Exhibits at The William L. Clements Library
San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of April, 1906
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"The world's greatest conflagration, portraying the awful convulsion of nature, which spread consternation and death along the golden sands of the land of promise "... Glimpses of the San Francisco Disaster
California, rich with natural resources and new wealth, looked forward with optimism to the new century. San Francisco, the commercial center of the West Coast, had grown to become a splendid and sophisticated urban center by 1900. But, there were those who were concerned that the city's historic vulnerability to earthquakes had also grown.
San Francisco's Fire Chief had requested a backup water supply system. Insurance underwriters had dire predictions of a major fire that could be similar in scale to Chicago in 1871, Boston in 1872, or Baltimore in 1904. But for the general population, the California earthquakes of 1865 and 1868 seemed a long ways back after the turn of the new century.
The seismic shift that woke the city on the morning of April 18th, 1906 was felt from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and inland as far as central Nevada. The fire that followed devastated 4.7 square miles of San Francisco over the course of three days. In the aftermath, the official casualty figures estimated 600 to 700 deaths. Present day estimates range from 3000 to 6000. Thousands were left homeless, and between $250 and 300 million in property damage occurred.
Among the survivors were H. Wild, a woman who kept a vivid journal of the events, and several professional photographers who hastily gathered equipment and began to record the efforts to relieve the burning city. The major news publications like Leslie's Weekly brought the story to the nation and publishers of souvenir view-books found an audience for San Francisco Disaster picture-books.
These materials and others related to this event are part of the collections of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan. We invite you to click on the images in the left hand column to for image enlargements and additional information.
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave. Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
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