The Other San Francisco Treat!

January 17, 1871
San Franciscan Andrew Smith Hallidie Patented the First Cable Car

Maybe he got the idea watching poor panting horses pull carriages full of people up San Francisco’s steep hills. Whatever motivated him, Andrew Smith Hallidie patented his design for a “horseless streetcar” on January 17, 1871, and soon arranged financial backing to make a cable car system a reality.

It is called a cable car because the car is moved along by a loop of metal cable running continuously in a slot beneath the ground, powered by a steam-driven engine in a powerhouse. You can hear it moving if you are standing near a line. The cable car’s first run started at the top of a 307-foot hill. A few nervous men climbed aboard the cable car, and with Hallidie at the controls, the car descended, arriving safely at the bottom.

With the success of the San Francisco line, other cities began putting in cable railway systems. But it is in San Francisco where they are most famous, where “little cable cars climb halfway to the stars,” according to the famous song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Have you ridden a cable car?