Dramatic Photos of 1906 San Francisco Earthquake Aftermath

The shaking started at 5:12 a.m. the morning of April 18, 1906 — 108 years ago today. The 7.8-magnitude earthquake destroyed more than 80 percent of San Francisco and killed about 3,000 people.

The view from Nob Hill, April 18, 1906 (Library of Congress).
The view from Nob Hill on April 18, 1906 (Library of Congress).

Photographer Frederick Eugene Ives captured the destruction in color photographs, using an apparatus called a Krőmgram. According to the Smithsonian, Ives’ Photochromoscope system required “precise alignment and careful adjustment of the lighting to obtain a satisfactory color image.”

A field of rubble near San Francisco’s City Hall, October 1906 (Frederick Eugene Ives, via Smithsonian).
A field of rubble near San Francisco’s City Hall in October 1906 (Frederick Eugene Ives, via Smithsonian).

In the days following the quake, devastating fires broke out throughout the city, dramatically adding to the damage, death and destruction caused. Estimates claim that 90 percent of the total destruction resulted from the fires.

The fire on Market Street (Library of Congress).
The fire on Market Street. (Library of Congress).

San Francisco’s City Hall, located two blocks from where the current City Hall stands today, was destroyed, along with the Hall of Records. The old City Hall was bounded by Larkin and McAllister streets, largely where the Main Library and U.N. Plaza are located today.

Ruins of City Hall after the quake and subsequent fire (Library of Congress).
Ruins of City Hall after the quake and subsequent fire (Library of Congress).

A view towards downtown San Francisco, October 1906. (Frederick Eugene Ives, via Smithsonian)
A view toward downtown San Francisco in October 1906. (Frederick Eugene Ives, via Smithsonian)

In 1906, San Francisco’s population was around 410,000– the ninth-largest city in the United States. The fires that followed the quake left a huge portion of that population homeless.

A fire truck sprays water on a block of burned buildings, June 8, 1906 (Library of Congress).
A fire truck sprays water on a block of burned buildings on June 8, 1906 (Library of Congress).

At the time, only 375 deaths were reported. Estimates today top 3,000 lives lost. Hundreds of fatalities in Chinatown went unrecorded.

The ruins of Chinatown, April 1906 (Library of Congress).
The ruins of Chinatown in April 1906 (Library of Congress).

The Library of Congress has many more photographs of the destruction.

Bird's-eye view of ruins from captive airship 600-feet above Folsom, between 5th and 6th Streets (Library of Congress).
Bird’s-eye view of ruins from captive airship 600 feet above Folsom, between 5th and 6th Streets (Library of Congress).

 

In other quake-related news, SFist reported that a lot of historic quake footage was added to YouTube today. Here’s a good example:

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