The Great Earthquake of San Francisco – April 18, 1906

Just after 5:00 AM on the morning of April 18, the growing city was struck by the largest earthquake in the history of California.

A slip in the San Andreas fault, more than 275 miles long, created an initial shock of 7.9, followed by violent tremors that persisted for almost a minute.

The city had been prosperous and growing; some new, iron-frame construction in the downtown survived the shocks.

In the older and poorer sections of the city, much of the frame construction collapsed.

Most of the buildings that survived the quake were immediately endangered by fire – household fires and broken gas mains fueled a firestorm that the city was ill-equipped to manage.

The number of casualties has never been definitively established – some 3000 persons are estimated to have perished.

(As with many catastrophes, there were dueling narratives.  The popular press played up the horror, the city emphasized the heroic rescue and rapid recovery.)

Devastating fires were not unknown to many cities of the late 19th century, the Great Fire of Chicago being the most spectacular of these.

But the sudden devastation of San Francisco, while most of the population was still asleep, dominated the news for weeks.

(I have postcard photographs published by newspapers in different parts of the country.)

This postcard photograph was published by Richard Behrendt of San Francisco.  There is no copyright date, but I assume it was rushed to print soon after the event.

The postcard was printed in Germany.

In December of 1909, the postcard was mailed to Mrs. G. T. Sawyer of Bar Mills, Maine.

Bar Mills is a small, unincorporated village near the southern tip of Maine.  The village is close to the border of New Hampshire.

Mrs. Sawyer was the “post card friend” of Jeannie B______, who lived in Oakland, California.

Jennie thanks Mrs. Sawyer for her “pretty card” and invites her to “call again” – which is to say, exchange additional postcards.

It is good to know that the rebuilding of San Francisco was well underway by the time this postcard was mailed – so quickly did the young city recover and prosper once again.


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