San Francisco’s cable cars an instantly recognizable symbol of city

San Francisco Cable Cars
San Francisco Cable Cars (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

SAN FRANCISCO — Cable cars are one of the most instantly recognizable symbols of San Francisco — and a quintessential attraction for tourists visiting the city.

Andrew Smith Halide is credited with developing the system to replace horse-drawn cars. The first cable cars — part of the Clay Street Hill Railroad Co. — rolled along city streets in early August 1873, and at one point, eight different cable car companies served the residents of San Francisco.

The cars remained a popular method of transportation for decades. However, by the 1940s, they started to lose their share of ridership to other forms of transportation.

Rather than seeing the cable cars relegated to the history books, the public voted in the 1940s for the city to take over the cable cars. By the early 1950s, the city assumed operations of the cable cars and continues to operate them to this day.

By the 1970s, the famed cable car network needed a major overhaul. So, from September 1982 until June 1984, the cable car system was shuttered and rebuilt as part of a multimillion dollar restoration project.

“They’re back and will be running for 100 years,” UPI quoted then Mayor Dianne Feinstein as saying in 1984. “The magic has returned to our streets,” UPI quoted Friedel Klussmann, the resident often credited with leading the fight to save the cable cars, as saying in June 1984 as the cars were coming back on line.

Today, 47 cable cars traverse three lines: Powell-Hyde, Powell-Mason and California Street. For more information about the city’s cable cars and their history, visit the San Francisco Cable Car Museum on Mason Street in San Francisco’s Nob Hill neighborhood.

Todd DeFeo
About Todd DeFeo 67 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is the owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and Railfanning.org.