Archives for December 2011

Supply shortages in early San Francisco

In spite of local dishonesty, corruption and the general municipal extravagance, San Francisco continued to grow in both size and beauty. While the excessive and imprudent imports of 1850 had led to a glut in the market, a drop in prices and serious losses to the shippers, which became a characteristic of 1851, a remarkable change took place in 1852. Better judgment in the amount and type of goods the market was demanding resulted in rising prices and a firmer marketplace. But even in … [Read more...]

The Jenny Lind Theater swindle

While Dr. Harris served he was an excellent mayor, but the council with which he had to deal was no improvement over the last set of officials who had come close to bankrupting the city. Some of their many and costly propositions Harris managed to block but others he could not and as a result the city incurred huge losses. One of the most notorious was the purchase of the Jenny Lind Theater, or as the affair was commonly called, the Jenny Lind Theater swindle. After the great fire of June … [Read more...]

A San Francisco election controversy

According to the new San Francisco city charter of April 15, 1851 the mayor and other officers were to be elected annually. The first election should take place on April 28 and thereafter annually at the general election for state officers. Under the new laws the election was held as proscribed and the officials, with Charles J. Brenham as mayor, were duly installed into office. A small number of city residents then claimed that under the new city charter the next election for city officials … [Read more...]

California Clippers

The needs of the particular businesses in San Francisco, where the speed with which certain special cargoes could be procured from the east coast or Europe, demanded improvements in the way ships were built. Instead of the clumsy old boats that took from six months to a year to ply their way around the tip of South America something lighter, sleeker and much faster was required. Thus it was for the needs of the California trade that the most remarkable of the great sailing ships was developed, … [Read more...]

Frontier Tales

Western stories are making a comeback, or so some experts say, but tales of the hardships our pioneers confronted have long been a rewarding and intriguing part of American literature. From the Leather Stocking Tales by James Fennimore Cooper through the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and on to the great westerns such as Hondo and The Shadow Riders by Louis L’Amour, writers continue to explore the rich tradition of great American stories. But even with this increased popularity … [Read more...]

Business in gold rush San Francisco

From the very beginning of the gold rush goods of all kinds flowed into the harbor of San Francisco from all over the world. The trade in these goods was huge and extraordinarily brisk, but the market was subject to wild fluctuations. There was a huge risk and expense to keep goods on hand and thus they needed to be sold as soon as possible. When a ship arrived its cargo was almost always disposed of immediately at auction. If the imported articles happened to be in great demand, as often … [Read more...]

Coins of gold rush San Francisco

Adventurers from every quarter of the earth crowded into San Francisco in the early days, Europeans and Americans from the east coast mixed with Chinese, Japanese, and Hindus from Asia as well as Pacific Islanders, Mexicans, Central and South Americans and Africans. Every day in the streets of the city the individual national dress of these men could be seen and their native languages heard. They also brought with them a large quantity of the coins of their respective countries, which, because … [Read more...]

Prosperity in early San Francisco

Had San Francisco not been one of the most active, progressive and wealthy cities of its size anywhere in the world it is unlikely that it could have ever withstood the epic strains made upon it. While swept from one side repeatedly by huge fires and robbed of its property by some of its unscrupulous citizens, the city not only continued to grow but also prospered. By the middle of 1852 California had a population of over two hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants and over thirty-six thousand of … [Read more...]

Huge debts burden San Francisco

The cost involved in the incredible growth of San Francisco from a small Mexican village to a large cosmopolitan city in only a few short years, even at fair, honest rates, should have been huge, but due to official mismanagement the new city paid two or three times the going rate for nearly every purchase and was fleeced in almost every part of it’s administration. In August of 1849 during his inaugural message, the new Alcalde and soon to be first Mayor, John W. Geary, announced that there … [Read more...]

A devastated San Francisco rebuilds

Again, after the fire of June 22, 1851 San Francisco courageously rebuilt, and this time many of the buildings were replaced by brick structures that proved much more resistant to fire. And when, on November 9, 1852, yet another fire broke out on Keary Street near Portsmouth Square, the same place where two of the great conflagrations had started, the flames were contained by the new brick walls between Washington and Montgomery and comparatively little damage was done. Had the buildings … [Read more...]