1906 cable car video

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Fri Apr 22 17:32:27 EDT 2011

With all the great information about accidents and railroad activities in
1911 posted by Gordon Hamilton, I thought it might be interesting to provide
some visual context of what society looked like 100 years ago.

The YouTube link below will play rare (1906) film footage of a camera
mounted on the front of a cable car [this is the closest I can get to a
train reference] traveling down Market Street toward the Embarcadero wharf
in San Francisco.

Look at the hats the ladies were wearing, the long dresses and all the men
with bowler hats. According to Wikipedia, “the bowler — not the cowboy hat
or sombrero — was the most popular hat in the American West, prompting
Lucius Beebe to call it ‘the hat that won the West.’ Both cowboys and
railroad workers preferred the hat because it wouldn't blow off easily in
strong wind, or when sticking one's head out the window of a speeding
train.” All the photos I have of my great-grandfather, who was a N&W
Engineer in the 1920s & 30s, show him wearing a bowler hat. It wasn’t until
I saw this film that I realized just how prevalent his style of dress was
during the post=Victorian era.

Like the automobile, horse drawn vehicles were very common in 1906, but it
sure looks like mass transit was the way to get around. It’s fairly clear
concepts like driving on the right hand side of the road, crosswalks and
left hand steering had not yet been discovered.

Watch the beginning carefully, at the 2:33-second mark and immediately after
an oncoming trolley clears the screen, a well-dressed policeman walks across
the street from left to right. Notice in his right hand he is carrying a
truncheon (26 inch police baton) and although he appears walking his beat,
he looks ready to use it. Imagine the police of today walking down the
street carrying a 26 inch club in their hand...???

This film was originally thought to be from 1905 until David Kiehn with the
Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum figured out exactly when it was shot. From
New York trade papers announcing the film showing to the wet streets from
recent heavy rainfall & shadows indicating time of year & actual weather and
conditions on historical record, even when the cars were registered (he even
knows who owned them and when the plates were issued!). It was filmed only
four days before the Great California Earthquake of April 18th 1906 and
shipped by train to NY for processing.

1906 YouTube Video:

Click on this URL to see what the same trip looks like 99 years later --

Here is an even cooler, side by side view of the two videos.

Hope everyone enjoys this clip as much as I did.

Blair Miller
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