When James Marshall found gold in a Californian village on 24 January 1848, nearby San Francisco was a very small town. Marshall’s discovery started a Gold Rush, and thousands of people travelled to California from all over the USA and from overseas. In less than 50 years, San Francisco became the largest city on the west coast of the USA. But in 1906, the San Francisco earthquake destroyed most of the city ...
The people of San Francisco were asleep when the earthquake happened at 5.12am on Wednesday, 18 April 1906. The earthquake wasn’t long, only a minute, but it was extremely strong. A fire started after the earthquake and spread quickly. Everything was very dry, and the firefighters didn’t have any water. People think that the fire caused 90% of the damage to the city.
A photographer called Arnold Genthe walked round the city and took pictures of the fire. His most famous picture shows people in Sacramento Street as they watched the smoke. ‘Some stood and others sat on chairs,’ said Genthe. ‘When the flames came closer to them, they carried their chairs up the street. Then they sat down again.’
The fire burnt for four days. By the evening of Saturday, 21 April, there weren’t many buildings left in San Francisco. The fire destroyed 500 blocks in the city centre, and 250,000 people lost their homes. At the time, the government reported only 375 deaths. But now people think that at least 3,000 died in the earthquake and fire.