Rich in history

February 1, 2006

San Francisco has a history rich with Indian lore, disasters, inventions, breathtaking scenery, the Gold Rush and diverse cultures (it even had an emperor!) — and it is now one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

San Francisco has a history rich with Indian lore, disasters, inventions, breathtaking scenery, the Gold Rush and diverse cultures (it even had an emperor!) - and it is now one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

The "City by the Bay" was settled at least 15,000 years ago by the Ohlone Indians, who thrived in an area between San Francisco Bay and Point Sur.

Sir Francis Drake arrived in 1579 to make needed repairs on his ship. It wasn't until the Spanish arrived in 1769, and the first colonizing party arrived in 1776, that the first white settlement began at the Presidio and Mission Dolores.

For the next 73 years San Francisco was described as a "tiny settlement." The Gold Rush of 1849 changed all that and the city was never the same, bringing an influx of prospectors and the seedier side of prospecting - drinking, carousing, prostitution and rising murder rates. Order was restored by Vigilance Committees.

A census in San Francisco in 1847 said the town included "79 buildings, including houses, shanties and adobes." By 1849, the population had mushroomed to 100,000. Fortune-seekers rushed to the city by land and sea for the chance to become rich.

When the Gold Rush ended, many prospectors stayed and opened businesses. Shipping (especially to the Orient) became big business.

By 1870, San Francisco had grown to be the 10th largest city in the United States. Rail travel brought a host of immigrants to the area, including Chinese, French and Italians.

Emperor Norton

EGoTravel reports that in a city of unique individuals, one especially stood out - Emperor Norton.

Having lost his mind and fortune through a bad investment, he proclaimed, "At the pre-emptory request of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last nine years and 10 months past of San Francisco, declare and proclaim myself the Emperor of these United States."

For the rest of his life, the city complied with his edicts, many of which were believed to be quite sound. When he died in 1880, between 10,000 and 30,000 people were reported to have attended his funeral.

The great earthquake

One minute at 5:12 a.m. on April 18, 1906, changed the course of San Francisco history. Described as "one of the most significant earthquakes of all time," the San Francisco earthquake killed more than 3,000 people and sparked fires that burned large portions of the city. The temblor, measuring 8.25 on the Richter scale, was felt from southern Oregon to Los Angeles and as far inland as central Nevada. Damage was estimated at $400 million - in 1906 dollars.

The city was slowly rebuilt, and became a leading industrial, transportation and cultural center.

After World War II, gay soldiers found a nonjudgmental place to settle. Today, 80,000 gays call San Francisco home. Total city population is 44,000, with Asians making up about 30 percent. San Francisco has the highest percentage of Hawaiians (0.05 percent) living outside of Hawaii.

- Compiled from various Internet sites including eGoTravel, San Francisco Convention and Visitor's Bureau, San Francisco Historical Society.