores. La Misión de San Francisco de Asis (Mission Dolores) is designated as Registered Landmark Number One of the City and County of San Francisco. The Mission Church is the oldest intact building in San Francisco, and one of the oldest Mission Churches in California. The first mass celebrated at the Mission was on June 29, 1776 (5 days before the signing of the Declaration of Independence) (source). Mission Dolores was the sixth of 21 missions established by the Franciscans.
  • Mission Dolores established. First European cemetery

    Early drawings and paintings of San Francisco

    Presidio 1816, Louis Choris

  • 1820 Early in the nineteenth century, ships from Boston began to visit the Spanish towns and Missions along the upper and lower California coast. They came first to barter for both otter and beaver pelts; later for tallow, hides, and materials used by the natives and settlers. In the 1820s American trappers and hunters began to drift into the State from the East. These early pioneers of the West were sometimes harshly treated by the earlier Spanish governors, later they were welcomed; but they had to show passports and submit to surveillance. Later, some new arrivals married the daughters of wealthy Mexican ranchers, and took up large land grants. --From the 1820s to the Gold Rush

    View of San Francisco (Yerba Buena) in 1846

    On July 31, 1846, a weary company of about 220 Latter-day Saints passed through the rocky portals of the Golden Gate, anticipating the end of a difficult six-month voyage which took them around the southern tip of South America ... --The Voyage of the Brooklyn - By David R. Crockett

    On July 9, 1846 Commander J. B. Montgomery raised the American Frag

    See: San Francisco History 1846-1864 - MCSF


    [sf city in 1948]

    1848 City Map

    It was in the first part of January, 1848, when the gold was discovered at Coloma, where I was then building a saw-mill. -- The Discovery of Gold in California - by Gen. John A. Sutter
    1849 ...and in the morning of August 20th/49 we were passing through the golden gate, and entering the bay of San Francisco. On one of the high hills which bounded our view on the right was the remains of an old fort, now nearly levelled with the ground; on the left the land rose more gradually, lifting up into mountains in the distance, and stretching off to where the peaks of the "Sierra Nevadas" were just visible, their snowy caps dotting the horizon. Passing Bird island on which, and flying around it were thousands of Pelicans; we saw the great fleet of deserted vessells lying before the city; and covering the hills near the beach, a few substantial buildings, and a thousand tents and canvas houses which made the City of San Francisco. As soon as anchored we were surrounded by boats ready to take us ashore; bringing relatives and friends to some, and news to all. Money must be plenty here thought I, when the boatmen charged me a dollar and a half for setting me ashore not ten minutes pull from the ship; and I began to think of getting a job that afternoon yet. ... --From a Diary of Eugene as he arrives in San Francisco.

    The city catches on fire, after Sydney Ducks allegedly burn down the abode of a merchant who refuses to pay them protection money --Social ..

    1851 On June 9, 1851, at Sydney cove, John Jenkins walked deliberately into a merchants store, picked up the small safe, carried it to a boat at a nearby wharf and coolly rowed out into the bay. The alarm was given, and a number of merchants pursued an overtook the man... --The 1851 Committee of Vigilance
    1853 California Academy of Sciences is founded. --History of Cal Academy
    1854 Lone Mountain (Laurel Hill) cemetery established in San Francisco. --Timeline
    1855 September 24 - The preserved heads of Joaquin Murieta and Three-Fingered Jack" were sold at auction today for $36 to satisfy a judgement --Gold Rush Chronology 1855 - 1856
    1856 Following the cleanup of crime by the 1856 Committee of Vigilance came a stimulating improvement in business and prospects, and it was on June 11, 1856, that the City and County of San Francisco was formed, and a new county called "San Mateo" was created out of the remainder of the old County of San Francisco.

    What a strange town was that, the San Francisco of 1856, its 30,000 people in speedy transition from a city of tents and shacks to one of brick and stone buildings. --San Francisco in 1856 [SF Museum]

    James King of William, editor of the Evening Bulletin, is shot and killed by James Casey. --Social ..

    1858 Sutro & Co.Founded in San Francisco by Gustav, Charles, and Emil Sutro. The company is the oldest investment banking firm in San Francisco.
    1859 At the pre-emptory request of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last nine years and ten months past of San Fransisco, California, declare and proclaim myself the Emperor of These United States. - Joshua A. Norton, September 17, 1859
    1860 The pioneer pony of the famous express today begins its first trip across the continent. --Evening Bulletin San Francisco, Tuesday Evening, April 3, 1860

    In 1860 the "Pioche Railroad" was started by the Market Street Railway Company, which graded Market Street. This road at first was operated by steam dummies, later by means of horses. --Market Street Railway Company, Past, Present and Future


    July 4, 1861

    Fort Point completed. Built to protect San Francisco from some one who never came. The fort was never fired on nor did it ever have to defend the Gate.

    1865 It was just after noon, on a bright October day. I was coming down Third Street. The only objects in motion anywhere in sight in that thickly built and populous quarter were a man in a buggy behind me, and a streetcar wending slowly up the cross street. Otherwise, all was solitude and a Sabbath stillness. --Mark Twain and the October 8, 1865, San Francisco Earthquake

    See: San Francisco History 1865 - 1900 - MCSF

    1868 On a spring day in 1868, banker James Sloan Hutchinson stepped in to stop two horsemen who were dragging a squealing boar off to market along the street's rough cobblestones. The incident moved Hutchinson to call together a group of fellow humanitarians to found The San Francisco SPCA.

    "We propose to publish a bold, bright, fearless and truly independent newspaper, independent in all things, neutral in nothing." With this emphatic statement of purpose, Charles and M.H. de Young, two brothers barely twenty years old, launched The Daily Morning Chronicle in 1868. It was just three years since they had borrowed a $20 gold piece to start The Daily Dramatic Chronicle, little more than a theater program and gossip sheet handed out at hotels, theaters, restaurants and saloons. Yet, after only three months of operations, the fledgling paper had scooped all other city dailies with an "extra" on Lincoln's assassination. --Voice of the West


    Railroad posters

    September 6 - The first westbound train arrives in San Francisco.
    1870 By 1870 San Francisco had become the tenth largest city in the United States. Everywhere one looked -- hotels, restaurants, parks, churches, synagogues, schools, libraries, academies -- there were signs that the United States now enjoyed a flourishing urban center thousands of miles in advance of the frontier. One sure sign of this developing urbanism was a maturing taste for art and the presence in the city of a growing number of artists. --Art and the City - By Dr. Kevin Starr
    1878 The American Speaking Telephone Company in San Francisco issues its first list of subscribers on a single sheet
    1880 January 8 - Emperor Norton drops dead on California St. Between 10,000 and 30,000 people were reported to have attended his funeral. Le Roi Est Mort

    In 1880, George Hearst accepted a small daily newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, as payment for a gambling debt. The elder Hearst, now a U.S. senator from California, had little interest in the newspaper business as such, but the event proved pivotal for his son. In the mid-1880s, young Will, a Harvard student at the time, wrote his father a now-famous letter requesting that he be permitted to take over the Examiner: -- William Randolph Hearst

    1882 In the 1840s and 1850s, Chinese laborers were recruited to build the railroads, work the mines, and tend the fields of a growing, prosperous America. By the 1870s, with the motherlode running dry and the economy turning shaky, anti-Chinese sentiment swelled. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, barring all Chinese immigration--a law that was not repealed for more than sixty years. -- Coming To America - By Marilee Strong
    1883 "Black Bart", a gentleman bandit who has been robbing Wells Fargo stages throughout northern California, turns out to be respectable bank clerk Charles Bolton. --Social ..
    1891 San Francisco, Dec. 28 -- The steamer Arago, which arrived here from the north today had one of the roughest voyages of the season. On her last trip she encountered heavy storms and had to be thoroughly overhauled and repaired. -- The Stormy Ocean -
    1892 Sierra Club is founded by 182 charter members. John Muir is elected president. In its first conservation effort, the Sierra Club leads campaign to defeat a proposed reduction in the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. --Sierra Club--A Proud History

    The Spanish-american war brough troops to San Francisco

    November 19 - American Anti-Imperialist League founded. Created to protest the annexation of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, the Anti-Imperialist League was the first national anti-imperialist organization formed in the United States.
    1898-1998 Centennial of the Spanish-American War

    Ferry Building built. Ferry transit has played a significant role in San Francisco Bay for almost 150 years. Vessels which brought people during gold rush days were utilized for San Francisco-Sacramento and cross-bay service. Eclipsed by highway and bridge construction during the 1930's, a faster generation of ferries are once more becoming valuable cross-bay connectors offering alternatives to congestion in some corridors, and as emergency alternatives to these same highways and bridges.

    Transbay ferry service began in 1850, with the establishment of a route between San Francisco and the Oakland Estuary, served by the "Kangaroo". In 1852, Oakland granted what was to be the first Bay ferry franchise to a "reliable" operator of a public ferry. Over the last century and a half, up to thirty major cross-bay ferry ah existed, serving 29 destinations. The great period of ferry transit reached its peak in the 1930's, when 60 million persons crossed the bay annually, along with 6 million autos. (26)

    The Ferry Building was the second busiest transportation terminal in the world in the early 1930s. Each day, some 250,000 persons travelled through the Perry Building to work or other destinations. Ferries made approximately 170 landings a day at this time, and the Ferry Building was served by trolley lines which left every 20 seconds for city destinations. Ferries to Oakland could carry 4,000 persons, and were designed to incorporate restaurants, shoe shine parlors, and luxury surroundings, including mohair hangings, teak chairs, hammered copper lighting fixtures, and leather chairs in the ladies lounges. The highly efficient Key Route ferry/train transfer at the Oakland Mole enabled 9,000 commuters to load and unload in ... --Regional Ferry Plan San Francisco Bay Area - Final Report - September 1992

    San Francisco History : 1900-1950 : 1950+