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Yerba Buena to San Francisco: City has rich history


The origins of what is now San Francisco date to 3,000 B.C. The original inhabitants appear to be the Yelamu tribe of the Ohlone people.

Key Points

The origins of what is now San Francisco date to 3,000 B.C. The original inhabitants appear to be the Yelamu tribe of the Ohlone people.

The Spanish discovered the San Francisco Bay in 1769, and by 1776, established the Presidio of San Francisco and, later, Mission Dolores.

The region later became part of Mexico, after declaring independence from Spain in 1821.

Yerba Buena was renamed San Francisco in 1847, following the Mexican-American War.

Population boom

The onslaught of fortune seekers who hurried to be part of the California Gold Rush brought the city's population from 1,000 in 1848 to 25,000 by 1849. California was soon designated a state, and the country's military constructed Fort Point at the Golden Gate and a fort on Alcatraz to secure the Bay.


Many forward-thinking individuals saw ways to make money off the wealth brought on by the Gold Rush. Industries to benefit included the banking industry, with the start of Wells Fargo in 1852, and the railroad industry, which led to the building of the first transcontinental railroad. Soon, Levi Strauss opened its doors for business as a dry goods store, and Domingo Ghirardelli started making chocolate.

Chinese railroad workers helped create Chinatown. And by 1873, cable cars could be spotted on Clay Street. Victorian houses started cropping up, and plans unfolded for Golden Gate Park. Soon, schools, churches, theaters and the like were populating the city.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the city became recognized for its flashy style, classy hotels, outrageous mansions on Nob Hill and a lively arts community.


Life ground to a halt in April 1906, following a major earthquake in San Francisco and northern California. Many buildings collapsed, and gas lines started fires throughout the city. Approximately 75 percent of the city was destroyed, and that entailed most of the downtown of that period. More than half the city found themselves homeless.

However, the city refused to be brought down, and rebuilt on a large scale. The former mansions of Nob Hill were transformed to notable hotels, and by 1915, the city commemorated its rebirth at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

Financial capitol

The city soon earned the title of financial capitol, having survived the 1929 stock market crash by coming out of it without one San Francisco-based bank failing. In fact, during the Great Depression, San Francisco began constructing not only the Oakland Bay Bridge, but also the world-renowned Golden Gate Bridge, finishing them in 1936 and 1937 respectively.

The city's population continued to grow following World War II. Jump ahead to the 70s when the Transamerica Pyramid was constructed. And by the 1980s, the city started to have a New York appeal, as more high-rises cropped up downtown.

Tourism, activism

At this point, tourism began to displace industry as the most significant portion of San Francisco's economy.

Throughout this period, the suburbs realized explosive growth as the white population moved out of the city and immigrants from Asia and Latin America moved in.

During the 1960s, hippies made their impression on the city, especially Haight-Ashbury, and owned their claim to fame with the 1967 Summer of Love.

By the 1970s, the city found itself at the center of the gay rights movement, followed by the assassination of Mayor George Moscone in 1978.

A second disastrous earthquake occurred in 1989, which wreaked havoc throughout the Bay.

New life

The city's economy received a new shot of life during the dot-com era of the 1990s. That was until the bubble burst in 2001, when many companies closed shop and left the city. Nevertheless, high technology remains at the forefront of today's San Francisco economy.

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